Archive for July, 2007

Mystery Meat

Saturday, July 21st, 2007

“And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat.” Ex. 16:15

The interesting thing about this Bible story is that the Jews knew more about the food that they were eating in the desert than many Americans do about the food that we feed our families. Even though they had never seen it before, the Jews knew that it was inspected and approved by God. This is the same God that sent the plagues that got them out of Egypt, parted the Red Sea so that they could escape from Pharaoh’s cavalry, and squirted water out of a rock. They felt as though they could trust Him. They were also pretty hungry.

Our government is responsible for monitoring the quality of our food. This is the same government that invaded Iraq based on faulty intelligence, still has not rebuilt our gulf coast from hurricane damage two years ago, has spied on us without our permission, and replaced the largest federal budget surplus with the largest deficit in the history of this country. You surprised that our food doesn’t seem to be as safe as it used to be?

Here are some facts about food safety that you might find interesting.

There are 15 different agencies of our government responsible for various parts of our food supply. Those agencies are subject to 35 different laws which give them regulatory powers.

About 10% of our food supply is imported. That’s growing at about 15% a year. It comes from over 130 different countries.

The primary agency responsible for inspecting imported food is the FDA. The FDA last year was able to inspect only .7% of imported food, down from 1.1% the year before.

Here’s what the Bush administration has been doing about this for the past seven years.

Nothing

In fact, it’s worse than that. Five years ago Congress passed and the President signed a law requiring meat and other products to be labeled with their country of origin. If they couldn’t inspect it, at least you could choose whether or not to buy it.

The Agriculture Department has never put the law into practice because the Republican majority in Congress with the President’s support blocked its implementation every year since. They were not thinking about you. They were responding to the grocery store and meat packing lobbies.

Labeling for sea food, however, was implemented because of the strong sponsorship of Alaska Republican Ted Stevens, looking out for the fishing industry in his state.

Now that the President has lost his majority and can’t stop the labeling bill, what has he done?

What he should have done is the obvious. Streamline the inspection process and turn it all over to the FDA. Then fund the FDA so that it can do its job. Finally, extend the fish labeling laws which appear to working fine to the rest of the food supply.

Instead, he created a commission to study the matter. This commission is little more than another delaying tactic to mollify big political contributors and China, while keeping the American people eating mystery meat. Clearly George is no Moses.

They’re Back!

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

The news of the day is that al-Qaeda is back.
 
The most recent National Threat Estimate raises the specter of renewed activity by the group responsible for the attacks in the united states on almost six years ago.
 
The President is spinning this report in a very interesting way.
 
He would like to use the growing threat of al-Qaeda as justification for continued military action in Iraq.  In order to do that, he also has to deflect criticism that the war in Iraq is responsible for the renewed strength of al-Qaeda.  How did he do it? 
 
The first thing he did was to conflate the invasion of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq as one act rather than two.  He depended on the fact that only part of the most recent threat assessment was made public.  Finally he claimed that al-Qaeda would have been much stronger by now if it weren’t for our military actions.  The problem is that he provided no proof to back his claim.
 
When you try to dig through this spin to the facts, the picture changes.
 
As Richard Clark, a security expert in both the Bush and Clinton administrations, pointed out, the Bush administration was taking credit two years ago for the National Intelligence Estimate which portrayed al-Qaeda as broken and on the run.  Assuming that report is as accurate as this one, what changed?
 
Here are some facts.
 

  1. All our government studies confirm that the war in Iraq has served as a primary recruiting and training ground for al-Qaeda.
  2. Those same studies also confirm that al-Qaeda is as much a philosophy as it is a command and control organization.  So the continued existence of al-Qaeda inspires other fundamentalist Islamic organizations to also take up the cause through terrorist acts.
  3. The war in Iraq took focus away from the war in Afghanistan.  This allowed the Taliban to regroup, create safe havens, and go on the offensive.
  4. Our stature in the Muslim world has made it difficult for our ally Pakistan’s General Musharraf to aggressively pursue al-Qaeda strongholds on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  5. If we unilaterally attack al-Qaeda in Pakistan, we may cause enough internal unrest in Pakistan that the government falls and is replaced by a more fundamentalist regime.  If that happens, things become MUCH worse in the Middle East because Pakistan has a proven nuclear capability.
  6. Because of our focus on Iraq, we’ve lost all momentum and leverage in the issue which is at the core of the problems in the Middle East.  That is the relationship between Israel and her neighbors.  That has allowed Iran and Syria to increase their influence which has resulted in the growth of Hezbollah and Hamas. 
  7. According to the National Threat Estimate, the most likely source of terrorists willing to attack the United States is not al-Qaeda in Iraq, but Hezbulla in Lebanon.  That is Iran’s way to retaliate for what it perceives as threats from the US and Israel. 

Things seem to continue to worsen.   

The Bush administration appears to have maneuvered us into a position where we either risk the fall of the Musharraf government, or we allow al-Qaeda to continue to grow. If that weren’t bad enough, we also have the choice of allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons or deal with a second Islamic fundamentalist group funded by Iran and with the safe havens in Lebanon from which they can plan and execute large scale attacks on the United States.

So please tell me again how things are getting better and what we are winning in Iraq.

For those of you inclinded to pray, this is a good time to know that God is the source of all power, intelligence, and wisdom.  Man, made in His image and likeness, reflects all of these divine qualities in thought and action.  

For those of you included to vote, we need a change of direction which requires a change of philosophy. The Neo-con view of the world demonstrated by the Bush administration has failed.  Please spend the time to listen and learn what new approaches the current crop of Presidential candidates propose.

No Difference Between Us and Them

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

“But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.  And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.  And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.  And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;  And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.”
Acts 15:5-9
 
One of the big controversies as the apostles went out to preach the good news of Jesus victory over death was whether or not these truths should be shared with the gentiles.  The Jews were used to thinking of the gentiles like some in this country think about immigrants, homosexuals, Muslims, or atheists.  Peter, transformed by the resurrection and filled with the spirit, understood that Christian love had to wash away this old bigotry.  Physical rites like circumcision had become empty rituals.  It was the practice of Jesus teaching through faith and good works that made the new man. 
 
Last Sunday our local paper, who sponsors this blog, printed a letter complaining that immigrants and their supporters (ACLU) aren’t “American”.  He felt that rather than adopting our ways, immigrants are, with the help of the ACLU, were imposing their customs on us.  He took particular offense at the fact that some immigrants pray to Allah or study the teachings of Buddha.  Among his recommendations was to amend the constitution to require at least one parent of any native born child to be a citizen in order for that child to also become a citizen.  The author is an example of those “love it or leave it” citizens that blame whatever is wrong on groups they fear or misunderstand. 
 
Government facts describe an immigrant population that wants to adopt our ways. Their demand for English language classes outstrips our supply.  75% of all Spanish speaking immigrants are functional English speakers within 15 years.  Their kids all speak English.  They are more likely to marry less likely to divorce.  Their higher birth rate keeps our population growing which creates more consumers.  Their kids go to college.  Within a generation 50% marry outside their group. 
 
Immigrants also fuel our economy by starting a higher percentage of new small businesses than the rest of us.  That’s where 80% of the jobs are today. 
 
The ACLU is a popular target for these folks because its mission is to protect the rights of unpopular minorities like immigrants.  The ACLU does that by challenging our judiciary to really define what laws mean.  They’re often criticized as promoting a liberal political view.  What you don’t hear is the ACLU activity for conservative causes like the KKK, gun ownership groups, Oliver North, and the Westboro Baptist Church pickets.
 
Finally, the founding fathers did believe in God, but they also created the first country in the world to prohibit state sponsored religion.  They guaranteed that every law-abiding person born here could be President regardless of race, gender, or creed.  They didn’t mandate prayer, the name of God, or the manner in which people could worship.  None of that was by accident.  Like it or not, they created a nation designed to welcome all.  Those of us descended from immigrants are living the results of their wisdom.
 
Those of us who are Christians have even a higher calling.  We are called to treat every person as our brother.  We are called see them as they really are, made in God’s image and likeness because in God’s eyes there is no difference between us and them.


 

Reap What You Sow

Sunday, July 8th, 2007

“Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same.” Job 4:8

Public outcry about the recent Libby commutation has created a really interesting backlash of conservative revisionist history and schoolyard ethics.

Here is a sample of the conservative arguments that are being aped by letter to the editor writers and right-wing columnists like Jack Kelly.

  1. Clinton pardoned crooks so why can’t Bush do the same?
  2. Clinton didn’t serve any time for lying to a grand jury so why should Libby?
  3. Clinton’s Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, received no jail time and a $50,000 fine for taking documents from the National Archive, why shouldn’t Libby have received a similar sentence?
  4. No real crime was committed. Libby was just the victim of an overzealous prosecutor.
  5. No Democrat would have received a sentence like this because the judiciary is out to get Republicans.

Let’s go through these one by one just to see how shallow they are.

The first is an easy one. Politically motivated presidential pardons are almost always wrong no matter who granted them. The only exception I can recall was Ford pardoning Nixon. It was time for the country to move on and there was nothing to be gained by putting Nixon in jail (though I felt pretty bad about it at the time). Clinton was wrong to pardon Marc Rich. Bush was wrong to commute (and eventually pardon) Libby. The founding fathers intended this presidential constitutional power to be a check on the judiciary. It has instead become a irresistible source of political favors.

The second one is easy too. Clinton was indicted but never convicted of a crime. Libby was.

A sitting President can’t be put in jail. The founding fathers figured this one out. They knew that this shield would allow presidents to focus on their jobs rather than defending themselves in court. The balance to this special status is that Congress acts as the president’s prosecutor, judge, and jury. That’s why the House had to indict Clinton of lying to a Grand Jury and not a state or federal prosecutor. In the next step, the Senate had to decide whether or not to convict him of this crime and remove him from office. The Senate found him innocent. The justice department did have the option to pursue Clinton after he left office, but chose not to. Libby on the other hand, didn’t have this protection, was indicted, tried, found guilty, and received a jail sentence. He is currently appealing his conviction.

Sandy Berger is another case of spin and revisionist history. Sandy Berger was convicted of a misdemeanor charge of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material from the National Archives. He only took copies. Contrary to many conservative claims, there is no proof that he destroyed any original documents. He claimed that he was just trying to refresh his memory in preparation for upcoming testimony. What is particularly ironic about this claim is that Vice President Cheney has refused to allow the National Archives access to his documents for the past four years claiming that his office is exempt from the President Order mandating compliance. The purpose of this mandate is to insure that all documents are preserved since they are public property. The Vice President’s office complied with this order during the first two years of the Bush administration. They first refused to provide access to the National Archives during the time Valerie Plame’s identity was leaked. You can draw your own conclusions.

The “no crime” claim is the most delusional and self serving. A jury of his peers after hearing all of the testimony convicted Libby of lying to a grand jury. That’s a crime. Whether or not he was guilty of a crime regarding the outing of Valerie Plame is unclear and if the documents have been destroyed, we may never know. But it doesn’t matter because that wasn’t the crime he was convicted of. He was convicted because he was unable to provide a jury a credible defense explaining why he told a grand jury two different stories about where the information about Valerie Plame originally came from. The jury rejected his claim that a faulty memory was the cause of his inconsistency. You have to remember that Libby is a very bright ivy-league lawyer. He is a legal expert. He knew EXACTLY what he was doing when he lied to the grand jury and EXACTLY what he was doing when he presented a weak defense of those lies in his perjury trial.

The “overzealous prosecutor” claim is just funny when you think about the $70M dollars that a Republican Congress paid to Kenneth Starr for the five years of wide ranging Whitewater investigations that ended up with no convictions and charges against Starr’s office of illegally leaking Grand Jury testimony. Patrick Fitzgerald (also appointed by Republicans) took two years, spent $1M, no scandals, and got a conviction.

Finally the Republican bias in the courts is just silly. The sentence that Libby received was the result of sentencing guidelines which the Republicans put in place. As part of their campaign against “liberal judges” they have effectively removed much of the flexibility that judges had in the past. What is particularly ironic is that a very similar case was just decided in the Supreme Court (US v. Rita). In that case the convicted perjurer claimed that his 33 month sentence was too harsh because he also was a first time offender, elderly, sick, served 24 years as a Marine including tours of duty in Vietnam and Iraq, and would be vulnerable in prison because of his work in criminal justice. The Bush administration opposed Rita’s appeal claiming that the sentence was appropriate given the Federal guidelines.

I guess at the end of the day, it shouldn’t seem all that surprising. As a country, we continue the self-indulgent pastime of trying to figure out who is right rather than what is right. This gives us unethical leaders who depend on spin and misinformation to create distrust and division among the voting public. The truth, though, is always more powerful than a lie no matter how effectively the lie is told. Fortunately, it appears that it will soon be harvest time.


Facts or Fears

Friday, July 6th, 2007

In his 4th of July speech, President Bush said that we have to keep fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to prevent terrorism at home.
 
While I agree that we need to keep fighting in Afghanistan since that’s where bin Laden is hiding, Iraq is a much more complicated story.  I feel that Mr. Bush is doing a disservice to the American people when he simplifies the mission in Iraq to “preventing terrorist attacks at home”.
 
Since we can’t depend on the President to explain our current Iraq strategy, we have to look to history and other sources to get a better sense of what we are trying to accomplish in Iraq.  The President’s justification for more troops was based on a two part plan.  In the first part, our military was going to attempt to reduce the level of violence (sectarian and otherwise) in Iraq so that the moderate voices in the country could begin acting without fear of reprisal.  The second part, which is just as important as the first, depends on Iraq.  While our military works to create a less dangerous environment, the leaders in Iraq are supposed to be working out the power and money sharing compromises which will give the current warring factions some reasons to stop killing each other.  While we have seen some progress on the first part, we have seen very little progress on the second.  That’s why the original benchmark date of September to evaluate progress is going to pass with very little to show. 
 
Mr. Bush has also said that he wants to keep politics out of the war, but our military leaders have a very different view.  According to Thomas Ricks, the New York Times correspondent on Iraq and the author of Fiasco, the military are hoping that there WILL be an active debate in this country to select an exit strategy.  The army is evaluating all options, but believes it is the responsibility of our political leaders to choose which strategy to follow.  For example, what do we do if we are able to create some short-term stability but the Iraqi government doesn’t make progress toward building a viable coalition?  Hopefully that debate can begin before we have a new president.
 
I also hope that the American people will reject the scare tactic of predicting that fighting in Iraq is somehow preventing terrorists attacks at home.  If there is any connection, it is exactly the opposite.  According to our own spy agencies, our fighting in Iraq creates MORE terrorists than if we weren’t there.  Bin Laden, for example, was trained in Afghanistan during the Russian invasion.  If there is any good news, however, those folks aren’t coming here.  They are going to go back to their own countries, or other Middle East countries where they feel they have family or religious ties, and use their new skills to try to bring about political change there.
 
The terrorist attacks that ARE occurring outside the Middle East are being carried out by folks living in those countries, in most cases native born citizens
 
If we have another attack in the US, it’s going to be carried out by our citizens, not some wild-eyed jihadist fresh from the battlefields in Iraq.
 
So, though the war in Iraq may be used as justification for home-grown terrorist attacks, the actual fighting in Iraq does precious little to make us safer. We stop terrorist attacks here by reducing the conditions in this country that produce disenfranchised hateful people.  We reduce those conditions at home by offering everyone the economic opportunities to build a better life for their families and the feeling that they have a say in the policies of their government.  We reduce those conditions abroad by returning to the moral high ground in our foreign policy.  Beyond that, we have to be vigilant, honest, and realistic. 
 
It took almost twenty years to capture Ted “Unabomber” Kaczynski.  We still haven’t captured those responsible for the anthrax poisonings in 2001.  There is still a John Doe #2 suspect at large from the Oklahoma Federal Building bombing twelve years ago. 
 
The honest truth is that there is no practical way to defend ourselves from every individual who is crazy enough to kill others to prove a point.  Those who suggest that the war in Iraq (or any war anywhere) can do that are mendacious or delusional.

The Price of Freedom

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2007

As we celebrate our independence, there is an opportunity to contemplate how different people value liberty and freedom.

What brought this to mind was a piece on the NPR series, This I Believe. The piece was contributed by James Loney. He is a Canadian Christian peace activist who spent 118 days in captivity as a hostage in Baghdad in 2005. Here is the segment of his comment that I found moving.

“I believe there are many ways we can hold one another captive. It might be with a gun, an army, a holy book, a law, an invisible free-market hand. It doesn’t matter how we do it, who we do it to, or why. There is no escaping it: We ourselves become captives whenever we hold another in captivity. Whenever we soil someone else with violence, whether through a war, poverty, racism or neglect, we invariably soil ourselves. It is only when we turn away from dominating others that we can begin to discover what the Christian scriptures call “the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

Another example of putting a price on freedom played itself out in the news today. President Bush commuted the prison sentence of Scooter Libby. The President’s justification was the Mr. Libby was a loyal public servant and that in his opinion the sentence was excessive. This is the same guy, by the way, that said that those found guilty of crimes in the investigation the Valerie Plame affair would be fired and prosecuted. This is also the same guy who has issued fewer pardons or commutations during his administration than any modern President. In fact while governor of Texas, he refused to commute the death sentences of 150 men and two women. In the case of Karla Faye Tucker, he ignored even the Pope’s request for mercy, and allowed the state to carry out the first execution of a woman since the Civil War.

So what was so different about Mr. Libby that he deserved this action when so many others were denied and why now before all of his appeals were exhausted? I have to believe that there is a quid pro quo at work here. Libby was promised that if he remained loyal and kept his mouth shut, he wouldn’t spend any time in jail. When the courts refused to put off Libby’s jail time while he exhausted his available appeals, Bush had no choice. That is the price of freedom that Bush was willing to pay.

Finally, there are the tens of thousands of people who have died in Iraq in this most recent conflict. They paid a huge price for a questionable cause. They are enjoying the embrace of their Creator, while we continue to struggle to make some sense of their sacrifice. That is the price and obligation of our freedom.

“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Romans 8: 18-21