Archive for March, 2008

What’s going on in Iraq?

Saturday, March 29th, 2008

The sort answer is that 4000 US soldiers and as many as 1.2 Million Iraqi’s have died in this conflict over the past five years. We are currently spending somewhere around $12B per month and there is no end in sight.

A quick summary of the most recent conflict is that the British pulled out of Basra in December turning the area over to local militia. The current fight was predicted by many (including me). It is between Shiite groups for control of a very valuable distribution point for Iraqi goods (read oil). Many of those Shiite groups make up the current government coalition.

The Iraqi government has made an effort, with the help of American and British air power, to bring order back to the area, but so far the militia are winning.

This again begs the question of American presence in the area. The troop surge and associated “incentives” (guns and money) encouraged rival groups to focus their efforts on al Qaeda in Iraq rather than each other. It also worked to the degree that major political figures like Moktada al-Sadr were willing to stand down in return for making some money. The hope was that during this short period of political calm, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, could begin dividing up enough of the political pie in Iraq so that folks like al-Sadr would decide that there was more money to be made by being in the government rather than out of it.

Well that didn’t happen. In fact al-Sadr pulled his group out of the government and the most recent violence started with a call by al-Sadr for a general strike to demonstrate to the rest of the country that he is someone with political power. The government responded by sending in troops and the rest will shortly be history.

Here’s what the history will look like, “British pull-out from Basra delayed after rise in rocket attacks” and “U.S. forces drawn deeper into faceoff with militias”. Faced with a challenge, the Iraqi government has asked both the British and Americans for more troops. As long as we respond, we prop up a government that has not been able to demonstrate that it has the ability to keep peace even between it’s own elements.

President Bush has said that he sees this as a defining moment for the al-Maliki government. Yup just like the Tet offensive was the defining moment for the government of South Viet Nam.

This is not a struggle that is going to be won militarily, yet our government continues to define this conflict in those terms.

The solution in this area is going to be a political one where all sides determine that there is more to be gained by compromise than by bloodshed. Unfortunately, the deep seated differences between rival factions may require conflict before compromise can be won. As long as we are there, we perpetuate the status quo and inhibit the progress that has to come if there is ever going to be a government that doesn’t require US force in order to govern.


He is Risen

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

A little less that two thousand years ago the Romans executed someone at the request of the local authorities. They didn’t see the person as much of a threat, but they were happy to oblige those Jews that helped keep the peace in this sleepy little backwater province of the Roman Empire. Pilate, knowing that the normal Roman practice of leaving the dead bodies to rot on the cross was objectionable to the Jews particularly on a religious holiday, allowed a man of substance to take the body. In keeping with Jewish custom, the body was buried in a new tomb in order to avoid the familial stigma associated with being executed as a criminal.

Then something incredible happened. After three days, the man that had been killed by the Romans, got back up. He somehow got out of the burial wrappings. He found the strength to roll the large stone away from the entrance to the solid rock tomb. He walked off under his own power.

I don’t think that there is any question that this person was dead. His heart had stopped beating. He had stopped breathing. It is likely that most of the blood had drained out of his body from his many wounds and a spear through the heart. Given all of that, it is also likely that if we had modern instruments, no brain waves would have been detected. Yet, he overcame those challenges without the aid of ER physicians, electric shocks to his heart, sutures, bandages, or transfusions.

He invited those who thought he was a ghost to examine his wounds to confirm that it was him. So clearly those wounds were still there including the most serious one on his side that pierced his heart. There was no mention of his walking funny like the Hollywood zombies. So he also seemed to recover from the beatings that he received. Yet he was able to move through the population without drawing attention to himself.

As far as his bodily functions, we know that he ate and drank, so we can probably assume that his digestive system also returned to some level of function. In fact he was able to walk a considerable distance during the time after his death.

How could this happen?

Were the laws of physics suspended?

I don’t know. You can pick the explanation that works for you.

Here’s what works for me.

On that day, the world changed. The most perfect man ever to walk the earth, born of a woman, learned through prayer how to overcome his own death. Not only that, but he promised that everyone who followed his teaching would be able to perform even greater works because the Christ that he embodied is reflected in all of us.  He was willing to go through all of this because it was the only way that he could prove that all that he said was true.  For that we owe him a debt of gratitude that we can only repay by following him.

I believe that we are just starting to scratch the surface of understanding the power of prayer. As we do, our sorrow will also turn to joy because the world for us will change just like it did for the apostles.

Happy Easter to all.


Walk the Talk

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

There was an interesting juxtaposition of political positions in the news again this week.

We had the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

President Bush marked the occasion with a speech in which he again claimed that, “removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision.” He touted military progress and the moral obligation to support the growth of democracy.

We saw the Chinese violently suppress opposition in Tibet.

President Bush remained silent other than to mention that the United States and China have a “complex relationship”.

A topic on which he did not remain silent, however, was the election in Taiwan. He was happy to express his preference of candidates. The incumbent, President Chen Shui-bian, had advocated application for membership in the UN and openly spoke of independence. President Bush condemned this policy as a futile provocation of the mainland. Chen was defeated by Ma Ying-jeou, a smooth Harvard law graduate who advocates better relations with China.

So on one hand, we justify the invasion of a sovereign country on the basis that their leader was a ruthless dictator who persecuted some of this citizens.  We have to stay at a cost that may reach three trillion dollars because our mission is to spread democracy. On the other hand, when a democratically elected official attempts to exercise that country’s right to independence from a repressive dictatorship, we object.

And you wonder why we are held in such low regard around the world.

Here’s a hint.

It’s not because we are Christian.


Saturday, March 15th, 2008

 “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, this people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.” Matt 15:7-8

There appear to be two great sins in politics these days. The first sin is some public revelation of sexual immorality. This sin will get you in the paper, but you may be able to survive. The second is hypocrisy. That also by itself is not fatal as the current administration has proved. Commit both of these sins, however, and you are front page news and your career is over.

This isn’t anything new.

Gary Hart committed both of these sins when he challenged reporters to prove that he had been unfaithful to his wife. They did and it was the end of both his bid for the Presidency and his public life.

What really put an end to Newt Gingrich’s political career was the revelation that while he was savaging President Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky he was engaged in a remarkably similar affair with a married woman.

Same thing with the conservative evangelical minister and Focus on the Family spokesperson, Ted Haggard. It was the combination of his relentless condemnation of homosexuals and an affair with a male prostitute that brought him down.

Governor Elliot Spitzer is the latest victim of this perfect storm of political bad news. He built his political career on his aggressive pursuit of white collar criminals and prostitution while spending an estimated $80K with a prostitute.

What I’m curious about is what this says about us as a country.

Why is this the untouchable third rail in US politics and not something more tangible like lying to the public, mismangement, graft, or corruption?

Infidelity doesn’t seem to bother the French. They just elected a man who was having an affair with a woman he recently married and the woman he just divorced admitted to a having an affair for two years prior to Sarkozy’s election while they still appeared in public as a married couple. The extramarital affairs of his predecessor Chirac were so well known that he often joked about them in public. But, at least in the case of Chirac, he publicly acknowledged his affairs thus avoiding the appearance of hypocrisy (with the obvious exception of his marriage vows).

Clearly all of the people involved in these incidents (men and women) displayed moral and ethical weakness, but why should this particular combination of weaknesses cause immediate and complete collapse of public trust only in this country?

Why do we immediately call with one voice for the resignation of people like Spitzer, for example, and tolerate a President who says that we don’t torture and then vetoes a bill making one particular form of torture (waterboarding) illegal?

Why do some in this country object to Senator Clinton as a candidate because of her husband’s past indiscretions, but continue to support the current President spending $12B a week in Iraq?

Why do we get all bent out of shape when the Mayor of Detroit’s affair (which he denied) is revealed through public disclosure of text messages, but support the President’s call for amnesty for the phone companies which allowed the government to illegally look at everyone’s text messages (and email, and phone conversations)?

All I can figure is that the hypocritical sex scandals seem so black and white. They appear so simple and the solutions so obvious. So we focus our attention on those rather than the real problems caused by our failure to hold our elected officials accountable for how they have been running our country.

Even in Jesus time, there were way more people willing to stone the adulteress than drive the money changers out the temple.

At the end of the day, does that make us the real hypocrites?

Clothes Don’t Make the Man

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

This is a story about the conflicts between private life and public life.

The story starts with a Boston area bankruptcy judge taking a walk on the wild side in New Hampshire while his wife was away for the weekend. In this case that involved cross dressing and visiting a popular gay bar. His only crime was that he had too much to drink and then got behind the wheel. The next thing he knew, there was a parked pickup truck on the hood of his Mercedes. The police said that they knew he was drunk because he passed out a couple of times and, “had a difficult time locating his license in his purse.”

He pleaded ‘no contest’ to a misdemeanor DUI charge and agreed to pay roughly $600 in penalties. He also agreed to a 12-month suspension of his judicial license and resigned the post President Bush appointed him to in 2004.

Here’s what’s sad to me about the whole thing.

From all accounts, he was a good judge in an area of law where we need good judges.

So, other than embarrassment, why did he have to resign?

My sense is if it had been a simple DUI, he probably wouldn’t have had to resign. Heck there are plenty of congressmen and senators over the past several years convicted of driving while under the influence who have continued to hold office. Recently defeated Senator Tommy Robertson just had his second DUI conviction. The judge had to resign because of the revelation that he was a transvestite. As a Republican, I submit that this is a far greater transgression than driving after having too much to drink.

If this person had chosen to show up for the job in fishnet stockings and an evening dress, you could make a strong case for him being unfit. The fact that this occurred on his own time at a place where he would not be recognized suggests that he is capable of discretion and shouldn’t be punished for anything more than just having too much to drink.

If J. Edgar Hoover could run the FBI for 48 years and occasionally wear women’s clothes, why not this guy?