Category Archives: World Events

An Innocent Family, and a Deal with Gaddafi

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Here’s a powerful piece by a Libyan woman who has a very personal stake in the Congressional report on the CIA’s torture and rendition programs–evil programs which put my beloved country in the “state-sponsored torture” category. In 2004, when she was 12, Khadija al-Saadi and her three siblings and parents, who had previously escaped from Libya, were kidnapped and “rendered” to Libya.

It was apparently part of a political deal with Gaddafi, something he wanted in return for helping the US and Britain fight terrorism. To the government officials who struck the deal, Khadija’s family were merely expendable pawns, anonymous Arabs to be traded. But Khadija writes, “For my family, it was personal: it was about my father being handed over to a dictator he had dared to oppose, to be beaten and nearly killed.”

Large portions of the report are blacked out. Khadija wants to see the names, dates, places, everything–a full accounting. She writes, “I wonder who will decide whether my name gets a black line drawn through it, and whether he or she will stop to think what that means…I want to know which places were used for the rendition programme; I want to know how my family were kidnapped and moved around like cargo; I want to know who gave the orders at each level. If there are individuals who are uncomfortable about that, it is nothing compared to the feelings I experienced aged 12, speeding through Libya on the way to a secret prison.”

She’s got a compelling point. I’ve read many tales of rendition from the Bush years. All of them result in torture. That was the idea. A very sad chapter in our history.

 

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China: Follow the Leader, Thank You Very Much

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Congratulations to China for landing an unmanned vehicle on the moon last weekend. I apologize that we in the US consider it a blase achievement, since we landed on the moon 45 years ago. Maybe you didn’t notice, since you were all caught up in that Cultural Revolution thing you had going (how’d that turn out, by the way?). Oh–did anyone tell you we also included a couple actual people? And brought them back? Tiny little detail you may have overlooked.

Since you’re playing catch-up, you might try a couple other things we did in 1969.

For instance, we held a big music festival that year–called it Woodstock. You could try something like that in Tiananmen Square. Might go over real well. We also debuted something called the 747 Jumbo Jet. Do you have anything like that? Also in 1969, we created ARPANET. Today we call it the internet. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Anyway, keep up the good work. Imitation, as they say, is flattery, and China excels at imitation.

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A Time for Everything. A Funeral’s Not It.

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It’s silly the way folks are upset that President Obama shook hands with Raul Castro at the Nelson Mandela funeral. That was not the time or place to indulge our regional squabbles. Obama was a guest in another country, paying homage to the life of a great man from that country. In a situation like that, when you go down a line of state leaders, you shake hands with the next person in line, tyrant or not, period.

Imagine if every country used the occasion to snub whoever they don’t get along with–China vs. Taiwan, India vs. Pakistan, Honduras vs. El Salvador, Saudi Arabia vs. Iran, Turkey vs. Greece, the US vs. Syria, Iran, Columbia, Nicaragua, North Korea…on and on. Imagine if, at the Ronald Reagan funeral, the Chinese leader refused to shake hands with the Taiwan leader, with all the world watching. We would have been upset. There is a time and place for everything under the sun. A state funeral may not be that place.

The Mandela funeral was not about the US and Cuba. It was about Mandela and South Africa. It was appropriate for the various world leaders, as guests of South Africa, to be on their best behavior.

By all accounts, best behavior prevailed….mostly. Ted Cruz walked out of the memorial service when Castro spoke. That was incredibly petty and immature. Then there was Marco Rubio, who said, “If the president was going to shake his hand, he should have asked him about those basic freedoms Mandela was associated with that are denied in Cuba.” You mean, just stop in the middle of the funeral and begin a political discussion? Not the time or place, Marco. Grow up.

By the way, President Obama’s speech at the funeral was excellent. I’m sure FoxNews will, as they always do, insist that his speech involved apologizing for America (I read his speeches and NEVER agree with FoxNews about this apologizing nonsense). I thought his remarks at the funeral were an excellent message for the world.

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Nelson Mandela: Goodbye to a Great Man

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During the 1980s, I read much about apartheid, outraged that such evil could exist in our world. And I was outraged by the support shown to the apartheid leaders by Ronald Reagan and Christian leders like Jerry Falwell.

When apartheid finally fell, I assumed that the long-suppressed blacks would seek both justice and vengeance for the many decades of abuse they had suffered. In fact, I favored that. Evil must be punished.

I remember that day when Nelson Mandela was released, and he spoke to a huge crowd for a couple hours. I watched, captivated. Nobody would have sympathized with the white racist rulers had Mandela advocated recriminations and seeking justice for decades of oppression. I wouldn’t have.

A bloodbath could have occurred with nothing more than a nod from Nelson Mandela. But instead, Mandela spoke of peace and reconciliation. It was clear to me that I was seeing the beginning of Greatness, and that I had much to learn.

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Thirsty for the Trivial

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CNN is getting lazy in covering the Royal Baby. After an initial flurry of CNN alerts, we’ve heard nothing of late. CNN should put some of its crack reporters on the case, and send out CNN Alerts as soon as the following bits of information are determined.

  • how often the baby burps.
  • who changes diapers the most.
  • the preferred brand of diaper.
  • the decibel level at which the baby cries.
  • whether the baby has vomited on the Queen Mother and, if so, did her bodyguards immediately tackle and subdue the baby.

Don’t worry about verifying the information (as if that’s important to you anyway). “Unnamed sources” will suffice.

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The Zimmerman Case: Not About Racism

zimmerman300Let me offer a different take on the George Zimmerman case. I don’t think it was about racism or racial profiling.

Sure, the media quickly spun the shooting as racism, and President Obama firmly implanted racist themes when he (unwisely) weighed in. But I don’t think Zimmerman was motivated by racism. I think it was far more primal–a guy thing.

I think George Zimmerman was a no-account fellow going through life powerless, unrecognized, invisible. But having a gun made him feel like a Big Man. And with gun in hand, he could pursue his fantasies of being Someone to be Reckoned With. For his little neighborhood, he wanted to be perceived as Jack Nicholson’s Man on the Wall. Protector of Society. A man to be appreciated and respected. And having a gun put all of that within reach.

So when Zimmerman saw someone traipsing through the neighborhood who didn’t seem to belong–well, it didn’t matter if the guy was white or black or in between. And it didn’t matter that the police told him to stay in his car, to not approach. Zimmerman was overpowered with a macho fantasy to fulfill. This was a situation he had dreamed about. He needed to ride to the rescue, gun in hand, and save the day…and win the applause of his protectees.

And so, Zimmerman blundered in, and things went badly.

Was it self-defense? Maybe. Did Martin attack him first? Maybe. But it wasn’t racism that started the thing rolling. It was a guy who carried a gun without understanding the responsibilities that go with it.

(I could be totally wrong. It’s happened before.)

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Matters of Injustice Should Matter to Christians

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One of my great disappointments with President Obama regards the prisoners at Guantanamo. I don’t care that he hasn’t closed Guantanamo. Republicans have blocked him from doing that, killing all alternatives to housing those prisoners. The prison is necessary for now.

But of the 166 persons still imprisoned there, half have been cleared for release. Some have been kept there for 13 years, with no charges brought against them and no prosecution planned. Obama COULD take action to release them–he’s not totally powerless. Yet he does nothing.

It’s a case of American injustice. And injustice always bothers me deeply, especially since the Bible speaks so frequently against injustice.

Over the years, I’ve read many stories of injustice. For some reason they capture my attention, stabbing my soul.

  • The Holocaust–no greater example of injustice, and no end to the stories. I’ve read many books about the Holocaust.
  • The treatment of American Indians in the Old West.
  • The plight of white farmers under the tyranny of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.
  • The cruelty of apartheid in South Africa.
  • The three-strikes laws which send persons to life in prison for simple thefts.
  • The internment of Japanese Americans during World War 2.
  • The treatment of blacks in the South between the Civil War and the 1960s.
  • McCarthyism.
  • Media persons with an influential platform who engage in character assassination with little regard for truthfulness or telling the full story–Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and others.
  • A legal system which favors persons with money, and tends to screw over people people on society’s lower rungs.
  • The persecution of Christians in the Soviet Union during the Cold War years. I read a bunch of books about that during the 1970s.

I don’t know why injustice captures my attention so strongly. I can’t claim to have been a victim of injustice, nor have I actually done anything to combat injustice (beyond raising my voice against it and increasing people’s awareness of it). I guess God gives different people different burdens. There are other causes which deserve outrage, but which don’t outrage me…at least not like injustice does.

But back to Guantanamo.

I’ve read numerous stories and reports regarding America’s imprisonment and torture of Muslims. I was heartened recently, in reading one particular story about a Mauritanian who has been imprisoned since 2003, has undergone torture at the hands of Americans (at the personal direction of Don Rumsfield), and has never been charged. He’s been cleared for release, no charges ever brought against him. Yet for 10 years, he has languished in this terrible prison. (His story was published, at length, in Slate.)

What heartened me is, at one point the military assigned an evangelical Christian to prosecute the guy, but upon learning about how this Mauritanian had been tortured, he refused to take the case. He cited biblical objections. I’ve read other stories of Americans in the military, CIA, and FBI who, either for religious or simply moral reasons, have done what they could to oppose the use of torture and false imprisonment–sometimes putting their own career at risk.

I work in a denomination dominated by Republicans and fans of FoxNews. But only once or twice have I heard another United Brethren object to the use of torture, rendition, or false imprisonment. I hear fellow Christians dismiss objections about Guantanamo simply because the prisoners are Muslims, and they hate Muslims or think all Muslims are terrorists. One fellow Christian even told me that, if asked by his country, he would readily take part in torturing prisoners. This complacency about injustice bothers me deeply. And it’s one reason I continue raising my voice in writing.

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A Plea for New NRA Leadership

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The NRA is holding its annual convention in Houston this weekend. Mark Kelly, husband of Gabrielle Giffords, wrote an excellent–I mean, EXCELLENT–letter to NRA members, suggesting that they need new leaders.

“What most members of the NRA want from the organization and what the leadership is actually doing are not the same. The NRA used to be a great organization, and you can still get practical value out of it as a member–everything from insurance to gun safety courses. But those services are small potatoes compared to where the NRA’s leadership makes the really big money. The NRA leadership’s top priority is to make sure the corporations that make guns and ammunition continue to turn huge profits. Their top priority isn’t you, the NRA member….

“And that’s why LaPierre and the rest of the leadership of the NRA and other gun organizations are spending so much of their time wild-eyed, preaching possible government confiscations. It’s because they don’t want the membership to notice they’ve turned their backs on the very safety measures, like background checks, that the organization used to stand for–in exchange for cold hard cash….

“When LaPierre and his crew of highly paid Beltway insider staff reversed their earlier support of common-sense measures like expanded background checks, they sent a strong message that instead of standing with the 3 million of your members who supported background checks, they were working on behalf of the manufacturers’ profit margins instead. It seems to me that the time is right for a new generation of leaders within the NRA.”

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Divide and Conquer, but Self-Divide and Decline

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I’m finishing a wonderful book called “A Short History of the World,” by Christopher Richard Lascelles (a real mouthful of a name). The book takes a whirlwind tour through history starting with the Big Bang. I wish I had read it when I was young, to give me a foundational overview of world history. It’s just 165 pages long, and imminently readable.

History is mostly the story of the rise and fall of civilizations. One thing that struck me was the number of great empires that began declining when they divided. After Alexander the Great died, the Greek empire was divided among five generals. The Mongol Empire was divided among Genghis Kahn’s four sons. The Roman empire divided in half. Charlemagne’s Frankish empire was divided among several descendants.

54333e8840b6b763896e6040983fafedIt made me think of the current secessionist movements in the United States, with various states wanting to withdraw and become their own country. If Texas pulled out of the US, or the northwest states, or other regions, would that begin the decline of the US as a world superpower? Probably. We could get along without the Dakotas, but if one state withdrew, other dominos would fall. And I seriously doubt we would go to war (as Lincoln did) against fellow citizens. Not today, with our emphasis on self-determination.

I remember hearing Sean Hannity talking to someone who wanted Texas to secede. Hannity concluded the interview by saying, “I support what you’re doing.” And I wondered if Hannity really understood the consequences for America. It disturbed me that this one opinionated guy with a popular TV and radio show favored the disintegration of my country, and was probably convincing millions of listeners that this was a good thing.

Then you can consider: What if the South had won the Civil War? America as we know it would not exist. Instead, we would have had two countries–significant countries, but probably not superpowers–on a continual war footing with each other. The two countries probably would have had border clashes, if not all-out wars, various times over the years–perpetual enemies. They might have become friendly, but never friends. And the world would be lesser for it.

So thank you, President Lincoln, for preserving the union. And woe to the clownish Sean Hannity and all the other people who now want to divide our country into geographical pieces.

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Misunderstanding the Arab Spring

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A while back, while heading home from work, I listened to “The Five” on FoxNews Radio. It’s always entertaining watching the only liberal, Bob Beckel, fend off the four lightweight conservatives who try to storm his battlements.

At the end of this particular broadcast, during which they focused on the embassy attacks in Egypt and Libya, one of the women sarcastically remarked, “That whole Arab Spring thing is going real well, isn’t it?”

I guess she thought she was really sticking it to the Obama administration, and would get brownie points from Roger Ailes. Since she wasn’t one of the multitudinous FoxNews blondes, she had to try harder.

I’ve heard lots of similar junk from conservatives. It’s as if the Arab Spring was an initiative of the Obama administration, and Republicans want to make sure it gets discredited. But Obama had nothing to do with launching the Arab Spring, any more than the French were responsible for starting the American Revolution.

The Arab Spring started with a Tunisian who set himself on fire, resulting ultimately in the toppling of the Tunisian government. This rampant Arab discontent spread to other countries under dictatorial rule, not unlike a viral Youtube video. I’m sure there were some behind-the-scenes persons pulling strings, but ultimately, it was a grassroots movement which swept across borders.

This was NOT an American program. We had nothing to do with starting the Arab Spring, and probably nothing to do with spreading it. In fact, a lot of American voices, including liberal ones, were calling for caution, since we didn’t know what kind of governments would replace these dictators–maybe radical Islamic governments.

Anyway, I can do without the sarcasm, FoxNews Lady.

Let’s applaude these Arab people who courageously rose up against ruthless dictators and claimed their freedom. They may or may not get the new leadership they wanted or deserve, but at least they risked their lives to bring about change. That, after all, is a very American thing to do. And we should give them a standing ovation…not snide mockery on cable TV.

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