U.S. Rep. Peter King is planning another round of congressional hearing into "Muslim radicalization," reports NPR and other media outlets. The hearings are scheduled for June 15th. King held hearings earlier this year that were widely condemned by interfaith religious leaders. King's principle charge - one disputed by the FBI, Homeland Security and other anti-terrorism agencies - is that American Muslims have not condemned terrorism or that they even support it. At that time, The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Christ USA, firmly declared: "No matter what Rep. King may say, his hearings convey the implicit message that Muslims aren’t part of 'us'—and to this sort of bigotry, all citizens of conscience must say NO!"
Let me repeat that Rep. King's hearings to investigate Muslim Americans are the definition of un-American. As I have said before, these hearings bring to mind the Salem witch trials and the McCarthy hearings, dark periods in this land. We should never forgot the lessons of those experiences. The U.S. House of Representatives should not be used as a venue for religious or political persecution.
Note: Church World Service is continuing to respond to disasters in places like Haiti and Japan as well as to recent events in the United States. Please support their work generously. Help now: Text CWS to 50555 to donate $10 or donate online! You can also assemble and donate Emergency Clean-up Buckets, which are desperately needed at this time.
At least 116 people have died in a tornado that hit Joplin, Mo., Sunday – the deadliest of 68 weekend tornadoes that affected seven states in a sweep from Oklahoma to Minnesota.
Officials said the Joplin tornado may be the single deadliest tornado in the U.S. since 1953. The tornado left a mile-wide path of destruction through the center of the town and directly hit Joplin's main hospital, officials said.
Among other tornadoes was one in Minneapolis which killed one person and affected a predominately low-income community.
The weekend of tornadoes is the latest in a series of serious domestic disasters in recent months, which aside from tornadoes have included floods. While numerous states are beginning the clean-up process, the flood crest continues down the Mississippi Valley. In Louisiana, for example, flood gates have been opened on the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers flooding numerous low-lying communities. The full impact of this flooding will not be known for several weeks.
The list of states with significant damage from the flooding include Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Louisiana. The states with significant spring storm and tornado damage, aside from Missouri (which had already been affected by previous tornadoes and storms) include Alabama, Illinois, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, Georgia and Ohio.
Many of the larger communities are well organized to conduct long-term recovery programs. However, some larger communities and numerous smaller communities were severely impacted. In these small and vulnerable communities long-term recovery committees are being formed. Many of these organizations will require training programs by CWS and its partner denominations.
Affected communities will be seeking material goods, training, mentoring and long term recovery committee start up assistance, as well.
Total is $280,000. This includes $240,000 for long-term recovery start-up, with a minimum of 30 groups at an average grant of $8,000 each. Other expenses: $20,000 for material resources and shipping; $20,000 for long-term recovery group training.
HOW TO HELP: Contributions to support CWS emergency response efforts may be made online, sent to your denomination, or to Church World Service, Appeal #627-P, 2011 Spring Storms, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515.
Well over a year ago I wrote a post on Harold Camping's prediction that the world would end on May 21, 2011. That post by far has received more traffic per day than just about any other I've written in the last year. Last summer I closed the comments because debating those who believed in Camping seemed futile but I've reopened the thread now that it is clear that Rapture did not come and I invite those who believed the Rapture would arrive - and who now know that it didn't - to share their feelings.
I would expect many might feel betrayed. That would be understandable. But you shouldn't feel alone. Plenty of people have fallen for scams such as these in the past. We might heap scorn on those behind the scam but we should offer compassion to those who believed in it. I suspect most who believed the Rapture would come simply hoped that God would save the world from the times in which we find ourselves and these are difficult times. But I believe that what God really wants is to partner with as - as God has done throughout time - to build up the Kingdom and to find ways together to end war and poverty and suffering so that all creation might live in harmony.
These are difficult times but they are not times without hope. Camping's biggest sin is that he robbed people of hope.
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I'm raptured up before I wake,
I pray the Lord brings along my family and iPad.
If I'm Left Behind with the heathens,
I pray we pass a single payer health care plan.
Related Post: The End Of The World! May 21, 2011!
President Obama this week gave a thoughtful address on the Middle East which has predictably drawn criticism from U.S. partisan critics and the majority party in Israel who object to the president's call for Israel to return to 1967 borders as part of a peace deal with Palestinians. But leading Jewish citizens in Israel are calling for support of President Obama's peace efforts.
Churches for Middle East Peace explains the context of the week's developments:
In a speech to the Knesset May 16, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid out principles for negotiations, offering to hand over parts of the West Bank to the Palestinians if they accepted his peace terms. The prime minister said that such a deal would include compromises on "parts of our homeland." However, he stated that such a deal would not include the right of return for Palestinian refugees to Israel, would keep West Bank Israeli settlement blocs intact, would involve long-term Israeli military presence along the Jordan River, and would keep all of Jerusalem as part of Israel.
On Thursday, May 19, President Obama said in a nationally televised speech on the Middle East, “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.”
The president countered Prime Minister Netanyahu’s claim to an indefinite Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley saying, “The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. And the duration of this transition must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.”
The president also acknowledged the challenge of the reconciliation agreement signed this month by Hamas and Fatah leaders. While noting that the agreement raises legitimate questions for Israel, he also called for Palestinian leadership to take responsibility for the implications of that agreement. He asked, “How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist? … Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question.”
What was clear in the president’s speech is that he intends to press for a return to negotiations and an agreement for peace. With a possible nod toward his own administration’s unsuccessful attempts at progress, he said, “The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.”
Obama met privately with Netanyahu for nearly two hours on Friday, May 19. Their remarks following the meeting demonstrated the fundamental differences in the two leaders’ positions on how to achieve peace. The president will go on to address an AIPAC convention over the weekend, as will the prime minister. The end of this round of speech-making will come on Tuesday, May 24 when Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress.
A New U.S. Position?
Obama’s statement about the border and security goes further than any U.S. President has in the past. He specifically did not address the issues of Jerusalem or refugees. There are rumors that there were divisions within the administration about the speech. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was advocating for Obama to set out principles on all the major issues. However, Special Assistant to President Obama on Middle East issues, Dennis Ross, reportedly wanted to give more time for Israel to assess the Middle East’s changing political landscape. Obama chose a middle ground.
Many U.S. opinion leaders have recently encouraged Netanyahu to recognize the 1967 borders as a basis for negotiations and are raising questions about his interest in reaching a peace agreement. In a recent column, Thomas Friedman said that instead of trying to make peace, Netanyahu “has spent his time trying to avoid such a deal — and everyone knows it. No one is fooled.”
In one example of perspectives of the Israeli right, Danny Danon, a Likud party member and deputy speaker of the Knesset, wrote in the New York Times May 19 that if the Palestinians unilaterally declare statehood, Israel should annex the West Bank. Israel “could then extend full Israeli jurisdiction to the Jewish communities and uninhabited lands of the West Bank,” excluding Palestinians from citizenship.
Netanyahu’s reaction to President Obama’s speech was frosty. “Withdraw to the 1967 lines which are both indefensible and … would leave major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] beyond those lines,” he commented from Jerusalem. It was reported that Netanyahu called Secretary Clinton to say reference to 1967 borders should be cut from the Obama’s speech.
The official Israeli position to President Obama's speech may have been "frosty" but many leading Jewish leaders in Israel took out newspaper ads supporting a return to the 1967 borders. The ads stated:
We, the citizens of Israel, call on the public to support the recognition of a democratic Palestinian state as a condition for ending the conflict, and reaching agreed borders on the basis of the 1967 borders. Recognition of such a Palestinian state is vital for Israel’s existence. It is the only way to guarantee the resolution of the conflict by negotiations, to prevent the eruption of another round of massive violence and end the risky isolation of Israel in the world The successful implementation of the agreements requires two leaderships, Israeli and Palestinian, which recognize each other, choose peace and are fully committed to it. This is the only policy that leaves Israel's fate and security in its own hands. Any other policy contradicts the promise of Zionism and the welfare of the Jewish people.
You can see the full ad here.
It needs to be noted that the President has not suggusted, as some have argued, that the exact 1967 borders need to be returned to. What the president was clearly talking about - what is always talked about in this context - is the amount of land returning to 1967 levels. Politico notes the frustration the Obama Administration is feeling with the misrepresentation of their position:
Netanyahu is being completely disingenuous and irresponsible by trying to suggest that anyone has talked about a return to the exact 1967 borders. That's not what the President said and he knows very well -- because he's heard this in myriad discussions, that when you're talking about swaps, it accounts for the settlement blocs, for security
He's trying to play the security card on us and to suggest that we're somehow endangering the State of Israel.... the idea that the president suggested that Israel should be relegated back to the '67 lines is absurd.
Peace must come to this region of the world. It will take brave men and women to force the peace - not through war or terror - but through real negotiations. What remains unclear is whether or not there are peacemakers in positions of leadership in either Israel or Palestine. President Obama, however, has laid out a principled framwork for the parties.
Update: The U.S. Jewish group J Street also issued a statement in support of the president's speech:
J Street commends President Obama for his important speech today outlining his approach to the changing Middle East and stating that efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a two-state solution are “more urgent than ever.” We are grateful that the President reiterated that America’s friendship with Israel is rooted in shared values and that the United States maintains an unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.
We share, however, the President’s deep concern that the status quo today between Israel and the Palestinians is unsustainable, and that “the dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.” He is correct in saying that Israel will only find security through granting the Palestinian people their freedom, and the Palestinian people will only achieve freedom if Israel finds security.
J Street wholeheartedly endorses the approach to resolving the conflict outlined today by the President, namely, to address borders and security first. This is an approach which J Street first advocated when negotiations stalled last year. He also clearly established that those borders must be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps – an essential component of the ad J Street ran this morning in The New York Times.
We hope the President will now put his words into action in the coming days as he meets with Prime Minister Netanyahu and that he will launch a credible new diplomatic initiative in advance of the looming September United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood.
We urge the President to publicly ask the leaders of both parties to join him in an intensive and immediate effort to achieve a two-state solution on the basis of the principles laid out in this speech. He has laid out the parameters of a workable two-state deal, and now the parties must decide if they are ready to work seriously to achieve that elusive goal.
When President Obama said last week it was time to move past the "silliness" over the contrived debate over where he was born he wasn't kidding. The world faces serious issues and the president was in the midst of a serious national security operation that would lead to the demise of Osama bin Laden, ten years after the 9/11 attacks. Serious times demand serious debates but still on the far fringes of the left and the right people are engaging today in less than serious behavior.
On blogs and talk radio shows some conservative voices are decrying bin Laden's burial at sea. The decision was made because what nation state would take his remains and why set-up a shrine for a man who has committed crimes against humanity? The Creeping Sharia website calls the decision "political correctness run amok" and others have said the burial was too humane. That's short sighted and little more than an attempt to use the matter as a political wedge issue against the president.
A better informed perspective comes from Imam Khalid Latif, chaplain for New York University, who wrote today on CNN's website that:
In general, Islamic law would state that a Muslim should be buried in the ground. However, everything is not black and white, and a main objective of Sharia law is to increase benefits and reduce detriments to society.
The question here is not about how a body should be buried in general, but rather how specifically the body of Osama bin Laden should be buried. The decision to bury bin Laden at sea exemplifies for us how Sharia is meant to function as it takes into consideration what would be best for society on a whole through a lens of compassion and mercy.
Consider these three points:
1) Humanity on a whole has a right that needs to be considered in regard to bin Laden’s burial. Who would want this man buried next to their loved one? Is it appropriate, especially after he has caused such pain to so many, to put anyone in a situation where they might have to be buried near or next to him? I would say no.
2) The number of individuals who hate this man, including many Muslims, is extremely large. If he were buried in the ground somewhere, even at an undisclosed location, eventually we would know where his body was. Years of anger and frustration that have built up because of him would now have an outlet for expression. Whichever country had the misfortune of hosting his body would need to increase security measures around his grave. It's a good thing that no country, including Saudi Arabia, wanted to bury him in their lands.
3) There should be no opportunity for glorification of bin Laden. A grave that people could visit also would serve as an opportunity for his small group of followers to memorialize him. These individuals are skewed not only in their misreading and misinterpretation of Islam, but also - and more important - in their understanding of morals and ethics. No opportunity should exist by which they could glorify bin Laden in his death, either in the immediate future or in years to come.
In showing respect for Islam, we demonstrated once again that our war is with terrorists and not the Muslim people. It was a smart decision on a number of levels. Let's face it: the debate over the burial is mostly naked Islamophobia along with a deep desire to hurt the president politically no matter the issue. The Chreeping Sharia website itself is a paranoid waste of internet bandwidth.
On the left, I'm sad to say, we have our own voices of silliness. Politico reports today that:
Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan wrote her supporters, “I am sorry, but if you believe the newest death of OBL, you’re stupid. Just think to yourself—they paraded Saddam’s dead sons around to prove they were dead—why do you suppose they hastily buried this version of OBL at sea? This lying, murderous Empire can only exist with your brainwashed consent—just put your flags away and THINK!”
I once thought of Sheehan as a hero for the way she bravely stood up to George W. Bush and helped to bring attention to the foolish Iraq War. Now? Her passion is turning her into the equivalent of a leftist "birther." Her comments are foolish and irresponsible.
There is still too much silliness in the air. Let's focus on reality and start asking the hard questions about what happens next in Afghanistan, for example, and how we address our economic woes at home and the global climate change crisis that impacts us all. We don't have time for Donald Trump-style freak shows right now.
Church World Service will be in need of assistance as they respond to the violent storms that have hit the Midwest and Southern U.S. this week:
CWS emergency response specialists are in contact with state and local officials across the southern U.S. following a rampage of violent storms. Our initial response in any U.S. emergency is to provide CWS Kits and emergency response grants to community groups helping in recovery.
Our hallmark, however is in supporting affected communities in the long term as they work to fulfill unmet needs in vulnerable communities. More information on our long-term response will take shape as the disaster unfolds.
Has the issue of whether or not the federal government will shut down later tonight really come down to this?
If Congress fails to reach a budget deal, the government will shut down at midnight tonight — an event that would hinder economic recoveryand withhold payment to soldiers. But congressional leaders are at loggerheads over one issue: family planning. Though it has zero impact on the federal budget, House Republicans are insisting that Democrats agree to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood or make billions more in cuts.
From the Roman Catholic Church to the United Church of Christ - two denominations that disagree on the issue of abortion - the issue has been clear, as it has from religious leaders across the country with the exception of the far fringes of the religious right, the federal budget must promote the common good, help people lift themselves out of poverty, protect the middle class, and advance efforts to reverse the impact of human caused climate change.
Republicans should stop trying to use the budget to advance their campaign to undermine women's health care and environmental protections - and President Obama and congressional Democrats need to forcefully protect health care, anti-poverty efforts, community development programs, and the hard won successes from the president's economic policies that are finally turning the economy around after eight years of GOP rule.
Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who last year threatened to burn the Qur'an on the anniversary of 9/11, followed through on his threat this week when his church put the Islam holy book on trial and then burned it. In response, a riot broke out in Afghanistan in which at least 12 people have been killed, most of them workers with the United Nations. Jones had been repeatedly warned his actions could provoke a violent response. Religion News Service reports:
"Showing blatant disrespect for Muslims by burning their scriptures directly contradicts the example and spirit of Jesus, who taught us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves," said Galen Carey, director of government affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals.
"Those who burned the Quran do not represent the vast majority of Christians, who wish to live in peace and harmony with their neighbors."
The Rev. Welton C. Gaddy, president of the Washington-based Interfaith Alliance, called the riots an "unacceptable" response to the Quran burning, but said they show that actions in the U.S. can have consequences overseas.
The New York Times reports on the trial held by Jone's church:
Sitting in judgment was a jury of 12 members of Mr. Jones’s church, the Dove World Outreach Center. After listening to evidence and arguments from both sides, the jury pronounced the Koran guilty of five “crimes against humanity,” including the promotion of terrorist acts and “the death, rape and torture of people worldwide whose only crime is not being of the Islamic faith.”
Punishment was determined by the results of an online poll. Besides burning, the options included shredding, drowning and facing a firing squad. Mr. Jones, a nondenominational evangelical pastor, announced that voters had chosen to set fire to the book, according to a video of the proceedings.
Jones' "trial" took place shortly after U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, held hearings of the loyalty of American Muslims. The hearings were criticized by religious leaders across the United States who feared King's true agenda is to whip up anti-Muslim hysteria as a tool to divide Americans on religious lines.
In response, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, chaired by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, held hearings to examine civil rights violations perpetrated against Muslim Americans. Again, RNS reports:
Durbin's star witness was Thomas Perez, the Justice Department's assistant attorney general for civil rights. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, a "steady stream of violence and discrimination" has targeted Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs and South Asians in the United States, he said.
Perez noted that the Justice Department passed a grim milestone last month when it secured a guilty plea from a man who torched a playground at a Texas mosque: He was the 50th defendant charged in a federal criminal case of post-Sept. 11 backlash.
Muslim complaints about workplace discrimination have increased 150 percent since Sept. 11, Perez said, but he and other witnesses seemed most upset by reports that many Muslim children are harassed at school — called "terrorists" and told to "go home."
"We have a growing docket of cases involving Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian students," he said. Muslim students form the largest category of religious discrimination cases handled by the Department of Justice's education division, Perez added.
Threats to Muslim Americans are certainly real. Last week, the head of the right-wing American Family Association, Bryan Fischer, said that Muslims should not be granted First Amendment protections. Fischer said:
Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy. While there certainly ought to be a presumption of religious liberty for non-Christian religious traditions in America, the Founders were not writing a suicide pact when they wrote the First Amendment.
Our government has no obligation to allow a treasonous ideology to receive special protections in America, but this is exactly what the Democrats are trying to do right now with Islam.
From a constitutional point of view, Muslims have no First Amendment right to build mosques in America. They have that privilege at the moment, but it is a privilege that can be revoked if, as is in fact the case, Islam is a totalitarian ideology dedicated to the destruction of the United States. The Constitution, it bears repeating, is not a suicide pact. For Muslims, patriotism is not the last refuge of a scoundrel, but the First Amendment is.
Clearly, the killing of the United Nations personnel must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. There is no excuse for this kind of violence. At the same time, Jones must be held morally accountable for fanning the flames of hatred. Terry Jones, Peter King and Bryan Fischer seek to use religion to divide the people of the world during a time where we need reconciliation and peace. Their actions will only increase the likelihood of terrorism and violence, and put American soldiers and civilians at further risk. As people of faith, we must stand up against them and proclaim that the Beloved Community is the ideal we seek and reject efforts to divide humanity in the name of the Almighty.
Tonight President Obama addressed why he ordered the United States to become involved in the conflict in Libya:
...much of the debate in Washington has put forward a false choice when it comes to Libya. On the one hand, some question why America should intervene at all – even in limited ways – in this distant land. They argue that there are many places in the world where innocent civilians face brutal violence at the hands of their government, and America should not be expected to police the world, particularly when we have so many pressing concerns here at home.
It is true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what's right. In this particular country – Libya; at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Gaddafi's forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground.
To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and – more profoundly – our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.
As I wrote last week in The Huffington Post and preached on Sunday, the question of whether or not to use violence is a difficult one for Christians. We are called to be peacemakers. But we cannot sit by quietly and allow genocide to occur. We've done that too many times. What President Obama has done is what we should have done in Rwanda and Darfur. War is always a failure of human imagination and tainted by sin but doing nothing in these circumstances would have been the greater sin, I believe.
Related Link: Can Christians Support UN Intervention in Libya?
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
We are just learning that Geraldine Ferraro, the one-time New York congresswoman who became the first woman in U.S. history to be nominated by a major party for the vice-presidency, has died after a long battle with cancer. To millions of Americans, not just women, her life will serve as a symbol of hope that the dream of full equality between the sexes in our nation will be fully realized. The day a woman first takes the oath of office as vice-president or president it will be on the shoulders of Gerry Ferraro.
In 1984, I waited for hours at Waterfront Park to be in the front row to hear Congresswoman Ferraro speak on behalf of Fritz Mondale as they campaigned against Ronald Reagan. Later, in 1986, when I was a junior at Sunset High School and active with the young democrats, Congresswoman Ferraro came to Beaverton to speak to the state democratic party convention and I was invited to ride in the car with her to the airport. She was kind and gracious. A lot of politicians would have just ignored a kid like me.
Over these many years there have been moments when I've been frustrated with her statements and positions but nothing can take away from the historic nature of her 1984 run. Because of Gerry Ferraro and the women who have followed in her path my daughters can look at the world and say "I can do or be anything." My prayers are with her family and friends.
Like many, I'm wary of U.S. military intervention in other nations. I opposed the war in Afghanistan early because, along with the church I served at the time, I felt that U.S. intervention there would be harmful to the civilian population and that the United States would leave Afghanistan in a position similar to that of the Soviet withdrawal, weakened and humbled, without achieving our legitimate goal of defeating the terrorists who attacked the U.S. on 9/11. I also opposed the war with Iraq. Here I had more company as nearly every Christian denomination across the globe that issued a statement concerning the matter opposed invading Iraq. A preemptive war is never legitimate. What is happening in Libya today is not the same as Afghanistan or Iraq. The United Nations, not a U.S.-led coalition under cover of a UN mandate, is working to stop the slaughter of a civilian population. This is what should have occurred in Rwanda.
I'm not sure how other Christian leaders will react. Already, many people I respect have been critical of President Obama and the allied forces attacking Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and his forces. There are legitimate concerns to be raised about civilian causalities. But I agree with Peter Daou, a former campaign aide to John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, who tweeted tonight: "I don't see a parallel between a war Bush launched based on lies and Obama's action to prevent atrocities in #Libya." So far I have seen no statements from the National Council of Churches or op-ed pieces from religious leaders offering support or criticism. But while I believe that war is always a failure of the human imagination and tainted by sin, I also believe there are times where it can be necessary. Much of my own thinking on the use of violence to protect civilian populations is informed by Samantha Power's book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. Power now works in the Obama Administration. For now, I will offer support and prayers for President Obama, prayers for the allied forces, and prayers for all the people of Libya that the violence there ends quickly and that the civilian population can be free from terror. I extend that prayer for all the people of the world and hope for the day when democratic nations no longer support governments that commitment human rights violations with weapons contracts and other forms of aid that prop up too many corrupt governments.
I will also continue to closely monitor the events as they unfold and continue to reassess my views as needed.
Church World Service is busy providing assistance in Japan this week - just like the humanitarian agency does in the United States and across the globe whenever a disaster strikes. Right now...
CWS's response centers on emergency relief support to at least 5,000 families, about 25,000 individuals, now living at 100 evacuation sites in the northeastern area of Japan – the prefectures of Miyagi, Fukushima, Iwate, Ibaragi and Tochigi. Assistance will include immediately required food items and non-food items through a partnership with the Japan Platform, known by the acronym JPF.
You can help by texting CWS to 50555 to donate $10 or clicking here to help now.
Those of us in the Portland area will have a special opportunity to support Church World Service on Saturday, April 9th at the Portland CROP Hunger Walk. Here's the basic information:
10 a.m. start and finish in front of the Union Gospel Mission, 3 NW Third Ave., Portland. The course is 2.64 miles on public sidewalks and will pass several homeless agencies in downtown Portland, as well as City Hall. Please use public transportation or car pool to site as there is very limited parking. Contact Ron MacKenzie, the Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Seventy-five percent of the funds raised will go to Church World Service's international relief and development programs. Fifteen percent will go to Northeast Emergency Food Program at Luther Memorial and ten percent to Oregon Food Bank.
You can learn more about the Portland CROP Hunger Walk benefiting Church World Service, register to participate and even donate by clicking here.
Founded in 1946, Church World Service is a cooperative ministry of 37 Christian denominations and communions working together to eradicate hunger and poverty and promote peace and justice among the world's most vulnerable people. The United Church of Christ is an active member of Church World Service and CWS works with interfaith partners all across the world.
We continue to pray and hope for the best as the people of Japan cope with the aftermath of a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami, and a nuclear crisis spawned by these two related events. The nightmare scenario unfolding in Japan should serve as a reminder to the world that until the safety of such plants can be fully guaranteed that they are a danger. Here in the Pacific Northwest, for example, we can fully expect to see an earthquake in the range of the one felt last week in Japan. Plenty of other areas of the world with nuclear reactors are also at risk of large scale seismic events. It is short-sighted and dangerous to propose (as many Republicans and Democrats have) that we increase our reliance on nuclear power. This should be a wake-up call that radical new thinking is needed to develop energy policies that are environmentally responsible.
Press Release from the National Council of Churches
New York, March 13, 2011 -- As news from earthquake-stricken Japan and Tsunami-devastated coastal areas worsens, U.S. churches and religious groups are pulling out all the stops to assess how they can help.
Church World Service and National Council of Churches member communions responded within minutes after the 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck Japan on March 11.
"The damage and loss of life is almost impossible to comprehend," said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, NCC general secretary. "It's natural to feel helpless in situations as overwhelming as this. But prayer is an important first step -- prayer that asks God to be with the families of the dead, the injured, the homeless, and the responders at every level."
But Kinnamon said it is also crucial for persons of faith to provide financial support to Church World Service and other relief organizations that are providing food, water, shelter and comfort on the ground in Japan and other stricken areas.
"Spiritual support and healing ministry will be required long after the initial impact of the disaster," Kinnamon said, citing Haiti as another venue where U.S. churches will have a role for many years to come. "Along with everything else, we pray for the faith and patience to remain committed for as long as it takes."
Church World Service said its emergency response staff are monitoring the unfolding situation around the Pacific Rim, where CWS has programs. The CWS Bangkok office is following the situation in Japan and across the region, while in Hawaii, where tsunami waves reached the islands, CWS’s domestic team is monitoring that situation, working with local contacts in Hawaii.
In Indonesia, where Church World Service has extensive operations, a tsunami of about 10 centimeters was detected in the North Sulawesi and Maluku islands.
CWS Indonesia staff report they are staying in contact with two of the agency’s local partners in North Sulawesi who say that communities who have been under tsunami alerts were advised to take precautionary measures and many people have done so. Wave heights of up to 8 feet had been expected in some of those areas. Further reports, assessments and emergency response as needed will be issued as the situation unfolds. Information about how to help can be found atwww.churchworldservice.org.
Several NCC and CWS member communions announced responses over the weekend.
American Baptist Churches USA announced a $20,000 grant from One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS), to be sent to its mission partner, the Japan Baptist Union, for relief efforts. See www.abc-usa.org for developments.
The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) said it was closely watching the situation along the U.S. Pacific Coast and around the Pacific Rim and will respond to needs through its Week of Compassion. See www.disciples.org for developments.
Writing on behalf of the combined world mission of the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ),Global Ministries co-executive directors told mission partners in Japan that the churches "will continue praying for you and seek ways to accompany you in the path that lies ahead." See www.ucc.org for developments.
The letter to the Rev. Aobora Taemae, general secretary of the United Church of Christ in Japan, was sent by the Rev. David Vargas, president of the Division of Overseas Ministries in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the Rev. Cally Rogers-Witte, executive minister of the UCC's Wider Church Ministries. Following the devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake and resultant tsunami, Global Ministries staff have been actively attempting to make contact with mission personnel in Japan.
The Church of the Brethren’s Mission and Ministry Board was meeting in Elgin, Ill. when word of the earthquake and tsunami came. The Board immediately issued a call to prayer and announced that Brethren Disaster Ministries has begun planning to support Church World Service (CWS) and its partners in relief efforts in Japan. See www.brethren.org for developments.
The Brethren board called on its members to join in the following prayer:
Merciful Lord, in their hour of anguish, hear and answer the cries of the Japanese people. Hear our prayers as our tears exclaim our compassion for all people who suffer. May your love, grace, and compassion bring a sense of comfort for those who mourn. Be with the many who work to bring relief, food, water, and shelter to those in need. And gracious God especially touch those mourning the loss of loved ones.
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.... The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge" (Psalm 46:1-3, 11).
Anglican Communion churches and agencies said they are planning how best to respond to the earthquake. An Episcopal priest in Kailua on the east cost of Oahu, the Rev. Kate Lewis, told ENS via e-mail that warning sirens began sounding at 10 p.m. local time. She had not heard of any damage to Episcopal churches, some of which are very close to beaches. Seewww.ecusa.anglican.org for developments.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America said it has 22 missionaries serving in Japan, working in partnership with the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church. Many of the ELCA's missionaries in Japan have communicated that they are safe, said the Rev. Y. Franklin Ishida, ELCA program director for Asia-Pacific Continental Desk, the church said. Seehttp://www.elca.org for developments.
The Orthodox Church in America said its hierarchs, clergy and faithful are being asked to remember in prayer all those affected by the disaster and to support efforts undertaken by International Orthodox Christian Charities [IOCC], which has assembled its emergency response team to assess needs and possible responses.
"The devastation being experienced in Japan is numbing, and it is only appropriate that we respond in kind with our prayers for the suffering and departed and support for any and all humanitarian efforts," said His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah. "Not only has the earthquake -- the strongest in Japan's recorded history -- caused incalculable damage, but the tsunami it released and the attendant destruction of much of the nation's infrastructure are almost beyond comprehension. In addition to our prayers, our support of IOCC's efforts are crucial at this time." See www.oca.org for developments.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) said it has 10 mission co-workers in various cities across Japan. By mid-day March 11 staff in Presbyterian World Mission had received word from four that they were safe. None of the mission workers are based close to the northern coastal city of Sendai, which has taken the brunt of the impact.
Denominational leaders have issued a call to prayer. The Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk; Elder Cynthia Bolbach, moderator of the 219th General Assembly; and Elder Linda Valentine, executive director of the General Assembly Mission Council urged Presbyterians to pray for all those affected by the disaster — victims and their families, aid workers, faith communities and leaders. “The magnitude of this kind of tragedy is difficult to grasp. Yet, our faith leads us to affirm that in even greater measure is the presence of God in the midst of the devastation,” states the call. See www.pcusa.org for details.
Reformed Church in America missionaries said, "Japan has just experienced the most significant earthquake in decades, some sources are saying the worst in 100 years," RCA missionaries Nathan and Nozomi Brownell said in an email to RCA Global Mission staff, "The worst hit area is Sendai City, the Miyagi Prefecuture and North Eastern coastal areas. The tsunami wave has been estimated at up to 7 meters (23 feet) high and reached up to 10 kilometers (6 miles) inland. There is significant damage and fatalities." See www.rca.org for developments.
United Methodist reporter Linda Bloom filed this story after the earthquake:
The Rev. Claudia Genung Yamamoto was having a late lunch with two church members in west Tokyo when the restaurant was shaken by the most powerful earthquake to strike Japan in at least a century.
As they rushed outside on what was a Friday afternoon in Tokyo, the earthquake stopped but the aftershocks began.
“The ground kept moving and the telephone lines were swaying, so we were afraid,” said Yamamoto, a United Methodist missionary and California native. “By this time, everyone had come out of the buildings to wait in the street. I told my members to keep praying, and I did the same.”
Hours later, Japan was struggling with the aftermath of a combined earthquake and tsunami that killed several hundred people, touched off dozens of fires and raised concerns about a possible radiation leak at a nuclear power plant. The impact was felt around the globe as tsunami alerts were posted in other countries.
United Methodists expressed concern and offered prayers for the people of Japan. The United Methodist Committee on Relief and Church World Service were consulting with partners in the region on emergency-relief needs. Seewww.umc.org for developments.
Most of the member communions of the National Council of Churches and Church World Service were assessing their best responses to the earthquake this weekend and will announce their plans as they develop.
Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for shared ecumenical witness among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 37 member communions -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.
This afternoon I joined members of the Oregon Senate, Oregon House and advocates from across the state in testifying before the Oregon Senate Finance and Revenue Committee in support of an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit that would help Oregon families lift themselves out of poverty. You can download a PDF copy of my testimony here (or read it below the fold). SB 349 - the bill which would expand the credit - is supported by Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and a large coalition of organizations from across the state. The concept of the Earned Income Tax Credit, as I noted in my testimony before the committee, was first embraced by Ronald Reagan and has largely enjoyed bi-partisan support. In a time of growing poverty in Oregon, this is one step our Legislature could take that could truly help working families. I urge all Oregonians to contact members of the Oregon Senate Finance and Revenue Committee to voice support for this legislation as it moves forward. Below is additional information from the Coalition for Working Families on the Earned Income Tax Credit and why it is so important:
A strong work ethic is rightly among the most cherished of American values. In an ideal world, work alone would open the doors to opportunity. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for many Oregonians. Too many low- and moderate-income working families in Oregon struggle to make ends meet.
Oregon can make work more rewarding for low-income families by improving its Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
Oregon’s working poor and near-poor families pay some of the nation’s highest state income taxes. On top of that, other taxes and fees in Oregon’s revenue system hit low-income families hardest. For example, the new gas tax signed into law in 2009 and set to take effect in 2011 will take a bigger bite out of the pocketbooks of low- and moderate-income households compared to better-off taxpayers.
A state EITC is the most targeted way to improve the tax system for working families. Oregon’s EITC has a long history of bipartisan support. Unfortunately, Oregon’s current EITC, at 6 percent of the federal EITC, is too small. Oregon’s current EITC is one of the lowest among states offering EITCs and it leaves low-income Oregonians with significantly higher taxes on their income compared to other states.
What would boosting Oregon's EITC mean? Consider the impact of increasing the state tax credit from its current 6 percent of the federal credit to 18 percent. Such a boost would:
• Cut taxes for one in seven Oregon households. It would do so in a targeted way, helping low-income working families.
• Boost the earnings of the average EITC household by about $215 a year. For a family of four living at the poverty line (an income of about $22,000), it would mean about $587 extra income each year.
• Benefit over 220,000 households from all corners of Oregon.
• Put state tax dollars into Oregon communities. EITC dollars are spent quickly and locally.
Oregon succeeds when all families have a chance to succeed. An improved state EITC will make work more rewarding for many Oregon families.
Over 100 organizations from across the state have joined Oregonians for Working Families, which has launched a campaign to enact a meaningful boost to Oregon's EITC.
Read the latest on the Oregonians for Working families campaign to boost the state EITC.
The text of my testimony before the Oregon Senate Finance and Revenue Committee is below:
Peter King's anti-Muslim Congressional hearings get underway tomorrow just as news breaks that the bomb planted at an MLK march this January was allegedly left by someone with ties to white supremacists. This begs the question: Why is King - a man with terrorist ties of his own - only investigating Muslims and not violent extremism in general?
First, The Seattle Times reports:
A Stevens County man charged with the attempted bombing along the route of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Spokane has links to a neo-Nazi group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Kevin William Harpham, 36, was a member of the neo-Nazi National Alliance in late 2004, Mark Potok, director of the center's Intelligence Project, said following Harpham's arrest Wednesday.
The bomb was said to have been large enough to have caused mass casualties.
As the Southern Poverty law Center notes, right-wing extremism and the threat of domestic terrorism (not from Muslims but from people who often self-identify as Christian) continues to grow in the United States.
But we are ignoring that reality and focusing in only on Muslims even though the U.S. Department of Justice clearly has stated - despite Rep. King's claims - that U.S. Muslims are active partners in the fight against terrorism. Religious bigotry is the fuel for these hearings.
The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, said at a New York rally this weekend that:
In 2011, Americans are in danger of succumbing to a bigotry that will scar our generation in the same way that bigotry scarred those who came before us.
Three hundred years ago, Europeans came to these shores with a determination to conquer and settle at the expense of millions of indigenous peoples who were dismissed as sub-human—certainly not part of “us.”
One hundred fifty years ago, white Americans still subjugated black human beings to a cruel slavery that was justified with Bible prooftexts and a self-serving belief that Blacks are inferior—not part of “us.”
Seventy years ago, in a time of war and fearfulness, tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans were deprived of their property and forced into detention camps because surely persons of such ancestry aren’t part of “us.”
Today, we look back on these horrifying events with anguished remorse; and yet I wonder if we’ve learned anything from history. Today, millions of Muslim Americans are subjected to thoughtless generalizations, open discrimination, and outright hostility because of a tiny minority whose acts of violence deny the teachings of the Quran and are denounced by other Muslims! No matter what Rep. King may say, his hearings convey the implicit message that Muslims aren’t part of “us”—and to this sort of bigotry, all citizens of conscience must say NO! When the family portrait of this country is painted, Muslims should have, must have, an honored place in it.
One of our closest partners at the National Council of Churches is the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). This past week, to take only one example, ISNA issued a statement condemning in the strongest possible language the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian who was Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities. According to ISNA’s statement, Mr. Bhatti’s work for religious and civic tolerance is more in line with Quranic teachings than those Muslims who justify or engage in violence. To quote from the statement, “we believe strongly in the responsibility of Muslims to ensure the safety and dignity of religious minorities in Muslim majority countries,” and “convey our deepest condolences for the burning of churches and the murder of Christians over the past few months.”
As this indicates, Rep. King’s assertion that Muslims have not spoken out forcefully enough against extremism is simply wrong—indeed, it is slanderous. If he wants to investigate extremism, then do so—but do not target one entire religion!
As General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, I care deeply about US security and about the wellbeing of Christians in places where extremism is prevalent. But so do millions of Muslims across this country! In the same way, the churches of the NCC affirm that we must care about the wellbeing, the dignity, of Muslims in our midst. On behalf of the fifty million members of our churches, I declare as loudly as possible that whenever Muslims are threatened or demeaned, so are we—because “today we are Muslims, too”!
We all need to stand up against religious extremism, violence and bigotry wherever we might find it. But we shouldn't allow a witch hunt against an entire religion. It is un-American.
From the editors of The Christian Century:
Labor unions, wrote Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Laborem Exercens, are "an indispensable element in social life . . . indeed a mouthpiece for the struggle for social justice." Having seen how Poland's workers fared under capitalism and communism, John Paul knew firsthand that neither the market nor the state can be counted on to automatically deliver justice for workers.
Labor unions in the U.S. played a huge role in improving workers' salaries, benefits and working conditions and thereby in helping to build a strong middle class. Since the 1940s, however, unions have fallen on hard times. In the face of global economic competition and increased corporate resistance to unions (and some laws that support that resistance), the number of unionized workers in the private sector has fallen from 33 percent to 7 percent.
The current economic crisis has prompted state officials in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere to try to further undermine the power of unions in the one arena in which they remain relatively strong—among public employees. In Wisconsin, for example, Governor Scott Walker, citing the state's budget problems, has pressed for passage of a bill that would not only require state workers to contribute more toward their pensions and heath care but would strip them of the right to negotiate benefits and working conditions. The unions have accepted the need for increased contributions but have defied the effort to take away the right to collective bargaining, since to allow that step would be to accept the dismantling of the unions.
Whatever one thinks about public employee unions, it's inaccurate to blame them for the fiscal crisis in the states and misguided to use the crisis as the occasion to dismantle them. Budget woes are afflicting states that don't deal with public employee unions as well as those that do. And it was not public unions that caused the wild speculation on housing prices, the Wall Street meltdown, the recession, the double-digit unemployment and the subsequent drop in tax revenues.
As President Obama noted today, the death of Pakistan's Shahbaz Bhatti is a true tradegy. A statement from the president issued today reads:
I am deeply saddened by the assassination of Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti today in Islamabad, and condemn in the strongest possible terms this horrific act of violence. We offer our profound condolences to his family, loved ones and all who knew and worked with him. Minister Bhatti fought for and sacrificed his life for the universal values that Pakistanis, Americans and people around the world hold dear – the right to speak one’s mind, to practice one’s religion as one chooses, and to be free from discrimination based on one’s background or beliefs. He was clear-eyed about the risks of speaking out, and, despite innumerable death threats, he insisted he had a duty to his fellow Pakistanis to defend equal rights and tolerance from those who preach division, hate, and violence. He most courageously challenged the blasphemy laws of Pakistan under which individuals have been prosecuted for speaking their minds or practicing their own faiths. Those who committed this crime should be brought to justice, and those who share Mr. Bhatti’s vision of tolerance and religious freedom must be able to live free from fear. Minister Bhatti will be missed by all who knew him, and the United States will continue to stand with those who are dedicated to his vision of tolerance and dignity for all human beings.
Today we once again witnessed the evil of religious extremism.
Fortunately, we have examples from which to draw that show us a better way of life where religious pluralism is respected. After a bombing at a Christian church in Egypt just before Christmas, for example, Muslim Egyptians volunteered to act as human shields at Christian churches to deter further violence.
Let us pray that it is Mr. Bhatti's vision of tolerance and friendship between people of different faiths that wins the day.
The World Council of Churches sent a letter to Pakistan’s president today that reads:
It is with great shock and dismay that we received news of the assassination of Mr Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Minority Affairs in the government of Pakistan. We are deeply concerned by this heinous and outrageous crime directed against a member of your federal cabinet.
We understand that Mr Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated by religious extremists because he was critical of the controversial blasphemy law in Pakistan. We have been informed by our member constituencies in Pakistan that Mr Bhatti was a man of courage and conviction who had recently stated that he was ready to sacrifice his life for the principled stand he had taken “because the people of Pakistan are being victimized under the pretence of blasphemy law". It was while Mr Bhatti was openly advocating amending the blasphemy law that he was assassinated by extremist forces.
We condemn the deplorable killing of a lawmaker of the country, and we also are concerned about the vulnerable situation in which Pakistan’s minority communities are living. Once again this act demonstrates that the extremists will stop at nothing in their desperate attempt to force religious extremism and violence on Pakistani society. We are of the opinion that terrorist activities in any form or manifestation pose a serious threat to peace and security in any society. Violence and terror are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of motivation.
Your Excellency, the World Council of Churches has followed with great concern the use and misuse of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan as well as persecution of the religious minorities in the country.
We urge the government of Pakistan to take all necessary measures to provide safety and security to the Christian minority in Pakistan, and other minorities, and not to be deterred by the violent crimes committed by religious extremists.
The World Council of Churches calls upon Your Excellency’s government to swiftly undertake the investigation necessary to identify the assassins and bring all who are responsible for this brutal murder to a court of law.
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
World Council of Churches
Click here for additional information.
Like many, I've been watching the events in Wisconsin over the last week as the governor there attempts to strip public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights and to cut benefits (all the while cutting taxes on corporations and the wealthy). Faith leaders have been standing up to support the unions, I'm happy to note. However, it has been deeply concerning to learn that Governor Scott Walker considered the possibility of planting troublemakers among the peaceful union protesters to apparently incite violence.
Madison Police Chief Noble Wray Thursday asked Gov. Scott Walker to explain his "troubling" and "unsettling" statements captured in a secretly recorded phone conversation that he "thought about" planting troublemakers among the thousands of peaceful demonstrators at the Capitol.
The protests, heading into their 11th day, are aimed at a bill Walker proposed to strip most bargaining rights from state and local unionized employees in Wisconsin.
"I spent a good deal of time overnight thinking about Governor Walker's response, during his news conference yesterday (Wednesday), to the suggestion that his administration 'thought about' planting troublemakers among those who are peacefully protesting his bill," Wray said in a statement issued this morning." I would like to hear more of an explanation from Governor Walker as to what exactly was being considered, and to what degree it was discussed by his cabinet members.
"I find it very unsettling and troubling that anyone would consider creating safety risks for our citizens and law enforcement officers. Our department works hard dialoging with those who are exercising their First Amendment right, those from both sides of the issue, to make sure we are doing everything we can to ensure they can demonstrate safely.
"I am concerned that anyone would try to undermine these relationships. I have a responsibility to the community, and to the men and women of this department — who are working long hours protecting and serving this community — to find out more about what was being considered by state leaders."
How far did this plan go? Did the governor carry out any initiatives to incite violence? Were other people involved? Were state resources used? This should be a matter for city, state and federal investigators.
Religion News Service reports the protests have drawn the support of religious leaders:
The pro-union rallies in Wisconsin have a retro feel to them -- particularly for people of faith.
Clergy and faith-based groups were historically on the front lines of the American labor movement, but priorities shifted with the rise of the religious right and the weakening of unions. In the Wisconsin protests over the governor's budget proposal to reduce collective-bargaining rights for teachers and other public-sector employees, however, religious voices have re-entered the fray.
Groups like Faith in Public Life and Interfaith Worker Justice have mobilized coalitions that include Protestants and Muslims, in addition to the Catholics and Jews that dominated pro-union efforts in previous generations. Clergy have led invocations and prayer vigils throughout Wisconsin, written letters and sent delegations to meet with Republican lawmakers. An Illinois church and synagogue even offered sanctuary to the 14 Democrat state senators who fled on Feb. 16 rather than vote on Gov. Scott Walker's bill. (None of them had turned up at the houses of worship, as of Feb. 23.)
Interfaith Worker Justice has compiled statements affirming the right to organize from more than a dozen denominations.
"We're making this a bigger issue than just the workers involved. We're making it a moral issue, and that it's more than just fighting over pensions," said Rabbi Renee Bauer, director of Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin. "We're hoping that if lawmakers hear from religious leaders, it'll help them have a change of heart."
Wisconsin public employees have already agreed to pay and benefit cuts but have drawn the line at losing forever their collective bargaining power. The governor has refused that compromise. In doing so - and in considering violent acts - Governor Walker has shown that this isn't a fight about balancing a state budget: his goal is to kill off the unions and to limit for all time the power of working people to advocate for themselves and their state.
Americans have strongly backed the unions in this dispute (61% polled support collective bargaining - despite what you might have heard on FOX News).
What happens in Wisconsin may help determine the fate of workers across the United States.
In the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution, people across the Middle East have taken to the streets. NPR reports this morning on the crisis in Libya:
A doctor says Moammar Gadhafi's forces have killed at least 200 protesters in the eastern city of Benghazi as it tries to crush a rebellion that has spread to more than a half-dozen cities across the country.
Witnesses told The Associated Press a mix of special commandos, foreign mercenaries and Gadhafi loyalists assaulted demonstrators in Benghazi on Saturday with knives, assault rifles and heavy weapons. Those protesters were burying 35 marchers who were slain Friday by government forces.
Benghazi has been at the center of a six-day revolt by Libyans inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia and frustrated by Gadhafi's more than 40 years of authoritarian rule.
The Benghazi doctor said his hospital, one of two in Libya's second-largest city, is out of supplies and cannot treat more than 70 wounded who were hit in the attacks and need attention.
"I am crying," the doctor said. "Why is the world not listening?"
President Obama said late this week:
I am deeply concerned by reports of violence in Bahrain, Libya and Yemen. The United States condemns the use of violence by governments against peaceful protesters in those countries and wherever else it may occur. We express our condolences to the family and friends of those who have been killed during the demonstrations. Wherever they are, people have certain universal rights including the right to peaceful assembly. The United States urges the governments of Bahrain, Libya and Yemen to show restraint in responding to peaceful protests, and to respect the rights of their people.
It will be important for the U.S. to review all our relationships with nations that respond violently to protesters calling for democratic reforms. The United States has for far too long supported repressive regimes for strategic politics reasons. That has put us on the wrong side of history. Now is a moment we can correct that.
It really has been amazing to watch the events in Egypt unfold as they have the last few weeks. The last few days have been nothing short of dramatic. Like most Americans, I feel a deep sense of amazement at the courage of the protesters and relief that the old regime has fallen.
President Obama's words today were appropriate:
The Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thislethwaite wrote today:
No dictator lasts forever, no lie is so big that somewhere, somehow the truth will not will out.
Today the arc of the moral universe just caught up with former President Mubarak of Egypt. Even up until the speech last night, apparently this longtime dictator would not or could not see the truth, that indeed no lie lives forever and indeed, eventually, people reap what they sow.
Scenes of jubilation erupted when the announcement by Vice President Omar Suleiman was broadcast in Cairo's Tahrir Square, "Egypt is free! Egypt is free!" they said.
No, Egypt is not free, not yet. But it's much farther up the arc of the moral universe than it was last night.
My prayers continue to be with the people of Egypt. Hopefully, today will be the beginning of real freedom for the people there.
The new generation there lifted up the hope in the last few weeks that the world could be more free. We owe them our respect.
As the world watches events unfold in Egypt, the World Council of Churches has issued the following statement:
The World Council of Churches is following the situation in Egypt with great concern. Member churches in all parts of the world are praying for the people of Egypt. There are disturbing reports of increasing numbers of people being killed, of assaults and threats and of many living in fear. Our hopes and prayers are for the safety of citizens, for wisdom and compassion on the part of the authorities and for a non-violent and just resolution of conflicts and grievances.
We call for peaceful dialogue and joint efforts at every level of society to find the way forward to a future that brings hope and security for the good of all people and communities.
We pray to God for mercy and protection for the Egyptian people and for all religious communities, and we are standing together with the churches in these challenging times.
President Obama is right to call for President Mubarak's transition from power to begin now - not September, as President Mubarak has suggested. I believe, however, that the U.S. must go further in light of today's violent acts against peaceful protesters. All U.S. military aid to Mubarak's government should be immediately suspended.
Let all people of faith - regardless of nationality or religious tradition - keep the people of Egypt in our prayers.
When a House democrat compared GOP opponents of health care reform to "Nazis" I called him on it. We need to tone down the rhetoric. That's true on both the left and the right and wherever else you might reside. At FOX News, the center of inflammatory rhetoric, things are so bad that Jewish rabbis have banded together to say "Enough!"
We are rabbis of diverse political views. As part of our work we are devoted to preserving the memory of the Shoah, and to passing its lessons on to our future generations and to all humankind. All of us have vigorously defended the Holocaust's legacy. We have worked to encourage the responsible invocation of its symbols as a powerful lesson for the future.
We were therefore deeply offended by Roger Ailes' recent statement attributing the outrage over Glenn Beck's use of Holocaust and Nazi images to "left-wing rabbis who basically don't think that anybody can ever use the word, Holocaust, on the air."
In the charged political climate in the current civic debate, much is tolerated, and much is ignored or dismissed. But you diminish the memory and meaning of the Holocaust when you use it to discredit any individual or organization you disagree with. That is what Fox News has done in recent weeks, and it is not only "left-wing rabbis" who think so.
Abe Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, a child survivor of the Holocaust, described Beck's attack on George Soros as "not only offensive, but horrific, over-the-top, and out-of-line." Commentary magazine said that "Beck's denunciation of him [Soros] is marred by ignorance and offensive innuendo." Elan Steinberg, vice president of The American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, called Mr. Beck's accusations "monstrous." Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, called them "beyond repugnant." And Deborah Lipstadt, professor of Holocaust Studies at Emory University, says Beck is using traditional anti-Semitic imagery.
"I haven't heard anything like this on television or radio -- and I've been following this kind of stuff," Lipstadt said. "I've been in the sewers of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial more often than I've wanted."
We share a belief that the Holocaust, of course, can and should be discussed appropriately in the media. But that is not what we have seen at Fox News. It is not appropriate to accuse a 14-year old Jew hiding with a Christian family in Nazi-occupied Hungary of sending his people to death camps. It is not appropriate to call executives of another news agency "Nazis." And it is not appropriate to make literally hundreds of on-air references to the Holocaust and Nazis when characterizing people with whom you disagree.
It is because this issue has a profound impact on each of us, our families and our communities that we are calling on Fox News to meet the standard it has set for itself: "to exercise the ultimate sensitivity when referencing the Holocaust."
We respectfully request that Glenn Beck be sanctioned by Fox News for his completely unacceptable attacks on a survivor of the Holocaust and Roger Ailes apologize for his dismissive remarks about rabbis' sensitivity to how the Holocaust is used on the air.
Fox declined to apology. For what, they asked? Oh, maybe for some of this:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|24 Hour Nazi Party People|
Mass protests against the government in Egypt are scheduled for Friday - mostly organized by young people over the internet. There are reports now that nearly all internet service in Egypt has been cut off.
Human Rights Watch is concerned about more violence:
(Cairo) - The Egyptian government should end an escalating crackdown on what appear to be largely peaceful protests against police brutality, poverty, and corruption, Human Rights Watch said today. Ahead of demonstrations planned for January 28, 2011, security forces need to ensure that force is only used when strictly necessary, such as to prevent violence, and only to the minimum extent necessary.
At least eight demonstrators and one policeman have been killed in three days of protests in Cairo, Suez, Alexandria and other Egyptian cities. Police have fired rubber bullets and tear-gas, used water cannon and baton charges, and even thrown rocks at protesters. Over 1,200 have been arrested over the past three days, many of them still in detention, and many others beaten. The government has warned that further demonstrations will not be tolerated.
"The Egyptian authorities should allow protesters to exercise their right to assemble and protest peacefully," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Instead protesters have met with exactly the kind of heavy-handed abuse and repression that people are protesting against."
Apparently Glenn Beck doesn't agree that civility is important (is anyone surprised?):
On his daily radio and television shows, Glenn Beck has elevated once-obscure conservative thinkers onto best-seller lists. Recently, he has elevated a 78-year-old liberal academic to celebrity of a different sort, in a way that some say is endangering her life.
Frances Fox Piven, a City University of New York professor, has been a primary character in Mr. Beck’s warnings about a progressive take-down of America. Ms. Piven, Mr. Beck says, is responsible for a plan to “intentionally collapse our economic system.”
Her name has become a kind of shorthand for “enemy” on Mr. Beck’s Fox News Channel program, which is watched by more than 2 million people, and on one of his Web sites,The Blaze. This week, Mr. Beck suggested on television that she was an enemy of the Constitution.
Never mind that Ms. Piven’s radical plan to help poor people was published 45 years ago, when Mr. Beck was a toddler. Anonymous visitors to his Web site have called for her death, and some, she said, have contacted her directly via e-mail.
In response, a liberal nonprofit group, the Center for Constitutional Rights, wrote to the chairman of Fox News, Roger Ailes, on Thursday to ask him to put a stop to Mr. Beck’s “false accusations” about Ms. Piven.
“Mr. Beck is putting Professor Piven in actual physical danger of a violent response,” the group wrote...
Ms. Piven said in an interview that she had informed local law enforcement authorities of the anonymous electronic threats. But she added, “I don’t want to give anybody the satisfaction of thinking they’ve got me trembling.”
The interest in Ms. Piven is rooted in an article she wrote with her husband, Richard Cloward, in 1966. The article, “The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty,” proposed that if people overwhelmed the welfare rolls, fiscal and political stress on the system could force reform and give rise to changes like a guaranteed income. By drawing attention to the topic, the proposal “had a big impact” even though it was not enacted, Ms. Piven said. “A lot of people got the money that they desperately needed to survive,” she said.
In Mr. Beck’s telling on a Fox broadcast on Jan. 5, 2010, Ms. Piven and Mr. Cloward (who died in 2001) planned “to overwhelm the system and bring about the fall of capitalism by overloading the government bureaucracy with impossible demands and bring on economic collapse.” Mr. Beck observed that the number of welfare recipients soared in the years after the article, and said the article was like “economic sabotage.”
He linked what he termed the Cloward-Piven Strategy to President Obama’s statement late in the 2008 presidential campaign that “we are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”
As President Obama welcomed Chinese President Hu to the White House the U.S. president brought up the always touchy subject of human rights:
The United States welcomes China’s rise as a strong, prosperous and successful member of the community of nations. Indeed, China’s success has brought with it economic benefits for our people as well as yours, and our cooperation on a range of issues has helped advance stability in the Asia Pacific and in the world.
We also know this: History shows that societies are more harmonious, nations are more successful, and the world is more just, when the rights and responsibilities of all nations and all people are upheld, including the universal rights of every human being.
Some are saying that in raising the issue of human rights with China the U.S. risks an important relationship.
But morality demands that human rights be at the center of any political or economic engagement strategy with China. As Human Rights Watch notes:
(Washington, DC) - The Chinese government has failed to deliver on commitments in its first-ever National Human Rights Action Plan (2009-2010) to protect key civil and political rights over the past two years, Human Rights Watch said today.
The 67-page report, "Promises Unfulfilled: An Assessment of China's National Human Rights Action Plan," details how despite the Chinese government's progress in protection of some economic and social rights, it has undermined many of the key goals of the National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP) by tightening restrictions on rights of expression, association, and assembly over the past two years. The report highlights how that rollback of key civil and political rights enabled rather than reduced a host of human rights abuses specifically addressed in the NHRAP.
"If this plan had been vigorously pursued - and had not been accompanied by a slew of government-tolerated abuses - it could have marked a real change in the Chinese government's human rights performance," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "But the government's failure to implement the Action Plan makes clear it is more of a public relations exercise than a meaningful tool for protecting and promoting human rights for the people of China."
We have a clear obligation to make human rights a center piece of our foreign policy. Unfortunately, both Republican and Democratic administrations (including this one) have often put economic interests ahead of human rights.
President Obama should be applauded for his comments today.
What would help? Diversity training? A class in manners? Anti-racism work? A conversion experience? What could make Rush Limbaugh a moral person?
We narrowly escaped a terrible terrorist attack in the Pacific Northwest on the MLK hoilday. NPR reports:
Federal agents are investigating race as a possible motive behind an abandoned backpack containing a functional bomb after it was left along the downtown route of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Spokane, Wash.
Investigators would not disclose what kind of explosive it was, except to say that it was "potentially deadly," and could have caused "multiple casualties," had the device detonated.
While the FBI hasn't providing direct evidence that the explosive device was connected to the MLK Day march, an agency spokesman said the backpack's proximity to the route was "not coincidental."
"The confluence of the holiday, the march and the device is inescapable, but we are not at the point where we can draw any particular motive," said Frank Harrill, special agent in charge of the Spokane FBI office.
The suspicious backpack was spotted by three city employees at an intersection in downtown Spokane about an hour before the parade was to start Monday, Harrill said. They saw wires and immediately alerted law enforcement, who disabled it without incident, he said.
The discovery before the parade for the slain civil rights leader raised the possibility of a racial motive in a region that has been home to the white supremacist Aryan Nations.
Unfortunately, racism has been the fuel for a lot of hateful political rhetoric in the last couple of years. No where has that been more true than in the Tea Party movement. A political atmosphere currently exists in our nation where those less stable and most angry could be incited to do violence. This is where it becomes very important for all Americans - regardless of politics - to seek common ground and to tone down hateful rhetoric.
1/19/2011 Updated Below With Governor Bentley's Apology
As Ben Smith (via Political Wire) notes, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley offered what I would term a bizarre and offensive statement during his inaugural address an event honoring The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
''I was elected as a Republican candidate. But once I became governor ... I became the governor of all the people. I intend to live up to that. I am color blind," Bentley said in a short speech given about an hour after he took the oath of office as governor.
Then Bentley, who for years has been a deacon at First Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, gave what sounded like an altar call.
"There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit," Bentley said. ''But if you have been adopted in God's family like I have, and like you have if you're a Christian and if you're saved, and the Holy Spirit lives within you just like the Holy Spirit lives within me, then you know what that makes? It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister."
Bentley added, ''Now I will have to say that, if we don't have the same daddy, we're not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother."
The governor would do well to immediately resign his position and become a preacher in a fundamentalist church because he essentially just told the people of his state that if you're Jewish or Muslim or atheist or anything else that doesn't fit his vision of Christianity than you aren't part of the Alabama community. That is a dangerous message for a public official to make. How can you live up to being governor of all the people after that statement? Frankly, you cannot serve as the governor of just those who subscribe to your own religious views.
Update: 1/18/2001 1:40 PM: The ADL has issued a statement:
Atlanta, GA, January 18, 2011 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today condemned remarks by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, who told an audience in Montgomery that citizens who do not accept Jesus as their savior are "not my brothers and sisters."
"It is shocking that Governor Bentley would suggest that non-Christians are not worthy of the same love and respect he professes to have for the Christian community," said ADL Southeast Regional Director Bill Nigut. "His comments are not only offensive, but also raise serious questions as to whether non-Christians can expect to receive equal treatment during his tenure as governor..."
"Governor Bentley's remarks suggest that he is determined to use his new position to proselytize for Christian conversion," Nigut said. "If he does so, he is dancing dangerously close to a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which forbids government from promoting the establishment of any religion."
The Interfaith Alliance has also just now issued a statement in response to the Governor's remarks:
Governor Bentley’s comments yesterday at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church raise disturbing concerns for anyone committed to protecting religious freedom and maintaining the Constitutional boundaries between religion and government in this country. The people of Alabama elected Mr. Bentley to lead the state, not to give him a platform from which to proselytize. Though Mr. Bentley promised to be ‘the governor of all the people,’ he immediately cast doubt on the sincerity of that statement by telling citizens in Alabama who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior that ‘you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister’—thus creating two classifications of residents in the state.
It is somewhat ironic that these comments were made on Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Dr. King’s own church. Dr. King embraced all those who stood with him in his quest for civil rights and gave his life for the establishment of a society in which there were no classifications of citizens identifying some as more important to government leaders than others. Mr. Bentley’s comments fly in the face of the example Dr. King set for us and throw in question the new governor’s commitment to religious freedom as promised in the United States Constitution.
Mr. Bentley has a right to his beliefs, as do those who hold beliefs different from his, but he must remember his election conferred upon him the title and responsibilities of “Governor,” not “Reverend.”
1/19/2011 3:11 PM Update: Governor Bentley has rightfully apologized today for his remarks:
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley this afternoon apologized to anyone he may have offended with his inaugural day comments that non-Christians were not his brothers and sisters.
Bentley met for an hour with members of Alabama's Jewish community and afterward told reporters he meant no insult with his words.
"What I would like to do is apologize. Should anyone who heard those words and felt disenfranchised, I want to say, 'I'm sorry.' If you're not a person who can say you are sorry, you're not a very good leader," Bentley said.
The governor's statement today is very appropriate and he should be commended for recognizing his error. He'll be judged now on whether or not he truly serves all the people of his state regardless of their religious faith.
One of the victims of the Tucson shootings was arrested tonight after making verbal threats against a Tea Party member. J. Eric Fuller has been taken to a facility for a mental health evaluation, reports The New York Times. You can imagine the anguish this U.S. veteran feels after being shot last weekend in the back and knee. Trauma victims often live with on-going mental health issues long after events such as the Tucson shootings. We should keep Mr. Fuller in our prayers, as we continue to pray for reconciliation and an end to violence.
In the meantime, it should be noted that earlier today The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon renewed his call for an end to gun violence in America:
On the eve of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the general secretary of the National Council of Churches has called on individual NCC governing board members, communion heads and other representatives to let their political officials know they oppose the easy availability of fire arms.
"I strongly urge you to write your own congressional delegates and state governor, letting them know that you, too, are the NCC -- and that together we say an emphatic 'No!' to laws that allow assault weapons and handguns with oversize magazines to be readily available on our city streets," Kinnamon wrote today in a letter to NCC representatives.
Kinnamon said his message comes "in the aftermath of the tragic shooting in Tucson, an event which I am sure we have all named in our personal times of prayer."
A surge of voices from national, state and local bodies will remind political leaders of the scope of the NCC's partnerships, Kinnamon noted. "When we send letters from the NCC office to Congress and/or the Administration, they are too often dismissed as the message of a single organization instead of the collective witness of a community of communions," Kinnamon wrote.
Kinnamon noted that the NCC Governing Board adopted a resolution against gun violence last May.
"Ending Gun Violence: A Resolution and Call to Action by the National Council of Churches," calls upon the NCC's member communions to "prayerfully, financially, and otherwise support the NCC staff in coordinating ecumenical efforts for gun violence reduction, including preparing educational materials about the magnitude of gun violence, developing avenues for dialogue among gun owners and gun control advocates within our congregations, and offering a faithful witness in cooperating with inter-faith and nonreligious anti-gun advocacy organizations."
The full text of the resolution can be downloaded at http://www.ncccusa.org/NCCpolicies/gunviolence.pdf
Kinnamon wrote: "In addition to prayer and calls for civility, I believe this is also the moment to press our long-standing concern as a community of Christian communions for laws aimed at reducing gun violence in America. It is not exploiting (Tucson) tragedy for followers of the Prince of Peace to say, 'Enough!' Every serious study on the subject shows that easy access to guns is a menace to our nation's public health."
Kinnamon cited a column by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times calling for regulations "to regulate guns as seriously as toys."
As we continue to reflect on both gun violence and the need for more civility in our political and religious lives, I want to offer again these two sermons on the topics:
The attack today on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords left 6 dead, including a nine year old girl, and 18 wounded. The congresswoman, who had been reported killed by NPR and other media outlets, survived and is in ICU after being shot in the head. U.S. District Judge John Roll is reported to be among the dead. Both Rep. Giffords and Judge Roll have been the target of threats.
An anti-government activist is reported to have been the gunman, according to Slate.
The New York Times reports on threats to Rep. Giffords:
Last March, after the final approval of the Democrats’ health care law, which Ms. Giffords supported, the windows of her office in Tucson were broken or shot out in an act of vandalism. Similar acts were reported by other members of Congress, and several arrests were made, including that of a man who had threatened to kill Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington.
And in August 2009, when there were demonstrations against the health care measure across the nation, a protester who showed up to meet Ms. Giffords at a supermarket event similar to Saturday’s was removed by the police when the pistol he had holstered under his armpit fell and bounced on the floor.
During the fall campaign, Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, posted a controversial map on her Facebook page depicting spots where Democrats were running for re-election; those Democrats were noted by crosshairs symbols like those seen through the scope of a gun. Ms. Giffords was among those on Ms. Palin’s map.
AZCentral.com is also reporting this afternoon that Judge Roll was the target of threats:
In 2009, he faced death threats over a $32 million civil-rights suit filed against an Arizona rancher by illegal immigrants.
At the time, Roll and U.S. Marshal's officials attributed the threats to hysteria from talk radio.
He and his wife were placed under federal protection for a month, a process he described as "unnerving and invasive."
Sources told The Republic that Roll was among the six killed Saturday at Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' event in Tucson.
Judge Roll was appointed to the bench by President George H.W. Bush in 1991.
In 2009, as the debate over health reform raged and town hall meetings deteriorated into near brawls, the National Council of Churches issued a statement urging civil discourse:
Individuals cannot express their best hopes and acknowledge their deepest fears within a climate of intimidation and character assassination, and all too often this climate is the product of racism and xenophobia. Too much is at stake for the good of our society for us to continue down this dangerous path. The essential nature of our national compact, to enfranchise the views of all, is imperiled in a hostile and suspicious environment. In this moment, then, we call the members of our churches, our political leaders, and all people of good will to somber reflection on the ways we might restore dignity and civility to our national discourse both as a matter of social ethics and to bolster the highest traditions of democratic process.
The prophet Isaiah (1:18) declares God’s message to the people to “Come let us reason together”. This injunction might serve us well in the present moment. Reason, (yakah), in this passage does not refer to a dispassionate meeting of the minds but, rather calls for convincing, persuading and presenting a case for a point of view. Vigorous, principled debate advances our thinking and clarifies the challenges before us. Respect for neighbor strengthens the fabric of our communities.
Let us then, as a people, draw from our deepest traditions of faith and heritage to gain a renewed sense of community marked by honesty and mutual respect. Let our moments of rigorous debate be tempered with a profound sense of the dignity and worth of each person. Let us debate ideas on their merits and exercise restraint in expression of our own best conceptions. Such a disciplined dialogue holds great promise, honoring our differences and confirming our perception that we are a people joined in our mutual aspiration to live the lives for which we were created.
Let us as member churches and brothers and sisters of other living faiths model the civility to which our sacred texts command. Throughout its history, the conciliar ecumenical movement has provided a common venue for persons to express and debate differing viewpoints in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Let us make clear to ourselves and others those marks of civility that represent the best of our faiths and that can serve as foundational to rigorous, honest public discourse for the common good.
There is too much violence in our society today and politicians like Sarah Palin and media figures like Glenn Beck seek with intention to fan those flames with full knowledge of what the consequences might be. We do not know enough about the alleged gunman to say what set him off on this mass killing spree but we do know that rhetoric can provoke those who are unstable. We need to tone down our politics, tone down our language, keep our political opponents off Palin-style "hit lists," and treat each other with respect and kindness even when we have profound disagreements over public policy or theology. All Americans should pray today for an end to violence and for the families involved in this shooting.
6:34 PM Update: Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik said this evening:
“The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, I think Arizona has become sort of the capital, we have beome the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry...” “There’s reason to believe that this individual might have a mental issue, and I think that people who are unbalanced might be especially susceptible to vitriol.”
In the meantime, the sheriff's office also announced that a search for a possible second suspect was underway.
1:07 PM Update: Rep. Giffords survived shooting; out of surgery and in ICU
Please keep the family of U.S. Rep. Giffords and the families of those others injured or killed in your prayers.
U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot today, according to NPR and other sources, and has been taken by life flight to a hospital in the Tuscon area. Giffords is a supporter of President Obama's health care reform package which the new GOP majority in the House hopes to repeal. Her office was vandalized after she voted in favor of the legislation last spring. Several members of her staff were also injured in the attack today which occurred outside a "Meet Your Congressperson" type event at a Safeway. Please keep Rep. Giffords and all those involved in your prayers. No known reason for the attack has been given but the media is reporting that the gunman is in custody.
Update: Rep. Giffords, who won re-election, was on Sarah Palin's 2010 "hit list." The former governor wrote of Giffords and 19 others: ""We’re going to fire them and send them back to the private sector, which has been shrinking thanks to their destructive government-growing policies ... We’ll aim for these races and many others. This is just the first salvo in a fight to elect people across the nation who will bring common sense to Washington." Palin's Facebook page included a map with with a gun crosshair over Gifford's district.
The World Council of Churches released the following statement today concerning the U.S. Senate's ratification of the New Start treaty:
It is heartening that 20 years after the end of the Cold War, the United States has ratified a verifiable new treaty to reduce nuclear arsenals. Such a decision is especially meaningful in what is for Christians the season of peace. With member churches around the world we thank God for this small but significant demonstration of progress on a problem that continues to deny the hopes of people everywhere.
We also welcome cross-party support in one nation for a decision that concerns all nations. The US and other nuclear powers do not possess weapons of mass destruction in isolation. They do so against the best interests of humanity.
The New START treaty not only sets practical goals to reduce warheads and launchers. It also sends a signal that governments can do more than block international progress year after year for narrow national interests. Progress is long overdue on another step that President Obama and many other leaders link to the vision of a world without nuclear weapons – a treaty to stop production of fuel for nuclear bombs. It has been stalled at the Conference on Disarmament here in Geneva for years. In nuclear disarmament as in climate change, when powerful countries provide leadership with accountability their example helps others to do likewise.
The ratification by Russia of the New START treaty would be a welcome start to 2011. We pray that the New Year will see more such news that is good news for all.
The New Start treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate today with a strong bi-partisan vote despite the efforts of the GOP leadership to kill the arms control deal which allows the U.S. to monitor Russian nuclear stockpiles - keeping them out of the hands of terrorists and off the black market.
Ratification of the treaty is another victory for President Obama who signed the treaty with the Russian president and helped to led the fight for ratification in the senate.
Religious leaders - including the National Council of Churches - strongly supported the treaty and urged members of the senate to but partisanship behind them. The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general-secretary of the National Council of Churches, was critical of efforts to delay ratification: "Peace is a major theme of the Advent season and celebration of Christmas. The National Council of Churches looks forward to being able to celebrate ratification of this treaty to reduce nuclear stockpiles and improve verification. Any delay would be contrary to our commitment to peace on earth.”
In the end, the vote was 71-26 in favor of the treaty. Vice-President Biden presided over the vote in his role as Senate president.
Photo credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
The New York Times reports:
WASHINGTON — The Republican who will head the House committee that oversees domestic security is planning to open a Congressional inquiry into what he calls “the radicalization” of the Muslim community when his party takes over the House next year.
Representative Peter T. King of New York, who will become the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he was responding to what he has described as frequent concerns raised by law enforcement officials that Muslim leaders have been uncooperative in terror investigations.
He cited the case of Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan man and a legal resident of the United States, who was arrested last year for plotting to bomb the New York subway system. Mr. King said that Ahmad Wais Afzali, an imam in Queens who had been a police informant, had warned Mr. Zazi before his arrest that he was the target of a terror investigation.
But U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said earlier this year:
Members of the American Muslim community have been – and continue to be – strong partners in fighting this emerging threat. They have regularly denounced terrorist acts and those who carry them out. And they have provided critical assistance to law enforcement in helping to disrupt terrorist plots and combat radicalization.
These individuals have consistently – and correctly – expressed deep concern about the recruitment of their youth by terrorist groups. Many members of the community have taken proactive steps to stop the recruitment of their youth by terrorist groups. Just recently, a group of prominent American Muslims joined together in a video to repudiate the tactics employed by radicalized militants to recruit young Muslims via the Internet.
There needs to be more recognition of these efforts and of the losses suffered in the Muslim community here and around the world. Many of the victims of terror attacks by al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other terrorist groups are innocent Muslims.
King's hearings are nothing more than an opportunity to further divide the American people along religious and political lines. These hearings will only create unnecessary fear and mistrust. Democrats and King's GOP colleagues on the committee should consider boycotting any such hearings and the administration should do whatever is legally possibile not to cooperate.
The hearings proposed by King bring to mind the Salem witch trials and the McCarthy hearings, dark periods in this land. We should never forgot the lessons of those experiences. The U.S. House of Representatives should not be used as a venue for religious or political persecution.
As people of faith, we are called to speak out against these kinds of injustices. Call your Congress member, write a letter to the editor, inform members of your house of worship and ask them to take a public stand against these hearings, and use your voice to decry this assault on religious freedom at every opportunity.
The United States Senate cleared the way today for a vote (scheduled to occur later this afternoon) that would repeal Don't Ask Don't Don't - the military policy that has led to increased persecution of gays and lesbians serving in the Armed Forces. It is past time to end this moral disgrace.
Going out the door with this immoral law is, sadly, John McCain's reputation. McCain had once promised to vote to repeal the law and has always prided himself on being a principled politician. That McCain left the stage during his 2008 presidential campaign (a campaign that saw the one-time opponent of the Religious Right bow at the alter of Jerry Falwell in a pathetic act of pandering).
McCain took to the Senate floor again this week to speak out in favor of continued discrimination against gays and lesbians in American life. The one-time self-described maverick will be remembered not for his independence but for channeling the spirit of former U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, who opposed racial integration in the United States a generation ago in the same way that McCain today is opposing equality for gays and lesbians.
The Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite:
Once a rich young ruler came to Jesus, wanting to know what it took to be "good." 'I've kept all the commandments since my youth,' the young man said, bragging a little. Well, Jesus replied, "there is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money." But the young man, "who was very rich," turned away. Jesus' comment? "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." (Luke 18: 21-25)
All too true. It's also easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a bill with the rich paying their fair share of taxes to get through Congress. Not gonna happen.
But that's the moral thing to do. Our tax policies in this country are a way to help our neighbors who are the "least of these," as Jesus also notes. We "distribute the money" so that we can help those who are the most vulnerable like children, the sick, those with handicapping conditions, and the elderly. It's a way to "distribute the money" to those of our citizens who want to work and can't find it. We give unemployment benefits to people thrown out of work while they struggle in hard economic times to find another job. We pay taxes to educate our young, keep our bridges from falling down, and support our troops.
Politicians love to pontificate on how we need to restore "Christian values" in the public square, but that's mostly limited to denying equal civil rights for gay Americans, or controlling women's bodies. When it comes to what the bible says about wealth and poverty, however, you'll never hear that touted as morality in the public square. No, no. That's "private."
Baloney. The bible is filled with references to the religious imperative to "remember the poor" (Galatians 2:10) and "the worker deserves his pay." (Luke 10:7) When Jesus went to Jerusalem, he "sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury." (Mark 12:41) Jesus watched what people did with their money. He sees the money-changers in the temple charging pilgrims an exorbitant rate of exchange and he turns over the tables in anger, saying, "'My house shall be called a house of prayer,' but you have made it a den of thieves." (Matthew 21:13)
For those who have eyes to see, the real moral values in scripture are about loving God with our whole heart and our neighbor as ourselves, and that includes what you do with your money.
As the National Council of Churches reports, two GOP senators are trying to use the upcoming Christmas holiday as an excuse not to consider the NEW Start II treaty this month:
Washington, December 15, 2010 -- With perhaps unintended irony, two U.S. senators have declared that Christmas is not the time to move toward peace by reducing the number of nuclear arms in the arsenals of the United States and Russia.
But the general secretary of the National Council of Churches and several heads of NCC member communions have sent the lawmakers a gentle reminder that the Prince of Peace is the reason for the season.
Senators Jim Demint (R-S.C.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) have both declared their intention to delay ratification of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START II) during the lame duck session of Congress. Observers suspect the senators may be taking the stand for partisan reasons, but each has declared that Christmas is not the time to support arms reduction.
"You can't jam a major arms control treaty right before Christmas," Demint said in an interview with Politico, calling the whole thing "sacrilegious."
"What's going on here is just wrong," Demint said. "This is the most sacred holiday for Christians. They did the same thing last year - they kept everybody here until (Christmas Eve) to force something down everybody's throat. I think Americans are sick of this."
Earlier, Kyl complained that efforts by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) to get the Senate to ratify START II as well as pass other legislation was too much at Christmas time.
"It is impossible to do all of the things that the majority leader laid out, frankly, without disrespecting the institution and without disrespecting one of the two holiest of holidays for Christians and the families of all the Senate, not just the senators themselves but all of the staff," insisted Kyl.
But Kinnamon sent the senators a peaceful admonishment that they have overlooked the true spirit of Christmas.
"If anything this time of year should be an encouragement for our leaders to work harder for peace on earth in response to God who wills peace for all," Kinnamon said. "Peace is major theme of the Advent season and celebration of Christmas. The National Council of Churches looks forward to being able to celebrate ratification of this treaty to reduce nuclear stockpiles and improve verification. Any delay would be contrary to our commitment to peace on earth."
Last month the general assembly of the NCC and Church World Service, meeting as a Centennial Ecumenical Gathering in New Orleans, unanimously adopted a call to ratify the treaty. Kinnamon and CWS executive director and CEO, the Rev. John L. McCullough, sent copies of the statement to U.S. senators. See www.ncccusa.org/news/101118starttreaty.html
Meeting today with the heads of several NCC member communions, Kinnamon said several other leaders endorsed the call to senators to recognize that the Christmas season is indeed the appropriate time to support measures for peace.
The leaders include the Rev. Dr. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary, Reformed Church in America; Bishop Serapion of the Coptic Orthodox Church in North America; the Rev. Michael Livingston, representing the International Council of Community Churches; the Rev. Dr. Betsy Miller, president of the Moravian Church Northern Province Provincial Elders' Conference; Stan Noffsinger, general secretary of the Church of the Brethren; Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; the Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA); Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church; and Dick Hamm, executive director of Christian Churches Together.
Kinnamon and the heads of communion also reminded the Senate that the theme of peace at Christmas time is unmistakable in scripture.
The song of the angels on the night Christ was born makes it clear that the word on high is "Peace on Earth," Bishop Serapion said, citing Luke 2:14.
The Prophet Isaiah declares the coming of a messiah called, "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)
"In this advent season we anticipate the birth of the Prince of Peace and hear the good news to 'fear not,'" said Noffsinger. "The theme of 'fear not' calls us to a world freed from these weapons that are based on the response of fear."
Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 37 member faith groups -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.
Tell the Senate to ratify the treaty now. Click here for additional information on how you can contact your Senators.
Peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel are at an impasse (what's new?). President Obama and Secretary Clinton have been right to push for a direct U.S. role in the peace process after years of neglect under the Bush Administration.
Churches for a Middle East Peace wonders, however, where we go from here:
Date: December 13, 2010
U.S. Abandons Settlement Strategy
The Obama administration announce it has abandoned its attempt to get direct peace talks restarted by offering Israel a multi-billion package of security and political incentives in return for a 90-day suspension of new Israeli construction in the Palestinian Territories and east Jerusalem. Israeli reportedly could not agree that the written US offer explicitly include east Jerusalem in the construction freeze, nor would it agree that favorable terms for new military equipment be tied to conclusion of an agreement with the Palestinians.
Akiva Eldar, Political commentator for Haaretz newspaper, said the significance of the U.S. decision to stop pushing for a moratorium is that Obama is refusing to give Netanyahu a seal of approval to build in east Jerusalem.
The State Department insists the demise of this offer does not mean the end of US efforts to bring the two sides together to negotiate an agreement, but many are wondering what options remain. Washington is full of speculation of what a new U.S. effort might look like.
A recently published public opinion poll shows that most Americans, Israelis and Palestinians support American efforts to mediate Palestinian-Israeli peace. Two thirds of Israelis would support some form of withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967, and most want Israel to do more to promote comprehensive peace with the Arabs. If the two state solution collapses, about 42 percent believe there would conflict for years to come. Very few believe the Palestinians would give up or that there would be a one-state solution.
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"Woe to him who builds his house on unrighteousness, and his upper room by injustice, who makes his neighbors work for nothing, and does not give them their wages." (Jeremiah 22:13)
This afternoon I joined a conference call with officials at the White House to talk about the elimination of unemployment insurance - which expires today because of GOP obstructionism in Congress. Over 2 million people will lose benefits in December (7 million over the next year). GOP leaders are insisting on extending $700 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans as the unemployed lose their only source of income during the holiday season.
President Obama has opposed the extension of the Bush tax cuts and insisted that unemployment insurance and middle class tax cuts stay in place. The wealthiest Americans don't need tax cuts as the government's deficit explodes and we pay for two wars.
Religious leaders across the country have called for an extension of the unemployment benefits.
In a related matter, the National Council of Churches and other Christian bodies released a statement this fall that read in part:
As people of faith, we often talk about the federal budget being a moral document because where we choose to commit our resources demonstrates our values. Our nation’s tax policy functions in much the same way. Paying taxes to enable government to provide for the needs of the common good is an appropriate expression of our stewardship in society. Every year, billions of dollars are generated in tax revenue that are then reinvested in ways that serve the public interest, like providing for our security and building our roads, bridges, and schools.
The tax system also creates financial incentives for individuals to act in ways that are thought to strengthen our social fabric, such as investing and saving for retirement, starting a business, owning a home, getting a college education--even charitable giving. Because of the way tax benefits are structured, however, too often low-wage workers do not earn enough to access those benefits. This results in a system that perpetuates inequality by rewarding behavior that generates financial security for those who already have it, while excluding those who are working hard at low-wage jobs and need help the most. An equitable, moral tax code should reward the efforts of low-income people to work and save at every level.
Leaving unemployed Americans without financial support will clearly increase poverty and homelessness in America. Every great economic question is in reality a great moral question, once said William Jennings Bryan. Those that oppose extending benefits today are failing a moral test of leadership that will hurt families in very real ways. Click here to send a message to Congress supporting the extension on unemployment benefits.
President Obama would help set the tone for a larger debate if - as he promised during the 2008 election - he would set a goal of reducing poverty by 50% within ten years. The president needs to be pro-active on these issues and not just reactive. His stimulus plan saved millions more from falling into poverty, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, but now we need the president to offer a road map for substantially decreasing poverty.
I've written the president a letter asking him to do just that and to use a major national venue - such as the 2011 State of the Union Address - to outline his plans moving forward. I hope readers here will contact the White House and both thank him for his leadership on these issues and encourage him to led a national effort to reduce poverty.
Action Alert from the Half In Ten Campaign
The countdown is over. Starting tomorrow, the federal unemployment insurance program expires. If Congress fails to remedy the situation this situation,2 million workers will lose their benefits by the end of the holiday season, with millions more set to lose benefits early next year.
The stakes are high for these laid-off workers and for our economy overall. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that reauthorizing the unemployment insurance program until the end of next year would create the equivalent of723,000 full-time jobs. Conversely, letting the program lapse would create a downward economic spiral where unemployed workers would spend less on basic necessities. This in turn lowers demand, and forces businesses to contract and lay off more workers. (For a two-minute video explaining this process, click here.)
What’s more, the majority of the public supports continuing unemployment benefits. In a brand new pollreleased by Half in Ten and the National Employment Law Project, 73 percent of voters agreed with the statement, “With unemployment at 9.6% and millions still out of work, it is too early to start cutting back benefits for workers who lost their jobs.”
Continuing benefits would be consistent with history, too. Never before has Congress cut off jobless benefits with the unemployment rate above 7.2 percent. It’s still around 9.5 percent today.
Congress needs to hear from you. Please write your senators today, and tell them to continue unemployment insurance until the end of next year. You can also click here to call your members of Congress, and go to our unemployment resource page for additional steps.
Congress also has yet to take action on the TANF Emergency Fund. Another brand new Half in Ten pollshows that 79 percent of voters support this bipartisan job-creation engine that has allowed states to partner with the private sector to create over 250,000 new jobs for low-income and long-term unemployed workers. This includes 70 percent of Republican voters.
Yet due to a small minority of Senate obstructionists, many of these successful jobs programs are now being shut down. Congress can still act to restore the program for one more year. We have a live alert where you can contact members and urge them to continue the TANF Emergency Fund.
Don’t let anyone tell you we can’t afford to create jobs and help the hardest-hit families. The same people who insist that we pay for a year of unemployment insurance or obstruct the TANF Emergency Fund are telling us we don’t need to pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. These cuts cost nearly $1 trillion over 10 years, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office ranks them dead last among options to create jobs and grow our economy.
We hope you will stand with us in these critical last few weeks of the 111th Congress. You can click here to sign the Half in Ten pledge as an individual ororganization, or you can connect with us on Twitter andFacebook to stay abreast of campaign developments.
Half of Americans state that someone in their close family is poor, and over 50 million Americans are living in a household struggling against hunger. We need your help now more than ever to build a grassroots movement to cut poverty in half in 10 years.
This is the way it ought to be:
After the early Sunday morning arson at Masjid Salaam al-Farisi, a national media frenzy and FBI investigation had descended upon the usually quiet college town. But by Monday morning, things were calming down.
The mosque was still a frenzy of activity though -- there was a strong media presence, but the parking lot in front of the charred prayer center on Northwest Kings Boulevard was mostly filling with community members and Corvallis religious leaders who had united to offer prayers and support against the "abhorrent" act of arson.
"This shouldn't happen here -- it shouldn't happen anywhere -- but Corvallis is a wonderful, open community," said Laurie Holst as she stopped by the mosque to drop off a potted plant and card. The gifts were part of a growing donation from the community -- a growing cluster of poinsettias, bouquets and cards were gathered in front of the men's entrance to the mosque.
Related Post: Corvallis Mosque Attack Dishonors God
The bombing plot foiled by the FBI last night that targeted the annual Christmas Tree lightening at Pioneer Courthouse Square is a powerful reminder of the threats we face as a nation.
That the FBI was able to identify the would-be bomber and stop his plans also demonstrates how well the Obama administration is dealing with such threats. I don't believe we can stop all terrorist attacks against the United States or our allies but this proves Once again that through good work - coordinated among many agencies (federal, state and local) - that we can stop some attacks.
One of the best allies in the fight against terrorism has been the Muslim American community. Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the teen arrested, was not representative of Portland's Muslim community. It is important that Oregonians remember that in the coming days. Christians, Jews and Muslims in Portland have worked hard to build ties and bridges in the years since 9/11 and you can no more blame the entire Muslim world for acts of terrorism than you can blame all Christians for the Oklahoma City Bombing or domestic terrorist attacks against women's clinics.
Other attempted terrorist attacks have led to threats of violence against Muslim communities. That happened after 9/11 in Portland. Churches and temples can play an important role by offering friendship and protection to our Muslim brothers and sisters in the wake of this incident.
This event also serves as a reminder of the danger of religious fundmentalism. Those who strive for a real and just peace need to work against fundamentalism and offer a vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God where diversity is valued and love reigns supreme.
6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
- Isaiah 11:6-9