Saturday, December 27, 2008

14,500 Candidates!!

BAGHDAD — Iraqi voters next month will see 14,500 candidates vie for 440 open seats on provincial councils, an outpouring of interest in a new phase of Iraqi self-government that could make for a baffling ballot.

article here

Plenty of heat in "passive" houses

The concept of the passive house, pioneered in this city of 140,000 outside Frankfurt, approaches the challenge from a different angle. Using ultrathick insulation and complex doors and windows, the architect engineers a home encased in an airtight shell, so that barely any heat escapes and barely any cold seeps in. That means a passive house can be warmed not only by the sun, but also by the heat from appliances and even from occupants’ bodies.

And in Germany, passive houses cost only about 5 to 7 percent more to build than conventional houses....

“The myth before was that to be warm you had to have heating. Our goal is to create a warm house without energy demand,” said Wolfgang Hasper, an engineer at the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt. “This is not about wearing thick pullovers, turning the thermostat down and putting up with drafts. It’s about being comfortable with less energy input, and we do this by recycling heating.”

article here (<-- click)

United States pushing sex and drugs in Muslim countries

Considering the crashing success we enjoyed with the last fellow the CIA embraced and trained in Afghanistan, this too seems to promise continued "success" for the CIA and the international reputation of the United States.
"Take one of these. You'll love it," the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.

The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes -- followed by a request for more pills.

Four blue pills. Viagra.
article here (<-- click)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Be Good and Grow Rich: Reversing the Economic Meltdown

Frank Kaufmann
December 23, 2008
"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
Albert Einstein
Why is it that suddenly everyone seems lost. Only weeks ago, the pantheon of cable news finance wizards flooded our lives around the clock with pride, bluster, and "expertise." And while they frothed and “explained,” lust and frenzy infected world markets like bone cancer. A financial world was built with bedrock institutions packaging, selling, and buying less than nothing.

When natural laws of economics finally tore though the mirage, financial meltdown fell on us like a flesh eating virus that continues relentlessly and with a vengeance. Extreme responses arose in all sectors with leaders scurrying about like those on the deck of the Titanic hit. Makeshift measures to stanch hemorrhaging in this spot or that were passed in panic, but none brought about a settling, stabilizing, or passing of the storm. We wait with baited breath to see if, when, and how great the carnage, pain, and suffering finally will be. Fully one third of savings have evaporated.

Those working on fixes are not working on a level that matches the depth and nature of the crisis. Everything that breaks does so because essentials are violated, basic elements collapse under the strain. Analyses and proposed remedies must start with clear-headed investigation of what fundamentally broke. What was violated? What snapped? What basic laws and rules were stretched to the breaking point?

Current recommended remedies stem from and remain mired in this mentality of violation and untruth. The slide will pause now at 35% loss, giving us the opportunity to awaken, change, and begin to recover. If we do not acknowledge what we have wrought, the economy will drop its next third, leaving none from this generation to see recovery.

3 sectors are responsible for failures comprising the global economic crisis, the business and financial sector, the political arena, and the media. Great wrong, great greed, and great dysfunction took place under the watch of each of these 3 sectors, each having failed in their respective responsibilities to be sure that such things never happen. The reform of the economy cannot be achieved through the application of mere “economic” fixes. Recovery requires reform, acknowledgement of wrongdoing, taking responsibility for harm done, and commitment to change in each of these three areas.

The economic crisis happened by violating two basics: 1.Self interest cannot evolve into greed to the degree that personal, material lust is sated without regard for the human condition of “the neighbor.” 2. Production and consumption may not persist in a manner and degree that outstrips nature's capacity to repair and rejuvenate herself. The economic meltdown is not merely the fruit of greed. It more accurately occurred through the the deadening of the heart.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, almost 1 billion people suffer in this year's global food shortages. The number of undernourished, the FAO said, rose by 40 million, following a 75 million jump the previous year. This is simply forbidden. Prosperity and suffering in such magnitude are not coterminous.

Growth of value (perceived by many as growth of capital) cannot continue unchecked when doing so happens in ways that violate basic human norms and morality. The meltdown will not relent nor subside until approaches at resolution address real causes. Lust for personal profit and consumerist excess may not be sought in anti-human and anti-environment structures and patterns.

The way to genuine recovery, growth, and the return of wealth will come to enterprises oriented specifically to the causal factors of the meltdown. Industries that fit this bill will experience genuine growth and profit. These will produce jobs and wealth aplenty. On the other hand, proposals based on the persistent breaking of natural rules and rectitude not only will fail rescue the economy, but will drive the meltdown further. If we snap the 35% loss barrier through obstinately not learning, the collapse will become irreparable.

What is needed now for recovery is the very opposite of current approaches seeking desperately to resuscitate over-heated, self-gratification, and debt-fueled consumerist materialism.

Real solutions that will turn the tide to recovery will be led by industries and entrepreneurs devoted to the restoration of balance in human affairs, balance such that acquisitiveness is no longer admired if it fails to be coupled with minimum concern for vast numbers of suffering people, the millions who starve and die without hope. Industry that retools itself to create opportunity, housing, education, and work for the needy will prosper.

Secondly, everything entrepreneurial that is devoted to restoring nature's capacity to repair and sustain herself while keeping apace with non-excessive human consumption will prosper.

In short, consumption, growth, and wealth are fine. But gluttonous, consumerist materialism cannot be celebrated and encouraged 1. while able-bodied men and women with families cannot eat or lead lives with minimal opportunity and dignity and 2. when consumption happens in ways that break mother nature's ability to repair herself and sustain environmental balance and health.

In the present moment, industries designed to fix these abuses and violations naturally will inherit and enjoy the privilege of growth and profitability.

Frank Kaufmann is the director of the Inter Religious Federation for World Peace. The opinions here are his own.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has proven flat out unflappable. Persistently unflustered, with icewater in his veins, while the most powerful men in the world are bobbing and weaving around him like horses on a merry-go-round. He even tries to snag shoe #2 like it's a line drive to center field. Watch these two videos:

Shoes destroyed, arm ok

BAGHDAD (AFP) — Security agents destroyed the shoes thrown at US President George W. Bush by an Iraqi journalist during checks to ensure they did not contain explosives, the investigating judge said on Thursday.

"The shoes were examined by the Iraqi and American security services and then destroyed," the judge told AFP.

He said Zaidi had "signs of blows to the face" but was otherwise in good health and did not appear to have a broken arm as reported by his brother.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shoe thrower 'beaten in custody'

The brother of the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at US President George W Bush has said that the reporter has been beaten in custody.

Muntadar al-Zaidi has suffered a broken hand, broken ribs and internal bleeding, as well as an eye injury, his older brother, Dargham, told the BBC...

Mr Zaidi told our correspondent that despite offers from many lawyers his brother has not been given access to a legal representative since being arrested by forces under the command of Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser....

Mr Zaidi, who lives in Baghdad, has worked for al-Baghdadia for three years.

Mr Zaidi said his actions were for Iraqi widows and orphans

Muzhir al-Khafaji, programming director for the channel, described him as a "proud Arab and an open-minded man".

He said that Mr Zaidi was a graduate of communications from Baghdad University.

"He has no ties with the former regime. His family was arrested under Saddam's regime," he said.

Mr Zaidi has previously been abducted by insurgents and held twice for questioning by US forces in Iraq.

Iraq shoe-thrower said to be in hospital with broken arm

By Waleed Ibrahim (IHT)

An Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush in a fit of outrage was hit in the head with a rifle butt and had an arm broken in chaotic scenes when he was leapt on by Iraqi security officers, his brother said Tuesday.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Shoeless Ahmad Jackson

December 14, 2008

Yankees Sign Iraqi Hurler
Andy Borowitz

Shoe-throwing Right-hander Impresses Scouts

In their latest bid to beef up their pitching rotation for the 2009 season, the New York Yankees today signed Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zeidi to a three-year deal worth $32 million.

The right-handed al-Zeidi, 28, impressed the Yankee scouts with his performance in Baghdad yesterday when he threw both of his shoes at President George W. Bush.
While neither of the shoes hit their target, both throws "had great velocity and good movement," said Yankee owner Hank Steinbrenner.

"The first shoe was high and outside but the second one was right down the middle," Mr. Steinbrenner said.

The Yankee boss said that he was also impressed with Mr. al-Zeidi's fighting spirit when Secret Service agents tackled him.

"That could come in handy when we have a series with Boston," he said.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Top Officials Cited in Abuse of Detainees

WASHINGTON -- Abuse of detainees in U.S. custody was a direct result of decisions by top administration officials, according to a bipartisan Senate report released Thursday.

The report said coercive interrogation practices damaged the government's "moral authority" and its ability to collect accurate intelligence....

"What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely," which was "a major cause of the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody," the committee wrote in the report. It was approved unanimously last month by a voice vote of the Armed Services Committee....

The report called it "particularly troubling" that U.S. adopted techniques "designed to simulate abusive tactics used by our enemies against our own soldiers and that were modeled, in part, on tactics used by the Communist Chinese to elicit false confessions from U.S. military personnel."

One of the many reports here (<-- click)

Monday, December 1, 2008

No way to stop us, pirate leader says

If you are like me, the sudden emergence of near daily reports of piracy on the high seas is hard to get one's mind around.

Truth be told I never expected to have much to do with the term "pirates" in day to day life. Until lately for me the term brought to mind Captain Hook, Johnny Depp, peg legs, eye-patches, and flintlock pistols.

Suddenly I am reading of the capture of the Faina, with 33 T-72 tanks on board(!) and a Saudi tanker with over $100 million of crude on board!

Then this morning, lo and behold "Boyah" appears and offers a full interview. So if you are missing delivery of a T-72 tank, have your post-meltdown cash tied up in captured crude, or are simply trying to deal with the imposition by circumstances to incorporate the word pirates into your adult mentality, this article should be of interest:

No way to stop us, pirate leader says

Somalis are so desperate to survive that attacks on merchant shipping in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean will not stop, a pirate leader promises.

"The pirates are living between life and death," said the pirate leader, identified by only one name, Boyah. "Who can stop them? Americans and British all put together cannot do anything."

The interview with the pirate was conducted in late August by journalists employed by the Somali news organization Garowe. The complete interview was provided to CNN last week and provides a glimpse of why piracy has been so hard to control in the region.

Entire article here

Saturday, November 29, 2008

India terror aftermath - Greater integration needed

This morning's AP headline reads "Pakistan U-turns on sending spy chief to India." Three links down on the Google "news page," its collection of links is the Hollywood Today headline: "Mumbai Massacre Now Linked to Pakistan: War to Follow?" making it clear that those who generate current world problems are not merely the lawless and conscience-less villains at the extremes, but rather that our problems stem with near equal abundance from dysfunction, irresponsibility and dangerous blindness in the heart of the "mainstream." While my heart grieves for the innocent in India, a country so beloved to me, I struggle to suppress a heart of anger at institutions like Hollywood Today. I struggle for a moment to cling to the ideal of free press in moments like this. The problem is that the term "free" is false. The vast amount of world media slaves under its yolk of its economic need or lust, and this is not freedom. It is bondage. A cure must be found.

Yet the problem of living more responsibly, and with a more reasonable and holistic grasp of political life, lies not only with much needed reform of media, but also with "the body politic," namely us. We must make it increasingly possible for political leaders to have the breathing room they need to navigate sensitive and fragile territory, especially in hair trigger moments.

The AP article leads with the observation:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan on Saturday withdrew an offer to send its spy chief to India to help investigate the Mumbai terrorist attacks, damaging efforts to head off a crisis between the nuclear-armed rivals.

Indian officials have linked the attacks to "elements" in Pakistan, raising the prospect of a breakdown in painstaking peace talks between South Asian rivals that has alarmed the U.S.

First, how does it help to desribe these countries as rivals? Everyone are rivals in some areas. And they are partners, collaborators or neutral in others. This is true for India and Pakistan. Why could not the copy read, "painstaking peace talks between South Asian neighbors"? Is this any less true?

Secondly, if indeed this week's horrifying attacks in Mumbai are linked to "elements in Pakistan," why should this be reported as "raising the prospect of a breakdown in painstaking peace talks between South Asian rivals"? Surely there is a vast likelihood that the Mumbai attacks are linked to "elements in Pakistan." Any 10 year old could tell us that. Shocking news would be if the attacks were not at ALL linked to ANY elements in Pakistan. In our world today, everything is linked, and it is like reporting that someone breathed in then breathed out to note the likelihood that terrorists link across national boundaries. Why should such a pat, dull observation "raise the prospect of a breakdown in painstaking peace talks"? Surely Prime Minister Singh was not suggesting that the government of Pakistan was smuggling soul-less animals into Mumbai to shoot up Indian guests and citizens.

The primary point of the AP article notes that Gilani reversed an earlier agreement to send the head of the Inter Services Intelligence agency, had been changed so that a lower-ranking intelligence official would travel instead.

OK. Yes, this can be seen as a disappointment certainly. But it is understandable. Gilani received sharp criticism from Pakistani opposition politicians and a cool response from the army, which controls the spy agency. How hard is that to figure out? Everyone knows the difficulty and stranglehold domestic partisanship poses for national leaders. This is what I mean when I say we (as the body politic) should think in ways that is supportive, helpful, constructive, and reasonable. And we should refuse to continue consuming news presented in ways that we simply know better. These realities are not complicated. Give the leaders room. Let us and the media stop playing pretend. We already know the story. Every national leader is a target from domestic opposition. Each country has a different power configuration, and things are hard.

For these reasons, the greater the persistence for quiet back channels to remain open among leaders the better we can move forward toward peace. Let Gilani and Singh stay in constant communication, and let common sense world citizens support them in all ways to deepen bonds and shared hopes and needs in the region.

The US, despite the decline of its reputation under the current administration, is always a powerful influence in global affairs. Presently nations must navigate quite a radical transition: The current US administration has being trying to persuade Islamabad to shift its security focus from India, with which it has fought three wars, to Islamic militants along the Afghan border, whereas President-elect Barack Obama has identified rapprochement between India and Pakistan as a main plank of his plan to stabilize Afghanistan and defeat al-Qaida.

The former mentioned pressure from the current administration is self-serving and short sighted, whereas the Obama position reflects insight into how stabilization expands. Should India and Pakistan succeed to develop a unified, harmonized and integrated alliance, every last sector of human enterprise in the region would flourish a hundred fold. Such a rich horizon, more than anything else would seek its own natural call through the northwest borders inviting all to the benefits of peace and prosperity.

In the dreams of such a time let us all, especially media, serve such hopes with a more constructive and more common sense to the obvious realities of life and the simple to understand challenges of national leaders.

Frank Kaufmann is the director of the Inter Religious Federation for World Peace. The opinions here are his own.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Natural and Effective Response to Poverty

1. What is poverty from a theological point of view?

If one hopes or presumes to address this wellspring of human indignity, the first and most important task is to establish one's theological assumptions regarding the nature of poverty. Is poverty the will of God? Is it a "natural evil" (like predation in nature for example)? Is it a curse or a punishment?

Is it curable? Or are the demands of our conscience to respond more like a hobby or a self improvement program?

What does God have to do with poverty? Why is it here? Can it be solved? Or are we compelled to respond even though it is a permanent aspect of the human condition?

All actions in relation to poverty must take these questions into account. It is the position of this writer that there is an expression of poverty that is natural, eternal and constructive, but that widespread poverty affecting billions of healthy, well-meaning adults is an evil, an evidence of human failure. Two matters must be solved in order to address these ills: 1. What dimensions of poverty are evil, 2. Where in the process is intervention best applied.

2. Constructive poverty?

What on earth could possibly be described as poverty that is natural, eternal, and constructive? Quite simply it is the pattern of economics that occurs naturally in the family. If we were to analyze matters purely in terms of economic and material welfare, one must confess that comparatively speaking, parents are rich and children are poor. Parents have everything and children have nothing. Why is there nothing wrong with this naturally (and infinitely) arising form of poverty? It is because of the natural impulses, reactions, and response of parents (except when these God-given wisdoms are broken or damaged and replaced by some aberrant malfunction).

Sans brokenness parents naturally respond beautifully to this "imposition of poverty" into their lives. The first thing we do is take care of those matters that are urgent. Parents make sure that "the poor" have food, clothing, shelter, and are protected from danger. No questions asked, no demands made, nothing required in advance or in response. Needs must be addressed. Next (in fact simultaneously) is the natural impulse of parents to respond to the "poverty" that springs up in their household by investing in education for “the poor." Parents naturally provide education for their children, raising them up so that the latter will realize their talents, and become able and equipped to generate their own wealth, acquire independence, and even develop the ability to help others in need . How splendid this is? Also, along the way, others chip in. Parents are not the only ones who involve themselves in lifting up "the poor." Very often older brothers and sisters help too. This constantly and naturally arising "poverty" is the occasion of so much that is sweet, lovely, good, happy and memorable.

For those who claim to be troubled by the evils of poverty and are driven from within to respond, HERE lie our guidelines. This most natural reality and response provides everything we need to know about poverty, and what our proper response should be. In these circumstances (i.e., family) we gain the direct personal experience that instructs us first hand what the ideal, essential response to "poverty" should be. We experience directly that the proper response to "poverty" is natural, good, feels good, and IS good. Poverty is only a problem whenever we fail to respond in this perfectly natural and innate manner. The gift of family life provides all people with the clear ability to respond to “poverty” in good, healthy, loving, constructive, and creative ways.

3. Where to intervene

Interestingly, this "immediacy" or "intimacy of poverty" as it occurs in its natural form (with the birth of our little ones) also shows us the ideal "intervention point" for reversing the forms of poverty that clearly are evil, and violate innate human impulses and the realization of our responsibilities.

Providing there are is no “brokenness” or malfunction in the parents who live at the center of a young family, who are the ones best equipped to address the “needs of the poor,” that attend the joys of child-birth? Is it the state? The “village?” The rich guy down the street? Quite obviously, the persons best equipped to respond are the parents. When everything is in good working order, the best mediator for everything that will lift the newborn from “abject poverty” to wealth, independence, and even to being charitable, are the parents. Many can and do help. Parents alone should not presume to, nor be left to address this transformation on their own. Nevertheless, parents (without dysfunction) are best situated of all to mediate this transformation.

The point to note from this observation is that poverty is best addressed from the “immediate outwards.” Programs or structures that “skip a step” do not work. An overpaid head of an international body for poverty reduction, living indulgently is NOT a good figure to address the evils of poverty. He or she suffers from the lack of intimacy. They are too remote from the distressing impact poverty evokes, regardless of such a person's education or expertise in the academic dimensions of poverty. The efforts of such persons and organizations “skip too many steps.” The projects are unnatural. They violate what is plainly taught and revealed in the natural structures of family.

A person driven to respond to the evils of poverty, should first raise up his or her family to inherit his or her passion and concern. Families should help families. As these bond together and experience first hand the joys and wonder of “ending poverty,” they then can go on to form larger groups and organizations that take up the responsibility to help, support and uplift groups of the next size and next level of social organization.

The point simply is that divinely infused nature reveals and carries with it everything we need to know about the alleviation of poverty. Immediate needs first. No questions, no demands, no expectations. Then (in fact simultaneously) an effective education toward self-sufficiency and independence. Secondly, intimacy first, then expansion. No “skipping steps.” Thank you for reading, now can we treat you to lunch? The kids put in some of their own allowance money too!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

First signs, early communications

Here is Obama's first press conference. His focus is economic recovery.

Here is Obama's first radio address. He focuses on economic recovery

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Visitor

I was deeply moved by this film

I hope you have enough time to watch it

Thank you

It plays and slowly downloads here (<-- click)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What just happened? What should happen now?

Perhaps the flying out of the box analysis and public reflection is better left to those whose job it is to keep speaking to us all the time. I am still putting my thoughts together.

I did manage to get out into one of the world's crowds to take in the day the world changed. Here are some images and a video of New York's Times Square on election night.

Perhaps images can help gin up some first thoughts on this moment. Here's at least one thing that just happened:

Below are two good articles to get us started in thinking through what is needed now. These are serious times.

Please be sure to go down past the New Yorker article to the Daily News article. Schoen offers excellent and important analysis of the voting patterns that brought about the coming Obama presidency.

What just happened? What should happen now?

The weekly lead in The New Yorker called "Talk of the Town" looks at challenges facing the president elect through an analysis of the current economic meltdown, and what measures have been taken to date to respond.

In this piece Steve Coll identifies what he believes to be the two major policy demands facing the new administration:

The Test

by Steve Coll November 10, 2008

In 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Frances Perkins, his Secretary of Labor, to draft a plan that might help Americans escape poverty in old age. “Keep it simple,” he told her. “So simple that everybody will understand it.” On August 14, 1935, after bargaining in Congress, Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act at a White House ceremony. The law “represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means complete,” the President said. He continued:

It is a structure intended to lessen the force of possible future depressions. . . . It is, in short, a law that will take care of human needs and at the same time provide the United States an economic structure of vastly greater soundness.

Roosevelt hoped that the elderly would also receive health insurance; Congress balked. It took thirty years—until July 30, 1965, when Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare bill—to protect older Americans from the ravages of sickness as well as poverty. These were Democratic initiatives, but they gradually became national compacts: Ronald Reagan defended Social Security, and George W. Bush expanded Medicare. They, too, came to recognize that a sound system of social insurance enabled by government makes capitalism and its splendid innovations (the iPhone, the Cartoon Network, the Ultimate Fishing Tool, etc.) more balanced and sustainable.

Last week, the Department of Commerce reported that the economy is shrinking. Almost certainly, the United States has entered its twelfth official recession since Roosevelt’s death. Most of the past eleven recessions have been short and mild, in part because of the “automatic stabilizers,” as economists call them, created by New Deal-inspired insurance and regulatory regimes. The current financial crisis, however, has already proved so severe and so volatile that it has smashed or bypassed a number of important shock absorbers. Some economists fear that this downturn may therefore be atypically long and painful.

The country is fortunate in one respect: the sudden buckling of financial safeguards has put just about everyone in touch with his inner New Dealer. Even Alan Greenspan recently confessed to Congress a crisis of faith in self-regulation. Meanwhile, former free-market true believers in the Bush Administration have tossed out money from the public vault like looters, and just as untidily; if they can sort out exactly what they have done, the Treasury’s mandarins must soon prepare PowerPoint presentations to document for their successors the most expansive nationalizations undertaken in the United States since the Second World War. The Administration seems giddy with a discovery familiar in the palaces of certain despots: yes, you can just print the bills on your own presses and hand them out to your friends.

Embedded in this festival of emergency measures, however, is an important and possibly durable ideological shift. Last week, in an op-ed in the Washington Post, Martin Feldstein, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan Administration, and, more recently, an adviser to John McCain, endorsed large-scale spending on public works as a way to stimulate economic recovery. This was a bit like Al Gore embracing coal. The essay’s appearance indicated that a broad coalition is emerging, where none existed a year ago, in favor of New Deal-style expenditures on roads, bridges, broadband lines, alternative energy, and the like, to support economic recovery and future growth. Such investment could strengthen the economy for a generation, as Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System did.

It’s not enough, of course, just to be like Ike. The campaign of 2008 was notable for its misleading narratives about how Presidents are tested. From the wacky competition over 3 A.M. phone calls to McCain’s alleged campaign suspension, it was suggested repeatedly that Presidents are best measured by their day-to-day crisis-management skills. Of course, sound judgment under pressure is essential to a successful Presidency, and its absence can prove disastrous (see Bush, post-Afghanistan; see Bush, post-Katrina). Coolheadedness on its own is sometimes enough to earn lasting gratitude (see Kennedy, Cuban missile crisis). Yet, great Presidencies can arise only from great causes. To define them and deliver on them is the truer test of the officeholder.

The next Presidency has within its reach at least two generation-spanning causes: the need to jump-start a new energy economy, and, in so doing, help to contain climate change; and the need to enact a plan to provide quality health care to all Americans, and, in so doing, complete the project of social insurance that Roosevelt described in 1935. Each of these projects is urgent, but it is health-care reform that speaks more directly to the economic and human dimensions of the present downturn.

The accumulating failures in the country’s health-care system are a cause of profound weakness in the American economy; unaddressed, this weakness will exacerbate the coming recession and crimp its aftermath. A large number of the country’s housing foreclosures in recent years appear to be related to medical problems and health-care expenses. American businesses often can’t afford to hire as many employees as they would like because of rising health-insurance costs; employees often can’t afford to quit to chase their better-mousetrap dreams because they can’t risk going without coverage. Add to this the system’s moral failings: about twenty-two thousand people die in this country annually because they lack health insurance. That is more than the number of Americans who are murdered in a year.

Presidents who help right a wrong of this character are generally immortalized in granite, but to succeed they require a transformation-minded Congress, too. The next Congress will likely be without the active leadership of its great lion of social reform, Ted Kennedy. There is only one senator with the wonky expertise, work habits, and political stature to fill Kennedy’s place: Hillary Clinton. The psychology she would bring to this inheritance would surely be complex, but no health-care-reform bill will pass without her. Lyndon Johnson, also a person of complex psychology, understood this politics of legacy well. At the Medicare signing ceremony, he invited Jimmy Roosevelt, F.D.R.’s eldest son, and the aging Harry Truman, who had pushed hard for health-care reform, to share the glory. Johnson, in his remarks, linked them (and himself, of course) to the Social Security Act and its “illustrious place in history,” and he carefully recited an “honor roll” of fifteen congressional leaders who contributed to the bill’s passage. It was, Johnson said, a “time for triumph.” It is, even more so, today.

What just happened? What should happen now?

Here is an article in the New York Daily News.

It provides a very good analysis of the voting patterns that resulted in the Obama victory, as well as draws some legislative implications based on these patterns:

Moderates - not liberals - Made Barack Obama President

By Douglas Schoen

Thursday, November 6th 2008, 4:00 AM

The general consensus of Election Night commentators was that our center-right country has become a center-left country. I must offer what will be, for liberals, a buzz kill: Barack Obama owes his victory not to the left, but to the middle. As he sets out to govern, he forgets that at his peril.

First, and probably most important, the ideological composition of the electorate this year was virtually identical to that of 2004. This year, 22% of voters were liberals, 44% were moderates and 34% were conservatives. In 2004, 21% were liberals, 45% were moderates and 34% were conservatives.

In the voting booth, it was moderates who made the difference. They had given John Kerry a 9-point advantage in 2004; in 2008, they gave Obama a 21-point advantage. That change, in and of itself, is worth most of the swing from Kerry's narrow loss to Obama's big victory.

And look at the voting behavior of self-described conservatives. Here, Obama picked up probably an additional 1-1/2% of the total vote by increasing his share to 20% from Kerry's 15%. Liberals, by contrast, were virtually identical in their levels of support from Kerry to Obama.

The real change between 2004 and 2008 came in the number of people calling themselves Democrats. They had been basically equal in numbers to Republican identifiers in 2004. In this election, exit polls reported self-declared Democrats outnumbered Republicans, 39% to 32%.

Translation: The country has not shifted further left. Rather, in all likelihood, the Democratic Party has shifted further right.

But what about those much talked about, map-changing wild cards - African-Americans and young voters?

African-Americans had been 11% of the electorate in 2004. In this election, they were 12%. Obama did slightly better than Kerry among them, but not by enough to have materially impacted the outcome.

And youth? In 2004, 18- to 29-year-olds made up 17% of the electorate. They were 18% in 2008. While again here Obama did better than Kerry, this would account for only a point or two.

The hidden story of the exit polls, in fact, is that there remains real doubt about expansive government programs, tax increases and, to a lesser extent, Obama himself. A bare majority, 51%, said that government should do more to solve our problems; 43% said that the government is currently doing too much.

When asked about an Obama presidency, 30% said that they were excited by it, while 20% said that they were concerned and a quarter said that they were scared. So, though "hope" is one of the buzzwords of the Obama campaign, there's also palpable fear out there.

What conclusion then, should Obama and the Democratic Congress draw from all this?

One: There is little appetite for a supersized Democratic agenda. Polling does show support for another stimulus program and initiatives to help beleaguered homeowners. But it is hard to see how other Obama initiatives like raising the capital gains tax rate or raising the tax on dividends in the face of a bitter recession will be well-received by an already nervous electorate.

Two: At a time when our deficit is approaching $1 trillion, the public will not be receptive to massive spending programs. On issues of great importance like health care, the electorate is looking for an incremental approach rather than a sweeping effort to cover all 47 million uninsured Americans.

Finally, Democrats must resist the temptation to take on symbolic issues that appeal to the left and divide the country. The failure of pro-gay marriage initiatives around the country should give pause to similar initiatives on the federal level, and the mixed results on affirmative action suggest how important it is for Obama to initiate social change on a class basis, rather than a racial basis.

America has not changed as much as many commentators think it has. Rather, there has been a rejection of George Bush and failed Republican ideas. Carefully crafted bipartisan policies offer the greatest chance to strengthen America and rebuild our battered national psyche.

Schoen, who was President Bill Clinton's pollster in 1996, is author of "The Power of the Vote."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Interreligious reception at the American Academy of Religion conference

Please read about the recent panel and reception held by the Inter Religious Federation for World Peace, and the New World Encyclopedia at the annual conference of the American Academy of Religion.

12 simple ways to supercharge your brain

This is a very good article

It has some very good (and pretty easy to follow) advice

Please click through to read it:

Despite being the strongest computer on the planet, our brains do lapse. It's hard to blame them really. As humans, we spend much of or existence stuffing our brains with stuff.

No matter how powerful our brains are, they need recuperation time to be kept in shape.

Here's the article

Friday, October 31, 2008

New World Encyclopedia and Inter Religious Federaton - Meeting in Chicago

For 20 years the IRFWP has offered an evening of stimulating and relevant intellectual reflection on the eve of the annual conference of the American Academy of Religion (AAR).

Our panels are vigorous and engaging, set in a warm collegial atmosphere, and our reception provides the chance to catch up with old friends and meet new ones

If you are in Chicago this year, please come.

We would love to see you!

Frank Kaufmann
Inter Religious Federation for World Peace
New World Encyclopedia

AAR invite
About Us

The Inter Religious Federation for World Peace (IRFWP) is a 25 year old initiative for world peace through interreligious dialogue and harmony.

IRFWP has representatives in 192 countries and a database with thousands of active partners, religionists in the academy, clergy, and grass roots leadership.

The New World Encyclopedia (NWE) is designed to organize human knowledge so the reader will learn information not just for its own sake, but for its value to the reader and the world as a whole. It is designed to provide the context and values of our social and organizational relationships, and our relationship with nature and the environment.

The underlying goal of the encyclopedia is to promote knowledge that leads to human happiness, well-being, world peace. It is a useful tool for everyone, and an ideal resource for student research.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Beyond the Meltdown

Unity and division in the pursuit of solutions

The current economic crisis is showing no signs of going away. Already drastic measures have been taken, only to be met with erratic lurches and increased global contagion. There is plenty of blame to go around, and the willingness of many to be divisive at this juncture is harmful to all. These divisions harm chances at recovery. These divisions include partisan, US election-season finger pointing, the exploitation of resentment and class warfare, and the myopic approach to the problem through narrowly economic and political elements.

All thinking people capable of reason, uninfected by the blindness of partisan passions know that neither US political party is better than the other in terms of "goodness." We know that neither Republicans nor Democrats are more or less likely to be better human beings than their counterparts "across the aisle." The same is true on the negative side. In neither party are we more or less likely to find "worse" human beings. The difference between parties lies solely in commitment to differing political ideologies (for all sorts of reasons, some downright inane).

In any case, since the only thing you can find in a political party is people, it means you surely will find some who are thoughtful and some not, some who are sincere and some not, some who are reasonable and some not, some who are consistent, clear, compassionate, responsible, constructive, and some not. Some are greedy, devious, Machiavellian, and specious, and others not. Some are arrogant, closed-minded and supercilious, and others not. These concern being human, they do not concern whatever resulted in a person ending up a Republican or a Democrat. If the current global, economic meltdown is in anyway a result of people being "bad," then it is highly probable that members of both parties have participated in, if not perpetrated the problem.

Secondly it should be obvious to all that both parties function inside the same larger political, economic, and social system in the United States. Both parties function under or seek to bypass the same laws. They pursue identical ends (namely power), and they rely on the same lucre in their respective pursuits of power. These two political parties could not possibly approach parity, unless they are both doing approximately the same things.

These reasons above should make us leery of anyone who tries to convince us that one party or the other is responsible for the crisis. Both are very culpable, each in different ways, for different reasons, and due to different impulses, both good and bad.

Those looking for causes and solutions imagining that one US political party bears greater responsibility for the meltdown will not succeed, and given the urgency of forging an immediate and effective rescue should be chastised for sowing confusion and obstructing an important responsibility. Our only hope properly to analyze and prescribe an effective antidote is to approach the problem transcendent of partisan bias. This requires the capacity to understand the strengths and weaknesses of both political impulses and ideologies so as to see how each contributed the problem, as well as to see what resources and insights exist in each party that will provide for us insights and trends for strategies that will rectify the dysfunction that now threatens the global economy.

The second divisive seduction is the invocation of resentment and class warfare when seeking to analyze and solve the meltdown. The phrase to often heard is "those fat cats on Wall Street," as though we woke up to find that a small group of people have stolen our money and kept it for themselves. There are a good many reasons that make this a false starting point for understanding economic meltdown:

Everyone has long known about executive salaries long before the meltdown, and no one had anything to say

Our own age is no different than all other ages. We have always known the power of wealth to create wealth. It is near exponential. Money makes money with every passing moment. This is reality from time immemorial, including from ancient times, the middle ages, the golden age, and all times before and since.

Wall Street maniacs are not alone in the seeking the wild ride of free money, and they are not alone in suffocating themselves in the grotesque glut of wealth and salaries. One need think only of what has happened to entertainers, and sports figures. 50% of (or 52.7 million) of US Households owned equities in some way shape or form in 2002.

Quite simply greed and excess is not best understood or analyzed from the prism of "class." It is better understood as a pervasive phenomenon, and to the extent that the current economic meltdown results from undue greed, the problem and the cure must be approached accurately and sensibly if cures and solutions are to be found.

Again, proposals that describe the problem as originating in the greed of a particular demographic at the exclusion of others are not based in truth (or in some cases in honesty) and cannot by that very fact contribute reliably in effective and necessary analyses.

The final form of division that prevents and impedes the possibility of solving the crisis, and turning back the potential devastation of this economic tsunami might be the most crucial one of the three. This is the propensity to see the problem strictly in political and economic and terms and look only to these sectors for solutions. This can never succeed, and this must be rejected urgently.

Frank Kaufmann is the director of the Inter Religious Federation for World Peace. The opinions here are his own.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Balanced analysis of the economic crisis

There is a vote McCain video (<-- click) in circulation that offers careful research to show that the current economic crisis is caused by Democrats and the history of finance and legislation designed to "provide housing for the poor." My friend and colleague Gordon L. Anderson, Ph.D., author of Philosophy of the United States: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, responded to the person who sent him the pro-McCain-the-Democrats-are-the-problem video with this following response.

I found Gordon's response balanced and insightful:


This is a pretty good description of why many of the most tragic mortgage foreclosures on poor people in the inner city occurred. However, there was a larger aspect. The two states with the highest foreclosure rates were Florida and California. In Miami, much of this was based on a "flipping" craze, where development raged and many middle and upper middle class speculators took advantage of the low interest rates to buy condos without ever expecting to personally live in them. In California, homes began to average $850,000. This was not your lower class democrat buying these homes; it was yuppies who wanted to buy a house in California. Many others around the country bought these loans on executive houses of $500,000 or more and they simply walked away from them when the credit bubble burst. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac did these bad things-and I am afraid FDIC is no better prepared. But at the core is a credit bubble designed by the Federal Reserve Banks, Oil Companies, and large companies like Hewlett Packard and auto manufactures who wanted easy credit for consumers to buy their products, as much as the sleight of hand tried by liberal politicians like Obama.

This is a long-time problem brewing. Part of it related to changes in laws by banking and financial lobbyists. They supported supply-side economics under Reagan, but under Clinton the Glass-Stegal Act, designed in the 1930s to prevent some of this was repealed in 1999 making way for the Citibank-Travelers merger. During the last twenty years a number of conflict of interest laws were repealed that reduced oversight on fraud and corruption. There is plenty of responsibility on the part of both Republicans and Democrats.

This video showed how the inner city democrats pushed for loans for poor people and destroyed lives of their constituents rather than helping them. The flip side is that wealthy industries were lobbying Republicans for easy credit for their constituents. In the end both parties and many Americans, raised in a period of economic prosperity, failed to understand financial discipline and accepted credit like an opiate of the masses. The root cause is thus lack of understanding natural laws and basic economic principles-an educational and moral weakness. Our political leaders represent the same lack of self discipline as the culture at large.

The last twenty years our economy has been rooted in the philosophy of earning money from someone else's work. When everyone is trying to get more than they personally produce you have economic decline. Couple that with the national trade deficit, of which dependence on foreign oil plays a major role, and you have a prescription for economic collapse. Republicans and Democrats are both responsible.

The only sound government stands upon citizens who produce more than they consume and have both the freedom and ability to take care of themselves. The layers of government which sit on this foundation need to each become smaller, like a pyramid, with each level of government supporting the one on top of it. It defies the laws of society to have the upper levels of a pyramid support the lower, but that is exactly what our society wants to do. It is a fiction. Family, Society, Nation, World-each is a level that needs to support the level on top of it, not the other way around.

There is another issue related to regulation which we must learn about. Total deregulation of an economy is like having a Superbowl game with no referees. You will hear big business lobby for this type of "free market" because on an unlevel playing field they will win. Just like the biggest guys will be standing at the end of a football game. This is anarchy, plain and simple. The genuine free market is what our founding fathers promoted; it included checks and balances on accumulations of power and sanctions when the actions of one person caused harm to another. This way everyone can play on the field without disadvantage.

The other side is what you see the democrats doing-trying to turn government into business. To socialize or even to create government businesses that compete with the free market by giving the government subsidized business the upper hand on the playing field. The only truly free market is one in which the government plays the role of a referee in which neither the government abdicates its role as referee-with fair laws-nor tries to become a player on the economic field itself. You won't find either party advocating this proper role of government in the economy because, simply put, lobbying is too lucrative. It is more profitable to twist the laws in favor of lobbyists than to make them consistent with the objectives of the U.S. Constitution and the Philosophy of the United States founders like Franklin and Jefferson. (Who both argued that consolidation of credit at the federal level should be avoided at all costs.)

One could get into further discussion of taxation policies that also cause unlevel playing fields, and how big players colluded with the government in ways that shifted tax policies to forms that are both unconstitutional and cause a form of serfdom (they undermine the principles of property rights and the right to the fruits of your labor. But that gets beyond the immediate crisis at hand.

But the main conclusion it this: Don't expect either McCain or Obama, or the Republican or Democratic Party to solve these problems. These are two sides the big guys give us to occupy our time. It is more like rooting for Hulk Hogan or Sting in a wrestling match than doing anything that will affect Vince McMahon's control over the entire process. Both conventions were choreographed presentations for the media. There was not one iota of a chance they would contain any real discussions or dialogue. Those who differed were thrown out by the secret service and the police.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Conflict Tests Ties Between the Georgian and Russian Orthodox Churches

Saturday, September 6, 2008

On September 6, 2008, on page A5 of the New York edition of the New York Times this article (<-- click) "Conflict Tests Ties Between the Georgian and Russian Orthodox Churches," by Sophia Kishkovsky appeared. In it Kishkovsky explains the struggle and sorrow experienced by Orthodox leaders of the two respective Churches over the recent military aggression between the Russia and Georgia.

Today, blood is being shed and people are perishing in South Ossetia, and my heart deeply grieves over it,” Patriarch Aleksy said in a statement on Aug. 8 as the fighting raged. “Orthodox Christians are among those who have raised their hands against each other. Orthodox peoples called by the Lord to live in fraternity and love are in conflict.”

This article and this development is important at least for two reasons:

  1. We see potential signs that religion can serve as a harmonizing force across warring boundaries

  2. We see signs that media analysis and reportage is maturing beyond debilitating bias of secular parochialism

The struggle and lamentation of both Georgian and Russian, Orthodox Church leaders demonstrates the potential for religion to serve as a unifying factor, a voice of conscience, and an impetus to move states and militaries away from nation state habit of killing people, harming nature, and destroying property.

In this particular case, the sensibility and concern happened to be because all victims and targets were from the same religion (Orthodoxy). But isn't it possible for us as a species to evolve beyond the archaic shackles of religious parochialism, so that this type of despair suffered and expressed by these Orthodox leaders, would equally arise in the hearts of all religious leaders any and every time any believer from any religion suffers from political and military actions? Or for that matter, couldn't religious leaders grow to feel the same sense of the unconscionable, not only when a co-religionist, or a even a believer suffers, but even when when human beings degenerate to the point of killing, harming, and destroying life, the earth, and property?

Perhaps the solidarity and lament seen this time in the confines of denominationalism, for believers who happen to be of just one sort can serve as an example and as an ideal for the emergence of a broader, greater, and more expansive spirituality that draws from the same basic impulse and sensibility.

If international diplomatic efforts had less of a tin ear for clues from the universe of religion and religious identity, one might have recognized an opportunity in this “cross-enemy” solidarity so rarely found in the midst of this sort of dangerous and horrible war. Could not this Christian (albeit denominational) high-mindedness be seen as a window through which higher, less divisive positions and provocations might have been seized by the United States?

GOP presidential nominee John McCain (perhaps feeling a campaign wedge in the offing) outpaced his own government to rattle US sabers against Russia. Soon thereafter reports came in of a a rare Dick Cheney sighting, this time as he surfaced in Georgia itself to threaten and further sour US-Russia relations.

Might not a more elegant and holistic foreign policy approach to such an intensely sensitive international breakdown, benefit by recognizing a rare and pre-established harmonizing force through these Orthodox leaders? Why not trade on the so-called “Christianness” of American identity and stand in solidarity with leaders from both countries who in unison are calling on conscience and community to rise above the geopolitical forces that led to this tragic and dangerous conflict? Could not “America” have stepped through this door, to engage the leaders on both sides of this dangerous conflict?

We must note and indeed celebrate in this article an occasion in which a writer from mainstream, liberal media has done a fine and impressive job making religious matters, and religious history clear and comprehensible for a popular readership.

Let us hope that the secular bias that has so harmed and diminished the fullness of analysis and human understanding is starting to turn the corner, and fair and solid reporting like this can become a more frequent staple in the news we consume daily.

Frank Kaufmann is the director of the Inter Religious Federation for World Peace. These opinions are his own.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Getting Better the Hard Way

Religious people know that God (by whatever name) is greater than the evil of which we as a race are capable. They know that the love of God is such that our positive welfare is sought more than arbitrary punishment for our misdeeds. The combination of God's perfect love and power with with responsiveness from the faithful produce a fascinating reality, a reality that benefits everyone, not just the faithful. The reality I describe here is this, God's love and power plus the positive conditions created by the faithful (in all faiths) translate or repackage all horror into pathways from which positive good can arise. This is always the case, as it is also now in current world affairs.

On September 11, 2001 violent and resentful people attacked the United States of America, killing 3,000 non-combatants, including many Muslims. Surat 5.032 in the Qu'ran compares the murder of one innocent soul to the taking of all human life! These vile and violent assailants who in their acts violated dozens of Qu'ranic injunctions, nevertheless attributed their decisions and actions as an expression of Islam (rather than misunderstanding their actions as an expression of some other religion or ideology). All perpetrators came from the Islamic cultural sphere.

Attack on a sovereign nation is a political act that requires political and in virtually all cases even a military response. Virtually all wars (since they deal with ultimates, absolutes, and uncertainties) resort to a "God is on our side" mentality (this is a natural result of the fact the humans are related to God, and tend to call on God (or some superstition surrogate) when things are uncertain and scary). In this case the tragedy of religious error escalated drawing the beautiful religion of Christianity unwillingly into the hellish energy spawned by the 911 attacks. (Too bad famous, inhospitable, and intolerant people who are believed by many to be Christian added bigoted opinion into the foolishsphere, adding to the (false) impression that hostilities are "religious.")

As this degenerate, violent, and murderous spirit persists one is tempted to bemoan the fact that the original perpetrators chose to identify their villainy with a world religion. Indeed government and security policy decided to accept the position of the 911 killers. Something like, "11 suicidal, murderous guys called it Islam, so we'll call it Islam." As a result, great injustice, bigotry and intolerance of a religious flavor has come to influence the behavior and attitudes of secular people and institutions (as well as those who live by a perverted (bellicose) form of their respective religions) . This fact that secular activity (such as economics, security, military activity, international relations etc.) have been drawn downward under impulse of intolerance and religious bigotry, lead many in the world to imagine that ours is a time in which interreligious relations are at an all time low.

The fact however, is that this is not the case. Precisely because those carrying out demonic and murderous agendas at present do so openly relating themselves to perversions of this religion or that, behavior among genuinely religious people actually is reaching new heights of enlightenment, humility, charity, openness, and transtradition collaboration. Because genuinely religious people are being SO badly misrepresented by murderous and demonic perps, they are living their religions to an ever more beautiful and exemplary degree. Also because "combat-based" secular institutions (such as security and military) have become vaguely and confusedly tied to "religion" in name, here again genuine religious believers in a near excessive effort to demonstrate just the very opposite presently show a breadth, embrace, and respect for other traditions that we have never seen before. The great irony is that, one almost could say that this is a good time for religion. Its true adherents are showing all its best and most promising elements and dimensions.

The only unfortunate part of the tale is that it took such a terrible breakdown in secular relations to evoke, regenerate, and spur to hitherto unreached levels of interreligious, mutual embrace and collaboration. But this rubber-band style of narrative unfortunately always has been the burden borne by the divine. The best of our religiosity and spirituality almost always is evoked only by breakdown and tragedy. Hopefully soon, we will rise to point at which flourishing spirituality energizes itself through its own healthy and positive benefits, rather than laying dormant until fear, despair, and emergency awaken us as a last resort.

Under ordinary circumstances, even good religious people have tended to sit contentedly in their respective cocoons, not bothering to care about how our neighbors pray, dream, raise our children, and seek to be better people day by day. But in a world folding together as one family, even this peaceful (but parochial) way of being religious cannot be seen as acceptable. There is still too much separation in such a set up, and this "uncaring" way cannot be seen as consistent with the guidance and preferences from God (by whatever name). Strangely then, the 911 attacks have led to a flourishing of religious life, and a level of multi-religious collaboration the world has not seen in many an eon.

The flourishing interfaith world is reaching an ever more sophisticated depth and healthy complexity, but we must recognize a much higher mission that comes with this opportunity. This opportunity arose due to God's perfectly constant power to transform ill into blessing. The curse and the embarrassment that all religions face as the secular critics point to violence and intolerance is our own fault. We should have been more vigilant to prevent such a thing. So our chastisement is harsh, and our awakening is late. But the interfaith community must not undersell this opportunity. Of course religious leaders must quench the flames of violence and murder that possess the secular arena. And yes, religious leaders must rescue the reputations of our respective religions from the besmirching we have suffered from demonic perps who defile the names of our religions. But far more important than this repair work, is the mission of religious leaders in this time NOT to miss this opportunity that has come at such great cost. This time, the world of religion must reach an utterly unprecedented plateau. The persistence of discrete traditions is permissible only as the best ways to speak to believers in our respective cultural spheres. But NO other lines of division or demarcation should persist. The religions of the world, while not sacrificing their roots and identity must become "religion-blind" when realizing and carrying out our shared responsibility and scriptural obligations as centers of compassion, care, and sacrificial service.

Frank Kaufmann is the Director of the Interreligious Federation for World Peace. The opinions here are his own.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Olmert resigns, peace at hand

Bank Closing this September, Put your money here
Frank Kaufmann

I published several articles urging readers to suspend emotional attachment to or even interest in peace language and promises from Olmert, Abbas, and Bush administration representatives. Each for their own (many) reasons represents zero chance to effect peace. The US is at perilous juncture with its status and international influence profoundly threatened by this administration's forfeiture of America's stance and reputation as a champion for human rights that abhors inhumanity, Abbas does not speak for the entire Palestinian Authority, and Olmert never shed the shadow of corruption charges on top of having committed the unforgivable sin of losing Israeli lives due to bad military planning. Counting on this collection of people to broker peace is like counting on the Marx Brothers to sit peacefully through La Traviata. While no one is ill motivated, none are situated or equipped to meet such expectations.

Yesterday Prime Minister Olmert tendered a graceful exeunt and opened the door to the mild madness known as Israeli electoral politics, a high-stakes clash of intensely held views related to survival itself. Olmert's resignation might compare to opening a crack the exit door of a burning theater, hardly a conducive environment for delicate peace conversations, and worse so when half those trampling others towards the door are war hawks.

The peace pursuits of this particular group always teetered on rickety scaffolding even in their best days. That so, imagine the "have I gone mad" disorientation that had to wash over
New York Times readers to find these as the first words of the article on Olmert's resignation announcement:

The official line in Washington, Jerusalem and Ramallah is that the decision by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel to resign will not affect American efforts to negotiate a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians before the end of the year

The article then goes on to present assurances from Olmert, Abbas (speaking from Tunisia), and Rice's "senior administration official" (“Fundamentally, as Americans,” the official added, “don't give up.”)

But author Aaron David Miller is quoted later in the article saying,

The bottom line: Can Olmert reach a half-baked agreement minus Jerusalem with Abbas and with Condi looking on proudly in the next several months? Maybe,” said Aaron David Miller, the author of "The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace

But can he sell it, let alone implement it, in an environment in which he has no popular support or moral authority, with Hamas threatening from the sidelines? No way.”

But there is something more urgent and more fundamental than merely the inadequacies of this particular group (in talent, disposition, or mere circumstance) to be effective agents for peace. The most debilitating problem facing our peace hopes is not the characters in the line up at present, but rather the anachronistic spell under which such efforts are conceived and sold. This is what must be changed, not the players on the scene at any given moment.

It is not a particular bias, strategy, political skill and insight (or lack thereof) that suddenly and magically will produce a coming era of stability and security. "If only we had a take-no-prisoners Nethanyahu at the helm, THEN we'd see progress." "Our only hope is an Annapolis-committed Livni, if we are to see the end of tensions and horror." Both views miss the point. Attachment to either dogma does nothing more than extend the spirit of political contention that itself inherently contradicts what is required to dissolve hatred and conflict.

Hope should not rest with whether or not this candidate or that matches my own preferred degree of intolerance and aggression that I like to see in my political figures of choice. Hope must lie first in the prospect that peace actors and commentators awaken from the slumber and pig-headed view that state actors in isolation can succeed as agents for meaningful change.

Political reality and state to state negotiations are wholly inadequate as peace-seeking platforms when taken in isolation. They only can contribute positively when integrated into a creative, carefully designed treillage of related peace-seeking activity. These include religion, social service, empowerment economics, intercultural foundations for education, the arts, sports, and other long term investment, organizations, and activities devoted to peace. The narrow, parochial characteristics of state actors and politicians cannot in isolation bring peace. This expensive activity does not deserve the privileged, excessive attention and resources it enjoys.

The political arena itself is contentious by nature. Political figures themselves are transitional by nature. Harmonization in political terms is characterized by compromise and self-interest. These characteristics are not evils. They have a role to play and cannot and should not be excluded from peace efforts. But the hubris, and the blind adherence old and failed mentalities that imagine political figures in isolation can bring peace, by now should be an embarrassing position to hold.

State level, politically based efforts for peace should not attract much attention until they are integrated creatively, strategically, and effectively into holistic peace-seeking agendas inclusive of central, more long term, and better suited enterprises for peace, such as civil society, the private sector, voluntary associations, and those from the enlightened sector of religion.

Frank Kaufmann is the Director of the Inter Religious Federation for World Peace
The opinion here is his own

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Defiant Iran angers US with missile test

This is major news today

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran on Wednesday test-fired a missile it said is capable of reaching Israel, angering the United States amid growing fears that the standoff over the contested Iranian nuclear drive could lead to war.

The Shahab-3 was among a broadside of nine missiles fired off simultaneously from an undisclosed location in the Iranian desert during war games being staged by the Revolutionary Guards, state television showed.

"The aim of these war games is to show we are ready to defend the integrity of the Iranian nation," state-run Arabic channel Al-Alam quoted Revolutionary Guards air force commander Hossein Salami as saying...

Al-Alam said the missiles test-fired by the Revolutionary Guards included a Shahab-3 with a one-tonne conventional warhead and a 2,000-kilometre (1,240-mile) range.

"Our missiles are ready for shooting at any place and any time, quickly and with accuracy. The enemy must not repeat its mistakes. The enemy targets are under surveillance," Salami added.

The more important information than what is to be gleaned from all mainstream media feeding off a single story is the De Borchgrave commentary piece that appears in today's Washington Times. Due to the importance of this piece, it is reproduced here in its entirety:

Is the United States heading into a deadly confrontation with Iran? Texas Rep. Ron Paul, the unsuccessful maverick Republican presidential candidate, warned millions of radio listeners this is now inevitable. He cited House Congressional Resolution 362, lobbied hard by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), as a "Virtual Iran War Resolution."

Since its introduction three weeks ago, and before the weeklong July Fourth break, the resolution garnered 150 cosponsors. In the Senate, sister Resolution 580, introduced by Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh, was also gathering momentum.

After 11 "whereas" items to build a casus belli against Iran, House 362 would require a naval blockade to "prohibit the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products, impose stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran." It would also ban the international travel of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran's nuclear program."

If passed by both houses, the United States would be at war with Iran - alone, without allies, and oil would double immediately to $300 a barrel. The Bush administration has pledged it will keep the Strait of Hormuz open, and protect tankers transporting 25 percent of the world's daily ocean-borne oil traffic through the 32-mile-wide strait.

Tanker traffic between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea use two lanes, each 2 miles wide, for inbound and outbound ships. Iran's largest naval base at Bandar Abbas commands the northern side of the Strait. Three islands near the middle of the Strait are under Iranian control with naval gun emplacements and concealed missiles. U.S. 5th Fleet headquarters is in Bahrain, further up the Gulf.

Sinking or crippling a couple of the 50 supertankers as they pass each other every day in the Strait would not be much of a challenge for Iranian gunners. U.S. retaliation by air would follow minutes later from a carrier in the Gulf of Oman, but meanwhile shipowners the world over would ban any attempt to navigate around the shipwrecks. A barrel of oil would quickly jump to $500, or $12 a gallon, a dollar less than what the Dutch already pay for their heavily taxed gas in the Netherlands.

Iran's military chiefs warned last Saturday the Islamic Republic would shut down the Strait of Hormuz and use "blitzkrieg" tactics in the Gulf if it came under attack. A blockade of Iran would be an act of war. Last January, small Iranian speedboats darted in and out of three U.S. warships sailing through the strait. Had they been suicide boats, at least one of the U.S. vessels would have been hit, as the USS Cole was in Aden in October 2000.

U.S. Navy denials notwithstanding, Iran's capability to close the Persian Gulf is very real. As the fighting in Lebanon demonstrated two years ago, Hezbollah militias deployed mobile missile launchers in large numbers against land-based and naval targets.

Iran has purchased two types of anti-ship cruise missiles from China, the Silkworm and the C-802, whose capabilities are similar to the Exocet and Harpoon family of sea-skimming missiles. NATO estimates the C-802's single shot capability at 98 percent. It was this type of missile, also known as Yingji-82, Chinese for Eagle Strike, that scored two direct hits on the Israeli corvette INS Hanit in 2006, killing four and knocking it out of action.

Some 60 Chinese-made missiles are camouflaged in Iranian coastal batteries, along with hundreds of less sophisticated but just as lethal homemade missiles along the Iranian coast from the Gulf of Oman through the Strait and up its Persian Gulf coastline.

While the new commander of the U.S. 5th Fleet, Vice Adm. William Gortney, reiterated his predecessor's guarantee to keep 17 million barrels a day passing through the strategic waterway, a congressional resolution to blockade Iran's ports would change the correlation of forces. Iran would see such a decision as an act of war, as any other country would.

Cooler heads now appear to have gained the upper hand in Tehran. Talk about talking is Iran's way of muzzling talk about war. At the United Nations in New York, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters in subdued tones he had received a proposal from world powers (5 plus 1, shorthand for the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany) that could prompt a "new process." Five-plus-one were hoping Iran would agree to freeze uranium enrichment at 3,000 centrifuges for the duration of the next round of talks. Mr. Mottaki didn't exclude that either. "The first word diplomats are taught is compromise," he told reporters over lunch.

Mr. Mottaki also said he is "optimistic" talks on his country's nuclear program may begin based on a package of incentives offered by the United States and the other countries and that Iran's official reply would be forthcoming in a couple of weeks.

The softening of rhetoric was in sharp contrast to firebrand President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threats of death and destruction against Israel. But Mr. Mattaki explained his president's views on Israel by saying a grave injustice had been done to the Palestinians to repair the damage Europeans had done to themselves in World War II.

Mr. Mattaki didn't believe the Israelis or the Bush administration would bomb Iran through January 2009. Neither Israel nor the United States could afford to incur the wrath of the world while talks are ongoing. With three former U.S. CentCom commanders on record against the military option, it was hard to see how Israel could strike on its own - without shutting the Gulf down.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

AIDS, Medicine, and Morals

By Frank Kaufmann

This article first appeared in Mission Herald, the denominational newspaper of the National Baptist Convention

What about AIDS has to do with being Christian? Much. Healing, sexual morality, and compassion, are but a few points of overlap. The other area appropriate for Christians trying to form a proper, personal and communal response to AIDS is the Christian obligation to have a wise and sound grasp of the relationship between religion and science. AIDS is a medical (i.e., scientific/biological) phenomenon on the one hand, and a personal-social-spiritual one on the other.

What is AIDS, how is it transmitted?

The fact is (and this may be alarming, even infuriating to some) we do not know.

There exist theories, even "prevailing theories," as to what causes AIDS, but nothing more than that. The only thing that is known for a fact is that in some people their immune system breaks down. That's the only thing we know. Once the body no longer can defend and protect itself from disease and infection, the slightest malady can be fatal. No one "dies from AIDS." People with AIDS die from diseases that healthy people, with in tact immune systems can easily withstand and recover from.

I am sure there must be some readers now who are reacting, perhaps vehemently, to what I just wrote. "What do you mean we don't know what causes AIDS?! We've known that for years. This essay must be a lot of bunk." My response to this is not only for Christian believers. It is for many in the modern world, including secular types without personal, religious belief. The impulse to regard scientific speculation as "true" is part of the secular and materialistic bias of our time, and even Christians and other people of faith are prone to be infected with this bias.

For all of us the short, simple and well-written essay "Do Science and Christianity Conflict?" by Kenneth A. Boyce could be very helpful. In it he says:
"Science is not a wholly objective enterprise. Scientific research is guided by theories, working hypotheses, operational frameworks, and the like. Scientists not only make observations to formulate theories, they also use theories to guide them in making observations and to interpret what they are seeing, and these theories and the manner in which they guide observations, reflect the biases of the scientific community at the time."
The same is true for AIDS. We have observations (the immune systems of some people break down - some irreversibly), and theories (it happens because of this reason or that).

Quite apart from all the theories (even the prevailing theories) as to what causes AIDS, we DO know at least one very important fact about causes of AIDS; a person can have AIDS as a result of his or her conscious decisions and actions, on the one hand (namely they bring it on themselves), or the person can have AIDS through absolutely NO fault of their own on the other.

Should we have different attitudes to these two different sorts of people?

No. As Christians we are called to genuine, full hearted compassion for all who suffer, (even those who bring avoidable suffering on themselves) [John 8:1 - 11]. Jesus could not be more clear about this.

But even those of us who cannot rise up to the radiant beauty of the compassion to which Lord Jesus calls us, should at the very least suspend disdain, judgment, and other non-Christian attitudes if for no other reason than the fact that there are AIDS sufferers afflicted with this horrifying, frightening, and despairing condition who did absolutely nothing to bring it on themselves.

This latter fact (of the innocent ones) should be seen as a blessing, a protection, a witness, and a teacher for "Christians" who choose for some reason to fill their faith with judgment and rejection of others. While we are so busy railing against this sin or that, this group or that, we wake up to find that we have lumped in with our little list of people we hope to send to Hell, an innocent 8 year old girl who needed a blood transfusion, or a soft, giggly baby who nursed at his mother's breast.

If for no reason than for the innocents, we should meet the AIDS pandemic of our time with the radiant beauty of compassion. "Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10Jesus stood up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" 11She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, (I) "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on(J) sin no more."

The innocent ones can be seen as those who have given their lives to save US from OUR sins. [Matthew 25:35 - 40]. The tears we shed, the hospice and the prayers we offer are the gateway and the ladder to our spiritual growth and an emerging, respectable Christian character. The pain we feel for the innocents who suffer, helps us to awaken one day to find that our compassion has grown, that the arms of our embrace is wider, and that we can no longer turn our back on even one brother or sister who suffers.

If we can come to this point, with our hearts and our Christian compassion in tact, then we can address the many challenges to Christian faith that taint and defile our world.

What causes AIDS? We pray that scientific inquiry be true, sincere, not biased, not politically and ideologically driven, and that physicians and those devoted to healing come ever closer and closer to the truth, and to a cure.

Is AIDS caused by sexual promiscuity (either homosexual or heterosexual)? If so, then do not be sexually promiscuous. The answer is NOT, "wear a condom." The answer is do not be sexually promiscuous. But that advice is wise for 1,000's of reasons, not only as it pertains to dangers (some fatal) associated with sexually transmitted diseases. These issues of purity and sexual morality are unique, distinct (and important) for Christians. But it is myopic to think of these only in relation AIDS.

The Christian response to AIDS must be forged in the Christian traditions of healing, compassion, and moral purity.