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July 2007

War, Chaos, and Bush's Faith

JesusPolitics posted a great essay about Bush's religious beliefs and the Iraq War. An excerpt:

To start an unprovoked war on false pretenses and pie-in-the-sky promises of a vast regional transformation, besides being unethical, is an act of almost cosmic folly. To put it in Christian terms, it is the cardinal sin -- the sin of pride.
Bush believes that God is on the side of this war, and that everything will therefore come out all right in the end. He does not care about the real world -- because for him it isn't the true reality. The war in Iraq, that horror in which real human beings are dying, is merely a stage before good finally triumphs over evil. And if that victory does not take place in our lifetime, it doesn't matter: All that matters is that he fought the good fight. This is why he did not concern himself, and still doesn't, with details such as whether this war is winnable in any non-biblical time frame.

Andrew Sullivan on Why Obama over Clinton

Interesting post today in Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish. An excerpt:

One difference between Obama and Clinton does not seem to me to have been stressed enough. They are of different Democratic generations. Clinton is from the traumatized generation; Obama isn't. Clinton has internalized to her bones the 1990s sense that conservatism is ascendant, that what she really believes is unpopular, that the Republicans have structural, latent power of having a majority of Americans on their side. Hence the fact that she reeks of fear, of calculation, of focus groups, of triangulation.

Questions around Pat Tillman's death

I haven't followed this story closely, because it seemed minor in the context of so many big stories, but I recevied these forwarded articles today from Nathaniel Batchhelder. and it begins to raise serious questions.


Initially, we heard: "Pat Tillman died a hero, in combat."

Then they reported, "He died in a firefight with the enemy, from friendly fire."

NOW it appears Tillman was assassinated ... 3 bullets in the forehead ...
by an American ... and NOT in an engagement with ANY ENEMY.

WHO CAN BELIEVE ANYTHING ANY MORE??? (2 articles follow)

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

White House Claims Executive Privilege To Withhold Key Documents On Tillman Death
- - - Panel Demands Records on Tillman's Death

SCOTT LINDLAW | July 13, 2007 | AP

SAN FRANCISCO — Two influential lawmakers investigating how and when the Bush administration learned the circumstances of Pat Tillman's friendly-fire death and how those details were disclosed accused the White House and Pentagon on Friday of withholding key documents and renewed their demand for the material.

The White House and Defense Department have turned over nearly 10,000 pages of papers _ mostly press clippings _ but the White House cited "executive branch confidentiality interests" in refusing to provide other documents.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Tom Davis, R-Va., the committee's top-ranking Republican, said Friday the documents were inadequate. They insisted that the Defense Department turn over the additional material by July 25 and asked that the White House do likewise.

Tillman, a San Jose native, turned down a lucrative contract with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals to join the Army following the Sept. 11 attacks. He was killed April 22, 2004, by friendly fire in Afghanistan.

Although Pentagon investigators determined quickly that he was killed by his own troops, five weeks passed before the circumstances of his death were made public. During that time, the Army claimed he was killed by enemy fire.

Tillman's family and others have said they believe the erroneous information peddled by the Pentagon was part of a deliberate cover-up that may have reached all the way to President Bush and then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. The committee said Friday it had scheduled a second hearing on Tillman's death for Aug. 1, this time to probe what senior Pentagon officials knew and when.

Rumsfeld and Richard Myers, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were among those the committee invited Friday to appear.

The White House has turned over nearly 1,100 pages of documents and the Defense Department nearly 8,500 pages since the committee requested information from them in April, part of an inquiry into why Tillman's family and the public were misled.

"The document production from the White House sheds virtually no light on these matters," Waxman and Davis wrote to White House counsel Fred Fielding, part of a renewed request for additional papers.

The committee made public a letter last month in which Fielding said the White House was holding back certain papers "because they implicate executive branch confidentiality interests." He added the White House had blacked out portions of "purely internal e-mails between White House personnel."

The White House's argument for withholding some papers is the same one it used last month as it rejected congressional subpoenas for documents in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys. Executive "confidentiality" is a lesser claim than "executive privilege" _ more a polite way of declining than a firm refusal -- and thus still leaves room for negotiation, congressional staffers involved in the matter said.

Fielding added the White House had blacked out portions of "purely internal e-mails between White House personnel."

Waxman and Davis fired back that "these are not appropriate reasons for withholding the documents from the committee." And they charged that the White House had simply held other papers back.

In particular, they expressed doubt that the two documents they'd received on communications between the White House and Pentagon on Tillman's death were the only ones of their kind. One was simply a packet of newspaper clippings.

"Corporal Tillman's death was a major national story," they wrote. "It is not plausible that there were no communications between the Defense Department and the White House about Corporal Tillman's death."

"The committee was fully aware that certain documents were withheld as our letter to them made clear last month _ along with our offer to discuss possible accommodation that meets the committee's interests while respecting separation of powers principles," Blair Jones, a White House spokesman, said Friday evening. "We continue to offer an opportunity for the committee to move forward in a spirit of accommodation, rather than conflict."

Waxman and Davis complained to Defense Secretary Robert Gates of a "failure to provide a complete production to the committee." For instance, the committee received no documentation on how Rumsfeld learned of Tillman's death.

They said the Pentagon had not produced any papers from, among others, the offices of Gen. John Abizaid, then head of Central Command.

A week after Tillman died, a top general sent a memo to Abizaid warning that it was "highly possible" that Tillman was killed by friendly fire. The memo made clear that the information should be conveyed to the president. The White House said there is no indication that Bush received the warning.

Two days later, the president mentioned Tillman in a speech to the White House correspondents dinner, but he made no reference to how Tillman had died.

A White House spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

Separately, Waxman asked the Republican National Committee for copies of e-mail communications that involved Tillman and White House officials. That request was an outgrowth of the oversight committee's finding last month that 88 White House officials had e-mail accounts with the RNC, and that the administration may have committed extensive violations of a law requiring that certain records be preserved.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Pat Tillman was apparently killed by three bullets in his forehead, from
an American weapon, in an incident where NO ENEMY was engaged.

Prison Planet | July 27, 2007
Paul Joseph Watson

Astounding new details surrounding the death of Pat Tillman ....

Army medical examiners were suspicious about the close proximity of the three bullet holes in Pat Tillman's forehead and tried without success to get authorities to investigate whether the former NFL player's death amounted to a crime, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

"The medical evidence did not match up with the, with the scenario as described," a doctor who examined Tillman's body after he was killed on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2004 told investigators.

The doctors - whose names were blacked out - said that the bullet holes were so close together that it appeared the Army Ranger was cut down by an M-16 fired from a mere 10 yards or so away .

The report also states that "No evidence at all of enemy fire was found at the scene - no one was hit by enemy fire, nor was any government equipment struck."

The article also reveals that "Army attorneys sent each other congratulatory e-mails for keeping criminal investigators at bay as the Army conducted an internal friendly-fire investigation that resulted in administrative, or non-criminal, punishments."

So there was no evidence whatsoever of friendly fire, but the ballistics data clearly indicated that the three head shots had been fired from just 10 yards away and then the Army tried to concoct a hoax friendly fire story, and sent gloating back-slapping emails congratulating each other on their success, while preventing doctors from exploring the possibility of murder. How can any sane and rational individual weigh this evidence and not come to the conclusion that Tillman was deliberately gunned down in cold blood?

The evidence points directly to it - Tillman abandoned a lucrative career in pro-football immediately after 9/11 because he felt a rampaging patriotic urge to defend his country, and became a poster child for the war on terror as a result. But when he discovered that the invasion of Iraq was based on a mountain of lies and deceit and had nothing to do with defending America, he became infuriated and was ready to return home to become an anti-war hero.

As far back as March 2003, immediately after the invasion, Tillman famously told his comrade Spc. Russell Baer, "You know, this war is so fucking illegal," and urged his entire platoon to vote against Bush in the 2004 election. Far from the gung-ho gruff stereotype attributed to him, Tillman was actually a fiercely intellectual man with the courage of his convictions firmly in place.

Tillman had even begun to arrange meetings with anti-war icons like Noam Chomsky upon his return to America before his death cut short any aspirations of becoming a focal point for anti-war sentiment.

According to Daily Kos , Wesley Clark appeared on Keith Olbermann's Countdown last night and stated his opinion that "the orders came from the very top" to murder Tillman, as he was a political symbol, and his opposition to the war in Iraq would have rallied the population around supporting immediate withdrawal.

The notion that the U.S. government gave orders for Army top brass to execute Pat Tillman in cold blood is the most damaging indictment of the Iraq war since it began, trumping the lies about weapons of mass destruction tenfold, but if the establishment media continue to soft-peddle and steam-valve one of the biggest stories of the century its impact will be completely diluted.

It is up to us to make this story go viral because the implications are so dire that they could act as the final death knell for the blood-soaked and illegal occupation of Iraq and become the clarion call to bring our troops home.

Speak What We Feel

Over the weekend I finished Frederick Buechner's Speak What We Feel (Not What We Ought to Say). He writes about Gerard Manley Hopkins, Mark Twain, G. K. Chesterton, and William Shakespeare and how each one dealt with the darker side of life in one particular work by each author (or set of poems in Hopkins' case). It is a very nice read that I recommend.

I was particularly struck by Buechner's conclusion:

There is sadness too in thinking how much more I might have done with my life than just writing, especially considering that I was ordained not only to preach good news to the poor, but to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the imprisoned, and raise the dead. If I make it as far as St. Peter's gate, the most I will be able to plead is my thirty-two books, and if that is not enough, I am lost. My faith has never been threatened as agonizingly as Chesterton's or Hopkins', or simply abandoned like Mark Twain's, or held in such perilous tension with unfaith as Shakespeare's. I have never looked into the abyss, for which I am thankful. But I wish such faith as I have had been brighter and gladder. I wish I had done more with it. I wish I had been braver and bolder. I wish I had been a saint.
This, in short, is the weight of my own sad times, and listening to these four voices speaking out from under the burden of theirs has been to find not just a kind of temporary release, but a kind of unexpected encouragement.
Take heart, I heard them say, even at the unlikeliest moments. Fear not. Be alive. Be merciful. Be human. And most unlikely of all: Even when you can't believe, even if you don't believe at all, even if you shy away at the sound of his name, be Christ.

Ideal Justice

Click here for a quiz on your ideal Supreme Court Justice.

My results:
1. Your Ideal Theoretical Supreme Court Justice (100%)
2. Souter, David Hackett (Nominated by George H. W. Bush) (86%)
3. Breyer, Stephen Gerald (Nominated by Bill Clinton) (82%)
4. Ginsburg, Ruth Joan Bader (Nominated by Bill Clinton) (82%)
5. Stevens, John Paul (Nominated by Gerald Ford) (82%)
6. Kennedy, Anthony McLeod (Nominated by Ronald Reagan) (23%)
7. Alito, Jr., Samuel Anthony (Nominated by George W. Bush) (17%)
8. Roberts Jr., John Glover (Nominated by George W. Bush) (17%)
9. Scalia, Antonin Gregory (Nominated by Ronald Reagan) (17%)
10. Thomas, Clarence (Nominated by George H. W. Bush) (17%)

Ideal Candidate

Take the Ideal Presidential Candidate Quiz here.

My results:
1. Theoretical Ideal Candidate (100%)
2. Dennis Kucinich (87%)
3. Alan Augustson (campaign suspended) (83%)
4. Barack Obama (79%)
5. Joseph Biden (73%)
6. Al Gore (not announced) (70%)
7. Hillary Clinton (70%)
8. Wesley Clark (not announced) (69%)
9. Michael Bloomberg (not announced) (68%)
10. Mike Gravel (67%)
11. Christopher Dodd (66%)
12. John Edwards (63%)
13. Bill Richardson (55%)
14. Ron Paul (48%)
15. Kent McManigal (campaign suspended) (44%)
16. Mike Huckabee (32%)
17. Elaine Brown (32%)
18. John McCain (29%)
19. Tommy Thompson (29%)
20. Rudolph Giuliani (28%)
21. Mitt Romney (24%)
22. Newt Gingrich (not announced) (19%)
23. Chuck Hagel (not announced) (16%)
24. Fred Thompson (not announced) (16%)
25. Tom Tancredo (14%)
26. Jim Gilmore (withdrawn) (13%)
27. Sam Brownback (13%)
28. Duncan Hunter (10%)

Elijah: The Justice of God

I Kings 21:1-19

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City

29 July 2007



    In Huckleberry Finn, Huck anguishes over what to do about Jim. You'll remember that Jim is a runaway slave and that he and Huck are running away together from their lives of constraint. Each is seeking his own form of freedom.

    But Huck is torn up about it. He's been raised to believe in slavery. Huck really believes that by helping Jim to escape that he's committing a sin. He is, in effect, robbing Miss Watson of her rightful property. Huck doesn't want to be a thief. His conscience tells him to turn Jim in. And more than once, Huck determines to do just that. In order to resolve his moral anguish and ease his conscience, he decides to tell folks that Jim is a runaway. Yet, each time he stops. Why? Because he is overwhelmed by his feelings. Huck thinks that these feelings must be from the devil, because a person shouldn't let his feelings overwhelm what he knows to be right.

    This fine point is part of what gives Mark Twain's novel its force. Clearly Twain wants us to realize that true morality is on the side of Huck's feelings. It is Huck's conscience that would lead him astray. For Twain, morality doesn't ultimately come from rules, it comes from one's character, from the gut.

    This idea runs contrary to what we normally hear about morality, about law, about justice. The great twentieth-century Jewish rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote the definitive book on the prophets, simply entitled The Prophets. In it Heschel clarifies what we mean by justice when we are talking about God's justice. Justice is usually envisioned as a blindfolded Greek goddess holding scales and a sword. The scales represent balancing two sides of an argument. The sword represents not only power, but precision. According to this Greek model, justice is something we arrive at through reason and order.

    But, Heschel warns us, this is not what God's justice is like. God's justice is never blind. You see, the Greek conception of justice is based on a fiction. It assumes that everyone can equally come into the courts and make their case and that free from bias the courts will hear and rule. The prophet understands this to be false. The prophet knows that there are people who have been denied freedom and opportunity. That there are people who cannot come and state their case. That courts are not free of bias. The prophet then becomes an advocate, speaking on behalf of those who cannot speak. The prophet, with creative and imaginative demonstrations draws attention. Because the prophet believes in what ought to be. The prophet is someone who feels, who knows in her gut. The prophet trusts that her feelings are the same feelings that God has.

    Naboth had a vineyard. Ahab wanted it. A simple story this, but it opens to grand vistas. Walk with me into this world.

    We don't know anything about Naboth other than he had a vineyard in Jezreel near the second palace of King Ahab and that the vineyard was on the land of his ancestors.

    According to the scriptural story, when the Israelites settled in Canaan, they were distributed land. Think about what land meant. Think about what land meant to our ancestors who settled here in Oklahoma during the land run, what it meant to own property for the first time. Think about what it meant to those GI's who returned from World War II to use their GI Bill to buy a home in suburbs. Think about how you felt the first time you had your own place. The day I bought my first house I ran around all excited that everything in it was mine. This was my living room, my kitchen, my toilet!

Land and property means opportunity to us just as it meant opportunity to those ancient Israelites. It meant that these former slaves had the chance to gain economic prosperity.

Land also meant freedom. They had worked the land of others, now they had their own to work. With their own land, they had more opportunities, more possibilities. A person is genuinely free only when he has more possibilities from which to choose. Property, then, was important to the ancient Hebrews and was protected by law and custom.

    There were safeguards in the law meant to protect society from vast accumulations of wealth. According to the tradition of the jubilee, land would be returned to its original owners every fifty years. Why would they have such a rule? Because if a family is denied land for generations, then that means they are denied opportunity and freedom.

    Things had changed in this ninth century before the birth of Christ. A wealthy elite had emerged, at the expense of a lower class who increasingly did not own their own land. Because they didn't own land, they had been forced into labor, basically repeating the pattern of life that existed before the Exodus from Egypt.

    We can say a lot bad about King Ahab, but one thing is clear in this story, he does respect the rights of Naboth. Ahab follows the strict interpretation of the laws. According to the covenant law of the Hebrews, the king is not above the law. The king should not be able to overrule the law. Naboth has the right to say "no;" he can refuse the king his land. As the old saying goes, "A man's home is his castle." According to the law, Naboth's property is free from the power of the king.

    But, we all know, that rules are often exploited by those with the power to do so. Either they have the power to break them outright, or they look for loopholes or pull subtle legal shenanigans. So, Jezebel concocts her plan of intrigue and murder. Her plan follows Jewish law.

    God, however, does not let this injustice go. God sends his prophet Elijah to condemn the king and queen and pronounce God's judgment upon them. It isn't simply that Ahab and Jezebel have violated any rule, law, or tradition. Their great crime here is that they have broken the very ideas upon which the laws were based. It isn't the rules themselves that are important, it is why they existed in the first place that is important.

    In this story of Naboth and the vineyard, God intervenes to call attention to the justice that God had originally intended for the people. This isn't simply about Naboth's property rights or the encroaching power of the king, though it is about these things. God, through Elijah, is reminding people what those original land issues were all about. It was about opportunity, it was about personal freedom, it was about having the chance to pursue the good life. Remember, God gave this land to people who had been slaves, people who had cried out for justice. And the justice that God intended for them wasn't simply freedom from Egypt. It was a new society, where all had opportunity and freedom.

    God's justice is not the blind justice of the Greek goddess. God's justice is not about reason and order. The prophet Amos tells us:


    Let justice roll down like waters,

    And righteousness like a mighty stream.


Rabbi Heschel describes this image:


    a surging movement, a life-bringing substance, a dominant power.

A mighty stream, expressive of the vehemence of a never-ending, surging, fighting movement -- as if obstacles had to be washed away for justice to be done. . . . . Justice is not a mere norm, but a fighting challenge, a restless drive.

. . . what is required is a power that will strike and change, heal and restore, like a mighty stream bringing life to the parched land. . . . it is God's power in the world. . . . What ought to be, shall be!


    Huck Finn is biased. He doesn't turn Jim in, despite what his conscience says, because Jim is his friend. What we learn in scripture is that God is biased too.

    When God revealed God's name to Moses it was Yahweh -- "I will be what I will be." Or, as it is later explained, "I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."

    Now this could be a frightening, even terrifying idea. God shows favor. God chooses who receives God's mercy and compassion and who doesn't. Could it be that Fred Phelps is right?

    But what do we see when we go to the text? On whom does God show favor and compassion?


I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.


    Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven.

    Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

    Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

    Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

    Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

    Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven.




    At its core, God's justice is not about rules or laws. At root God's justice is about people. About compassion. About hearing the cries of people and responding. About doing everything within one's power to bless people with a better life. It is a raging river that forces all obstacles out of the way.

    God looks at us with God's heart and God loves us. God sees the friend, the person in need, the one crying out for help. We are asking, we are seeking, we are knocking.

And God showers blessings upon us. Herein lies the justice of God. It is God's dream of a better world for you and me. And whenever we share in that dream, then we share in the imagination of God, making God's justice present.

    All of this -- all of scripture, our worship, our ministry, everything -- is about a better world ruled by compassion. That is the God we worship -- the very act of compassion and justice breaking into human history.


Giuliani Fears

I had at one point, and for many months, said I was open to being persuaded by Rudy Giuliani. After all, he had one of the most solid pro-LGBT equality positions of any of the candidates for president. So, I've paid attention. Now my opinion is that Giuliani could be even worse for the country than the current president.

Sure, I think a Giuliani administration would not be incompetent like this administration has been, but therein lies the problem.

Giuliani's campaign is built on fear. It's as if he thinks the job is fearmonger-in-chief. I think that a president Giuliani would continue to erode individual liberties and constitutional safeguards in the quest for "national security." And because his administration would be more competent, it would be even more dangerous than the current one.

Lately I often feel as if we were in the first century B.C.E. when the Roman Republic began to fade into the Roman Empire. That opinion has been expressed by others who responded to my The System is Broken post.