Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Carter's Inaugural Address

Now, I know Jimmy Carter is not going to be making the inaugural speech this year, but Linda Allen sent me this “suggestion” from Carter to the new president. It seems like a reporter asked Carter what he thought the next president should do in his first 100 days in office to restore America’s standing in the world. Carter responded that it would not take 100 days, but could be done in 10 minutes.

“I outlined the inaugural address that could be given this coming January,” Carter said, saying that the next president should declare: “While I am president there will never be another person tortured (in U.S. custody). The United States will regain its position as the preeminent champion of human rights. We will abandon our policy of preemptive war. We will never attack another nation again unless our security is threatened. That’s been our policy since George Washington – until seven years ago.

“America will be at the forefront of combating global warming, and will lead in meeting all challenges to the world’s environment. Our tax policy will be designed to help the poor and working families, and not the few richest Americans. We will restore our recent rejection of every nuclear-arms control agreement that as been negotiated since the time of Dwight Eisenhower. At this time, all those are in the waste can. And we will reduce our nuclear arsenal to zero. We will rebuild the Jeffersonian wall between church and state.”

Pointing to his upbringing in the rural, segregated South and his time as president when he pushed human rights to the forefront of his political agenda, Carter said that America still has a lot to do when it comes to human rights, but that the struggle has been set back both at home and abroad since 9/11.

“America didn’t invent human rights; human rights invented America,” he said.

I hope that the shunning of Jimmy Carter at the Democratic Convention was not a sign that the new leadership is going to retreat to politics as usual. Many of the world’s disadvantaged people, including Americans, are depending upon Obama’s being strong against the tide.

Thomas Are
November 26, 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

We may yet yearn for Bush

I don’t know anyone in favor of a permanent occupation in Iraq, or that we should draft young Americans to force our presence on the Iraqi people. So, why in the world did George W. Bush build an embassy there that is larger than the Vatican in Rome and six times bigger than the U.N. complex in New York? In their book, The Three Trillion Dollar War, Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmer describe our military bases as designed for long term U.S. occupation, some are built to house up to 22,000 troops with fully functioning American amenities including sports facilities, fast food restaurants, (Baskin Robbins, Burger King and Pizza Huts,) Rent a Cars and cable T.V. In spite of 4000 dead, over 60,000 coming home sick or wounded, a price tag into the trillions, Bush says if we will only stay a little longer, we will win.
Does he actually think we can kill them all? And if only ten escape, will they not come after us?
I hate what George W. Bush has done to this nation: torture chambers, black sites, borrowing us into generations of debt, ignoring civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution, squandering our good name around the globe and neglecting the emotional and medical needs of thousands of wounded warriors who have returned home.
Yet, having said all that, we may well look back and yearn for Bush, if we put John McCain in the White House. He presents himself as a Bush-Lite but other than his rethoric about torture he walks hand and glove with Bush’s “Bring ‘em on” mentality for war. Only worse! McCain’s casual singing of “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran,” coupled with his close ties to Joe Leiberman and William Kristol, both of whom would promote any conflict if it were seen as beneficial to Israel, could very well lead us into war with Iran, or Syria.
We can’t pay for the war we are in. We are told that it runs into the billions. Billions! I can’t imagine how much that is. According to the internet, a billion seconds ago, I was still in seminary. (I have been retired for ten years.) A billion minutes ago, the apostle Paul was still in seminary. A billion hours ago, our ancestors were living in caves. A billion days ago, there were no creatures on earth walking on two legs and a billion weeks ago, who knows? But to John McCain, a billion dollars is two and a third days in Iraq and he is talking about a hundred years… plus Iran. Sarah Palin would even include Russia.
Bomb Iran and I fear we will long for the days when we regretted only one major national disaster. We can’t let this happen.
Ending this madness in Iraq and stopping a war with Iran starts Tuesday, with us.

Thomas Are
October 30, 2008

A Conservative Point of View

At a recent meeting of progressive thinkers in north Georgia, we were all pretty unanimous in bemoaning the actions of congress in voting down for the ninth time a bill to increase the minimum wage while giving them self a raise. Suddenly, a member of the group said, “Someone here should speak up for the conservative point of view.”

I am not a conservative but I thought I would give it a try.

“The upper twenty percent of American households now own 84.4 percent of the wealth of this nation, (with 59 percent in the hands of the upper five percent,) while the bottom sixty percent get 4.6 percent all for themselves. If we can just elect the right politicians, Congress could give enormous tax relief to the wealthy, could remove the Estate tax, the tax on investment income, initiate a flat tax and keep the minimum wage down for another nine years. Who knows, we at the top might get to own 85 percent, or 88 percent, maybe even 90 percent of America’s wealth. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? After all, most of the working poor would much rather live on welfare and handouts. We are the sharp cookies, the ones who create the jobs and make it all work. And nobody can call us greedy. We just want what is best for everybody. After all, because we are so sharp, we don’t have to be greedy. All we need is a government that is greedy on our behalf. So get out there, invest a little money in the right politicians. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make. And keep in mind, those poor people could invest in politicians too, if they wanted to. This is the land of equal opportunity.”

Of course, I didn’t say any of this at the meeting. I just sat there thinking that living in a world of limited resources, as long as any of us has more than we need, it means many will have less than they need. And I was wondering how God, who according to the Bible has a special concern for the poor, would have responded to my conservative point of view.

Thomas L. Are,
One of the upper twenty percent.
October 20, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Republican Supreme Court

Most of us gave little thought to the Supreme Court until it took over the 2000 vote count in Florida and gave the election to George W. Bush. Seldom mentioned, even in this election cycle, is the dramatic swing of the Court to the right. Presidents Reagan, Bush I and II appointed Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito, all right wing Republican Party puppets. John McCain promises to continue the Bush appointment goals.

John Dean in his recent book, Broken Government, quotes the New York City Attorney, Martin Garbus, who pictures the direction the courts are taking us:

Imagine the effect on our lives if workplace standards for health and safety were severely cut back; if abortions were banned, no exceptions; if minimum-hour and wage laws were so reduced as to be meaningless; if child labor laws were abolished or weakened; if there were no gun control at all. Imagine what our world would look like if the law abolished equal rights… if the state took money from public schools and gave it to parochial schools; if regulatory agencies like the Food and Drug Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, or the Environmental Protection Agency were so gutted or handcuffed as to be completely ineffectual; if Congress’ ability to pass needed social legislation ended. All this and more are the declared goals of the radical Right who now dominate the Republican Party on matters related to the judiciary. The judicial revolution that began under Richard Nixon, which accelerated during the Reagan’s second term and peaked in the past five years, has become a runaway train.

I hope Garbus is wrong. I also hope we won’t give John McCain the chance to prove him right.

Thomas Are
October 12, 2008

What is Victory???

McCain’s campaign is seeking to make a point over the fact that Barack Obama did not use the word “victory” during their debate, which McCain used over and over. The problem is, McCain never told us what victory would look like.

Would victory mean that a million refugees had returned to their homes?
Did he envision victory when the last man who hates America has been shot?
Or when Iraq tears down that ever increasing security wall separating Shia from Sunni which now cuts through almost every neighborhood in Baghdad?
Could we call it victory when a Shia Government aligned with Iran is securely established and maintains military control over the entire nation?
Maybe it would look like victory when the infrastructure destroyed by our invasion is rebuilt, in other words, when we put Iraq back together again.
And what about the more than 4000 young men and women who have had their lives taken from them in this struggle, will their families ever feel a sense of victory? Or those 30,662 wounded whose lives will never be the same again. Maybe we will feel victorious when their families have a big picnic and shout, “We won. We won.”
Would victory mean that the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens who have died in this war would have been forgotten and written off as unavoidable “collateral damage?”

McCain seemed proud to declaring his vision for victory. I wish he had given us some idea of just what victory he had in mind.

Thomas Are
October 1, 2008

McCain’s Economics

For six of the past seven years, Republicans have held the White House, both branches of Congress and the Courts. They keep telling us that if we just gave them a little more time and power, everything would be great.. Yet, in the first three months of this year, 200,000 jobs have been lost, three airlines have gone belly-up and gasoline is hovering around $4.00 a gallon. The Fortune 500 has created a total of zero new jobs. Under Republican control, income fell for the poor, income remained flat for the middle class, but income for the wealthy kept flying. Today’s newscast announced that home foreclosures could reach a trillion dollars and Wall Street must have a $700 billion bail out or we are all in the tank.
John McCain talks of winning the war in Iraq, (whatever that means), without the least concern for the billions of dollars the U.S. is borrowing from Saudi Arabia, China and European countries and how and who will pay it back. He offers hope in what he calls an “ownership society,” which is a way of saying, “You are on your own.” Of course, Mr. McCain’s income is one of those that went up in the past seven years. (His wife’s worth is reported to be $100,000,000.) Why should he want anyone to rock the boat?
This year’s election is crucial. We must look at what’s happening all around us, ask questions about McCain’s economic plans and vote.

Thomas Are
September 29, 2008

Glass Steagall Act

For 28 years Republicans have promised, and the voting public has bought into the idea, that less government means a better life for everybody. From Ronald Reagan’s “Government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem,” to John McCain’s declaration a few days ago that, “Government should stand beside you, not get in your way,” de-regulation, getting government off our backs and trusting the magic of the free market has been the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Suddenly, everybody, including John McCain is talking about regulations.

Six months ago, I had never heard of the Glass Steagall Act, passed during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, which required commercial banks to maintain some risk in the loans they approved.

I remember the first time I ever bought a car. I remember going to the bank, sitting down with Mr. Allen who asked me a hundred questions. It surprised me because he was the treasurer of the church in which I was working and actually signed my paycheck. Nevertheless, he asked about my income, how much I was putting in as a down payment, my other debts, and how I planned to repay the loan.

That was then. That was before the Republican Congress of 1999 repealed Glass Steagall removing the wall between Commercial Banks and Investment Banks. My new friend Paul Craig Roberts, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, testified before Congress warning of the dangers of removing these regulations and pretty much accurately predicted the melt down scenario we are experiencing on Wall Street today.

This is now. What happens now with de-regulation, (getting government out of our way, to use the words of John McCain) is that when I buy a house, the lending institution that makes the loan has little, if any, interest in my ability to pay off my mortgage. They have little, if any money invested. As soon as they make the loan, it is bundled with many other loans and sold to an investment company, which for enough profit is willing to take a “calculated risk.”

Now suddenly the house of card begins to collapse. Congress is talking about a $700 billion bailout. (That’s more than $2000 for each one of us.) and everybody, including McCain and Palin are talking about regulations.

The pot at the end of the free market rainbow is no longer full of gold, but IOUs.

Thomas Are
September 25, 2008

Just can’t make it Christian

Finally, after reassuring the people of America and the world that “The U.S. does not torture, it’s against our morals,” suddenly last year, President Bush, on national television admitted that the CIA does indeed operate secret prisons abroad and that “alternative methods of interrogation” are being used.

Now, he wants legislation to legalize what he says he is not doing and he wants immunity from prosecution of those who sanction the use of torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment. He also aims to prohibit the federal courts from intervening in these activities which he says over and over we are not doing.

If I sound angry, it’s because I am. It is offensive to me that America, the country that I love because of its high ideals and morals now has a President, Secretary of State and Attorney General dedicated to defending torture. Amnesty International has documented numerous cases of prolonged sleep deprivation, starvation, stress positions, beatings and waterboarding. Our own State Department has condemned Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uzbekistan for their cruel treatment of political prisoners while all the time secretly out sourcing our accused to them to be tortured on our behalf.

How in the name of God does our President justify the torture of human beings. Are they not still the children of God? He has the power to issue executive orders that declare none of the provisions of the Geneva Conventions of which the U.S. is a signatory apply to us, but he cannot do so while wearing his Judeo-Christian badge of which he is so proud. Can he in his wildest imagination see Jesus holding down some poor victim and doing things to him to cause him to tremble, beg or scream? Does our President even think it works?

Several years ago in a book about Israel, I wrote, “The torturer under any circumstances is always wrong.” Israel tortures its political prisoners and has done so for years. My fear is that the more we act like Israel, the more we should be prepared to live like Israel and I don’t know any country where it is less safe to live today than Israel. Torture, including the “ticking bomb” scenario, does not work - for two reasons.

First: The torturer makes at least four assumptions: One, that he has the right guy and that the person in our hands knows that there is a bomb and where it is. Two, that his friends did not move it when he was captured. Three, that the good guys can get to it while it is still ticking and will be able to disarm it, and four, that the victim’s words are reliable and not just anything said to stop the pain. Those who study this kind of thing say that very little information gained under torture is trustworthy. That is why it is not admissible in civilized courts.

Second: Torture is a losing calculation. While finding one bomb, it generates enough hatred and resentment to produce thirty more bombs. Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and secret prisons have become the rallying cry for bomb planting terrorist. Every time we torture, we set up our own troops in Harms way to be tortured.

Bottom line: It just plain wrong and cannot be justified by the God of our western faith. I know there is a risk, but we cannot torture, not because of who they are, but because of who we are.

Thomas L. Are

They listen to their preachers, he said

“Thomas,” he said. “You just don’t understand. People all over this county are greatly influenced by their preacher.
“I hope so,” I responded.
“And that’s why they vote Republican.”

He is right, I don’t understand that. I was thinking of a budget that robs services from the most vulnerable people among us to give huge tax refunds to the rich. I was thinking of the environment and all the anti-pollution regulations removed by Mr. Bush, and I was thinking about a preemptive war and the 4000 young men and women who have had their lives taken from them and the thousands who have come home with their arms, legs or faces blown off. How could preachers who uphold the love of God for the “least of these” urge their congregations to vote Republican?

“It’s the abortion issue,” he said. They are all opposed to the rampant use of abortion as a birth control.”

Again, I said, “I hope so.” They are right to do so. I hope preachers all over this county feel a call to protect the rights and lives of the unborn. But that is precisely why they should vote Democratic. Anyone with a passion for the unborn is aware that abortions actually went down during the previous Democratic administration, and not by a little bit, but down by 300,000 a year. That’s over a million kids and grandkids running around now who would not have ever been if all they had to protect them was a law aimed at punishing their mothers. The reason abortions went down when Democrats controlled the government was that young mothers were given opportunities for education, jobs and economic hope. Having a baby when you are poor and without health care or even knowing how you will feed it while trying to keep a job is frightening.

Many people perceive Democrats as being “for” abortions because most Democrats believe there are some situations where an abortion seems like the right thing to do, such as when a women has been raped, is the victim of incest or her own life is in danger, but according to polls, a vast majority of Americans, over 75 percent, would consent to an abortion under those circumstances. If we just pass laws declaring all pregnancies, no matter what, must be brought to birth, then the wealthy who seek abortions will simply go to places where termination is legal while the desperate poor will resort to back rooms and coat hangers.

Now here comes the hard part. It’s not enough to force a woman to have a baby and then abandon her. To be truly pro-life includes giving her baby the right to nourishment, health care and education. Otherwise we are merely pro-birth, not pro-life. I believe, and I believe most preachers believe, that abortions should be “legal, safe and rare.” So, I hope the people of our county will keep on listening to their preachers on this and all other moral issues.

Thomas L. Are
One of those preachers

The Biblical Basis for Democrat

Years ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said something like, “We measure our success, not be the abundance we add to those who have too much, but by how adequately we provide for those who have too little.” It seems to me that we as a nation and even the Christian Right have done every thing we can in the past twenty eight years to reverse that measure.

Republicans believe in the Great Commandment of Jesus. They say at the top of their voice, “THOU SHALT LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, WITH ALL YOUR SOUL AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.” Then they quickly race through, “and thy neighbor as thyself.”

On the other hand, democrats also believe in the Great Commandment. They rush through, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul and mind.” Then they stand up on a platform and shout, “AND THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF.”

Maybe it is just a matter of emphasis and we have our choice. After all, we are both quoting Scripture. Funny thing though, Jesus, whom George W. Bush claims to be his favorite and most influential philosopher, when Jesus spoke of the final judgment, talking about people going to heaven or hell, he does not mention loving God. It’s all about neighbor.
“Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?” And the King will answer them. “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me.”
Then he will say to those at his left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then he will answer them, “Truly I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.” And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25: 34-46).

Going back to how he understood his call to mission, his very first sermon was all about neighbor:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovering the sight of the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.

Listen to his parables. Every one focuses on those marginalized. He told the rich young ruler, Go and sell what you have and give to the poor. He said, when you give a banquet, don’t invite your rich neighbors but go out into the highways and hedges and invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. He told of the Good Samaritan who picked up the wounded man in the ditch, took him to the inn and said, whatever it cost to restore him to health and strength, I will pay it. (Sounds like universal health care to me.)

Look at the people whom Jesus chose as his companions: the sick and poor and a crowd he simply called sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes.

Scrape all the “tookie” theology off of the message of Jesus and he is saying:

It’s not about me. It’s about them.

Maybe we have all missed this, but I can’t imagine Jesus voting to cut Medicare, social security, head start, school lunch programs, and college loans to give even bigger tax cuts for the richest people in America, I just can’t imagine it.

Democrats are the party for the least, the last, the lost, the lonely, unlucky and left out. If not the party for them, then we don’t need to be elected.

By Thomas L. Are
September 19, 2008

“Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran.” Who is McCain Kidding?

Jorge Hirsch writes, “The trigger will be Israel, the target Iran, the nuclear aggressor the U.S..”

O Boy, I hope not. Does anyone think that we, or Israel can drop bombs on Iran, dust off our hands and come home declaring “Mission Accomplished,” and think that will be the end of it? If we, or more likely Israel, attack Iran, it’s a whole new war. We can’t get out of the ones we are already in. Even after five years, 4000 of our troops dead, 30,000 wounded, many of them injured for life, a half trillion dollars down the tube… and that’s against a nation whose military had been broken by U.S. victories in 1991 followed by ten years of bombings and sanctions.

Iran, on the other hand has 70 million people, missiles capable of sinking ships, an army of over 850,000 troops, 1600 tanks, 21,000 armored vehicles, 70 warships and 3 submarines. I hope somebody is counting the cost this time.

The bigger question is: What crime has Iran committed? Developing a nuclear weapon? That may be stupid, but is it a crime? We have done it and so has Israel. According to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. There are 30 countries that have nuclear programs, while only nine of them have nuclear weapons. If Bush allows us to get drawn into a nuclear attack on Iran because in the words of John Bolton, “Iran is a direct threat to Israel,” Jorge Hirsch describes how it will look to the world:

A nuclear superpower will have nuked a non-nuclear state that is a Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty signatory and is cooperating with the IAEA, at the instigation of a state that is not an NPT signatory, that reportedly has over 100 nuclear bombs of its own, and that initiated hostilities with an unprovoked act of military aggression.[1]

What can we do? We can make it clear that the U.S. will protect Israel’s existence against any nation that aggressively seeks Israel’s destruction. At the same time, we must reign in Israel’s aggressive attacks on its neighbors and especially its brutal occupation of Palestinian lands and oppression of its people. And our leaders must meet and talk with the leaders of Iran about our concerns and theirs.

Thomas Are
September 7, 2008

[1] Jorge Hirsch, Israel, Iran, and the U.S: Nuclear War, Here We Come. (October 17, 2005)

The Matter of Bristol’s Pregnancy is not Bristol’s Pregnancy

My first reaction was concern for Bristol Palin, seventeen years old, unmarried and pregnant. Then, I realized that she is the daughter of the only vice presidential candidate the right wing family values party has, so she not only gets a pass, she will become the object of forgiveness and understanding. Even Christian Right supporters say, “Happens all the time. No big deal.”

Of course, if Bristol had been the daughter of a two job working mom of lower Louisiana, she would be labeled an immoral moocher of the welfare system. However, neither “daughter of” is the point.

What is significant is that the mother of one, who seeks to be “one heart beat” away from the Presidency of the United States, and in spite of evidence of its failure to work, promotes “abstinence-only” as God’s way. William Bennett says, “Abstinence works every time.” But that is not quite true. According to a 2006 report of the National Survey of Family Growth, fully 95 percent of Americans are sexually active before marriage. That means in the real world, abstinence works 5 percent of the time. On the other hand, condoms work 97 percent of the time. Bristol’s unwanted pregnancy is an example of a failed policy backed up by little more than a mama’s theology.

Eric Alterman, in Why We are Liberals, writes, “while abstinence-only programs show little evidence of sustained effect on a student’s sexual activities, they do reduce the use of contraception, including condoms.”

Yet, Governor Palin would use her political dominance to force on public schools an Abstinence-only curriculum in spite of it’s 95 percent failure record.

Governor Palin also chooses her theology over overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary when it comes to human causes for global warming, and teaching Creationism in public schools. My concern is that when it comes to advising a President McCain, in the case of a crisis with Russia, or more expansionism by Israel, or confrontation with Islam, will she be guided by evidence, and history and facts on the ground or by her fundamentalist theology?

Thomas Are

September 2, 2008

More Bush Style Cronyism?

John McCain likes ninety percent of George Bush. Why should we be surprised by his selection of Sarah Palin? It’s called cronyism which means putting someone in a highly responsible job, not because of their qualifications, but because of the political advantage they bring to the appointer.

Remember “You’re doing a heck of a job, Brownie?” That was as New Orleans drowned and thousands of people were rapidly running out of food and water and 1,836 were dead or dying. Michael Brown had served as “The Czar” of the International Arabian Horse Association,” with no emergency disaster experience when named Director of FAMA. But he was a loyal Bush supporter who had worked the Florida recount controversy of 2000.

And what about Monica Goodling, a 33 year old graduate of Pat Robertson’s law school who was put in charge of judging the performance of ninety-five U.S. Attorneys? She had never been a prosecutor, but she was a Bush supporter, a crony appointed to the third most powerful position in the Justice Department, and she was beautiful even when taking the Fifth Amendment when called upon to testify before Congress.

Now, John McCain, 72 years old with a history of cancer, puts a totally unknown Sarah Palin in a job which could propel her into becoming the most powerful person on earth. She may not be qualified but she brings political capital. She is anti-abortion, anti-gays, pro-guns and pro-big oil. Besides that, she is beautiful with a history too short to critique.

We have had two years to put Obama through the wringer. We will have two months to get Sarah Palin, another Bush style crony appointment, qualified to sit in the Oval office with the job of rebuilding America and engaging the world. Wow!

Thomas Are
August 30, 2008

Diverted by Distraction

Have you heard? Obama is a Muslim. Obama doesn’t wear a flag pin. Obama used to smoke. Surely we can’t allow a Jeremiah Wright clone to occupy the White House---which after all is the premier symbol of what it means to be American.

It’s called diversion.

Focus on Obama’s race and religion and maybe we won’t remember the 4000 young Americans who have been killed in a war that is un-necessary, un-winnable and un-sustainable. Remember Jeremiah Wright’s “Goddamn America,” and we might overlook the $9,595,445,941,309 debt the Republicans have saddled upon the backs of our children and grandchildren. That’s $31,507 per American and growing at a rate of $1.82 billion per day. Call his wife un-American and perhaps “true” Americans will support another war, or two, financed by foreign loans. We might even consider unimportant the Republican deregulation policies that led to fraud in the mortgage lending business and collapse of our house values. We might even consider the torture of other human beings, without trial or legal representation, a new American value. Label Obama an elitist and we may overlook his life time commitment to uplifting the poor, the unemployed and the uninsured.

It seems obvious that the only way for McCain and the War Party to win in November and insure the prosperity of the ultra rich is to divert America’s attention away from Barrack Obama’s life time commitment to insure “liberty and justice for all,” is to focus attention on his father’s religion.

Oops, I was so busy analyzing that fist-bump between Michelle and Barack that I forgot about the lobbyist working on McCain’s staff, that our infrastructure is crumbling, our imports are unsafe and that there are many, many, many more terrorist who hate us today then ever before.

If we can become distracted by insignificant symbols, perhaps we won’t notice that John McCain has also been distracted by these same distractions and has little commitment to solving our nation’s real problems, such as; retirement security, health care, education, jobs, the environment and above all our national security. These crucial threats to America cannot be solved by cutting taxes for the most fortunate and dropping bombs on the least fortunate which seems to encompass most of John McCain’s vision for America.

Thomas Are
August 15, 2008

Beyond T. Boone Picket

I have heard enough of T. Boone Pickens on national television and print media to be tired of him, but he makes a valid point. In 1970 we imported 24 percent of our oil from foreign sources. Today, it’s 70 percent. That translates into $700 billion dollars a year we are sending to other countries, some of whom are very hostile toward anything American. According to Pickens, this is the largest transfer of wealth in human history. He suggests that we turn to wind and solar energy, saying that we cannot drill our way out of this situation. He may be exactly right. President George W. Bush says that we are “addicted to oil” and suggest that we address our problem by drilling for more oil, primarily in Alaska and off shore.

Maybe Bush is right, or maybe they are both right. As an ordinary citizen, I don’t know enough about it to make a reasonable decision. But I am influenced by George Bush’s own energy experts saying that if we started drilling today, it would be 2030 before we saw a drop of new gas for our cars. I am not saying that we should not be drilling off shore or tapping into wind, solar and even aqua-energy to meet our needs, but all of those seem to be lengthy, out in the future solutions.

There is something significant we can do right now, and it’s cheap. In fact it will save us money. I remember Jimmy Carter back in 1977 coming on TV in his sweater saying America needs to cut back on its oil consumption, that we are 6 percent of the world population and use 25 percent of its oil. He stressed energy conservation and enacted a 55 mile an hour national speed limit. He warned us that the energy situation required a “moral equivalent to war.” which his critics immediately labeled as his “meow” factor. The idea that Americans sacrifice was too much.

Now, with gas at $4 a gallon and climbing, we hear Carter with new appreciation. Off shore drilling may not pay off for ten years, but we could cut back our speed right now. Cutting from 65 mph to 55 would save 20 percent. Cutting from 75 mph to 55 would save 30 percent and would save a billion barrels of oil per year. This is more than we import from the Persian Gulf.

I have made a commitment with several friends that I will not drive over 60 mph and will stay a little below the posted limit when it is below that. People driving behind me tailgate and stare, but I just think of how much money I am saving them and keeping in our own economy. I wish you would join me. It could make a big difference.

Thomas Are

Take off your shoes and follow me

I am convinced that the twenty-first century will be defined by better understanding between the Christian west and the Islamic east or by a hundred years of war… a war which no one will win?

Having said this, I have to admit that I know very little about Islam. What little I do know has come from reading books. I have no Muslim friends. At least, I had no Muslim friends until about a half a year ago when I visited a Mosque.

With trepidation, I approached the entrance surrounded by people who did not look like me. Suddenly a Middle Eastern young man approached me, stuck out his hand and said, “Welcome.”
After telling him that I was a retired Presbyterian minister, I said, “The last thing I want to do is to offend anyone, but I would like to participate in your prayer service. I am not here to join. I just want to learn”

He smiled. “You know, we sit on the floor for the entire service. But, we do have chairs in which you can sit if you would be more comfortable.”
“I think I would like to do exactly what you do, if that would be acceptable.”
“Are you serious?”
“I think so.”
“Then, take off your shoes,” he said, “and follow me.”
We entered a room the size of a basketball court filled with Middle Eastern and African American men, several hundred in number lining up for prayers. An equal number of women lined up behind us.

The Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam serves a lower income community on the south- eastern side of Atlanta and yet here were hundreds of people who had found time on a busy Friday afternoon for worship. A procession of men, young and old, well dressed or in working clothes greeted me and actually thanked me for sharing their time of prayer. By this time, my anxiety had turned to respect.

The service began with prayers in Arabic but I followed their motions, knelt, put my forehead on the floor, felt a wave of humility, stood up and then did it all over again. Then, the Imam preached in English about the need for Muslims to respect others, especially Jews and Christians. He touched on the foolishness of gambling, alcohol and the importance of keeping one’s word. All in all, it was an eye opening experience.

Since that time, I have returned to the mosque twice and each time I have come away with the same warm feelings. I have made some Muslim friends, visited in their home and learned to respect their expression of faith.

I have also come to realize that Muslims living in American are afraid. I don’t blame them. They are looked upon with suspicion every time a terrorist attacks anywhere in the world and they feel it. Two of my friends, Ali and Aisha, are both PhD. scientists working in the field of disease research. Often, they are maligned for no other reason than that they are Muslims.

Lumping all Muslims together, certain talk show hosts, politicians and fundamentalist preachers induce fear and intolerance into the hearts of narrow minded people who believe them. When I told a Christian friend that I had visited a mosque, he asked, “Did you carry a gun?”
I understand this fear. Some Muslims are dangerous. They are called Salafist.
Yet most Americans have never heard of the Salafist. In the late 1940s a conservative Egyptian, Sayyid Qutb, who later became known as the father of Salafist totalitarianism, came to America. His experience intensified his already existing hatred for all things American. Within a few months, Qutb, burning with anti-Americanism, returned to Egypt, joined the Muslim Brotherhood and vowed to oppose modernity in all forms. He called America, “the great Shaitan,” which means the trivializer, and saw Nasser as selling the Islamic soul for American comforts. After a failed attempted to assassinate Nasser in 1954, Qutb was arrested, tortured and twelve years later, hanged. In the meantime he wrote books and pamphlets calling for a militant interpretation of jihad and for all Muslims to fight for a return to the seventh century and the Islam of Muhammad’s time.

Some have said that the Islamic nations have been moving backwards for centuries while the west has made steady progress. Thus, they claim, Muslims are envious of western progress and hate us for it. But, in fact, what the Salafist really says is: “Progress? Look at your materialism, divorce rate, sex industry, drug culture, and your poor living on the streets. Look at how you are destroying the environment! Do you call that progress?” If that is progress, the Salafist want none of it.
Qutb’s Salafism was behind the assassination of Anwar Sadat because of his close ties to America. And in 1979, it was the Salafists who captured the US embassy in Iran and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. Americans could not understand. After all, with assistance from America, the Shah was modernizing Iran, putting refrigerators in every home, building movie theaters, bars and casinos. Of course, the Shah was a secular ruler and ignored the poor, but who didn’t? The rich had never been so pleased.

On the other hand, Salafism honored two passions: social justice and the spiritual life, both of which were being poisoned by modernization and materialism. They had no interest in western dress, sports and entertainment. Such things trivialized life and blurred the faithful’s commitment to meditate on the will of God. Angry at the Shah’s opulent lifestyle and secular government, in 1978 students in Iran demonstrated. The Shah responded by sending out his SAVAK troops and shooting to death seventy unarmed kids. Later that same year, the SAVAK killed 700 to 900 students. Yet, within the month, President Carter flew to Tehran to pledge America’s support to keep the Shah in power.[1]

It was the Salafist who gave birth to the Taliban in Afghanistan and to the al Qaeda of Osama bin Laden. It was the Salafist who crashed planes on 9/11 into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. High on the Salafist roster of concerns was the very secular Saddam Hussein for the Salafists hate the “unfaithful” Muslim even more than the shallow American. Salafism is a stateless philosophy. It pledges allegiance to no national regime or Islamic division: Sunni or Shiite. When the Salafist radicals attacked America and Mr. Bush retaliated by invading Iraq, the subsequent fall of Saddam Hussein was an answer to their prayers.

The Salafist are dangerous and we as a nation must guard against them. However, on September 11, 2001, less than one percent of all Muslims supported a Salafist agenda. Today, who knows how many? Recruitment to their radical view of Islam is mushrooming with no end in sight. There are more terrorists who hate us now than ever before.

However, my American Muslim friends are not among them. Not only is it unfair and cruel to label them as such, but also it is unwise. Force always fails to change religious belief. The only hope we have of making peace with the worldwide Muslim community is to reach out with all our understanding to the majority of Muslims who are moderate, peaceful citizens.
The twenty-first century has a choice: to make war or seek understanding.

So, I invite you to take off your shoes and follow me. I am glad that I reached out and met a few Muslims whom I now call friends. It seems like one small step toward a more peaceful new century and…besides all that, I really do like my Muslim friends.

Thomas Are

[1] See Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God, Chapter 9, and Peter Beinart, The Good Fight, Chapter 4.