Friday, 29 November 2013

Drone Strikes in Pakistan: Reapers of Their Own Destruction

By Medea Benjamin                Common  Dreams                       November 25, 2013
"We will put pressure on America, and our protest will continue if drone attacks are not stopped," said an angry Imran Khan, leader of Pakistan’s third largest political party, the PTI (the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf). He was speaking on Saturday, November 23, to a crowd of over 10,000 protesters who blocked the highway used by NATO supply trucks taking goods in and out of Afghanistan. The latest protests in Pakistan show that even when the US hits its mark, as in the case of the last two strikes in Pakistan that killed key leaders of two extremist cells, they’re still counterproductive.

Most Pakistanis reject the Taliban and other extremists. But they also reject the American drones that violate their sovereignty and operate with impunity. The Pakistani resistance, along with growing opposition within the United States, has had an impact: the number of Predator and Reaper drones strikes in Pakistan has been steadily declining, from a high of 122 in 2010 to 48 in 2012, and even fewer this year.
But the strikes have not stopped, and each strike now receives greater scrutiny and opposition. This is the case of the two attacks that took place in November.  On November 1 a Hellfire missile from a Predator drone killed Hakimullah Mehsud and at least four others. Mehsud was head of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a group responsible for the killing of thousands in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Pakistani Taliban also claimed responsibility for the failed bomb plot at New York's Times Square in 2010, and was connected with the killing of seven CIA employees in Afghanistan in 2009.
The Pakistani government was incensed by the drone attack. They certainly had no love for Hakimullah Mehsud, but Pakistani negotiators had been carefully working for months to bring the TTP militants to the negotiating table to end more than a decade of violence. In fact, the peace talks were scheduled to begin the very next day, November 2.  Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan charged that the drone attack that killed Mehsud also blew up the government's efforts at negotiations, and that peace talks could not move forward until there was an end to drone attacks in Pakistan.
But the CIA, which carries out the strikes in Pakistan, ignored the Pakistani government’s wishes and launched another strike on Thursday, November 21. This time the missiles hit a religious seminary, killing at least six people and wounding eight. Among the dead were militants belonging to the Haqqani network, including senior leader Ahmad Jan. The Haqqani network used to be part of the U.S.-backed forces fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The U.S. accuses the Haqqani network of orchestrating the 2011 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul that killed 16 people, and an assault on the Intercontinental Hotel in the Afghan capital the same year that killed more than 20.
 The November 23 attack was particularly embarrassing for the Pakistani government because it came just one day after foreign minister Sartaj Aziz told parliament the US had agreed to suspend drone attacks while the Pakistani government was in peace talks with the Taliban.
Imran Khan also used the rally to attack Prime Minister Sharif’s government for failing to force the Americans to halt drone strikes. Sharif has been outspoken against the strikes. After becoming prime minister in June, he publicly ordered the military to end its policy of “condemning drones in public while being complicit in them. During an October meeting in Washington with President Obama, Sharif reiterated his belief that drone strikes were counterproductive and should end.
The two drone strikes in November show that these attacks don’t just kill and maim individuals. They also blow up peace talks. They weaken democratically elected governments. They sabotage bilateral relations. They sow hatred and resentment.
In response, the world community is rising up with mass demonstrations in Pakistan, solidarity protests in London, and hundreds gathering at the 2013 Drone Summit in Washington DC. The 10-year drone-induced killing spree has unleashed the seeds of its own destruction: a nonviolent resistance movement.       [Abbrev.]

Netanyahu is on his own now as nuclear agreement isolates Israel

Sudden offer by Tehran was thus greeted with almost manic excitement   
ROBERT FISK                  Independent/UK                24 November 2013
It marks a victory for the Shia in their growing conflict with the Sunni Muslim Middle East. It gives substantial hope to Bashar al-Assad that he will be left in power in Syria. It isolates Israel. And it infuriates Saudi Arabia and Qatar and Kuwait and other Sunni Gulf States which secretly hoped that a breakdown of the Geneva nuclear talks would humiliate Shia Iran and support their efforts to depose Assad, Iran’s only ally in the Arab world.

In the cruel politics of the Middle East, the partial nuclear agreement between Iran and the world’s six most important powers proves that the West will not go to war with Iran and has no intention - far into the future - of undertaking military action in the region. We already guessed that when – after branding Assad as yet another Middle Eastern Hitler - the US, Britain and France declined to assault Syria and bring down the regime. American and British people – those who had to pay the price for these monumental adventures, because political leaders no longer lead their men into battle - had no stomach for another Iraq or another Afghanistan.

Iran’s sudden offer to negotiate a high-speed end to this cancerous threat of further war was thus greeted with almost manic excitement by the US and the EU, along with theatrical enthusiasm by the man who realises that his own country has been further empowered in the Middle East: Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. Assad’s continued tenure in Damascus is assured. Peace in our time. Be sure we’ll be hearing that Chamberlonian boast uttered in irony by the Israelis in the weeks to come.

But there’s no doubt that Geneva has called Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bluff. He may huff and puff, but if he wants to bash Iran now – on the basis that Israel must remain the only nuclear nation in the Middle East – he’s going to be on his own when his planes take off to bomb Iran’s nuclear plants. The Aipac attack dogs can be sent up to Congress again by that most infamous of Israeli-American lobby groups to harry Republicans in support of the Likudist cause, but to what purpose? Did Mr Netanyahu really think the Iranians were going to dismantle their whole nuclear boondoggle?

When he said yesterday that “the most dangerous regime in the world took a significant step towards obtaining the world’s most dangerous weapon”, many Arabs – and an awful lot of other people in the world, including the West – will have wondered whether Israel, which long ago obtained the world’s most dangerous weapon, is now – in rejecting the Geneva deal - the world’s most dangerous government. If Mr Netanyahu and his clique in the government decide to twit the world’s major powers amid their euphoria, he may bring about – as several Israeli writers have warned – the most profound change in Israel’s relations with the US since the foundation of the Israeli state. It would not be a change for Israel’s benefit.

But six months – the time it takes to solidify this most tangential of nuclear agreements – is a long time. In the coming days, Republicans in Washington and the right-wing enemies of President Rouhani will demand to know the real details of this febrile game at Geneva. The Americans insist that Iran does not have the “right to enrichment”. Iran insists that it does. The percentages of enrichment will have to be examined far more carefully than they were yesterday.

Mr Rouhani – or Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader whose dark wings hover over every elected Iranian leader – says that the fear of an Iranian nuclear weapon will be seen by future generations as a “historical joke”. Netanyahu says the whole shenanigans in Geneva will prove to be a “historic mistake”. The Sunni Saudis, always waiting to spot the winner before opening their mouths, have already sat down with their Sunni Qatari and Kuwaiti allies to commiserate with each other over Shia Iran’s new victory. In Damascus, I suspect, Bashar, himself an Alawite-Shia, will tuck the kids into bed and share a glass with wife Asma and sleep well in his bed tonight.

Pope slams capitalism as 'new tyranny''

”Not to share wealth with poor is to steal”

By Reuters                 November 26, 2013                       Part 2

Pope Francis has taken aim at capitalism as "a new tyranny" and is urging world leaders to step up their efforts against poverty and inequality, saying "thou shall not kill" the economy. Francis calls on rich people to share their wealth. The existing financial system that fuels the unequal distribution of wealth and violence must be changed, the Pope warned.  "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?" Pope Francis asked an audience at the Vatican.

The global economic crisis, which has gripped much of Europe and America, has the Pope asking how countries can function, or realize their full economic potential, if they are weighed down by the debts of capitalism. “A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules,” the 84-page document, known as an apostolic exhortation, said.
"To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which has taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits", the pope’s document says. He goes on to explain that in this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which has become the only rule we live by.

Shameful wealth

Inequality between the rich and the poor has reached a new threshold, and in his apostolic exhortation to mark the end of the “Year of Faith”, Pope Francis asks for better politicians to heal the scars capitalism made on society.

"Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills," Francis wrote in the document issued Tuesday.

His calls to service go beyond general good Samaritan deeds, as he asks his followers for action “beyond a simple welfare mentality". "I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor,” Francis wrote. A recent IRS report shows that the wealth of the US’s richest 1 percent has grown by 31 percent, while the rest of the population experienced an income rise of only 1 percent.The most recent Oxfam data shows that up to 146 million Europeans are at risk of falling into poverty by 2025 and 50 million Americans are currently suffering from severe financial hardship.
"As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world's problems or, for that matter, to any problems," he wrote.

Named after the medieval saint who chose a life of poverty, Pope Francis has gone beyond general calls for fair work, education, and healthcare.  Newly-elected Pope Francis has stepped up the fight against corrupt capitalism that has hit close to home - he was the first Pope to go after the Vatican bank and openly accused it of fraud and shady offshore tax haven deals.

In October, Pope Francis removed Vatican bank head Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, after revelations of alleged mafia money laundering and financial impropriety.

Pope Francis describes Unfettered Capitalism as Tyranny

Pontiff's first major publication calls on global leaders to guarantee work, education and healthcare

By Reuters                      November 26, 2013                     Part 1

Pope Francis has attacked unfettered capitalism as "a new tyranny", urging global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality in the first major work he has authored alone as pontiff. The 84-page document, known as an apostolic exhortation, amounted to an official platform for his papacy, building on views he has aired in sermons and remarks since he became the first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years in March. In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticising the global economic system, attacking the "idolatry of money" and beseeching politicians to guarantee all citizens "dignified work, education and healthcare".

He also called on rich people to share their wealth. "Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills," Francis wrote in the document issued on Tuesday. "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?"

The pope said renewal of the church could not be put off and the Vatican and its entrenched hierarchy "also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion". "I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security," he wrote.

In July, Francis finished an encyclical begun by Pope Benedict but he made clear that it was largely the work of his predecessor, who resigned in February. Called Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), the exhortation is presented in Francis's simple and warm preaching style, distinct from the more academic writings of former popes, and stresses the church's central mission of preaching "the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ". In it, he reiterated earlier statements that the church cannot ordain women or accept abortion. The male-only priesthood, he said, "is not a question open to discussion" but women must have more influence in church leadership.

A meditation on how to revitalise a church suffering from encroaching secularisation in western countries, the exhortation echoed the missionary zeal more often heard from the evangelical Protestants who have won over many disaffected Catholics in the pope's native Latin America. In it, economic inequality features as one of the issues Francis is most concerned about. The 76-year-old pontiff calls for an overhaul of the financial system and warns that unequal distribution of wealth inevitably leads to violence.

"As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world's problems or, for that matter, to any problems," he wrote. Denying this was simple populism, he called for action "beyond a simple welfare mentality" and added: "I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor."

Since his election, Francis has set an example for austerity in the church, living in a Vatican guest house rather than the ornate Apostolic Palace, travelling in a Ford Focus, and last month suspending a bishop who spent millions of euros on his luxurious residence. He chose to be called Francis after the medieval Italian saint of the same name famed for choosing a life of poverty.

Stressing co-operation among religions, Francis quoted the late Pope John Paul II's idea that the papacy might be reshaped to promote closer ties with other Christian churches and noted lessons Rome could learn from the Orthodox church such as "synodality" or decentralised leadership. He praised co-operation with Jews and Muslims and urged Islamic countries to guarantee their Christian minorities the same religious freedom as Muslims enjoy in the west.

Friday, 22 November 2013

What Language Shall We Use?

By  Arthur  Palmer

In most churches today the language used in worship, in prayers, in hymns and in readings from the Bible contains large elements we have inherited from a past era. Thought forms that were familiar and meaningful to most people in Victorian times or earlier, are presumed to be still appropriate to express our faith now, when our understanding of the world has changed greatly. It is not surprising that thoughtful people who are well attuned to the way language is used in the everyday world and in places of learning- Universities and the like- tend to be turned off by a flow of words and phrases and concepts that sound like an echo from another time than ours.
How shall we express truths which are eternal, in language which is honest and true to our present state of knowledge, while recognizing that this is always partial and provisional? Here and there the attempt is being made. Shirley Murray and a few others have given us hymns that are clearly inspired by the Christian vision, yet couched in a modern idiom. The Uniting Church of Canada has put together a creedal statement (“We Live in God’s World…”) which is far more meaningful to us in the new millennium than traditional creeds can hope to be.         
Another question: how shall we take the Bible seriously without taking it literally? We cannot in these days believe a story of an axe floating, as recorded in 2 Kings 6 - 5. All through the Bible are accounts which, for most of us, require impossible mental contortions if we attempt to take them as literal truth. They come to us as seen through the eyes of devout men- yes, most if not all of them men,- men of another day and age for whom miracles and supernatural intervention were entirely believable. Indeed, after the passage of years the stories that had been handed down, stories of slavery ended, or great victories against the odds, were almost guaranteed to acquire colourful additions which, in a bygone age gave added credibility. Yet for us these stories create problems. We are liable to miss the truth if we sanctify the accretions.

This is not a call to replace all poetic language with modern scientifically accurate phrases. We can still appreciate Negro spirituals, long after we have ceased to believe in future golden slippers. Folk songs can express a deep yearning, and a conviction that love lives on, and justice will finally prevail, in language that is poetry and metaphor rather than literal truth.

There is a way to escape becoming enmeshed in the legends and the fantasy. If we accept these for what they are: expressions of wonder, thankfulness, warning or praise- then we can move on to what is meant to follow. This is more demanding, but also more rewarding. Our primary task is to discover what it all means for us in the context of life today, as we are moved by the spirit which Jesus embodied so completely. His life redefined what it means to love, and the power of such love to transform our world. This must mean much more than being kind to Granny and the cat. More too than the assurance of forgiveness, important though this is in freeing us for action.

I believe we are called on by Jesus to see the world of human relationships in a new light. We can so easily be over-awed by the power of things as they are at this moment. But new life is struggling to be born, and we can help or hinder its arrival and growth. Sadly the institutional Christian Church has sometimes been so fearful of change that it has sided with privilege and injustice. Silence too gives consent. We can’t escape the responsibility of seeking a better way forward in the difficult areas of personal and community and international relationships- answers that reflect the Christian vision and way. The spectres of poverty, racial and religious intolerance and conflict, war and violence and social malaise in so many forms, oppress our world. The gap between rich and poor, between the West and the Third World, continues to widen. We are in the business of challenging the unjust status quo.

Our troubled world is waiting to be convinced that we are really serious about a faith that is relevant to this day and age, and that we are committed to demonstrating its relevance. We need to find more words that make this clear. And more than words. Ultimately it is the action which follows that will speak the loudest. And if this sounds like preaching, I am preaching to myself too.    

Voices From the Drone Summit

by Marjorie Cohn                              Common Dreams                               November 18, 2013
Last weekend, I participated in a panel on the illegality of drones and targeted killing off the battlefield at the conference, “Drones Around the Globe: Proliferation and Resistance,” in Washington DC. Nearly 400 people from many countries came together to gather information, protest, and develop strategies to end targeted killing by combat drones. I found the most compelling presentations to be first-hand accounts by those victimized by U.S. drone attacks, and a former military intelligence analyst who helped choose targets for drone strikes.

Members of a delegation from Yemen provided examples of the devastation drones have wrought in their communities. Faisal bin Ali Jaber is an engineer. For some time, one of his relatives had been giving public lectures criticizing drone attacks. In August 2012, family and friends were celebrating the marriage of Jaber’s son. After the wedding, a drone struck Jaber’s relative, killing him instantly. Jaber lost a brother-in-law who was a known opponent of Al Qaeda, and a 21-year-old nephew in the attack.
Baraa Shaiban, a human rights activist who works with REPRIEVE, revealed that 2012 was a year that saw “drones like never before” in Yemen. He described the death of a mother and daughter from a drone strike. “The daughter was holding the mother so tight, they could not be separated. They had to be buried together.”
Two members of Al Qaeda were in Entesar al Qadhi’s village, one of the most oil rich areas of Yemen. Villagers were negotiating with the two men. A drone killed the chief negotiator, scuttling the negotiations and leaving the village vulnerable to Al Qaeda. “The drones are for Al Qaeda, not against Al Qaeda,” al Qadhi said.
Air Force Col. Morris Davis (ret.) is a professor at Howard University Law School. He was chief prosecutor at the Guantanamo military commissions until he was reassigned due to his disagreement with the government’s policies. Davis had been assigned to a chain of command below Defense Department General Counsel William Haynes, who favored the use of evidence gained through waterboarding. "The guy who said waterboarding is A-okay I was not going to take orders from. I quit," Davis said at the time. At the Drone Summit, Davis related the case of Nek Muhammad, who, Davis noted, “was not a threat to us. He was killed as a favor to the Pakistani government so they would look the other way when we wanted to kill our targets.”
Daniel Hale helped choose targets for drone attacks. The former intelligence analyst with the Joint Special Operations Command in Afghanistan delivered a riveting talk. Hale utilized surveillance data for drone attacks. He would tell the sensor operator – who sits next to the “pilot” of the unmanned drone thousands of miles from the target – where to point the camera. This information would guide the “pilot” in dropping the bomb.
Every day, a slideshow of the most dramatic images from 9/11 and George W. Bush “looking somber” would be projected in the room in which Hale worked. On the wall in the main facility, there were television screens, each showing “a different bird [drone] in a different part of the country.” Every branch of the U.S. military and foreign militaries monitored “all of Afghanistan.” Hale would be assigned a mission “to go after a specific individual for nefarious activities.” He fed his intelligence to a sensor operator “so they would know where to look before a kinetic strike or detention” of an individual.
On one occasion, Hale located an individual who had been involved with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). The man was riding a motorcycle in the mountains early in the morning. He met up with four other people around a campfire drinking tea. Hale relayed the information that led to a drone strike, which killed all five men. Hale had no idea whether the other four men had done anything. Hale had thought he was part of an operation protecting Afghanistan. But when the other four men died – a result of “guilt by association” – Hale realized he “was no longer part of something moral or sane or rational.” He had heard someone say that “terrorists are cowards” because they used IEDs. “What was different,” Hale asked, “between that and the little red joy stick that pushes a button thousands of miles away”?
Marjorie Cohn, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and past President of the National Lawyers Guild, is the deputy secretary general for external communications of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and the U.S. representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists.

Slandering Britain's Roma isn't courageous. It's racist

The arrival of a group of marginalised people is challenging not because of who they are, but because they are poor

Gary Younge                                Guardian/UK                            17 November 2013

Sensitivity is a great thing, but mythology is dangerous. One wonders how the Roma should indicate their inculcation into British values. By encouraging their teens to get hammered on a Friday and Saturday night and start brawling? Or by stigmatising the next group of immigrants who come after them? For that too is the way "life is lived in this country".
Meanwhile, another Sheffield MP, Labour's David Blunkett, warned of "explosions" on a par with the northern riots over a decade ago if the Roma didn't integrate. Ukip's Nigel Farage praised Blunkett for his "courage".
There is nothing courageous about slandering a group of impoverished, marginalised people. They're too poor to sue and too isolated to effectively resist. There can be no comeback because they have no power, so where's the courage? But there is everything racist about denigrating a group of people as though their shared ethnicity means shared values and implying collective responsibility for the actions of individuals in their community.

Nor does there seem to be much basis for this moral panic. The Guardian recently reported that South Yorkshire police say crime has not increased significantly since the Roma moved to town a few years ago. After a chip-shop owner swore two teenagers tried to sell him a baby, the police scoured CCTV footage and records of babies born in the area and found nothing. A police spokesman said it "could have been a joke in poor taste". That didn't stop it making the front page of the Express. What's left, according to Blunkett, is littering and hanging out in large numbers. But there are laws against littering and obstruction. They shouldn't be applied specifically to the Roma – but nor should the Roma be specifically spared.

To be against demonisation is not to be in denial. The arrival of a large number of poor people does demand resources to facilitate their integration. Those challenges are most likely to fall on working-class communities that are least equipped to meet then, their capacity further diminished by the swingeing cuts of Clegg's government, including – as Blunkett pointed out – the Migration Impact Fund. But the challenges are because the Roma are overwhelmingly poor, not because they're Roma.
The truth is the Roma have far more to fear from non-Roma than vice-versa. Gassed by the Nazis, forcibly sterilised by the Swedes, recently expelled by the French, they have long been persecuted. In the last six weeks, two Roma families in Ireland, accused of stealing children because they didn't sufficiently look like them, had their kids taken away from them by the state only to have them returned. In Serbia, skinheads tried to snatch a blond child from in front of his house for the same reason.

This discrimination is not legitimised by the fact that the villification comes from a multiracial group, as is the case in Sheffield. Racism is about power not colour. A mob is a mob, whether it's decked in the union jack or looks like the United Colours of Benetton. The Residents Association of Page Hall, the area of Sheffield where the Roma are concentrated, is on patrol, to monitor and correct their behaviour. To his credit, Blunkett also called on local communities to reach out. If there is anything to fear it's not that there'll be a riot but a pogrom.
Paradoxically, the plight of the Roma in eastern Europe was so bad that securing minority rights for the Roma was a precondition for countries from the region joining the EU. Polls show that 91% of Czechs had "negative views" towards them while a survey of Hungarian police officers revealed that 54% believed criminality to be a key element of the Roma identity. In the Czech Republic, 75% of Roma children were placed in schools for people with learning difficulties; in Hungary it was 44%. The mayor of Mendez, a small town in Slovakia, said: "I am no racist … but some Gypsies you would have to shoot."

To counterbalance integration against the threat of riots is basically the Tebbit test without the sport. "Where you have a clash of history, a clash of race then it's all too easy for there to be an actual clash of violence," said the former Tory party chairman.    With all due respect, that is racist.        [Abridged]
Twitter: @garyyounge     

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Categories Ian Harris Otago Daily Times November 8, 2013

Religion today is changing as never before, even beginning to welcome uncertainty as perfectly valid in religious experience. Indeed, the growing number of people who admit to uncertainty may well hold the key to the future, for that opens them to new perspectives on belief and practice which could prove fertile ground for the future of their faiths. Christianity is a prime example of that, as Dr Nigel Leaves, canon of Brisbane’s Anglican cathedral, made clear to the Sea of Faith national conference in Hastings last month.

Dr Leaves presented an overview that clusters the bewildering diversity in contemporary Christianity – now comprising an estimated 39,000 denominations around the world – into a smorgasbord of seven major types, each with its own emphasis and ethos. Boundaries are not clear-cut, however. Some people will find elements that appeal in more than one category.

One readily recognisable cluster holds firm to the doctrine that everlasting death awaits all who disobey God’s laws – but fortunately, Jesus bore the penalty for sin on our behalf, opening the way to eternal life. Shoring up that belief is the conviction that the Bible is inerrant, Jesus is a divine being, and the Virgin birth, Christ’s miracles and his bodily resurrection are factual events, and anyone who disagrees with that is not Christian.

A second category shares those core beliefs, but tinkers with church structures in so-called “fresh expressions”, especially lively, even jazzy, worship designed to appeal to younger people. These churches involve themselves in a range of “outreach” community projects. Televangelists and mega-churches built around a strong personality belong in this group. Many in the churches, however, are uncomfortable with that rigid theology. So a third major cluster retains the traditional church structures but recasts the message to take account of the knowledge explosion of the past 200 years.

Liberal Christians are at home here, as too are the “progressive” churches that have sprung up in most western countries over the past 20 years. Both present a more positive interpretation of what Christianity is all about.
Their biggest departure from a more conservative Christianity is their abandonment of the idea that Jesus died on the cross to bear God’s punishment for sin. American United Church of Christ minister Robin Meyers is among those who see Jesus primarily as a teacher, abandon metaphysical speculation, and promote Christianity as a way of being rather than a belief system. Faith is re-oriented towards a search for meaning. Churches in this group are affirmative of women, inclusive of minorities and strong on social justice.

Those categories would all call themselves “Christian”. Others venture beyond Christianity, or reject it entirely.
One centres on world religions considered as a whole. It sees each of them as a valid pathway to the sacred, but none as the only way. The universe of faith experience is wider than any one tradition.

Dr Leaves commented: “Here God is greater than all ‘gods’, and religions merely point to the existence of something greater than themselves.” A fifth group elevates spiritual experience above creeds and institutions, as reflected in the common phrase “I’m not religious, but I am spiritual.” This has produced myriad small groups, each with its own focus, expression, and label. Dr Leaves also places here those Christians who reverse the traditional pattern of believing, then behaving accordingly, then choosing to belong to a church, to a spiritual sequence of belonging to a community, behaving accordingly, and finally coming to faith. The goal is “a mystic unity with all that is”.

On the opposite side of the ledger, a modern brand of atheist attacks all of the above, insisting that science alone has the answers to the mysteries of life and can even determine human values. That makes of their atheism a total mode of the interpreting and living of life – which, of course, is one definition of religion.

The seventh category merges two other emphases as people try to find a niche for themselves within the modern Christian experience: they strip away all supernatural underpinning, and promote a secular version of Christianity.
That means they abandon any concept of an all-powerful, all-knowing God actually existing “out there”, in favour of a non-realist idea of God as a guiding spiritual ideal. And they promote making the Kingdom of God real in the here and now – with or without the church. In short, “an ethical humanitarianism”.

Not all of these clusters are mutually exclusive. People may well see merit in more than one. That, too, is a feature of modern religion.

Western armies know they are not answerable to any overseer

YASMIN ALIBHAI BROWN                  Independent/UK                 10 November 2013

So now we know that Marine A shouted at a wounded Afghan insurgent: “Shuffle off this mortal coil”, and then shot him in the chest. Poetry and savagery.  Fellow soldiers B and C were co-conspirators. C offered to “shoot him in the head”. No, said A. “Too obvious.” B recorded the murder with his head camera. The film was censored by the military court, but an audio recording was allowed. Marine A called on comrade loyalty. “Obviously this doesn’t go anywhere, fellas.. I’ve just broken the Geneva Convention” – an unusual moment of panic. Usually Western soldiers out East break international conventions with impunity. On Friday, Marine A was found guilty of murdering a wounded prisoner, a verdict which shows there is still some honour left in the armed forces.

The top brass knows such base acts are exploited by recruiters to terrorism. Lord Guthrie, former army Chief of Staff, wants Marine A severely punished. It’s a good call, but still propaganda. The truth is that Western armies and governments know they are not answerable to any overseer. They do what they damn well please. Always have. That egoism and exceptionalism has become more entrenched since 9/11 and the nebulous “war on terror”. Civilians have been raped, tortured and murdered by Western allies in Iraq and Afghanistan. We don’t even have numbers for them, let alone names. Facts and redress are routinely denied.

Last week I attended a screening of a film about drone attacks on areas of Pakistan. You can watch it for free on American director Robert Greenwald simply told the story of civilian victims of drones – innocents and their families who can’t understand why they must bleed, break and perish. Obama and our governing classes falsely claim that only really bad men with black beards are blasted away. Even bearded bad men are entitled to due process, and anyway, for every one of them, nine civilians die, according to the Brookings Institution). Nine-year-old Nabila ur-Rehman, from Waziristan, wounded with her siblings, and whose grandmother was killed, went to the US Congress to ask why. She is as brave as Malala but gets no tributes, no UN speeches, no fulsome praise.

Last week, Israel’s special world status was confirmed. Again. Tentative talks opened up between the most powerful global nations and Iran on Iranian nuclear capabilities. Up jumped Netanyahu objecting vigorously. Iran, he said was secretive, untrustworthy. And Israel? Open about its arsenal, is it? And really means what it says? Never. But rules of conduct and weapons control can’t apply to that protected satellite of the West. And as I write, apartments belonging to Palestinians are being demolished in Jerusalem. Hardly anyone knows or raises a protest.  The UN is controlled by the Security Council, which is in turn mostly controlled by the US, France and the UK. While lesser nations are bossed about and ordered to obey democratic principles and international laws, the Western bloc jackboot those principles and disregard the laws.

The International Criminal Court only drags in Africans and ex-Commies.  The US, UK and other friendly nations in the same club are guilty of presenting false prospectuses for war – guilty of torture, rendition, state terrorism, of killing civilians and of inciting civil wars in resource-rich nations. They exercise proxy control through dictators. They build up arms enough to end the world. They spy on millions, destabilising entire regions and then turning them into markets for the weapons industry. They are accountable only to themselves. Whatever they do is right because they do it, and none of it is open to interrogation.

These privileges were once accepted as inevitable. But not any more. No doubt some real and wannabe terrorists are motivated by a hatred of Western values. I have met a few in my time – hypocritical, hateful men and women who live freely in Europe yet attack those very freedoms. But many more are enraged by the grossly unfair geopolitical set-up. They burn with a sense of injustice and frustration. They don’t believe a spot on Newsnight will deliver a fairer deal. For them, the only way out of the hegemonic throttle is a worldwide guerrilla war. Our leaders won’t accept that. So be afraid. Be very afraid. I am.        [Abbrev.]

Republicans Make the Poor Pay to Balance the Budget

The impetus to cut food stamps is ideological not fiscal, and low-wages mean work provides no guarantee against hunger
by Gary Younge                Guardian/UK                     November 4, 2013

During a discussion at the University of Michigan in 2010, the billionaire vice-chairman ofWarren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway firm, Charles Munger, was asked whether the government should have bailed out homeowners rather than banks.  "There's danger in just shovelling out money to people who say, 'My life is a little harder than it used to be.' At a certain place you've got to say to the people, 'Suck it in and cope, buddy.”

 It turns out that moral hazard – the notion that those who know the costs of their failure will be borne by others will become increasingly reckless – only applies to the working poor.  "You should thank God" for bank bailouts, Munger told his audience. "Now, if you talk about bailouts for everybody else, there comes a place where if you just start bailing out all the individuals instead of telling them to adapt, the culture dies." In the five years since the financial crisis took hold, people have been sucking it in by the lungful and discovering how pitiful a coping strategy that is. In Michigan, where Munger spoke, black male life expectancy is lower than male life expectancy in Uzbekistan; in Detroit, the closest big city, black infant mortality is on a par with Syria (before the war).

As such, the crisis accelerated an already heinous trend of growing inequalities. Over a period of 18 years, America's white working class – particularly women – have started dying younger. This particular crisis, however, has also accentuated the contradictions between the claims long made for neoliberalism and the system's ability to deliver on them. The "culture" of capitalism, to which Munger referred, did not die but thrived precisely because it was not forced to adapt, while working people – who kept it afloat through their taxes and now through cuts in public spending – struggle to survive. This reality is neither new nor specific to the US. "Over the past 30 years the workers' take from the pie has shrunk across the globe," explains an editorial in the latest Economist. "The scale and breadth of this squeeze are striking … When growth is sluggish … workers are getting a smaller morsel of a smaller slice of a slow-growing pie."

A few days before the bailout was passed, quoted Lenin in these pages. He once argued: "The capitalists can always buy themselves out of any crises, as long as they make the workers pay." What has been striking, particularly recently, has been the brazen and callous nature in which these payments have been extorted.
Last Friday, 47 million Americans had their food stamp benefits cut. These provide assistance to those who lack sufficient money to feed themselves and their families. Individuals lose $11 (£7) a month while a family of four will lose $36. That will save the public purse precious little – bombing Syria would have been far more costly – but will mean a great deal to those affected.

The impetus behind these cuts are not fiscal but ideological. Republicans, in particular, claim the poor have it too easy.  The notion that food "drains the will" while hunger motivates the ambitious would have more currency – not much, but more – if the right wasn't simultaneously doing its utmost to drive down wages to a level where work provides no guarantee against hunger. Gordon Lafer, an associate professor at the University of Oregon, revealed the degree to which conservatives have been driving down wages, benefits and protections at a local level after their victory at the 2010 midterms. He writes: "Four states passed laws restricting the minimum wage, four lifted restrictions on child labour, and 16 imposed new limits on benefits for the unemployed. With the support of the corporate lobbies, states also passed laws stripping workers of overtime rights, repealing or restricting rights to sick leave, and making it harder to sue one's employer for race or sex discrimination."

That's why 40% of households on food stamps have at least one person working. And the states most aggressive in pursuing these policies, Lafer points out, had some of the smallest budget deficits in the country. Immediately after Obama's election in 2008, his chief of staff to be, Rahm Emmanuel, said: "You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before." The crisis didn't go to waste. But it is the right that has seized the opportunity. Balancing the budget on the bellies of the hungry, it is also fattening the coffers of the wealthy on the backs of the poor.
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2013         [Abridged]
Gary Younge is a Guardian columnist and feature writer based in the US

Monday, 4 November 2013

It started as a split over gay clergy

But now the Anglican Communion is dead

Andrew Brown’s blog           Guardian/UK                 30 October, 2013

While yet another evangelical rebellion over gay clergy was gaining zero publicity, a more significant schism has occurred.  What, you gave a schism and nobody came? When six people hold a press briefing and three journalists attend, you know the story is over, and on Tuesday morning that is what happened when the evangelical wing of the Church of England announced – yet again – its plans to rebel against any open accommodation with gay people.

There were two retired bishops. There were three vicars and one of their wives. They talked to three journalists for an hour about their experiences at a conference of conservative Anglicans, called Gafcon, which met in Nairobi last week. This was set up as a protest against the reluctance of the official Anglican Communion to expel the Americans (who pay for it) as a punishment for their enthusiasm for openly gay clergy.
Once upon a time, this would have been a story. We heard threats to withhold money from the central bodies of the Church of England, threats to ignore the authority of other bishops, threats of defections to their grouping from the mainstream of opinion here. All these things will no doubt happen, as they have been happening in a small way for the past 20 years. What's new is that no one any longer cares. The split has happened, and it turns out not to matter at all.
This is in part because the movement of public opinion on sexuality has completely overwhelmed that of church politicians. Congregations by and large have moved on, too. They are part of the public, too. But until very recently the conservative evangelicals in the Church of England lived in a bubble of self-importance, whose boundaries were respected by Rowan Williams. And from within the bubble, the outside world could not be clearly seen. Only, the fight about gay marriage made it apparent to the main body of the church – and to Justin Welby – that their attitudes were repulsive and immoral to the majority of people in this country.
The conservatives still don't really see this. To them, anyone who disagrees with them is wrong about God. They dress up their lack of influence here in wonderful titles from abroad – the two retired bishops were respectively "an adviser to the Primates' Council" and the other – I love this – was representing "The Anglican Mission in England", which is an organisation founded in Rwanda.
They feel they are part of the global, "orthodox" mainstream of Christianity. But almost the only decisive act of Rowan Williams' time in office was the rejection, by a clear majority of committed churchgoers, of his "covenant" – a plan to bind the Church of England into the structures of the rest of the Anglican Communion. No one here wants to be told what to do by the Church of Nigeria, however many Anglicans there are there and however sincerely they seem to hate gay people.
Welby understands this very well, though I think it came as a shock to him. He turned up before the Gafcon meeting in Nairobi and praised the courage of the Christians there. But he did not tell them they were right, and he was not officially present for the gathering. Instead, he went to Iceland, to talk about credit unions.

So what we learned yesterday, which was news, was that the Anglican Communion is now quite dead. There will not be another Lambeth Conference. The next act of the schism will be played out in this country, but we still don't know whether anyone will care.

In the Name of Love and Nonviolence

Let Us Strive to Heal Syria
An open letter to the American people from Nobel Peace Laureate
Published by Common  Dreams                            November 1, 2013
My dear friends,
As a teenager living in Belfast, I admired the American Peace Movement and many prominent figures within it. Fifty years later, two of the most inspiring people still remembered across the world are Americans: Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day.
American peace activists and civil rights workers were imprisoned, some killed. But a generation spoke and sang about love.
Like Mahatma Gandhi in India, the Berrigan Brothers in the Peace Movement and the American Civil Rights Movement show us that the path to freedom and equality is a peaceful one. This journey of transformation in the pursuit of peace and justice is a constant challenge to the entrenched powers which thrive on hatred and war; acting as a constant challenge to blind prejudice and the lies that are necessary for war.
In making this journey of love we must always acknowledge that those we regard as enemies are fellow human beings and we are called to love them . If we don’t, when do the killing fields stop?
I first came to you from Northern Ireland to speak to you about what was happening in my country. I was met with great kindness in America. Now I write to you to about Syria.
We must not allow a war to go on for decades, as many did in regards to Ireland. We must have the foresight to stand up for peace, nonviolence and reconciliation now, before the suffering is entrenched and before prejudices and lies seep deeply into the consciousness of a new generation, acting as seeds for more and yet more war.
I write to you to ask your help for the people of Syria. All the people of Syria deserve your attention. Like you, they want the opportunity to live, love and labour in support of their children’s dreams. With your efforts we can make it a bright future in a peaceful and prosperous country where love will conquer all.
The people of Syria are a diverse people, a courageous and generous people with a proud history of tolerance. Over many centuries, their country has welcomed millions of disparate people seeking refuge just as the United States has done.
I visited Syria in May 2013. Despite the on-going violence, I found it to be a land of hope. I met tribal and religious leaders, political dissidents and grieving parents and widows. In Syria, there are millions of ordinary folk risking their lives for a peaceful, reconciled and united Syria they can all love.
Mother Agnes Mariam, one of the leaders of the Mussalaha (reconciliation) Movement in Syria, is on a speaking tour of America this November. Mother Agnes Mariam has sat at a table with the prime minister of Syria has and has eaten olives with a rebel leader. And recently she risked her life to negotiate the safe passage of thousands of civilians and of many fighters from a conflict zone.
Your heroes, the heroes we all uphold, show us bridges of nonviolence and peace must be built between people. War stems from hatred and lies. Peace requires courage, wisdom, and love. And foresight.
Mother Agnes is bringing to America a universal message your country knows well. She presents it through the story of Syria. I encourage you to hear the story of Syria.
Mairead Maguire