July 31, 2005

Human Rights in Haiti

This morning I happened to check the blog of a good friend, and this is what I read:

I was supposed to begin a two-week visit to the Province of Haiti today, but, citing “the social and political situation of the country,” Brother Joseph Alexandre and the provincial council decided, in prudence, to cancel my visit. An article from Reuters news service last month provides the background for their decision: “A surge of kidnappings for ransom blamed on slum gangs, police officers and bank tellers is terrorizing Haitians and adding to the woes of a nation grappling with political upheaval and desperate poverty.”

In his letter, Brother Joseph, provincial, asked for our prayers during these distressing times. I relay his request to you along with a link to an informative recent report synthesizing what is at issue in Haiti . I urge you to read it and to pass it on to other brothers out of solidarity with our brothers and with the crucified Haitian people.

The blogger is Brother Bernard Couvillion, S.C., Superior General of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart. His order runs the high school I attended (as well as many other schools all over the world), and Bernie and I have been friends for over 40 years since we met in school. The link to his blog is this: click here.

I didn't know much about Haiti until I read the link in Bernie's blog, and what I learned from reading it is appalling. I haven't heard or read anything in the media about Haiti in months, and that is appalling, too. I think it's time for Americans and others around the world to raise our consciousness about Haiti and to follow through on the pledges we've made.

July 30, 2005

Get Off Their Backs

I've noticed a new thing going on in the blogosphere lately, and this new thing has been a full out attack -- by Democrats, mind you -- upon the Democratic Leadership Council. It seems that some Democrats are ready to place the blame for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the energy bill, and the general decline of the Democratic Party squarely upon the shoulders of the Democratic Leadership Council. And what's presented as the alternative to the DLC? The Democratic National Committee, headed by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. Frankly, I just don't think it's that simplistic.

First, I don't see any reason to blame the DLC as a whole for either CAFTA or the energy bill, even if some of the representatives and senators who voted for the bill happen to be involved in the DLC. Guess what? They're all involved in the Democratic National Committee, so are we willing to say that this is a failure of the DNC just as much as it's a failure of the DLC? Rather than trying to pin this on a certain organizational group of Democrats, we need to realize that CAFTA and the flawed energy bill are failures for the entire Democratic Party -- those on the far left, those squarely in the middle, and even archconservatives like former Sen. Zell Miller. And these are not just failures for the Democratic Party, but failures for America. And the blame for this belongs to all Democrats, not just the fifteen in the House who voted for CAFTA, or the many Democrats who voted for the energy bill.

But is the Democratic Leadership Council responsible for the general decline of the Democratic Party? Again, I think that's far too simplistic. I think we're trying to pawn the blame off on someone else, and a large group of moderate Democrats seem like a good target to those of us who are pretty comfortable on the far left. But the fact of the matter is this: the decline of the Democratic Party is occurring because the party has lost focus. We don't know what our values really are anymore, we can't articulate our values to the voters, and therefore we don't win elections because the voters don't know what we stand for. This is what we learned, above all, from Sen. John Kerry's failure to win the White House in 2004. A man (or woman) who doesn't stand for something besides the latest poll numbers isn't going to win an election. Why we didn't know this before, I don't know, but we need to learn and accept it now after Kerry's crushing failure.

We do need to stand for something; we can't just attack President Bush and expect to win based on that. That's essentially what the Democratic Leadership Council is saying, and I don't see how anyone can possibly disagree with such a basic statement. The one thing that Sen. Kerry did well was attack the Bush administration, and we saw very clearly that it wasn't enough to win the White House. And it's not going to be enough to win back Congress in 2006, nor is it going to be enough to win the White House in 2008. We have to stand for something, while also reminding the American people that they can do better than they've done under the Bush administration and the Republican Congress, and that in fact they have done better.

And that's where I think the Democratic Leadership Council comes in. We're ready to cast them aside, but let's remember that former President Bill Clinton believes in them, and he was the last Democrat to actually win the White House. It seems that the left wants to listen to Gov. Dean and others on the far left who seem to be speaking for the Democratic National Committee, and that's fine -- they have something to say, we should listen, and then we should discuss it. But let's remember that Gov. Dean couldn't even win the presidential primaries for 2004, let alone the general election. Meanwhile, we have both of the Clintons (AKA, successful politicians) involved in the Democratic Leadership Council, along with a number of respected (and successful!) politicians in the Senate, the House, and throughout the state governments. Yes, let's listen to Gov. Dean -- but let's not listen only to Gov. Dean, while ignoring the politicians who can actually get elected outside the state of Vermont. Are we really willing to follow Gov. Dean into the Democratic Party's destruction? Because that's what's going to happen if we listen only to Gov. Dean, and don't listen to the group which is represented by, among others, the last Democrat to win the White House.

It's true that the Democratic Party has problems right now. The fifteen Democrats who voted for CAFTA in the House, the many Democrats who voted for the energy bill, the three Democratic senators who voted for cloture on the Bolton nomination -- these are all personifications of the Democratic problem, and the Democratic problem is a loss of focus. In order to get our focus back, we need to dialogue with one another, not bicker with one another. The Democratic Leadership Council is an important participant in this dialogue, as is the Democratic National Committee. The latter currently represents the far left (we can argue about it all day, but it's true), whereas the former currently represents the moderate elements within the party. All of these voices are important, and all of these voices must be heard and acted upon, if we ever hope to win another election. Alienating any of these voices is political suicide for Democrats; we already committed political suicide in 2004, let's not do it again.

(Cross-posted to Quo Vadis).

Terrorism in all its forms

The Vatican is in a bit of a diplomatic flap with Israel at the moment. According to Zenit.org, after praying the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Benedict added a special prayer for those countries who had recently experienced terrorist attacks including "Egypt, Turkey, Iraq and Great Britain." The next day, the Israeli Foreign Ministry summoned the apostolic nuncio and demanded to know why an attack on the town of Netanya two weeks earlier was not mentioned in the prayer. "The Vatican's failure to condemn the latest attack cries to the heavens," they said. "...It can possibly be interpreted as, in effect, giving a stamp of approval to acts of terrorism committed against Jews."

Then on Tuesday, Nimrod Barkan, an Israeli foreign ministry official, told the Jerusalem Post that it had been Vatican policy not to condemn terrorist attacks against Israel, and while they protested quietly during John Paul's pontificate, they've decided that since there is a new pope, they were going to be a bit more vocal.

Um, not exactly so, responded the Vatican Friday. "John Paul II's declarations condemning all forms of terrorism, and condemning single acts of terrorism committed against Israel, were numerous and public." And to prove their point, they attached a list of 20 different occasions in which John Paul denounced terrorism in the Holy Land, from the beginning of his pontificate to just a few weeks before his death.

The Vatican acknowledged that it hasn't issued a denunciation after each and every attack.

"There are various reasons for this, among them the fact that attacks against Israel were sometimes followed by immediate Israeli reactions not always compatible with the norms of international law. It would, consequently, have been impossible to condemn the former and remain silent on the latter."

In another words, you want us to condemn Palestinian terrorism? Well, then we'd also have to condemn Israeli actions that would be considered state terrorism, and do you really want us continually pointing out how many children are dying as a result of Israeli military actions or settler violence? (According to Defence for Children International, 676 Palestinian children have died in the last four years while 9,000 children have been injured. Remember these Children notes that same number, as well as the 122 Israeli children who have died in the same period.)

The Guardian explained the Israeli strategy a bit more bluntly.

Israel has repeatedly demanded that other governments recognise Palestinian attacks as part of an international Islamist campaign against western democracy, therefore implicitly not connected to its own actions in the occupied territories.

Targeting civilians is wrong, regardless of who is doing it. Whether you're Hamas, the IDF, the IRA (which has recently announced it's ending armed struggle) or the US military. Something this pope, as well as the last one, have always been very clear about.

July 29, 2005

Those pro-family French

A nice, if a bit short, piece by Paul Krugman in the New York Times today about how the French economy supports the institution of the family better than the American economy. While France has a lower G.D.P per person than the United States (though G.D.P. per hour worked is actually higher) leaving the middle class with less disposable income, the French spend far more time with their families, have better schools over all, and, of course, have excellent health care available to all (indeed, it's health care system is ranked as the best in the world by the World Health Organization).

American conservatives despise European welfare states like France. Yet many of them stress the importance of "family values." And whatever else you may say about French economic policies, they seem extremely supportive of the family as an institution. Senator Rick Santorum, are you reading this?

Or Pope Benedict?

I'd love to see the Holy Father put the same pressure on US lawmakers regarding economic justice for American families as he does regarding abortion and gay marriage.

July 28, 2005

Struggling Against Extremism?

In an effort to reframe the global conflict that we've contributed to since the September 11 attack, the White House (allegedly with the guidance of former Bush campaign advisor Karen Hughes) has renamed the global war on terror. Yes, folks, we are now engaged in the "global struggle against extremism."

This new language bothers me for a couple of reasons. I'm bothered by the decision to replace the word war with struggle, and I'm equally (if not moreso) bothered by the decision to replace the word terror with extremism. To be sure, these are very calculated moves by the White House, which -- contrary to what they might say -- cannot possibly be designed to improve our diplomatic efforts with largely Muslim nations, but must be designed to persuade the American people that what we've been participating in since 2001 is actually something quite different from what we previously thought.

First, I'm concerned with the word war being replaced by the word struggle. Obviously, there are vastly different meanings implied here. A war implies an armed conflict, an active or vigorous conflict, which involves the injury and death of people on both sides. Meanwhile, a struggle implies proceeding with difficulty or great effort against an opposing force, which, while possibly being similar in nature to a war, nevertheless implies a different connotation in the minds of those who are observing the change in terminology. Isn't it appropriate for us to wonder if the administration hasn't changed this terminology in an effort to obscure the fact that this "struggle" is killing people on both sides -- our own troops, in addition to insurgents and innocent civilians in both Afghanistan and especially Iraq? And yet as we saw vividly portrayed last night in the new TV show Over There, this "struggle" is indeed injuring and killing many. If this terminology will serve to decrease American awareness of the human cost involved in this war, and if it will make Americans turn an apathetic blind eye, then it must be spurned.

I'm also very concerned about replacing the word terror with extremism. Whereas terror and terrorism imply behavior, the term extremism implies belief. The problem with this, of course, is that people will increasingly begin to see this war as a war against Islam, instead of seeing it as a war against the Muslim terrorist minority. I've begun to see this happening more and more among conservative news commentators. For instance, I watch The Situation with Tucker Carlson on MSNBC on a regular basis, and despite Rachel Maddow's insistence that there are moderate Muslims who are condemning terrorism, not to mention the fact that she also provides examples, Tucker Carlson (and occasional commentator Monica Crowley) will hear nothing of it.

In truth, though, Mr. Carlson and Ms. Crowley are moderates compared to commentators like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, who imply even more strongly that this war is, in a very real sense, a war against Islam. My concern is that changing the terminology so that the war is seen as being against belief instead of behavior will contribute to this sentiment among mainstream Americans, which will increase hate crimes against Muslims in this country and abroad. It will also take our focus off of the real problem, which is international terrorism, not Islam. This is not to say that there isn't a struggle going on against Muslim extremism; but this struggle, like all ideological struggles, must be fought from within and not from without. While moderate Muslims like those in Britain and North America condemn terrorists in the strongest language, including by issuing fatwas (similar to excommunications), we should support them in that effort instead of ignoring their statements or playing them down. Meanwhile, we should remember that no society is immune to extremism, and we should continue to purge extremism from our own society -- especially the extremism propagated by those on the Christian Right who are ready to portray this war on terror as a holy war between Christians and Muslims. Such a portrayal is unacceptable, and it's time for us as Americans (and Christians) to own our own extremism and seek to aggressively repudiate it.

Almost four years into the war on terror, is it really wise to seek to reframe this conflict in language that obscures the horror of war while also contributing to anti-Muslim sentiment among the American populace? I don't think that it is. I think it would be far wiser to continue to call this conflict precisely what it is: a war on terror, and a war against terrorists specifically. In this war, Islam and those who believe so strongly in it can be our allies, or we can make them our enemies as well. If we choose the latter course, we shouldn't be surprised when we lose the "struggle"; a united Christian Europe was barely capable of keeping Muslim invaders from crossing European borders during the unfortunate period of the Crusades. Do we really think that a fractured, secular Western Hemisphere will be able to turn back the tide of a true Muslim holy war if we choose to bring it upon ourselves? It's a question that we must ask ourselves, as we remember the insistence of our Christian leaders (including Pope Benedict XVI) that this is not a holy war, and that such a holy war is not an option.

more easy social action

Visit the Legislative Action Center from our friends at NETWORK, the Catholic Social Justice Lobby in DC started by women religious.

It's too late for CAFTA. But you can help the children of undocumented immigrants to dream the impossible American Dream by asking your congresspersons to support the DREAM bill (which increases their access to higher education). Among other things.

The Legislative Action Center makes it easy - you just put in your zip code and it figures out who your Senator and Representatives are. You can write your own letter or, if you are especially lazy on a hot summer day, use their ready made e-mails.

It's a great resource for political activism rooted in Catholic Social Teaching.

July 27, 2005

Easy social action

Here are two links to do some social justice work from the comfort of your chair in front of your computer:

Save Social Security -- Sojourners, a Christian ministry focused on social justice, has their Call to Action set up so all you have to do is plug in your information and a letter will be sent to your congresspeople telling them that Social Security is "a covenant for the common good."

As someone who gets Social Security disability, I can say that this is important. Really. I don't even want to think of where'd I'd be right now without it.

Tell Wal-Mart Enough is Enough Petition -- a petition set up at the Petition Site which is trying to gather 50,000 signatures to tell Wal-Mart that their warm fuzzy commercials would be a lot more warm and fuzzy if their employees were allowed to unionize, or had affordable health care, or better wages, or better working conditions, or weren't costing state taxpayers millions in welfare benefits for their employees who don't make enough at Wal-Mart, etc.

So, go on. Click, fill in the lines, and know that you've done just a little bit to make the world maybe just a tiny bit better.

Tariq Ramadan

Tariq Ramadan is probably one the most dangerous Muslims in the world.

Or, at least somebody finds an erudite Muslim scholar who actively denounces terrorism to be dangerous enough to revoke, with no reason given, his visa to teach at the University of Notre Dame just two weeks before he and his family were to arrive. Dr. Ramadan is still teaching in Switzerland at the University of Geneva and popped over to London the other day to speak at a conference organized by the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Metropolitan Police. They, at least, don't seem to worry that Ramadan is going to raise up an army of terrorists, despite the recent bombings. And while he was there, he sat for a talk with a writer from the Independent that is worth reading.

One of the points he made that I found interesting is the following:

Too much of the internal conversation within the Muslim community at present nurtures a sense of guilt, inadequacy and alienation. "Young people are told: everything you do is wrong - you don't pray, you drink, you aren't modest, you don't behave. They are told that the only way to be a good Muslim is to live in an Islamic society. Since they can't do that, this magnifies their sense of inadequacy and creates an identity crisis. Such young people are easy prey for someone who comes along and says, 'there is a way to purify yourself'. Some of these figures even keep the young people drinking to increase their sense of guilt and make them easier to manipulate."

The alternative is to teach them to develop a critical mind. "On the arts, literature the way we eat, our sense of humour, the second generation feel close to the non-Muslims they went to school with. That's right. That's the Islamic way. The universality of Islam is shown by the way you can integrate into the local culture. Our young people need to be told, you can dress in European clothes - so long as you respect the principle of modesty. Democracy and pluralism aren't against your Islamic principles. Anything in Western culture that does not contradict the message of Islam can be accepted and integrated."

Ramadan also points out that while his Muslim critics (yeah, he gets it from both sides) complain that he is straying from the literal path of traditional Islam, he is being more faithful by keeping to the spirit of Islam, which is about social justice, not cutting off hands and stoning women.

"It is a path between text and context, which insists that in a changing world our interpretation of faith must also evolve, that there is no faithfulness without change. We need a deep faith, but a critical mind. Being British by culture and Muslim by religion is no contradiction. We need to get out of our intellectual and social ghettos, and be freed from our narrow understanding. To do that is not easy. The easy way is to become an extremist."

Frankly, I think there is a bit for us Catholics living in a postmodern world to chew on there.

July 26, 2005

Who Are You, John Roberts?

There have been a couple of troubling items in the news lately regarding Judge John Roberts, President Bush's nominee to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court. There has also been a more positive item, and I'll be covering that too.

First, we have the brouhaha over whether or not Judge Roberts belonged to the Federalist Society. Several mainstream media outlets, not to mention countless weblogs, had initially reported that Judge Roberts did indeed belong to the Federalist Society -- reports that were met with correction requests by Judge Roberts and the White House, who claimed that he was never a member. And yet the Washington Post obtained a copy of a Federalist Society Lawyers' Division Leadership Directory, 1997-1998, which listed Judge Roberts as a member of the Washington chapter's steering committee. Now the White House says that Judge Roberts has "no recollection" of ever belonging to the Federalist Society. Are we really to believe that Judge Roberts can't remember whether or not he served on a steering committee for the Washington chapter of this organization? I was born in the dark, guys, but it wasn't last night.

Judge Roberts and the White House have good reason to fear exposure of Roberts' membership in the Federalist Society. The Federalist Society is made up of lawyers who embrace an originalist/libertarian judicial philosophy, which is the kind of judicial philosophy that Democrats (and some moderate Republicans) will be searching for during the upcoming confirmation hearings. Democrats and moderate (shall we say, mainstream?) Republicans don't want a justice who embraces an originalist and/or libertarian conservative judicial philosophy, because such a justice would be most likely to overturn Roe v. Wade, Lawrence v. Texas, important civil rights precedents, important environmental precedents, etc., in favor of allowing the states to decide. Of course, there's nothing wrong with states deciding things -- but part of the reason that the courts exist is to prevent the states from creating a tyranny of the majority, which is precisely what the Supreme Court has done in the above-mentioned decisions.

And let's get this straight: This isn't just about Roe v. Wade. The Federalist Society has a distinct and consistent legal philosophy which flies in the face of decades of Supreme Court precedent. In the process of getting Roe v. Wade overturned, even those who are opposed to abortion may find that Judge Roberts will make decisions that they are extremely uncomfortable with. These decisions could affect all Americans' civil rights, especially people of color, in addition to affecting labor rights and environmental protections. This is serious stuff, and the Senate has to get to the bottom of it.

Moving on to the second item: The Los Angeles Times reports that Judge Roberts told Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) that he would recuse himself from cases in which the law requires him to make rulings inconsistent with his Catholic faith. Now, on its face, this sounds good to liberals -- it means that Judge Roberts may recuse himself from cases involving reproductive rights, gay rights, etc. But let's think about this for a minute. First, we have to ask ourselves the question: What would Judge Roberts consider to be a case in which the law requires him to make a ruling inconsistent with his faith? Would it be Roe v. Wade? Maybe not, not if Judge Roberts doesn't think that the law requires him to make a ruling that's inconsistent with Catholicism. In fact, if Judge Roberts is either an originalist or a libertarian conservative, or a combination of the two, he will likely not find support for Roe v. Wade in constitutional law. So this is somewhat deceptive, in that Judge Roberts may never find a schism between his judicial philosophy and his faith.

Taking it to the other extreme, what if Roberts finds inconsistency between what the law requires him to do and what his faith requires him to do quite frequently? The result could be that he will recuse himself from cases ranging from reproductive rights, to religious freedom, to capital punishment, to environmental protections, to private property cases -- all of which the Catholic Church speaks to. Many of these decisions were 5-4 rulings, with Justice O'Connor being the fifth person in favor of the majority ruling. If Judge Roberts recuses himself from a lot of these cases, the end result could be frequent 4-4 tie decisions. A tie on the Supreme Court means that the ruling of the lower court stands, which could make both conservatives and liberals quite unhappy in very many cases, depending upon the make-up of the various courts.

A couple of examples: 1) What if the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals were to once again rule that "under God" in the pledge of allegiance is unconstitutional, this case goes to the Supreme Court, and Judge Roberts recuses himself? The likely result would be a 4-4 tie decision, which would consequently result in the decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals being upheld, which means that "under God" would be effectively ruled unconstitutional by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals without the Supreme Court being able to intervene. This end result would make conservatives very unhappy. 2) On the other hand, what if (for instance) the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals were to rule that so-called "sodomy laws" are constitutional? Judge Roberts could recuse himself, a 4-4 tie decision could come about, and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling that sodomy laws are constitutional would be upheld. This end result would make liberals very unhappy.

While Judge Roberts' pledge to recuse himself may look good taking it at face value, it could be quite a wolf in sheep's clothing -- he may never actually recuse himself, and if he does, it could cause pandemonium on our nation's highest court. Is that really what we want from an appointee to the Supreme Court? I don't think so.

Finally, a bit of good news: Joe Feuerherd of the National Catholic Reporter discusses the kind of activism characteristic of the Roberts household, this time from a rational and nonpartisan perspective. Feuerherd does mention Jane Roberts' involvement with the Feminists for Life, but he also mentions her involvement in the John Carroll Society, a nonpartisan Catholic lawyers' organization in Washington, D.C. She's also a board member of the Jesuit-run Holy Cross College, her alma mater, where a Jesuit colleague describes her as not being of the extremist brand. When it comes to the Feminists for Life, Feuerherd points out that they have always been less focused on overturning Roe v. Wade and more focused on simply pointing out the negative impact abortion has on women who make that choice. During Roberts' involvement with the Feminists for Life, the organization opposed a welfare cap that would have reduced benefits for women with more than two children, fought for child support enforcement, and worked for assistance to college-age women so that they could complete their education and bring their babies to term. Of course, there were also probably numerous legal interventions to restrict or overturn Roe v. Wade, as well, so that aspect cannot be underestimated.

Feuerherd also points out that Jane Roberts was involved in drafting an affidavit supporting an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit against the Kentucky branch of the National Honor Society, which had barred pregnant girls from membership in the organization. So although it is clear that Jane Roberts is against abortion, and it is likely that her husband is likewise against it, their opposition to Roe v. Wade itself continues to be somewhat ambiguous. Every indication I have seen, especially from nonpartisan sources like Feuerherd, has indicated that Judge Roberts is indeed a conservative, but perhaps not the kind of conservative that would be considered an extremist. Again, though, as I've said in the past, we need to know more about him before we can make that kind of judgement.

What seems clear to me is that the Senate Judiciary Committee must be given all the time it needs to question Judge Roberts, and the Bush administration must cooperate fully with the Senate Judiciary Committee, so that the senators can find out on behalf of the American people whom they represent just what Judge Roberts is all about. All of the polls indicate that the American people don't feel they know enough about Judge Roberts, and it's the responsibility of the Senate Judiciary Committee to find out what he's about for the American people prior to consenting to the President's nomination. In particular, Judge Roberts' involvement with the Federalist Society will have to be examined, and his judicial philosophy will have to be articulated both by his candid answers to the senators' questions, and by the full release of all of his documents by the Bush administration. President Bush has done his job by nominating a candidate to replace Justice O'Connor; now he must help the Senate do its job in advising him and consenting to his nomination, by cooperating fully with the Senate Judiciary Committee. I hope and pray that he will do this.

(Hat tip to Joe Cecil, also a contributor here. I got much of the above information from his personal blog, In Today's News. Post it here, Joe, post it here!)

July 23, 2005

Various Announcements

On July 5, I announced that Sollicitudo Rei Socialis would become a new weblog with a monthly format and various departments, and that this new weblog would be called "Joy and Hope." Since that time, we have discussed this change among ourselves and have come to the conclusion, for various reasons, that we will remain as we currently are with a few modifications.

As I mentioned, there were many reasons behind our decision to remain as we are. One of the biggest reasons is that changing to a monthly format would deprive us of the immediacy that's so wonderful about weblogs, which would deprive our readers of coverage which is current and expedient. Another reason is that we asked ourselves the question: What would make us different from Commonweal, the National Catholic Reporter, U.S. Catholic, and other periodicals? One major difference is that we would be devoted entirely to social justice, whereas the others are devoted to a number of different ecclesiastical and social issues. But the two primary differences that we came up with are these: 1) our content would be free; and 2) the other periodicals I've mentioned have greater resources to produce news in a periodical format. As many magazines and other media outlets are making a move toward the weblog format, we decided it doesn't make sense for us to be moving toward the periodical format.

We also came up with a number of other reasons, most of which involved practical considerations. The truth is that "Joy and Hope" just wasn't coming together -- and it's all for the better, because now we know that we should focus our energy on improving Sollicitudo Rei Socialis as it is instead of dramatically changing it.

As you can see, we've already taken steps to do just that. We've defined for our readers just what exactly Sollicitudo Rei Socialis means, and how to pronounce it. We've refined our mission statement so that it more accurately reflects what we're trying to accomplish with Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. We've taken the guest blogger idea from "Joy and Hope" and applied it to Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, hoping to have biweekly guests from diverse faith communities. In fact, we have already tentatively scheduled Chuck Currie, Rabbi Michael Lerner, and Starhawk for the coming months. We have joined the St. Blog's Parish and Reconciling Christian Bloggers webrings. We're also hoping to take steps to improve our public presence on the internet in the coming months, including: continuing to work with the Christian Alliance for Progress; letting the mainstream media know we're here; refining our focus to provide better content; and more.

As with any blog, though, the most important factor in improving public presence is the "word of mouth" factor. In order to make our presence known and felt in the Catholic blogosphere and in the religious/moral values debate, we need you, our readers, to help bring attention to what we're trying to do. Please consider linking to us on your own blogs: if you have a blogroll, add us; if you see a post here that interests you, blog about it. We've also added a trackback feature that will make it easier for us to share information with other bloggers. If you don't have a blog, there are still things you can do to help us improve our public presence. We've added an "e-mail this post" icon to each of our posts, which will make it quick and easy for you to e-mail a post that interests you to friends, family, co-workers, and other acquaintances. If you have a website, think about linking to us. Consider putting a link to our weblog in your e-mail signature; this could also be great if you visit message boards and web forums. If we're going to improve our public presence, it's really our readers who are going to make the difference -- we're counting on you.

As always, if you have any questions or suggestions, you know where to find us: srseditors@gmail.com. We value your advice, because quite frankly, we can't hope to make a difference in the religious/moral values debate without your help and support. Thanks, and God bless!

Links to info on Islam and "jihad"

As this is such a big topic right now, I just wanted to post a link to a great site, Resources for Studying Islam and the Diverse Perspectives of Muslims, from Dr. Alan Godlas at the University of Georgia. He also has a great page that looks specifically at the concept of "jihad." There's even a non-racist quote from Bernard Lewis at the top of the page.

At no point do the basic texts of Islam enjoin terrorism and murder.
At no point do they even consider the random slaughter of uninvolved bystanders.
--Bernard Lewis in "License to Kill" (1998)

Being broken-hearted with God

Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, once wrote in his Bible a simple prayer: "let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God."

My sister is in the midst of knowing what it's like to be broken-hearted with God. She's been working with Little Lights, an Evangelical ministry working with kids in Potomac Gardens, a run down, bullet-ridden housing project just 16 blocks from the White House. During the summer they host Camp Heaven, a day camp for the kids with all kinds of fun activities, like going to Six Flags amusment park, that the kids would probably never get to do if Little Lights wasn't there to do it with them. While in many ways she's sort of a glorified babysitter of a group of 5 and 6 year-old African-American boys, she's loved being with them. They've been her boys. And she's been Miss Tammy to them. Who likes them real much as one boy pointed out to her.

But it's been hard for her to see her boys internalizing the realities of what it means to be black males in America. The boys she worked with last year are, at seven years old, already accepting that they are going to grow up to be worthless. Even the little boy who was preaching to his fellow kindegartners back in December. And often the whiteys who come in to help for the summer look at it as their time to do charity and then go back to their comfortable white life and say that they know what it's like in the inner city because they worked there. Even though they still think that it's dangerous for a white person to be out by themselves, when, as Tammy often points out, Black people know better than to hurt a white person. Indeed, she will point out that 97% of black violence is to other blacks.

Her frustration with the situation was achingly demonstrated the other day when they took the kids to see a movie. For some reason that she was not privy to, all of the kids had lost their snack privileges that day because of some transgression that her boys were not involved in. The volunteers have all been told that they are not to buy their kids anything unless they are prepared to buy everyone the same thing. As they sat in their movie seats, Tammy noticed that someone had bought candy for kids in his group, while her kids sat in their seats without. "Miss Tammy, I'm hungry," they pleaded with her. However, she didn't have the money to buy them snacks (hell, who does at $3 for a box of Milk Duds?). She sat angry and helpless through the movie as her boys sat with empty bellies.

Now, in the big picture, it's a fairly small injustice. But then I thought, isn't that just the way it is in America? Her boys watch TV and see movies where those outside of Potomac Gardens live in nice houses. Have loving families. Jobs. Self-esteem. Lives that don't include a one in three chance of being in prison at some point. They watch people who have a future that is far brighter than theirs. And as Tammy watches them watch this and internalize it, it breaks her heart. Has her calling me in tears each week because just being there and liking them real much isn't enough to save them.

Being broken-hearted with God hurts. A lot.

[Cross-posted at Behind the Surface]

July 22, 2005

Roe No More? Maybe, Maybe Not...

According to Joe Scarborough, it's finally official: Judge John G. Roberts is not opposed to Roe v. Wade. When his show, Scarborough Country, put up a banner that read: "Roberts: Overturn Roe v. Wade," the White House called the show and demanded a retraction. What do you have to say to that, my conservative sisters and brothers? Will you finally face the facts, or shall we continue down De Nial on a crocodile?

Y'know, either way you look at this one, President Bush has clearly misled someone. If Judge Roberts isn't opposed to Roe v. Wade, then President Bush seriously misled his base and, indeed, all of the American people by all but promising during his reelection campaign that he would appoint someone who would overturn Roe when he got the opportunity. On the other hand, if Judge Roberts is opposed to Roe v. Wade, then the White House is right now trying to mislead both the Senate and the American people by trying to obscure his opposition to Roe. Which is it, I wonder? Since lying to the Senate about a judicial nominee is pretty serious business (that pesky "advice and consent" thing, and all), I'm guessing that President Bush lied during his reelection campaign -- especially since the Republicans have a background in lying to their base about judicial nominees.

I'm dumbfounded that more conservatives aren't upset or at least cautious about this. If you ask me, it's the Republicans who should be opposing Judge Roberts' confirmation, not the Democrats. It seems pretty clear to me that it's the Republicans who aren't getting the judicial nominee that President Bush promised them. Am I wrong? That's the beauty of it, isn't it? No one knows, because you can't prove this guy's views one way or the other. But either way, the Bush administration has misled somebody. And just when I was convinced that Bush was an idiot...

Souter in Roberts' Clothing

Let me preface this by saying that I never thought I would be quoting Ann Coulter, here or at any other venue, unless I was going to follow that quote up with a series of disparaging remarks and possibly, for good measure, a few curse words. With that said, here goes:

Stealth nominees have never turned out to be a pleasant surprise for conservatives. Never. Not ever . . .

It means nothing that Roberts wrote briefs arguing for the repeal of Roe v. Wade when he worked for Republican administrations. He was arguing on behalf of his client, the United States of America. Roberts has specifically disassociated himself from those cases . . .

And it makes no difference that conservatives in the White House are assuring us Roberts can be trusted. We got the exact same assurances from officials working for the last president Bush about David Hackett Souter.

I believe their exact words were, "Read our lips; Souter's a reliable conservative."

Now, witness this, everybody. This is likely the only time that Ann Coulter and I will agree on anything. Savor the moment; it may never come again. But I agree with Coulter that we just can't know anything about Judge John G. Roberts, that he is a stealth nominee, and that the track record of Republican stealth nominees -- think Sandra Day O'Connor, David Souter, et al. -- is that they always end up being a giant disappointment for conservatives. And for God's sake, isn't it time to step up to the plate and say they're designed that way? With seven of nine justices on the Supreme Court appointed by Republican Presidents, isn't it time to say once and for all that the Republican political machine does not want to overturn Roe v. Wade?

But here's the catch: Nobody's paying attention. That's why he's a stealth nominee. The interest groups are reacting predictably; liberals are demanding either a down vote or a filibuster, and conservatives are demanding "fair process" and waxing triumphalistic in their sickening glee. And all the while, none of these people are seeing what Ann Coulter and I saw the minute they announced Judge Roberts as the nominee: that this man is not what President Bush promised in his campaign, he is not another Scalia or Thomas, and the Supreme Court will remain balanced and strongly in favor of Roe v. Wade. And I suspect that Ann Coulter stood at her TV or wherever she heard the news, as I did, mouth agape, and said: "Who the hell is John Roberts?" And that will be the question everyone is asking until the Senate confirmation hearings conclude, and probably afterward.

It's time to face the facts. The Republican Party doesn't want to overturn Roe v. Wade, and that's why we're now seeing Souter-regurgitated as the nominee to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. When Chief Justice Rehnquist inevitably retires, the Republicans will throw their conservative base a bone by appointing Clarence Thomas the Chief Justice and by replacing Rehnquist with a hardline conservative like Judge Janice Rogers Brown, knowing the entire time that this will satisfy the conservative base without changing the actual balance of the court at all. But the fact of the matter is, neither political party really wants to overturn Roe v. Wade.

And why don't the Republicans want to overturn Roe v. Wade? It's not hard to figure out.

First, over half of the American people -- i.e., those people who elect them -- don't want Roe overturned. Actually overturning it could have political ramifications that would devastate the Republican Party for decades to come.

Second, actually overturning Roe v. Wade would deprive the Republican Party of a major hot button issue that serves to rally their conservative base. They would no longer be able to say that they're going to overturn Roe, it would be done, and a lot of the conservative voters who run to the polls because of Roe would sit at home on election day.

Third, no reasonable justice is going to overturn the strong precedents set by Roe v. Wade, Doe v. Bolton, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and other related cases -- which leaves only one alternative: an unreasonable justice who would have to radically reinterpret the Constitution with his radical view of "original intent," and that's not a justice that the Republicans actually want, it's just a justice that they talk about a lot.

Fourth, and finally, the Republican Party simply doesn't want Roe v. Wade gone. Come on -- with the abortion rate as high as it is, do you think liberals are the only ones getting abortions?

It's a masquerade, folks! And it's one the Republicans have been pulling off very well. But consider this: after more than thirty years and no legal successes against abortion whatsoever, why hasn't the Republican Party tried to amend the Constitution to prohibit abortion? They're willing to amend it to prohibit gay marriage -- why not abortion, which they claim is killing millions of innocent human beings? Because they don't want criminalized abortion! It's the only logical conclusion. If they're saying they want abortion to be illegal, but if they're not doing anything to make it illegal and they're not appointing justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, then they're saying one thing and doing quite another. In other words, they're lying! I know that must be a shocker, but it is what it is.

Meanwhile, the Democrats, for all of their faults (which are many), are at least honest about abortion. They want it to be legal. In that, they agree with a majority of Americans. And unlike the Republicans, when the Democrats want something -- typically, they go for it. Witness Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Do you think there's any ambiguity there about abortion? No! Ruth Bader Ginsburg is pro-choice, and she will never overturn Roe v. Wade. We knew that about her long before her confirmation hearings. God bless the Democrats for at least being honest about their position on abortion. But now, after four justices who will not overturn Roe v. Wade, and a fifth with a big question mark over his head -- isn't it time for the Republican electorate to start asking their elected officials why they're not going after what they say they're going to go after, like the Democrats do?

July 21, 2005

No Us or Them

Another scary day in London.

Thankfully, nobody died in these latest attacks. But the Independent had a story about the latest victim to die from the attacks two weeks ago: Ateeque Sharifi, a devout Muslim from Afghanistan. One of the bombs on July 7th went off at Edgware Road, which is in the heart of London's Arab community, another in Aldgate East, the heart of a Muslim community which includes North African and Somali Arabs.

While there are those who want to say these attacks pit Us against the Muslims, it's important to recognize that all of us suffer.

Ask any Iraqi.

Or any Israeli Arab and Jew.

Or any British Arab and Muslim.

The marriage revolution

We are all aware that the institution of marriage, in Europe and North America at least, is in a state of flux. Despite the fact that the Church forbids divorce, marriages are falling apart all around us. My own family is an extreme case. My mother's parents divorced when she was 8. My mother and biological father never married. My mother then went on to marry three times and divorce three times. My biological father has also been thrice married and divorced. And now my 30 year old sister is in the process of getting divorced, a 22 year old sister got a divorce a few years back, and my 29 year old brother has been married and divorced twice.

According to Stephanie Coontz, the author of a new book who was interviewed in AlterNet today, this inability to stay married is not necessarily a sign of moral decay.
One of the signs that this is in fact a huge, irreversible revolution in personal life on the same order as the industrial revolution, is that it doesn't matter what your values are. Everyone is affected by this. Even people who want or think they are in a traditional marriage are not exempt from these changes. So that the divorce rates of evangelical Christians are the same as those of agnostics and atheists. And in fact, the highest divorce rates in the country are found in the Bible Belt. First of all, the Bible Belt is a more poor area of the country, and poverty is a huge stress on marriage and other relationships. But I also think that there's something in the values of the Bible Belt. People who are extremely traditional, people who believe that sex outside of marriage is immoral, tend to get married early. And in today's world, that is a risk factor for divorce.
While she's talking about Evangelical Christians, who do not have the same restrictions regarding divorce that Catholics have, I know from an anecdotal level that Catholic rates of divorce -- often in the guise of annulments -- are not far behind. Interestingly enough, the state of Massachusetts, which allows gay marriage, has one of the lowest divorce rates.

Though AlterNet suggests that Coontz's look at marriage is a radical one, any family historian could tell you that marriage is not an institution that has been set in stone since Adam and Eve. While the ideal may be that one should leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and what God has joined together let not man tear asunder, marriage has not historically lived up to that ideal. It has been primarily an economic arrangement, which has, in turn, often led to the oppression of women. As Coontz points out, love "had formerly been considered a tremendous threat to marriage," whereas now it is considered vital to its success.

Her point is not to say marriage is bad, but that "the idea that one could make marriage better by trying to shoehorn everyone back into the older forms of marriage" is not going to work. That we need to re-examine the institution of marriage. Figure out what works, what doesn't, and what is healthiest for all, including gays and lesbians.

Which will also put Republicans in the difficult position of deciding which they hold dearer: traditional forms of marriage or laws that hurt the poor. I currently receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) -- Social Security for those who haven't worked enough to get proper Social Security benefits as I became ill with CFIDS as a graduate student in my mid twenties. The way the law stands at this moment, if I were to marry, I would lose my SSI benefits. Which means that the law actually encourages me to live with my boyfriend outside of wedlock, which is exactly what a lot of people on SSI do so that they will still have an income.

Marriage is complicated now. I can't say I know the answers about what to do at this stage in human history when we face challenges as people and as a planet that those before us never faced. But we need to talk about them. You know, have real discussion about it. Not simply reiterate the same old lines that may feel comfortable for those who don't have to deal with the real-life complexities that sexuality and marriage bring but leave those of us who do in a sort of purgatory in this life and maybe even the next.

July 20, 2005

Bunker Busters Are Bad News

The U.S. Bishops Conference has issued an urgent action alert on appropriations for nuclear research. On Thursday, July 21, the Senate Appropriations Committee will vote on S. 1042, the FY06 Defense Appropriations bill. This bill includes funding for the so called "nuclear bunker buster." These earth penetrating nuclear weapons are envisioned for use against chemical and biological weapons or to destroy deeply buried bunkers.

Nuclear weapons in any form are immoral. Catholic Social Teaching is very clear on this.

Applying traditional Catholic teaching that the use of force - even in legitimate self defense - must also distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, the Second Vatican Council condemned any use of nuclear weapons as indiscriminate and therefore immoral.

Pacem in Terris also condemns nuclear weapons and the arms race: "Justice, then, right reason and consideration for human dignity and life urgently demand that the arms race should cease; that the stockpiles which exist in various countries should be reduced equally and simultaneously by the parties concerned; that nuclear weapons should be banned; and finally that all come to an agreement on a fitting program of disarmament, employing mutual and effective controls."

The US Bishops position is that these "new weapons would erode the fragile barrier against nuclear use because they are part of a strategy that contemplates first use of nuclear weapons and their use against non-nuclear threats. Smaller, more "usable" nuclear weapons would not be discriminate or proportionate in any meaningful sense. A recent study on the 'Effects of Nuclear Earth Penetrator and Other Weapons' by the National Research Council concluded that 'the weapons cannot penetrate to depths required for total containment' and would result in 'casualties' that range from 'hundreds' to 'more than a million' people. "

The message is clear. Nuclear weapons are bad. So read the action alert and do something about it.

We are approaching the 60th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9. As Pope John Paul II said on a visit to Hiroshima in 1981: "To remember the past is to commit oneself to the future. To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war. To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace."

We can do more than remember. We can act.

Whose Interests?

It's been less than 24 hours, and already I am so disgusted with both the Right and the Left that I'm ready to throw in the towel over this whole Supreme Court thing. I have received action alerts from NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Priests for Life, Sen. John Kerry, MoveOn.org, the National Right to Life Committee, and a number of others. Even though Judge John G. Roberts said in 2003 that he would respect the precedent of Roe v. Wade, the pro-choice side is absolutely opposed to him and the pro-life side is absolutely in favor of him. What universe is this, where we assume in the face of no evidence that a man is exactly who we think he is?

Does it not occur to either Fr. Frank Pavone or Nancy Keenan that this man said, unambiguously, in a 2003 Senate hearing: "Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land . . . There's nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent"? Does this not at all stop and make them wonder if this man whom they have labeled pro-life merely because he was nominated by President Bush might not actually be pro-choice? It's not beyond the realm of possibility; seven of the nine justices on the Supreme Court were appointed by Republican Presidents, and yet only three of them are opposed to Roe v. Wade.

My favorite so far has been the e-mail from Sen. Kerry. I love reading his hypocritical pontifications:

There are big questions that must be answered involving Judge Roberts' judicial philosophy as demonstrated over his short time on the appellate court. The Senate must learn whether he has a clear, consistent commitment to upholding Constitutional standards like civil rights, the right to privacy, and Roe v. Wade. These issues are in serious question if you take even a cursory glance at his record.

Is Sen. Kerry really going to preach to us about civil rights and the right to privacy? This same Sen. John Kerry, who, rather than defending gay and lesbian men and women in his home state of Massachusetts, betrayed them by opposing the state Democratic Party's inclusion of gay marriage in its platform and by supporting a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage? Is this the one who is going to preach to us now about civil rights and the right to privacy? Give me a break! This is the man who could have stood up and said that gay marriage has been legal in Massachusetts for months now, and it's not hurting anyone -- it's not hurting the "institution of marriage." Instead, he stood up and criticized his own state party for including gay marriage in its platform, and he threw his support behind a fascist attempt to ban same-sex marriage in his state. And he's going to talk to us about civil rights and the right to privacy? I don't think so. Keep it, Sen. Kerry.

Having watched now as the interest groups have gone crazy, and watching now as the senators on both sides of the aisle begin to bend to their every command, I am beginning to wonder: Who is really looking out for our interests? I watched, fascinated, last night as Tucker Carlson interviewed Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, on MSNBC. She could not cite even a little bit of evidence that Judge Roberts is the fascist demon she's making him out to be. Likewise, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, could cite no evidence that Judge Roberts is the champion of all that is holy. And it occurred to me that we don't know what Judge John G. Roberts is really about, and we may never know. Because this isn't about Judge Roberts for anyone in Washington -- this is, as always, about which political party can come out on top. And frankly, it disgusts me, because while they are so busy looking out for their own interests, they've stopped looking out for ours.

God created them

I just finished watching a documentary called "The Dreams of Sparrows." An Iraqi filmmaker, Hayder Daffar, takes his camera crews through Baghdad and Fallujah to see what ordinary Iraqis think about the war and their lives. This is not just a "Bush is evil" film. A number of the people who Daffar interviews love Bush for freeing them from Saddam Hussein, while others loved Hussein because he kept law and order. By the end of the film, after seeing a lot of death and destruction, including the death of someone in his crew, Daffar simply smokes nervously, states that Baghdad is hell and that he really doesn't know anything.

While the point of the film is certainly to make you appreciate the suffering that Iraqis have been and are going through, it never feels like propaganda. Just makes you realize how much crap the Iraqis have had to put up with through the years of Saddam Hussein and now war and the chaos it brings.

There were a few lines I found fascinating. On several occasions where people are living in horrible conditions or are lined up for miles waiting for gas in a country that practically floats in oil, there were calls for George Bush to come and see what they are suffering. "Would Bush do this to his own people?" "Where is Bush? Come let him see our condition. We are getting diseases!" Sigh. I know a lot of us Americans who say the same thing. Or answer with a sad, "yes, he would and does do this to his own people." We don't have tent cities, only because it's illegal for homeless people to camp. And many are getting diseases because they have no health care.

Yet, it was the line of one man that most impressed me. He was in a mental hospital where Hussein would put political prisoners, or where those who had broken under the suffering they had endured at the hands of the Hussein government ended up. One man whose brothers had been killed by Hussein was asked if he hates Hussein (he had recently bitten off the pinky finger of a fellow patient who said he liked Uday Hussein). "No, it's not that I hate him, because God created him."

Who says that Catholic and Islamic social teaching are so different?

[cross-posted at Behind the Surface]

July 19, 2005

The Roberts Nomination

President Bush announced a few minutes ago that he is nominating Judge John G. Roberts, currently sitting on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, to fill the vacancy left on the Supreme Court by the resignation of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. To be honest, I was a bit surprised by this nomination -- I had already prepared press releases for the nomination of either Judge Edith Brown Clement or Judge Edith Hollan Jones. I guess what they say about "the best laid plans" is true.

My attitude toward Judge Roberts, at the moment, is somewhat ambivalent. On the one hand, we know from his history as a political appointee that he seems to be opposed to affirmative action, that he favors restrictions on the Voting Rights Act, and that he does not favor reproductive choice. On the other hand, Judge Roberts was unanimously confirmed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and he was not questioned extensively by the Democratic minority. This implies that while he is conservative -- we could not have expected anything less from President Bush -- he is not quite as conservative as some of President Bush's more controversial appointees, like Judge Janice Rogers Brown and Judge William Pryor. Given Judge Roberts' miniscule paper trail, and given the ambiguous nature of his conservatism, I'm finding it difficult to oppose his nomination at this time.

Put simply, I need to know more. Is he an originalist conservative like Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas? If so, that could be devastating. Is he a "Constitution in Exile" conservative like Judges Brown and Pryor? If so, President Bush can keep it. But is he a traditionalist conservative, like Justice Souter, with respect for judicial precedent? If so, then that's a conservative I can live with. Is he perhaps a bit of a pragmatic conservative, like Justice O'Connor? If so, then this too is a conservative I can live with. The problem in this instance is that he doesn't have a paper trail that one can look at and say, "There you go! He's an originalist" or "Aha! He's a traditionalist." Until I know what his judicial philosophy is, I can't really either support or oppose his nomination to the Supreme Court.

That is, of course, where the confirmation hearings come in. That's why it's so important for both the Republican majority and the Democratic minority to get to ask him questions, and receive his honest answers. It helps them -- and therefore, us -- know what exactly his judicial philosophy is. If he's an originalist, he's probably going to want to overturn Roe v. Wade and other important civil rights precedents, not to mention actual civil rights laws passed by Congress. On the other hand, if he's a traditionalist, we can be confident that rulings like Roe v. Wade and Lawrence v. Texas, and a plethora of others, will probably have his judicial respect even if he doesn't like them personally. This is what we must find out, and that's why he must fully cooperate with the confirmation process. Until that process is underway, I will reserve my judgement.

Update: According to the Associated Press, Judge Roberts' position on reproductive choice is a bit more ambiguous than I thought. As a lawyer for the George H.W. Bush administration, Roberts did help write a brief for a Supreme Court case that said: "We continue to believe that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled." However, during his 2003 confirmation hearing for the D.C. District Court of Appeals, when asked about Roe v. Wade, he replied: "Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land . . . There's nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent." The way he referred to the Roe precedent, combined with Supreme Court historian David Garrow's statement that Roberts is not a conservative in the mold of Scalia or Thomas and that Garrow doesn't "think it moves the court at all," I'm inclined to believe at this early date that Judge Roberts is a traditionalist conservative with respect for judicial precedent rather than an originalist conservative. Hopefully we'll find out more during the confirmation hearings. (Found this tidbit via David Schrader at Catholics in the Public Square).

For more on the different types of judicial conservatism, I recommend a fascinating post by Lynn Sax (Noli Irritare Leones) on conservative judicial philosophies.

A slaughter waiting to happen?

I hadn't yet seen the CNN story Nathan posted below when I read an open letter from three prominent Israeli academics/activists in my inbox this morning. Uri Davis, Ilan Pappe, and Tamar Yaron are circulating a letter warning that they believe a

primary, unstated motive for the determination of the government of the State of Israel to get the Jewish settlers of the Qatif (Katif) settlement block out of the Gaza Strip may be to keep them out of harm's way when the Israeli government and military possibly trigger an intensified mass attack on the approximately one and a half million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, of whom about half are 1948 Palestine refugees.

In the letter, dated July 15th, they acknowledged that they didn't have academic evidence to back up their belief, just that it followed a pattern of Ariel Sharon "utilizing provocation in order to launch massive attacks."

Two days later the CNN story, with pictures of tanks armed with rockets poised at the Gaza border, seems to reinforce their point.

Reading their letter and seeing the CNN story left me cold despite the hot weather here Portland. Reminded me of a grusome day not quite 23 years ago in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Southern Lebanon where Arial Sharon, then the Defence Minister of Israel, ordered Israeli troops to seal all exits to the camps. He then allowed in Lebanese Phalangists - a Maronite (Eastern Rite Catholic) militia - hungry for revenge because their leader, Bashir Gemayel, had been assassinated two days before. They killed everyone in sight. Raped women. Shot babies. The death toll is anywhere from 700 to 3,500. An Israeli inquiry into what happened, the Kahan Commission, held Sharon personally responsible. Human Rights Watch says that what happened in those two camps were war crimes and those who perpetrated them, as well as allowed them, should be brought to justice.

In 2001 a group of survivors brought a case against Sharon and others involved in the massacre to Belgium where their courts grant universal jurisdiction for war crims. The cases are currently in legal limbo, though not dismissed as has been widely reported. And at the moment, Sharon enjoys immunity as Prime Minister of Israel.

A Prime Minister with tanks at the Gaza border and a history of war crimes.

July 17, 2005

Trouble in the Middle East

The Israeli military is preparing for a possible large-scale incursion in Gaza, in response to rockets that have been fired at Israeli settlements in Gaza and towns inside Israel by Palestinian militants. Israel will not launch the offensive in Gaza if the Palestinian Authority prevents further rocket attacks. Please pray that the Palestinian Authority is able to stop further attacks against Israel and its settlements in Gaza, and please pray that the Israeli military will not launch its incursion into Gaza.

July 16, 2005

Clearing the air

“God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” For me, this passage from Genesis is a central concept for stewardship of the environment. The very fact that God created the world and found it ‘very good’ makes it sacred, in my opinion. And who am I to desecrate God’s creation?

I’ve long been amazed at some people’s recalcitrance in acknowledging global warming, or at least acknowledging the effect of pollution in the earth’s atmosphere. Even here in my relatively small Midwestern city, we often have ‘ozone alerts’ in the summer. If we have too many, we lose our Federal highway funding or some such similar thing that is a big deal. So, we’re told to adjust our lives for a while – fill up the cars at night, not during the day; don’t mow during the day; drive less; and so on.

All one has to do, in my opinion, to be convinced of air pollution is to see it from above. I’ve flown above cities in the summer – Atlanta, LA, New York, Cincinnati, Denver, Chicago, and many others – and clearly saw a brownish-gray haze enveloping them. It’s real, and it can’t be argued that it’s harmless.

So, what can we do about it? Well, as a nation we could join the Kyoto Protocol. The US has refused to do this because of the effect it would have on the US economy, and because it thinks there are better ways to go about reducing emissions. Personally, I think that is a foolish approach to take; we ought to join the Kyoto Protocol. But when has politics ever been a rational proposition?

However, individuals can take actions to reduce emissions. This week I found a way I can completely offset the amount of emissions from my SUV and car. I’m going to buy a TerraPass. Here’s how it works: I use the TerraPass calculator to determine how many pounds of carbon dioxide my vehicle emits in a year. Then I purchase a TerraPass decal in an amount that can be invested to offset that carbon dioxide. That money will be invested in things like wind farms, methane capture, and allowances from the Chicago Climate Exchange. So, my vehicles will be carbon-dioxide-neutral for $2.50 per week ($1.54 for my SUV and $0.96 for my car) – that’s just a hair less costly than a gallon of gas. Plus, it’s easy, affordable, and I think, effective.

July 13, 2005

Remembering Srebrenica

Thousands gathered in Srebrenica on Monday to remember the massacre that took place in this Bosnian town 10 years ago while the world looked on and did nothing. An estimated 8,000 unarmed Muslim men and boys were slaughtered in Srebenica in July 1995 … in a "UN Safe Zone" no less.

The bodies of some of those killed in Srebenica have now been properly laid to rest. World leaders who did nothing at the time have admitted their failure and made their apologies, presumably trying to lay to rest their own guilt and shame as well. "Srebrenica was the failure of NATO, of the West, of peacekeeping and of the United Nations," said the former U.S. envoy to the Balkans, Richard Holbrooke. "It was the tragedy that should never be allowed to happen again."

Where have we heard that before? After World War II, the world said "Never Again." But then there was Rwanda. And Bosnia. And now the Darfur region of Sudan. And … what’s next on the list? It can feel overwhelming, reading about these atrocities in the daily paper as we drink our lattes and go about with our daily lives. What can we do about it?

As Catholics, we are called to do something very real and very difficult. We are called into solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the globe. Our tradition of Catholic Social Teaching tells us that we are, all of us, brothers and sisters. Nazi concentration camp survivor, Bosnian villager, Hutu and Tutsi, Sudanese Refugee, and coffee-sipping newspaper reading American alike. We are all God’s children. Pope John Paul II summed up the challenge in Ecclesia in Europa. "A ‘universal’ vision of the common good demands this: we need to broaden our gaze to embrace the needs of the entire human family. The phenomenon of globalization itself calls for openness and sharing, if it is not to be a source of exclusion and marginalization, but rather a basis for solidarity and the sharing of all in the production and exchange of goods."

Perhaps globalization is not a bad thing. In the past the world has said, "Never Again" and moved on with their lives, only to ignore the atrocities happening again in a new part of the globe. But with the effects of globalization, it is becoming harder and harder to turn a blind eye.

We need to broaden our horizons. When we remember Srebrenica, it needs to feel as if it is our own brother who is buried in an unmarked grave. Because in the grand scheme of things, he is our brother. In Christ.

July 12, 2005

Screw Abstinence? An Open Letter

This open letter is in response to NARAL Pro-Choice Washington's scheduled "Screw Abstinence" party this Thursday. It does not necessarily reflect the views held by other contributors to Sollicitudo Rei Socialis.

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Dear Ms. Keenan and Ms. Cooper:

I should preface this letter by telling you a bit about myself. First, I think I should point out that I am pro-choice and that I favor comprehensive sex education. I have also participated in NARAL Pro-Choice America campaigns in the past. This makes me wholly unlike most of your detractors, who look for bad decisions by NARAL in order to pounce upon them with moral outrage. That's not my intention. I should also point out that I am Catholic. As a pro-choice Catholic living in the Midwest, I'm on the front lines of the battle over a woman's right to choose and comprehensive sex education, and I know what helps us in that battle and what doesn't. If I'm being honest with you, I have to say that the recent "Screw Abstinence" party planned by NARAL Pro-Choice Washington is not only counterproductive, but also detrimental, to the fight for comprehensive sex education and a woman's right to choose.

Why is this kind of thing detrimental? As both of you are well aware, there are at least three fronts in the war for reproductive choice: the legal front, the legislative front, and the cultural front. Of the three, it is actually the cultural front that is the most important. The cultural front impacts popular opinion, which in turn impacts legislation and even legal decisions. If the cultural front were to turn strongly in favor of anti-choice activists, popular opinion could even lead to a constitutional amendment banning a woman's right to choose, which would eliminate the legal and legislative fronts altogether. If anti-choice activists win the cultural front, they have won the war; the legal and legislative fronts are entirely subservient to the cultural front. It is there that we must fight our toughest battles, and it is there that planned events like the "Screw Abstinence" party can most impact the nation.

Culturally speaking, "Screw Abstinence" sends the wrong message. Even if what NARAL is really advocating for here is comprehensive sex education, this campaign actually makes it look as if NARAL Pro-Choice America is not only fighting for comprehensive sex education, but also against abstinence education. That simply won't do. Most American parents, regardless of what this or that poll might say, don't want their children having sex before reaching full maturity, and many don't want their children having sex before marriage. Some may favor abstinence-only education, whereas some may favor comprehensive sex education, but even those who favor comprehensive sex education would rather their chidren go with abstinence. Fighting for comprehensive sex education because of the reality in our nation is a good idea; fighting against abstinence education in any form, however, will not fly with most Americans.

The "Screw Abstinence" campaign led by NARAL Pro-Choice Washington strongly implies that we are fighting against any kind of abstinence education. In the end, I fear that this perceived opposition to abstinence education in any form will impact the cultural front in a way that is unfavorable to reproductive choice.

This possible problem could impact the future of reproductive choice in a number of ways. One of the primary ways it could have an impact is in the political sphere of influence. I feel that I must point you to a quote from Catholics in the Public Square, a politically conservative Catholic weblog that enjoys some influence over the political debate within the American Catholic Church:

Will Senators Kerry, Landrieu, Harkin, Cantwell, and Murray denounce this? Will Representatives McCollum, Clay, DeLauro, and Delahunt show some outrage? Each of these legislators received substantial monetary contributions during their campaigns from NARAL. Each of them is Catholic. I suspect all will remain quiet about it. As Catholics I do not know how they can.

Does NARAL Pro-Choice America understand the position it puts its allies in Washington, D.C. and throughout the rest of America's political system in when it makes these ill-advised decisions? Does it care? It should care, because the above-mentioned women and men have been on the front lines opposing senators and representatives who would restrict reproductive choice and ban it outright if they could. By making ill-advised decisions, like the decision to host the "Screw Abstinence" party in Washington state, we put our allies' future political campaigns in jeopardy. We make the alliances they've made with the pro-choice community a liability to them rather than a benefit, which in turn leads them to question whether or not they should continue with these alliances.

These ill-advised decisions also have an impact on grassroots allies. It puts us in the awkward position of having to defend this "Screw Abstinence" party, even if we may not agree with either the activities or the implied views behind the party. It puts allies who would otherwise be spending our time fighting for a woman's right to choose and comprehensive sex education in the position of having to spend time, energy, and money to defend ill-advised decisions made by this organization and other pro-choice organizations.

My recommendation to you, for what it's worth, is to either cancel this event or change the name and the implied meaning behind it. We need to be spending our time working for comprehensive sex education, not against abstinence education. Truly comprehensive sex education should include education about all of the options, including birth control, and including abstinence. We are not going to win this war on the cultural front if we ignore the tide of popular opinion, which is overwhelmingly in favor of abstinence, even if it is not overwhelmingly in favor of abstinence-only education.

I hope you'll give serious consideration to what I've said.

Nathan Nelson
Editor-in-Chief, Joy and Hope
Contributor, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis


Everyone please give a warm welcome to Susan Rose from Musings of a Discerning Woman, who will be filling one of the vacancies left by Brian Keaney's and Tim Huegerich's resignations. Susan has agreed to join us as a contributor to Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, and she has also agreed to join us when we make the switch to our new Joy and Hope format in September.

Welcome, Susan!

July 11, 2005

The Evolution Revolution

I have a post up on the Christian Alliance for Progress Community Forum, discussing Cardinal Christoph Schonborn's recent op-ed article in the New York Times, which seemed to redefine the Church's teaching on evolution. Check it out!

Reading the Guardian in a dangerous world

My boyfriend is a Guardian junkie. Reading it is the first thing he does in the morning and the last thing he does before going to bed (well, actually smoking is the last thing he does, right after reading the Guardian), as well as several times throughout the day. Not having an Internet connection this week has sent him into withdrawls made all the more painful with the bombings in London. It meant he was stuck watching, God forbid!, NBC and PBS. And as he watched Tony Blair give one of his weakest speeches to date, he expressed nothing but contempt. "If we weren't in Iraq, we wouldn't be in this mess."

Though originally from Manchester, he lived much of his adult life in London working as a journalist. He, like his fellow Brits, is used to terrorism. The IRA destroyed the city center of his hometown in 1996, as well as set off a huge bomb in Canary Wharf, knocking my boyfriend from his couch where he lived a half a mile away. As he's shared memories about IRA attacks, he's shrugged and said that you just learn to live with it.

Yes, these latest attacks in London represented the single greatest loss of life since World War II. And unlike the IRA, these terrorists did not give any warning ahead of time of their impending attack. They were horrible, no question about it. But are they any different than what the people of Iraq have been living with, day in and day out for over two years now? I cannot justify the actions of those who carried out these bombings -- they are heinous, to be sure. But I can't help but think of what my boyfriend shared with me about the reaction that he and a lot of his friends in Britain felt about September 11th. While they felt sad for the horrific loss of life, they also couldn't help but feel that now Americans knew what the rest of the world has been living with all along.

Brits returning to work the day after the attacks had nothing to do with their "stiff upper lip," but about living life they way they always have. Like much of the world has. Without color-coded terror warnings or shoeless lines at airport security.

And, of course, everytime there is a terrorist attack, our first response is to blame "Islamic fundamentalism." Yet, perhaps our penchant for blaming Muslims has as much to do with our own guilt as it does with those who carried out the attacks. A defensiveness arising from knowing that our actions towards Muslims over the centuries has quite often lacked Christian charity. I cannot say that Muslims are the "good guys" and us the bad, but frankly, it's not for me to look at the speck in my Muslim brother's eye without examining the plank in mine.

So, now I've developed my own habit of a daily Guardian reading. And the other day they published an excellent op/ed piece by Karen Armstrong, an academic who has managed to write about religion for a mass audience, including Islam. Her argument was that we never called IRA terrorism "Catholic" terrorism, so why do we call it "Islamic" terrorism when Osama Bin Laden strikes? While many ask "why would someone do this?" and Blair blathers on about them attacking "our way of life" (whatever that is), Armstrong explains deftly that violent fundamentalism has very little to do with relgion and very much to do with nationalism and oppression.

My Internet connection is still not working, though I've managed to pick up some tenuous hotspots here in my apartment. Or we've just taken the laptop to the coffee shop down the street. Where, of course, we've read the Guardian, knowing that the world is a dangerous place but living in it all the same.

July 10, 2005


According to an article published today by Newsweek, Karl Rove was the source behind the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity. It seems obvious to me that Rove must resign, and that Congress must conduct an investigation to determine what, if anything, President Bush and other administration officials knew about this incident and when they knew it. If President Bush knew beforehand about the leak, or if he knew afterward and deliberately concealed it, then he should be impeached.

July 08, 2005

The Appalling Events...

...in London this morning have shocked us all. So I want first and foremost to extend my personal sympathy and condolences to everyone who is suffering and grieving at this time.

All those caught up in this tragedy -- and that includes of course the emergency services whose selfless dedication and commitment is so vital at times like this -- all are in my own prayers and in the prayers of a great many people.

As it happens I have spent this morning with Muslim colleagues and friends in West Yorkshire; and we were all as one in our condemnation of this evil and in our shared sense of care and compassion for those affected in whatever way.

Such solidarity and common purpose is vital for us all at this time of pain and sorrow and anger.

We in the faith communities will have to continue to stand and work together for the well being of our nation and for our shared understanding of the life that God calls us to. I hope that we shall all keep that vision alive at this deeply sad and testing time.

Dr. Rowan Williams,
Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury

The attacks on London yesterday have brought home to us, as never before, the horror of September 11, Madrid, and Bali. It is easier to feel the agony of those we work with and live next door to. But it is easier, too, to feel anger and disgust at those who perpetrate evil.

These are days when we must be attentive to our reactions. We rightly feel pain, horror, confusion and anxiety. Evil has erupted at the heart of our city, at a moment when we are most vulnerable -- when we are innocently going about our daily tasks. The knowledge that vulnerability and innocence can be exploited by evil can lead us to wish to be invulnerable. It can lead us to anger and vengeance. It can lead us to scapegoat entire sectors of the population. And that is exactly what yesterday's acts were designed to bring about.

But it is precisely when we are confronted with evil that we must cling with greater determination to what is good. We must be compassionate and above all patient, because it is not we, but God, who is in charge of history. St. Paul said "Do not be overcome by evil: but overcome evil with good" (Romans XII, 21).

The law of history is not on the side of the terrorists. The past is littered with the burned-out husks of attempts at bringing about political change through violence. Violence, as we know, breeds violence, and violence ultimately destroys itself. If we stand firm, if we believe in peace, then terror will not succeed; it will exhaust itself in time.

Yesterday brought havoc and tragedy and pain to the streets of London. But evil also summons forth good. Almost as soon as the wounds appeared in the heart of our capital there was healing: in the efficiency and care shown by the emergency services, in the calm response of London's commuters, in the way that Londoners put their arms around each other, and nursed each other. In these countless small acts, undramatic acts, the terror was sucked out of terrorism. God was there, in the healing, in the compassion, in the patience. God may be mocked by acts of hate, but he is never defeated or reduced. God was there, among us, long before the terrorists struck; God was there, yesterday, tending to the wounded, and mourning the dead; God is here today, long after the terrorists have fled.

And because God was there, holding us, as always, in his hands, cradling us, we showed we could not be corroded. We showed that we are made according to God's design, and that no amount of terror, however suddenly and brutally it strikes, can wipe that away.

The people who carried out these monstrous acts with chilling efficiency and forethought are believed to have acted in the name of religion. If so, it is not a religion recognisable to the religious people of the world. Who is their god? It is not the God who revealed himself to Moses and Jacob; nor the God who, in Jesus Christ, walked the earth and died and rose to save humanity; nor the God worshipped by the Muslim people, who is a God Almighty and Merciful. Who is the god of the men of hate? It is a false god; one projected from the darkest recesses of the human heart.

When Pope John Paul II brought together the world's religious leaders to pray for peace in Assisi in 1986, and then again in 2002, he wanted to send a message to the world that the name of religion is peace, that God is blasphemed by war and violence. That message was made by bishops and cardinals and patriarchs, and by rabbis and imams and sadhus. The name of God is peace. Today I was happy to meet the leaders of other faiths here in Britain to proclaim our abhorrence of the events of yesterday. But even more to assert our solidarity together for the common good. And to work together for reconciliation and peace.

In the Gospel that we have just heard, Jesus exhorts us that our virtue must go deeper than the men of violence. In many ways it is a difficult text for us to hear on such a day, when we recall the great loss of life and the terrible injuries of those who suffer. Yet we know that it is also true that God can bring forth good from suffering. Jesus's triumphing over the Cross shows us so. We look forward to that time when all violence is done away with through the restoration of the peace and reconciliation which only God can give.

So tonight we pray for the repose of the souls of those who died so tragically and those who have been injured, some dreadfully, and their families and their friends.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor,
Catholic Archbishop of Westminster

Safe in London

Ed Deluzain, a contributing writer with Sollicitudo Rei Socialis since May, reports that he and his wife are safe and sound in London. Let's remember to thank God that he kept them safe.

July 07, 2005

UK Terror Attacks

In the wake of the terrorist attacks against the citizens of the United Kingdom today, we cannot easily express our profound sense of sympathy for and solidarity with Prime Minister Tony Blair and the many physically and emotionally wounded people of the United Kingdom. After the terrorist attacks against New York City on September 11, 2001, the world came together across religious and political divides, united in the desire to bring global terrorism to an end. We hope with the utmost sincerity that the world can once again come together to bring an end to global terrorism and to usher in an era of unbroken peace. We ask all of our readers to join us in praying for the victims of today's attacks, for their families, for Prime Minister Tony Blair, for all world leaders, for an end to terrorism, and for peace in the world.

In the wake of yet another deadly attack, we wonder if it might be time to reevaluate our methods in the war on terrorism. After New York, Madrid, and now London -- not to mention the countless attacks throughout the Middle East -- is it perhaps time for a new approach? After September 11, international coalitions invaded Afghanistan and later Iraq, in the hopes of eradicating global terrorism. On the contrary, however, global terrorism has been strengthened and it seems that al-Qaeda is thriving. One of America's primary goals was to keep the war on terrorism off of our shores -- so far we have done that, but at what cost? By fighting so hard to keep the war on terrorism off of our shores, have we inadvertently brought it to the shores of our friends in Europe? Today it came to the shores of the United Kingdom; months before, to the borders of Spain; after this, we cannot know where or when it will strike again.

Is it not time for us to raise the legitimate question: Can the violence of terrorism truly be fought with violence in return? Is it not time to ask ourselves if the war on terrorism will be won by winning land and body counts, or by winning hearts and minds? Is it not time to ask ourselves if we should put aside our guns and bombs, in favor of words of peace and nonviolent resistance? Is it not time to ask ourselves, in the light of the starkly serious circumstances presented to us today, if we are truly any better off, truly any safer, almost five years into the war on terrorism? Is it not time to ask ourselves if our war on terrorism has perhaps really been what the terrorists have wanted all along? Is it not time to ask ourselves if we have perhaps given them the jihad they were looking for, bolstering their numbers by the violence we ourselves have committed against people who otherwise would not be terrorists?

These are hard questions, unpopular questions -- but they are nevertheless questions which must be asked. Isn't it time to ask these questions before we see more terrorist attacks like the ones we've already seen in New York, Madrid, and London? My friends, it is not a matter of if we are going to see more terrorist attacks like these -- in the present global climate, it is merely a matter of when. We owe it to ourselves and to our brothers and sisters worldwide to ask ourselves, in all seriousness, if we have truly been doing everything we can to eradicate terrorism, or if we have only been contributing to it by our quest for revenge.

In the meantime, we ask God our Father, through the intercession of Our Lady of Peace, to bring an end to global terrorism and to bring the world to an authentic and lasting peace. We ask him, through the intercession of St. Augustine of Canterbury and Pope St. Gregory the Great, to be with and comfort the families who lost loved ones today, and we ask him to bring their loved ones into his eternal life and light. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.

- The Contributors