Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cindy Sheehan - a person, not an issue

Cindy Sheehan is a person who has suffered a trememdous loss. She is not an issue. My first words in the announcement that said she quit her activism should have been, "Please pray for Cindy and her family, that they might find healing."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Catholic Cardinals vs Catholic Healthcare

Christopher Zehnder, writing for Crisis Magazine, offers an analysis of what he thinks is ailing Catholic healthcare. I'm going to quote the last two sections of the article.

Disrupted Directives

Part of the problem has been the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, a publication issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) in 1994. The appendix to the Directives contained a section addressing cooperation in immoral acts. Some ethicists criticized the section on cooperation, saying it was far too unclear. The National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) in Boston faulted the bishops for not clearly distinguishing between material cooperation, which is sometimes permissible, and implicit formal cooperation, which is never permissible. The NCBC also claimed that the bishops did not directly address institutional cooperation but only individual cooperation.

The Directives’ section on cooperation allowed for much misinterpretation. For instance, spokespersons for St. Vincent’s in Little Rock claimed the Church’s principle of cooperation permitted participation in an act of wrongdoing in times of "duress," when it was done in order to preserve a greater good. In the case of St. Vincent’s, managed-care companies were said to be applying duress, and the greater good was the hospital’s "financial health." Bayley told me that the Catholic bishops told CHW, "If you need to cooperate with providers who provide sterilization, if you need to do that to make your !hospital system secure—to be sure that your mission goes forward into the future—about that you can negotiate, about that you can cooperate."

Last year the U.S. bishops began revising their Directives at the request of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was particularly concerned about the section on cooperation. The resulting revision, which the NCCB issued on June 15, 2001, remains basically unchanged from the 1994 edition. The bishops added directives on partnerships in Catholic health care and omitted the entire section on cooperation in the appendix. The bishops now said that "reliable theological experts should be consulted in interpreting and applying the principles governing cooperation, with the proviso that, as a rule, Catholic partners should avoid entering into partnerships that would involve them in cooperation with the wrongdoing of other providers."

Rev. Germain Kopaczynski, director of education at NCBC, says that in deleting the section on cooperation, the bishops were responding to criticism that the appendix "was spawning more questions than answers." Was it an adequate response? The Church rarely makes "draconian revisions," Father Kopaczynski says. "I think [the bishops] tried to address the legitimate concerns—that proper doctrine is safeguarded—without changing the document so drastically that people would find themselves lost in it. In a sense, it was a minimalist way of trying to handle the abuses that were taking place."

As for referring the question of cooperation to "reliable theological experts," Father Kopaczynski notes that in the general introduction to the Directives, the bishops say that "in the absence of a determination of the magisterium, but never contrary to Church teaching, the guidance of approved authors can offer appropriate guidance for ethical decision-making." Father Kopaczynski thinks that the "approved authors" perhaps refers to the "classical authors, those who have already gone home to the Father; whereas the ‘reliable theological experts’ might be those who are still among the living. That is open to some interpretation," Father Kopaczynski says. "Depending on who the experts are whom you consult, you might get a latitudinarian or a narrow interpretation of the document. You might want to say, ‘This theological expert is reliable to me’—but would he be reliable to somebody else?"

!l-250Father Kopaczynski thinks that the new Directive 70 should be the litmus test in judging the reliability of a theological expert. That directive states: "Catholic health organizations are not permitted to engage in immediate material cooperation in actions that are intrinsically immoral, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and direct sterilization." The footnote to this directive cites the 1975 "Reply of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Sterilization in Catholic Hospitals": "Any cooperation institutionally approved or tolerated in actions which are in themselves, that is, by their nature and condition, directed to a contraceptive absolutely forbidden. For the official approbation of direct sterilization and, a fortiori, its management and execution in accord with hospital regulations, is a matter! which, in the objective order, is by its very nature [or intrinsically] evil."

In their "Statement on Cooperation, An Examination of the Fundamental Principles," the ethicists at the NCBC define immediate material cooperation as "any willful, intentional contribution to the circumstances essential to the principal agent’s immoral action, though that action may not be intended by the cooperator." If one applies this definition to Catholic health-care systems, even secular hospitals that remain secular after their purchase by a Catholic party may not offer abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, or direct sterilization.

An Uncertain Prognosis

Last year, when it became clear that the new directives would be more stringent on cooperation with sterilization, the CHA presented the bishops with a list of concerns expressed by Catholic health-care professionals. (Catholics for a Free Choice, on whose Web site this list appeared, claimed that CHA itself expressed these concerns. But Fred Caesar, CHA’s senior director for public affairs, said the list, though presented by CHA, did not express that organization’s concerns; rather, CHA "was reporting what had been expressed by Catholic health-care leaders in a meeting with the drafting committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.")

!Among the concerns were the following: "The revision could result in another Humanae Vitae-type division within the church.... [It] will likely affect Catholic health care’s ability to approach potential partners [who] do not share our views on sterilization as an intrinsic evil.... There is a likelihood of the loss of OB/GYN services in many of our hospitals.... Some will see the proposed change as an attempt to impose our religious beliefs upon the community.... Women and children, especially the poor, will be most affected by these revisions.... The proposed revisions could jeopardize Catholic health care’s ability to carry on our mission by eliminating our presence in some areas, weakening our influence on moral issues, especially life issues.... Sponsors will be forced to consider whether or not to continue their health care ministry as Catholics, [and] the revisions may also create serious conflict !within religious congregations."

Insofar as this list of concerns reflects the attitude of Catholic health-care providers, there would seem to be little likelihood that they will obediently embrace the more stringent directives. One is left to ask how a Humanae Vitae-type division would be possible in a system where everyone followed Church teaching. Is the loss of OB/GYN services more serious than the sacrifice of Catholic principles? How will women be affected, except positively, by Catholic hospitals treating them according to their true human dignity? And how Catholic are the sponsors who will abandon their Catholicity because they are called to follow Church doctrine? The list of concerns presented by CHA may reflect an "unequal yoking"—not only of Catholic with non-Catholic institutions but of Catholics with anti-Catholic positions.

And of course, I'm going to offer my analysis.

The Catholic magisterium claims authority from God. They say that birth control, sterilization, sex not for procreation, and abortion are all abominations. They do not have the faintest idea what they are talking about because they are all me. If they ordained women and married men, I bet you they would reconsider their positions on birth control, sterilization, and sex not for procreation. I can respectfully disagree with them on abortion. But the cardinals will never have to be in the position of a hyopthetical woman in, say, Nicaragua. She has been pregnant ten times; this many pregnancies presents a health risk. She and her husband should engage in family planning, and should consider using contraceptives or getting sterilized. But wait, the cardinals think that's a sin!

I am glad for the Catholics involved in the healthcare system, who are much more thoughtful than their cardinals. They would rather continue providing services than following a bunch of old, mainly White men, who will never face the choices assiociated with sex and pregnancy. Some are probably pro-choice in their private lives, many are probably neutral, and many are probably pro-life but determined to let people choose for themselves.

Doctors who practice in Catholic hospitals must abide by their codes of conduct, which preclude abortion, sterilization, or, more recently, removing feeding tubes from comatose patients. This alone makes me a little uncomfortable. I am confident that social justice is a tradition that runs very deep within Catholicism. But I am not confident in the direction that the current pope is taking, and am concerned at how Catholic health systems could be affected.

Cindy Sheehan quits job as anti-war activist

Cindy Sheehan, the renowned anti-war activist whose son was killed, and who camped outside of George Bush's ranch to demand an accounting, has grown disenchanted with the movement and quit. BBC has this report.

Cindy Sheehan, the bereaved mother who became a figurehead for the US anti-war movement, is abandoning her fight after growing disenchanted with the campaign.
She has camped outside President Bush's ranch since 2005, demanding a meeting over the death of her son in Iraq.

But announcing the end of her campaign, she also hit out at Democrats and anti-war campaigners who put "personal egos above peace and human life".

She said she had sacrificed her health, her marriage and her finances.

In a letter on the Daily Kos website titled Good Riddance Attention Whore - a reference to the abuse she says she has suffered, Ms Sheehan said: "I am going to take whatever I have left and go home.

"I am going to go home and be a mother to my surviving children and try to regain some of what I have lost."

'War machine'

Cindy Sheehan became a "postergirl" for the US anti-war movement after she set up her protest camp outside the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas in August 2005.

She said she has spent all the money from the survivor's benefits paid for her son's death and everything she earned from speaking and book fees and that she owed large hospital bills.

"I have been called every despicable name that small minds can think of and have had my life threatened many times."

She said her son Casey, who died in Baghdad in April 2004, was "killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think.

"Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives.

"It is so painful to me to know that I bought into this system for so many years and Casey paid the price for that allegiance. I failed my boy and that hurts the most."

Ms Sheehan criticised the US anti-war movement for often putting "personal egos" first.

"It is hard to work for peace when the very movement that is named after it has so many divisions."

She said that one-time allies among the Democratic Party had turned on her when she no longer limited her protests over the Iraq war to the Republican Party.

The US will rapidly descend into "a fascist corporate wasteland," she said, if "alternatives to this corrupt 'two' party system" are not found.

Ms Sheehan said she was resigning as the "face" of the US anti-war movement.

She said she would "never give up trying to help people in the world who are harmed by the empire of the good old US of A, but I am finished working in, or outside of this system."

The Australian had this further quote.

"Bush will never be impeached because if the Democrats dig too deeply, they may unearth a few skeletons in their own graves and the system will perpetuate itself in perpetuity," she said.

"I have invested everything I have into trying to bring peace with justice to a country that wants neither.

"Goodbye America ... you are not the country that I love and I finally realised no matter how much I sacrifice, I can't make you be that country unless you want it," she concluded.

Sheehan camped near Bush's Prairie Chapel ranch in August 2005 while he was on summer holiday there and spent much of that time asking in vain to meet with him to ask why her son had to die.

She also protested near the site after purchasing a five-acre plot near the president's Texas homestead, and led numerous other anti-war demonstrations across the country.

Let us hold our leaders in both parties accountable. There is no time to score political points. Sheehan said that we were acting like an empire, and in the long run, all empires fall.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Remember our dead

From Kendall Harmon's blog, a litany from the Book of Worship for the United States Forces:

Leader: Let us give thanks to God for the land of our birth with all its chartered liberties. For all the wonder of our country’s story:


Leader: For leaders in nation and state, and for those who in days past and in these present times have labored for the commonwealth:


Leader: For those who in all times and places have been true and brave, and in the world’s common ways have lived upright lives and ministered to their fellows:


Leader: For those who served their country in its hour of need, and especially for those who gave even their lives in that service:


Leader: O almighty God and most merciful Father, as we remember these your servants, remembering with gratitude their courage and strength, we hold before you those who mourn them. Look upon your bereaved servants with your mercy. As this day brings them memories of those they have lost awhile, may it also bring your consolation and the assurance that their loved ones are alive now and forever in your living presence.

And here, a list of US soldiers who have died in Iraq. They are male and female, White and African, Asian, Hispanic, and Arab American.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Native Hawaiian burial sites and Whole Foods

If a foreign corporation, say an Arab or a Japanese one, wanted to build a mall over Arlington National Cemetery, where US veterans are built, what would we say?

Native Hawaiians have very strong respect for the remains of their dead. Hawaiian state law protects Native Hawiian remains, known as iwi. Native Hawaiians consider burial sites as sacred. Last year, Wal Mart's actions in building a store over a site with approximately 60 sets of iwi, and then simply storing the iwi in boxes under the store's parking ramp while not burying them was considered to be hurtful and disrespectful.

This year, Whole Foods and General Growth Properties are in the spotlight. 11 sets of iwi were discovered on the site of a planned mall in Oahu that would contain a Whole Foods store and several apartments buildings; General Growth is the developer. The Oahu Island Burial Council decided not to mark the site as a grave, which would force a complete redevelopment. They declared that the iwi could be transferred to another burial site.

The problem was that in the process of exhuming the iwi, another 30-40 sets of iwi were discovered. Had the Council known that there were that many iwi, they might have decided to designate the site as a grave. It would have forced General Growth to go back to the drawing board, but that's state law. As it is, the matter is now in the hands of the State Historical Preservation Division.

This is a $150 million project; construction on one part of the Whole Foods site has been prohibited for some time, and this is costing the developers a lot of money. General Growth's senior VP, Dwight Yoshimura, had this to say:

Dwight Yoshimura, General Growth's senior vice president, said "every letter of the law" has been followed. The Chicago-based company said many of the remains were discovered during an archaeological survey that it voluntarily commissioned at its own expense, even though it had already obtained all necessary building permits.

"We went ahead and tried to do the right thing," Yoshimura said.

The company wants the remains moved to three locations at the site. Some Native Hawaiians want the bones put back where they were.

I don't think that General Growth really gets it. One Hawaiian activist asked how we would feel if someone wanted to build a mall on Arlington cemetery. I deliberately modified the question to ask what would happen if it were a Japanese or Arab company - Vincent Chin was murdered because of resentment towards Japanese auto makers' encroachment into the US (Chin, by the way, is a Chinese name, but his attackers assumed he was Japanese). More recently, an Arab firm's planned acquisition of a US port was forbidden due to security concerns. The answer is that Americans would be outraged, and some people would probably call for nuclear missiles to be launched.

Well, the Native Hawaiians have no nuclear missiles. They have little money or influence. They do have state law, but the relevant commisions can decide that the remains should be moved. Hawaiians, I gather, would very much rather not disturb the iwi. They would rather just leave them where they are, and redevelop the malls around the remains.

Well, perhaps Whole Foods and General Growth should take the matter out of the commision's hands. They should work with Native Hawaiian leaders to redevelop the property so that the remains are undisturbed. This is clearly a significant burial ground no matter what the commision might say. Pre-empting the commision in this way would go a long way to healing some of the damage that development without regard to indigenous peoples' rights has done to the psyche of Hawaiians. It would restore the companies' reputations with Native Hawaiians.

It would simply be the right thing to do, and in fact it would not be unprecedented.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Maui, where 1,000 graves dating to the year 850 were unearthed during excavation in the late 1980s, was completely redesigned at a cost of millions and moved inland. The remains were preserved in a spot now registered as a state historic place, with signs informing visitors about its cultural significance.

More recently, Fifield Cos. agreed to relocate the parking garage and make other changes in a $300 million Waikiki condo project now under construction.

Whole Foods prides itself on being socially and environmentally responsible. It's time for Whole Foods to step up to the plate. If you're a shareholder, write to or call:

Shareholder Services
Whole Foods Market, Inc.
550 Bowie Street
Austin, Texas 78703
512.477.4455, ext. 20801

And/or, you can email them at this page.

Fidelity advertisement by Save Darfur

Saturday, May 26, 2007

What happened to servanthood

This article is courtesy of Thinking Anglicans. It shows that the worship of Mammon isn't only a problem in the Vatican, it's a problem in the Church of England, too. It also shows that Christians are doing work on the ground to bring about Jesus' vision of the Kingdom of God.

The House of Commons voted earlier this year for a House of Lords where most, if not all, members would be elected, instead of being appointed by patronage (News, 16 March). Many Lords are reluctant to cede their privileges, robes, titles, generous allowances, and powers. It might be thought that, with Christian humility, the bench of bishops in the Lords would take a different view. Sadly, no: the Church of England is arguing to retain the lordly bishops, although it concedes that other denominations and faiths might also be ennobled.

My starting point is that Christianity should be the friend of democracy. If all individuals are of equal worth before God, then all should have a vote in choosing those who shape legislation. I do not see why the lord bishops should have such power when they are not selected and removable by the very people for whom Parliament legislates.

If a particular religious group has automatic places in the Lords, why not other bodies? Why not animal-lovers, ethnic minorities, or atheists? And if the lord bishops retort that they are there by divine will, why is it that God elevates so many with smart school and Oxbridge backgrounds, and so few of those who were educated on council estates? No other Western democracy gives power to unelected religious leaders.

Christians should be involved in national politics at the legislative level. Frank Field, Steve Webb, and Alistair Burt are examples of Christian MPs who make no secret of their faith. In the recent elections, in Scotland, for example, the Scottish Christian Party and the Christian Alliance fielded candidates. The difference is that these politicians, while making clear their Christian beliefs, owe their place to democracy, not patronage.

I am not arguing against bishops’ bringing influence to bear on politicians. The seminal report Faith in the City in 1985 contained two bishops among its members. I believe that the then Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd David Sheppard, made a bigger impact through it than anything he said in the Lords.

In a previous age, William Temple, who was Archbishop of York and then of Canterbury, made a series of public speeches during the Second World War which won support for a welfare state. Here Temple and Sheppard were using avenues of influence that were not restricted to those appointed to be Lords. In these capacities, they were not relying on privilege.
I would go further. I think any Christians (not just bishops) should be wary of accepting a place in the Lords. For they, too, are supporting an undemocratic institution. Even before they are elevated, they tend to be drawn from the powerful and wealthy; so their appointment reinforces the dominance of a small élite — to the exclusion of those who are, say, unemployed, on low wages, or in poverty. This is not to deny that some are people of good intent, but their model of change is of two titled superiors deciding for inferiors.

To me, a Christian by conversion, the core questions are: how did Jesus live, and what did he teach? He chose to live modestly; to mix with ordinary people rather than the political and religious establishments; to focus on the poor and the outsiders.

His teaching was that followers could not serve both God and Mammon, and that they should not store up material possessions. He rebuked those who wanted exalted positions and titles, on the grounds that “all of you are on the same level as brothers and sisters” (Matthew 23.8-12, New Living Bible). His style was to be a servant.
This unique approach had a tremendous impact. People such as the tax-collector, Matthew, not only became followers, but also redistributed their riches. A Church was born in which few were powerful or wealthy in the eyes of the world (1 Corinthians 1.26).

This servanthood model may not be the only one, but I am encouraged that more Christians are taking it seriously. The Message Trust, for example, encourages Christians to move into deprived areas. I visited one where they had bought houses, sent their children to local schools, and befriended neighbours. Worship and social activities developed. The community police told me that youth crime had fallen.

Christians in Manchester and Glasgow are to the fore in caring for asylum-seekers, and urging the Government to treat them in a more humane manner. None of the participants are rich or powerful. But change is coming out of weakness. I would love to see the Christians who are now in the Lords leaving their privileges and joining in.

I advocate a Second Chamber called the Peoples’ Assembly, whose members are elected as individuals, not party creatures. They should have modest allowances, but no titles. It would attract those who wanted no reward except to serve others. I dream. Gordon Brown has declared that, if he becomes Prime Minister, he wants to engage with ordinary people. Why not a Second Chamber made up of everyday types?

Bob Holman is Visiting Professor of Social Policy at the University of Glasgow, who has run a project on the Easterhouse estate since 1987. His latest book is F. B. Meyer: If I had a thousand lives (Christian Focus).

Residents of Rome Protest As Holy See Evicts Tenants

Found this on Madpriest's blog.

The Daily Telegraph
May 25, 2007

ROME — For centuries, the Vatican has bestowed a special kind of charity on the residents of Rome, providing low-rent accommodation in the vast number of properties it owns in the heart of the Italian capital.

But recently the Holy See has turned on many of its tenants, demanding higher rents or threatening to throw them out.

An association of residents said the Vatican wanted to convert their apartments into hotels or commercial premises. A 65-year-old tour guide, Franco Lattughi, said his rent had been raised $960 a month to $2,800. "When I was given the apartment, it had been donated to the church and was in a very poor state. I spent all my savings, 200 million lire [$140,000], to decorate the place, on the understanding that I would be able to live here for the rest of my life with a fixed rent. That is what the church told me," he said.

Many of the residents who are being forced out said they had nowhere else to go. Zita Di Lucantonio, 50, has lived in an apartment on the Piazza Farnese for her entire life. The building is managed by the Fraternal Order of Santa Maria della Quercia dei Macellai, which is trying to evict her and her family.

"We are the last people who live in the building. The others have caved in to the pressure, but I have a daughter and an old disabled mother," she said. "We are not rich, we live on my mother's pension, but we have always paid the rent."

Eviction notices have also been served on five other major apartment blocks in central Rome. The elderly residents of a palazzo in Via Giulia, all over 70, were turned out when the building was made into a five-star hotel, the St. George, where rooms now cost $537 a night. Many of the residents had lived in the building since World War II.

The Vatican owns a quarter of the buildings in central Rome and last year, another 8,000 properties were gifted to the Catholic Church in wills. The Vatican's total assets are estimated at around $8 billion, but its Rome properties are officially only worth a few million dollars.

While property prices in central Rome have doubled in the past five years, the Vatican's properties have not been revalued since 1929. St Peter's basilica is valued at only $1.30 in the official Vatican accounts, since it could never be sold.

The appeal of converting some of the church-owned properties into hotels is clear. Vatican buildings are not subject to any council tax, even if they lie outside the Holy See. In addition, businesses run by religious enterprises get a 50% discount on corporation tax.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Darth Vader

Taken from an exhibit at the Star Wars Celebration IV Fan Fest:"This is not what I had in mind," by Dave Pressler.

Credit: Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Pleased to announce: Transgender minister reappointed in Baltimore

Thanks to Jim for the link. I am less pleased to note that the IRD is trying to get involved. Again.

A United Methodist minister who has changed gender since being chosen to lead a congregation in Baltimore will be reappointed there, church officials announced Thursday at a regional convocation. The Reverend Drew Phoenix told the church's Baltimore-Washington conference that he had gone through ''spiritual transformation'' in the past year, since changing his name from Ann Gordon and receiving medical treatment to become a man.

The denomination bars sexually active gays from the clergy but does not have any rules about transgender pastors.

''It is my intention and hope that by sharing my story that we commit ourselves as Christians and as United Methodists to become educated about the complexity of gender,'' said Phoenix, the only known transgender minister in the conference. ''Each of us is a beloved child of God—no exceptions.''

Phoenix, 48, has led St. John's United Methodist Church for nearly five years. His term expires in July, and one of the purposes of the regional meeting is to reassign ministers for periodic terms with churches.

Bishop John Schol said that the church's 50-member congregation was fully supportive and that no objections were raised during a closed-door meeting of the clergy. St. John's, a church that describes itself as diverse and inclusive, has more than tripled its membership since Phoenix arrived.

The meeting was already scheduled when the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative think tank, issued a statement saying it objects to any acceptance of sexual identity changes.

The group, which has no authority over the church, did not specifically call for Phoenix to be removed. But Mark Tooley, director of the group's United Methodist project, said a change in gender identity conflicts with ''God's order of creation.''

Schol, who periodically renews ministers' appointments or reassigns them, encouraged ministers and church members attending the annual conference through Saturday to discuss the decisions of church leaders with their congregations and urged church members to pray for Phoenix.

''This isn't an issue. This is a human being,'' Schol said.

Although the denomination has no transgender policy, a minister from Baltimore quit the church after a sex change in 2002. Rebecca Ann Steen said at the time she would rather withdraw than ''submit the church, my family, or myself to any more struggle.'' (Brett Zongker, AP)

Israel attacks more Hamas targets

Israeli planes launched a series of air strikes Friday on Gaza, killing two Hamas militants as rival Palestinian factions debated whether to halt rocket attacks against the Jewish state.

The two were travelling in a car in Gaza City when at least one missile struck the vehicle, according to Hamas. The Israeli army confirmed it targeted the vehicle.

The latest air strikes began before midnight Thursday with a hit on the Shati refugee camp — home to Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

An earlier airstrike had hit a Hamas training centre south of Gaza City, destroying the compound and slightly wounding at least three people, witnesses said.

More than 40 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli reprisal raids over the past 10 days. An Israeli woman was killed on Monday in a continued Palestinian rocket barrage that has kept residents in Israeli border towns on a constant state of alert.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has proposed that militant factions halt the rocket attacks for a month to allow discussions with Israel on renewing a truce.

He said he is waiting to hear from the factions before talking with Israel, but a Hamas spokesman said Thursday the group would not cease firing rockets while Israel continues to bomb Gaza.

Haniyeh did not attend public prayers on Friday, even though Israel denied he was a target.

On Thursday, Israel broadened its tactics by rounding up 33 Hamas political leaders in the West Bank, including the education minister.

Palestinians fleeing Lebanon fighting see gloomy future

By Hu Dandan
TRIPOLI, Lebanon, May 25 (Xinhua) -- In a corner of a classroom in northern Lebanon's Beddawi refugee camp, 50-year-old Ibrahim el-Hag Mohammed huddled with his wife and daughter on two mattresses, staring in a vacant gaze as this Xinhua reporter stepped into the crowded makeshift shelter.

The couple, along with their eight children, are among the 16,000 refugees who fled the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp outside Tripoli in northern Lebanon, which had become a battle ground between the Lebanese army and the Fatah al-Islam militants who are based there.

The battle, starting from Sunday, had killed at least 80 till a ceasefire reached between the two sides on Tuesday night. Many residents then fled the camp, most of whom went to the Beddawi camp 15 km away.

Since most of the refugees left their houses without taking anything besides the clothes they were wearing, they had to be completely reliant on others, either relatives and friends in Beddawi or relief agencies.

"We have no money, no shelter, no shower. My baby has no milk, no diaper," deplored a woman who gave her name as Feddie, holding her 20-day-old baby.

"All of us are sleeping together on the mattresses on the floors," she added.

In a ward in the Safad hospital in Beddawi, the only established hospital in the two camps, 20-year-old girl Rahan, who was treated there for shrapnel wounds, recalled the fighting with anger and pain: "A bomb fell on our house when we were leaving our house. When I regain my consciousness, I found my father dead and my mum in a coma."

In another room, 12-year-old Youssef Abu Radi, who was struck by shrapnel, lay in bed crying quietly, while his father and a sister looked all worried besides his bed. A doctor later said the boy was severely wounded in the waist and might not be able to walk properly ever again.

"We lost everything overnight. Before that (the conflict) I worked in a hospital as a nurse, and I think Lebanon welcomed we Palestinians, but now, I don't know what will happen," Mohammed told Xinhua.

Asked about his plan for the future, he said: "I don't know my fate, or those of my families. I am so afraid, I don't know what to do. Now we are living on the mercy of the others."

He is talking about a fear that Lebanon, which is now in an economic and political shambles because of the rivalry between warring factions and last year's Israeli-Hezbollah war, would blame the Palestinian refugees for the unrest as Fatah al-Islam isled by a Palestinian refugee.

The fear is not groundless. Though Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Seniora has repeatedly promised that Lebanon would protect its "Palestinian brothers," some had long blamed the presence of some 350,000 Palestinians, most of whom Sunni Muslim, for having changed the country's fragile sectarian balance.

Most of the Palestinian refugees came in Lebanon in two waves after the 1948 and 1967 wars between the Arabs and Israel. Now over half a century has past, most of the Palestinian refugees still do not have citizenship in the host country, though the younger generations are born in Lebanon and have never seen their home country.

What's more, Palestinians are restricted in some vocations in Lebanon.

"We have been living here for 60 years, we have no proper work, no dignity and the entire world knows that," said a Palestinian biochemist who declined to give his name, adding "we just want the right to survive."

However, maybe children are the only people who are still able to run gleefully and laugh. In the new shelter, they seemed to be free from the fear of gunfire and shell rounds and be able to play with their friends day and night as they are all rounded up together. When they saw this reporter's camera, some jumped up, vying to pose for pictures.

Looking fondly into the picture of his son on the camera, a father at the age of some 30 told Xinhua that "we are rational people now, after so many years of conflicts. We don't want any war. If possible, I will do anything to emigrate to any country where my children can grow up happily and safely. "

Pray for Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest by the Burmese military junta has been extended. She has already been detained for years. Please pray for her and for her country.

Burma's military leaders have extended their detention of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for another year, despite growing international pressure. Government sources say Burmese officials visited her residence Friday and read out the extension of her term. Ron Corben reports from Bangkok.

For weeks, there have been renewed international calls for the release of Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The calls came from fellow Nobel Prize laureates, past and current world leaders, and human rights groups. The U.S. government has said that she should be freed and Burma should implement political reforms quickly.

The head of the National League for Democracy has been detained continuously since May 2003, when she was taken into custody after a pro-government mob attacked her supporters while she was visiting rural Burma. She has spent 11 of the past 17 years in confinement.

Debbie Stothardt, spokeswoman for the rights group the Alternative ASEAN Network, says the government fears releasing Aung San Suu Kyi could lead to unrest from her many supporters, and from rising public anger over the country's economic problems.

"The regime is definitely not releasing Aung San Suu Kyi. But it's not because of international pressure, it's because of their own fear of what could happen if Aung San Suu Kyi is released and there's a national uprising against them," said Stothardt.

Naing Aung, a former Burmese student leader and democracy rights advocate, says the government will detain Aung San Suu Kyi until a new constitution - now being drafted - is completed.

"The military regime doesn't want to have any dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and they don't think that they need to talk to solve their problems together," he said.

Politicians from the Association of South East Asian Nations have demanded that regional governments push Burma to free more than 1,100 political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

Kraisak Choonhavan, a former Thai senator and rights advocate, says the ASEAN politicians have worked hard at raising the issue.

"We have been very diligent in persevering for the release of all political prisoners in Burma, and our agenda has been very, very consistent with our principles, but this extension of the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi is absolutely unacceptable, absolutely unacceptable," he said.

Stothardt of the Alternative ASEAN Network says rights groups will continue to work for change in Burma.

"We need an increase in domestic and international pressure on this regime so finally they have no choice but they have to release Aung San Suu Kyi and they have no choice but to democratize," said Stothardt.

The country has been under a military government since 1962. The National League for Democracy won a landside victory in elections in 1990, but the military refused to acknowledge the results. The government has promised general elections after a new constitution is drafted, but there is no indication of when that will be.

Congress ups the minimum wage

NEW YORK ( -- Congress passed the first increase in the federal minimum wage since 1997 late Thursday as part of the measure for supplemental funds to fight the war in Iraq.

President Bush is expected to sign the measure, perhaps as soon as Friday.

The minimum wage portion of the legislation provides for a increase - over a two-year period - to $7.25 an hour from the current $5.15. The last time lawmakers increased the federal minimum wage was in 1997.

A minimum wage hike would directly affect 5.6 million workers currently earning less than $7.25 an hour, according to the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute.

The hike also could increase the wages of another 7.4 million workers who earn just above the current federal minimum, the group said.

"The minimum wage has been stuck at $5.15 an hour for more than 10 years, but now - finally - Americans across the country will get the raise they need and deserve," Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., a leading proponent of the increase, said in a statement.

"Certainly, the increase we've passed today is only the first of many steps we must take to address the problems of poverty and inequality," Kennedy said.

Currently, 28 states and Washington, D.C., have a higher minimum wage. A number of those states have indexed their minimum wage to inflation.

The increase - a promise made by Democrats when they won control of Congress last fall - came after a five-month odyssey that included parliamentary differences between the majorities in both chambers, differences over the size of tax breaks for small business, and a debate about the future of the Iraq war.

The increase was part of the original Iraq supplemental measure passed by Congress last month, but vetoed by Bush because it contained timelines for troop withdrawals. The new measure does not contain timelines.

The Senate Finance Committee had originally proposed small business tax breaks of $12 billion while the House approved a much smaller $1.3 billion package.

A deal was finally brokered between House and Senate Democrats, giving $4.8 billion in tax breaks for small business.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Investors seek ouster of Exxon board member over climate change

Noam Chomsky has made the point that public corporations often have immense amounts of political power, and yet are not accountable to the public. They are partially accountable to their shareholders, but the shareholders can't tell the company how to run the business (and probably shouldn't, in most cases). And most shareholders don't vote against management.

A group of institutional investors and shareholder activists Wednesday called on Exxon Mobil Corp. shareholders to vote against the reappointment of a board member in protest of the company's stance on climate change.

The group, which includes the California State Teachers Retirement System, labor funds and the treasurers of six U.S. states, is pushing for the removal of Michael Boskin, who is chairman of Exxon's (Charts, Fortune 500) public issues committee.

"While Exxon Mobil's competitors are moving aggressively on climate change, this company - one of the world's largest refiners and marketers of oil products - continues to hide its head in the sand rather than acknowledge the business implications of climate change," Connecticut State Treasurer Denise Nappier said on a conference call with reporters.

Shareholders backing the moves own nearly 100 million Exxon shares, according to a spokesman for the group, less than 2 percent of the more than 5.6 billion shares outstanding the company had at the end of the first quarter.

The group said that Boskin, a Stanford University economist, has refused five times to meet with investors about climate change issues.

But Exxon Mobil spokesman Gantt Walton said that Boskin "has invested substantial time and resources over the past year addressing the concerns of Ms. Nappier and other shareholder groups."

He said Boskin had personally responded to all of Nappier's letters and had arranged for shareholders, including a representative for Nappier, to meet with management on climate change issues.

"Dr. Boskin has been very forthcoming in providing the position of the board," Walton said.

Exxon - the world's largest publicly traded oil company and the biggest company by market capitalization - has long been a lightning rod for environmentalists who claim the company has worked to mislead the public about the causes of climate change.

Scientists believe the use of fossil fuels causes global warming.

But the company, which must manage its public image alongside other oil giants such as BP (Charts), Chevron (Charts, Fortune 500) and ConocoPhillips (Charts, Fortune 500) also caught up in the issue, has recently worked to improve its image, dropping its funding of some companies that have downplayed the risks of greenhouse gas emissions and saying its position on climate change has been misunderstood.

Still, the investors behind the attempt to remove Boskin remained unmoved by the company's about face.

"It's time that shareholders and investors hold Exxon Mobil accountable," said California State Controller John Chiang. "It is our money on the line. It is absolutely up to the board of directors to respond to the people they are responsible for serving."

Exxon's annual meeting is scheduled for May 30.

Revolution by stages - gays in Asia

I came to this article by way of Louie Crew's blog. It focuses on gays in Asia, and overall, I the picture is much better than in Africa. That said, I know of one Indonesian Chinese gay man who's sought asylum in the US on grounds of persecution, so it's not all good. And certainly, political organization is hard or impossible in some countries, like Singapore.

For some reason, the article focuses on gay men. Were they more willing to speak than Asian lesbians? What about bisexual people in Asia? Transgender in the form of cross-dressing is not alien to us (the article mentions Bugis Street in Singapore, an old "transvestite" haunt - that's the outdated term). And in fact, I've heard of Thailand having a number of clinics where one can get gender reassignment surgery. However, the article doesn't mention what life's like for trans people. Nonetheless, it's a nice snapshot.

The blooms in the orchid pavilion next to Rizal Park were at their best - but were still no match for the guests. Ricky Reyes, charity fundraiser and gay businessman, had issued the invitation: P-A-R-T-Y! And Manila's homosexuals were doing just that - in sequins, boas and just every kind of cross-dressing finery imaginable. The bash - from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. in a garden set up by former First Lady Amelita Ramos - was proof once more of the vibrancy of the Philippine homosexual community. Says publicist and outspoken gay personality Louie Cruz: "We are a beacon for gay freedom in Asia."
Hyperbole perhaps. Still, homosexual Filipinos participate in public life with a verve unmatched anywhere in the region. Party host Reyes, owner of a chain of beauty parlors, is almost a fixture in Amelita Ramos's social circle, partly because of his involvement in community projects. So is gay clothes designer Inno Sotto, who has helped Ramos raise millions through fashion extravaganzas. Manila's homosexuals are not just out of the closet. They are in the street, on TV and in the media. They hold flamboyant gay pride marches, and the Santo Niño Club, a largely homosexual association of fashion types, stages an annual religious parade featuring a statue of the child Jesus in designer robes.

But that's the Philippines. Just about everywhere else in Asia, the underlying truth about gay life is that there is safety only in numbers. From Tokyo to Jakarta, homosexuals mostly lead a Jekyll and Hyde existence. They may frequent bars and clubs where they know they will meet their own kind - but are reluctant to declare their sexual preference to work colleagues, friends or family. Persecution has been largely banished, but ostracism has not. The result: If it is true that one person in 10 is gay, then maybe 315 million Asians are trapped in a lie.

In Thailand, though, the social climate is relaxed enough for developer Dejdeow Srichai to have attempted in 1994 to set up a housing project exclusively for gay men. His Flower Town scheme, in northeastern Nakhon Ratchasima province, failed because it didn't attract enough takers. But he was recently considering something similar for Kanchanaburi, west of Bangkok. Homosexual hangouts have mushroomed in the Thai capital. The range runs from the gay equivalent of go-go bars (with male dancers) to saunas and more discreet establishments such as the Albury Club, which caters strictly to the moneyed class. Gay writer Natayada na Songkhla attributes this freedom to Thais' disinclination "to stick their noses into other people's business."

Even in politically conservative countries such as China and Malaysia, there is little overt anti-gay hostility. Homosexuals say they do not fear being picked on by roughnecks in the way they are in the West. Their explanation: the traditional tolerance found in many Asian cultures. "There is no confrontation, no fag-bashing. We can dance together even in straight discos," says a Malay actor who, as if to belie his own words, asked that his name not be used.

Hong Kong academic Chou Wah-shan suggests homophobia is a by-product of Western cultural expansion. Same-sex eroticism was prevalent throughout Chinese history, he says. This was mirrored in literature such as the classic novel Dream of the Red Chamber, which deals openly with homosexual love. Class and gender were more important than sexual identity in Chinese society, says Chou.

Still, a low level of violence is no indicator of social acceptance - as Julian Chan, a Hong Kong insurance underwriter, knows. Chan, 36, was a prominent member of a Buddhist organization until officials learned he was a gay activist. They told him to choose between them and his campaign work. He chose activism. "They were so hypocritical," he says. Not that the Christian Church is always more understanding. Says Chan: "When a friend of mine told his Church he was gay, they reacted as if he was possessed by Satan. They prayed for him day and night until he couldn't stand it any more and quit." Wan Yanhai, a medical researcher in Beijing, had a similar experience. He was forced to resign his job at a government health institution in 1994 because of his gay activism. Wan now works for a private company, but continues to spend his spare time on homosexual issues. Such cases, though perhaps isolated, are part of the force that keeps Asian homosexuals firmly in the closet.

Is the stigma associated with gayness imported from the West? After all, homosexual contact is outlawed in India, Malaysia and Singapore - all under prohibitions against "acts against nature" inherited from British rule. If so, Asia may have absorbed those values too well. In 1996, then Thai education minister Sukhavich Rangsitpol called for a "special center" for homosexuals, whom he described as "sick, both physically and mentally." In China, psychiatrists classify homosexuality as a disease for which electric shock therapy may be prescribed.

Oases of tolerance aside, what emerges from gay communities across Asia are tales of loneliness and insecurity. Yoshiko, a 45-year-old Japanese nurse, is typical of many. She believes discovery of her "secret" will mean being "shunned for the rest of my life" - even by her best friend. Her double life is taking a toll: she has been drinking heavily for the past 20 years.

In most countries, lesbians have been much less assertive than gay men, almost invisible. Anjana Suvarnananda, who runs Anjaree, a Thai lesbian support group, perhaps reflects a common attitude. She says: "We don't want to come out." There is no need, she says, "because you can do whatever you want" - only in secret. Like men, many homosexual women feel compelled by convention to marry. Those who then defy the rules and leave their husbands are often highly traumatized, says Jeya, an Indian lesbian.

Delhi computer engineer Owais Khan thought his attraction to boys was just a passing phase. When a visit to a prostitute left him cold, he managed to convince himself that "most men cannot engage in sex at first contact." But when his family arranged a marriage for him, he was forced to face his sexuality. The marriage lasted just seven months. "It was a painful experience for both of us, probably more for my wife," he says. Khan's wealthy Muslim family cut him off as soon as he told them he was gay. "Most of my relatives don't talk to me now," he says. "My mother says I will go to hell, as Islam forbids the practice."

In China, where the Communist Party has begun easing its control over private lives, young gays are finding it easier to be open about their sexual feelings - though most still fear being found out by their families. And those homosexuals scarred by the orthodoxy-driven persecution of the Cultural Revolution will probably take their secret to their graves. Even in Hong Kong, campaigners found few sympathizers when they attempted in the 1980s to promote a bill to decriminalize homosexuality. But they persisted, and in 1991 Hong Kong became the only place in Asia to legalize homosexual acts - in private - between consenting adults.

That legislation changed the nature of homosexual life in the territory. Where once there was just one gay club - the unglamorous and frequently raided Disco Disco - there are now gay-oriented bars, cafes, magazines and bookshops. Gay "lonely heart" announcements fill pages of a local English-language magazine. And one astute finance company has opened a department that specializes in homosexual clients.

Taiwan may have concertinaed a generation's political development into a fraction of that time, but social changes have come only slowly. "In most professions, [homosexuality] is the kiss of death," says Hsiao Yu, an activist at National Taiwan University. This is why Taipei gays and lesbians wore masks when they staged a demonstration June 29 to mark International Gay Pride day. Julian Jayaseelan, of the Malaysian AIDS-awareness group Pink Triangle, knows of several instances where employees were fired for being gay. A lawyer reports being told before being dismissed: "We're a very traditional company, with very traditional clients." In Singapore, stories abound - without proof - of senior government officials and prominent professionals whose careers have been derailed when their sexual orientation became known.

An individual's sexual tastes may be widely rumored - even tacitly accepted as in the case of two former premiers in Thailand - but artifice prevails. In polite company, the preferred term for a male homosexual is "confirmed bachelor." This saves face all round. But even coming out has its limits. Says Thai writer Natayada: "I cannot get married. I am not allowed to have children. I won't be considered for certain jobs. Where others may refer to their wives, I cannot talk about my long-term boyfriend."

Douglas Chew, 36, a leading Malaysian fashion designer, came out 15 years ago. "I decided I was an adult and it was my responsibility, my judgment," he says. "I don't think I owe the world an apology." Chew recently ended a three-year relationship. "We would go out to clubs and dance together. But holding hands is not something I'd do in public now - in my more militant days, maybe. My attitude is that I don't care whether I'm accepted or not. A lot of gays try too hard to conform and be accepted by 'normal' society."

Sometimes a relaxed official attitude can be found in what might appear to be the least expected places. Ben, a Chinese Singaporean waiter, says he was asked if he was gay while undergoing medical tests for national service in 1992. "When I said yes, they simply asked if I would be having a sex-change operation." Instead of being rejected, as he thinks would have happened a decade before, Ben was assigned a desk job. There was no hassle from the officers. "Some people made fun of me, but my squad stood by me."

Singapore - the heart of the Asian gay movement? It is not an image that springs easily to mind. But, government-mandated morality and Draconian laws aside, there is a thriving scene in the Lion City. A downtown shopping mall, conveniently attached to two major hotels, is one of the prime "cruising" spots, and it doesn't take a very practiced eye to figure out who's available.

Bugis Street, the raunchy old transvestite haunt, has been cleaned up for tourists, but other watering holes have opened to cater to a hip, gay clientele - either exclusively or on specific nights. One nightclub sets aside Wednesdays and Saturdays for men. Another caters to men most nights except Wednesday, when it is for women. The worldly Chew says he is astonished how aggressive Singaporean homosexuals are. "I have never been so accosted as in Singapore. Once, I was walking down Orchard Road. When I got back to my hotel room, I found a sticker on the back of my T-shirt. It read, 'If you are gay and want to know what I look like, call me.' Of course, I didn't!"

Traditionally, Asian gays have been poorly organized and easy targets for restrictive legislation. OCCUR, a Japanese group set up in 1986, was among the first to strike back. The 35,000-member body challenged a decision by the Tokyo Metropolitan government to deny homosexuals access to youth hostels. Last November, OCCUR claimed victory after six years of litigation. Says lawyer Nakagawa Shigenori: "What happened shows that the rights of minorities need to be addressed."

Ironically, the specter of AIDS, which added to the prejudice against homosexuals, helped spread gay consciousness in the region. When India's AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan, a group promoting safe sex, sought to distribute condoms to male prisoners at Delhi's Tihar jail two years ago, the authorities refused permission. "Homosexuality is illegal, so how can it take place in prisons?" was the response. The activists are now seeking a change in the penal code.

Thai homosexuals are increasingly prepared to assert themselves as full members of the community, rather than as a tolerated fringe. In 1996, when the Rajabhat Institute banned gays from receiving teacher training in its 36 vocational colleges across the country, they launched a campaign that attracted the support of international pressure groups. Rajabhat was forced to back down.

Natee Teerarojjanapong operates Thailand's White Line AIDS-awareness group, where he has spent a decade trying to ease gays into the mainstream of society. His "safe sex" campaigns have helped both gays and straights. But his work has been tough going, particularly when dealing with resistance from the sex industry. He acknowledges that some of his earlier enthusiasm has waned.

Despite setbacks and disappointments, Asia's openly gay community has grown to the point where the "pink dollar" now has clout in the marketplace. Says Malaysia's Chew: "We have no wives or children to support. We travel a lot, dress well, go to the gym. We're usually more worldly than most people, more affluent."

Eddie Pacheco, an out-of-the-closet Manila advertising executive, agrees: "Most businessmen recognize the existence of the pink market. They know they can't afford to ignore gays. They cater to them, come out with products that appeal to them. They are important." And that, for the time being at least, is the real measure of gay power in Asia.

-- With reports by Julian Gearing/Bangkok, Paul Mooney/Beijing, Arjuna Ranawana/Delhi, Law Siu-lan/Hong Kong, Wilhelmina Paras/Manila, Santha Oorjitham/Kuala Lumpur, Andrea Hamilton/Singapore, Laurence Eyton/Taipei and Suvendrini Kakuchi/Tokyo

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A thought for the day

"When you are in the dark, listen, and God will give you a very precious message for someone else when you get into the light." ~Oswald Chambers

[Again, courtesy of Trinity Health]

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

For once Falwell put aside his hatred

Courtesy of the Miami Herald. I found the article thanks to an email by Soulforce.


A few words about Jerry Falwell's finest hour.

Some would say his life did not produce many such hours but, rather, a surfeit of regrettable ones. Like in 1958, when he preached that God meant black Americans to serve white ones. Like in 1985, when he offered warm support to the apartheid government of South Africa and denounced Bishop Desmond Tutu as a ''phony.'' Like in 1999, when he published an article warning parents that Tinky Winky of the toddlers' show Teletubbies was gay. Like in 2001, when he blamed abortion providers, gay rights proponents and the American Civil Liberties Union for the Sept. 11 attacks.

Though seldom as flat-out nutty as Pat Robertson, Rev. Falwell, who died Tuesday of heart failure, nevertheless had an uncanny ability to miss the moment. Time after time when great issues of the day demanded moral leadership, the founder of the Moral Majority proved himself bereft of same.

Which is what makes that finest hour fine.

It happened in 1999, when Falwell and other Christian conservatives met with a group of gay, lesbian and transgendered people of faith. As gays condemned the gay delegation for its involvement and his fellow Christians excoriated Falwell for his, the two groups worshiped together and talked.

Falwell and the Rev. Mel White, leader of Soulforce, a group of gay Christian activists, said they organized the meeting out of a sense that the language between them and the groups they represented had become harsh, acrid, un-Christian. If they could not change one another's minds, they reasoned, perhaps they could at least change one another's words. In the spirit of the moment, each apologized for hateful language directed at the other. It was a brave and moral moment.

In a column I wrote at the time, I warned both sides that, while it's easy to stigmatize anonymous others, it would become a lot more difficult after they had spent time in one another's company and gotten to know each other a little. ''How,'' I asked, ''do you go back to being who you were and hating as blindly as you did?'' The answer, I said, is that you don't.

Which was way too optimistic. It wasn't quite two years later that Falwell blamed gays for 9/11.

Still, as we pause to assess his legacy, it's hard not to glance back at that 1999 meeting with a certain respect for what the two sides sought to achieve. The attempt seems especially noteworthy in the context of our times.

With Robertson and a few others, Jerry Falwell presided over the rise of a Christianity unrecognizable to many of us who were raised in that faith. This Christianity's moral purview was reduced to two issues: abortion and homosexuality. It had nothing to say about feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, helping the helpless.

Worse, it was mean, smug and self-satisfied. The language of faith, forgiveness and forebearance became the language of demonization, marginalization and objectification -- the language of us against them, particularly where ''them'' were gay. That's why the 1999 meeting seemed such a hopeful -- and, more to the point, such a Christian -- thing, the sort of thing you should be able to expect from men and women of God.

That you can't says much about the Christianity Falwell helped create. In girding it for political warfare, he seemed to simultaneously strip it of the revolutionary love that is supposed to be at its core.

When he reclaimed that love eight years ago, Falwell did himself proud, as he had not done before, as he would not do again. So that moment is a singular thing, filled with if.

Makes you sad for what was. Sadder still for what might have been.

Anglican goings on - Martyn Minns, bishop of CANA, not invited to Lambeth

Word today is that newly and controversially-consecrated Bishop Martyn Minns has not been invited to Lambeth. Minns is bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, an mission of the Church of Nigeria to conservative Episcopalians who wish to break away from the Episcopal Church.

I hate to post too much Anglican stuff, because that would be navel-gazing. I also have to assume that some readers aren't Anglican, and I hate lengthy explanations.

But, briefly, all bishops are traditionally invited to the Lambeth conference, every 10 years. Minns was consecrated by Peter Akinola, whom I have lambasted hard and often. Anglican bishops traditionally don't cross one another's boundaries. However, Akinola argues that Anglicans also don't traditionally disregard the Bible as the Episcopal Church has allegedly done, and therefore the border crossing is justified. Additionally, courts in the US have generally ruled that a church's property belongs to its Diocese, not to the congregation - so, individuals can leave the Episcopal Church, but churches cannot. Similarly, national church canons state that Diocesean property is held in trust for the national church ... but no Diocese has ever tried to secede.

Rowan Williams, who has been criticized as having all the backbone of well-boiled pasta, actually asked Akinola not to make things worse by consecrating Minns. Akinola did so anyway. Our dear Archbishop chose not to invite Minns.

Liberals shouldn't be too happy, though. Despite making all sorts of talk about listening to the experiences of LGBT people, Bishop Gene Robinson was not invited either.

What's the next move? Akinola has said, "the withholding of invitation to a Nigerian bishop, elected and consecrated by other Nigerian bishops will be viewed as withholding invitation to the entire House of Bishops of the Church of Nigeria." Perhaps the US bishops will make a similar statement. The Archbishop's secretary has said, however, that Robinson may be invited as a guest, whereas no such invitation is yet being considered for Minns.

If push comes to shove, should US bishops refuse to attend if Robinson doesn't get to? That's a tough question. I would say yes, go, but raise hell. After all, the Nigerians will likely be doing the same thing.

After that hurdle, however, is the problem that the US House of Bishops must respond to the requests of the Primates by September 30. If our response is judged unsatisfactory, then there will be some sort of consequence. Exactly what isn't clear.

The worst case I can imagine is that a large number of Global South Anglican churches end their relationships with us, and Rowan, under pressure, ceases to invite us to Anglican events. Even in this case, I believe liberal and moderate churches would continue their relationships with us. If conservatives forced them to choose between being Anglican and being in relationship with the US Episcopal Church, my best guess is that the Anglican Communion will split. It's not clear that the conservatives wield that kind of power. However, Akinola has been consecrating a lot of new bishops, and Nigeria's bishops could very well outvote everyone at the next Lambeth conference.

What happens, happens. If you're Christian, do pray for the Anglican Communion, that a just resolution might come out of this mess.

Can spirituality be separated from a concept of God?

[Editor: This is an internal Trinity Health publication.]

Spirituality: A Godless Spirituality?

We can begin by asking a basic question: Can an atheist have a spirituality? Isn't some belief in God necessary if you want to be a spiritual person?

Not necessarily! Not, that is, if spirituality is about the workings of the human spirit and its ways in the world.

Every human person dreams, desires, gets disappointed, hurts, and hopes. And, in the process of living, we all try to make sense of it all. We want to understand what is happening in our lives. We strive for meaning and purpose in life. We try to make sense of our life and our world. That gives us a feeling of self-worth and purpose (mission) —and also helps us to cope along the way!

What allows us, as human beings, to psychologically survive life on earth, with all of its pain, drama, and challenges, is a sense of purpose and meaning.
(Barbara DeAngelis)

This fashioning of meaning and purpose is never complete, and whatever sense we make of our life and world is always being reaffirmed or challenged by life's events—it is constantly being fragmented, unraveled, and put back together again in a new way. Major turning points along life’s way are often called “conversions.” “I used to be a Republican but I now am more aligned with the Green Party.” Or, “I grew up a meat-eater but now I am a vegetarian and a member of PETA.” We keep growing in our personal identity.

Many people include in their world of meaning and purpose an understanding of God and nurture a relationship to God. Not everyone’s personal world of meaning and purpose, however, contains a reference to God or the divine. That is why atheists and agnostics can still have spirituality. Spirituality is about the ways of the human spirit in the world, for believers and nonbelievers alike.
Portions of the above were originally published in Health Progress. May-June 2005

Spirituality is that which gives meaning and purpose, allowing us to become the best of who we are.
Spirituality is the innate experience of relationships to God, to self, to others, to creation, that gives meaning and purpose to life.

Spirituality is the practice of staying consciously connected with what makes us alive with ourselves, with one another and with the great other.

From a meeting of Catholic Health Care leaders

Reflection Questions

What do I live for? What draws me, interests me, motivates me? (Purpose of mission)
Who is interested in the things that are important to me?
Who do I share this with? Who do I trust with matters of the heart? (Who is my soul-mate/)
When asked to list the Seven Wonders of the World by her teacher, the quiet little girl answered: “I couldn't quite make up my mind because there were so many." The teacher said, "Well, tell us what you have, and maybe we can help."

The girl hesitated, then read, "I think the Seven Wonders of the World are:

to touch
to taste
to see
to hear
She hesitated a little more, and then

to feel
to laugh
and to love
It is far too easy for us to look at our human exploits and refer to them as "wonders" while we overlook all God has done for us, regarding them as merely "ordinary."

May you be reminded today of those things which are truly wondrous.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Social Accountability at Trinity Health

[Trinity Health is the 4th largest Catholic health system in the US by operating revenue. Emphasis in the document below is mine.]

Social Accountability

Trinity Health will assess, respond to and account for meeting the needs of the communities it serves. To do this it joins with people from those communities, including representatives of those who are poor and underserved. The organization engages in social analysis and advocacy for the advancement of a social justice agenda that includes ecological concerns.
- Trinity Health Preferred Culture Characteristic-Social Responsibility

Social Accountability:

Directs the development and coordination of Trinity Health social accountability processes.
Promotes and assists Ministry Organizations in the alignment of community benefit programs with community health status improvement priorities and outcome objectives.
Supports integration of community benefit planning into strategic planning processes.
Facilitates sharing best practices related to planning, funding and evaluating community benefit programs, especially programs for the low income and other vulnerable populations.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Petrochina and CNPC - separate entities or not?

Many have argued that Petrochina has no ties to the Sudan genocide. It is China National Petroleum Corporation that has the oil operations in Sudan, which provide revenue to the Sudanese government, which funds the Janjaweed militia. Petrochina is a subsidiary, with no influence over the operations of its parent.

However, the Sudan Divestment Task Force has a PDF here that argues differently. The two corporations share management, and have frequently transferred assets. They may be incorporated separately, but the Task Force makes the case that we should see them as the same company.

Petrochina's 2006 SEC Form 20-F states:
“CNPC owns approximately 88.21% of our share capital. This ownership percentage enables CNPC to
elect our entire board of directors without the concurrence of any of our other shareholders. Accordingly,
CNPC is in a position to... control our policies, management and affairs...”

The Task Force reports that:
...CNPC has
appointed a PetroChina Board that is nearly indistinguishable from CNPC. The
PetroChina Board is comprised of 13 Directors (of which one Directorship position is
currently unfilled), only three of which are independent (and one of the three independent
Directors is tied to the Chinese government).108 Eight out of the nine current non-
independent Directors of the Board have a current or former connection to CNPC. The
Board’s Chairman is the immediate past President of CNPC and the Board’s Vice-
Chairman is the current President of CNPC. Furthermore, CNPC’s Chief Financial Officer
and four out of five CNPC Vice Presidents also serve as Directors on PetroChina’s Board.
The only CNPC Vice President that doesn’t serve on PetroChina’s Board is, instead, a
Vice President at PetroChina.109 These elaborate but confusing relationships are visually
laid out in the Appendix immediately following this report.

In addition, many of the executives in both companies have close ties to the Chinese government. Many Westerners view such ties negatively. The practice is more commmon in Asian countries. The Task Force isn't trying to debate good corporate governance, though. It's trying to tell us that China has looked the other way, and that if we divest from CNPC/Petrochina, we create pressure on the Chinese government.

Moving on, the Task Force highlights the fluidity of asset transfers between the two companies.

The history of the CNPC-PetroChina relationship begins in 1999 with CNPC’s failed
attempt at an initial public offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). At the
time, “Western investor concerns about [CNPC’s] operations in Sudan forced the
company to scrap its initial IPO plans and instead carve out and offer a subsidiary,
PetroChina, to the public which CNPC pledged would not be involved in Sudan
activities.” Today, CNPC owns 88.21% of PetroChina’s shares with the rest available to
outside investors. At the time of its IPO application, CNPC’s promise to maintain an
absolute firewall between PetroChina and CNPC’s Sudan assets was met with skepticism
by many US investors, who pointed out that any revenue generated by PetroChina for
CNPC (for example, in the form of dividend payments) was inherently fungible and could
therefore be used, even if indirectly, to fund CNPC’s Sudan operations. One noted analyst
[Editor: a political risk analyst] claimed that the only way the firewall could work “is for CNPC to get out of Sudan” and
another referred to the firewall as “a smoke screen.” The fears of the skeptics were soon
confirmed. When “PetroChina was offered to the public, it incurred $15 billion in debt from
CNPC, some of which was acquired in connection with CNPC’s Sudan operations.” In
addition, analysts at the time estimated “that some US$270-US$300 million of
PetroChina’s [IPO], about ten per cent of the total, went directly to CNPC – and this was
new money that could be included in CNPC’s new investment in the Eastern Upper Nile
[the area where Petrodar operates].”
Since the public offering, there have been dozens more asset transfers between
PetroChina and CNPC, all executed under a non-competition agreement jointly signed by
the companies at the time of PetroChina’s IPO.

Additionally, Petrochina has sold assets to and bought assets from CNPC. Financial information for the assets traded was not publically available. Petrochina places much of its available cash on hand with a finance company owned by CNPC, which may loan it out to other CNPC subsidiaries. Petrochina has a number of unsecured, below market rate loans from China Petroleum Finance Company, which I just referred to. These can be construed as cross subsidies. The Task Force reports that Petrochina did take on debt from CNPC when it was IPOed, but as I understand it, this is a fairly common practice when Western companies make spin-offs.

So, basically, it would not be far wrong to think of Petrochina and CNPC as one company, or at least two companies with substantial overlap. If these had been US companies, Petrochina would probably have much greater distance from CNPC, and then Buffett's argument would have much greater weight. However, these aren't US companies (and anyway, if they were, I still wouldn't invest in Petrochina).

As I understand it, Fidelity has divested 91% of its shares in Petrochina, including all its US ADR shares (these trade on US stock exchanges). They have yet to finish divesting their Petrochina shares held on foreign exchanges.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Community benefit - definition and theology

Community benefit programs are run by non-profit (usually) health care organizations to meet the unmet needs of their communities. Generally, they are run at zero or low margin. All non-profit health care organizations are required to reinvest extra funds in similar ventures. Basically, communities support non-profits by forgoing tax revenue that they would otherwise collect. Nonprofits need to provide some benefit to the community. I don't know that it's ever happened, but a non-profit health system that doesn't do this should lose its tax-free status.

Since this is a religion blog, there is a whole theology behind community benefit, and I'm posting it here. The article is by Sr Patricia Talone, and was published in the Jul/Aug issue of Health Progress in 2005.

Our Tradition Obliges Us to Reach Out beyond Our Hospital Walls

Since 1989, Catholic health care in the United States has engaged in a defined process to measure and report the benefit it offers to the communities it serves. Catholic health facilities relate to their communities as provider, employer, advocate, and citizen. Recognizing an obligation to report community benefit activities long before states began challenging the not-for-profit status of health care services, Catholic health care determined to evaluate and relate community benefit because it was the right thing to do. This obligation flows directly from Catholic health care's identity and the fact that our faith proclaims that we are a human community. Catholic health care commits itself to promote and defend human dignity, care for poor and vulnerable people, promote the common good, and steward resources-all vital aspects of benefit programs.1

Our faith reminds us that every person, having been created in God's image, is sacred and possesses inalienable worth. Catholic health care's mission, therefore, is to treat individuals, their families, and their various communities with profound respect and utmost regard, marshaling all of its considerable resources to advance the health and dignity of each person with whom it conies into contact. Jesus, in prayer to his Father, prayed that "they may be one . . . even as we are one" (Jn 17:21-22), thus grounding the faithful in profound interrelationship. All people, redeemed by the life and death of Jesus, share a common God, a common human relationship that obliges us to be "our brother's keeper" (Gn 4:9).

The human dignity of individuals finds expression and recognition within the context of community. The full achievement of human dignity is possible only within the context of membership and participation in the life of the human community.2 In modern church teaching, there is perhaps no clearer explication of human dignity in community than in Gaudium et Spes (Church in the Modern World), promulgated on December 7, 1965, at the close of the Second Vatican Council. The council fathers remind us that by our very nature we are social beings. Indeed, unless we enter into relationship with others, we will fail to live or develop our innate human gifts.3 Arguing against the individualism of the modern age, Gaudium et Spes argues that the very fact that we are social beings shows an "interdependence between personal betterment and the improvement of society."4


Recognizing that Jesus had a special affection for and ministry to poor and vulnerable people, Catholic health care provides "service to and advocacy for those people whose social condition puts them at the margins of our society and makes them particularly vulnerable to discrimination."5 This obligation arises not from noblesse oblige, but because all people-the healthy and the sick, the rich and the poor, the well-educated and those with little education-are children of the same loving God.

Virtually every social encyclical since Gaudium et Spes insists that the faithful, members of the human community, are called to contribute to the common good. "Every group must take into account the needs and legitimate aspirations of every other group, and still more of the human family as a whole."6 Catholic health care commits itself to this common good, "the sum total of social conditions, which allow people, either as groups, or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and easily."7 The pursuit of the common good compels Catholic health care facilities to press their energies beyond charity care to advocacy for the poor and vulnerable, and preventive care for those who are well. Dedication to the common good encourages Catholic facilities, instead of simply waiting for the sick to come to their doors, to go out into their respective communities to seek those in need of health care.

Precisely because of the church's commitment to the common good, promotion of community benefit (and the tracking of community benefit data) arises within Catholic health care from concern neither for not-for-profit status nor public perception, but rather from a deep and abiding sense of its identity as a healing ministry of the church. Community benefit is a viable expression of the church's recognition that society as a whole is responsible for allowing each and every member to pursue life's goods.


The Catholic health ministry's concern for communities stems from the church's belief that human dignity is most fully expressed and recognized within the context of community. We humans are social beings by our very beings, and unless we involve ourselves in relationships with others, we fail to develop our innate human gifts.

We who serve Catholic health care recognize that Jesus had a special affection for and ministry for the poor and vulnerable. Our church calls on us to provide service and advocacy for people whose disadvantages put them at society's margins.

This obligation arises from the fact that all people-the healthy and the sick, the rich and the poor, the well-educated and the untaught-are children of the same loving God. Sharing that God, we are our "brother's keeper."


1. U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, Washington, DC, 2001, pp. 8-9.

2. Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 1965, paras. 24-27.

3. Second Vatican Council, para. 12.

4. Second Vatican Council, para. 25.

5. U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, directive 3, pp. 9-10.

Violence in Gaza

Infighting between Hamas and Fatah is destabilizing Gaza, and is threatening to draw the Israeli army in as well. BBC reports.

Gaza hit by fresh Israeli strikes

Casualties from the strikes were rushed to Gaza City hospital
Israel has launched new air strikes on targets near Gaza City including Hamas buildings killing at least five people, four of them fighters loyal to Hamas.
Six Palestinians were killed in similar strikes on Thursday.

They came as fighting between Hamas and rival Palestinian faction Fatah, which has left 40 people dead, continued for a sixth day.

Israeli officials said the raids were in response to Hamas rocket attacks on its soil.

On Sunday, the Israeli cabinet is to consider whether to escalate its response.

"In the next few days, Israel is going to make some decisions," Reuters news agency quoted Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni as saying.

Correspondents say the rocket attacks on Israel appeared to be an attempt to draw it into an internal Palestinian conflict, although the Israeli defence ministry has denied its attacks are linked to factional fighting.

Meanwhile, the United Nations' new envoy to the Middle East, Michael Williams, has warned that the situation in Gaza could deteriorate rapidly.

He told the Financial Times newspaper that it may become difficult to contain the violence.

It was unclear whether fresh elections would end the violence or provide a firm political basis for negotiation, he said.

'Defensive operation'

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who leads Fatah, may travel to Gaza from the West Bank on Friday to try to shore up the fourth Hamas-Fatah ceasefire in five days.

How can Palestinians unite when the West and Israel will only support one side?
Angs, New York

The trip, due to take place on Thursday, was called off at the last minute apparently over security concerns.

The infighting has left at least 40 people dead in the past five days.

In addition to launching air strikes, Israel made a small incursion into Gaza using tanks and infantry units.

Israeli media reports said the troops secured a ridge west of the southern Israeli town of Sderot and the northern tip of the strip.

A military spokesman said the force was on a "defensive operation".

The moves came after Hamas militants fired more rockets at Sderot.

The BBC's Katya Adler in Jerusalem says there is mounting speculation that Israel is planning a ground offensive into Gaza.

Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

Prayers are needed.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Toronto Star: Wolfie (will be) fired for the wrong reasons

I previously said that Paul Wolfowitz should not have been selected as head of the World Bank in the first place, that he had lost his moral standing not with the promotion of his girlfriend, but long before that. It seems the Toronto Star agrees with me.

But the Riza affair that has dominated media coverage of upheaval at the World Bank is not the compelling reason why it needs to remove Wolfowitz. Even in pleading his case with the 24-member bank board in a private session Tuesday, Wolfowitz conceded that "I relied much too long on advisers" whom he recruited from the White House and the Pentagon, from which he had just arrived as former U.S. deputy defence secretary.

These factotums isolated Wolfowitz even from senior World Bank executives who develop and oversee bank programs, and arbitrarily intervened to cancel programs – despite their lack of experience in international finance and development.

The anti-corruption initiative Wolfowitz inherited from predecessor James Wolfensohn and greatly amplified, was noble on its face, but oddly directed under Wolfowitz mainly at countries deemed unfriendly to the United States.

In a Toronto Star analysis of the Wolfowitz saga last month, the chronic credibility issues at both institutions were described as arising from the tradition of U.S. appointment of the World Bank head and European selection of the IMF chief.

Perhaps more importantly, the Star asks if perhaps other nations, including those the bank lends to, should have more say in who runs the World Bank.

Last week, Joseph Stiglitz, former World Bank chief economist and Nobel Prize winner for economics, argued in an essay in the Financial Times of London that Wolfowitz's moral standing was undercut from the start because the development and finance ministers of the bank's 185-plus member nations, who should have been closely involved in his appointment, "were left to ratify what was essentially a done deal."

Noting the recent decision of some Latin American nations to cut their ties to both the World Bank and the IMF, former Indian economic affairs secretary E.A.S. Sarma added last week that "the developing countries should have adequate voice in determining the policies within the bank and the IMF."

Rumours abound that Bush would like to select as Wolfowitz's replacement Bush's Iraq comrade-in-arms Tony Blair, the British prime minister who plans to step down at the end of June. That would be a break with the tradition of U.S. citizens who've run the bank, but a non-starter since Blair is almost as radioactive with the bank's board as Wolfowitz became.

Better candidates include Kemal Dervis, who as Turkish finance minister effectively steered his country through a period of financial crisis, and has held senior developing-world assistance posts at the World Bank and United Nations. And Arminio Fraga, who gained similar global plaudits running Brazil's central bank. Either appointment would unleash all manner of overdue reforms at an institution badly in need of re-examining its mandate 53 years after its founding.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Yolanda Denise King passes away

Yolanda Denise King, eldest daughter of MLK, has passed away. Story is here.

Grant her eternal rest, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon her.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Tort reform

The US tort system is probably not a very just one, but reforming it is not actually going to make a huge difference to medical expenditures. There's no reason, though, not to poke a bit of fun at it.

Jerry Falwell has passed away

Jerry Falwell has passed away. Lord, grant him eternal rest, and let light perpetual shine upon him.

Paul Wolfowitz refuses to quit, blames everyone else - sound familiar?

Apologizing and accepting responsibility would probably be a better tactic here, but Wolfie's behavior is characteristic of the Bush administration. Once again, though, I ask: why was this man allowed to lead the World Bank in the first place? He was one of the main architects of an unjust war, which was started on false pretenses and that has resulted in many casualties. He did not lose any moral standing - he never had any to begin with.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- A World Bank committee found bank President Paul Wolfowitz violated ethics rules in his handling of a promotion and generous pay rise for his girlfriend and that his involvement represented a conflict of interest.

Wolfowitz rejected the critical report Monday, and the United States showed no sign of yielding in its steadfast support for the former U.S. deputy defense secretary, saying the findings were no grounds to dismiss him.

"Mr. Wolfowitz's contract requiring that he adhere to the Code of Conduct for board officials and that he avoid any conflict of interest, real or apparent, were violated," the panel said of Wolfowitz's handling of a pay and promotion deal for World Bank Middle East expert Shaha Riza in 2005.

"The salary increase Ms. Riza received at Mr. Wolfowitz's direction was in excess of the range established by Rule 6.01," the panel said.

In documents released late Monday, Wolfowitz called the findings "unbalanced and flawed" and argued that the panel had omitted statements and documents that support his position.

The panel said Wolfowitz believes the blame lies with others and not with him.

It said he did not accept the bank's policy on conflict of interest and tried to bypass rules that he believed did not apply to him.

"The ad hoc group concludes that in actuality, Mr Wolfowitz from the outset cast himself in opposition to the established rules of the institution," it found.

"He did not accept the bank's policy on conflict of interest, so he sought to negotiate for himself a resolution different from that which would have applied to the staff he was selected to head."

The panel referred a final decision to the bank's 24-nation board of shareholder governments, which meets Tuesday, when Wolfowitz will make a final pitch to hold on to his job.

The board is unlikely to make a final decision before Wednesday, and it was still unclear if they would be forced to vote on the issue or decide by consensus.

The panel recommended that in deciding the issue, the board should consider "whether Wolfowitz will be able to provide the leadership needed to ensure that the bank continues to operate to the fullest extent possible in achieving its mandate."

Officials involved in a month of turmoil at the bank said that behind-the-scenes diplomatic maneuvering would intensify now that a decision on Wolfowitz's future was closer to a final resolution.

One board official said member countries will make another effort to resolve their differences and Wolfowitz still had a chance of rescuing his job, depending on whether he could present a clear plan for how he could rebuild his credibility.

Meanwhile, 37 country directors on the front line of the bank's operations said in a letter to the board and to Wolfowitz that the leadership crisis had damaged the bank's reputation and effectiveness in fighting poverty.

From the start Wolfowitz was a controversial choice by President Bush to head the poverty-fighting institution because of his neoconservative background and high-profile role as an architect of the Iraq war.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson spoke to his counterparts in several other countries, telling them he did not think "the facts merit dismissal," according to a spokeswoman.

"The facts reveal that President Wolfowitz acted to find a pragmatic solution and to carry out the direction he received from the Ethics Committee," she said.

The United States has stated that Wolfowitz apologized for his mistakes, because he was new to the job, and deserved credit for participating in the board's investigation.

But the panel said Wolfowitz's claim that he was new at the time and followed the direction of others was "troubling."

"The ad hoc group finds this posture troubling for what it says about the leadership the bank could expect from the man who had been selected to head a global institution with the central mission of fighting poverty," it said.

"The Group finds the submission notable for absence of any acceptance by Mr. Wolfowitz himself of responsibility or blame for the events that transpired."