As President Barack Obama prepared to address the nation on Tuesday evening to articulate a plan for intervention in Syria, NBC rushed to assure its viewers that the Ryan Seacrest-hosted game show, The Million Second Quiz, would not be interrupted. As detailed by the network, the president would speak for only 15 minutes, thus viewers could watch their televisions with full confidence that the entirety of the hyped-up program would be fully protected. While there was suspense as to whether NBC would follow through on its promise of an unbroken telecast, the presidential coverage stayed within the agreed upon time slot, viewers were able to watch their regularly scheduled program, and all was well in the world.
In the meantime, all is not well in the world.
What’s happening in Syria is awful. You see the pictures and your heart breaks. It’s horrific. Lakhdar Brahimi, U.N. special envoy to Syria, said Wednesday that, “With what has happened on the 21st of August last week, it does seem that some kind of substance was used that killed a lot of people: hundreds, definitely more than a hundred, some people say 300, some people say 600, maybe 1,000, maybe more than 1,000.”
The Huffington Post has a slider with the title, Syria War In August (Warning: Graphic Images). Of course, every life matters, but as a father with three young children, seeing the picture of a Syrian man crying out in pain as he carries the body of a young girl – words fail.
Violence and Justice
My wife knows that we promote nonviolence at the Raven Foundation, and that I lean toward pacifism. Wednesday night, as we discussed Syria and Bashar al-Assad’s continued threats of violence, she asked me, “Well, what do we do if a government uses chemical weapons against its own people?”
The question haunts me. These are times that try the soul of anyone committed to nonviolence. We all want justice. We all want the violence to stop. We don’t want any more people to cry in pain as they carry the body of a lifeless child.
And so President Barack Obama seems to be ramping up the war machine. Ironically, as he plans for possible military strikes, on Wednesday he delivered a talk honoring the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “I Have a Dream.” As we hear the drum beat of war, we are reminded of King’s dream of justice. In his speech King said:
We must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. … We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. … [We] will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Our popular understanding of “justice” is mired with violence. For King, true justice was always based on love and nonviolence, because violence always carries with it a fatal flaw. As he wrote in his book Strength to Love, “Violence brings only temporary victories; violence, by creating many more social problems than it solves, never brings permanent peace” (18).
Yesterday’s “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony in Washington, D.C., honored the nation's substantial advances in racial equality in the fifty years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his now-iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.
But events this year — from the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act to the House eliminating funding for food stamps to the Trayvon Martin trial — are posing serious challenges to our national progress towards true equality for all.
An infographic from the Public Religion Research Institute, "The Dream by the Numbers," highlights systemic inequalities that still work against communities of color today. The statistics are grim: black communities are unemployed at nearly double the rate of white communities. Fewer than 20 percent of black youth will receive a college or graduate degree. Twice as many blacks lack health insurance as whites. And nearly 70 percent of blacks surveyed mentioned “lack of opportunities for young people” as a top concern for their community.
The U.S. Senate has confirmed former Catholic Relief Services head Ken Hackett to be the next ambassador to the Vatican.
Hackett replaces Miguel Diaz, a theologian, and he gives President Obama an experienced voice on social justice in Rome where a new pope, Francis, has made caring for the poor a priority.
Hackett’s confirmation came Thursday night by unanimous consent as senators wrapped up loose ends before the summer recess.
No opposition was expected since Hackett has strong ties to both parties; for five years he served on the board of former President George W. Bush’s Millennium Challenge Corporation and he is reported to be close to Denis McDonough, Obama’s chief of staff, whose brother is a priest.
During a layover in the Phoenix airport on Friday, I caught the tail end of President Barack Obama’s remarks about the Trayvon Martin case. Struck by Obama’s words, I said to no one in particular, “It’s about time he said something about this.” The man next to me looked in my direction as I walked to get a snack, and I considered for a second going back and asking his impression of the president’s remarks. I kept walking toward the green licorice, but fate had other plans.
Who ended up being in seat 18B next to me? Yep. We smiled as we made eye contact, a mutual recognition that we had an overdue conversation coming and the time to have it.
For a living, I teach and facilitate dialogue. I train others how to — and why to — have challenging conversations that transform relationships and design community change. I have facilitated more than 10,000 hours of dialogue in the past 15 years.
I was feeling confident and curious. We got right into it.
“Well, looks like we are supposed to talk about it,” I said as he laughed. “What did you think of the president’s remarks?”
“I think I thought differently than you did,” John said
I first learned about President Obama’s comments about racism and the Trayvon Martin case last week when a Facebook friend posted a link with this comment:
“Full text of the American President’s divisive and racist remarks today. He moves smoothly into his new role as race-baiter in chief.”
Let me try an analogy.
Imagine that Joe Lieberman had been elected our first Jewish president. And that in a moment of crisis, he felt compelled to explain that some reaction to even the hint of anti-Semitism is partly explained by the Jewish cultural memory of the Holocaust. And he included personal anecdotes about growing up Jewish in America.
Would he be accused of being divisive and guilty of whatever the Jewish equivalent of “race-baiting” might be?
Over the past week, as the nation has wrestled with the implications of the “not guilty” verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, I have concluded that many in white America are desperately trying to remind African Americans that, when it comes to race in America, silence is golden. Their effort implies that any honest dialogue about race that includes the stories and experiences of African Americans disturbs the idea of the “American experience” for those of a lighter hue.
This message came through loud and clear last Friday following President Obama’s unexpected and personal reflection on the death of Trayvon Martin and the verdict on the trial of George Zimmerman.
According to an aide connected to the Democratic Party, bipartisan senators reached a deal Wednesday that would offer undergraduate students a lower interest rate of 3.85 percent on student loans, up until the year 2015. Revealing this information to USA Today prior to the official vote, sources confirmed that both parties are working towards lowering students costs. USA Today reports:
The bipartisan agreement is likely to be the final in a string of efforts that have emerged from near constant work to undo a rate hike that took hold for subsidized Stafford loans on July 1. Rates for new subsidized Stafford loans doubled from 3.4% to 6.8%, adding roughly $2,600 to students' education costs.
Read more here.
Nearly 40 members of the U.S. House, among them Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims, sent a letter to President Obama on Wednesday urging him to convene a “Religious Diversity Summit” and do more to fight discrimination against religious minorities.
“The targeting of religious minorities in America is reaching a crisis point and we believe your leadership is crucial to stemming this rising tide of violence,” the letter writers said.
The letter comes just ahead of the first anniversary of the Aug. 5 attack by a white supremacist on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., that killed six worshippers. Muslim advocacy groups say there has been an increase in attacks against mosques and Muslims since the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15.
Religious leaders in Africa strongly rebuked President Obama’s call to decriminalize homosexuality, suggesting it’s the reason why he received a less-than-warm welcome during a recent trip to the continent.
In a news conference in Senegal during his three-nation tour, just as the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on same-sex marriage, Obama said African nations must grant equal protection to all people regardless of their sexual orientation.
“My basic view is that regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation, when it comes to how the law treats you, how the state treats you … people should be treated equally,” Obama said. “And that’s a principle that I think applies universally.”
Forget about future generations – climate change is already hitting poor people around the world, not to mention contributing to natural disasters in the U.S. from New York City to Arizona. Apparently that’s not enough for some members of Congress, who have chosen to use their authority to try to block any and all attempts to do something about the problem.
Earlier this month, President Barack Obama announced a major, comprehensive plan of action on climate change – changes that would do much to protect human health, the poor, and future generations by mitigating some of the worst impacts of climate change. A central part of the plan is to address climate pollution at its largest source: coal-fired power plants.
Unfortunately, many members of Congress are already taking steps to decry the president’s plan as a “war” – on coal, on American energy, and yes, even on America itself. Leaders from John Boehner to Michele Bachmann to Joe Manchin have made it pretty clear that they view attempts to care for creation as an assault on our country.
In order to gain substantial backing in the 2014 midterm election, Republicans are beginning to flaunt major environmental and economic issues regarding President Barack Obama’s climate change policies.The New York Times reports:
Elected officials and political analysts said the president’s crackdown on coal, the leading source of industrial greenhouse gases, could have consequences for Senate seats being vacated by retiring Democrats in West Virginia and South Dakota, for shaky Democratic incumbents like Mary L. Landrieu of energy-rich Louisiana, and for the Democratic challenger of Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.
Read more here.
Yesterday was a momentous day for the creation care movement: after years of inaction from Congress, President Obama announced a major, comprehensive plan of action on climate change. President Obama’s new “Climate Action Plan,” which he laid out in a speech at Georgetown University Tuesday, addresses the country’s largest source of climate pollution — carbon dioxide from power plants — as well as boosting energy efficiency standards, renewable energy production on public lands, and resilience for cities, towns and roads.
President Barack Obama revealed his approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project during his climate change speech on Tuesday. With the effort to reduce carbon pollution, Obama has agreed to move forward with the process providing that the Keystone XL pipeline doesn’t release an increasing amount of greenhouse gasses into the environment. The Hill reports:
“Our national interest will be served only if this project doesn't significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution,” Obama said in speech laying out his second-term climate agenda, including greenhouse gas emissions for power plants.
“The net effects of the pipeline's impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project can go forward.”
Read more here.
Throughout the years, authors and academic scholars have studied and revealed their opinions of whether economic equality is in fact possible in the United States. A variety of them pose the question of whether or not social struggles in the U.S. stem from economic injustices, or from the lack of our own moral responsibility. The New York Times reports:
With the blessing of the new right, Krueger argues, corporate America has abandoned its commitment to the commonweal over the past three decades. It no longer honors norms of fairness and equality. To Krueger, it is in the economic sphere that American integrity has been eroded and its ideals corrupted.
Read more here.
Days before President Barack Obama's high-profile speech on drones and U.S. counterterrorism efforts, Sojourners sat down with investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill to take an inside look at U.S.-led covert wars and the drones that have become an integral part of our global “war on terror.”
"After years of traveling in these countries, I really believe that we’re creating more enemies than we’re killing.”
In some respects, drones are simply a new tool of old empire. Scahill, author of Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield and producer of the documentary of the same name, now in theaters, calls this an "unending war ... being legitimized under a popular Democratic president, who is a constitutional lawyer by trade.”
Indeed, within five years, the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq for terrorist attacks the country did not commit has transformed under the Obama administration into pre-emptive assassinations halfway around the world, for crimes citizens have not yet committed. The result, Scahill suggested, is our collective complicity to “unending war.”
In order to stand a chance of the Presidency in the 2016 election, the Republican Party should not obstruct the ideas of an immigration overhaul, says Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Potential presidential candidate Marco Rubio is in favor of immigration reform as long as minor changes are made to the measure. The Guardian reports:
"The vast majority of Americans, the vast majority of conservative Republicans are prepared to support immigration reform, but only if we can ensure that we're not going to have another wave of illegal immigration in the future," said Rubio, a Florida senator and potential 2016 presidential Republican contender. "I think 95, 96% of the bill is in perfect shape and ready to go. But there are elements that need to be improved."
Read more here.
President Obama on Friday nominated Ken Hackett, former head of Catholic Relief Services, to be the next U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.
It’s a savvy move, picking a Catholic whose career in the church has been dedicated to alleviating suffering as America’s representative to a pope who has made helping the poor a priority for his pontificate.
Hackett replaces Miguel Diaz, who left the post last November to teach at the University of Dayton. Diaz is a theologian, which was a first for the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, and that also seemed to make sense in that Pope Benedict XVI, whose retirement led to the election of Pope Francis last March, is a renowned theologian.
What does the ancient arrangement of tents in an ancient Israelite encampment have to do with the ultramodern question of whether the U.S. government should be peering into the ultramodern phone and Internet records of hundreds of millions of Americans?
Or to put it another way, are there any spiritual and religious roots to the notion of personal and household privacy?
To start from the Bible: Many Jewish prayer services begin with a quotation from a non-Jewish shaman, himself quoted in the Torah (Num 24:5 — this passage of Torah will be read two weeks from now, on June 22.) There was a king, Balak by name, who hired an expert shamanic curse-hurler, Balaam, to curse the People of Israel who were swarming across the wilderness after their liberation from slavery under Pharaoh.
In his remarks at the National Defense University two weeks ago, President Obama stopped just one sentence short of declaring an end to the so-called “war on terror.” This is and always was a misnomer. It is a category error. A “war on terror” cannot be fought with armies and weapons of warfare. Terror is a response. Terrorism is a tactic. A terrorist is a criminal who ought to be apprehended, tried, and if convicted punished through the criminal justice system.
The Obama administration has been careful about using this term, speaking more about a war against al-Qaeda than an overall war on terror that is nothing but a declaration of perpetual war. President Obama said: “Our systemic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.”
He did not go so far as to declare the war on terror over.