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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Osama's Crusade in Darfur - New York Times

Osama's Crusade in Darfur - New York TimesApril 25, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

Those of us who want a more forceful response to genocide in Darfur should be sobered by Osama bin Laden's latest tape.

In that tape, released on Sunday, Osama rails against the agreement that ended Sudan's civil war with its Christian and animist south and accuses the U.S. of plotting to dispatch "Crusader troops" to occupy Darfur "and steal its oil wealth under the pretext of peacekeeping." Osama calls on good Muslims to go to Sudan and stockpile land mines and rocket-propelled grenades in preparation for "a long-term war" against U.N. peacekeepers and other infidels.

Osama's tape underscores the fact that a tougher approach carries real risks. It's easy for us in the peanut gallery to call for a U.N. force, but what happens when jihadis start shooting down the U.N. helicopters?

So with a major rally planned for Sunday to call for action to stop the slaughter in Darfur, let's look at what specific actions the U.S. should take. One reader, William in Scottsdale, Ariz., wrote to me to say that he had called Senator John McCain's office to demand more action on Darfur. "The lady on the phone asked me for suggestions," he said — and William was short on suggestions.

The first step to stop the killing is to dispatch a robust U.N. peacekeeping force of at least 20,000 well-equipped and mobile troops. But because of precisely the nationalistic sensitivities that Osama is trying to stir, it shouldn't have U.S. ground troops. Instead, it should be made up mostly of Turks, Jordanians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and other Muslims, and smaller numbers of European and Asian troops. The U.S. can supply airlifts, and NATO can provide a short-term bridging force if necessary.

Second, the U.S. and France should enforce a no-fly zone from the French air base in Abéché, Chad. American military planners say this is practicable, particularly if it simply involves destroying Sudanese aircraft on the ground after they have attacked civilians.

Granted, these approaches carry real risks. After we shoot up a Sudanese military plane, Sudan may orchestrate a "spontaneous" popular riot that will involve lynching a few U.S. aid workers — or journalists.

But remember that the Sudanese government is hanging on by its fingernails. It is deeply unpopular, and when it tried to organize demonstrations against the Danish cartoons, they were a flop.

The coming issue of Foreign Policy magazine publishes a Failed States Index in which Sudan is ranked the single most unstable country in the entire world. If we apply enough pressure, Sudan's leaders will back down in Darfur — just as they did when they signed a peace deal to end the war with southern Sudan.

A no-fly zone and a U.N. force are among the ways we can apply pressure, but another essential element is public diplomacy. We should respond to Osama by shining a spotlight on the Muslim victims of Darfur (many Arabs have instinctively sided with Sudan's rulers and have no idea that nearly all of the victims of the genocide are Muslim).

The White House can invite survivors for a photo-op so they themselves can recount, in Arabic, how their children were beheaded and their mosques destroyed. We can release atrocity photos, like one I have from an African Union archive of the body of a 2-year-old boy whose face was beaten into mush. President Bush can make a major speech about Darfur, while sending Condi Rice and a planeload of television journalists to a refugee camp in Chad to meet orphans.

Madeleine Albright helped end the horrors of Sierra Leone simply by going there and being photographed with maimed children. Those searing photos put Sierra Leone on the global agenda, and policy makers hammered out solutions. Granted, it's the fault of the "CBS Evening News" that it gave Darfur's genocide only 2 minutes of coverage in all of last year (compared with the 36 minutes that it gave the Michael Jackson trial), but the administration can help when we in the media world drop the ball.

The U.S. could organize a summit meeting in Europe or the Arab world to call attention to Darfur, we could appoint a presidential envoy like Colin Powell, and we could make the issue much more prominent in our relations with countries like Egypt, Qatar, Jordan and China.

Americans often ask what they can do about Darfur. These are the kinds of ideas they can urge on the White House and their members of Congress — or on embassies like Egypt's. Many other ideas are at savedarfur.org and at genocideintervention.net.

When Darfur first came to public attention, there were 70,000 dead. Now there are perhaps 300,000, maybe 400,000. Soon there may be 1 million. If we don't act now, when will we?

Monday, April 24, 2006

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: Break addiction to senseless war on drugs

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: Break addiction to senseless war on drugsBreak addiction to senseless war on drugs

In the ongoing battle over the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes, the Food and Drug Administration has now shown that ideology can bend almost anything to its will. Last week, the FDA claimed that "no sound scientific studies" supported the medical use of the drug - flatly contradicting a 1999 review by the Institute of Medicine. That seems strange, given that the Institute is part of the National Academy of Sciences, the nation's most prestigious scientific advisory agency.

Could one group of scientists be so far off as to come up with a completely incorrect reading of the medicinal value of the drug? I doubt it - and so do many others who feel that right-wing politics have trumped science yet again.

But that, it seems to me, is the least important issue connected to the legalization of drugs. The three most important reasons to call a ceasefire in the insane "war" we've been fighting for decades are the reduction of crime, the expansion of the tax base and the contribution to the economy.

Whether or not anyone likes it, recreational drug use has become part of American social life - and it is that use, not addiction, that fuels the trade. If addicts alone were spending money on drugs, the problem could have been licked or dramatically reduced long ago.

As for the reduction of crime, we are constantly getting benumbing reports that tell us how many inner city young men drop out of school to sell drugs, naively looking for a fast way to make big money. Such young men are the drones of the business. If we ended the illicit nature of the trade, the drones would either stay in school or surprise us and find a legal line of work.

The real economic winners in the drug business these days are the high-level dealers and traders. When it comes to them, America is being played for a chump in exactly the way we were during Prohibition. That's when the Mafia gathered all the capital it needed to become a formidable national criminal organization because public demand for drinking was greater than fear of the consequences of drinking.

If we ended today's version of Prohibition and legalized drugs, we could stop the murderous drug wars and pull billions of dollars out of the shadow world. Taxes could be levied and public rehabilitation centers supported.

In that way, victory could be pulled from the jaws of a very obvious defeat. Some call this position defeatist - but it's far more realistic than craven. It's simply a matter of facing the facts of our time rather than pushing our heads under the sand - no matter how many young men are in our penal system for either the sale or the possession of drugs, no matter how many are killed in drug wars and no matter how obvious it has become that recreational drug use is here to stay.

We are still a long way from waking up to these facts. But we can wake up, and we will. After all, once upon a time, many thought slavery would go on forever and women would never get the vote.

Originally published on April 23, 2006

Saturday, April 22, 2006

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Helping a troubled continent beat its demons

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Helping a troubled continent beat its demonsHelping a troubled continent beat its demons

Conferences and panels on foreign policy are rarely refreshing. Those held at universities can be horrific affairs in which a predictable ideology can dominate, as speakers attempt to indoctrinate naive students unaware of the complexities of the real world.

A recent striking exception was the panel on American policy in Africa that was held at New York University.

The conference, presented by Africa House and moderated by Yaw Nyarko, vice provost for globalization and multicultural affairs at NYU, was made refreshing by the fact that the speakers talked about how policy actually comes about and what influences that policy. There also was informed discussion of what is demanded of diplomats and those involved in the policies formed in the interest of the African people, who are in great need of freedom from a backward past - part traditional, part colonial and part the result of the many dictatorships.

As one panelist pointed out, $569 billion in aid has been received by African governments over the past 40 years, but the average African in the street lives no better now than he or she did when no money was coming in.

The corruption that seems to rise to the moon, the outdated customs that socially limit and imprison women and the sloppy responses that have made AIDS a plague across the continent have defined Africa's problems as not only complex, but deadly.

Why is there no outcry, no international recognition of this wasted money, no demands made on the governments that are as barbaric as any on Earth? Part of the explanation is that the press has not always been interested and when it does become interested, things are too far along to be easily drawn back.

Particularly interesting and informative was Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer. Frazer pointed out that that policy of the Bush administration has come straight from the President himself, aided and encouraged first by Colin Powell and now by Secretary of State Rice.

Frazer argued for engagement with Africans from the top to the bottom of society, which would educate those in the diplomatic corps and allow for greater authority in discussions. Others pointed out that many armed conflicts in Africa have been brought to a stop because of well-focused diplomatic activity, even though much more could have been done in Rwanda.

There was some hot conflict that could have risen to the top if there had been more time allotted, and the questions from Africans in the audience offered a sense of how much goodwill is expected of the U.S., which sometimes seems to drag its feet because there is, as Congressman Donald Payne (D-N.J.) pointed out, not enough noise in the streets.

What became clear was that Africa not only has a long way to go but has, contrary to the surface readings, already come a long way.

Still, nothing is guaranteed. If the next President is less interested and the public remains tuned out, everything could slow down until a more enlightened administration takes the Oval Office.

It seems to me that the Bush administration could set a standard that might force the next few administrations to step up where it should and when it should. That, in combination with the African women who are publicly at war with traditional corruption, might brighten Africa's future much more quickly than we might expect.

Originally published on April 20, 2006

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Black pessimism, blame and glimmers of hope

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Black pessimism, blame and glimmers of hopeBlack pessimism, blame and glimmers of hope

It sometimes seems that all we hear about black people is data seeming to prove that they are in worse shape than any other group in America: Astronomically high school dropout rates. A murder rate six times that of whites. A very high percentage of young black men twisted up in the penal system. HIV/AIDS now being officially considered a minority disease.

One school of thought has concluded that the problems stem mostly from black culture itself. For example, if Negroes would only begin to think beyond the barbaric stupidity and crass materialism of the average rap video, more young black men might understand that you don't "get paid" astronomical sums for being illiterate and ignorant (unless one's career is in entertainment).

The other body of thought blames three other culprits: capitalism, systemic racism and the global economy. These people want us to believe that domestic capitalism is predatory, that society is infested with bigotry, and that global corporations aim to keep prices as low as possible while sticking workers in the neck whenever possible.

In my opinion, both schools suffer from being superficial explanations of the problems. To ignore individual aptitude and the development of marketable skills is as irresponsible as ignoring all of the obvious problems in the world of work that are presently facing unions, workers and pensions. Individuals can affect what happens when they decide to prepare themselves as well as the educational system allows.

There is always a risk that one may not be able to successfully compete, but there is no risk if one does not prepare oneself. Then the failure is just about guaranteed, unless one beats the lottery or miraculously becomes vastly popular for chanting irresponsible doggerel over mechanical drumbeats.

Once upon a time it was understood quite well across the black community, from the bottom to the top, that getting an education dramatically increased the chances of triumphing over the limitations imposed by bigoted attitudes toward color or class. Remaining ignorant put one perilously close to slavery.

Meanwhile, we learn that there is a decline in reading comprehension skills across the nation, even beyond the Negro community.

According to a federal study by the National Center for Education Statistics, only 31% of college graduates can read or understand complex books. There is no explanation for the 10% drop of abilities since 1992. Some say we are encountering a new kind of illiteracy in a population that surfs the Internet, watches more television than ever, and rarely reads for pleasure.

With all of this going on and the constant bombardment of younger black people with the idiocy, hedonism and soft- soaping of criminal behavior of rap, we learn a surprising fact: Black people are making impressive gains in reading and math. According to a federal report, the "average rate of prose literacy" rose 6 percentage points among black people since 1992.

That's not too shabby for a group that is always talked about so badly. When we learn what accounts for those gains, we may come closer to handling some of the most ominous obstacles of our time.

Originally published on April 17, 2006

Daily Kos: Why my military service made me a Democrat

Daily Kos: Why my military service made me a DemocratWhy my military service made me a Democrat
by kos
Wed Apr 19, 2006 at 09:04:28 AM PDT

In the current issue of the American Prospect I write about my military service, and how the values and experiences drilled into me made me the person I am today. And that includes turning me from a Republican into a Democrat.

There's a reason most vets running for office this year are running as Democrats. The military is perhaps the ideal society -- we worked hard but the Army took care of us in return. All our basic needs were met -- housing, food, and medical care. It was as close to a color-blind society as I have ever seen. We looked out for one another. The Army invested in us. I took heavily subsidized college courses and learned to speak German on the Army's dime. I served with people from every corner of the country. I got to party at the Berlin Wall after it fell and explored Prague in those heady post-communism days. I wasn't just a tourist; I was a witness to history.

The Army taught me the very values that make us progressives -- community, opportunity, and investment in people and the future. Returning to Bush Senior's America, I was increasingly disillusioned by the selfishness, lack of community, and sense of entitlement inherent in the Republican philosophy. The Christian Coalition scared the heck out of me. And I was offended by the lip service paid to national service when most Republicans couldn't be bothered to wear combat boots. I voted for Bush in 1992, but that was the last time I voted Republican.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Will you like McCain when he's not angry? By John Dickerson

Will you like McCain when he's not angry? By John Dickerson

By John Dickerson
Posted Wednesday, April 12, 2006, at 5:37 PM ET

Download John Dickerson's weekly political podcast here, or sign up for Slate's free daily podcast on iTunes.

Being a Republican presidential front-runner requires endurance and patience, so John McCain should be perfect. His tour in the Navy and career in the Senate have been marked by long, hard slogs. He pushed to pass campaign-finance reform for years before it was enacted. "Steady strain," he repeats during protracted legislative fights, a mantra from his five and a half years as a POW, when he persevered over setbacks more daunting than any primary or filibuster.

But being a front-runner requires more of an iron ass than an iron will. You have to sit through Lincoln Day dinners listening to party functionaries; sit through lectures from powerful but verbose fund-raisers who have strategy ideas; and endure pundits and political elites who evaluate your political motives, status, and future six times a day. The chore of being a front-runner requires the patience of the waiting room, not the ready room.

That's a political problem for McCain. He is patient when he is engaged in a crusade against an enemy like special interests or George W. Bush. He is not patient when he has to perform the rote obligations of political discipline. The signs of this strain can be seen in his decision to speak at Liberty University, the evangelical private institution in Lynchburg, Va., founded by Jerry Falwell.

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Most commentators have jumped on the hypocrisy of the trip. McCain once labeled Falwell an "agent of intolerance," but Falwell paid a visit to the senator, and they talked though their issues. McCain now says he is convinced that the reverend who blamed gays, feminists, and pro-choice advocates for the 9/11 attacks is not intolerant. "I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen,' " said Falwell in September 2001. Perhaps we should be asking McCain where he stands on the question of whether Falwell is just plain loony.

It's not likely that McCain's playbook has a bullet point labeled "Falwell fawn." Yes, McCain has to convince enough conservatives he's one of them, but McCain's advisers are not dumb. They know that Falwell is not a real leader of the social conservative base—it has more potent figures, and a huge chunk of that base bristles at candidates who court those who claim to speak for them. Plus, those who do follow Falwell wouldn't trust McCain even if he let the reverend baptize him in the James River.

But if this wasn't a premeditated outreach, it was the kind of petit pander a front-runner has to engage in. At this stage of the race, McCain can't shun a guy who can cause him trouble. It's better to have Falwell in the tent mumbling his accusations against the heathen than actively working against McCain outside the tent. So, when Falwell ended their meeting in McCain's office by asking the senator to speak in Lynchburg, he said yes.

The whole business clearly makes McCain uncomfortable. He prefers being the maverick, not the guy who has to explain the compromises of getting elected. He was prickly when Tim Russert asked about Falwell, saying, "I think that Jerry Falwell can explain his views on this program when you have him on." He would prefer to be crusading against Falwell or some Falwell-like object.

So, why not just let McCain be McCain? Why can't he go back to being the guy who gave that rousing speech in which he called out Falwell and Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson? That truth-telling is what makes him so authentic and attractive. The answer is not just that McCain has to coddle party insiders now that he's the front-runner. The McCain of the 2000 race was not a perfect model, either. A campaign run on crusades becomes addicted to them and overreaches. The very speech in which McCain highlighted Falwell's intolerance was perhaps the most acute example of this.

The idea for the speech came after McCain's victories in the Arizona and Michigan primaries. Buzzed on the big wins, but also jonesing for the next hill to conquer, he and his aides decided to take on the GOP's "shady theocrats," as adviser Mike Murphy called them at the time. They tore up the campaign schedule and flew off to Virginia Beach, Va., home of the Christian Coalition. They were there to shove it in Pat Robertson's kazoo. "It's confrontational politics that have worked for us," campaign manager Rick Davis told me at the time, "and we had to put a little drama into the campaign. We need to get people excited. If they don't get excited, they don't come out. And if they don't come out, we lose."

But McCain was motivated by personal revenge as much as by a desire to tell the truth. Pat Robertson and his former right-hand man Ralph Reed had actively and effectively contributed to the scorched-earth campaign against McCain in South Carolina. This was the religious right's second act in a campaign that had started with their opposition to his campaign-finance-reform legislation. McCain was paying them back. Though Falwell was not involved in the attacks, McCain's speechwriters threw him in, too, as a way to broaden the critique.

The speech was great theater; the moment clearly energized McCain and reporters and his enemies. Campaign aides now admit that even their potential base of moderates and independents thought the senator looked too focused on what had happened to him and not on any larger message. He looked a little overheated and self-absorbed. Throwing a roundhouse may have been the only thing McCain could have done at the time, but it didn't work.

Campaigns are about building coalitions, and for John McCain the question is: Will he pick up enough conservatives to win the primaries without alienating the independents and moderates he energized in 2000? But perhaps the most challenging balancing act for McCain will be the psychological one—building a coalition between Front-Runner McCain and Crusading McCain.

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent. He can be reached at slatepolitics@gmail.com.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Rumsfeld Gets Robust Defense From President - New York Times

Rumsfeld Gets Robust Defense From President - New York TimesApril 15, 2006

By JIM RUTENBERG and MARK MAZZETTI

WASHINGTON, April 14 — President Bush strongly endorsed Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Friday, in an effort to quell widening criticism from retired generals who have urged Mr. Rumsfeld to resign.

"Secretary Rumsfeld's energetic and steady leadership is exactly what is needed at this critical period," the president's statement read. "He has my full support and deepest appreciation."

The statement, issued as Mr. Bush interrupted a family holiday at Camp David, was part of a strong effort by the White House to fend off criticism of the handling of the war that has come from six retired generals, several of whom were involved in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The generals are weighing in as polls show support for the war waning significantly in an election year.

Mr. Bush's statement was followed hours later by supportive comments from Gen. Richard B. Myers, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the retired commander of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both appeared on cable news programs, and General Myers pointedly criticized former colleagues for publicly questioning civilian leadership.

Mr. Rumsfeld appeared Friday on an Al Arabiya television broadcast and said, "Out of thousands and thousands of admirals and generals, if every time two or three people disagreed we changed the secretary of defense of the United States, it would be like a merry-go-round."

It was not clear how far the counterattack by Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld might go to quiet the calls from the generals or to mollify members of Congress who have begun citing the retired officers' complaints as validation of their own critiques of the war.

A request for comment from the office of Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, drew only an equivocal response. "Senator Warner believes that the decision of whether to keep Secretary Rumsfeld is up to the president," said a spokesman for Mr. Warner, John Ullyot.

Senator Jack Reed, the Rhode Island Democrat who is on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he expected more retired officers to speak out against Mr. Rumsfeld.

"Does this chorus become more pronounced? I think that might happen," Mr. Reed said.

The White House has generally tried to avoid commenting on what it refers to as "personnel matters." But Friday was only one of several occasions during Mr. Bush's presidency in which he has gone out of his way to voice support for his defense secretary, who has sparred with segments of the Pentagon establishment virtually from the moment he took office.

In defending Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Bush seemed to have been asserting his standing as commander in chief, sending a signal to the generals that criticizing the defense secretary is the equivalent of criticizing his own stewardship of the war. Administration officials said Mr. Bush took the strong move of issuing the statement from Camp David on Good Friday because he was concerned that the retired generals were sending mixed messages to the battlefield.

Associates of Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Bush said critics would be mistaken to believe that Mr. Rumsfeld would resign in reaction to external pressure, noting that both men had only hardened their positions in the face of vocal opposition in the past.

A senior White House official, who was granted anonymity to speak freely about a highly charged political issue, described Mr. Bush as being "very proactive" in deciding to make a statement, saying that he was prompted to act because he recognized that the prominent backgrounds of the retired generals now leveling the criticism had potentially added heft to their comments.

The official said Mr. Bush called Mr. Rumsfeld about 10 a.m. from Camp David — where the president is with his family, including his parents — telling him of his decision and affirming his support yet again.

The conversation represented familiar ground for the two. Criticism became so heated during the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq during the 2004 presidential election that Mr. Rumsfeld twice offered his resignation, he has said.

Mr. Bush rejected the offers and made a public show of support in June 2004 by telling Mr. Rumsfeld before a group of reporters, "You are a strong secretary of defense, and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude." Military officials have said that Mr. Rumsfeld, 73, has not repeated that offer to resign in response to the retired generals' criticisms.

White House officials again made a concerted effort to show support for Mr. Rumsfeld in December 2004, after Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, said they had no confidence in Mr. Rumsfeld.

Those comments were a blow to the administration because they came from respected members of the president's own party, as opposed to liberal political groups like MoveOn.org, or Democrats, for that matter. But the retired generals now stepping forward represent a whole new class of critic.

Far from being daunted, one of them, Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., who commanded the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq as recently as 2004, went further in his criticisms during a telephone interview on Friday. He said the number of forces that went into Iraq was insufficient for the ultimate task and said of Mr. Rumsfeld, "His arrogance is what will cause us to fail in the future."

But late Friday new allies took to cable news to defend the administration.

On CNN, General Myers said he regretted that the retired generals were speaking out. "My whole perception of this is that it's bad for the military, it's bad for civil-military relations, and it's potentially very bad for the country, because what we are hearing and what we are seeing is not the role the military plays in our society," he said.

General Franks said on MSNBC that Mr. Rumsfeld was a "pretty successful secretary of defense" whose managerial style ruffled feathers.

Administration officials seemed to be hoping that the debate could move to one between generals and cease to be one involving the White House, which has seemed uncomfortable publicly taking on military brass.

But the senior administration official said the president was not deaf to complaints about Mr. Rumsfeld. "He is fully cognizant of the controversy that surrounds Secretary Rumsfeld's tenure," the official said. "But that often happens when you are tasked with doing very difficult things."

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting for this article.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The President Who Died for Us - New York Times

The President Who Died for Us - New York TimesApril 14, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor

By RICHARD WIGHTMAN FOX

Worcester, Mass.

THIS year, Good Friday, the day commemorating Christ's crucifixion, falls on April 14, as it did in 1865. On that evening, in the balcony box of Ford's Theater in Washington, John Wilkes Booth fired a handmade .41-caliber derringer ball into the back of Abraham Lincoln's head.

In the days that followed Lincoln's death, his mourning compatriots rushed to compare him to Jesus, Moses and George Washington.

Despite the Good Friday coincidence, the Jesus parallel was not an obvious one for 19th-century Americans to make. The Protestant population, then as now, included a vigilant evangelical minority who thought that Jesus, sinless on earth, was defamed every time ordinary sinners presumed to imitate him. No mere mortal could be put beside Jesus on a moral balance scale.

But Honest Abe overwhelmed the usual evangelical reticence — by April 1865 the majority of Northerners and Southern blacks took him as no ordinary person. He had been offering his body and soul all through the war and his final sacrifice, providentially appointed for Good Friday, showed that God had surely marked him for sacred service.

At a mass assembly in Manhattan five hours after Lincoln's death, James A. Garfield — the Ohio congressman who would become the second assassinated president 16 years later — voiced the common hesitancy, then went on to claim the analogy: "It may be almost impious to say it, but it does seem that Lincoln's death parallels that of the Son of God."

Jesus had saved humanity, or at least some portion of it, from eternal damnation. Lincoln had saved the nation from the civic equivalent of damnation: the dissolution that had always bedeviled republics. "Jesus Christ died for the world," said the Rev. C. B. Crane in Hartford. "Abraham Lincoln died for his country."

The small minority of Jews and Catholics, equally awed by Lincoln's bodily sacrifice, joined Protestants in hailing the president's uncommon virtues: forgiveness, mercy, defense of the poor and the oppressed. Catholics joined Protestants in noting his Christ-like habits of brooding in private and keeping his own counsel.

Nearly everyone joined in heralding Lincoln's phrase "with malice toward none, with charity for all," which Christian mourners hailed as the heart of the Gospel. Those words from his second inaugural address, delivered just six weeks before his death, turned up on hand-scrawled banners all over the Union. People mounted them, along with black-bordered flags and photographs of Lincoln, in the windows of their homes and shops.

Thomas Nast's 1866 painting "President Lincoln Entering Richmond" (commemorating his surprise stroll into the capital of the Confederacy on April 4, 1865, shortly after Robert E. Lee's retreat) reinforced the sentiment: Lincoln shepherded his people just as Jesus did. The president walked into Richmond before Holy Week the way Jesus rode into Jerusalem before Passover: humbly, not triumphantly. Both men were enveloped by exuberant admirers.

Most American Christians turned to the Jesus analogy because they realized how much they loved Lincoln. They took his loss as personal, often comparing it to a death in the family. Many felt attached to Lincoln almost as they felt attached to Jesus. The striving rail-splitter from Illinois and the simple carpenter from Nazareth resembled them, the people. In contrast, while still heroic, Washington seemed more distant, even aloof.

Yet calculation as well as veneration entered the campaign to sanctify Lincoln. Radical Republicans revealed a political reason for comparing Lincoln to Jesus. Trying to explain why a rational Providence had permitted Lincoln to die, they decided that the savior of the nation had proved himself too Christ-like, too softhearted, too "womanly," for the necessarily punitive job of "reconstructing" the postwar South. God in his wisdom had put Andrew Johnson in place for the messy task of enacting justice.

Many Protestants also displayed a religious motive for emphasizing the resemblance between Lincoln and Christ. They made the president a virtual holy man because they wished retroactively to make him a morally impeccable and believing Christian. They considered theater-going, a favorite pastime of the president, as morally dubious; his choice of the stage for recreation on this day of crucifixion made them sick at heart.

And Lincoln, who after 1862 had spoken repeatedly of his dependence on God and Providence, had never referred much to Jesus. The barrage of Jesus comparisons offered a camouflaging aura of piety for a man who had enjoyed lowbrow, off-color humor as much as play-acting.

Seven score and one years have passed since Good Friday 1865, and Lincoln has always remained his own man. In his final years, he had set his own course by balancing a pressing sense of the rule of Providence with a persistent belief in the power of reason. Still, he can — and should — stand as historic demonstration that a republican hero's sacrifice for the people comes very close to Christ's ideals of self-denial and self-giving.

Richard Wightman Fox, the author of "Jesus in America: Personal Savior, Cultural Hero, National Obsession," is writing a book about the aftermath of Lincoln's assassination.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: Merchants of filth have worthy foe


New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: Merchants of filth have worthy foe

You can't keep a good woman down, and you can't get an intelligent one to stay silent when the issue is the moral pollution of young people. One can only come to that conclusion when speaking with Lisa Fager, president and co-founder of Industry Ears, a new think tank of broadcast and music industry professionals that describes itself as "dedicated to revealing truth and promoting justice in the media." That's a mouthful. Does it mean weeping rivers over the execution of a convicted murderer like Tookie Williams?

No. Fager wants to clean up what she sees as irresponsible activity in the media, with a particular emphasis on the detrimental effects of hip hop. Her central concern is the promotion of sexual material to underage children and the way this material encourages irresponsible sexual behavior.

"You would never know," she says, "that the largest group of new HIV cases just happens to be young black women between the ages of 15 and 24. This airheaded material desensitizes them to such an extent that they do not know how to protect themselves. Besides vulgarity, there are lethal components to this problem."

Some defend hip hop as the expression of an ethnic culture on the grounds of free speech and artistic freedom - and this con sounds noble - but if these illiterates with gold and diamonds in their teeth found that reading the Ten Commandments over hip-hop beats made money, they would search the Bible for fresh "lyrics."

Fager would settle for the FCC enforcing the law - coming down, for example, on urban black radio stations that violate regulations by playing questionable material before 10 p.m. "Part of the job of the legal system," she says, "is to protect our children from predators."

Censorship is not Fager's goal, and she does not believe that merely attacking vulgar entertainers is the answer. "If NBC had shown a porno film like 'Debbie Does Dallas' at 4:30 in the afternoon, we wouldn't be going after the star of the movie, we would be going after NBC."

I think the millionaires who push this dung have met their match, because Fager is a young woman who has worked in the recording industry and knows her way around the mass media. She cannot be dismissed as a grandmother who doesn't know what's happening.

Importantly, Fager has no fear of being accused of "hating" the black lower class or trying to kill a golden goose. Those accusations may be tired, but they work on far too many black academics and middle-class black people.

"I do not believe we are supposed to sit still while young women are dehumanized, infected with HIV and abused by young men programmed to think of women as nothing but sex toys," she says. "That's immoral and cowardly."

Lisa Fager is another example of American luck. Just when we think the dogs will win out, the dog catcher turns the corner. The howls will eventually be replaced by whimpers.

Originally published on April 3, 2006

Monday, April 03, 2006

Daily Kos: "Straight-Talk" Spinning On Meet The Press

Daily Kos: "Straight-Talk" Spinning On Meet The Press"Straight-Talk" Spinning On Meet The Press
by georgia10
Sun Apr 02, 2006 at 08:48:32 AM PDT

I'm not sure whether it was because Tim Russert's questions were so good or because John McCain's answers were so woefully strained, but the otherwise insufferable Meet the Press this morning actually proved to be compelling--and telling--television.

Russert's "gotcha" journalism works well against the chameleon politics of McCain. In challenging McCain on everything from Bush hugs & kisses to the role of the religious right, Russert gave McCain no quarter as he used that tactic rarely used in interviews today: the follow-up.

On Iraq, McCain refused to call out the administration on its dangerous incompetence. He stated that Saddam "absolutely" possed a threat before the invasion (regardless of the whole no WMD thing). He admitted mistakes were made, but refused to blame those mistakes on the Commander-in-Chief. On the Iran front, he "applauds" the President's handling of the issue and expressed confidence that the administration will exhaust diplomatic efforts before engaging Iran militarily. This after he said we should learn from our mistakes in Iraq.

The administration love continued as McCain stated--with straight face--that "Nobody knows more about [immigration] than President Bush." When confronted as being a "born-again Bushophile" and "a maverick no more", he dismissed the criticism with the usual "looking forward" and doing the right thing spin.

Perhaps the silliest part of the interview came when McCain was confronted with his vote to extend Bush's disastrous tax cuts. This after he initially voted against them. McCain's explanation for his flip-flop: "I do not believe in tax increases." So, any tax cut should be de facto permanent according to his philosophy. Pure silliness.

I have to commend Russert for confronting McCain about his decision to speak at Liberty University and his acceptance of Jerry Falwell (maybe he does read Daily Kos after all!) Confronted him with an outrageous Falwell quote, Russert asked if McCain is "embracing" Falwell's statements. McCain again gave a non-answer, but he did say he does not believe Falwell is an "agent of intolerance" anymore. In a telling exchange, he said that the "christian right" has a major role to play in the Republican Party.

What we saw in that interview was the death of McCain the Maverick, and the birth of McCain the Chameleon. If there was any doubt that McCain is--with his eye on a presidential bid--a politician to the core, this interview should snuff that doubt out. Flapping about like a fish out of water, McCain showed America that he will sacrifice his principles to pander to the religious right, and that he will do anything to remain in good favor with the President. He wants the 2008 nomination--badly. But with interviews like this, the Presidency is slipping further and further away from his grasp.