Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Interviewing the Holy Spirit

A brilliant piece of "journalism" from Grant Swank of the Post Chronicle. Quote (emphasis mine):
While various denominations spread AIDS/HIV with the homosexual push, Christ as personal Lord and Sanctifier is preached and held to in Africa. No wonder then that the African Anglicans protest the Anglican Communion worldwide in the latter's defense of homosexual activity. With the archbishop [sic] of Canterbury waffling in his understanding of Christian ethics regarding homosexual practice, believers by the thousands leave his Communion for the scripturally sound churches.

...The Holy Spirit moves where He is welcomed. ... The Holy Spirit then has been informed to leave those segments for the predominance of mortal-made religion in the name of the "Christian Church".

However, in Africa, the Holy Spirit is beseeched to defeat the unclean spirits and to ward off the apostasy so prevalent in theologically liberal churches elsewhere. The Holy Spirit then visits the imploring souls with His forgiveness and cleansing for a life of practical holiness.

Mr Swank, I want an interview with the Holy Spirit! Does He have a booker?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


I didn't read the book, but I've seen the movie. To quote Anthony Lane of the New Yorker:
As far as I am qualified to judge, the film remains unswervingly loyal to the book, displaying an obedience that Silas [the albino Spanish monk devoted to Opus Dei-inspired self-flagellism] could not hope to match. I welcome this fidelity, because it allows us to propose a syllogism. The movie is baloney; the movie is an accurate representation of the book; therefore, the book is also baloney, although it takes even longer to consume.
What interests me far more than the literary merits of "The Da Vinci Code" is the response of church officials to the bouts of self-doubt and confusion that the book and movie have inspired. After seeing the movie with my wife and mother-in-law over the weekend, our conversation quickly turned to the 500-lb elephant in the room: is the Church afraid that the movie will infuse confusion into its followers' faith, leading them toward unorthodox theology; or that the movie will cause them to think critically about the means by which the gospel narrative was constructed?

In my view, arguments over whether the "dark con of man" portrayed in "The Da Vinci Code" deserves attention are beside the point. At issue is the historical foundations of the Church "orthodoxy." In my experience, the apologists for orthodoxy (and I'm talking about the general sort of "orthodoxy" practiced by church leaders as diverse as Pope Benedict XVI and Rick Warren) have been unsuccessful in convincing skeptics that the Bible constructed by the church fathers is anything more than Whig history. That's the problem: believing the Bible to be a text written by divine inspiration requires an a priori position in faith, doesn't it?

This circularity -- so plain to those outside Christianity -- is obscured by belief and faith to those within. My guess is that the Church is less concerned about a wave of "Grail cults" than it is of parishioners wondering if the account of the Grail as depicted in "The Da Vinci Code" is no less absurd than the biblical account itself. The movie (and I suppose the book) helps people to break the "circularity". If "The Da Vinci Code" depicts fictional events surrounding the life of Jesus, who's to say that the Gospels don't, either. Most people I know are unable to make the necessary distinctions.

They resort to authority.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Africans, sex, and the internet

Is it the novelty of the internet, or the unshackling of decades of repressed sexual desires?

I don't know, but "sex" is one of the most frequent words used in Google searches among Africans [emphasis mine]:
When it comes to using the Internet to look for sex, North Africans in particular seem to have found a new outlet for societal taboos. The sex search on Google is topped by Pakistan, but closely followed by Egypt. Moroccans even reach the top-ten list both in English (6th on "sex") and in French (2nd on "sexe"). Algerians top the search for "sexe", showing twice as much interest as the French and Tunisians. A quick look inside the booming cybercafés in North Africa confirms this obsession.

On a regional outlook, Mauritanians, Malians and Nigerians are the most sex-searching West Africans, followed by the Senegalese, while Ivorians and Gabonese already have found other uses for the Internet. In Southern Africa, Zambians and Malawians are searching twice as much for sex as Angolans and Mozambicans. Tanzanians however are even more interested in finding sex on the Internet, while Ethiopians and Somalis demonstrate a true obsession.

Even homosexuality, which is illegal in most Muslim and African countries, spurs much interest in Muslim Africa. While the search word "gay" is dominated by Latin Americans, it is mainly Filipinos and Saudi Arabians looking for "gay sex". The African "gay sex" list is topped by Kenyans, Tanzanians, Namibians, Zimbabweans and South Africans. In the francophone world, however, Algerians and Moroccans by far top the world's search for "la homosexualité". Algerians also by distance top the search for the "sexe gay", with the French and the Moroccans being somewhat more timid on the issue.
You can run, but you can't hide!

Friday, May 26, 2006

When democracy seems to fail ...

... try a dictator. Or, at least, that's my concern. According to Reuters:
Only about a quarter of Nigerians were satisfied with the way democracy works in Nigeria. This represents a significant decline from the level recorded in 2001 (57 percent) and 2003 (35 percent).

At a wedding over the weekend ...

... I probably won't post again until Monday.

The Nigerian Presidency: South-South versus the North

The Nigerian presidential elections, now set for April of 2007, will in all likelihood not include the current President Olusegun Obasanjo among the candidates.

But what will the race look like? Who's against whom, and what are their concerns? It's hard for an Oyinbo like me to make sense of it all.

I do know a few things. Most Nigerians seem to think the presidency should in fact rotate among the many different ethnic groups that comprise the Nigerian populace. Obasanjo is a Yoruba from the southwest. Therefore it is unlikely that another Yoruba will succeed Obasanjo. Sanni Abacha, the ruthless dictator that preceded Obasanjo came from the muslim North. The North feels that it is their turn again. But so does the South-South (or part of Nigeria immediately surrounding the oil-rich Delta region). The South-South has been $#@t upon for decades and most would say they're due. The predominantly ethnic Igbo of the Nigerian South-East is unlikely to gain the presidency, if only because of long-standing grievances among Northerners over the Biafran civil war (1960s) fought over whether the South-West should secede from Nigeria. Incidentally, it was a young, and soon to be very popular, Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo who accepted the surrender of the Biafrans in 1969(?).

Nigerians -- not unexpectedly -- do a much better job of describing the political landscape than I. From a very helpful article at by Reuben Abati:
But where do we stand in relation to this as Nigerians, as ordinary Nigerians who are not looking for power on an ethnic basis but who are just interested in being citizens of a country that works? It is not difficult to know what ordinary Nigerians want. They want a country that is properly managed. They want a country where the human being can feel a sense of humanity. They want leaders who are motivated by a sense of the common good and an interest in history. They want a united country where a Yoruba man can woo a pretty Ijaw woman and not feel that he is doing something strange. They want to live like the people of London and New York where even the poorest of the poor do not have to worry about those details that give ordinary Nigerians the greatest anxiety. They want to live like human beings, and this includes those rude Nigerians who abuse others on the internet with their terrible, ill-mannered prose. Ordinarily, it should not matter where a leader comes from as long as he is a leader, but nations are not the same and societies must manage their own circumstances.
If you want to understand the upcoming struggle for the control of Nigeria's vast resources, and what it would mean for the average Joe and Jane, read it all.

This is an issue that deserves far greater attention. Not that there's much that we in the West can do about it at this point. But how we perceive the internal struggles in Nigeria will inform how we react to crises in the Niger Delta. For instance, if the North wins the presidency and continues to ignore South-South demands for social, political and environmental justice, the resulting violence in the Delta and drop in oil production could lead the West to either push Nigeria to pay heed to the demands of residents in the Delta, or perhaps send in the Navy, which is already stationed in Gulf of Guinea. Never underestimate the political power of an oil-crisis-induced bout of inflation.

We'll see. For now, start boning up.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Redefining "homophobia"

Andrew Goddard, tutor in ethics at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, has published a warm embrace of the political middle on homosexuality in the Anglican Communion without sacrificing his moral position that homosexuality is a sin.

I think you'll be heartened to see how some in this now very muddled Christian denomination are working toward a middle that can simultaneously embrace both moral principles and a commitment to civil society.

However, it's necessary to make an important correction to his article. Goddard writes:
Some of the criticism of the Nigerian church's support for recently proposed state legislation is unfounded because there is no human right to same-sex marriage.
As I wrote in the comments section of this titus one nine post:

A careful read of the legislation (pdf) shows that it would ban more than gay marriage -- it would also ban constitutionally protected speech, press, assembly, and freedom of religion. The legislation goes beyond denying recognition of gay marriages to banning private ceremonies. Worse, it bans advocacy of gay marriage, or a defense of homosexuality, and it levies a punishment of 5 years' imprisonment.

Some within the Anglican Communion, such as Changing Attitude, might condemn the Church of Nigeria for endorsing a ban on gay marriage.

But the US State Department, nearly 20 human rights organizations, and 60 members of the EU Parliament have not criticized the ban on gay marriage, but the ban on far more basic civil rights: speech, press, assembly, and religion.

No one should be denied their right to speak out against what they perceive to be an injustice. About homosexuality, gay and lesbian Nigerians may be wrong or they may be right, but by its endorsement the Church of Nigeria has come dangerously close to letting ministry turn to persecution.

It seems to me that even the most even-handed, well-meaning conservative Anglicans still don't know what's in the Nigerian legislation. But thanks, Andrew, for advancing the argument in a very civil direction.

The problem with religion in politics

Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie, the Archbishop of Lagos, Nigeria, made this clear statement on the importance of integrity in a democracy:
Bishop Okogie, who spoke at the Holy Cross Cathedral during the inauguration of the Catholic Social Forum, said since the PDP wanted to elongate President Obasanjo’s tenure by supporting the third term agenda, the party had no moral right to present another candidate.

Okogie, who was represented by Revd Fr. Olaitan Julius said: "PDP believes that only President Obasanjo has the solutions to problems facing Nigeria. They should go and rest after Obasanjo’s tenure. Yes, those who want the present administration to stay longer in office should not bring forward anybody for election next year. A party like PDP should not present any candidate for election next year."
Yet he said this in early March:
You heard that a group of them (gays and lesbians) actually came out to flaunt their homosexuality and lesbian behaviours and are asking for official recognition [he refers to Davis MacIyalla's Changing Attitude Nigeria]. That cannot happen in Nigeria. Of course, it cannot happen in the Catholic Church. It’s an abomination. It cannot happen in this part of the world. No, it cannot happen.

I thank God that the secular society did not leave the matter in the hands of the church. It acted appropriately and the church knows what to do now. I am hopeful that as stipulated, the government gets serious with it because we know that in some parts, homosexuals exist. It has to stop.
Add Okogie to this long list of religious leaders who think democracy is important only when it serves their own interests. Apparently, imprisoning homosexuals is a great way to minister to their needs. Surely, other forms of excrutiation are more efficient? Maybe waterboarding?

(For the record, the legislation Okogie refers to is the "gay marriage ban" that would also imprison gay and lesbian Nigerians, or any other individual for that matter, who speaks out, assembles, or uses the press to advocate or defend homosexuality.)

Cardinal Okogie was discussed as a potential successor to Pope John Paul II, though Cardinal Arinze (also Nigerian) was seen as a more likely should the conclave have chosen an African.

Nigerian Generals close ranks prior to 2007 elections

It's a little scary -- in the wake of the failed 3rd-term campaign -- to see Nigerian generals organize as a political force prior to the 2007 elections. According to the Nigerian Tribune:
It was learnt that General [Ibrahim] Babangida [or IBB] was not only re-connecting his political machine with the presidency’s, but was also working to reunite the military wing of the political class which worked against the presidency on the constitutional amendment.

General Babangida is reported to have contacted General Theophilus Danjuma, General Abdulsalami Abubakar and other leading Generals on the need to close ranks so as to have a united front on who succeeds President Obasanjo.

Nigerian Tribune learnt that he had also reached out to ex-generals in government on the need to speed up reconciliation within the military establishment so as to control the direction of succession politics ahead of 2007.
But presidential supporters won't have it:

Further investigations showed that [IBB's] overtures were getting a cold reception from many loyalists of the president who believed it was General Babangida rather than Vice-President Atiku Abubakar who stopped the third term bid.

By confirming the split within the military establishment, Babangida was accused of emboldening the anti-third group, a situation the presidential loyalists saw as aiding the Senate rejection of the bill.
And in what has to be the least cautious language I've ever seen, a presidential aide said [emphasis mine], "no amount of such overtures can change the fact that IBB worked against us. So, what are these overtures about? ... If he wants the president to support him, he should just forget it. I think that game is up."

"Worked against us," huh? So members of the president's staff felt that the third-term campaign was "theirs"? I thought the president had taken no position.

(image from Biafra Nigeria World here)

Northern Nigeria and sex education

Planned Parenthood has an interesting article on Dorothy Aken'Ova's work to provide comprehensive sex education to women in Northern Nigeria. The prevailing wisdom among Nigerian political and religious leaders is that such an effort is either a sacrilege or a waste of time:
The adult sex education courses at the community level — especially in rural areas — have been one of INCRESE's [International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights] success stories. "There's an assumption that in the traditional north of Nigeria, people won't tolerate discussions about sex," Aken'Ova told the BBC in 2005. "But we found the community very open and willing to talk about many issues of sexuality, including sexual intercourse." Indeed, Aken'Ova finds that the rural communities deeply appreciate the knowledge she brings to discussions about sex and sexuality. "[The program] is making a difference in their daily living," she says.
Now, before you get too shocked, consider that the best way to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, to improve the lives of women, and to keep a lid on population growth is to provide women with comprehensive sex education. Aken'Ova shows that this can be done, even in the "no man's land" of the traditional Muslim North.

Obasanjo is great indeed!

[updated below]

Speaking of their president, the Obasanjo Solidarity Forum (OSF) called on the Nigerian Federal Assembly to return the money they were given to develop reforms to the Nigerian constitution. Those who have followed this blog know that the principle constitutional reform, that of allowing Obasanjo to run for a third-term, went down in flames just last week.

Ostensibly, the OSF's complaint is that anti-third-term forces in the Assembly had thrown out other important constitutional revisions along with the bathwater.

They had these elevated words for their leader (stop drinking your coffee, now!) [emphasis mine]:
In a cool, calculating and leisurely manner, Mr. President accepted the verdict of democracy as symbolised by what happened in the National Assembly. Once again, we of OSF have been proved right, that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo still remains the elder statesman he is reputed to be, more visionary than Mandela, greater than Clinton and more pacific than Bush.
Totally agreed, of course.

But I'm not so sure that Mr. President General Olusegun Obasanjo would be so "pacific" if he had a $400 billion a year defense budget, and special appropriations on the order of $9 billion a month for an overseas war.

UPDATE: From Tom Ashby at Reuters:

Obasanjo, a 69-year-old former military ruler, said last week he accepted the National Assembly's rejection of his tenure extension. He told the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) to heal the wounds of the divisive "third term campaign" and prepare for the 2007 polls.

But some lawmakers fear that the retired general might launch an offensive against those responsible for the defeat or even try to hold onto power by wrecking the elections.

"If there is any victimisation of people because they were against the third term, or if he refuses to fund the electoral authority, or if people feel the president wants to abort the process, impeachment proceedings will start straight away," said a senior PDP lawmaker, adding that a long list of charges had already been prepared.

"Visionary" or not, Obasanjo is still considered a serious threat to democracy in Nigeria. You might say, hey, these are just opposition lawmakers talking. But this "senior lawmaker" is not from an opposition party -- he's from Obasanjo's own PDP. Ashby goes on:
With the third term now ruled out, power is draining away from Obasanjo and many party members are calling for the removal of the party chairman. The 36 state governors, who fund and control the party machinery, have re-emerged as key players.
His party is in disarray, and he is being threatened with impeachment should he attempt what Nigerians routinely call "shenanigans."

I'm wondering -- will we see the reintroduction Obasanjo's super-repressive gay marriage bill (pdf)? Or perhaps it's already dead? The disapperance of that bill would get a lot of people (i.e., the Anglican Church of Nigeria, its primate Archbishop Peter Akinola, and his high-profile conservative western supporters) off the hook.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A little pathetic, but a sign of better things to come

Gore's too hot too handle (even Andrew Sullivan is giving him more than the typical snark he reserves for the former veep), and HR Clinton is working hard to get a slice of the climate change pie.

Hillary picked the day before the release of Gore's "An Inconventient Truth" to make her first major policy address on climate change.

According to ABC News:

Gore's documentary, which rolls out across the country this week, is a movie that he said is meant as a wake-up call for Americans to become more energy efficient.

But, according to some political analysts, it also seems to have been a wake-up call for Clinton to get on the global warming bandwagon.

Two rather obvious observations. The HR Clinton fund-raising machine has revealed itself to be an utterly ungifted and plastic enterprise, so completely afraid of saying the wrong thing that it no longer says anything at all. If she weren't a woman, I would feel perfectly comfortable calling her a political whore. (For reference, former California governor Pete Wilson was the first politician I ever called a "political whore.")

Second, the response of plasto-politicians like HR Clinton shows just how powerful the "global warming bandwagon" has actually become. Sharon Begley, at the Wall Street Journal, wrote a short and compelling piece on how difficult it not is to remain a global warming nattering nabob. Yesterday's NYT op-ed by Gregg Easterbrook, a long-time global warming skeptic now convert, adds fuel to that fire. And no one seems to be able to poke serious holes in Gore's argument. does the dirty work, comes up with a few trivial errors in the film, but not much else to complain about.

So the timing of Hillary's decision to give an "address" on climate change says two things. First, she's not worth anyone's vote for President, and second, the debate over global warming is over.

Now, if only The Competitive Enterprise Institute and their corporate sponsors would see the light.

(cartoon RJ Matson, 5/24 issue of Roll Call)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Shell and the renewal of the Niger Delta

[update below]

I wasn't aware that Nigerian courts had ordered Royal Dutch Shell to compensate ethnic Ijaws in the Niger Delta, but they had. And Monday, Shell deliberately missed their deadline, choosing instead to withhold payment pending review by an appellate court.

The court had ordered Shell to pay $1.5 billion in compensation for "alleged environmental pollution." To the uninitiated reader, the word "alleged" used by the author of the BusinessWeek piece, is used only to keep Shell from writing an angry letter. The damage that has been done by Shell and other oil companies in full partnership with the Nigerian government whose revenues depend very strongly on mineral extraction, is monstrous and very, very real.

What's interesting about Shell's decision to withhold payment is that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), whose violence and kidnappings are what led to a 20-25% reduction in Nigerian oil production since January of this year, is composed primarily of ethnic Ijaws. And, of course, MEND has responded to the missed payment with a pledge to step up attacks. The BBC reports that MEND is forming a coalition with three other militant groups to increase pressure on Shell. These groups include the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force (NDPVF), the Coalition for Militant Action in the Niger Delta (COMA), and the Martyrs Brigade. According to, the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force is led by Moujahid Dokubo-Asari (about whom I have written previously), who is now held by Nigerian authorities on charges of treason. COMA took responsibility, with MEND, for the April 19 explosion near an army barracks in which approximately ten died.

So, having promised at their most recent stockholders' meeting that compensation to aggrieved Niger Delta peoples for "alleged" environmental damage was their first priority, knowing full well that militant attacks would continue if they didn't offer serious compensation, having requested that the Nigerian court permit them to postpone their payment, having that request denied on Friday, and having planned to withhold payment anyway, Royal Dutch Shell sets up a situation in which they know their oil production capacity in the Niger Delta will continue to be in serious jeopardy.

So what on Earth is their incentive to miss the payment?

One very shady answer to that question should be considered. Crude oil prices are now high for three reasons: the inability of OPEC nations to generate excess production capacity, our invasion and occupation of Iraq, and political and social instability in historically peripheral oil producing nations, such as Nigeria and Venezuela.

This final factor -- instability -- has a non-linear effect. That is, as demand approaches current supply capacity, a small twitch in oil supply, say from militant attacks in the Delta, leads to a disproportionately large increase in the "risk premium" oil traders are willing to pay in the expectation that there could be a catastrophic drop in supply. As the definition of "catastrophic" narrows to ever smaller drops in supply, the "risk premium" begins to explode. The "risk premium," according to Conoco-Phillips CEO James Mulva, is currently around $20 per barrel (out of $72 at the end of Tuesday's trading).

Assuming demand is inelastic in the face of a change in price (hey, we need our oil, don't we?), then violence in the Delta will lead to an increase in crude prices that more than compensates for the drop in export capacity. Shell wins.

Earlier this month, I argued that high crude oil prices make the governments of consumer nations -- like the US or EU countries which have good reason to fear inflation -- more likely to want to smooth out social and political crises in places like Nigeria and Iran. I still think that's true -- but the oil companies have no such incentive. If a "crisis" can lead to exorbitantly high oil prices, then they sit pretty (I have yet to see an argument that oil companies have an incentive to keep oil prices at their historic lows). And if a government is led by former oil or oil services executives ... well, I guess to them nuclear saber-rattling with Iran seems like a really great idea.

By missing their payment, is Shell simply avoiding responsibility for environmental damage that is merely "alleged"? Or is Shell gaming the system?

UPDATE: John Robb at Global Guerrillas has an interesting take on Shell's decision to withhold payment. Indeed, his entire blog has a take on conflict that I have not yet been able to wrap my brain around -- it's worth checking out.

(Photo The New York Times)

Lloyd Bentsen, RIP

From the Houston Chronicle:

Bentsen, however, could pull laurels even from the ashes, and he enhanced his standing as an astute politician in 1988 as the dogged Democratic vice-presidential running mate of Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

In the vice-presidential debate that year, Bentsen hammered Republican Sen. Dan Quayle, with an artful putdown that found its way into everyday speech.

When his younger opponent compared himself to President John F. Kennedy, Bentsen, his voice dripping with disdain, retorted: "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy."

More from the AP via the NYT.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Oops, there goes a Dem

[updated with Melanie Sloan's name spelled correctly]

Watch the right-wingnutosphere ignite -- the FBI's got their Democrat.

Never mind that he's the only congressional Democrat in either house under investigation by the FBI.

To their credit, Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Government (CREW) -- the group that was way ahead of the curve in their calls for investigations into Tom Delay's misdeeds -- had already called for an investigation into Congressman William Jefferson's (D-La) possible bribe-taking.

Bad ethics must be stamped out, regardless of party affiliation.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

What? Me?

Obasanjo claims the idea of his running for a third term as Nigerian president was not his. Sure, it wasn't.

Friday, May 19, 2006

McCain booed, gains sympathy

[Disclaimer: I am a liberal.]

Sometimes liberals are idiots (a John Stuart Mill quote comes to mind). Today, liberal students at the New School University booed Senator John McCain as he gave their commencement address, unwittingly lending sympathy to a man who, by embracing Jerry Falwell, had his moderate credentials handed to him char-broiled and ready for eatin'.

Wake up, fellow travellers! To win an argument, first listen. From the NYT:
Some 1,200 students and faculty signed petitions asking the university president, former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, to rescind the invitation. Petitioners said McCain's support for the Iraq war and opposition to gay rights and legal abortion do not keep with the prevailing views on campus.
So what? He's an important figure -- like him or not, he not only has a right to speak his mind, but it is well within the character of a university to give multiple opinions a fair hearing.

I remember when GHWB gave a pre-commencement address at Stanford in 1994. Students booed, and I didn't get to hear what he had to say. Did I like Bush? Hell, no! Did I want to hear him? Yes. Stupid liberals.

Oh well.

(Image NYT)

Sullivan calls on Neuhaus to apologize for defending Legion of Christ

Today, the founder of the Legion of Christ, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, was disciplined by the Vatican for what Andrew Sullivan calls "a long and brutal history of sexual abuse and harassment of young seminarians in his care."

Sullivan goes on to call on Richard John Neuhaus, a long-time defender of Father Maciel, and member of the Institute on Religion and Democracy's (IRD) Board of Directors, to apologize for his "slander" against the journalists "who tried to unmask Maciel's crimes."

Although hardly comparable to Maciel, Archbishop Peter Akinola, who is also defended by the IRD, is nearly immune to attack because of the idolization he receives from within conservative Anglican circles and because the current threat of schism within the Anglican Communion makes the complaints of liberals too politically charged to be recognized -- even when Akinola endorses legislation that would put gay and lesbian Nigerians in jail over a theological disagreement.

Sometimes the truth is before us, and we just can't see.

The Guardian puts pressure on the Archbishop of Canterbury to speak up

In what is surely a critical step toward getting the Anglican Church of Nigeria to reconsider their support of the grotesque legislation before the Nigerian Federal Assembly, The Guardian's (UK) Peter Tatchell has started to turn the screws on the Church's titular head, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. Says Tatchell:
With the full blessing of the Anglican Church of Nigeria and its leader, Archbishop Peter Akinola, the Nigerian government has begun legislating one of the world's most repressive anti-gay laws.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, leader of the global Anglican communion, has declined to criticise this church-endorsed homophobic persecution. Instead he embraces Akinola and the Nigerian church, appeasing their prejudice in the name of Anglican unity.

For those of you out there who think that the "homophobia" Tatchell speaks of is simply the Nigerian Archbishop's desire to ban gay marriage, consider the following:

This [legislation] will criminalise gay organisations, gay churches, gay bars, gay blessings, gay safer sex education, gay newspapers, gay human rights advocacy and sympathetic advice and welfare support for vulnerable lesbians and gay men.

Newspaper, television, radio and internet discussions supportive of gay equality will become a criminal offence.

The catch-all nature of the new statute means, for example, that it will become a crime to attend a same-sex commitment ceremony, urge understanding and acceptance of lesbians and gays, impart information on HIV prevention to gay people or broadcast a radio interview with a gay person talking about his or her life.

Violations of the new legislation will be punished with an automatic five-year jail sentence.

We're waiting for Williams, and Archbishop Akinola's supporters in the US, to get some b@!!$ and recognize a civil rights tragedy when they see one.

Crude prices rising again

Reuters has the full story. Summary and upshots:
  1. As long as China and India continue to increase demand, we will be in a bull market.
  2. (nonexistent) Spare capacity is to blame; look to stabilization in Iraq, Nigeria and Iran as the primary means of getting oil prices to settle down.
  3. High gas prices in the US have led to a drop in demand (I actually consider this to be good news -- it's the first evidence yet that an American market will indeed respond to high prices at the pump).
Don't let last weeks "technical" sell-off fool you. The drop below $69 a barrel is temporary. Expect $100 per barrel in the not-too-distant future. Mark Mathias, chief executive of investment specialist Dawnay Day Quantum, says that "[t]he basic supply demand fundamentals point towards demand growing at a rate far in excess of supply growth." What he doesn't mention is that as spare capacity drops relative to demand, local political instability becomes an ever more important factor in the price of crude oil. So pay better attention to Nigeria, Condi! And stop saber-rattling in Iran! It only drives up crude oil prices, which feeds directly into Ahmedinejad's coffers.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

An odd kind of schism

I don't normally comment on the current political crisis within the Anglican Communion, but I have argued in the past that the threat of schism prevents conservative Anglicans from criticizing their favorite Nigerian Archbishop. So, any news about the form that such a schism might take or about when it might take place is of great interest to me.

The Telegraph (UK) reports today on Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan William's recommendation that the Anglican Communion be realigned along a two-track system:

The proposals, which have parallels with the idea of a two-speed European Union, could permit liberals from North America to push ahead with divisive reforms such as homosexual bishops without destroying the Church.

But they could also allow conservatives from Africa and Asia to form an influential inner core that would edge out the liberals from positions of power and reduce them to a second-class status.

... The idea will, however, be greeted with huge suspicion by liberals who will fear that it could be used to marginalise them and hand control to the conservative majority.

Conservatives, meanwhile, may see the plans as an attempt to buy their compliance at a time when they are demanding the expulsion of the liberal American Church for consecrating Anglicanism's first openly homosexual bishop.

To be honest, I don't understand this at all. Readers of TitusOneNine (hat tip) are equally perplexed.

My question is whether this will relieve enough of the pressure on conservatives to stay in lock step with Archbishop Akinola to allow them to criticize him for his endorsement of legislation that would put gay and lesbian Nigerians over a theological disagreement. I doubt it. But we'll see.

The importance of TitusOneNine

Rachel Zoll at the AP has written an interesting article on Episcopal Church blogs, their use, and their philosophical and ideological underpinnings.

Kendall Harmon's blog, TitusOneNine, is singled out. I have to admit, TitusOneNine is a great community forum. Kendall posts on just about everything, and one can get an excellent sense of what conservative Anglicans are thinking and why they're thinking it by checking out the comments on Kendall's posts.

Unfortunately, there's no forum with the same number of readers for the left. Not even close. While the AP piece singles out Jim Naughton's page, Blog of Daniel at the Episcopal Diocese of Washington's web site, most liberal religious opinion pertaining to the Episcopal Church is found outside purely Anglican circles, such as Political Cortex and Talk to Action. I look forward to the day that Blog of Danial matches TitusOneNine for readership.

But something Jim Naughton was quoted as saying in the AP article caught my attention:
The Internet and blogs do give megaphones to anonymous bigots, but they also allow you to organize more quickly and, in some instances, trade opinions across ideological lines.
I have to agree. I visit TitusOneNine frequently, and I sometimes post comments (such as the comments section in response to Zoll's article). The subsequent exchanges are almost always rewarding. Yet, I am often amazed at the commenters' lack of sensitivity to issues of civil liberties and the high level of suspiscion they have of those who criticize conservatives. There's definitely a spectrum, but I'm very happy that Kendall is willing to put in the effort to keep the site alive and thriving.

Why conservative Anglicans are wrong to support the Nigerian gay marriage bill

Nigeria will soon take up debate on a gay marriage ban, and we in the US are doing the same. Nothing wrong with open debate on the subject, right?

Right! But let's be clear. The Federal Marriage Amendment (or FMA), which was voted out of the Judiciary Committee today on a strictly party line vote, is a desperate attempt by a panicky GOP to provide disgruntled voters with a wedge issue for November elections. The FMA has no chance of being passed. It needs a 2/3 majority in both the House and Senate -- it could pass in the House, but it doesn't have a chance of passing in the Senate -- and then needs to be ratified by 3/4 (or 38) of the state legislatures. If I sound snarky here, it is because the FMA has no chance of passing.

The FMA has other problems. It abrogates the rights of the states to decide how they want to proceed with civil arrangements, and it injects a level of government oversight of personal behavior not seen since Prohibition. The FMA is explicitly designed to deny "the blessings of liberty" to a particular group of American citizens, and prevents the states from making their own decisions about the ordering of civil society. It is also drastic. In the unlikely event that it passed, the growing tide of acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships and families would eventually be so great as to require that the amendment be repealed. And that day would come.

The situation in Nigeria is very different. Legislation (pdf) submitted by President Olusegun Obasanjo's executive council to the Federal Assembly prohibits the state from recognizing gay marriage -- but it also prevents gays and lesbians from celebrating marriage in private ceremonies and denies the right to speak out, assemble, or express opinions in the press in favor of gay marriage. The penalty? Five years in prison.

In the US, if the FMA passes, supporters of men and women who wish to enter same-sex marriages would still have certain remedies. They would have the right to speak out against the amendment. They could hold meetings. They could write articles in the press. And eventually they could rally support for repealment.

But if the Nigerian law were passed here, gay marriage be universally illegal -- and anyone who supported it would be put in jail.

Perhaps blinded by their allegiances, the response of conservative Anglican supporters of Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, who endorsed the legislation in early March, have been disappointing.

Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh (Anglican), and moderator of the traditionalist Anglican Communion Network, said:
[I]t should be noted that while the proposed law sounds harsh to American ears, the penalty for homosexual activities in those parts of Africa under Islamic Sharia law (such as the Sudan and portions of Northern Nigeria for that matter) is death. It is precisely the imposition of these much harsher Sharia laws that Archbishop Akinola and other Anglican leaders in Africa have resisted so strongly for many years with little publicity or support from the West.

It is jarring, to say the least, to see church leaders, who claim to champion the primacy of local understanding and culture, demanding that foreign sister churches give up their own local understanding and culture and be judged by an American understanding of individual rights. There is a word for the one-way imposition of values - colonialism.
Reverend Martyn Minns of Truro Parish, Fairfax, Virginia, who is probably on the short list for the episcopacy in a network of Anglican parishes that Archbishop Akinola has established in North America, said:
I do NOT believe that criminalization is an appropriate response to those who understand themselves to be homosexuals. Resolution 1.10 from the Lambeth Conference in 1998 is a good summary of my convictions on this contentious issue. While I “reject homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture” and sinful, I do believe that we are “to minister pastorally and sensitively to all persons irrespective of their sexual orientation”. Having said this I am very much aware that even in the Commonwealth of Virginia there are still laws that deal with various “Crimes against Nature” and in particular homosexual practice and adultery. The continued existence of these laws is a reflection of our own society’s struggle to find a way to support and protect heterosexual marriage while at the same time acknowledging the human rights of all persons.
Far be it from me to lecture Anglican clerics on their ecclesiastical missions, but could it be that these seemingly well-meaning and civic-minded men are willing to rationalize and stand aside as their Nigerian colleagues endorse a law that would put gay and lesbian Nigerians in prison? Do they believe that prison would bring gay and lesbian Nigerians closer to the Church? Maybe torture would be faster.

We are having a debate in the US about gay marriage, and rightly so. Nigerians should have that debate, too. Until we get our own house in order, we have no right to tell them that a ban on gay marriage per se is wrong.

But we in the US are very much within our rights to complain that a ban on speech, assembly and the press with a punishment of multiple years in a Nigerian prison is a step too far (image right from the BBC). Aside from preventing open and civil debate, a ban speech is a direct abrogation of the very democratic principles Archbishop Akinola and his president, Olusegun Obasanjo, have repeatedly professed. It also violates principles laid down by their own constitution.

Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) wrote the following to President Obasanjo regarding the legislation earlier this month (May 2):
I must tell you that I find this effort to persecute innocent people based on their sexual orientation not only morally indefensible but also profoundly undemocratic. I am deeply troubled by the hostility that is manifested by this legislation, including the denial of the basic democratic rights of free speech and association, which are not only core international human rights standards, but are also enshrined in your own country’s constitution.

... If this proposed legislation that so blatantly violates individual freedom and basic democratic rights to freedom of expression and association prevails, Nigeria would no longer in my view have any claim to genuine democratic rule. Also, given the degree of contempt and absolute intolerance towards gay people reflected in the measure, should I assume that if this becomes law, you would no longer want my support, as a member of Congress who is also gay, for any American proposals of assistance to your country?

I urge you in the strongest possible terms to reject this inhumane and wholly undemocratic effort.
We are also very much within our rights to demand that our own church leaders stay away from calling for or acquiescing to bans on civil liberties. And for the readers of VirtueOnline obsessed with the "homofecalerotic" nature of the debate, forget gay marriage and "homosex" for a moment and consider that conservative Anglicans are faced with a very serious problem, one that they have not yet taken seriously. Are they willing to let their highly admired African leader ride roughshod over basic civil rights? Are they willing to support his clearly stated endorsement of a law that would put gay Nigerians (perhaps even gay Anglican Nigerians) in jail for what amounts to a theological disagreement? Are they willing to let the passage of this legislation damage their credibility?

Are they willing to let ministry turn to persecution?

If the answer to any of these questions is "yes", then as an American I would say that they deserve little else but our scorn. Why should I enter reasoned debate with someone who might someday decide that God has denied my right to speak?

God is an environmentalist 'cause Pat Robertson says so

I don't know if God told Robertson if gays and lesbians are to blame, but The Rev. Pat has jumped on the global warming bandwagon to tell those who have ears to hear in the viewing audience of the 700 Club that "if I heard the Lord right about 2006, the coasts of America will be lashed by storms."

Putting himself on the same level as the Ancient Greeks who saw lightning and invented Zeus, Robertson takes advantage of the growing certainty that global warming augments the probability of extreme weather occurrences to add God to the equation. Very clever!

But his "prophecy" lacks a Jeremiad. If I were his communications director, I'd have suggested: "If I heard the Lord right about 2006, unless we change our wicked and debauched ways and curtail our carbon emissions, the coasts of America will be lashed by storms."

Obasanjo now says he will indeed step down

With two black-eyes and his international reputation tarnished, Nigerian President Obasanjo now plays the committed democrat (BBC):
"The constitution must be held hallowed and sacred. And, on the basis of the constitution in hand, we must start to plan for the next elections," he said.

Mr Obasanjo has never publicly said he wanted to stand for re-election saying he would make his decision if the constitution was amended.

In his speech he hit out at the media for unfounded speculation on the subject.

"Many derogatory statements and unfounded allegations have been made about me and my position concerning the so-called third term... I was maligned, insulted and wrongly accused but I remained where I am and what I am and I remained focused," he said.

President Obasanjo said it was now time to heal the wounds caused by weeks of angry debate on the issue and he criticised both sides for using blackmail, intimidation and violence in their campaigns.
It should be an interesting presidential campaign -- and there's still an entire year before Nigerians go to the polls.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Oil below $69 per barrel

BusinessWeek has today's news:
Oil prices fell below $69 a barrel Wednesday after government data showed the domestic supply of gasoline rising for the third straight week amid stagnating demand.

... But oil prices are still about 40 percent higher than a year ago amid persistent market anxieties about the West's nuclear standoff with Iran, supply disruptions in Nigeria and the upcoming Gulf of Mexico hurricane season.
The reason: projected demand for the rest of 2006 has dropped, and OPEC has announced that supply will have increased by the end of the year. But if the last few months have taught us anything about oil markets, it's that nothing's for certain. Says Brad Foss of BusinessWeek [emphasis mine]:

OPEC also sought to dampen concerns about its surplus production capacity. When this excess capacity is tight, it makes oil traders extra jittery about any real or potential threats to supply. From the end of 2002 to the end of 2005, OPEC said its spare production capacity declined from 5 million barrels per day to 2 million barrels per day. But the cartel said that figure would rise to 3 million barrels per day, or 3.5 percent of global demand, by the end of this year, thanks to the combined effects of weakening demand growth and new projects coming on line.

Despite OPEC's claims, many analysts point out that the bulk of this excess capacity resides in Saudi Arabia and is not the high-quality crude oil that is preferred by refiners.

Moreover, the market remains fixated on geopolitical factors that are beyond the control of OPEC, such as violence in Nigeria and the diplomatic dispute between the West and Iran over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

More excess capacity would be good, of course. But who would want to significantly augment supply when it's a supplier's market? And will things really get worked out with Iran with Bush at the helm? Stay tuned.

(Image from PBS of an oil derrick in 1909 Persia)

Expect more violence

Two new pieces of information following the collapse of Nigerian President Obasanjo's attempt to change the constitution to allow him a third four-year term.

First, he may be down, but he's not out. Tom Ashby at Reuters in Lagos has the following:
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has been wounded by the collapse of a campaign to extend his tenure, but analysts say it is too early to write him out of the script in next year's elections.

... Some analysts fear Obasanjo will now try to foment civil unrest or confusion around the 2007 elections as a pretext for declaring a state of emergency in order to stay in office.

"We have to be very careful about Obasanjo because he wants to hold on to power at all costs. He may create a crisis and use that to extend his rule," said Abubakar Mohammed, a political science lecturer at Ahmadu Bello University, whose book on Obasanjo's third term bid was banned by the secret police.

Such a move would not be unprecedented. After what observers said were the cleanest elections in Nigerian history in 1993, then-president Babangida annulled the results in an attempt to stay in office.
The political vacuum created by Obasanjo's failed 3rd-term attempt is ready to be filled by his vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, a Hausa-speaking Muslim, or former military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida, also a Muslim and "affectionately" known as IBB in the Nigerian Press. Any Nigerian President would be in control of billions in oil revenue. Read it all.

Second, Royal Dutch Shell announced at its recent stockholder meeting that it is now intent on restarting the oil extraction capacity lost to violence earlier this year. (One third of the 500,000 barrel per day capacity lost to violence was on Shell oil fields.)

Shell declared the following goals. Their first stated priority is to send "relief materials to affected communities and environmental cleanup. Once we are back in the field we will work to restore capacity as soon as possible." They have also stated their intention of stopping "gas flaring, a practice residents say leads to pollution and health problems."

Note to readers: gas flaring is the way in which oil companies get rid of excess vaporous gas from oil reservoirs during pumping. It is essentially illegal in the US. Shell has a bad history in the Niger Delta, and it is predominantly because of Shell's need for security and its subsequent collusion with the Nigerian government for that security that violence is the threat it is today. MEND, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, employs violence to meet their goals of regaining local control of oil fields. This is deplorable. However, if you know anything of the history of the Delta, their cause is most just.

Shell's goals are noble, but their history in the Delta suggests that they are not to be trusted.

The upshot is that in a world with very limited excess petroleum production capacity, even the slightest disturbance in Nigeria's rate of petroleum export can have a significant impact on crude oil prices. Issues of peace and justice in the Niger Delta aside, if Obasanjo is desperate enough, a "state of emergency" could be easily manufactured that would allow him stay in power.

Like Michael Klare says, at
[T]he continuing shift in the center of gravity of world oil production from global North to global South—combined with rising international demand and higher prices—will tend to enhance the perceived stakes in future struggles over the control of oil revenues, leading to more frequent and intense outbreaks of violence.
Expect more violence.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A new photo

I've changed the photo I previously posted of Bill Strode, our dear friend and companion, who died yesterday morning. We're going to miss him.

David Virtue just doesn't get it

In an oddly timed post -- possibly with the aim of throwing red meat to his not so civic-minded readers -- David Virtue has responded, again, to Bishop Chane's Washington Post op-ed decrying Archbishop Peter Akinola's endorsement of Nigeria's anti-gay legislation (pdf). (To those new to the legislation and its supporters, I've discussed it extensively in the last three months.)

But he just doesn't get it. As a practicing Christian, I'm sure Virtue recognizes that imprisoning those who don't agree with him is no way to save their souls. And yet, amidst all his "blasts" and "rips" and "homoerotics", we get this:
The ultra-liberal, pro-gay Washington bishop had written an op-ed article for the Washington POST and reposted in only two orthodox diocesan newspapers - Albany and Pittsburgh headlined; 'A Gospel of Intolerance': The "Gospel" according to John Chane in which he publicly berated and declaimed against the Nigerian Primate for taking a stand against same-sex marriages, accusing him of taking money from wealthy conservative foundations, fomenting schism leading to the formation of "his own purified [Anglican] communion" with himself at the head and much more.
Talk about a non-denial denial. I have yet to see him deal with the core issue -- if he argues for putting gay men and women in jail for speaking their mind, especially over a disagreement on theology, then he is letting ministry turn to persecution. Is he for the conversion of homosexuals or their extermination?

Either way, I find his position odious, but one I can live with, the other I cannot. None of us can. Especially gay Nigerians.

(Image from Virtue's website)

A commitment to democratic politics

Keep these words of President Obasanjo in mind when the Nigerian Federal Assembly reintroduces his gay marriage ban (which, I have to keep saying, really just bans homosexuals from speech, assembly, and the press) [emphasis mine]:
[W]e can assure you of our unmediated commitment to moving Africa away from the past towards a new dawn of unity, harmony, love, tolerance, dialogue and democratic politics.
Mr. Obasanjo was speaking today in Paris at the "presentation of the 2005 Felix Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize to President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal," after a near-death experience in his brand-new $70 million Boeing 737-800 presidential jet, and soon after his party's unsuccessful attempt to bribe Federal Assembly members to change the Nigerian constitution to allow him a third four-year term.

Nigeria and the Enlightenment

The Anglican Archbishop of South Africa, Njongonkulu Ndungane, has called for the Anglican Church to accept openly gay and partnered V. Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. Writes David Boaz (Guardian UK):
The Nigerian primate ... Archbishop Peter Akinola, condemned the consecration of Robinson as bishop, calling it a "satanic attack on the church of God." ... So what makes Ndungane different? He's the successor to Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, one might recall. ... after [Ndungane] was released [from Robben Island] he decided to enter the church and took two degrees at King's College, London. The arguments of the struggle against apartheid came from western liberalism - the dignity of the individual, equal and inalienable rights, political liberty, moral autonomy, the rule of law, the pursuit of happiness.
While acceptance of Bishop Robinson is a decision for the Anglican Communion alone, my hope is that, barring acceptance, they can at least recognize the many gifts that "western liberalism" has brought to the developing world. Many Anglican conservatives would do well to heed the distinction between moral arguments that can be proved, and those that depend solely on religious texts or other authorities for their support. Failing that, they risk falling into the moral trap that Archbishop Peter Akinola already has -- by supporting legislation that would put openly gay Nigerians in prison for vocalizing their beliefs, he has let ministry turn to persecution.

Less Oil, More Wars

Michael T. Klare has the scoop on The gist: today's high oil prices are due to increased dependence on suppliers in the Global South who suffer from political and social instability (and due to the possibility that we might invade Iran). The solution? Well, there is none to political instability (I disagree -- high oil prices make working for expensive social and economic change in troubled regions cost effective), and troops are not the answer. Klare says that the only way out is to start getting ourselves off fossil fuel.

Contrast Klare's piece with that of corporate yes-man Kenneth Green at AEI.

Obasanjo loses 3rd term battle

(updated below)

After much wrangling, bribery, and back-room dealmaking with state governors also interested in keeping their highly lucrative jobs, Nigerian President Olusegun Obsanjo's 3rd term bid is now dead. From Reuters via Business Day (South Africa):

The surprise move was greeted with dancing, shouts of joy and hugs among many senators, who had argued that the amendment was a threat to democracy in Africa’s biggest oil producing country.

"The Senate has said clearly and eloquently that we will discontinue further processes on this amendment bill," Senate President Ken Nnamani said after senators resoundingly voted against giving the bill a second reading.

The vote cut short the debate of the amendment in the upper house and took place after an unsuccessful attempt by third term supporters to postpone discussions for a week.

"The bill is dead. It cannot be brought again until the lifespan of this Senate terminates. That is victory for democracy," said Senator Abu Ibrahim of the opposition All Nigeria People’s Party in Katsina state.

So that's it, then. On to persecuting homosexuals.

UPDATE: Here's the story from the Washington Post Foreign Service.

Widespread bribery in Obasanjo's bid to permit 3rd term

Reuters reports on a new probe into Nigerian President Obasanjo's efforts to bribe Federal Assembly members in his efforts to change the constitution to allow him the chance at a third term:

The investigation comes days before a vote on the bill to amend the constitution in the Senate, which is likely to go against extending the presidential tenure to three terms.

"The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has commenced the investigation of recent allegations of bribery in the National Assembly," the agency said in a press statement.

Lawmakers were originally offered 50 million naira ($390,000) to support a third term for Obasanjo, opposition members said. A National Assembly source told Reuters on Sunday the offer had now been raised to 200 million naira ($1.6 million) and above for key opponents.

A presidency spokesman denied offering bribes.

"The president is not a bribe giver, neither does he condone any form of corruption," said Femi Fani Kayode.

Of course, Obasanjo need not have done the bribing himself. And given the way he has let his surrogates push for the consititutional change while he remained silent, I tend to doubt his spokesman.

Get ready for a fight

Nigerian President Obasanjo's efforts to guarantee himself access to a third term are bursting into flames, and he has begun to turn his attention to what had at least partially occupied his time prior to the third-term debate: family values.

The Vanguard (Nigeria) reports [emphasis mine]:
President Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday challenged Nigerian women to strive and restore the nation’s core values within the family, at work, in the community, and nationally, arguing that failure to do so would impede national progress and growth.

Addressing the opening Ceremony of the Mothers Summit in Abuja, the President noted that the image problem ''we have is not unconnected to the breakdown of the family structure. Its attendant vices are cultism, exam malpractices, teenage pregnancy and truancy, among the many manifestations of deviant behaviour in our youth.

"The reality today is that the youth deviance index is unacceptably high and there is no indication that it will abate if urgent steps are not taken to correct it. Posterity will not forgive us if we allow things to go on in this manner. Time was, when patriotism, respect for one another, excellence, integrity, communality and hard work were the cornerstone of our value system.

" ... A study of our image problem reveals that factors such as long years of military rule, weak democratic institutions, poverty, and a breakdown of the family structure are largely responsible for the situation in which we find ourselves today. These resulted in the monetization of dignity, the contamination of long-cherished values, and the commercialization of morals."

"Youth deviance indices" aside, as in the US, poverty leads to the breakdown of families. So I'm not sure what progress Obasanjo expects to make without first treating the problem of poverty. The best he could do in the medium- to long-term would be to introduce a massive anti-corruption campaign so that funds from oil revenue could be better distributed to the deeply impoverished Nigerians on whose backs he and the Nigerian elite stand.

But don't expect an anti-corruption campaign from a guy whose party has distributed massive bribes for favorable voting on a third term. No, in a last gasp effort in the face of defeat, Obasanjo is revving up to appeal to the values voters, a strategy that helps him to generate cross-over appeal to both Nigerian Christians and Muslims.

The real issue here is the long-brewing, and now globally controversial legislation before the Nigerian Assembly that would ban speech, assembly, press, and religious expression in support or advocacy of homosexuality. Expect the bill to be introduced again, shortly.

Goodbye, Bill Strode

Bill Strode, the multiple award-winning photographer, and dear, 10-year companion of my mother-in-law, died yesterday morning after a nine-month struggle with cancer.

We have few pictures of him -- he was always the one behind the camera. However, my wife and sister-in-law have managed to capture a couple over the years, and this one, with my mother-in-law at his house in Goshen, Kentucky, at Christmas last year, captures how I will always remember him: a warm, generous, and spirited man. We will all deeply miss him.

You can find his obituary at the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The liberal blogosphere organizes against the IRD

The Institute on Religion and Democracy faces two crises of conscience that I don't believe it is constitutionally capable of assessing on its own.

First, it is a front group for those in the US who wish to make Christianity a solely-owned subsidiary of the Republican party. Surely Christianity is the worse for it, and the Republican party is already dying from it. The last time the GOP ran a 50-state strategy for winning a presidential election was 1984 (and they would have succeeded had Mondale not won his home state). Today, the GOP is fully committed to a strategy that appeals to a once large and now increasingly self-aware sector of the population that wants fiscal discipline (and lower taxes -- see here for more), national security, good schools, and greater control over their health care and retirement, not to mention moral rectitude in our politicians and institutions. These interests have not changed, but the perception that the GOP can provide them has.

Second, the IRD has taken a one-sided stand against persecution of Christians -- but not against persecution. Anne Morse writes on of the IRD's decision to decline participation in "the 160-member Save Darfur Coalition because of its decision to include The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an organization with ties to terrorist groups including Hamas, which dreams of wiping Israel off the map." Well, Townhall and the IRD have other issues on their plate -- they want to fight Islamic terrorism, too (as do we all). But the involvement of CAIR, which the US government has not designated as a terrorist organization (unlike the Islamic American Relief Agency-USA, which the Save Darfur Coalition ejected), presents a moral conundrum for the IRD that apparently trumps the moral issue of stopping genocide:
When asked why Save Darfur did not also suspend the membership of CAIR, given its many links with terrorist groups, Crowley told me via email that "the Save Darfur Coalition relies on the federal government to determine whether a group supports terrorism or not." Noting the Coalition's suspension of Islamic American Relief Agency-USA, Crowley wrote, "We would take the same step if the government designated any [other] coalition member as a terrorist supporter"--an explanation [Andrew] Whitehead [founder of Anti-CAIR] calls "Beyond disingenuous. It is cowardly. Where is Save Darfur's sense of morality?"
Yeah, that's the problem, Andrew. But which morality are we talking about? The one that makes stopping genocide less important than the odious nature of the temporary alliance necessary to stop it? Faith McDonnell, of the IRD, says:
They have worrisome ties to terror groups, and in the past they have denied the existence of slavery in Southern Sudan. That's why we didn't join the Coalition, although we have cooperated with them in their effort to help the people of Darfur.
I don't get it -- the IRD has cooperated with CAIR in Darfur, but they won't add their name to the Coalition if CAIR is involved?

And it gets worse. As I've written before, it's not entirely clear that the IRD deserves to include the word "democracy" in their title. While championing the cause of persecuted Christians in countries like Sudan, Pakistan, Indonesia and China, they have also taken the side of Anglican Primate Peter Akinola of Nigeria, who has endorsed legislation (which still has not passed!) that would strip speech, press, and religious advocacy from homosexual Nigerians, with prison sentences of up to 5 years. So much for supporting democratic institutions.

Now the liberal blogosphere has started to organize against them. As reported at Political Cortex today, Air American Radio will be presenting, in its syndicated radio show State of Belief, a program covering the takeover of mainline Christian churches in the US by the Republican Party. The program, to be aired on May 21, is produced in conjunction with Talk To Action, a community weblog aimed at defanging the creeping monster of politics in matters of faith.

Christianism has no place in American Democracy.

Stoking the beast

Jonathan Rauch, in the June issue of The Atlantic Monthly, discusses the counter-intuitive analysis of Cato chairman William A. Niskanen (subscription only):

To the naked eye, Starve the Beast looks suspiciously counterproductive. After all, spending (as a share of the gross domestic product, the standard way to measure it) went up, not down, after Reagan cut taxes in the early 1980s; it went down, not up, after the first President Bush and President Clinton raised taxes in the early 1990s; and it went up, not down, following the Bush tax cuts early in this decade.

Niskanen recently analyzed data from 1981 to 2005 and found his hunch strongly confirmed. When he performed a statistical regression that controlled for unemployment (which independently influences spending and taxes), he found, he says, "no sign that deficits have ever acted as a constraint on spending." To the contrary: judging by the last twenty-five years (plenty of time for a fair test), a tax cut of 1 percent of the GDP increases the rate of spending growth by about 0.15 percent of the GDP a year. A comparable tax hike reduces spending growth by the same amount.

The reason: Cutting taxes while leaving spending unchanged "reduces the apparent cost of government," giving taxpayers the appearance of being "on sale." Hence, people buy more or it. Niskanen figures that the sweet-spot -- the tax rate where government spending does not change -- is a tax rate of 19% (we are now at an effective rate of 17.8%, and government spending is increasing).

Note that the data Niskanen compares are the tax rate and the rate of increase in government spending. That is, if a fixed tax rate l is below the sweet-spot, government spending will increase at a fixed rate over time.

This is disastrous math for tax-and-borrow conservatives. As Niskanen says, "I would like to be proven wrong." And he might be. The lesson for Democrats: raising taxes and getting rid of pork are one and the same.

Go to the Atlantic's Post & Riposte for the online discussion of the article.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Hoisted on our own petard

There are a lot of things wrong with last Monday's (5/8) essay by AEI's Kenneth P. Green on what to do about high gas prices -- such as his call for a permanent lifting of boutique fuel requirements instead of calling for homogeneously high standards -- but he prejudices the whole thing right off the bat when he tells the public to stop worrying, things aren't that bad [emphasis mine]:
Once again, high gasoline and oil prices are in the news. As of this writing, the national average gasoline price per gallon ($2.90 on April 23) is approaching a record high of $3.21 per gallon set in 1981 (adjusted for inflation). Oil futures are currently running at about $72.50 per barrel, considerably below the record high of $86.99 per barrel, also set in 1981. The public is upset, and politicians are scrambling to find ways to reduce the pain of high prices, or failing that, to publicly shoot the messenger by investigating, penalizing, or punitively taxing oil companies.
While he's correct that prices still haven't reached their inflation-adjusted 1981 records, he's disingenuous about today's very bullish market's very real effects. Two decades of low gas prices have led to a mass urbanite exodus into distant suburbs and neo-urban areas characterized by minimal, if present, manufacturing and commercial sectors. Relatively cheap money, and the nearly zero cost of driving long-distances have made it possible for large sectors of Americans to abandon proximity for the cheap and spacious comfort of the "exurbs."

I remember as a teenager in LA being impressed by the fact that people were willing to commute over an hour each way to downtown LA to live in cheap housing in Lancaster, the Palm Desert, or even the far reaches of Riverside County. Today, given the skyrocketing price of oil, I'm impressed that they will still live that far away.

It's true that the cost of gas is 10% less than it was in 1981, but the true cost is revealed only if we factor in the additional distance we are willing to travel. Kevin Naughton, in the May 1, 2006, edition of Newsweek notes [emphasis mine]:
[M]ore people than ever are willing to trade time in their car for the American Dream: big house, big yard. Nearly 10 million people now drive more than an hour to work, up 50 percent from 1990. The average commute today is 25 minutes, up 18 percent from two decades ago. What drives us to drive so far? Many are doing what California real-estate agents call "driving 'til you qualify." New-home prices have nearly tripled in the past 20 years and now average almost $300,000, according to the National Association of Home Builders. In places like southern California, each exit along the interstate saves you tens of thousands of dollars. That's why Chris Neelley, 43, lives in Lancaster, Calif., and drives 80 miles to L.A. every day. For $400,000 last year, he moved his family of five into a 3,000-square-foot home, twice the size of the place they used to have closer to the city.
For a very large number of Americans, gas is now more expensive than ever (the 18% increase in commuting time more than offsets the 10% still to go to match 1981's inflation adjusted gas prices). Cheap oil created these distance pseudo-metropolises. Expensive oil may destroy them. Wake up exurban Bush voters! Violence in Nigeria, the Iraq War, and our President's saber-rattling in Iran are kicking your @$$.

(Cartoon by Steve Nease, 2005, from Daryl Cagle's Professional Cartoonists Index)

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Obasanjo: not George Washington

Desperate to maintain his Presidency into a third term, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has finally begun to make public declarations of his interest in doing so.

Up until now, Obasanjo has maintained complete silence on the issue, ostensibly waiting silently for Nigerian lawmakers to put forward a constitutional amendment that would grant him the right to run again. But a two-thirds majority would be required in both Nigerian houses to pass that amendment, and, thus far, whip counts indicate that both houses are at best evenly split.

On Thursday, seeing his case fall into crisis, the president made his first plea to lawmakers to pass the amendment (Reuters):

"He told them to find a way to get it through and save the project," a senior National Assembly source told Reuters, asking not to be named because of the delicacy of the matter.

"Everyone told him he doesn't have the votes."

The third term campaign has been unsurprisingly marred by large-scale bribery, adding Obasanjo to the growing list of Africa's "new leaders," whose campaign promises regarding democracy and the rule of law have largely turned to dust.

The US government has urged Obasanjo to turn away from his third-term pursuits, predicting major turmoil if he elected to another term, while Brits have taken the politically safe stance of supporting a change to the constitution only if it is free and fair.

A growing list of Nigerian religious leaders have denounced Obasanjo's third-term campaign. The latest is Primate Peter Akinola (Anglican Communion), who, on Saturday, was quoted in the Vanguard (Nigeria) as saying:
They are at it again. No clear political manifesto, clear vision or set goals have been announced. For goodness sake, what do we owe these shameless political opportunists? People who ordinarily ought to be languishing in jail. It is time we told them to go back to the farm or find something else to do. The current political climate portends enough danger for our nation’s future. Nigeria deserves better than these evil men can offer.
Akinola's statement is significant given his only other statement on the third-term campaign, given to the Guardian (Nigeria) [emphasis mine]:
For me, that's an illusion. People are talking about third term but has the President ever said he was going for third term? He has even denied it several times both at home and abroad.

The Constitution does not allow it. And he is not just a Nigerian leader but a world leader. So, you think he will want to tarnish his own image? He is a force to be reckoned with in the affairs of the world today. Those who are talking about it are gaining from it. There are many Nigerians who specialize in fomenting trouble. And they feed fat in chaos. To me it's a non-issue. He has denied it several times. If the man comes out and asks Nigerians to give him another chance, that is when I can comment. For now, I have no comment about third term. Other than to warn those orchestrating it to be careful.

Well, at least Akinola has kept his promise.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The editorial page still doesn't get it, but ...

... the Wall Street Journal's science reporter does. Perhaps, finally, the voice of conservative conventional wisdom will come down off their faux-caution pedestal to give us well-meaning "paranoid scientists" the benefit of the doubt.

When reading Sharon Begley's short piece, pay special note to her use of the parlance of probability. This is the means by which climate scientists convince themselves and each other of the potentially disastrous climate change we may be facing. The chance of throwing a 7 in Craps is one in six, but the chance of throwing five in a row is almost one in ten thousand. Likewise, they argue, the climate change observed over the last century could have been due to natural variation, but it is extremely improbable that it was.

(hat tip Andrew Sullivan)

Friday, May 12, 2006


An explosion in a Nigerian pipeline today is said to have claimed as many as 200 lives. Oil theives have been blamed for the explosion, which is believed to have been an accident. The pipeline exploded while being tapped. Corpses were strewn along the beach, charred and unrecognizable, often with only smoking skeletons, grey with ash, remaining to mark their death:
"You can see the corpses. Some are burned to ash. Others are remnants ... We estimate 150 to 200 people died," Lagos State Police Commissioner Emmanuel Adebayo said at the scene.
Tapping pipelines, or "bunkering," is a common practice in Nigeria. It is also capital-intensive, requiring investment that only local and state government officials are believed capable of providing.
Most of the victims were probably members of a skilled petrol-theft gang, who know the location of vulnerable pipelines and hire local thugs or police to protect them while they siphon fuel at the dead of night, Saka-Shenayon [a Lagos State government official] said.
I should add -- only to demonstrate the financial incentive that should motivate our government to attention to conditions in Nigeria -- that the US oil market tightened up considerably following the news of the explosion, this despite today's lowered estimates of world petroleum demand by the International Energy Agency.

Forget what you've heard about a demand-driven market -- it's all about supply, and it's going to stay that way as long as we ignore Nigeria, continue to saber-rattle in Iran, continue to blow it in Iraq, and fail to normalize relationships in Venezuela.