Saturday, September 30, 2006

The news cycle for at least the next two weeks

House Majority Leader Boehner, Speaker of the House Hastert, and NRCC chairman Reynolds may now be in a position where they're asked to resign. From the New York Times:
Top House Republicans knew for months about e-mail traffic between Representative Mark Foley and a former teenage page, but kept the matter secret and allowed Mr. Foley to remain head of a Congressional caucus on children’s issues, Republican lawmakers said Saturday.
This is not going away. Says Christopher Shays (R.-Conn.):
If they knew or should have known the extent of this problem, they should not serve in leadership.
And I should add, for those of you who say this is just politics, even if the Democrats had pushed this story to come out on Friday of all days, right at the end of this Congress, does it absolve the GOP leadership of their responsibility to have policed their own caucus? No, it doesn't.

This is where politics over ethics and policy leads us. Let's kick the bums out.

An enterprising Christianist ...

(updated below)

... might use the "Mark Foley scandal" as a means of arguing, yet again, that homosexuality equals pedophilia, thus spinning the unbelievable damage this will do to the GOP in the coming weeks into some kind of Marilyn Musgrave-style victory (good luck!). While I harbor no sympathy for Congressman Foley's gross misconduct, Andrew Sullivan's recent words are particularly helpful in understanding it:
... the news about Mark Foley has a kind of grim inevitability to it. I don't know Foley, although, like any other gay man in D.C., I was told he was gay, closeted, afraid and therefore also screwed up. What the closet does to people - the hypocrisies it fosters, the pathologies it breeds - is brutal. There are many still-closeted gay men in D.C., many of them working for a Republican party that has sadly deeply hostile to gay dignity. How they live with themselves I do not fully understand.
Although I'm not gay, I think that one only has to be a man, gay or straight, to understand the pressures, strains and breakdowns associated with suppressed sexuality. While it must always be kept under control, there is something about the male animal that makes us prone to unhealthy venting when the standard outlets are unavailable.

Mark Foley: a man undoubtedly committed to Republican ideas, destroyed by his own party's intolerance.

UPDATE: October 3, 2006, 11:36. From an email sent around by Gary Bauer of American Values, and former presidential candidate (via Digby) [my emphasis]:
This latest scandal in Washington is just further evidence that the pro-family agenda is desperately needed for the country. We are the ones who have argued that human sexuality should be channeled through marriage. We are the ones who have argued that marriage is between one man and one woman. We are the ones who have argued that schools should teach kids how to read and write and stop handing out condoms and birth control pills. We are the ones who say that all our children should be welcomed into the world under law. We are the ones who say there are reliable standards of right and wrong. And we are the ones who have led the charge against the sexualization of our children.
I told you so. Keep spinning, Gary -- you and people like you are our only hope for keeping this scandal alive until November.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Dennis Hastert: protecting pages from GOP Congressmen

(updated below)

From the AP (via the NYT):
House Speaker Dennis Hastert said he had asked the chairman of the House's page board, Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., to investigate the page system. ''We want to make sure that all our pages are safe and the page system is safe,'' Hastert said.
Good idea.

UPDATE: Sept 30, 2006, 00:29. Want to stay up-to-date on this growing scandal? -- go to Talking Points Memo:
House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) told The Washington Post last night that he had learned this spring of some "contact" between Foley and a 16-year-old page. Boehner said he told House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), and that Hastert assured him "we're taking care of it."

It was not immediately clear what actions Hastert took. His spokesman had said earlier that the speaker did not know of the sexually charged e-mails between Foley and the boy.
This one isn't going away.

UPDATE II: Sept 30, 2006, 00:40. And just in case you weren't sufficiently grossed out, let me push you over the edge (from The Blotter):

They say he used the screen name Maf54 on these messages provided to ABC News.

Maf54: You in your boxers, too?
Teen: Nope, just got home. I had a college interview that went late.
Maf54: Well, strip down and get relaxed.

Another message:

Maf54: What ya wearing?
Teen: tshirt and shorts
Maf54: Love to slip them off of you.

And this one:

Maf54: Do I make you a little horny?
Teen: A little.
Maf54: Cool.

The language gets much more graphic, too graphic to be broadcast, and at one point the congressman appears to be describing Internet sex.

Foley's gone, Hastert's toast (he appears to have known about this for as much as a year), Pelosi has filed for a House ethics investigation, which won on a 410-0 vote today, and with the Democrats' newly minted 50-state strategy, there's now a credible Democrat running in Florida's 14th (eat Howard Dean's shorts, Rahm Emanuel!).

A plan for the Delta?

Since the Nigerian government is utterly paralyzed by internal PDP (People's Democratic Party) squabbles about who is more corrupt (i.e., President Obasanjo or Vice-President Abubakar) and by the potential chaos of next year's April elections, I think it's worthwhile to examine what recommendations outside organizations have made for Nigeria to bring the environmental / commercial / social crisis that is the Niger Delta under control.

The International Crisis Group released an executive summary yesterday that is about as comprehensive as such recommendations can get, and whose accompanying report (pdf) would serve as an excellent primer for anyone interested in getting familiar with a region that the US plans to extract as much as 25% of its oil imports by 2015.

ICG's last point:
To the Energy Companies’ Home Countries:

20. Legislate to require companies with overseas operations to publicly disclose all payments to foreign governments. This initiative should be synchronised through the Group of Eight to provide additional credibility to extractive transparency efforts in developing nations.
This is exactly right. I, for one, want to know exactly how Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron are spending their "Exploration" money in Nigeria. Is it being used to bribe government officials (not without precedent), or used to develop the economic involvement of Deltans in mineral extraction programs. And I want to be sure that my cheap oil is not cheap because of the destruction and mismanagement of someone else's backyard.

Hey, Lasky, what about China?

Ed Lasky, over at the American Thinker, has discounted the threat that Iran poses to global oil markets. He argues compellingly that newly discovered and very large deep-water oil reserves have been discovered in the Gulf of Mexico, that we now have a strategic petroleum reserve to buffer changes (which we didn't have in the '70s), that there has been increased development of African off-shore deepwater fields, and that new oil fields are coming on line in Saudi Arabia. Taken together, he believes that Iran withholding oil from global markets would have little if any effect on global and US markets, and that Ahmadinejad and his disturbingly rational rants can be safely ignored.

He may be right in the short term. After all, the "risk premium" -- or the $20 per barrel we were tacking on to the price of oil to buffer potential supply shortfalls -- has largely evaporated since Bush stopped talking so tough on Iran. (Indeed, in the short- to medium-term, Bush's actions are those most directly responsible for the recent hike in our gas prices: the invasion of Iraq took a good chunk of Persian Gulf oil offline, reducing OPEC's excess production capacity to just above demand, and saber-rattling with Iran unsettled the nerves of oil traders already concerned that a major supply crash could follow.)

But what about the long-term? Lasky makes no mention of India and China, and without a recognition of their growing demand for petroleum, his analysis is almost meaningless. The bottom line is that even with big new discoveries, we are discovering new reserves at a slower rate than we are using them up. Iran may not pose a threat to oil markets today or this year or next year, but the continuing expansion of China's and India's demand for oil will narrow the supply gap until, once again, we're paying a $20, maybe $50, risk premium for the off-chance that 100,000 bpd of production is shut down in Nigeria because some guy gets kidnapped.

Incendiary? Yes

Read on before you judge.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Maybe Democrats are showing life at just the right time ...

(updated below)

This is exactly the voice we need to hear, but we need to hear it from entire congressional Democratic delegation. Frankly, I'm surprised to hear it first from Hillary Clinton; I would have expect this from Feingold or Leahy. Perhaps what we're seeing is the beginnings of the kind of bold move necessary to push a beleaguered Democratic party, with a poorly defined public image but every electoral advantage in the world, into a new place -- or perhaps just a place where Hillary looks good as a Presidential candidate. She's still not my first choice by a long-shot, but her spirit is most definitely in the right place.

(h/t to Andrew Sullivan.)

UPDATE Sept. 28, 2006, 19:20: Sorry, Feingold did speak first, in fact.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Well said

From the New York Times, regarding the declassified summary (pdf) of the April, 2006, National Intelligence Estimate [my emphasis]:
As a political matter, at least for the next few weeks, the intelligence findings will only fuel the argument over Iraq on both sides. Mr. Bush has grown increasingly insistent that nothing he has done in Iraq has worsened terrorism. America was not in Iraq during the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, he said, or during the bombings of the U.S.S. Cole or embassies in Africa, or on 9/11.

But that argument steps around the implicit question raised by the intelligence finding: whether postponing the confrontation with Saddam Hussein and focusing instead on securing Afghanistan, or dealing with issues like Iran’s nascent nuclear capability or the Middle East peace process, might have created a different playing field, one in which jihadists were deprived of daily images of carnage in Iraq to rally their sympathizers.

"Somehow we have to ... "

(updated below)

I've been hearing this phrase a lot lately regarding the various secondary exacerbations and crises to have arisen from our adventure in Iraq. The latest, and for me the most frustrating, comes from Andrew Sullivan, responding to Bashir Goth's recent Washington Post blog entry. From Goth:
To survive in such unfriendly atmosphere like this, journalists in the Muslim world have become like parrots that only echo the official line. Torn between the call of professionalism and that of censorship, they have to always adhere to the call of the latter. If it takes a village to raise a child in Africa, it takes a community to kill a writer, artist and a journalist in the Muslim world.
Responds Sullivan [my emphasis]:
And so the backwardness deepens; and the ressentiment intensifies; and the censorship grows. Somehow we have to reverse this cycle of conformity and fear - there, and, to a mercifully much lesser extent, here.
What's my frustration, you ask? On the surface, I can disagree with nothing substantive that Sullivan has penned on the subject in the last several years, but I am always left unsatisfied. I want to know what we are going to do about Iran, Muslim democracy, and the unfolding civil war in Iraq. Sullivan quite rightly brings up all the little things that should make us afraid -- he is serious about taking real threats into account -- but he stops short of offering solutions.

Iran is dangerous: but do we invade? As Goth writes, free speech is not a guarantee to Muslim writers: do we invade? Women live under the burqas and the threat of assassination for driving a car in Iraq: do we invade? Oh, wait ...

The set to which Sullivan now belongs -- and it's an expanding one -- is those who supported the war in Iraq for the "right reasons", i.e., our desire to spread democracy, to save ourselves from another terrorist attack, and to show the world that we will not be pushed around, but which is now realizing with every new revelation about our government's incompetence and the scale of the risk we were taking that the war was a very bad idea. (I'm not talking about Afghanistan -- I think that was the right war, and it could have been brilliant had we decided to stick around with half the commitment we made in Iraq.)

Now, what Sullivan is left with is a overexcersized sense of outrage at all of the low-hanging fruit of the kind we see in Iran, and in Goth's comment, that drew him to support the war in Iraq in the first place. Unfortunately for him (but perhaps fortunately for the rest of us) there is no credible and belligerent anti-Iran US foreign policy behind which he can put his considerable rhetorical strengths. When he says "Somehow we have to ... " but goes no further, he leaves us standing at the altar, wondering if we should really have given him that second chance.

Perhaps recognizing how impotent his words about "scary" Ahmadinejad have become when there are no immediate plans to invade Iran -- if you want proof of the lack of imminent plans, look at the recent and very significant drops in oil prices from $75 a barrel to about $61 -- Sullivan posts a comment from a reader, who says [my emphasis]:

I find myself troubled by your recent posting. Specifically, the line, "We have a dictator on the brink of nukes." By all indications, the Iranian regime is at the very least, 6-7 years away from a working nuclear weapon. Most estimates give it a decade, as in around the year 2016. Some predict more time. I have seen no credible reports that they are remotely close to a nuclear weapon. Have you?

Also, Ahmadinejad is not a dictator. He cannot make decisions without the specific approval of Supreme Leader Khamenei. A small point, but still.

I understand the difficulty in projecting domestic politics in a country as hostile as Iran. However, we know that Ahmadinejad is facing a dearth of support in his country over his economic failures, when he was elected largely on an economic populist platform. Seeing how the key issue driving his popularity appears to be his belligerence and feistiness towards the USA, instead of adapting a hard-line stance and feeding into his popularity, it puzzles me why we don't treat him like the pretend fraud he is.


UPDATE 9/27/2006 12:32: Apparently Sullivan did know what a "high-risk adventure" the Iraq invasion was going to be:
We knew occupying a Muslim country would be a very high-risk venture.
I've read his blog since 2002. His recognition of what we knew is news to me -- but I'm ready to stand corrected.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Exactly my fear

About the inevitable separation of The Episcopal Church from the remaining Anglican Communion, and the future of the conservative Anglicans who remain in the US, Jim Naughton nails my worries precisely:
Once the struggle is over, they are a group of perhaps a quarter million members on the crowded right wing of the American religious landscape, handicapped by the fact that they are more or less invisible in most of the country. Their leader, Peter Akinola, advocates putting gay people and thier allies in prison. And their banker, Howard Ahmanson once told the Orange County Register that while he no longer believed that it was "essential" to stone gay people, he would be hardpressed to say that such the practice was "inherently immoral."
Once they "win", and they will, conservative American Anglicans won't look too rosy.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Islam can be (and often is) a good-faith player for peace in Nigeria

The comments posted to a blog should never be considered a pure reflection of the blog itself or of the readers of the blog (there's too much self-selection in who actually posts comments), but I found a recent thread on titusonenine (a blog run by Rev Canon Kendall Harmon of South Carolina) regarding recent riots in Nigeria by Muslims against Christian-minority churches and property to be disturbing. One commenter wrote:
Ah yes. Islam, the religion of peace.
Since I easily grow tired of this kind of Michelle Malkin-style religious polarization, the kind occassionally seeded by the Institute on Religion and Democracy, I got involved in the thread, pointing out, as one can see if they go to the end of the thread, that the violence is much more complicated than a "my prophet is better than your prophet" sort of struggle.

In fact, Muslim leaders in Nigeria, both religious and civil, seeing the coming electoral conflict in 2007, are working hard to stem this tide of internecine religious conflict, just as their Christian counterparts are doing so in the Church of Nigeria (Anglican). In the Vanguard yesterday (September 23) [my emphasis]:

In a special announcement made on the state-owned Kaduna State Radio Corporation (KSMC) Mr Ibhaze [the state police commissioner] said his command was reliably informed that trouble makers wanted to ferment trouble either yesterday or immediately after today's Jumat prayers pointing out that the aim was to cause violence and destruction.

Ibhaze said: "good morning the good and peace loving people of Kaduna State. As we look forward to sighting the moon any moment from today, I wish you Allah's blessings and a rewarding ramadan fast.

"We are reliably informed that some trouble makers want to infiltrate our faithful worshippers today (22/9/2006) during or immediately after the Friday prayers. Their aim is to cause trouble and cause a reign of destruction in this peace loving state.

"My dear good people of Kaduna state, I urge you to say no to violence; no to riots and no to destruction.

"What we need at this stage, is prayers and sober reflection so that Muslims and their Christian brothers can continue to live in peace. The police has not granted any body or group permit to do a precession or rally.

"Anyone who ferments trouble or sponsors chaos will be arrested and prosecuted. A word is enough for the wise."

The "threat" of Islam is commonly used, by the allies of Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola, to explain or deflect criticism of his actions. To whit, Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh (Episcopal) wrote the following Friday regarding the recent move by the Anglican Communion's Global South Bishops to call for an idealogically purified and separate Anglican Church in the United States [my emphasis]:
We are deeply humbled by the care shown for us by our Fathers in God in the Global South ... In many places they and the Anglicans they pastor face poverty, disease and persecution for their faith on a scale that goes far beyond anything that threatens us. In fact, just this week, Anglicans in Nigeria saw their cathedral in Dutse burned to the ground by rioting Muslims. Yet, in the midst of dealing with these massive issues, they continue to offer us their support and guidance. We can only be profoundly grateful.
The same "threat of Islam" was used by Bishop Duncan (back in March, 2006) to rationalize the fully anti-democratic, anti-gay legislation that had been endorsed by Archbishop Akinola (an excerpt):
Bishop Chane's comments betray a profound lack of empathy or understanding for the position that Archbishop Akinola and all Christians in Nigeria find themselves in. During the last few weeks in Nigeria, an archdeacon has been murdered and two bishops have survived assassination attempts.

All were attacked by what appear to be Islamic extremists. During the same time, Islamic violence ignited by the publishing of Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed have claimed the lives of scores of lay Christians and seen numerous churches destroyed in Nigeria.

Further, it 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.
You seeing the pattern? Islam has become a convenient scapegoat for all kinds of anti-democratic initiatives.

Nice try, guys, but if Islam is such a threat to minorities and thus to democracy, then face up to it with a higher standard (i.e., a commitment to real democracy)! If it's not the threat you make it out to be, as suggested by the very well-meaning words of Commissioner Ibhaze above, then start answering criticism with facts and substance!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

No guilt by association

The most serious charges (or criticisms) I've seen yet against my last two posts about the Nigerian anti-homosexuality bill (see here and here) have come from a commenter on Jim Naughton's Daily Episcopalian, who says that I am out to get the Anglican Communion Network (which is theologically closely aligned with Archbishop Akinola) and that I wish to cast guilt by association on Akinola's US bishop, Martyn Minns, or on the Network's moderator, Bishop Robert Duncan, for not denouncing the legislation. The commenter points out, quite rightly, that while both of these church leaders have commented on the bill, neither has endorsed it. In fact, their comments leave bread crumbs to the conclusion that they in fact do not support it at all.

My claim is actually that American conservative Anglicans are not taking the legislation seriously, and that, as their leaders, both Minns and Duncan have a responsibility to do so, and to react accordingly. While trying to think of a verbal explanation as to why the Akinola-endorsed legislation is so totally out of bounds, I came up with the following illustration (here, black and white have no moral significance):

(Please note that "divine" discourse is defined very broadly to include the core beliefs of agnostics -- yes, even agnostics have strong moral beliefs).

Both sides of the church-state debate have a disturbing tendency to want to claim the entire gray area for themselves. American evangelicals now have a history of attempting to make gay marriage an impossibility for all Americans regardless of their faith. Civil libertarians (including many in the Episcopal Church) now have a history of attempting to rewrite the central message of Christianity to accommodate what is, in fact, a rather derived notion of tolerance (i.e., "tolerance" means to accept the behavior of others, rather than simply to tolerate it). Like the religious right, the new "religious left" has its own version of the Gospel, one that is heavily influenced by civil libertarianism and social justice (two things to which I am quite partial), that it wants to impose politically on everyone else.

In reality, neither side can claim the "gray area" for themselves without asking the other side to compromise their own "divine discourse." The issues in the "gray area" relate to both important civil liberties (which are important) and core moral issues (which are also important). The direction that society takes when resolving these issues must therefore accept input from both sides as the result of a rational, if spirited, debate: the co-equal importance of civil and divine discourse (insofar as we all want to live together in peace) must not be denied.

It is here that the Nigerian bill and Archbishop Akinola's endorsement of that bill have crossed the line. What the bill asks of the debate surrounding homosexuality (let alone same-sex marriage, which this bill is not about) is that one side be completely shut out; that is, that the importance of civil discourse be ignored. I am not saying that gay marriage should be made legal in Nigeria, nor am I saying that there shouldn't be a debate about homosexuality. But with this legislation, there would be no debate at all, only 5 year prison sentences.

For this reason, and this reason alone, I have repeatedly called on Minns and Duncan, and their associates, to make a clear denunciation of the legislation -- for their own conscience, for the sake of the reputation of the emerging conservative Anglican Church in the US, and for the sake of the perhaps 1 million Nigerians whose voices would be silenced.

With his endorsement, Akinola has shown a desire to impose his God's Dominion on the lives of all Nigerians, regardless of their core moral beliefs. He has Nigerian colleagues in other faiths and denominations that agree with him, but that only makes his movement to outlaw "gayness" just another form of mob rule. There are dominionist Christians in the US who have made similar desires known. Are American Anglicans now among them?

Monday, September 18, 2006

What kind of black eye are Minns and the ACN hoping for?

This is getting ridiculous.

From the Church of Nigeria's (Anglican) Message to the Nation, dated 15th September, 2006 [my emphasis]:
The Church affirms our commitment to the total rejection of the evil of homosexuality which is a perversion of human dignity and encourages the National Assembly to ratify the Bill prohibiting the legality of homosexuality since it is incongruent with the teachings of the Bible, Quran and the basic African traditional values.
Since this same sentiment was expressed in an earlier March "Message to the Nation", it isn't anything new, but I have to say that it doesn't get clearer than this. The Anglican Church is calling for homosexuality to be made ILLEGAL. Not just in terms of gay marriage (which isn't recognized in Nigeria), not just in terms of "sodomy" (which is already subject to a 14 year prison sentence), but in terms of the basic rights of a minority group to speak out on its own behalf.

There's no room for nuance. In calling for this legislation to be passed, the Primate of All Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, is explicitly calling for the end of one group's lawful participation in civil society.

We have heard his arguments, and the arguments of his supporters, before:
  • They argue that the Archbishop must call for this legislation to be enacted lest he appear weak in front of Nigerian Muslims. Of course, the consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson in 2003 was personally embarrasing to Archbishop Akinola, as there were Muslims in Nigeria who criticized the Anglican Church for being morally degenerate, but there is no Christian moral or political principle to which Akinola and his allies can hold when calling for a ban on civil discourse among and by homosexuals because "Muslims made them do it." If, as our President says, this century is to be characterized by a grand idealogical struggle between Western and extremist values, this is hardly the time for the cool heads in the Anglican Communion to start giving in to or -- more than that -- encouraging extremist behavior. Also, religious conflict in Nigeria is commonly made to look like it is more than it really is. While the violence that has erupted between Nigerian Christians and Muslims is all too real, political leaders on either side (but especially on the Nigerian Muslim side) have a disturbing tendency to foment civil unrest to consolidate their "victim" status among their own people.
  • They argue that gay marriage is not recognized here in the US, and that there is nothing wrong with banning it in Nigeria. First, there is no state government in the Federal Republic of Nigeria that is planning to institute civil recognition of same-sex marriages or partnerships. Neither are such unions federally recognized. Thus, there is no current threat to Nigerian marriage law that this bill would redress. Second, the bill would do so much more than ban gay marriage. It would make it illegal to perform a private same-sex marriage ceremony -- even without civil recognition. Violators of this law, who in this case would be acting on their personal convictions in private, would be subject to 5 years' imprisonment. The bill would make it illegal to hold meetings or organize in the hopes of reversing the law, should it pass. The bill would make it illegal to depict homosexuality in any way in the press. It would make it illegal to display same-sex affection in public (I hope straight Nigerian male friends don't hold hands like they customarily do in Iraq). It is because of these extra steps taken by the Nigerian bill that the Rt Rev Martyn Minns' argument in his response to Bishop John Bryson Chane's February 2006 Washington Post op-ed rung so hollow, when Minns said that
    ... 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.
    This is not just about gay marriage or about "crimes against nature" -- it's about silencing a minority.
  • They argue that the idealogical left's concern for protection "speech" is all so much hypocrisy so long as there are "hate crime" laws in Sweden, the UK, and Canada that prohibit the Church -- or anyone for that matter -- from speaking out against homosexuality. The simple rejoinder to this argument -- and by the way I'm not totally comfortable with those laws, whatever their details -- is that those laws limit the right of a majority to speak out against a minority, whereas the Nigerian law abolishes the right of a minority to speak out for itself. Now, tell me there's any shred of moral equivalency here!
Enough is enough. Not commonly known by many Americans is that the same Nigerian church leader (Akinola) who is calling for the extermination of the civil voice of a sizeable minority within his own country is now ecclesiologically empowered to act in the US through his new Missionary Bishop, the Rt Rev Martyn Minns (see here). Conservative Christianity has already taken a very hard right turn into some very dark political corners, but I am sure that conservative Anglicans in the US and elsewhere would agree with me that this is not how they want to represent themselves to their fellow citizens.

I'm going to leave aside all issues of "church law" and what the future of the Anglican Communion is to make a simple, declarative statement, one that has no bearing on their theological position with respect to homosexuality (about which I care very little): Bishop Minns, and his allies in the Anglican Communion Network, have no moral alternative but to call for this legislation to be withdrawn (as the US Department of State has done), or at the very least make a clear statement of disassociation. If they can't do this now, then from here forward let them never again declare their support of the rights of the minority in the face of a majoritartian, idealogical onslaught (are you hearing this, Institute on Religion and Democracy?). They will have impeached themselves utterly.

Hat tip to the Daily Episcopalian and Thinking Anglicans in re: the Church of Nigeria letter. Mark Harris has further coverage (here and here).

PS. Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney (Anglican) had these words to say -- out of the blue -- about a supposed Akinola quote regarding homosexuality (hat tip to an anonymous commenter):
I'd like to add something else to that last point before I go into that, and that is to say that and if Archbishop Akinola ever did say something like that [that "gay men and women are lower than pigs"], which he may or may not have, I would utterly repudiate it and next time I see him, not that I see him very often, perhaps twice I've met him, I would certainly tell him so in no uncertain terms. It is reprehensible that he should speak like that. And that's as clear as anything. I just want to make that clear, because sometimes it's felt that one might associate with such speech, and I certainly don't.
Hopefully, Jensen has the same position on the Nigerian bill. At least, he should. I should point out that in late June of this year, it looked as though Bishop Duncan, the moderator of the Anglican Communion Network, might make such a disassociation himself.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Toxic Texan's U-turn

From the Independent (UK), Sept 17:
President Bush is preparing an astonishing U-turn on global warming, senior Washington sources say.

After years of trying to sabotage agreements to tackle climate change he is drawing up plans to control emissions of carbon dioxide and rapidly boost the use of renewable energy sources.


Environmentalists expect the measures to fall far short of what is needed, but say this does not matter. "The very fact that Bush would reverse his position will liberate many Republicans to vote for meaningful pollution cuts," says Phil Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust.

But Iain Murray, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Mr Bush's chief climate change cheerleader, is deeply alarmed: "We are left with the unpleasant conclusion that the only motivation is political."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Nigeria: Why doesn't the Anglican Communion Network come clean and speak out?

[edited for style, 22:14, 9/14/2006; updated with a link to the bill's text, 00:39, 9/15/2006]

One can't help feeling impotent when railing about civil rights violations in another country. Even in my own country, the United States, any effort I make to change the Administration's policy on extraordinary rendition or their tendency to alienate rather than embrace moderates in Muslim countries will be utterly without effect. Bush doesn't read my blog. Neither do civil rights violators in Africa.

As actual readers of this blog know, this January saw the introduction to the Nigerian Federal Assembly of a bill that is designed to strip basic speech, press, and assembly rights, not to mention freedom of religion, from gay and lesbian citizens of Nigeria. While called the "Same-sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2006" (pdf) -- and thus ostensibly targeted at ensuring that same-sex civil marriages are not recognized by the Nigerian government -- no one was fooled. The bill (available here as a PDF, and originally made available to me by Sokari at Black Looks) contains provisions that make it illegal, and punishable with a 5 year jail sentence, to form clubs that defend homosexuality, or worse to speak out individually. If the bill passed, and you were a witness of a gay marriage in Nigeria (even though the marriage is not recognized by the state), you would be subject to a similar penalty, as you would be if you engaged in public procession or printed stories in the press that defended homosexuality.

What has always made this bill peculiar, though, was not its draconian character, but the timing of its presentation only a few weeks after a new Anglican gay and lesbian organization began meeting in Nigeria's capital city, Abuja, and the coastal Lagos. While involvement by the Anglican Church of Nigeria in the writing or presentation of the bill has not been confirmed, the endorsement of the bill by the Church's leader, Archbishop Peter J. Akinola, strongly suggests that the appearance of a gay Anglican group in their midst prompted the Federal Government to quickly draft and present legislation that would explicitly ban such organizations. A cursory history of the legislation can be found here.

Even more troubling than the Anglican Church of Nigeria endorsing the legislation -- which would imprison the church's declared theological enemies -- is the acquiescence of Archbishop Akinola's allies in the United States. As I said above, there is little I can do about anything in Nigeria, but it is certainly a worthwhile activity to point out to the conservative factions within the Anglican Church -- which are currently undergoing a significant realignment out of the Episcopal Church and into other branches of the global Anglican Communion -- that their compacency is suicidally short-sighted.

Perhaps the theologically orthodox Anglican Communion Network (ACN), which is the closest Church ally of Akinola in North America, feels that the lay people and clergy they represent have no objection to imprisoning homosexuals for their beliefs (let alone for their actions -- "sodomy" is already illegal in Nigeria and subject to a far greater sentence). As far as I can tell, most in the ACN are unaware that the the Nigerian bill would do more than just ban gay marriage. (A bill to ban gay marriage, when no State in Nigeria currently allows it, is a pointless effort, anyway.) They don't realize that the greatest effect of the bill would be to strip gay and lesbian Nigerians of civil rights that we in the US reserve for even the most odious (for example, the right to a free and fair trial is granted to all -- ahem -- regardless of how evil they might be).

The Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, now the Anglican Church of Nigeria's bishop in residence in the United States, provided a defense of the legislation that never mentioned the concrete prohibitions contained in the legislation, focusing instead on his belief that critics of Akinola were attacking him ad hominem. While Minns says that he "does NOT believe that criminalization is an appropriate response to those who understand themselves to be homosexuals", his statement would have had much more force if he were to have stated clearly that endorsing legislation that would put "those who understand themselves to be homosexuals" in jail for their speech is no way for a Church to behave. It reflects badly on Minns, it reflects badly on the Anglican Communion Network, and it refects badly on its supporters.

The Nigerian bill (pdf), though it has not yet passed, is most certainly not dead. The greatest danger posed by the bill is not so much that people would be put in jail (my guess is that actual prosecutions and convictions of Nigerians who violate the new law would be rare), but that it institutionalizes discrimination. Police harassment will become even more intense than it already is, and with its endorsement the Church of Nigeria will have signalled to its people both that gay and lesbian Nigerians are not be tolerated -- thus eliminating any remaining credibility in their stated position that they welcome all to the Church -- and that they are overt partners with the State in enacting laws with explicitly religious underpinnings.

As I have made very clear elsewhere, I believe the Church to have every right to define its beliefs as it wishes. But it is instructive to read how the subject is really discussed in the Nigerian press (from This Day, Lagos, September 7). Note the stereotyping, and the fact that the article focuses entirely on the "gay marriage" part of the bill, ignoring entirely the part that would commit massive civil rights violations [emphasis mine]:

In the past, around the central market in Kaduna they could be easily seen as they wait for customers. Quite a spectacle: painted lips, ear rings, neck laces complete with all sorts of rings on their fingers. They have imbibed the feminine mannerisms completely in their ways of life. They are homosexuals, now called men having sex with men.

Loathed and scorned by many in the Nigerian society, a combination of factors have driven underground the unrepentant army of homosexuals in the country. Within the central market, Kaduna where they used to practice their unusual past time openly, they are no longer seen, just as elsewhere in Nigeria. Within the secular and religious authorities, no sector has spared this group of individuals, who are treated as outcasts in the society.

In January this year, in a major pre-emptive move that has continued to receive public applause, the Federal Executive Council approved a Bill on the nefarious practice. If passed by the National Assembly, the bill would have the effect of banning the same-sex marriage in Nigeria. The new law, according to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Bayo Ojo, will provide for outright prohibition of two men entering into what they wrongly perceive as marriage or two women entering into what they wrongly perceive as marriage. The bill prescribes a five-year jail sentence without an option of fine for offenders. Also, any persons or institutions, which expressly or implicitly, aid or abet such an aberration, would equally receive the same jail sentence of five years.

While explaining the position of the government on the issue, Mr. Frank Nweke, Information Minister, stated: "It is an offence for anybody to contract a marriage or have a relationship with a person of the same sex. If you do, it carries a sentence of five years imprisonment without the option of fine, and if you aid or support in any way, anybody of the same sex to contract a relationship or marriage, it will also attract five years imprisonment." [Remember, there is no state in Nigeria that currently issues marriage licenses to gay couples -- this part of the bill is moot. -- MVT]

Home to the world's largest Anglican province, Nigeria is leading the resistance against accepting gays in the Anglican Communion.

Among the clergy in Nigeria, they have never been equivocal in condemning the practice, which they regard as sinful. But, particularly, among the Anglicans, the controversy raised a notch ever since the ordination of an openly gay New Hampshire bishop in 2004. It exposed a deepening fault line between conservative Christianity flourishing in many developing countries and more liberal doctrines preached elsewhere. It also underscores a long-standing intolerance of homosexuality in Africa, which carries very secular implications.

Homosexuals are certainly not welcome in Nigeria's 17 million-member Anglican Church [!!!!! -- MVT], whose primate, Archbishop Peter Akinola, condemned the consecration of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson as an openly gay bishop as a "satanic attack on the Church of God."

Akinola severed relations both with Robinson's New Hampshire diocese and with a Canadian one last year for accepting homosexuals. Should the church formally split over homosexuality, Akinola -- who has a large membership -is considered the likely leader of a conservative spinoff.

"Homosexuality is a deviation from the Scriptures," Dr. Adebola Ademowo, Archbishop of Lagos [Anglican], declared in the wake of the controversy, which has put the Nigerian clergy in the forefront of the campaign against same sex marriage. "And we are not alone in this belief. All the other denominations here are just enthused with our stance. They are praying with us", Ademowo added.

Read it all.

Sure, the ACN is in the midst of a political battle with the Episcopal Church that makes it difficult for them to express any criticism of Akinola, but they (and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams) are unwise to think that their unexamined allegiance to everything Akinola has said and done will yield positive fruit in the end.

PS: It's not just Nigeria that is teetering on this cliff of massive discrimination. Assuming at the very least 1% of Nigerians are homosexual, the Nigerian bill would put civil rights limitations on well over 1 million people. In Uganda, where the press has already taken on the responsibility of publicly outing its gay citizens, we would be talking about 200,000. Are conservative Anglicans in the US, who also have significant ties with the Ugandan Church, willing to take on this responsibility?

UPDATE: I should note that the US Government has already made clear its objections to the proposed law.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Digby on 9/11

I'm so glad that someone who writes so well is out there putting my thoughts so eloquently into words.

If you haven't yet read Digby's spot-on post -- or if for some reason you want to know exactly what I was thinking on the morning of 9/11/01 -- read it now.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Finally: data!

After about two years+ of dreaming about the feasibility of the project I've been working on, I finally have positive results (and they're better than I thought they'd be). I don't expect anyone to understand what this picture means (unless you're a phloem biologist), but I can't resist publishing at least one picture. It's still a crude image -- I need to do a lot more work on different microscopes to sharpen it -- but here it is:

ABC and unbelievable right-wing hypocrisy

ABC's 9/11 "docudrama", The Path to 9/11 -- which, among other things, claims in a highly publicized dramatization that Clinton had his finger on the button to take out bin Laden but declined to do so because of potential "political fallout" from Arab nations (all controverted by the 9/11 commission report, BTW) -- is raising cain in the blogosphere, not least because only right-wing media outlets have been permitted to view it. Not on the list of screeners: Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and virtually any other Clinton official you can imagine.

President Clinton and his attorneys have lodged a letter of protest with ABC, and rightfully so. As Glenn Greenwald points out, it wasn't too long ago that Bush supporters were fighting for historical accuracy in media portrayals of their own favorite president:
When CBS announced in November, 2003 that it would broadcast a mini-series it produced about Ronald and Nancy Reagan called "The Reagans," Matt Drudge obtained excerpts from the script and published them. That led to right-wing bloggers, organizations and pundits, along with the RNC itself, demanding that CBS cancel the broadcast, which it did (moving it instead to Showtime, with a panel discussion afterwards filled with critics of the film).
Here's what Ed Gillespie, the then-RNC chair, said about "The Reagans" back on 11/06/2003 [emphasis Glenn's]:
GILLESPIE: And I think it was important that it be historically accurate. And if they didn't intend to make it historically accurate to make sure that viewers understood that it was not intended to be historically accurate but a fictional portrayal. So we made two requests: One is having historians review it for accuracy if you're going to broadcast it. And if you're unwilling to do that, inform the viewers that it's not historically accurate. That's not censorship, that's common sense ...

I've sent a similar letter to the head of Showtime making the same point: "If you're not willing to have it reviewed for historical accuracy, make sure your viewers understand that it's a fictional portrayal. You know, in this society that we live in and with the media culture that we have, there's infotainment and docudrama and reality TV, and the lines between fact and fiction blur. That's fine when it's entertainment, but when you're talking about the formative phase of the Reagan legacy formation, I think that it's important that we get things right. ...

I think that same standard should apply to the late president John F. Kennedy or to Jimmy Carter or any president. If you're going to portray a presidency and a president, I think you should do all you can to make sure it's accurate. ...
The irony is so deep now that that even Al Franken is running satirical "excertps" from the Path to 9/11 involving Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and Bill Clinton all snorting coke off the chest of Madeleine Albright.

Read Glenn's entire post to see the increasingly long and updated list of hypocrisy by some of conservative media's most strident voices.

Qatar and dead fish

Is this panel of Qatari environmental experts right when they say that the dead fish washing ashore on Qatar's beaches are the victims of global warming, and not of the polluted effluent of passing ships?

Or is this one in an upcoming series of cynical attempts by governments to pass off their responsibility for local pollution on a global problem over which they have little control?

I don't know.

But as it finally gains acceptance among world leaders, expect "global warming" to get the blame for a whole lot of unrelated environmental problems.

When climate change conferences attack

Oh, my. Balooooooons.

Another enviro-kook for climate stabilization

This time, from the British gov't:
Governments have traditionally invested in instruments of hard power as a backstop against the consequences of political and diplomatic failure.

But there is no hard power option either for mitigating climate change or for dealing with its direct impacts. You cannot use military force to make everyone else on the planet reduce their carbon emissions. No weapon system can halt the advance of a hurricane bearing down on a city, or stem the rising sea, or stop the glaciers melting.

If we want to achieve climate security, governments will need to invest more resources in the emerging techniques of soft power. There is no backstop: the politics and diplomacy have to work.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Follow the insurance money

From Reuters (Sept 5) [emphasis mine]:
Unless climate change slows, insurers warn, years like 2005, when their catastrophe bill topped $80 billion, could become the norm, with premiums for those in disaster-prone areas soaring, and some regions becoming uninsurable.

But insurers have been criticised for not doing enough to encourage their clients to be more environmentally friendly.

"It is in the industry's best interests ... to seize this moment to act on what is likely to become the greatest risk the industry has ever faced," concluded a recent report by Ceres, a powerful coalition of American investors, environmental groups and other public interest organisations.
You know when the insurance industry gets involved that it's something to take seriously.

Australians surprised by rapid climate change

Quote from The Border Mail:
Prof Peter Cullen, from the National Water Commission, said experts had expected the changes, which have left much of the country suffering drought conditions, but thought they would take much longer to take effect.
Why don't we talk like this in the US?

The head of the Joint Task Force on Iraq's WMD at the CIA in 2003

There's been a lot of jibber-jabber over the last few days about Armitage's revelation that he was the one to reveal Valerie Plame's identity to Robert Novak. Some in the press have treated this as if it were the last word.

As if the only scandal was Novak's release of her identity to the public.

A new book by Michael Isikoff of Newsweek and David Corn puts this notion to sleep. As usual, Digby puts it best [bold emphasis mine]:
Armitage may have just been a gossipy little busybody from way back, but that doesn't explain Libby and Judy and Rove and Cooper or the "two senior administration officials" who tried to get the Washington Post to print that Wilson's CIA "wife" had sent Wilson on a "boondoggle." Rove said she was "fair game." You simply cannot persuade me that every last person involved in this did not know that the head of the Joint Task Force on Iraq's WMD at the CIA in 2003 was the person they were busy making sure was publicly outed.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Remember checks and balances?

Dan Balz and David Broder have penned a ray of sunshine in today's Washington Post on the GOP's increasing vulnerability in the 2006 midterm elections. Quote [emphasis mine]:
Other GOP officials, while nervous, believe they can hold the House with aggressive local campaigns and a national effort to focus on terrorism and security to raise voter fears about the consequences of Democratic control.

All predict one of the most negative midterm elections in memory, with virtually no positive advertising from the national GOP committees or individual GOP candidates.

A Democratic takeover of one or both of the houses of Congress is by no means a foregone conclusion, but there is reason to believe that the American people are becoming increasingly aware of a fundamental imbalance in our government -- Congress is no longer able to adequately oversee the doings of the Executive. Another Balz / Broder quote:
... finger-pointing has begun as Republicans here and around the country blame the White House and the GOP congressional leadership for leaving Republican candidates in such a vulnerable position.
No kidding. My contribution to the world of bumper stickers:

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Keith Ward on Intelligent Design

Probably the single greatest impediment (and an intentional impediment, at that) to ending the current "conflict" between science and religion has been the use of the seemingly innocuous term "intelligent design" to describe Creationism's new disguise among many Christian evangelicals. The term is, in fact, deeply misleading. The science that proponents of Intelligent Design (or ID) advance is a non-starter. Evolutionary biology seeks explanations based on material (and, I guess, efficient) causes, whereas ID, as "practiced" by the Discovery Institute, advances the very difficult to prove hypothesis that specific features of living organisms (such as centrioles, flagellae, and blood clotting) could not have evolved without the influence of an interfering "final" cause.

Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to do an experiment that verifies that those features could not have evolved without divine interference. Setting up such an experiment would, in fact, require the investigator to prove a negative (like Rumsfeld's famous quote, "The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"). Ultimately, biologists reject ID not because they deny the existence of God or of his role in the Universe, but because a science based on ID would be impossible to execute.

So, it's nice to see a compatible viewpoint offered from a religious perspective. As Keith Ward says in the latest issue of The Tablet:
God creates adult human beings as organisms that have developed from a single cell over a period of time. It is not in principle different to say that God created human beings on earth as a species that developed from single cell organisms by a process of development over four thousand million years. The evolution of human life, and its intelligent design by God, are not in conflict.
I wish that could be the last word. Whether you find yourself on the "religious" or "scientific" end of this debate, the article is definitely worth the read (you may have to go through a simple registration process to read it).

UPDATE 6:40 PM, 9/2/2006: At the risk of scuttling my earlier tone of reconciliation, it should be pointed out that Ward, in the quote above, is wrong on one point: the development of a human being and the evolution of the human species are, in fact, different "in principle". Development is a high-fidelity process driven by a "program" comprised of the micro-supercomputer we call the "implanted zygote". But, as the late Stephen J. Gould put it in his fantastic book "Wonderful Life", if we were to replay the "tape" of evolution, it is unlikely that we would always get the same result, i.e., evolution is not high-fidelity. That's not to say that the Universe is not fundamentally deterministic, but that the processes that led earth-bound species to evolve this way or that are not inherently predictable in the same way that gene expression is in a developing embryo.

That said, I want to emphasize that Ward's overall point still stands. We all accept that the biological development of human beings is what brings us into existence on a regular basis. Doctors rely on the materialistic basis of that development for all kinds of medical procedures. Such an assertion about development does not preclude the role of a Creator. Therefore, why should a materialistic theory of evolution be any more threatening?