Tuesday, August 19, 2008


When the framers of the Constitution made a conscious effort to separate the church from the state, there was a reason. And, we have a good example from Jesus when He was confronted by the Pharisees with the notion of church and state. His quote was simple and to the point, even providing an illustration, he took a coin and asked, “Whose picture is on the coin? Caesar. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and the things that are God’s to God”. Makes sense to me.

How we have gotten ourselves to this point is beyond me. The idea that preachers can wield such power is baffling. Having studied the old time preachers, they never seemed to get into politics and yet to be fair, they didn’t have the temptation of the media either.

Billy Graham seems to be the first media religious darling to any degree. I always liked him. He never did get away from his basic message but then again, he didn’t dispute his influence either. Surely didn’t refuse an invite to the White House.

To me, it is hard to say what this religious forum means: a potential president appearing before a preacher to be questioned about his religious beliefs. Seems unseemly to me. Well, this is what my Mom would say.

The flip side of the coin is that those like Rick Warren can only be given influence and power in politics by those like Obama and McCain. I surely don’t blame those like Warren. In a sense, be is the pastor of a mega church with a slant on interpreting what Jesus meant. These gigantic mega churches usually are part church, part entertainment. I don’t care for them very much but they seem to meet many people’s need and I want to be fair. Mostly in my view, they are church/gospel/Bible lite.


Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, which I’ve read is OK as a guide for living but if people really wanted to get a formula for making it in this world and into the next, they should read the four Biblical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John which are what Jesus said and did. Unfortunately, in Church culture, most people had rather take the shortcut of listening to a preacher say what Jesus said and did. The few times I’ve been in dialogue with the clergy and they have given me the word, “Jesus said such and such or God says: ” my usual retort is, “Where does it say that God says this?” End of discussion usually!

I don’t fault Warren for this coup of getting Barach and McCain to acknowledge the perceived importance of the “right wing” mostly. They are politicians, afterall. HELLO!!

I think probably these mega church pastors are fighting to be the titular head and Warren seems to be the front runner. Others have bit the dust in various ways: Falwell has gone on to his reward. Ted Haggard left Colorado after the gay masseuse scene, the Focus on the Family 's James Dobson has become a one issue type: gays are taking over the world; and the Texas syrupy pastor Osteen’s wife is flying first class and accused of assaulting a flight attendant. So, we have Warren.


To me, his book is the interesting thing. It is a marketing phenomena and mark me jealous. It started off with everybody in his church buying a copy or several. Then covering the entire country with promotion. All the evangelical churches bought copies and developed courses around the book, a 40 day spiritual journey that will change the reader's life was the so called, "purpose." An entire cottage industry has grown up around it. It has sold millions, reported to the various sources like the NY Times best sellers' list and the book reinvents itself over and over.


Barach should have resisted. It was natural for McCain as his party routinely panders to the right wing as a part of their persona. I fear Barach is being handled already. What he didn’t get is that he can’t win these people over. It can’t be done. A kind of “Don’t confuse me with facts, I have my mind made up” exist with them. "Right wing" (in terms of social issues, I don't see any difference in the terms, right wing and evangelical) Christians have certain issues: abortion, gay marriage, prayer in the schools, stem cell research, and various other fringe ideas. These good folks are not going to change their minds. They are willing to have a war that is bankrupting us, the worse deficit in history with the very real possibility of sacrificing our children and grandchildren’s future--a litany of negatives: a spiraling down economy where no one really knows the bottom, hard working folks losing their homes,the dollar falls and falls, inflation is moving upward and lastly something totally inexplicable, an amazing blindness to reality. If only they can have a candidate to champion their issues, to hell with all this other stuff.

Obama would have been better to have said, “I respectfully decline. If I attend, it gives the impression that I am choosing one expression of faith over another. Our country has always prided ourselves on freedom of religion or no religion at all. Thank you for your invitation and may the God of your choice bless you."

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Sometimes you read something and you reread and suddenly, it is "ah hah." I recently had this with an article in the New York Times Magazine. It seems of late that all my stuff comes from there. Why? Well, not so but they do in depth articles for one thing and the editors obviously don’t mind giving a writer a few pages, not the usual 500 words or less. This piece, The Last Battle (The Fight Among Iraq's Shiites) by Michael Gordon, is probably the best thing I've read about Iraq: succinct and puts us where we are NOW after all the millions of dollars and lives given.

The article had to do with a team called Phoenix, not after another infamous Phoenix, I don’t think. (The CIA engineered project for assassinating enemy combatants in Vietnam). The Phoenix Team had to do with these 3 young captains that General Petraeus had recruited to work with Sunnis and Shiites to create a greater sense of security, provide some jobs through a neighborhood watch program, and in general, be his eyes and ears in a region of the country that seemed the most conducive to employing General Petraeus' counter insurgency philosophy.

I was very impressed that the good general would be this open, creative and very protective of these three young soldiers who were not career types, although true believers. There has to be an amazing "back story" to this project. Here are three soldiers: a female Lieutenant, later Captain; another, having done several tours in Iraq; a Harvard graduate--and, an enlisted guy who could have been an officer but through some idealistic view wanted to be an enlisted man, later became a Sergeant. Their connections to Petraeus, to each other, to the Marines and ultimately to this story is almost too much to believe. I don't, for a moment, doubt the veracity of the story but there has to be more to how it all came to be. Well, for one thing, it makes for a good story. The flip side of the coin is that what they attempted when fleshed out to the possibilities is equally amazing. I simply will accept it at face value. It is a story that needs to be read.

The article is too long and involved to fully convey the gist of it, even if I wanted too. Several lessons to learn from the message: the military should not be put in a position to make promises or offer incentives that they cannot deliver. Reminds me so much of Vietnam. We made all these promises to the people and in the final analysis, didn’t deliver.

But, more than anything, what The Last Battle pointed out was the overwhelming complexity that we are in the middle of in Iraq: tribes, sheiks, political alliances, fanatical believers, you name it. It is simply an impossible venue for democracy. Here's a thought: the best we can hope for is that a kinder Saddam and surely less crazy, might emerge. The Last Battle reinforces that any idea of a democracy as we know it is a will of the wisp fairy tale.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


For one who finds it hard to give the President much slack, I will have to say that he did a good interview at the Olympics. They didn’t talk only sports but all the hot button front burner topics to include the Russian/Geogian conflict.

I often wonder how much these interviews are scripted. Maybe Bob Costas but the President sounded pretty candid. His main theme had to do with staying engaged with China and the idea that we wouldn’t agree on all things but we would on some--talked about how far China has come and watching the Olympics who could not agree with that assessment. And, it has been good that the president has been at the Olympics. He is the President. And, here the Office transcends the man.

There's a slight side of me that feels a little sorry for him. As one who voted for him during his first term, I thought of the great hope he brought. The country was in pretty good shape. And, even with the uneven performance of the "Bill" man, he was inheriting a no deficit economy and money in the bank. And, even though a disputed election, still I applauded the Supreme Court decision, let's get on with it.

And, then 9-11. At first, he seemed to be on top of it and came Afghanistan and the country applauded. At this point, I think, he got overwhelmed by the NeoCons, Chaney and crew. From there, a series of disasters which have brought him to the end of his term as one who blew his chances--mismanagement of the Iraqi war that will be debated for years, regardless of how we get out of it, “Was it worth it?”

Listening to him talk to Costas, I thought: no credibility to talk about the Russian/Georgian conflict: castigating them on an idea of Regime Change. Hello! The most disturbing thing is when Costas tried to inject some reality on our country's challenges and the President's spin of "we don't have problems." This is a theme of denial which has costs him his legacy I think. The greatest problem is when a "spin master" believes his spin. America's a great country but we have beau coup problems and to deny them is not to face them.

Monday, August 04, 2008


When I was in the Army at Fort Bliss, Texas at El Paso with Juarez, Mexico, just over the border. We use to regularly get lectures about the pitfalls of crossing the border, especially if we drove: the possible accident, the laws of Mexico, the mordita, the payoff. In fact, when you went to Mexico, you regularly took a handful of dollars to pay off anybody who resembled authority.

The intrusion of politics in what to do about Mexicans crossing the border illegally, the numbers already illegally here, etc. have become big political issues. There's the intrepid vigilante group, the Minute Men and let's not forget the National Guard confronting the "would be" border crossers.

I do readily admit that when you are not directly involved, it is easier cogitate your navel. A friend of mine who lives on the edge of the desert close to Sierra Vista, Arizona has tale after tale of Mexicans crossing his property and trashing it. You would think, according to my friend, all our problems stem from South of the Border. Well, hardly.

It is a problem but not insoluable. Movies are one venue to get a handle on the problems and the directions to go. We should pay more attention. One movie, Bordertown, does what movies are suppose to do, at least what I like, instruct and tell a good and compelling story or confront a societal problem. Bordertowm does all of these. It is about the murders of young women working in the factories on Juarez, going home alone at night, being attacked, murdered and their bodies buried in the desert. Some estimates say that thousands have died.

Bordertowm took on NAFDA, Mexican profiteers working these poor women, often way to young, for pittance in wages, no protection at night--the rich getting richer on the backs of the poor.

As movies go, there are a few implausible things but the movie does its job in bringing the problems to light. Jennifer Lopez, as an actress, is good I think. I don't know why she gets panned so much, probably reviewers can't separate singer/lifestyle from her job. Damned if I know.

This is the third movie I think which does a good job with issues of immigration from Mexico and highlights problems. Jack Nicholson's, The Border, was one: Three Burials of Estrada was another one. And, who can forget the hopelessness and happenstance of a wonderfully sweet Mexican nanny in Babel.

A book called The Reapers Line speaks to the same issue and absolutely one of the best books I've ever read in highlighting the real border problem which is DRUGS. Although about drug interdiction, it hit the migration issue and hard. One of the best statements on the subject, something like, "The problem with our immigration policy isn't the poor Mexicans trying to gain a better life for their families but those who are profiting from them like the drug lords,etc." What we may need to root out corruption is Denzel Washington in Men On Fire. Denzel confronts kidnapping in Mexico where he kills everybody but the director.

The final hit has to be our own lack of common sense in our approach to our neighbors to the South. If we took a fraction of the money we have wasted in Iraq to root out corruption in Mexico, improve the possibilities for the workers, they wouldn't want to come to the U. S. Will we do anything? I doubt it but movies like Bordertown keep trying.

Sunday, August 03, 2008


My High School English teacher, Ms Dixon, use to chide us about the world situation by saying something like, “You can never accomplish anything in life unless you get lighting flashing mad". She's right on! I recently read one of those pieces in the New York Times Magazine that made me lighting flashing mad--Is Afghanistan A Narco-State? It was written by Thomas Schweich, a former senior counter narcotics official in Afghanistan. He seems to know what he's talking about and is taking on the supplier of 90 percent of the world's heroin: Afghanistan. Basically, the good professor (he's now a prof. of law at Georgetown U) says that we weren’t allowed to eradicate the opium fields in Afghanistan because of corruption at the highest levels and a myth that had been perpetuated intentionally that poor farmers are driven to raise poppies as their only livelihood: take away that and we hurt them. According to this article, not so, quite the opposite, the wealthy war lords in the South of the country are making big time bucks from poppies while in actuality the poorer farmers in the North of the country have reverted to traditional crops like veggies, cotton, and wheat and are already making great headway. The wealthy farmer/warlords/profiteers in the South are putting big bucks in their pockets, not to mention the Taliban raking in millions to finance their war efforts.

There were so many disturbing things about this article: the first glaring one is that Schweich would write it to begin with; a high muckedy muck with a good case for how we are screwing up. His patience with the corruption, based on the article, astounded me. The article may be written from his perspective but there is no doubting that he knows what he's talking about and is taking a risk. The second big discouraging issue coming from the article, is the continuing fact that it is a wonder that we ever get anything done given the egos and turf issues, to include the military. Rarely does anyone say “for the good of the country,” or accomplishing the overall mission as opposed to saying what is in it for me or how will this help or hurt my career. And, for me, it is reaffirmed that the present U.S. Administration (Condi Rice came out looking pretty good in the article and let's give her credit) could screw up a two car funeral procession.

From the article, one has to conclude that Afghanistan has become a country where it is only a matter of time until it reverts to where it was or worse, like so many places in our world, self interests trump the people and the good of the country.