Jones of the Nile

Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Call to Stop Torture

I'm in the midst of a crazy week, but wanted to share several great resources combatting the institutionalization of torture as a U.S. national security tactic. The first...

A Christian Call to Stop Torture Now, which is really geared toward Catholics. It features one hell of a quote from the late John Paul II that pretty much sums up the Catholic position on torture: "The thought of Jesus being stripped, beaten and derided until his final agony on the cross should always prompt a Christian to protest against similar treatment of their fellow beings. Of their own accord, disciples of Christ will reject torture, which nothing can justify, which causes humiliation and suffering to the victim and degrades the tormentor." You can read the rest of the statement by clicking here.

The a nationwide effort of interfaith religious leaders called The National Religious Campaign Against Torture. According to this campaign: "Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the soul of our nation. What does it signify if torture is condemned in word but allowed in deed? Let America abolish torture now -- without exceptions." You can learn more about this campaign at

The last is a letter being circulated by the The National Council of Churches, urging the U.S. to follow the recommendations from the United Nations, and close the Guantanamo Prison in Cuba. You can read the letter here.

The progressive religious movement was critical in supporting the labor movement, the civil rights movement, and the end the war in Vietnam movement. Now they are lending their united voices to stop torture, and cruel, degrading punishment. And together this is an issue that can be won.

Before I go, for a great commentary on the weaknesses of the recently passed McCain Amendment (which in theory reiterates a U.S. ban on promoting torture, but in practice creates loopholes for torture to exist - especially when, in signing the Amendment, the President boldly claimed that he didn't always have to follow it) go to This is the Web site for a torture survivors group, the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, and they are so deserving of all the support they can get. Many of us have the luxury of calling for an end to torture, without ever having experienced it. These individuals were tortured - and many were forced to torture others - under control of governments, dictators, and brutal thugs. They are the reason this work continues.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Let's make Henry Rollins our Ambassador to Australia!

Check it out...rocker and spoken word muse Henry Rollins was reported to a National Security hotline during his recent Australian tour because he was reading a book with a title that freaked out the flight crew. The book? Jihad: The Rise Of Militant Islam In Central Asia. It's a 'reference' book, or more a commentary/historical analysis published by Yale University Press.

Oh, the horror! Something from Yale! You know, the university that President Bush graduated from many decades ago!

If anyone needed further evidence that the culture of fear is overtaking our world (or at least the United States and Australia!), here it is. Pretty soon it won't be safe to name your book anything that might be construed as controversial, or something that might get you thrown off a plane. Pretty soon we'll be detaining people for carrying copies of John Grisham's "A Time to Kill," or C.S. Lewis' "The Last Battle" onto airplanes with them.

Rollins' response to the Australian office of National Security is chutzpah-riffic. "Please tell your Government and everyone in your office to go f... themselves. Baghdad's safer than my hometown and your PM is a sissy." Not a response for the diplomatic ranks, but three cheers for his blunt honesty.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Protecting civil rights is not trivial

I don't have much time to blog on this, but Sen. Russ Feingold delivered an awesome critique of the Patriot Act deal reached earlier this week. Go Russ!

You can check his floor statement out here. Here's one of the best lines:

    "Mr. President, trust of government cannot be demanded, or asserted, or assumed; it must be earned. And this Administration has not earned our trust. It has fought reasonable safeguards for constitutional freedoms every step of the way. It has resisted congressional oversight and often misled the public about its use of the Patriot Act. We know now that it has even authorized illegal wiretaps and is making misleading legal arguments to try to justify them. We sunsetted 16 provisions of the original Patriot Act precisely so we could revisit them and make necessary changes - to make improvements based on the experience of four years with the Act, and with the careful deliberation and debate that, quite frankly, was missing four years ago. Well, Mr. President, this process of reauthorization has certainly generated debate, but if we pass the conference report, even with the few White House modifications, we will have wasted a lot of time and missed our opportunity to finally get it right."

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Should we rename it the "Vagina Homilies"?

Not if Catholic colleges have anything to say about it!

According to this article in USA Today, the play "The Vagina Monologues," by Eve Ensler, is dividing Catholic colleges across the country, with some administrations saying that the play runs counter to Catholic teaching.

The University of Notre Dame, Providence College, and several others have banned the production of the play, usually performed on or around Valentine's Day. (Blogger's Note: Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!)

There are at least two reasons this is ridiculous. The first and most obvious is that universities are supposed to be bastions of free speech. Nobody is being forced to watch vaginas give monologues.

The second, and more critical point, is that this is yet another example of Catholic institutions (whether it's a college, a gaggle of bishops, a parish, or whatever) stifling any conversation or exposure of sex. All one has to do is look back on the last five years, and the embarrassing and disgusting sex scandals that have taken place, for evidence that being close-lipped ( pun intended!) about sex is not healthy for the Church.

Or, as Regina Bannan, a professor at Temple University put it, "If the church hasn't learned anything the last three years about stifling discussion about sexuality, that's a shame."

But yet, those on the other side are justifying the ban on the monologues for 'moral' reasons. Rev. Brian Shanley, president of Providence College, shares this nugget of spin. "A Catholic university that sponsors a production of The Vagina Monologues would be running at odds with its Catholic mission by promoting and providing time, space and money ... to a production that is so deeply anti-thetical to the way Catholics think about sex."

So would providing safe refuge to a priest who touches children. Yet how many hundreds of Catholic institutions did that? And I won't even get into the debate over Catholic institutions holding up figures who support war, harsh regulations on immigration, the death penalty, dismantling welfare, or all sorts of other topics that are anti-thetical to Catholic Social Teaching. Why aren't presidents of universities crying out about that?

Though I can understand that some people might find the monologues offensive, that's no reason to suppress discussion and dialogue, especially on a university campus, where free speech should be held as a top priority. Moreover, for Rev. Shanley to imply that he can speak for how the majority of Catholics think about sex, is pretty brash. I think if you took a poll - like has been done on issues like homosexuality, abortion, birth control and pre-marital sex - you'd find that Catholics are quite divided. Why not let that division play out in the real world, where discussion might actually lead to something productive: two sides conversing, instead of battling each other.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Let's be blunt

Not James Blunt. Certainly not Roy Blunt. I'm talkin' about the Russ Feingold blunt.

In remarks delivered on the floor of the U.S. Senate on February 7, Sen. Russ Feingold challenged our tough-talking president on his wiretapping program.

    "The President was blunt, so I will be blunt: This program is breaking the law, and this President is breaking the law. Not only that, he is misleading the American people in his efforts to justify this program.
Readers of this blog know that I love me some Sen. Feingold. I fancy thoughts about turning this blog into a "Make Russ Run in 2008" forum, but then I realize that I'm too lazy to pull something like that off.

But give this man some praise for continuing to stick it to Bush and his crew. Here's more:

    "This goes way beyond party, and way beyond politics. What the President has done here is to break faith with the American people. In the State of the Union, he also said that 'we must always be clear in our principles' to get support from friends and allies that we need to fight terrorism. So let's be clear about a basic American principle: When someone breaks the law, when someone misleads the public in an attempt to justify his actions, he needs to be held accountable. The President of the United States has broken the law. The President of the United States is trying to mislead the American people. And he needs to be held accountable."

I thought it was good news, but...

Remember that McCain Amendment on torture that Congress passed a while back, much to the dismay of the White House? I seem to remember Bush actually looking strained as he signed the legislation, with his side-door comment that he accepted the bill with reservations.

It seemed at the time a victory for human rights advocates, over an administration in which 'human rights' is a foreign concept. But, as Jennifer Harbury with the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition points out, the end result of the McCain Amendment will almost surely be "de facto immunity for U.S. torturers."

In her column, Harbury says the harmful provisions worked into the McCain Amendment weren't supported by the majority of Congress, but "instead are the result of last minute compromises, the startling 'reservations' asserted by President Bush, and the pervasive lack of knowledge about our own laws and treaties."

Harbury's column is a thorough take on the ramifications of the McCain Amendment. Most people will probably think that McCain's Amendment will solve our torture problems...on the contrary, it looks like it may have created more. Only these problems are under the radar screen.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Send Bill O'Reilly to Africa

Partly to get him out of my face, and partly to teach him a lesson: that a lot of stuff is happening in this world outside the Fox News Studios.

After a heated back-and-forth exchange between O'Reilly and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, Kristof has started a pledge drive for people to pay to send O'Reilly to Africa, and give him a clue about the humanitarian problems happening throughout the continent.

According to Kristof:

    "Mr. O'Reilly has a big audience and a knack for stirring outrage. Lately, he (quite properly) galvanized an outcry over a ridiculously light sentence for a sexual predator in Vermont. The upshot was that the sentence was increased. Good for him.

    "So imagine the furor Mr. O'Reilly could stir up if he publicized the hundreds of thousands of rapes, murders and mutilations in Darfur. He could save lives on a grand scale."
But alas, O'Reilly's response was typical diva: "I do three hours of daily news analysis on TV and radio. There's no way I can go to Africa."

Right, because we wouldn't want to burden a self-proclaimed "news analyst" with actually having to report hard news.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Run, Patty, Run...

I still try to keep current on Minnesota politics, even though I haven't lived in Minnesota for nearly four years. When I worked on Sen. Paul Wellstone's 2002 re-election campaign, I met so many good people, and good politicians, who brought such vision, leadership and progressive values to the table.

One of those great people is Patty Wetterling, who I'm delighted to hear is going to run for Congress in Minnesota's 6th Congressional District. She ran in 2004 against Rep. Mark Kennedy, a well-financed entrenched Republican who received White House support coming out the wazzoo. This time, however, Rep. Kennedy is instead running for the open Senate seat (being vacated by Sen. Mark Dayton), leaving the 6th District a toss-up race.

The 6th District was my home, and I traveled almost every road from Stillwater to St. Cloud. I went to hunting fairs, county fairs, fourth of July parades, retirement centers, community festivals, and God knows how many other countless events. I ate cheese curds in the 6th district for the first time. I also bought one of my most prized garage sale purchases ever (Amy Grant's first album, in very good condition!) in the 6th district.

It's also probably the most conservative district in Minnesota, bursting at the seams with evangelicals, suburban trolls, and NRA members attached at the hip with the GOP. Ugh. So Patty needs many good wishes sent her way.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Give out roses

I got a review copy of a new book from Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service called Engage: Exploring Nonviolent Living, and inside is just the most beautiful poem by South African performance artist Mzwakhe Mbuli.

In light of the recent deaths of Coretta Scott King and Rosa Parks, two women who seemed to champion the spirit in this poem, it seems appropriate to share. Have hope.

    Now is the time
    To climb up the mountain
    And reason against habit.
    Now is the time.

    Now is the time
    To renew the barren soil of nature
    Ruined by the winds of tyranny.
    Now is the time.

    Now is the time
    To commence the litany of hope.
    Now is the time.

    Now is the time
    To give me roses, not to keep them
    For my grave to come.

    Give them to me while my heart beats,
    Give them today
    While my heart yearns for jubilee.
    Now is the time...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

If Bush doesn't say it, does that mean it's not real?

There's that often repeated, never probing question, "If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is around, does it still make a sound?"

How about a 21st century take: "If a genocide is occuring in Africa, and no one pays any attention to it, do the bodies still rot?" Decidedly more depressing, but certainly probing.

As posted on Sudan: The Passion of the Present (a fantastic blog on the Sudan situation), President Bush did not mention Sudan (or Africa, specifically, for that matter) in his State of the Union last night. There was a brief mention of "genocide," though it's pretty hard to qualify that without identifying where genocide is occurring. There was also a one-second mention of Zimbabwe, in the context of it being a country with an evil dictator.

Governor Tim Kaine, who gave the Democrats rebuttal, didn't even go that far. The closest he came to "Africa" was "Iraq."

I don't understand. We're talking about the most critical humanitarian problem facing the world right now, and the world's superpower doesn't mention it in 58 minutes of political pulp. This, despite pressure from groups like Human Rights Watch urging the U.S. to use its Security Council presidency in February to urgently seek a transition of the African Union force in Darfur to a United Nations mission with a strong mandate to protect civilians. (note: Oh, yeah, by the way, the U.S. becomes the new president of the U.N. security council, which should please all of the John Bolton fans.) The U.S. owed it to the world to mention Sudan last night. As Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice should have made this happen.

You can read Human Rights Watch's letter to President Bush here.

As Governor Kaine said about 400 times in his ten minutes, "There is a better way." But you can bet that it doesn't involve the public relations turned politics that we all watched last night.