Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Cell phone use and risks for cancer

Out and about in a nearby St. Paul suburb, I continue to be puzzled by the number of people I see in places like my healthcare clinic, the supermarket, the bank, a local big box, and in any parking lot, clutching their cell phones tightly against their ears.

As a practitioner of mindfulness meditation, I’m concerned at the lack of awareness these folks are bringing to their daily activities; I’m especially concerned when I see a cell-phone preoccupied parent with a couple of children in tow.

And these are no doubt the same people you see driving down the freeway engaged in conversation on their phones oblivious to other traffic.

It’s likely related to my practice of mindfulness meditation that I deplore multitasking and spend very little time on the phone at home or elsewhere.

After reading an article over at CNN today citing a warning from the World Health Organization, I have an additional reason to forgo the escapism from everyday life afforded by the increasingly advanced versions of the once humble cell phone.

It would seem that obsessive cell phone users are not only endangering their own lives and the lives of others out on the freeway, they are also putting their own lives at risk wherever they happen to be simply by gluing the little devices to their ears for prolonged periods of time.

CNN’s Danielle Dellorto has the story:

(CNN) -- Radiation from cell phones can possibly cause cancer, according to the World Health Organization. The agency now lists mobile phone use in the same "carcinogenic hazard" category as lead, engine exhaust and chloroform.
Before its announcement Tuesday, WHO had assured consumers that no adverse health effects had been established.

A team of 31 scientists from 14 countries, including the United States, made the decision after reviewing peer-reviewed studies on cell phone safety. The team found enough evidence to categorize personal exposure as "possibly carcinogenic to humans."

Monday, May 30, 2011

Germany takes the lead in shutting down its nuclear plants

Other countries, including the United States with its 104 reactors, would be wise to follow Germany’s lead in its decision to shut down its nuclear plants.

George Ismar for the Sydney Morning Herald has the story:

GERMANY has announced plans to become the first major industrialised power to shut down all its nuclear plants, with the last to be closed by 2022.

Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen announced the government's "irreversible" decision, which was prompted by the Japanese nuclear disaster.

Germany has 17 nuclear reactors, eight of which are currently off the electricity grid. Seven of those off-line are the country's oldest nuclear reactors, which the government shut down for three months pending a safety probe after the Japanese disaster at Fukushima. The eighth, in northern Germany, has been mothballed for years because of technical problems.

Most of the plants are to be off-line by 2021, sources said, but three plants were to serve as a back-up in case of energy shortages and would be closed a year later.

The decision comes after the environment ministers from all 16 German regional states on Friday called for the temporary order on the seven plants to be made permanent. The agreement emerged after 12 hours of negotiations between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of the three government parties — Dr Merkel's Christian Democrats, the Christian Social Union and the pro-business Free Democrats. Also involved in the talks were the chiefs of the two main opposition parties.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Good, bad or indifferent, Palin creates a buzz

Palin's no stranger to motorcycles (public domain photo via LA Times).

Whatever you can say about Sarah Palin, the woman knows how to create a buzz. Whether she’s paddling down a river in Alaska with her family and scaring up Mama grizzlies or climbing on the back of a motorcycle in Washington, DC, the former governor and Republican vice-presidential candidate attracts crowds.

Today, Sunday, May 29, 2011 Palin, whose son is in the military, joined a rally with other bikers in DC in support of American war veterans.

Rachel Weiner reports for the Fix (Washington Post):

Palin, along with husband Todd and daughters Bristol and Piper, joined the hundreds of thousands of riders who gather in D.C. every year to raise awareness for prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action. 

Palin’s arrival at the event around 11:30 a.m. caused a huge commotion that event organizers struggled to contain. Photographers swarmed her; young men in suits hung around the press pack asking Palin to sign copies of her books. Rolling Thunder security yelled at press and fans not to touch the expensive bikes. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

SOS Clinton mends relationships in Islamabad

May 3: Secretary Clinton delivers remarks on the death of Usama bin Ladin.
From watching the scene unfold in Abbottabad from the Situation Room in Washington, DC, to mending relationships with Pakistani leaders in Islamabad, SOS Hillary Clinton is on the job:

ISLAMABAD -- The killing of Osama bin Laden is a watershed moment for Pakistan's confrontation with homegrown terrorism," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday. She sought to patch relations rocked by knowledge that the terror mastermind lived for years in a country receiving billions in U.S. counter-terror aid and that the U.S. didn't trust its ally enough to alert Pakistani leaders that the raid was coming.

"We have reached a turning point" following the long hunt for bin Laden, Clinton said after intensive meetings in the Pakistani capital under tight security.

"It is up to the Pakistani people to choose what kind of country they wish to live in," Clinton said.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Jimmy Carter addresses the recent flare-up between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by Marion S. Trikosko (Library of Congress)   

Former President Jimmy Carter unnerves many by his commonsense approach to problems that have plagued the U.S. and the international community for decades. We aren’t accustomed to plainspoken, sensible solutions to recalcitrant issues and too often, Carter’s words of wisdom have been brushed aside – never mind his well-earned Nobel Peace prize in 2002.

In the aftermath of the recent flare-up between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Carter graciously supports Obama while neatly laying out a historically grounded framework for peace in the Middle East. In a recently published op-ed, Carter writes:

It was not a new U.S. policy concerning the borders of Israel, nor should it have been surprising to Israeli leaders, when President Obama stated: “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” 

U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 of Nov. 22, 1967, concluded the war of that year and has been widely acknowledged by all parties to be the basis for a peace agreement. Its key phrases are, “Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war,” and “Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” These included the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, plus lands belonging to Lebanon, Egypt and Syria. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Message from NY special election: “Don’t mess with Medicare!”

Representative Kathy Hochul (D-NY)
“Don’t mess with Medicare” was the lesson from the special election in which voters in NY’s predominantly red 26th district chose Democrat Kathy Hochul over Republican Jane Corwin. And here’s the Hochul campaign ad that turned the race around for the House seat:

Mark Blumenthal at the Huffington Post has the scoop.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lawmakers ask SOS Clinton to clarify Erik Prince’s deal to provide mercenaries to the UAE

Blackwater founder Eric Prince
As a long-time supporter of Hillary Clinton and as one who deplores the activities of Erik Prince and Blackwater, I am anxious to hear Clinton’s response to the letter described below in a recent article in the Nation by Jeremy Scahill.

Scahill reports the Nation has obtained a copy of a letter recently sent by five Democratic lawmakers to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. U.S. Representatives Jan Schakowsky (IL), John Conyers, Jr. (MI), Maurice Hinchey (NY), James P. Moran, Jr. (VA), and Peter Welch (VT) are concerned about Blackwater founder Erik Prince’s deal to provide an army of  mercenaries to the United Arab Emirates.

The letter says in part:

“We question whether private US citizens should be involved in recruiting and assembling forces, as well as providing military training and support to foreign governments and militaries,” wrote the lawmakers, led by Representative Jan Schakowsky, a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “The implications of allowing a US citizen to assemble a foreign legion in any foreign country, and especially in a combustible region like the Middle East, are serious and wide-ranging.”

Scahill’s article in the Nation continues:

On May 14, the New York Times revealed that Prince was leading an effort to build an army of mercs 800 strong—including scores from Colombia—in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. They would be trained by US, European and South African special forces veterans. Prince’s new company, Reflex Responses, also known as R2, was bankrolled to the tune of $529 million from “the oil-soaked sheikdom,” according to the Times, adding that Prince was “hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi” Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

According to the lawmakers, under US law, Prince’s company is exporting a defense product and therefore falls under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), requiring him to “first seek the approval of the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls before the defense services are provided.” The DDTC is controlled by the State Department. “Has Mr. Prince, or any of the other Americans involved in the training contract, received such approval from DDTC?” the lawmakers ask Clinton in the May 23 letter [PDF], a copy of which was obtained by The Nation. Past attempts by The Nation to obtain certain DDTC records on Blackwater-affiliated companies have been rejected by the State Department.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The deterioration of the United States since 9/11

Posting hours after bin Laden’s death was announced on May 2, I suggested the notorious one may have won the battle he led against the Western world. Bob Burnett, Berkely writer and retired Silicon Valley executive would agree. Burnett writes:

The death of Osama bin Laden is an opportunity to reflect upon the deterioration of the United States since the attacks on September 11, 2001. We've entered into an endless state of war and our economy teeters on the brink of collapse. And, as a people, we've developed a distinctive derangement.

America's craziness developed in four stages over an eleven-month period: First, on November 7, 2000, there was a controversial presidential election. On December 9th the US Supreme Court intervened, and, as a result, George W. Bush became president. Bush had had an undistinguished business and political career and was the least qualified presidential candidate in eighty years.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tornadoes roar through Twin Cities

After the storm (photo by  VB)

Strange. The day turned dark awhile ago before the storm broke. After the rain ceased, and the sky began to clear, I decided to do a little shopping in Woodbury, a nearby St. Paul suburb. Out on the freeway, I thought of going for a drive to the northern metro where I once lived for more than 20 years and for sentimental reasons, do my shopping there.

In the next few minutes, though, another downpour changed my mind, and I pulled into the Target parking lot in Woodbury and was able to get everything I needed at this local big box.

On the way home, I tuned my car radio to Minnesota Classical and was surprised to hear a tornado warning for the northern Twin Cities and suburbs – residents were instructed to take shelter immediately.

I’m glad I shopped in my own neighborhood this afternoon. The Minneapolis StarTribune reports tornado touchdowns in the northern metro with severe damage:

A huge storm system featuring at least three tornado touchdowns moved in a northeastern path across the Twin Cities metro area Sunday afternoon, causing a long path of damage, especially in north Minneapolis and nearby areas.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak asked people to stay away from north Minneapolis so emergency vehicles and residents could respond to extensive damage to homes and buildings. Toppled trees blocked many streets.

Power was out to 22,000 Xcel Energy customers across the metro area.

Four disgusting old men: Newt, Arnold, Trump, and Strauss-Kahn

Blogging at the Nation the other day, Leslie Savan zings the gallivanting foursome of Newt, Arnold, Trump, and Strauss-Kahn at the get go by referring to them as “bad grandpas” and not so subtly portraying each one as hopelessly out of touch with today’s culture.

She first nails Newt:
Newt is old. That's one way to explain why Gingrich fell so hard so fast. Chris Matthews was struck by Newt's Nixon-era dog whistles, like "food stamps, Detroit, all the codes," saying they reminded him of his grandfather’s “language of yesteryear.” "You know, my grand pop used to call Connie Mack Stadium ‘Shibe Park’ 30 years after they changed the name," Matthews said Wednesday. "I don't know, who is the last politician you heard ragging on food stamps? Last time you heard somebody talking about food stamps? A while ago. Reagan, maybe?"

And then our sassy blogger effectively portrays the bungling grandpa as right in step with the Republican Party:

Just seeing Newt on the stage tells you the GOP has slipped over the event horizon. Gingrich hasn't run for office since 1998, so he doesn't get, as John Heilemann told Matthews, that in "the age of blogs and twitters and tweets and Facebook… you can't play some of the kinds of games that you could play as recently as 10 years ago. You get called out now."

Savan points out the flaw common to her four hapless, aging subjects:

In each case, the tragic flaw that led to the pol’s quick demise had been obvious for a long time: All four suffered from an outsized ego that made them feel bulletproof. Trump's extreme narcissism was played as polo field hijinks by the tabloids for decades; Gingrich's self-aggrandizing recklessness has destroyed his political career twice already; in France, DSK’s well-known womanizing even earned him a chapter in a bestselling book, Sexus Politicus (Albin Michel, 2006); and Arnold's penchant for groping women erupted into headlines during the final days of his first campaign for governor in 2003.

Yep, Leslie’s got it right. Newt, Arnold, Trump, and DSK are four disgusting old men. Eww.

For more details – if you can stand it – go here.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Breaking: Budget deficit caused by Bush-era tax cuts, not self-funded Social Security and Medicare

James Fallows, national correspondent for the Atlantic, has the scoop on the real source of the deficit Washington is facing -  what an embarrassment this revelation must be to Paul Ryan, et al,  along with assorted media reps, including David Brooks of the NY Times and the staff of the publicly funded PBS NewsHour who apparently prefer dismantling programs for the elderly and the poor over taxing the rich.

Fallows cites the chart on the left provided by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities that analyzes the sources of the federal budget deficit:

The original explanation and source notes are on the CBPP's site. In brief: the parts in shades of blue are stimulus-related outlays and depressed revenues for economic slowdown. The big dark-golden colored central swath is the revenue forgone by extending the Bush-era tax cuts.*

Fallows quotes Chad Stone of the CBPP:

"simply letting the Bush tax cuts expire on schedule (or paying for any portions that policymakers decide to extend) would stabilize the debt-to-GDP ratio for the next decade.   While we'd have to do much more to keep the debt stable over the longer run, that would be a huge accomplishment."  

* As many readers have pointed out, although these cuts were enacted at the start of the George W. Bush Administration and supposed to expire last year, they need to be called "Bush-era cuts" rather than strictly "Bush tax cuts" since they were of course extended under President Obama.

For more details, go here:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Warning: the saved can’t take their beloved pets with them when the Rapture comes tomorrow

The Rapture is scheduled to happen tomorrow on May 21, 2011, but what will happen to the pets left behind when the saved are taken up into Heaven to be with Jesus?

Eternal Earth-bound Pets to the rescue. According to the organization’s website:

You've committed your life to Jesus. You know you're saved.  But when the Rapture comes, what will happen to your loving pets?   Eternal Earth-Bound Pets takes that burden off your mind:

We are a group of dedicated animal lovers, and atheists. Each
Eternal Earth-Bound Pet representative is a confirmed atheist, and as such will still be here on Earth after you've received your reward.  Our network of animal activists are committed to step in when you step up to Jesus.

We are currently active in 26 states, employing 40 pet rescuers.  Our representatives have been screened to ensure that they are atheists, animal lovers, are moral / ethical with no criminal background, have the ability and desire to  rescue your pet and the means to retrieve them and ensure their care for your pet's natural life. 

Eternal Earth-bound Pets is not offering a free service: keep in mind, the unsaved will still need to eke out a living here on Earth:

Our service is plain and simple; our fee structure is reasonable.
For $135.00 we will guarantee that should the Rapture occur within ten (10) years of receipt of payment, one pet per residence will be saved.  Each additional pet at your residence will be saved for an additional $20.00 fee.   A small price to pay for your peace of mind and the health and safety of your four legged and feathered friends.

For more details, go here:

Cutting aid to the elderly and poor while bankrolling Egypt and Tunisia

While Congress debates balancing the budget by cutting programs for the elderly and the poor and no agreement has been reached to raise the debt ceiling, the administration offers to send billions in aid to Egypt and Tunisia.

Evidently, Egyptians are struggling with a stagnating economy – never mind that the U.S. has reached its borrowing limits and thousands of Americans remain unemployed.

Here’s the scoop:

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama will announce plans Thursday to funnel billions of dollars in economic aid to Egypt and Tunisia as part of a broader effort to inject democracy into the Middle East and North Africa. 

Obama will unveil a massive package of economic measures, including up to $1 billion in debt relief and another $1 billion in loan guarantees, during a speech on U.S.-Middle East policy set for Thursday morning at the State Department. Other pieces of the package include a new trade partnership with the region and a fund for stimulating regional private sector investments.

Read more:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama and the War Powers Act

Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland and President Obama in Oslo on Dec. 10, 2009
Awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 2009 in his first year as president of the United States, Barack Obama is now being called to account for his attitude toward the War Powers Act. Writing for the Washington Post, Bruce Ackerman and Oona Hathaway, professors of law and political science at Yale, remind our president that the 60-day clock is ticking on his decision to go to war in Libya:

This week, the War Powers Act confronts its moment of truth. Friday will mark the 60th day since President Obama told Congress of his Libyan campaign. According to the act, that declaration started a 60-day clock: If Obama fails to obtain congressional support for his decision within this time limit, he has only one option — end American involvement within the following 30 days.

Obama has not only failed but he hasn’t even tried — leaving it to Sen. Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, to call for a “specific resolution that would give [the president] authority.” Neither the president nor the Democratic congressional leadership has shown any interest. They have been sleep-walking their way to Day 60.

Read more:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Astronaut Mark Kelly and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords: an antidote to the Schwarzenegger and Strauss-Kahn scandals

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Astronaut Mark Kelly

After reading the headlines this week blaring the sordid news of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s and Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s sexual indiscretions, one turns with relief to the example set by Astronaut Mark Kelly, commander of the space shuttle Endeavor, and his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The wounded Giffords was on hand at Cape Canaveral for Endeavor’s launch; the couple exchanged wedding rings before yesterday’s liftoff.

Manuel Roig-Franzia reported at the Washington Post:

Space shuttle Endeavour vaulted elegantly into the sky Monday, a spectacle of fire and power lent a grace note by the wounded congresswoman watching from below.

The appearance here of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) added a new chapter to a remarkable saga of survival and recovery, five months after she was shot in the head in an attack in Tucson that left six others dead. 

Endeavour, which was originally scheduled to launch in November, blasted off 1 ½ weeks after its highly anticipated April 29 launch was scrubbed because of problems with the ship’s hydraulic system.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Wisconsin showed the way to make its uprising against Republican union-busters national

Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU.

John Nichols at the Nation offers a detailed analysis of the potential long-term national effects of the Wisconsin protests against Gov. Walker’s union-busting tactics, and Democrats had better listen up.

Nichols writes:

Mary Kay Henry had just spent a day talking with many of the thousands of Wisconsinites who had packed the State Capitol in Madison for the February protests against Republican Governor Scott Walker’s proposals to scrap collective bargaining rights and slash funding for public education and services. Now, as she waited in a legislative hearing room that had been turned into a makeshift studio for a Pennsylvania labor radio show, the new president of the 2.2 million–member Service Employees International Union was marveling at what she had seen. “It’s inspiring, so inspiring, but we have to pay attention to what’s happening here,” she said, in a calm, thoughtful voice. “We’ve got to take this national, and we’ve got to keep the spirit, the energy. We’ve got to do it right.”

Henry was not just speaking in the excitement of the moment. Even before the Wisconsin uprising and ensuing demonstrations in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Maine, SEIU had been drawing the outlines of a Fight for a Fair Economy campaign that would use the resources of the union to mobilize low-wage workers—be they union members or not—into a movement aimed at transforming a national debate that has been defined by conservative talking points and ginned-up Tea Party “populism.” After the frustrating experience of trying to get the Employee Free Choice Act through a supposedly friendly Congress in the first two years of President Obama’s administration, Henry and a growing number of labor leaders are coming to recognize that simply electing Democrats is not enough. A memo that circulated in January among members of the union’s executive board declared, “We can’t spark an organizing surge without changing the environment, so that workers see unions not as self-interested institutions but as vehicles through which they can collectively stand up for a more fair economy.”

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Fields of dancing yellow dandelions

Spring in St. Paul, MN, photo by VB

Recent events this May moved me to try my hand at poetry:

Mayday 2011
by Virginia Bergman

The world has changed since last we met;
Mayday came and went;
And we scarcely noticed;
For it was cold here in the northland;
When we learned of bin Laden’s death;
And thought of other deaths since 9/11;
And yet in this present moment;
Life persists with new green everywhere,
And fields of dancing yellow dandelions.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Time to sober up and reassess the price we’ve paid since 9/11

In the midst of celebrating bin Laden’s death, someone is actually pausing to assess the cost of America’s war on terror since 9/11. Dan  Froomkin at the Huffington Post has the story and folks, it’s time to sober up:

 (Psst - it wasn't Social Security and Medicare that caused the great recession.)

WASHINGTON -- Osama bin Laden's death doesn’t end the post-9/11 era, but it does provide an occasion to look back at everything that’s happened since the attacks nearly 10 years ago and reassess the costs.

It’s been a long, grueling and enormously expensive time for this country, a time of endless war and massive fortification, of borrowed money and of missed opportunities.
There’s the human toll. More than twice as many Americans -- over 6,000 -- have now died in the two wars that followed 9/11 than did in the original attacks, along with more than 100,000 Iraqis and Afghans. Over three million Iraqis and 400,000 Afghans remain displaced. Several hundred thousand U.S. soldiers suffer from long-term war-related injuries and health problems, with more than 200,000 diagnosed with traumatic brain injury alone.

And there’s the extraordinary financial toll. Indeed, even as Washington officials panic about the growing deficit, much of the problem can be traced back to 9/11 -- not to the attack itself, but to the response, and particularly to the decision to go to war in Iraq.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

In the aftermath of bin Laden’s assassination, human rights lawyer demands a clear U.S. policy on targeted killing

 “We’ve got to hunt them down and kill them” became our nation’s mantra on Sept. 11, 2001. It took 10 years, two wars, untold numbers of civilian and military dead, and billions of dollars to get Osama bin laden, but our president – without mentioning the cost – now boasts of "taking him out" and the above mantra continues to echo throughout the United States, now too often referred to by that unfortunate neologism, “the homeland.”

And it has come to this: in the aftermath of bin Laden’s assassination, Chris Rogers, a human rights lawyer, finds it necessary to demand a clear U.S. policy on targeted killing. That’s right. We’re talking about targeted killing.

Rogers writes:

The U.S. has killed hundreds of individuals in targeted killings, many outside traditional battlefields. It conducts these killings largely in secret, without public oversight, and without any clear legal justification. The CIA operation that killed bin Laden last week is but one instance of a tactic that has now become regular practice. 

This was not always the case. The U.S. officially outlawed assassination in 1976 and used to criticize targeted killings by other countries. But in the aftermath of bin Laden's terror attack, both the Bush and Obama administrations have increasingly resorted to the tactic and defended it as lawful. In fact, under the Obama administration, targeted killings have escalated substantially, mostly through drone strikes in Pakistan, which killed an estimated 900 people last year alone. Only days after the operation against bin Laden, the U.S. conducted a drone strike in Yemen, targeting an alleged member of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Anwar al-Awlaki. 

Despite this shift and a dramatic expansion of the use of targeted killings, the U.S. has been virtually silent on the legal basis for such attacks, particularly in places most would not describe as battlefields. U.S. officials defend such killings, including the operation against bin Laden, but only in general terms, offering little more than assurances that killings are permitted under international and domestic law.

Rogers goes on to address several critical legal questions:

Where can the U.S. conduct targeted killings?
Who is the U.S. at war with and who can it target?
When can the U.S. violate the sovereignty of another country?

Read more:

Monday, May 9, 2011

Obama: “Anyone questioning that bin Laden got what he deserved, should have their heads examined”

Psychiatrist R.D. Laing's definition of insanity differs from that of President Obama

In the aftermath of bin Laden’s death, celebrated in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere by dancing in the streets, a woman named Jessica Dovey posted on her Facebook wall her personal response to the event:

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.”

She followed up those sentiments with a quote by MLK, Jr. ,

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Dovey’s Facebook post immediately went viral suggesting that many people were uncomfortable equating the execution of an unarmed bad guy with justice.

Kristen Breitweiser, a 9/11 widow and activist, was also not in a celebratory mood. She wrote:

I think about the thousands of lives lost -- American, Afghani, Iraqi. I know firsthand the sorrow those families have felt. I ponder how the billions -- maybe trillions -- of dollars could have been better spent. I remain alarmed about the continued expansion of absolute Executive power in the name of fighting this seemingly ongoing and never-ending "war on terror." I worry about the further erosion of our constitutional rights. I wonder when our troops will ever be called home. I know all too well, that thousands of young American men and women soldiers will never have the opportunity to return home. And of course, I fear reprisal.

But more than anything, I cannot seem to remove the optics of the giddy, gleeful throngs of Americans who took to the streets celebrating in the early morning hours.

Forgive me, but I don't want to watch uncorked champagne spill onto hallowed ground where thousands were murdered in cold blood.

Then came President Obama’s Sunday night interview on 60 Minutes with Steve Croft in which Obama presented himself as a decisive leader empowered in the end to overrule the biblical injunction, “Judge not that ye be not judged,” not only in his ruling that the unarmed bin Laden deserved to be executed without benefit of trial, but also in questioning the sanity of anyone who argued there was a difference between revenge and justice.

Croft’s final question to President Obama dealt with the issue of his decision to order the killing of bin Laden. Obama said, "As nervous as I was about this whole process, the one thing I didn't lose sleep over was the possibility of taking bin Laden out."

He continued, “Anyone who would question that the perpetrator of 9/11 - mass murder on American soil - didn’t’ get what he deserved needs to have their head examined.” (This quote occurs at the very end of the interview.)

Poet and psychiatrist R.D. Laing once defined insanity as “a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.”  Watching President Obama in that 60 Minutes interview, one could easily conclude the intelligent, well-educated, coolly thoughtful Barack Obama, arguably the most powerful leader in the world, has made that perfectly rational adjustment.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Our children are “the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself” - Happy Mother’s Day!

Photo by VB     

On Children
by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A reminder: thinking critically and living faithfully are not necessarily dualistic

The Christian Century’s slogan, “Thinking critically. Living faithfully,” has to be startling to anyone brought up in a religious tradition that forbids skepticism. As a graduate of United Theological Seminary in the Twin Cities; however, I can personally attest that thinking critically and living faithfully are not necessarily dualistic.

Steve Thorngate, Assistant Editor at the Christian Century, applies a bit of critical thinking to quotes attributed to MLK, Jr. on Facebook in the aftermath of the death of Osama bin Laden. 

It’s not all about inadvertently misquoting MLK, Jr., though; Thorngate lives up to the Christian Century’s slogan by also calling our attention to the religious dictum to “love your enemies.”

Thorngate writes:

The impetus for this {Facebook} thread and others like it was of course the following alleged quote from King, which went viral following the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed:

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

The problem is that the first sentence of this quote didn't come from King. It's by a woman named Jessica Dovey, who posted it Monday along with the other three sentences, which she (correctly) attributed to King. A prominent Twitter user misread the post before tweeting it, at which point we all started seeing the fake quote on our Facebook walls.

Thornburg concludes by directing his readers to Loving Your Enemies and The Death of Evil Upon the Seashore, by MLK, Jr.

Read Thorngate’s entire post here.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Onion News Service exposes crimes against humanity by Predator Drones

Predator Drones are receiving some long overdue negative publicity lately, not only for the “unintentional” killing of innocent civilians unfortunate enough to be within range of the hell-fire missiles fired from above, but also for the moral and ethical concerns raised by the entire procedure  – military personnel safely seated before computer screens in America while pressing buttons to rain death and destruction on unsuspecting targets thousands of miles away.

But it took the Onion News Service to fully expose America’s crimes against humanity carried out by Predator drones. Watch the video:

Predator Drone Court-Martialed For Afghani Civilian Deaths

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Celebrating life, not bin Laden’s death, on Mayday 2011

Early May in Minnesota (photo by VB)   

The weather has been colder than usual this week in the Twin Cities, and no one left a festive basket at my door on Sunday, May 1. That was the date many people around the world will long remember, not as a celebration of life, but as the day Osama bin Laden died.

Some of us will also remember the tremendous cost incurred in blood and treasure to bring about his death. Most poignantly, Kristen Breitweiser, 9/11 widow and activist wrote on this occasion:

I think about the thousands of lives lost -- American, Afghani, Iraqi. I know firsthand the sorrow those families have felt. I ponder how the billions -- maybe trillions -- of dollars could have been better spent. I remain alarmed about the continued expansion of absolute Executive power in the name of fighting this seemingly ongoing and never-ending "war on terror." I worry about the further erosion of our constitutional rights. I wonder when our troops will ever be called home. I know all too well, that thousands of young American men and women soldiers will never have the opportunity to return home. And of course, I fear reprisal.

In the meantime, as May Day came and went, the grass turned green and new leaves appeared on the trees, even way up here in the frozen tundra of Minnesota. And so life defeats death once more; may it continue to do so, now and forever.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A new poster child for Islam?

We cannot kill every single Osama bin Laden. We need to expand our approach and empower Muslims around the world to counter radicalism.

Osama bin Laden, 54, unofficial poster-child for the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and radical Islamist movements around the world died Sunday May 1, 2011. He will be remembered as a leader of anti-Americanism, a formidable mastermind of terrorist plots, and an unmistakable symbol of intolerance, hatred, and violence. From a young age, he dedicated his life to tarnishing the image of peaceful, law-abiding Muslims across the world and promoting radical, anti-social interpretations of Islam. He lived by the sword and died by the sword.

For a thoughtful, balanced response to the death of Osama bin Laden and a positive way forward for Muslims and the rest of the world, read the article in the Christian Science Monitor by Hedieh Mirahmadi and Mehreen Farooq.

Monday, May 2, 2011

In the White House situation room the day Osama bin Laden died (Photo)

White House photographer Pete Souza released the above photo of President Obama and the national security team in the Situation Room receiving updates as the Navy Seals enter bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan where he died Monday morning.

Pictured are:

1. Vice President Biden
2. President Obama
3. Air Force Brigadier General Marshall Webb
4. Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough
5. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
6. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
7. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
8. National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon
9. Chief of Staff William Daley
10. Antony Blinken, National Security Adviser to Vice President Biden
11. Audrey Tomason, Director for Counterterrorism
12. John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism
13. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper

Osama bin Laden is dead, but his legacy of terror continues

Osama bin Laden is dead, we are told this morning, and he has been buried at an undisclosed location at sea.

Yes, the mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. and the most wanted man in the world was shot in the head, and he is gone now, but one has to wonder whether or not he lost the battle he led for so long against the western world.

Even as we celebrate we ought not forget that although we lost 3,000 lives on 9/11, since then hundreds of thousands of civilians have died in our two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where our military continues to be engaged, as well as elsewhere in the middle east. 

And let us not forget our war dead and the hundreds of our soldiers who will suffer from severe injuries for the rest of their lives.

There are other losses – it’s that whole “blood and treasure” thing. In addition to funding two wars, millions of our taxpayer dollars continue to be tied up in homeland security measures put in place since 2001.

With the above facts in mind, one reads in a more sober mood, the story of the operation that took bin Laden down in Pakistan early this morning. Andrew Malcolm at the Top of the Ticket (LA Times):

So, in the end it was not a cold, dank Afghan cave that sheltered the world's most wanted man, Osama bin Laden.

It was a huge million-dollar enclave in Abbottabad, Pakistan, with far too much security and 18-foot high walls, way taller than necessary to protect the two couriers who allegedly lived there alone. (See raw video footage below.)

That in the end is what brought the sudden end to Bin Laden's life with a U.S. bullet into his head, among other places, after a circuitous 10-year hunt for the spiritual leader of the global Al Qaeda terrorist franchise and the master plotter of the 9/11 attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people.

The hunt began to narrow several years ago when interrogations of Guantanamo Bay detainees produced the nicknames of a pair of highly trusted couriers, used by the captured 9/11 architect Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Bin Laden, who had learned his electronic communications could be monitored by the U.S.

It took nearly two years of CIA analysis to determine the men's real names and to begin tracking them, ultimately to and from the housing compound that was built in 2005. The compound, according to senior administration officials, was eight times larger than others in the area. 

Its occupants burned their trash, rather than putting it out for collection. And strangely, although apparently wealthy from no visible income sources, the occupants had no telephone or Internet links to the outside world. 

According to a variety of sources, the raid on the compound was authorized last Friday by President Obama just before he left for Alabama and Florida.

The carefully rehearsed operation struck about 1:30 a.m. Monday local time.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

With whom do you discuss the important matters in your life? (Facebook friends don’t count)

My sister-in-law Mary visiting with her niece Bonnie at a family reunion.

My sister-in-law Mary was visiting from Ohio that week. It was the first quality time we’d spent together since my brother Don died several years before from injuries he sustained in an accident.
            I asked Mary how she’d gotten through the early years of grief. Without hesitation, she said: “My friends got me through it.”
            Mary knows well the truism that “friends double our joy and halve our grief.” In addition to family members, she talks regularly to five or six other people back home about important matters in her life.
            According to national study published a few years ago titled Social Isolation in America, those are the first people we turn to for major help in times of crisis. Unfortunately, Mary would have been the exception among participants in the study completed by sociologists at Duke and the University of Arizona.
            The authors found the number of Americans saying there is no one with whom they discuss important matters nearly tripled since 1985 and for most adults, the number of confidants decreased from three to two.
            Almost half the population said they discussed important matters with either no one or with only one other person. Participants also reported a decrease in ties formed in neighborhood and community with an inward shift toward close kin.
           The study suggests several possible causes for these remarkable changes over the last two decades in our relationships with one another. For one thing, phone calls, email, and Facebook exchanges can’t substitute for face-to-face communication.
            The longer commutes and more hours worked by many Americans might explain the decrease in neighborhood and community involvement, which bodes ill for both our personal well being and the health of our democratic institutions.
            In reviewing the study, I thought of a couple of other possible causes for our increasing social isolation. Maturity once meant moving from the dependency of childhood through the usually strident independence of young adulthood and finally to interdependence, which assumes cooperation with others.
            But the ideal of the rough and ready, totally self-sufficient American has always lurked within the shadow side of our national character. Even the former President Bush’s most loyal supporters will admit that during his years in office, he most consistently modeled a tough-talking cowboy style, conveying an attitude of “my way or the highway” both at home and abroad.
            Since our leaders inevitably influence the overall tone of society, America grew increasingly polarized under the Bush Administration. And it’s no wonder we became more guarded in talking with one another about both personal and general matters, including politics and religion.
            At the same time, the FBI reported the biggest increase in violent crime in fifteen years, and the mayhem in the streets may have caused some to withdraw from neighborhoods and community.
            Perhaps exacerbated by the Tea Party’s shenanigans, the red state, blue state divide has continued under the Obama Administration. And according to recent polls, Obama registers as one of the most polarizing presidents in modern history.
            Politics aside, Social Isolation in America prompted many of us to examine our own closest ties. I mentioned the study’s findings to several friends and acquaintances and just as I did, they hastened to count the number of people outside their families with whom they discuss important matters.
             Updating the tally of my own confidants for purposes of this post, I included only family members, a couple of old friends, my mindfulness meditation group, my memoir writers group, and a few neighbors; I left out my 600 plus Facebook friends…