Senator Dodd says no to FISA Act shenanigans–take action now

Senator Chris Dodd has declared a “stop” on the latest Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) revision. The latest compromise worked out in a secret session of the intelligence committee would make warrantless wiretapping legal and retroactively make the telecommunications companies that participated in it immune from prosecution.

Dodd’s presidential campaign website says:

The Military Commissions Act. Warrantless wiretapping. Shredding of Habeas Corpus. Torture. Extraordinary Rendition. Secret Prisons.

No more.

You go, Senator.

If anyone still has doubts that the FISA act was enacted for reasons that had anything to do with national security, it was recently revealed that communications companies had been asked to turn over customer information to the government in February 2001, seven months before the 9/11 attacks.
Here’s what you can do right now:

1. Call the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at 202-224-3542 and tell him to support Chris Dodd’s hold — Reid’s wavering. Tell them you are against wiretapping without a warrant.  [Note: Senator Reid’s Washington office voice mail is full. If you can get through, try to talk to his staff (press1) , they may be keeping a tally. Now call his regional office in Carson City at 775-882-7343 instead. Fill that voice mail too, or tell his staff your concerns about wiretapping without a warrant.]

2. Call your own two Senators and tell them exactly the same thing.

3. Make a contribution to Senator Dodd’s campaign, so he can continue to speak out.

4. Write a message on your own blog. Ask people to take these 4 steps.

Posted in Government, Homeland Security. Comments Off on Senator Dodd says no to FISA Act shenanigans–take action now

Academic Freedom–the shirt

I’m not one of those people who arrives at a meeting with a Chomsky quotation up my sleeve. But I was impressed with the strong turnout for academic freedom at University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel Friday–an event where Noam Chomsky was scheduled to speak along with Israel Lobby co-author John Mearsheimer and others.

So here are two Chomsky Freedom T-shirts with academic freedom themes. One says,

If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.

The other says,

For those who stubbornly seek freedom, there can be no more urgent task than to come to understand the mechanisms and practices of indoctrination. These are easy to perceive in the totalitarian societies, much less so in the system of ‘brainwashing under freedom’ to which we are subjected and which all too often we serve as willing or unwitting instruments.

Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week is coming up. Might be just the thing.

Tees are sweatshop-free and ethically produced, either in the U.S by union labor or by American Apparel whose fair labor practices have been well documented. Chomsky Freedom Tees are available in organic, fitted, hoodie, raglan, tank top and dog.



Related posts:

Chomsky Ditches Rockefeller Chapel, Politics is Still Local

Noam Chomsky and Israel Lobby Co-author Mearsheimer to Speak at Rockefeller Chapel in October 2007


Posted in Free speech, peace, Products, T-shirts. Comments Off on Academic Freedom–the shirt

Chomsky Ditches Rockefeller Chapel, Politics is Still Local

On my way to Rockefeller Chapel for the symposium on the Israel Lobby, two things were uppermost in my mind. One was whether the Israel Lobby was the only force preventing the formation of the Palestinian state. The other was why I couldn’t get my hair to lie straight. I needn’t have worried about either one.

As it turned out, the afternoon’s festivities were not about Palestine at all, but rather about a subject closer to home: the denial of tenure for two DePaul professors. And the U of C fashion statement for the semester seems to be tousled hair, drab dark colors, and flimsy twisted scarves, wound around the neck once with both ends hanging in the front.

Featured speaker Noam Chomsky didn’t make it on account of his wife’s illness, but sent a video. Summaries of the speakers’ comments “In Defense of Academic Freedom” are available elsewhere on the net, as are discussions of the Norman Finkelstein/Mehrene Larudee tenure issues.

But how does the Israel Lobby work? Some answers came out during the question and answer session. In the U.S. congress, the Middle East is a “small issue” but a bridge is a “big issue”. The Israel Lobby does not provide direct money or direct pressure. Even if a legislator has no problem getting reelected they still can’t afford to offend the Israel Lobby. They would sacrifice their career, since they would be able to get no bills through, to get the bridges and local projects that get them reelected. The Israel Lobby is not a conspiracy, it is just a policy group like the NRA. It is part of the legitimate political process. The way it is not legitimate is when it tries to stifle academic discussion.

The way that the Israel Lobby influences academic decisions like tenure was not made really clear. Apparently this is also not an overt process, the schools simply “know” what they are expected to do. Academians are told through the grapevine they could have problems if their names become linked to people like Finkelstein. Possibly they anticipate a smear campaign. Even sitting on the same stage with someone like Israel Lobby co-author John Mearsheimer could have repercussions for their careers, they are told.

Suddenly the importance of someone with Chomsky’s reputation lending his name to this issue became clear, as did the clearing of the stage after the question and answer session, to allow all new speakers to come out–including the two DePaul professors–for a separate session. Ah, academia.

Yes, the world needs people like Chomsky, Finkelstein, Juan Cole. Not because their assertions are necessarily true, or even because they believe what they say themselves. The way I understand it, it’s a huge case of “the game’s afoot.” It’s a way to arrive at truth. One group takes one side of an argument and argues it vehemently. The other group takes the other side. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Academic reputations are made on the twist of a phrase or an insult that no one else can understand. Meanwhile , youths burning embassies in Turkey or the Middle East take the whole dialog seriously, believing they have discovered the truth in the academics’ statements. They have only discovered a process meant for arriving at the truth.

Who knows how closely the academic discussion actually mirrors real life events. Does it matter? After all, tenure for professors–like bridges–is a “big issue”. The Middle East is a “small issue.” I wonder how I could explain that one to my Palestinian friends. Still, not having those voices would mean quite the lopsided public discourse.

Related posts:

Academic Freedom-the shirt 

Noam Chomsky and Israel Lobby Co-author Mearsheimer to Speak at Rockefeller Chapel in October 2007 


Posted in Middle East, peace, T-shirts. Comments Off on Chomsky Ditches Rockefeller Chapel, Politics is Still Local

Eid Mubarak, One Hundred Percent Sure–Inshallah

Our local radio station was saying Eid was supposed to happen yesterday, so I clicked on my favorite mosque website to find out. They were unequivocal. Sort of. Posted on their home page was the following message:

Eid Al-Fitr is on Sat Oct 13, 2007, inshaAllah. 100% Confirmed.

Determining Eid halfway around the world from Mecca has always been a bit of a problem. Add to that the political implications of depending on the Saudi government for your own country’s religious observances, and things get even trickier. Most Middle Eastern countries now have their own Islamic ministry for those questions.

So here it is: The Fiqh Council of North America, after considering the position of the their European counterpart, the European Council for Fatwa and Research, has determined that the official north American Eid is today, Saturday October 13, 2007.

The position of ECFR is very similar to the position of FCNA adopted last year on June 10, 2006, with a minor difference. FCNA adopted the position that the conjunction should occur before noon at Greenwich time. ECFR has adopted Makkah al-Mukarram as a conventional point and took the position that the conjunction must take place before sunset in Makkah and moon must set after sunset in Makkah.

FCNA after careful discussion has revised its position and has adopted the Fatwa of ECFR. This revised position will change only a few dates in the Fiqh Council’s Five year calendar; but it will bring greater harmony and unity among the Muslims communities in the West.


so therefore:

Eid ul-Fitr 1428 AH:
The astronomical New Moon is on Thursday, October 11, 2007, at 5:00 Universal Time (8:00 am Makkah time). Sunset at Makkah on October 11 is 6:00 pm local time, while moonset at Makkah is at 5:59 pm local time (1 minute before sunset). This does not meet the new criteria adopted by FCNA and ECFR. On Friday, October 12, 2007, sunset at Makkah is 5:59 pm local time, while moonset is at 6:32 pm local time. Therefore, first day of Shawwal, i.e., Eid ul-Fitr is Saturday, October 13, insha’Allah.

So, Eid Mubarak!


May you be blessed for the entire year.

Posted in Islam, Middle East, Religion. Comments Off on Eid Mubarak, One Hundred Percent Sure–Inshallah

Jesus Lite and Victimology at Obama’s Still-Racist Trinity Church

“Black people! Grow up! Stop helping white people!”

So thundered the preacher from the pulpit of Obama’s Trinity Church.

After the first time I wrote about Obama’s home church, one of the members of that church posted a comment here defending Trinity and inviting me to visit. I decided I wouldn’t write anything more until I had seen it for myself.

A few weeks ago I made the pilgrimage to Trinity. Clicking on a map ad for directions to the church, I ended up at the wrong address–their old building few blocks west. Walking around the building I saw a parking lot with a sign declaring “members only”. Would that be the topic sentence for my visit?

Just as I was deciding that this wasn’t the same building as in the website, a guy in a van–a shuttle from the remote parking lot–offered me a ride to the church. As the driver picked up more people from the street, I inquired about Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Would he be speaking today? Rev. Wright was retiring, I was told. Rev. Moss was in the process of taking his place.

We were dropped off and entered the building, sunlight filtering through two stories of stained glass inside, and were immediately stopped by a gesture from a pair of white gloves. A between-services prayer had just begun in the sanctuary, and the ushers, women in white gloves, were stopping everybody in their tracks. It reminded me of a movie set I saw once at Daley Plaza with all the extras playing pedestrians frozen in place prior to rolling the cameras.

The prayer over, I walked around the narthex a bit to see if I could glean their story. Walking upstairs to the balcony entrance, I looked at the stained glass window a little more closely. Black faces and a tribute to the NAACP, the first time I’ve ever seen that as a stained glass theme in a church. Then I saw white faces immortalized in the stained glass. Who were they? A male judge and man in a police uniform. Between them stood a man with a black face and a dejected posture. The story was obvious. The only white people pictured here were Oppressors.

Enough time for a pit stop before the service started. On my way to the rest room I noticed how many people were wearing African costume. In the ladies room the mirror area was crowded. More women in African gear were making last minute makeup repairs before the service. I was definitely underdressed. Hopefully I would be undernoticed as well.

It was time to find a seat for the service, so I decided on the main floor, but far enough back to be unobtrusive. I like to listen for God in the silences as well as the words and music, but Trinity isn’t that kind of church. Audience participation is the order of the day. Trinity parishioners are in the habit of calling out “amen” or variations thereof whenever they like something.

For those who find music indispensable to religious practice, Trinity certainly has a world-class choir. Their rendition of the Lord’s Prayer gave me goose bumps. At least I think I had goose bumps. Everyone holds the hand of the person next to them during prayer, so I couldn’t really see my arms, but I know I had goose bumps. I kept waiting for the hush after each musical phrase where the spirituality of the moment comes through, and you can feel the building itself inhale, but everyone seemed compelled to fill up the silences with amens.

Some of the women were even more vocal. While only male voices were heard from the authority of the pulpit, at various times throughout the service women called out from the congregation. One young woman in the front shrieked repeatedly. She looked like she might have Tourette’s Syndrome, but no one paid any attention to her. Later in the back a well-dressed woman stood up and shouted, “Something! Something!” Again, everyone acted as if that were par for the course.

No hymnals in this church, there isn’t even a place for a hymnal in the pews. The words to the one hymn were printed in the bulletin, but no one was reading it–or singing it.

The gospel reading, I Corinthians 13, was also printed in the bulletin, done as a unison reading:

…When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face…

Then the sermon. The lesson to be taken from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was about slavery.

  • The mirrors of Paul’s time were not of a good enough quality to see a clear reflection because they were made by slaves.
  • Walmart practices a form of slavery. (I gave the speaker a silent “amen” for speaking out about Walmart’s labor practices.) Then …
  • “Black people! Grow up! Stop helping white people!”

Oopsie! Is this really the Christian message? Help people in your neighborhood, of course. Patronize local businesses instead of overseas sweatshops, yes. But “stop helping white people”?

I once heard a speech by Louis Farrakhan, and this is how he spoke. First he started out with things everyone could agree with. Helping your neighbors. Economic development. After about twenty minutes, when everyone was nodding in agreement, Farrakhan would start in with the hate speech.

Even though slavery ended 140 years ago and no member of Trinity has ever been a slave, the Trinity Church narrative is about slavery. Our story is about being persecuted, it says, our story is about being victimized. And where other churches might talk about the devil or about evil, Trinity demonizes white people. Never mind that there were whites who marched for civil rights. Never mind that there were whites who lost their lives trying to register blacks to vote in the South. Never mind that every day there are whites–clergy and ordinary people too–who quietly defend justice and insist that the value of a person is more than skin deep. That doesn’t fit the Trinity Gospel of Victimology.

As I left Trinity I looked for some symbol that anyone there had recognized value in any white person. There it was, at the bottom of the stained glass window. A figure on a horse, bent over with fatigue. This could only be one of the circuit riders, the early preachers who traveled on horseback, and rarely lived past the age of thirty. As far I know, circuit riders were all white, but unlike the full-color treatment of the rest of the stained glass, this figure was done in sepia tones and you couldn’t tell its skin tone. No, a white person with a calling from God wouldn’t fit their narrative.

Today I was back at my home church. The faces in the pulpit were black, white, Asian, male and female. As we greeted each other during the passing of the peace, the faces in the pews were just as diverse. As the communion was shared we sang:

One bread, one body, one Lord of all,
One cup of blessings which we bless.
And we, though many throughout the earth,
We are one body in this one Lord.

Gentile or Jew, servant or free, woman or man, no more…

One bread , one body, one Lord of all, ….

And at the end of the communion where the printed ritual in the hymnal says

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord…

the entire congregation spoke in one voice without hesitation

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord…

unwilling to participate in perceived gender discrimination, no matter what the authority behind the printing of those words.

How did I feel as a result of my visit to Trinity? Closer to God? Yes. For sure. But I was also reminded of the gentile woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus refused, based on the woman’s cultural identity. So did she just leave? No. The woman rebuked Jesus. Even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table she told Jesus. A bitter snark, that, considering the Middle Eastern attitude towards dogs. In the Biblical story, Jesus accepted the gentile woman’s rebuke and healed the child.

No one will be rude to the white person who visits Trinity, but they don’t exactly consider white people to be members of the same family of God either. If you are white, you will have to be content with the scraps that fall from the table.

Trinity needs to heed the criticism of the negative publicity it has been receiving. There is some healing to be done.


Related posts:

Is Barack Obama’s Trinity Church Racist?


New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh: possible Iran invasion

UPDATE 7/1/08: Links are no longer active, for new links click |here|.


The New Yorker has published a piece by Seymour Hersh about the possiblity of U.S. military action against Iran. Hirsh says the policy makers surrounding the President have recently updated their plan for attacking Iran.

This summer, the White House, pushed by the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney, requested that the Joint Chiefs of Staff redraw long-standing plans for a possible attack on Iran, according to former officials and government consultants. The focus of the plans had been a broad bombing attack, with targets including Iran’s known and suspected nuclear facilities and other military and infrastructure sites. Now the emphasis is on “surgical” strikes on Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities in Tehran and elsewhere, which, the Administration claims, have been the source of attacks on Americans in Iraq….

I was repeatedly cautioned, in interviews, that the President has yet to issue the “execute order” that would be required for a military operation inside Iran, and such an order may never be issued. But there has been a significant increase in the tempo of attack planning. In mid-August, senior officials told reporters that the Administration intended to declare Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization. And two former senior officials of the C.I.A. told me that, by late summer, the agency had increased the size and the authority of the Iranian Operations Group. (A spokesman for the agency said, “The C.I.A. does not, as a rule, publicly discuss the relative size of its operational components.”)

“They’re moving everybody to the Iran desk,” one recently retired C.I.A. official said. “They’re dragging in a lot of analysts and ramping up everything. It’s just like the fall of 2002”—the months before the invasion of Iraq, when the Iraqi Operations Group became the most important in the agency.

For more insight from the author, including a discussion of how U.S. diplomacy with Iran has differed from a recent deal successfully concluded with North Korea, listen to the interview with Hersh on NPR.

Posted in Iran. Comments Off on New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh: possible Iran invasion

Ramadan Kareem: a Ramadan Dua

I’ve been looking for a little Ramadan Kareem symbol to put in my widgets for the month of Ramadan, but I’m having some sort of problem opening my widgets. The best I can gather from the blogosphere is that that latest version of Firefox is doing something to Javascript, whatever that is.

So until I can figure out what that is, or more likely until they can figure it out, here is something called a Ramadan Dua. [UPDATE: Link no longer active.] I’m not quite sure what a dua is, but this one seems to be a sort of prayer. I kind of like it, both for the Arabic and for the sentiments expressed.


Dua is the following (Arabic):

Allah hooma inee auldubika

il hami, wa il hahden

wal agitee, wa kasal

wal toopamee, wa joobnahl

wal broohal, ghalabit il daimee al rijel

(repeat it)

English translation:

Allah, by you from all the ways

from all sadness, from laziness

from being helpless, from being coward

from fear, from being stingy,

from the overwhelming of the national debt, and from the oppression of men

I know I don’t have the Arabic exactly right, but if your Arabic is good enough to tell that, you probably know what it says already.

Ramadan Kareem.
2009 UPDATE: Audio for new dua and prayers |here|.This was for Ramadan 2008 but I have checked the links for 2009 to make sure they’re still active.