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Christian Zionism: The Heresy that Undermines Middle East Peace August 4, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Religion, Right Wing.
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Christian Zionism is the largest, most controversial and most destructive lobby within Christianity. It bears primary responsibility for perpetuating tensions in the Middle East, justifying Israel’s apartheid colonialist agenda and for undermining the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

By Rev Dr Stephen Sizer

At least one in four American Christians surveyed recently by Christianity Today magazine said that they believe it is their biblical responsibility to support the nation of Israel. This view is known as Christian Zionism. The Pew Research Center put the figure at 63 per cent among white evangelicals. Christian Zionism is pervasive within mainline American evangelical, charismatic and independent denominations including the Assemblies of God, Pentecostals and Southern Baptists, as well as many of the independent mega-churches. It is less prevalent within the historic denominations, which show a greater respect for the work of the United Nations, support for human rights, the rule of international law and empathy with the Palestinians.The origins of the movement can be traced to the early 19th century when a group of eccentric British Christian leaders began to lobby for Jewish restoration to Palestine as a necessary precondition for the return of Christ. The movement gained traction from the middle of the 19th century when Palestine became strategic to British, French and German colonial interests in the Middle East. Proto-Christian Zionism therefore preceded Jewish Zionism by more than 50 years. Some of Theodore Herzl’s strongest advocates were Christian clergy.

Christian Zionism as a modern theological and political movement embraces the most extreme ideological positions of Zionism. It has become deeply detrimental to a just peace between Palestine and Israel. It propagates a worldview in which the Christian message is reduced to an ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism. In its extreme form, it places an emphasis on apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ’s love and justice today.

Followers of Christian Zionism are convinced that the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 and the capture of Jerusalem in 1967 were the miraculous fulfillment of God’s promises made to Abraham that he would establish Israel as a Jewish nation forever in Palestine.

Tim LaHaye’s infamous Left Behind novels, together with other End Times speculations written by authors such as Hal Lindsey, John Hagee and Pat Robertson, have sold well over 100 million copies. These are supplemented by children’s books, videos and event violent computer games.

Burgeoning Christian Zionist organizations such as the International Christian Embassy (ICEJ), Christian Friends of Israel (CFI) and Christians United for Israel (CUFI) wield considerable influence on Capitol Hill, claiming a support base in excess of 50 million true believers. This means there are now at least ten times as many Christian Zionists as Jewish Zionists. And their European cousins are no less active in the Zionist Hasbarafia, lobbying for Israel, attacking its critics and thwarting the peace process. The United States and Israel are often portrayed as Siamese twins, joined at the heart, sharing common historic, religious and political values.

Pastor John Hagee is one of the leaders of the Christian Zionist movement. He is the Founder and Senior Pastor of Cornerstone Church, a 19,000-member evangelical church in San Antonio, Texas. His weekly programmes are broadcast on 160 TV stations, 50 radio stations and eight networks into an estimated 99 million homes in 200 countries. In 2006 he founded Christians United for Israel admitting,

“For 25 almost 26 years now, I have been pounding the evangelical community over television. The Bible is a very pro-Israel book. If a Christian admits ‘I believe the Bible,’ I can make him a pro-Israel supporter or they will have to denounce their faith. So I have the Christians over a barrel, you might say.”

In March 2007, Hagee spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference. He began by saying:

“The sleeping giant of Christian Zionism has awakened. There are 50 million Christians standing up and applauding the State of Israel…”

As the Jerusalem Post pointed out, his speech did not lack clarity. He went on to warn:

“It is 1938. Iran is Germany, and Ahmadinejad is the new Hitler. We must stop Iran’s nuclear threat and stand boldly with Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East… Think of our potential future together: 50 million evangelicals joining in common cause with 5 million Jewish people in America on behalf of Israel is a match made in heaven.”

Christian Zionists have shown varying degrees of enthusiasm for implementing six basic political convictions that arise from their ultra-literal and fundamentalist theology:

  1. The belief that the Jews remain God’s chosen people leads Christian Zionists to seek to bless Israel in material ways. However, this also invariably results in the uncritical endorsement of and justification for Israel’s racist and apartheid policies, in the media, among politicians and through solidarity tours to Israel.

  2. As God’s chosen people, the final restoration of the Jews to Israel is therefore actively encouraged, funded and facilitated through partnerships with the Jewish Agency.

  3. Eretz Israel, as delineated in scripture, from the Nile to the Euphrates, belongs exclusively to the Jewish people, therefore the land must be annexed, Palestinians driven from their homes and the illegal Jewish settlements expanded and consolidated.

  4. Jerusalem is regarded as the eternal and exclusive capital of the Jews, and cannot be shared with the Palestinians. Therefore, strategically, Christian Zionists have lobbied the US Administration to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem and thereby ensure that Jerusalem is recognised as the capital of Israel.

  5. Christian Zionists offer varying degrees of support for organisations such as the Jewish Temple Mount Faithful who are committed to destroying the Dome of the Rock and rebuilding the Jewish Temple on the Haram Al-Sharif (Noble sanctuary of Al-Aqsa).

  6. Christian Zionists invariably have a pessimistic view of the future, convinced that there will be an apocalyptic war of Armageddon in the imminent future. They are deeply sceptical of the possibility of a lasting peace between Jews and Arabs and therefore oppose the peace process. Indeed, to advocate an Israeli compromise of “land for peace” with the Palestinians is seen as a rejection of God’s promises to Israel and therefore to support her enemies.

Within the Christian Zionist worldview, Palestinians are regarded as alien residents in Israel. Many Christian Zionists are reluctant even to acknowledge Palestinians exist as a distinct people, claiming that they emigrated to Israel from surrounding Arab nations for economic reasons after Israel had become prosperous. A fear and deep-seated hatred of Islam also pervades their dualistic Manichean theology. Christian Zionists have little or no interest in the existence of indigenous Arab Christians despite their continuity with the early church.

In 2006, I drafted what became known as the Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism signed by four of the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem: His Beatitude Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch, Jerusalem; Archbishop Swerios Malki Mourad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem; Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East; and Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. In it they insisted:

“We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as a false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation.

We further reject the contemporary alliance of Christian Zionist leaders and organisations with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States that are presently imposing their unilateral pre-emptive borders and domination over Palestine. This inevitably leads to unending cycles of violence that undermine the security of all peoples of the Middle East and the rest of world.

We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these policies as they advance racial exclusivity and perpetual war rather than the gospel of universal love, redemption and reconciliation taught by Jesus Christ. Rather than condemn the world to the doom of Armageddon we call upon everyone to liberate themselves from ideologies of militarism and occupation. Instead, let them pursue the healing of the nations!

We call upon Christians in Churches on every continent to pray for the Palestinian and Israeli people, both of whom are suffering as victims of occupation and militarism. These discriminative actions are turning Palestine into impoverished ghettos surrounded by exclusive Israeli settlements. The establishment of the illegal settlements and the construction of the Separation Wall on confiscated Palestinian land undermines the viability of a Palestinian state and peace and security in the entire region.”

The patriarchs concluded:

“God demands that justice be done. No enduring peace, security or reconciliation is possible without the foundation of justice. The demands of justice will not disappear. The struggle for justice must be pursued diligently and persistently but non-violently.” The prophet Micah asks, “What does the Lord require of you, to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).

It is my contention after more than 10 years of postgraduate research that Christian Zionism is the largest, most controversial and most destructive lobby within Christianity. It bears primary responsibility for perpetuating tensions in the Middle East, justifying Israel’s apartheid colonialist agenda and for undermining the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

The closing chapter of the New Testament takes us back to the imagery of the Garden of Eden and the removal of the curse arising from the Fall: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb… On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:1-2) Surely this is what Jesus had in mind when he instructed his followers to act as Ambassadors of peace and reconciliation, to work and pray that God’s kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven.

The Revd Dr Stephen Sizer is the Vicar of Christ Church in Virginia Water and the author of Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon? (InterVarsity Press, 2004); Zion’s Christian Soldiers? (2007) and In the Footsteps of Jesus and the Apostles (Eagle, 2004). For more information see www.stephensizer.com

Source: Middle East Monitor

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Why the Faithful Approve of Torture May 4, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Religion, Torture.
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guantanamo-prisoners-catholic-news-agencyPrisoners at Guantanamo Bay. A recent poll shows the more often you go to church, the more you approve of torture. (Photo: Catholic News Agency)

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite

Washington Post, May 1, 2009

The more often you go to church, the more you approve of torture. This is a troubling finding of a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Shouldn’t it be the opposite? After all, who would Jesus torture? Since Jesus wouldn’t even let Peter use a sword and defend him from arrest, it would seem that those who follow Jesus would strenuously oppose the violence of torture. But, not so in America today.

    Instead, more than half of people who attend worship at least once a week, or 54%, said that using torture on suspected terrorists was “often” or “sometimes” justified. White evangelical Protestants were the church-going group most likely to approve of torture. By contrast, those who are unaffiliated with a religious organization and didn’t attend worship were most opposed to torture – only 42% of those people approved of using torture.

    One possible way to interpret this extraordinary Pew data is cultural. White evangelical Protestants tend to be culturally conservative and they make up a large percentage of the so-called Republican “base”. Does the approval of torture by this group demonstrate their continuing support for the previous administration? That may be.

    But I think it is possible, even likely, that this finding has a theological root. The UN Convention Against Torture defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person…” White Evangelical theology bases its view of Christian salvation on the severe pain and suffering undergone by Jesus in his flogging and crucifixion by the Romans. This is called the “penal theory of the atonement” – that is, the way Jesus paid for our sins is by this extreme torture inflicted on him.

    For Christian conservatives, severe pain and suffering are central to their theology. This is very clear in the 2002 Mel Gibson movie, The Passion of the Christ. Evangelical Christians flocked to this movie, promoted it and still show it in their churches, despite the fact that it is R-rated for the extraordinary amount of violence in the film. It is, in fact, the highest grossing R-rated movie in the history of film. The flogging of Jesus by the Romans goes on for fully 40 minutes. It is truly the most violent film I have ever seen.

    The message of the movie, and a message of a lot of conservative Christian theology, is that severe pain and suffering are not foreign to Christian faith, but central.

    Of course, this is an interpretation of Jesus life, death and resurrection that I reject. It is also an interpretation that I believe has done a lot of harm through the centuries. I think it is impossible, yes, impossible, if you read the Gospels, to make the case that God wanted Jesus tortured for the sins of humanity. But that is an interpretation that has sometimes been made in the history of Christianity and the social and political fallout has been, and is today, that torture is OK, maybe even more than OK. This Pew finding may just be another in a long line of horrible historical examples of that.

    ——–

    Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is the former president of the Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Where Did the Abortion Reduction Agenda Come From? February 19, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Women.
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Frederick Clarkson on February 16, 2009

www.rhrealitycheck.org

You could say this is a story about the old adage: the more things change, the more they stay the same.  

The rise of the concept of “abortion reduction” as a worthy policy goal, currently being promoted by some in the Democratic Party, has generally tracked the rise of the Party’s fortunes of the over the past few years and the accompanying decline in the likelihood that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade. The Democrats’ ascent, and Roe‘s resilience, has been a tough reality for antiabortion leaders to face, but they are not out of strategic and tactical options. Politics is the art of the possible.   

Abortion reduction, currently being sold as the “common ground” between the pro-choice and anti-abortion camps, has its roots in anti-abortion strategy developed over several months in 1996 by a coalition of 45 anti-abortion and religious right leaders. The America We Seek: A Statement of Pro-Life Principle and Concern was also signed by several Democratic-leaning activists, most significantly, former Governor Robert Casey Sr. of Pennsylvania (father of the current Senator Robert Casey Jr.).  The manifesto was published the May 1996 issue of the flagship journal of Catholic neoconservatism, First Things (edited by the late John Richard Neuhaus); in The National Review; and on the web site of Priests for Life, headed by the militant Fr. Frank Pavone.  The source of the opportunity to reduce abortions, they found, resided in the holdings of 1992 Supreme Court decision in Casey v. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania, named for the former governor.   

Among the forty-five were also some of the leading proponents of abortion reduction ideas now ascendant in Democratic Party circles: Jim Wallis of Sojourners; Professor David Gushee, then of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action.   

“Now, as pro-life leaders and scholars,” they declared, “we want to propose a program of action…”  And the core of that program was abortion reduction by erecting barriers to access to abortion “in all 50 states” and creating incentives for women to carry unplanned pregnancies to term.   

While the signers agreed that the regulations upheld in the Casey decision do “do not afford any direct legal protection to the unborn child,” they emphasized that “experience has shown that such regulations–genuine informed consent, waiting periods, parental notification--reduce abortions in a locality, especially when coupled with positive efforts to promote alternatives to abortion and service to women in crisis.” [Emphasis added] 

Abortion Reduction and Criminalization

This was, however, cast in the context of wider goal of criminalization. Having declared abortion to be among other things, child killing, an act of “lethal violence,” and a usurpation of the rule of law, the signatories added: “Any criminal sanctions considered in such legislation [then being considered by Congress] should fall upon abortionists, not upon women in crisis.” They further urged Congress to “recognize the unborn child as a human person entitled to the protection of the Constitution.”   

They believed that “a broad-based legal and political strategy is essential,” and therefore, found “no contradiction between a rigorous adherence to our ultimate goal and the pursuit of reforms that advance us toward that goal.”    

“Legal reforms that fall short of our goal,” they concluded, “but which help move us toward it, save lives and aid in the process of moral and cultural renewal.”  

Other prominent signatories, led by host George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (the official biographer of Pope John Paul II) included Catholic legal scholar Robert P. George of Princeton; Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon, (whom George W. Bush would appoint as Ambassador to the Vatican), James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Ralph Reed of the then-powerful Christian Coalition, law professor Michael W. McConnell of the University of Chicago; Beverly LaHaye of Concerned Women for America; William Kristol then of the Project for the Republican Future, now a contributor to Fox News, and Jean Bethke Elshtain, a political philosopher at the University of Chicago, and currently a co-chair of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.  

While this top drawer coalition of antiabortion leaders of the day did not mention sexuality education and contraception as legitimate means of preventing unwanted pregnancies (and thus “abortion reduction”), at least three of them went on to play prominent roles in the development of the “common ground” agenda on abortion reduction recently announced by the Democratic Party-aligned DC think tanks, Faith in Public Life and Third Way, in their document Come Let Us Reason Together:  A Governing Agenda to End the Culture Wars (CLURT).  This document highlighted sexuality education (with an emphasis on abstinence), access to contraception, and economic supports for adoption, as areas of “common ground” on abortion.  

CLURT did not mention erecting further barriers of the sort legitimized in the Casey decision. Nor did it address the need to provide for better access to abortion care, which unavailable in 87% of the counties in the United States, according to the Guttmacher Institute.  

Among the seven principal authors of CLURT, Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action also signed the 1996 antiabortion manifesto; while David Gushee, now of Mercer University states in his curriculum vitae that he “participated in the drafting” of the document.   Jim Wallis of Sojourners signed both.   

“Public policy has its limits,” Gushee declared at the January 15th press conference announcing CLURT. “We call for abortion reduction. I support this because I believe that one of the things that must not be done to human beings is to abort them; and yet those facing crisis pregnancies need help to create the conditions in which they can sustain and protect the lives for which they are now responsible.”   

Abortion Reduction Reductionism 

What is remarkable is how one of the signature antiabortion tactics of the 1990s has now migrated into the Democratic Party under the guise of offering “common ground.”  Abortion reduction was once a matter of preventing people from exercising their right to receive and to provide abortion care. Now a few politically savvy Protestant evangelicals and an apparently growing number of Democrats pols are willing to redefine historic ideas of the role of sexuality education and family planning in terms of abortion reduction.  

Used in this way, along with economic supports for pregnancy and adoption, pro-choice politicians including President Obama use the term and its close variants to show pro-lifers that they can better reduce the number of abortions than anti-choice Republicans.  

It is clever politics. But there is more to it. There are profound differences just underneath the surface of a seemingly minor tug of war over semantics. These differences are blurred by the invocation of common ground language. The difference was cast in sharp relief last year during negotiations over the wording of the Democratic Party Platform position on abortion.  Prolife evangelicals led by Jim Wallis (and CLURT co-author Joel Hunter) disagreed with pro-choice leaders over language that sought to reduce the need for abortion as distinct from the number of abortions.  In the end, the platform unambiguously supported Roe and recognized the need for abortion. In exchange, the platform also called for greater support for women who seek to carry their pregnancies to term and for the adoption option. But the platform avoided the term “abortion reduction.”  

But have Gushee, Wallis and Sider changed their views? In 1996 they believed that there is never a “need” for abortion; rejected the idea that it is ever a moral choice; and unequivocally stated that criminalization was a goal of antiabortion legislation — even while they also pursued abortion reduction tactics under the rubric of Casey. Today, they face different political circumstances and the Democrats have made some accommodations in the platform that will likely be implemented in legislation.  

The CLURT statement joins a few pro-choice think tankers with a few prominent moderate evangelicals in agreeing on broad principles related to sexuality education and family planning. But that’s it. Why then, is it important?  

It is important because of the prominence of these groups in seeking to define what a faith-based, common ground “governing agenda” might look like.  But it is significant also because of what it does and what it does not do. 

First, in its summary language, CLURT seeks to have it both ways, papering over vital differences with the slight of hand of language. 

“Reducing abortions (reducing abortion through reducing unintended pregnancies, supporting pregnant women, and increasing support for adoption)” [Bolding in the original]  

Second, the pro-choice agenda has always been about expanding access to abortion such that everyone who needs one can get one; and emphasizing that there should be comprehensive sex ed and access to contraception so that women and girls can control their own reproductive future and will not have to make the choice between termination and carrying a pregnancy to term. But unlike the Democratic Platform, there is nothing in the CLURT statement that acknowledges the right to or need for abortion — let alone that universal access is a dream that is far from realized. 

Third, there is nothing in the CLURT document that suggests that Gushee, Wallis and Sider and their ant-iabortion allies will not pursue Casey-based policies that erect obstacles to abortion in the name of reduction, in those states where it is politically possible to do so.  

That these leaders were able to agree in principle on sexuality education and family planning is no small thing. But it is not the same thing as finding common ground on abortion nor does it reflect a commitment to reducing barriers to abortion or in any way increasing access.  

The concept of “abortion reduction” as a public policy has come a long way since 1996, and at the same time, no distance at all.

By the Way: A Radically Conservative “Faith-Based Initiative” February 7, 2009

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By Randall Balmer
February 7, 2009

www.religiousdispatches.org, February 7, 2009
Obama’s Bush-era strategy of using taxpayer money for faith-based social services not only risks infusing politics into religion, but also denies religious groups their traditional responsibility for caring for those in need—with their own funds.

President Barack Obama’s plan to more or less continue the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, an innovation of the George W. Bush years, represents a gesture of confidence in the ameliorative efforts of religious groups, as well as a political sop to evangelicals and other religious voters. But it also flirts dangerously with Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation” between church and state, opening the possibility for all sorts of First Amendment mischief.

It also represents a failure of imagination.

On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong or unconstitutional about using taxpayer money for “faith-based initiatives.” The rationale behind the program was that religious organizations are better equipped to deliver goods and services than government bureaucrats. No argument there. But the experience of the past eight years also suggests that the disbursement of taxpayer funds can become politicized—perhaps inevitably so.

What happens, for instance, when a church or other religious group receives government money for the dispensing of services, builds those funds into its budget, and then fails to deliver politically? The withdrawal of those funds—or even the threat of withholding the funds—then becomes a powerful tool for ensuring that a pastor, for example, will deliver a bloc of votes for the regnant political party.

That sort of abuse can be monitored, but it requires constant vigilance. And I find it encouraging that Obama has appointed proven church-state watchdogs like Melissa Rogers, formerly of the Baptist Joint Committee, to the advisory panel for the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. They will have their hands full to ensure that the system is not abused.

But the real sadness here is a failure of imagination on the part of the new president, whose stock has never been higher. Rather than using taxpayer funds for the dispensing of social services, the president should seize this moment to offer a new vision for social amelioration, one that is, at the same time, very old.

Historically, churches and other religious groups assumed responsibility for social welfare. To cite just one example, in almost any midsized or larger city in America you will find hospitals that still carry the denominational names of their founders: Iowa Methodist Hospital, Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, various Baptist hospitals and so on. “Mercy” was a typical name for Roman Catholic hospitals. This reflected the sense of responsibility that religious groups felt for those who were in need.

When the social ills of the Great Depression overwhelmed religious groups, the government—of necessity—stepped in, thereby relieving religious groups of that responsibility. Sadly, churches and other religious institutions never reassumed that role in society.

What if the new president stepped forward and challenged religious groups to come up with a plan to reassert their traditional roles in social amelioration: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for those Jesus called “the least of these”? (I want to bracket health care out of this equation; those issues are far too large and intractable.) Moreover, these religious groups should reassume these responsibilities using their own funds, not taxpayer money.

The rationale behind this proposal is that religious groups, by virtue of their tax-exempt status, already receive what amounts to massive subsidies from the federal, state, and local governments. By not paying corporate or state or property taxes, these tax-exempt organizations are already provided with massive subsidies, money that must come from either a diminution of services or increased taxes from other sources.

So Obama’s challenge to religious groups across the nation would look something like this: Devise a plan to address the social needs of this nation using your own funds, not taxpayer money. Such a plan, of course, would have to be comprehensive and nondiscriminatory. And that part of the federal budget now allocated for such services would be reduced accordingly.

Imagine the effect! Rather than using their funds to stock clergy pension funds or to build still more megachurches and parking lots, churches and other religious groups would redirect their efforts toward nobler ends. And maybe, in so doing, they would rediscover their true mission.

Such a plan would avoid entirely the brambles of First Amendment issues. And it would indeed make for a true “faith-based” initiative, one infinitely superior to the program now in place.

Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest, is professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University, and a visiting professor at Yale Divinity School. He is currently on sabbatical and teaching at Dartmouth College. His most recent book, God in the White House: A History: How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush, was released by HarperOne in January 2008.

Shhh… Don’t Speak of Abortion: Roe v. Wade at Thirty-Six January 23, 2009

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Frederick Clarkson
January 21, 2009, www.religiondispatches.org  

Recent efforts to reach a compromise between evangelicals and liberals have managed to avoid the discussion of abortion altogether. The fact remains: according to many clergy representing millions of Americans of all faiths and denominations, the moral reality of women’s lives is that sometimes abortion is the best moral choice.

Rev. Anne C. Fowler, Rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, told me a story about a Catholic nun who once told her that while she didn’t know about the morality of abortion, if we were to have the right, then everyone should have access.

The moral of Rev. Fowler’s story cuts to the core of the politics of abortion in America. Though nominally a right under Roe vs. Wade, decided thirty-six years ago today, the reality is that there are many obstacles—some insurmountable—to both receiving and providing abortion care in the United States. And yet, strange as it may seem, there remains a steady silence about abortion which, according to pro-choice leaders, is party due to the stigmatization of abortion. The result is that much of what passes for discussion is really just an elaborate avoidance of the subject.

The latest high profile exhibition of this avoidance is the “Governing Agenda” recently published by two Democratic Party-aligned Washington, DC-based think tanks, Third Way and Faith in Public Life. This document—two years in the making, and endorsed by a variety of prominent evangelicals—and the process by which it came into being have been met with both accolades and tough criticism. Intriguingly, the document does not actually discuss abortion, that most controversial of subjects on which it claims to have found common ground.

Is the Agenda Broader or Narrower?

In a letter to President Obama and Congressional leaders, the principal authors of the “Governing Agenda” summarized their goal as “Reducing abortions through common ground policies.” They explained, “We agree on a goal of reducing abortions in America through policies that address the circumstances that lead to abortion: preventing unintended pregnancies, supporting pregnant women and new families, and increasing support for adoption.” The method, most agree, is a good one. It advocates the use of comprehensive, age-appropriate, medically accurate sexuality education with an emphasis on abstinence as a way of reducing unintended pregnancies.

 

But pro-choice leaders contacted by Religion Dispatches feel not only left out of the conversation, but see in the “Governing Agenda” a product that continues to stigmatize abortion and does nothing to further the conversations that are most needed.

The notion of “abortion reduction,” has been a cornerstone of the so-called “broader agenda” of the conservative evangelicals promoted by Third Way and Faith in Public Life. But Rev. Fowler sees a certain “political expediency” at work:

 

Abortion reduction is not a position that recognizes the reality of many women’s lives. I mean we talk about the incarnation. And the incarnate reality, the moral reality of women’s lives is that sometimes abortion is the best moral choice.

 

Fowler, who has been a longtime leader in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and has served on the board of Planned Parenthood adds that, “what is missing from this document is any acknowledgment of women’s moral agency and their capacity to make honorable sacred decisions for the welfare of their families and for themselves.”

”What is missing from this document,” she continued, “is recognition of the sacredness of all life, and a moral tradition that allows us to weigh relative values, of potential life versus a lived life in its full spiritual complexity.”

”What is missing from this document is any invitation for faith leaders, both pro-choice and pro-life with whom we disagree, to talk about abortion—and other choices involving women’s reproductive health and to model that dialogue to the country.”

The idea that abortion is sometimes the best moral choice is the view of many major religious institutions representing tens of millions of American Christians, Jews, Unitarians, and others. Many of these institutions are represented in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), including major mainline Protestant denominations (such as the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ), the major bodies of American Judaism, and such organizations as the YWCA.

Rev. Carlton Veazey, President of RCRC and a member of RD’s advisory council, wrote recently in commemoration of the 36th anniversary of Roe: “I call on the faithful to protect the lives of women and children by fighting to ensure that reproductive health care is accessible and that abortion services are safe, legal, and available.”

“The reality,” he continued, “is that the cycle of poverty often revolves around unintended and unwanted pregnancy. A woman living in poverty is four times as likely to have an unintended pregnancy and five times as likely to have an unintended birth as her higher-income counterpart. The link between family planning and overcoming poverty is well established.”

The Stigma

Melanie Zurek, executive director of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Abortion Access Project also hears the silence that surrounds abortion. While she also welcomes the possibility of expanding access to excellent sexuality education, she says that “abortion needs to be part of the conversation.” But she avers that it is also necessary to “remove the stigma against abortion that prevents that conversation from taking place.”

But the notion of “abortion reduction” as presented by Third Way, Faith in Public Life, and their evangelical allies, presumes that abortion is analogous to a dread disease, the incidence of which must be “reduced.” This recasting of the language of anti-abortion moralism into something akin to epidemiology stands in sharp contrast to the mainstream religious traditions of tens of millions of American Christians, Jews, Unitarians, and others. Within these traditions, abortion is often a moral choice, and in any case, women are fully capable of deciding when and under what circumstances to make that choice, without direction from the state or other uninvited agencies. In short, abortion reduction is a term that is imbued with the very stigma that Fowler and Zurek say is a principal obstacle to engaging in a coherent conversation, even in disagreement.

Zurek notes that the prevention strategies involving education and access to contraception would take time to work; and that fully half of all pregnancies are unintended and take place disproportionately among poor women. “There are both economic and health consequences to delays in abortion care,” she warns. “One of the consequences of barriers and delays is that the longer they wait, the more complicated and expensive a procedure it becomes.”

Regarding the “Governing Agenda” of Third Way and Faith in Public Life, however, she notes that “it is not only a matter of having the prevention work and catching up to the reality of unintended pregnancies. We know from the experience of other countries with terrific sexuality education and available contraception that there will always be a need for abortion care.”

In addition to the silence in the political arena, Zurek points to the silence in the health care system, where abortion is not integrated into the training of health care professionals “because it is so stigmatized,” she says. This same culture of stigmatization causes many patients to avoid even talking with their regular physicians about it, preferring instead “specialized settings” like Planned Parenthood.

As a result, access to abortion care is a significant problem of health care delivery in the United States. A major study by the Guttmacher Institute found that some 87% of US counties lack a single abortion provider. The study notes a long-term decline in the rate of abortion in the United States, but could not determine whether this was because of increased access to and use of contraception, or due to the lack of access to abortion providers. And yet, even of the competing plans to reform the health care system currently being debated, and of the many ideas being discussed, Zurek says: “I don’t know of any agenda that proposes to better integrate abortion into the health care system.”

And of course, since the abortion-reduction agenda is an explicitly anti-abortion tactic, albeit not one embraced by all sectors of the anti-abortion movement, it stands to reason that an increased focus on prevention and adoption would likely eclipse the need for improved access to abortion as part of a society-wide program of age-appropriate, medically-accurate sex education and access to family planning services.

Zurek is also concerned that the abortion-reduction agenda overlooks the many barriers to abortion faced, particularly, by low-income women and those from rural areas. An additional set of barriers are what she describes as politically-motivated regulations. She offers, by way of example, the laws in some states that require a physician to mention a link between breast cancer and abortion; a link, she notes, “that has been disproved on numerous occasions by science.”

The Abortion Access Project has several initiatives targeting issues of access due to the long, sometimes vast, distances between abortion providers faced by women in rural areas, as well as those issues faced by low-income women.

“Women in places such as Mississippi, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Arkansas share a troubling commonality,” AAP reports on its Web site. “Because of where they live, these women face daunting barriers to get safe abortion care if and when they need it. These least-access states have the most restrictive laws and the fewest number of abortion providers. These states also share other traits: low levels of contraceptive care, high rates of poverty, and strong anti-abortion cultures. With little help to prevent pregnancy, few financial resources to help pay for abortion care, and the threat of isolation or even harassment within her community, the health and autonomy of a woman living in one of these states is at risk.”

Pro-choice Religious Leaders find their Voice

While the abortion-reduction agenda has gained considerable currency in political circles in both parties, pro-choice religious leaders are increasingly finding their voice and are seeking to be heard.

Rev. Debra Haffner, Director of the Westport, Connecticut-based Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, declared in a recent blog post that “[it is] false advertising to promote this report as evangelical and progressive religious leaders coming together.”

 

”The fact is,” she continued, “that this is a report by, in the words of U.S. News and World Report, a ‘coalition of prominent evangelical leaders.’ In that it expands their previous call for abortion reduction to include for the first time a call for comprehensive sexuality education and family planning services, it’s an important step forward.” She observes, however, in questioning the inclusiveness of the project, that four out of the five speakers on the press conference call announcing the Governing Agenda, “identified themselves as pro-life.”

Haffner maintains “that one cannot label oneself progressive without a commitment to sexual justice” and that she “would be delighted to help these two organizations bring truly progressive religious leaders to the table to discuss these issues. But until we’re invited, expect us to continue to speak out.”

Frederick Clarkson’s writing about about politics and religion has appeared in magazines and newspapers from Mother Jones, Conscience and Church & State, to The Village Voice and The Christian Science Monitor for 25 years. He is the editor of Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America, (Ig Publishing 2008), and co-founder of the group blog Talk to Action.

New Book Reveals How Faith is Like a Covert Operation for the Bush Family January 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in George W. Bush, Religion.
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bush-family

The Bush family (photo: www.stillman.org)

Frederick Clarkson
January 4, 2009

www.religiondispatches.org

A brand new investigation of the Bush family reveals a religious narrative that strays from the official story circulated to supporters and the press. How many conversions did George W. actually have and why? How did a blue-blooded Episcopalian family come to represent the evangelicals of America?

Below is an addendum to today’s feature “New Book Reveals How Faith is Like a Covert Operation for the Bush Family”. The book discussed is Russ Baker’s: Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, the Powerful Forces that Put it in the White House, and what Their Influence Means for America (Bloomsbury Press, 2008)

Baker has unearthed many startling facts about the careers of Bush 41 and Bush 43. He also draws some head turning conclusions about some of the key figures in both the Watergate scandal and the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the relationship of Poppy Bush to both events. But before we summarize some of the book’s major disclosures, it is worth discussing the elephant in the room (For a full analysis of the revelations regarding the religious life of the Bushes, see today’s feature: ).

Investigative works are often labeled “conspiracy theories.” This term is generally used to suggest that whatever an author has learned, he or she may be a bit unhinged, and we may therefore not take the material seriously. And we are safe to go about our business as usual. While there are people and work, no matter how well intentioned to which the label might fairly apply, the label is also used by many of us to dismiss information and analyses that make us uncomfortable even when they legitimately push the boundaries of our understanding of modern politics, business and government. But as we address our own discomfort in the face of such material, we need to remind ourselves that investigative journalism discomfits the author as well. Journalists like Baker are constantly checking and cross checking, making sure that disturbing information is in fact so. Even more awkward are the disturbing questions that the journalist cannot answer, but are themselves so well founded that they must be raised. Conspiracy theorists tend to take the opposite tack. Information is shaped or interpreted to conform to predetermined and often fevered conclusions, while countervailing information is downplayed or ignored.

Baker is a well-respected journalist who has written for major newspapers and magazines and has served as a contributing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review. His effort to understand the lives of the presidents Bush unexpectedly led him to reexamine Watergate and the Kennedy assassination and other murky episodes of recent American history, “documenting the secrets that the House of Bush has long sought to obscure.”

“I’ll admit it,” Baker writes in his conclusion. “Fear of being so labeled has haunted me throughout this work. It’s been an internal censor that I’ve had to resist again and again. And also an external one, as friends within the journalistic establishment reviewed my findings, found them both credible and highly disturbing, and yet urged me to stay away from them for my own good. I began to realize that I was experiencing the very thing the process is designed to induce. The boundaries of permissible thought are staked out and enforced. We accept the conventional narratives because they are repeated and approved, while conflicting ones are scorned. Isn’t this how authoritarian regimes work? They get inside your mind so that overt repression becomes less necessary.”

“Whose interests does this serve?” he continues. “As this book demonstrates, the deck has long been and continues to be, stacked on behalf of big money players, especially those in commodities and natural resources *from gold to oil *and those who finance the extraction of these materials. The defense industry, and the aligned growth of business of “intelligence,” provide muscle. On a lower level is an army of enablers*the campaign functionaries, the PR people, the lawyers. This was the Bush enterprise. The Bushes embodied it as a dynasty, but it is larger than them, and will prove more enduring.”

Here are some of the major revelations of the book:

*George H. W. (“Poppy”) Bush, and many of his closest associates throughout his adult life were deeply and secretly enmeshed in covert intelligence activities. He has gone to great lengths to conceal many of his activities, no matter how mundane, and engaged in overt acts of misdirection. Bush’s extensive intelligence ties prior to his becoming CIA Director in the Ford administration, and going back to World War II, have not been previously reported. Baker calls this Bush’s “double life.”

*Poppy Bush was deeply involved with an array of CIA covert operators, Bay of Pigs veterans and rightwing Texas oil industry characters linked to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Baker shows that Bush was actually in Dallas on November 21, 1963 and was probably there on the day of the assassination as well. Baker draws no particular conclusions from the fact, except to document, describe and underscore the great lengths he went to conceal the fact.

*Baker asserts that, much to his own surprise, Richard Nixon while no innocent, was not the instigator of the Watergate crimes and the cover-up, but appears to have been set-up. What’s more, some of the seeming good guys, were not, and much of what seemed to be, was not as it seemed. Among those he implicates in the set-up are Poppy Bush and perhaps most remarkably, John Dean, the former White House counsel who became best known as the key whistleblower.

*In a related point, Baker notes that Nixon suspected the CIA of infiltrating his White House staff. Nixon recognized the Watergate burglars from his own days supervising covert operations as Vice President in the Eisenhower administration, and knew that their bosses were seasoned CIA hardliners with ties to the Bay of Pigs invasion and events linked to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Nixon battled the CIA for files on what he called the “Bay of Pigs thing,” but never could get access to them. (To borrow from Woody Allen, just because Nixon was paranoid, doesn’t mean they were not out to get him.)

*Baker questions the integrity and independence of famed Watergate reporter Bob Woodward of the Washington Post who he reports had been recommended for his job by senior Nixon White House officials who had known him when he worked in Naval intelligence prior to his becoming a reporter. In that capacity, which Woodward denies he held, he was a frequent visitor to the White House.

*Baker details the Bush family’s personal, political and business connections to the Saudi royal family; and to apparent international slush funds and money laundering schemes. Much of this is told in such a matter of fact fashion that it is easy to lose sight of the significance of many of the individual facts.

Regarding George W. Bush, in addition to the manufacture of the legend his conversion story (see main story) the book covers familiar turf regarding how strings were pulled to get George W. Bush into the “Champagne Unit” of the Texas Air National Guard in order to avoid military service that might send him to Vietnam; how he failed to fulfill that service; and how his failure was systematically covered-up and politically defused. Also covered are the allegations of how W. was an abuser of illegal drugs in addition to his apparently drinking problems as a young man.

One important story from W.’s past that has long been rumored is confirmed in this book. It is a story that perhaps as much as his going AWOL from the National Guard and orchestrating a cover-up could have derailed his political career.

And that story is the illegal abortion he obtained for a girlfriend in Texas before Roe v. Wade. This is substantiated in part by four reporters whose stories were not published, but who shared their “experiences and detailed source notes” and even tapes with him. Two Bush pals took charge of arranging the abortion go to the hospital and who went to the hospital to inform her that he would not see her again. All of the names are named. Certainly as an candidate who was seeking to appeal to conservative evangelical, anti-abortion constituencies, this would have been a high hurdle to overcome.

“As president,” Baker concludes, “Bush promulgated tough new policies that withheld U.S. funds not only to programs and countries that permitted abortions, but even to those that advocated contraception as opposed to abstinence. Moreover, his appointments to the Supreme Court put the panel on the verge of reversing Roe v. Wade. Like his insistence on long prison sentences for first time drug offenders and his support for military action, his own behavior in regard to sexual responsibility and abortion could be considered relevant *and revealing.” Such journalistic understatement is typical of Baker’s narrative, even while reporting potentially politically explosive material.

Perhaps the revelation that would be most difficult for readers will not be anything about the Bush family, or Watergate or the Kennedy assassination, or any of the figures in this nearly 500 page book and 1000-plus footnotes. “These revelations about the Bushes,” Baker writes, “lead in turn to an even more disturbing truth about the country itself. It’s not just that such a clan could occupy the presidency or vice presidency for twenty of the past twenty-eight years and remain essentially unknown. It’s that the methods of stealth and manipulation that powered their rise reflect a deeper ill: the American public’s increasingly tenuous hold upon the levers of its own democracy.”

Frederick Clarkson’s writing about about politics and religion has appeared in magazines and newspapers from Mother Jones, Conscience and Church & State, to The Village Voice and The Christian Science Monitor for 25 years. He is the editor of Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America, (Ig Publishing 2008), and co-founder of the group blog, Talk to Action.

Faith has always been a special commodity for politicians. It is not only essential to have or appear to have it, but that it be of the right variety—especially if you’re thinking of running for president. For nearly two centuries, you could be pretty much any religion you wanted, as long as it was mainline Protestant. John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, who identified respectively as Roman Catholic and Quaker, stretched the definition of acceptable presidential faith, followed soon after by Jimmy Carter, the first evangelical Christian president, whose political rise prefigured and catalyzed the wider engagement of conservative evangelicals in politics and, as it happened, the rise of the religious right.

These social and political changes have posed distinct challenges for pols seeking to navigate the changes in American religious life and the successes of a culture of religious pluralism. This was particularly so for the patrician Bush family, whose challenges in this arena are a familiar part of their political tale. In addition, however, there remain astounding hidden dimensions involving the skills of “spy craft” acquired in a lifetime of covert intelligence activities by George H.W. (“Poppy”) Bush and many of his closest associates.

This, according to a just-published investigative history of the Bush political dynasty, Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, the Powerful Forces that Put it in the White House, and what Their Influence Means for America (Bloomsbury Press, 2008). Author Russ Baker shows, among other things, that Poppy Bush’s well-known service as a Navy pilot in World War II was also part of his work for Naval Intelligence. This set the stage for an astonishing double life participating in covert operations of the Central Intelligence Agency throughout his career.

The story of the reinvention of the religious identities of two presidents and their faith-based political strategy could be easily obscured amidst Family of Secrets’ revelations of the Bush family ties to such murky matters as Watergate and the Kennedy assassination (see sidebar). But Baker’s discussion of how a prominent political family applied the tools of the spy trade to their religious transformation and political strategy is a story that merits attention as religious faith becomes an increasingly popular political commodity.

This dimension of the story of the Bush family dynasty emerges in the wake of the growth of the religious right political movement within the GOP in the early ’80s. In this context, what was a starchy, Episcopalian heir to a blue-blooded Yankee political pedigree to do? And what of his reckless, apparently non-religious, playboy son? These were the intertwined questions faced by Vice President Bush and George W. in the 1980s as they planned Poppy Bush’s run for president in 1988—and W.’s political future.

Baker’s chapter titled “The Conversion” features startling revelations that challenge the well-known narratives of the Bush family’s religious history— including the way they crafted a strategy for winning over the religious right, and the creation of a conversion legend for George W. Bush. The purpose of the latter was not only to position him as a religious and political man of his time, but to neutralize the many issues from his past that threatened to undermine his future in politics (and possibly that of his father as well). The plan probably worked far better than anyone could have hoped. “I’m still amazed,” Doug Wead, a key architect of the Bush family’s evangelical outreach strategy told Baker, “how naïve so many journalists are who have covered politics all of their life.”

Poppy and W. Learn Evangelical Lessons

In the early 1980s, Vice President George H.W. Bush faced a political problem of historic proportions. The religious right, driven by politically energized evangelical Christians had altered the political landscape, helping deliver both the 1980 GOP nomination and the presidency to Ronald Reagan. How could the tragically preppy Poppy—a product of Andover and Yale, and secretive former director of the CIA—adjust to the new political reality in order to run for president in 1988? The answer to this question is part of the Bush family’s slow motion transition from old line Yankee blue bloods to good ol’ Red State politicians.

The story begins with Doug Wead, a former Assemblies of God minister turned what Baker terms a “hybrid marketer-author-speaker-historian-religious-political consultant,” who by 1985 had apparently been vetted and groomed to shape the Bush approach to the religious right. “Instinctively,” Baker writes, “he [Poppy Bush] was uncomfortable with pandering to the masses, and uncomfortable too with ascribing deep personal values to himself. For that matter, he didn’t like to reveal much of anything about himself, which was partly patrician reserve and partly perhaps an instinct reinforced by his covert endeavors over the years.”

If Poppy was going to be president, Wead advised, he needed to learn about “these people.” Eventually, Wead drafted a lengthy memo outlining a way for Bush to surf the rising wave of the religious right to the presidency. “This was the beginning,” according to Wead. But not only for their political strategy. Wead felt that Poppy himself had embarked on a spiritual journey, reworking his own spiritual identity even as he studied the evangelical world and developed a political approach for his 1988 presidential campaign.

All of this would be crucial since Representative Jack Kemp (R-NY), a well-known conservative evangelical, and televangelist Pat Robertson also planned to run for the GOP nomination, forcing Bush to compete for the evangelical vote. The three first clashed in the Michigan GOP caucuses, which preceded the usually first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. (Bush ultimately won after a critical court ruling.) But Wead revealed to Baker how the ‘covert operator’ orientation of the Bush camp played out on the ground. “I ran spies in our opponents political camps,” Wead said, including elected Robertson precinct delegates in Michigan. These Bush agents made headlines when they abandoned Robertson and publicly threw their support to Bush. “We helped them win… and totally infiltrate the Robertson campaign,” Wead declared. “I ran them essentially for [Lee] Atwater, but W. knew about them.”

“The spy argot here is suggestive,” Baker writes. “In the Bush milieu, an intelligence mentality spills over not just into politics but even into dealings with the church-based right. Domestic political constituencies,” he warns, “have replaced the citizens of Communist countries as a key target of American elites. They seek to win hearts and minds of devout Christians through quasi-intelligence techniques.”

The layers of secrecy were peeled back on a need-to-know basis over time. Unbeknownst to Wead, for example, the younger Bush had been a voracious consumer of Wead’s memos to Poppy and his top aides years before they met in 1987. W. had also quietly served as Poppy’s key adviser as they absorbed the lessons and formulated their strategic approach to religious identity and outreach.

Under Wead’s tutelage, Poppy would learn the ins and outs of the evangelical world. But Poppy and W. had a problem in common. Baker writes that they knew that W.’s “behavior before becoming governor [of Texas in 1994] his partying, his womanizing, and in particular his military service problems—posed a serious threat to his presidential ambitions. Their solution was to wipe the slate clean—through religious transformation.”

A Tale of Two Conversions

For this to work they needed “a credible conversion experience and a presentable spiritual guide.” And so the legend goes that none other than Billy Graham paid a visit to his longtime friends at the Bush family estate in Kennebunkport, Maine. This led to the famous walk on the beach that George W. Bush says “planted a mustard seed in my soul,” and to his supposed rebirth as an evangelical Christian. That was the accepted narrative in the media and throughout the evangelical world for years. But Graham later told a journalist that he does not remember the encounter; and to another said he does remember a walk on the beach—but not, apparently, any kind of spiritually meaningful conversation. Whatever the facts of the Graham episode, there are actually two conversion stories. The second was deep-sixed in favor of the Graham story, and only emerged after George W. was elected president.

The itinerant evangelist Arthur Blessitt, famous for dragging (mostly on wheels) a 12-foot cross around the world, posted the story on his Web site in October 2001, noting that he met with George W. Bush a full year earlier than Graham. “Mr. George W. Bush,” wrote Blessitt, “a Midland oilman, listened to the radio broadcast and asked one of his friends ‘Can you arrange for me to meet Arthur Blessitt and talk to him about Jesus?’ And so it came to pass.”

Wead, Baker reports, “had warned the Bushes that they had to be careful how they couched their conversion story. It couldn’t be seen as something too radical or too tacky. Preachers who performed stunts with giant crosses would not do. Billy Graham, ‘spiritual counselor to presidents,’ would do perfectly.” And that was the story that speechwriter Karen Hughes wove into Bush’s 1999 campaign book, A Charge to Keep. There was no mention of Blessitt.

Baker writes from the standpoint of a journalist, looking into the murky career and political and financial empire of one of America’s leading political dynasties. George H.W. Bush’s career in the CIA, capped by his brief tenure as director under Ford, reveals a politician comfortable with the workings of covert operations and their political applications sufficient to attain the highest office for himself. That the spiritual rebirth and transformation of his son was so well scripted and staged (even if the facts are in doubt) is unsurprising for a family and network of associates steeped in the geo-political theater of CIA covert operations. Furthermore, as damaging as the tales of W.’s reckless youth were to his campaigns and presidency, the personal redemption story worked at least as powerfully as Bush’s handlers had hoped—for the father as well as the son.

Virginity pledges don’t mean much, study says December 31, 2008

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(Roger’s note: I am reminded of the quote of former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders which goes something like this: “the most unreliable condom is stronger than the vow of abstinence.”  Those moralistic religious idiots who advocate the criminalization of abortion and these ridiculous “virginity pledges” are, in effect, criminally responsible for the damage that is created by such lunacy.  Prior to Roe v. Wade millons of young women suffered and died from infections resulting from back street abortions.  According to the study cited below, young men and women who take the virginity pledge are less likely to protect themselves when they are having sex because they have been prejudiced against the effectiveness of condoms, and therefore suffer from higher rates of STDs and unwanted pregnancies.  Add these numbers to the millions of casualties that have resulted from the coming to power in the US of the un-Christian Christian evangelical right.)

Theresa Tamkins, www.cnnhealth.com, December 30, 2008  

As many as one in eight teens in the United States may take a virginity pledge at some point, vowing to wait until they’re married before having sex. But do such pledges work? Are pledge takers more likely than other teens to delay sexual activity?

A new study looked at the sexual behavior of hundreds of young people, some of whom took virginity pledges.

A new study looked at the sexual behavior of hundreds of young people, some of whom took virginity pledges.

A new study suggests that the answer is no. While teens who take virginity pledges do delay sexual activity until an average age of 21 (compared to about age 17 for the average American teen), the reason for the delay is more likely due to pledge takers’ religious background and conservative views — not the pledge itself.

According to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, pledge takers are as likely to have sex before marriage as other teens who are also religious, but don’t take the pledge. However, pledge takers are less likely than other religious or conservative teens to use condoms or birth control when they do start having sex.

In the new study, Janet Rosenbaum, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, analyzed the large chunk of data used in all the studies that have looked at virginity pledges: the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. In this survey, middle and high school students were asked about their sexual behaviors and opinions starting in 1995-96.

In the analysis, Rosenbaum compared 289 young adults who took virginity pledges in their teens with 645 young people who did not take such a pledge. The researcher was careful to only compare teens who had similar views on religion, birth control and sex in general, regardless of whether or not they took a pledge. Health.com: What should I do if the condom breaks?

Five years after the initial survey the study subjects were aged 20 to 23. Eighty-two percent of pledge takers denied (or forgot) they had ever taken such a vow. Overall pledge takers were no different from non-pledge takers in terms of their premarital sex, anal and oral sexual practices, and their probability of having a sexually transmitted disease.

Both groups lost their virginity at an average age of 21, had about three lifetime partners, and had similar rates of STDs. “And the majority were having premarital sex, over 50 percent,” says Rosenbaum. Overall, roughly 75 percent of pledgers and non-pledgers were sexually active, and about one in five was married. Health.com: Who’s most at risk for STDs?

Unmarried pledgers, however, were less likely than non-pledgers to use birth control (64 percent of pledge takers and 70 percent of non-pledge takers said they used it most of the time) or condoms (42 percent of pledge takers and 54 percent of non-pledge takers said they used them most of the time).

“There’s been some speculation about whether teenagers were substituting oral or anal sex for vaginal sex and I found that wasn’t so,” says Rosenbaum. “But I did uphold a previous finding that they are less likely to use birth control and drastically less likely in fact to use condoms — it’s a ten percentage point difference.”

Rosenbaum is concerned that abstinence-only sex education programs that promote virginity pledges may also promote a negative view of condoms and birth control. The result may be teens and young adults who are less likely than their peers to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies. Health.com: Sex and teens: Test your knowledge

Federal funds for abstinence only education programs have increased from $73 million in 2001 to $204 million in 2008. About 25 states apply for such funds each year to educate teens, says Rosenbaum. Sometimes programs are measured by how many teens take virginity pledges, not whether the teens stick to them, avoid sexually transmitted diseases or unplanned pregnancies, says Rosenbaum.

“Studies find that kids in abstinence-only programs have negative, biased views about whether condoms work,” she says. Since such programs promote abstinence only they tend to give only the disadvantages of birth control, she says. Teens learn condoms don’t protect you completely from human papillomavirus (HPV) and herpes, which is true, but they may not realize that they protect against all the “fluid-based STDs,” she says. “People end up thinking you may as well not bother using birth control or condoms.”

Virginity pledges, along with a six-hour curriculum, were first introduced in 1993 by an evangelical Christian group, and a 1995 survey suggested that 13 percent of teens had taken such a pledge (current survey data are lacking, says Rosenbaum.)

“Virginity pledgers are very different than most U.S. teens — they are obviously more conservative, they have more negative views about sexuality and birth control and so, even if they didn’t take a pledge, these would be teenagers who would be very likely to abstain anyhow,” says Rosenbaum. About 40 percent of the study subjects were born-again Christians, she notes.

The new study does not suggest that virginity pledges are harmful, says Andrew Goldstein, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, because they were not associated with an increase in STDs or unplanned pregnancies. However, they do seem to be “useless,” says Goldstein, who was not involved in the study.

Promoting the pledges gives a “false sense of security and energy could be better spent in education,” he says. “It is time to stop spending money on these useless programs and funnel it into safer-sex counseling.” Health.com: Six things your teen needs to know about sex

When it comes to advice for the parents of teens, Rosenbaum notes that just about every organization, from Focus on the Family to Planned Parenthood, offers a similar message.

“Parents should talk to their kids about their sex. It should not be single conversation, it should be a continued conversation at the moments that are teachable moments,” she says. “Parents tend to hope that schools will take care of it — they can’t, obviously.”

The Truth About Abortion Reduction December 17, 2008

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www.truthout.org

16 December 2008

by: Sarah Posner, The American Prospect

A coalition of evangelicals and Catholics is trying to lay claim to Obama’s reproductive-freedom agenda. Here’s how the debate is likely to play out in 2009.

    A coalition of evangelicals and Catholics who believe they pushed the Democratic Party to adopt the language of “abortion reduction” is gearing up for 2009, preparing to hold Democrats’ feet to the fire to pass abortion-reduction legislation. Because evangelicals and Catholics voted for Barack Obama in slightly higher numbers than they did for John Kerry, some of these religious leaders are threatening that Democratic politicians will lose support if they don’t deliver on abortion-reduction legislation.

    Although this evangelical-Catholic coalition claims to represent “common ground,” its position is not the uniform one among religious leaders and holds less sway in the Obama camp than the coalition claimed during the presidential campaign. Obama has consistently advocated for reproductive choice alongside reducing unintended pregnancies. In 2007, as a senator, he co-sponsored Prevention First, a bill that would fund family planning and comprehensive sex education, and he has continued to advocate for that legislation through his transition Web site. In contrast, the religious abortion-reduction advocates support incentives that they argue will encourage women not to choose abortion, such as economic supports for pregnant women and adoption promotion.

    But a significant number of religious figures share Obama’s position that preventing unintended pregnancies – not stigmatizing abortion – is the best path forward. Three thousand religious leaders have endorsed the Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, which advocates comprehensive sex education and “a faith-based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights, including access to voluntary contraception, abortion, and HIV/STD prevention and treatment.” The Religious Institute on Sexuality, Justice, and Healing, which authored the declaration, has also called on Obama to adopt an approach focused on preventing unintended pregnancies.

    But over the course of the campaign season, as Democrats built on their 2006 ambitions of cracking the Republican hold on evangelical and Catholic voters, the Obama camp succumbed to the temptation to woo more conservative religious leaders with abortion-reduction talk. After a closed-door meeting between Obama and religious leaders in Chicago in June 2008, many of the clergy praised the candidate’s willingness to recognize the moral complexity of abortion, and his openness to discussing abortion reduction.

    The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who was one of the attendees, and whose National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference represents over 18,000 Latino evangelical churches, told the Prospect after the election, “I am so excited that the Democratic Party is looking at abortion reduction as a strategy and objective. That’s unbelievable. That’s the highlight for moral and family values for the past year.”

    But since the election, Obama – who acknowledges his respect for those who oppose abortion – has reiterated his belief in both choice and unintended pregnancy prevention, reaffirming his support for Roe v. Wade and Prevention First. “If [Obama] makes a sharp left here [on abortion and gay marriage], it will be difficult for him to get as many votes from the Hispanic community,” Rodriguez says. “We will be strong and forceful to let the Latino community know that a person who promised to govern from the center is dividing us on wedge issues.”

    Rodriguez’s followers voted for Obama in far larger numbers than did white evangelicals. They are part of what evangelical anti-poverty activist Jim Wallis claims is a new, pivotal voting bloc of nonwhite evangelicals and Catholics who will supplant the religious right. On abortion, the leadership of this new coalition coalesced around a 2007 report issued by the think tank Third Way, Come Let Us Reason Together (CLURT). They are pushing for the Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act, also known as the Ryan-DeLauro bill, named after its chief sponsors, Reps. Tim Ryan, a Democrat from Ohio, and Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut.

    Ryan-DeLauro does contain some provisions for contraception and sex education but also includes a panoply of economic and other provisions meant to reduce abortion, including funding for ultrasound equipment, support for pregnant and parenting college and graduate students, and funding for adoption-assistance programs. Most controversially, the bill includes a provision that would require clinics receiving federal funds to obtain “informed consent” from a woman seeking abortion after providing her with “medically and factually accurate” information on the abortion procedure and “possible risks and complications.” A spokeswoman for DeLauro says she plans to reintroduce the bill in the 111th Congress.

    Ryan, who is anti-choice, campaigned for Obama, convincing Catholic voters that it was kosher to vote for a pro-choice candidate because of Obama’s position on abortion reduction. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, writing 10 days after the election, warned Obama not to “issue the pro-choice executive orders that the abortion-rights movement expects.” That, Dionne threatened, “would be both politically foolish and a breach of faith with the pro-life progressives who came to Obama’s defense during the campaign. They argued that Obama truly was committed to reducing the number of abortions. He shouldn’t turn them into liars.”

    In response to the absence of abortion-reduction language on Obama’s transition Web site, Rachel Laser, director of the Culture Program at Third Way and CLURT’s principal author, said, “What Obama is going to do as president has to be judged based on the totality of what he did in his campaign. He was extremely clear throughout his campaign, in the platform, and in debates, that the approach of the Ryan-DeLauro bill … is his approach.”

    Abortion reduction, framed as a package of incentives to encourage women facing unintended pregnancies to carry them to term, “is the new common ground,” says Wallis, who claims that “people on the edges, on the left, and the right, won’t support it.” Wallis frequently accuses those of not agreeing with his anti-abortion “common ground” of restoking the “culture wars,” but there are other ideas of where the common ground lies. According to Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, “Americans want to move beyond the divisive political attacks that defined the debate over abortion during the Bush era. The public wants lawmakers to find common ground – to focus on policies that improve women’s access to birth control and ensure that teens receive accurate sex education – all of which helps prevent unintended pregnancy and reduce the need for abortion without undermining a woman’s right to choose.”

    Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, said that her organization “does more than any other organization to prevent unintended pregnancies and reduce the need for abortion. One in four women in this country has been to a Planned Parenthood clinic, primarily for prevention and contraception care.”

    Tying economic and social support for pregnant women to abortion reduction places the choice of carrying a pregnancy to term in a position of moral superiority to choosing abortion, said Jessica Arons, director of the Women’s Health and Rights Program at the Center for American Progress and a member of its Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative. “We should be providing supports to women who want to continue their pregnancies to term. We should be doing it because it is the right thing to do for women and their families. We should not be doing it to express a moral preference for the decision that she would make.”

    In emphasizing adoption, Wallis frequently encourages “the Juno option,” referring to the popular movie in which a teenage girl decides not to have an abortion and to give her baby up for adoption.

    The Rev. Debra Haffner, the president of the Religious Institute, who is a sexologist in addition to an ordained minister, expressed frustration with Wallis’ use of the term “Juno option.” Despite studies frequently cited by anti-choice activists that women experience guilt after abortion, “the overwhelming data is most women feel relief,” Haffner said, even as they “never forget.” (A recent John Hopkins University study confirms abortion is not linked with a higher incidence of depression.)

    Haffner points to what she calls evangelicals’ “erotophobia” – fear of sex. “If you just talk about saving the baby, you don’t have to talk about what makes you get pregnant in the first place. That fear of sexuality both personally and institutionally and the desire to control people’s sexuality is playing into this.”

    The prospects for passing any reproductive-health bills in the 111th Congress remain uncertain. In the Senate, two Democrats, Sen. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania and Ben Nelson of Nebraska plan to reintroduce the Pregnant Women’s Support Act, based on a Democrats for Life proposal that includes no contraception provisions and that even CLURT’s authors rejected. And different coalitions of support have formed around the Ryan-DeLauro bill and Prevention First.

    Passing a comprehensive bill like Ryan-DeLauro could be complicated not only by the reluctance of reproductive-rights advocates to get behind it but also by the refusal of some Catholic groups, under pressure from church hierarchy, to endorse a bill that includes contraception. Many evangelicals are similarly loathe to endorse contraception, as evidenced by the forced resignation of Richard Cizik, the chief lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals, after he told

    National Public Radio’s Fresh Air host Terri Gross that he favored government supplying contraception. Despite his departure from the NAE, Cizik remains a powerful de facto spokesperson for the new evangelicals’ coalition. “We’re not Catholics who oppose contraception per se,” he told Gross. “What do you want; do you want an unintended pregnancy that results in abortion? Or do you want to meet a woman’s needs in crisis, who, by better contraception avoids that choice, avoids [the abortion] that we all recognize is morally repugnant; at least it is to me.”

    Calling abortion “morally repugnant” shows that even those claiming to stand on “common ground” can still deploy the incendiary language that the evangelical-Catholic coalition claims to eschew. Common ground is a worthy goal, but the abortion-reduction coalition’s claim to define it is itself an impediment to cooperation with the dominant pro-choice elements of Obama’s coalition.

    ——–

    Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, has covered the religious right for the Prospect, The Nation, The Washington Spectator, AlterNet, and other publications.

Obama: Ratify the Women’s Convention Soon December 5, 2008

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The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is often described as the international bill of rights for women. The United States remains the only democracy that refuses to ratify the treaty. (Photo: WILPF) Friday 05 December 2008, www.truthout.org Nearly 30 years after President Jimmy Carter signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the United States remains the only democracy that refuses to ratify the most significant treaty guaranteeing gender equality. One hundred eighty-five countries, including over 90 percent of members of the United Nations, have ratified CEDAW.

by: Marjorie Cohn, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

 

    US opposition to ratification has been informed not simply by an objective analysis of how CEDAW’s provisions might conflict with US constitutional law. Rather, it reflects the ideological agenda and considerable clout of the religious right and the corporate establishment. Issues of gender equality raise some of the most profound divisions between liberals and conservatives. The right-wing agenda was born again in the Bush administration, which issued numerous directives limiting equality between the sexes. Bush targeted funding for family planning and packed the courts and his administration with anti-choice ideologues.

    The parade of horribles trumpeted by ratification opponents includes predictions that it would force the United States to pass an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Opposition to the ERA in the 1980s was also grounded in religious fundamentalism. There are fears that ratification may lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage and the abolition of single-sex schools, and create a nation of androgynous children.

    Much of the hysteria directed at ratification is based upon false assumptions. One opponent warned: “A messy divorce case shouldn’t end up in the World Court.” This is a reference to the International Court of Justice, which does not even have jurisdiction over marital dissolution cases. An editorial in Hanover, Pennsylvania’s, The Evening Sun predicted CEDAW backers will use the International Criminal Court as an enforcement tool. But, the International Criminal Court only has jurisdiction over war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

    Cecilia Royals of the National Institute of Womanhood said, “This treaty represents a battering ram against free and democratic societies, and particularly against women with traditional values.” The Weekly Standard charged the treaty “mandates complete sex equality in the military, the overthrow of market wages and implementation of ‘comparable-worth’ pay scales, rigid gender quotas, abortion on demand, and federally mandated child care.” Many opposed to ratification seek to protect the large corporations – the backbone of US capitalism – from having to enact equality provisions that would imperil the bottom line.

    Although President Carter signed CEDAW in 1980, the treaty has never been sent to the full US Senate for its advice and consent to ratification. When the president signs a treaty, we are forbidden from taking action inconsistent with the object and purpose of the treaty. But we don’t become a party, with all the treaty obligations, until the president ratifies the treaty with the advice and consent of the Senate.

    After Ronald Reagan became president and the Republicans gained control of the Senate, CEDAW languished in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Neither Reagan nor President George H.W. Bush sought ratification. Reagan made his contempt for CEDAW perfectly clear when he said that once adopted, the treaty would lead to “sex and sexual differences treated as casually and amorally as dogs and other beasts treat them.”

    In 1994, at the behest of the Clinton administration, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings and recommended full Senate approval of CEDAW. Yet committee chairman Jesse Helms continued to hold CEDAW hostage by keeping it from a vote in the Senate. In response to a last-minute campaign against ratification fueled by radio talk shows, a “hold” was placed on the treaty, preventing the full Senate from voting on it.

    Five years later, 10 female members of the House of Representatives, including Nancy Pelosi, delivered to a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (the Committee) a letter supporting ratification, signed by 100 members of Congress. Jesse Helms scolded them with, “Now you please be a lady,” before ordering uniformed officers to “[e]scort them out.”

    When the Committee recommended ratification in 1994, it attached proposed reservations, understandings, and declarations (RUDS) to its recommendation, which purported to qualify the terms of ratification. These qualifications, however, would effectively eviscerate the promise of equality enshrined in the treaty. For example, ratification opponents insist that the First Amendment, particularly freedom of religion, trumps a woman’s right to privacy. CEDAW prohibits discrimination by private as well as public entities. States have defined issues of family planning, child care, marriage, and domestic violence as “private.”

    CEDAW, in effect, mandates that states take affirmative action to ensure equality for women in the areas of employment, education, health care and family planning, economic, political, cultural, social and legal relations. CEDAW specifies that temporary measures taken to achieve equality will not constitute discrimination. The US reservation makes clear that notwithstanding the prescriptions of CEDAW to eliminate gender discrimination by any “person, organization or enterprise,” ratification would not mean that the United States would have to ensure that private entities regulate private conduct.

    Jesse Helms added an understanding to ratification stating that CEDAW does not create a right to abortion, and that abortion should not be used as a method of family planning. This understanding is unnecessary because CEDAW does not even mention abortion. Opposition to reproductive rights has been a hot button issue for the right-wing evangelicals.

    Other reservations specify that the United States undertakes no obligation to enact statutes requiring comparable worth or paid maternity leave. Full-time, year-round, wage-earning American women now earn an average of 75 cents for every dollar earned by men in similar jobs. Women in the United States only enjoy the right to short, unpaid maternity leave, and they can be fired for being late due to pregnancy or maternity-related illness. Women in Canada, Europe and Cuba enjoy greater wage equality and paid maternity rights than women in the United States.

    The recommended RUDs purport to ensure that ratification of CEDAW would not require that the United States adopt greater protections than those afforded under the US Constitution. Yet US equal protection jurisprudence falls short of safeguards women would have under CEDAW. Classifications based on race require strict scrutiny and mandate that the government demonstrate a compelling government interest to support them. But classifications based on gender require only intermediate or skeptical scrutiny. Instead of a compelling government interest, there need only be a substantial relationship between the interest and the classification. The secretary of state even indicated in a 1994 letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States would continue to follow the [lesser] intermediate scrutiny standard after ratification, notwithstanding the treaty’s defining principle prohibiting gender discrimination.

    Moreover, CEDAW defines discrimination against women as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose” of impairing or nullifying women’s human rights and fundamental freedoms. Yet, US constitutional jurisprudence requires that there be proof of both a discriminatory impact and a discriminatory purpose in order to establish an equal protection violation.

    It has been US policy to eschew limitations on speech that reinforce the inferiority of women. Indeed, significant inequality between the sexes persists in the United States in employment and education, and in the economic, political, cultural and criminal system. Women in the United States do not enjoy guarantees of social welfare rights such as food, clothing, housing, health care and decent working conditions. The refusal to enshrine these rights in US law is the reason our government has also failed to ratify the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). See Obama Spells New Hope for Human Rights.

    CEDAW, like the three human rights treaties the United States has ratified – the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Torture Convention, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – contains a declaration that the treaty is non-self-executing, which means that it requires implementing legislation to make it effective. Scholars, including Professor Louis Henkin, maintain that the Senate’s general practice of appending non-self-executing declarations to ratification violates the Supremacy Clause, which mandates that treaties shall be the supreme law of the land. The opposition to ratification stems not only from the belief that the United States should not ratify any treaty with provisions inconsistent with US constitutional jurisprudence; it also demonstrates a refusal to require our government to change or enact laws that comport with the obligations we would undertake by ratifying a treaty.

    Finally, there is a declaration that the United States will only submit on a case-by-case basis to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice to resolve disputes about the interpretation of CEDAW. According to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, RUDs which are incompatible with the object and purpose of a treaty are void. The RUDs proposed by the Senate committee are not only incompatible with the mandate of equality in CEDAW, they shun the primary object of the treaty: non-discrimination against women. Professor Cherif Bassiouni has said: “The Senate’s practice of de facto rewriting treaties, through reservations, declarations, understandings, and provisos, leaves the international credibility of the United States shaken and its reliability as a treaty-negotiating partner with foreign countries in doubt.”

    Yet, in spite of the RUDs, CEDAW continues to languish in committee. Early in 2002, President George W. Bush called CEDAW “generally desirable” and said it “should be approved.” Yet, once the right-wing pressure geared up, Bush backed down. Five months later and shortly before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 12-7 to approve the treaty, Secretary of State Colin Powell reported that the treaty was “complex” and “vague.” Attorney General John Ashcroft, no champion of women’s rights, was charged with “reviewing” CEDAW. Bush never sent CEDAW to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification.

    More than 120 organizations, including AARP, the League of Women Voters, Amnesty International, and the World Federalist Association, support ratification. The city of San Francisco voted in 1998 to adopt the treaty, and its provisions are in force there. City departments have incorporated the treaty into hiring practices as well as budgets for juvenile rehabilitation programs and public transportation.

    President-elect Barack Obama has said he supports ratification of CEDAW as well as the Equal Rights Amendment. He has promised increased enforcement by his Office of Civil Rights to ensure effective protection from sex discrimination. Obama should not hesitate to send CEDAW to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification, without the proposed RUDs that would eviscerate its protections.

    It took nearly 150 years for women to gain the right to vote in this country. There is no principled reason our government should resist full equality for women. The United States must climb on board and ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

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Marjorie Cohn is president of the National Lawyers Guild and a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. She is the author of “Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law.” Her new book, “Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent” (co-authored with Kathleen Gilberd), will be published this winter. Her articles are archived at www.marjoriecohn.com.