"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

My Photo
Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Monster at the Door

As in a classic 1950s sci-fi thriller, our world is imperiled by a terrifying monster. Scientists try to sound the alarm, but politicians ignore the threat until its too late. Indifference ultimately turns into panic.

The monster, of course, is H5N1, the lethal avian flu that first emerged in 1997 in Hong Kong and is now entrenched - in an even more lethal strain - in a half dozen Southeast Asian countries. It has recently killed scores of farmers and poultry workers who have had direct contact with sick birds.

For seven years researchers have warned that H5N1 would eventually fall in love with a human influenza virus in the body of sick person (or possibly a pig) and produce a mutant offspring that could travel at pandemic velocity from human to human.

The media episodically gives page fifteen coverage to these warnings, which, at most, cause a small shudder before readers turn the page to more important stories about Paris Hilton's sex video or John Kerry's war record.

Ironically, in our 'culture of fear' - with Ashcroft and Ridge ceaselessly ranting that the terrorist apocalypse is nigh - the least attention is given to the threat that is truly most threatening.

On 14 September, Dr. Shigeru Omi, the World Health Organization's (WHO) regional director for the western Pacific, tried to shake complacency with an urgent warning that human-to-human transmission of avian flu was a "high possibility."

Two weeks later (28 September), grim-faced Thai officials revealed that the dreaded viral leap had already occurred. A young mother, who had died on 20 September, most likely had contracted virus directly from her dying child.

A crucial threshold has been crossed. Of course, as Thai officials hastened to point out, one isolated case doesn't make a pandemic. Human-to-human avian flu would need a certain critical mass, a minimum initial incidence, before it could begin to decimate the world.

The precedent always invoked to illustrate how this might happen is the 1918-19 influenza pandemic: the single greatest mortality event in human history. In only 24 weeks, a deadly avian flu strain killed from 2 to 5 per cent of humanity (50 to 100 million people - including 675,000 Americans) from the Aleutians to Patagonia.

But some researchers worry that H5N1 is actually an even more deadly threat than H1N1 (the 1918 virus).

First of all, this flu - at least in its bird-to-human form - is a far more vicious killer. In 1918-19, 2.5 per cent of infected Americans died. In contrast, more than 70 per cent of this year's H5N1 cases (30 out of 42) have perished: a lethality comparable to ebola fever and other nightmare emergent diseases.

The Center for Disease Control has estimated that a new pandemic would infect 40 to 100 million Americans. Multiply that by a 70 per cent kill rate and ponder your family's future.

Secondly, as the WHO has repeatedly emphasized, the avian flu seems to have conquered an ecological niche of unprecedented dimension. The rise of factory poultry farming in Asia over the last decade, and the dangerously unhygienic conditions in farms and plants, have created a perfect incubator for the new virus.

Moreover, in the face of desperate WHO efforts to geographically contain the avian pandemic by destroying infected bird populations, the virus has literally taken flight. H5N1 has been identified in dead herons, gulls, egrets, hawks and pigeons. Like West Nile, it has wings with which can cross oceans and potentially infect bird populations everywhere.

In August, furthermore, the Chinese announced that the avian strain had been detected in pigs. This is a particularly ominous development since pigs, susceptible to both bird and human flu, are likely crucibles for genetic 'reassortment' between viruses. Containment seems to have failed.

Thirdly, a new pandemic will use modern transportation. The 1918-19 virus was slowed by ocean-going transport and the isolation of rural society. Its latterday descendant could jet-hop the globe in a week.

Finally, the mega-slums of Asia, Africa and Latin America are like so many lakes of gasoline awaiting the spark of H5N1. Third World urbanization has created unparalleled high-density concentrations of poor people in ill health, ripe for viral slaughter.

What are the frontlines of defense against such an unthinkable catastrophe?

One of the most urgent tasks is to ensure that poultry workers in Southeast Asia receive ordinary flu vaccinations in order to prevent possible mixing of human and avian genes. But current production of seasonal flu vaccine is mostly consigned to the richer countries, and Thai officials have complained that they cannot obtain enough donated doses to conduct a systematic vaccination.

Meanwhile a prototype H5N1 vaccine is under development, but only in quantities to safeguard frontline public health and safety workers in the United States, Europe and Japan.

Pharmaceutal companies to date have not found sufficient profit incentives to increase their output of vaccines and virals. As the New York Times emphasized last Thursday (30 September), there has been a disastrous "mismatch of public health needs and private control of production of vaccines and drugs."

Indeed last April, at a historic WHO-convened summit about global defenses against a possible pandemic, leading experts expressed their deep pessimism about existing preparations.

"The consultation concluded that supplies of vaccine, the first line of defence for preventing high morbidity and mortality, would be grossly inadequate at the start of a pandemic and well into the first wave of international spread."

"Limited production capacity largely concentrated in Europe and North America," the WHO report continues,"would exacerbate the problem of inequitable access."

"Inequitable access,' of course, is a euphemism for the death of a large segment of humanity: a callous triage already prepared in advance of the H5N1 plague by indifference to third world pubic health.

This is the moral context of the deafening silence about the H5N1 threat in the current presidential debate. Although the General Accounting Office recently concluded that "no state is fully prepared to respond to major public health threat," the Kerry camp has failed to sound the tocsin about the Bush administration's lethargic preparations.

Only Ralph Nader appears to be fully awake to the peril. In a letter to President Bush in August, he repeated scientific warnings that the "The Big One" was coming and urged a 'presidential conference on influenza epidemics and pandemics" to confront "the looming threats to the health of millions of people."

It has become fashionable, of course, in some 'progressive' circles to excoriate Nader's presence in the campaign as divisive egoism. But who else is warning us about the Monster at the door?

Mike Davis is the author of Dead Cities: And Other Tales as well as Ecology of Fear, and co-author of Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Never See, among other books.

Copyright © 2004 Mike Davis

Cuba and the Security Doctrine of the United States

Sept. 11, 2001, produced a change on a global scale after which all of us became more insecure.

Exactly one year later, as part of its exercise of global hegemony, the United States made public its new National Security Directive, later known as the Bush Doctrine, whose essential elements are:

1. Preemptive attack, whereby [the U.S.] attributes to itself the right to intervene rapidly and decisively in any country it considers to be a potential threat to its security.

2. Regime change, as a practice to overthrow governments [the U.S.] does not like and to impose, in the name of democracy, regimes that guarantee the interests of the occupying power.

Despite the setbacks in Iraq, the empire has not changed the warlike tone of its discourse and reiterates its adherence to the principles of neoconservative ideology regarding the imposition of "democracy" and the aggressive use abroad of U.S. military might to achieve those goals. The "propagation of democracy" is an essential mission for this school of thought, and regime change is its true outcome.

In the case of Cuba, ever since the Bush administration came to power, constituted by the most right-wing sectors of the United States' political oligarchy, with a predominance of neoconservatives and with the support of the most extremist sectors in Miami, it has been designing the preparation of a "Cuba case" that eventually will serve to justify U.S. military aggression, utilizing for that purpose four principal elements. Cuba as: (1) A violator of human rights; (2) A promoter of terrorism; (3) A threat to the national security of the United States; (4) A factor of destabilization in the region.

(1) The pressures to place Cuba before the International Community as one of the worst violators of human rights are the principal objective of this effort. Directed at this is the obsessive effort to condemn Cuba in Geneva and [Cuba's] inclusion in every report prepared by the State Department, from a condemnation of the alleged lack of religious freedom to the traffic in humans, with an accusation of being a "major destination for sexual tourism."

(2) The yearly inclusion of Cuba on the list made up by the State Department of the countries it designates as terrorist countries. Secretary of State Colin Powell has been most categorical about the meaning of the list: "We have told Cuba, through that report, that those attitudes are not tolerable and that we shall act. We did it in Afghanistan and we did it in Iraq."

(3) The development of a systematic campaign to present the Island as a threat to the National Security of the United States because of an alleged capability to produce biological weapons. Included in this campaign are, among others, the repeated statements by John Bolton, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, none of which have been rejected by the principal spokesmen of the Administration, although they lack any basis.

Bolton, a prominent figure in the neoconservative movement, states that "Cuba's threat to the security of the United States has been underestimated" and in March 2004, while addressing the Committee on International Relations of the House of Representatives, stressed Cuba's specificity because [the island] is 90 miles from the U.S. mainland and because of "its condition as a violator of human rights, being on the list of terrorist countries, and sheltering terrorists." He added that "the Administration believes that Cuba remains a terrorist and biological weapons threat to the United States." State Department officials said those statements were endorsed by the Intelligence Community.

(4) Cuba's ability to destabilize the region, undermine the democratic process and promote anti-Americanism is the most recent accusation that seeks to augment the dossier of "threats" and to attract the support of other governments in the area.

In January of this year, Under Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roger Noriega declared that the United States had information about Cuban complicity in the toppling of governments. Secretary of State Powell supported this view a few days later when he opined that "Cuba has tried to do everything possible to destabilize part of the region." National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice joined in to say that the island continued to stir up trouble in other parts of the region.

Later, in testimony before the House Committee on the Armed Services to evaluate hemispheric security, Gen. James T. Hill of the U.S. Southern Command viewed this as an emerging threat and warned that "some leaders in the region exploit the deep frustrations over the failure of democratic reforms and reinforce their radical positions, fuel anti-American feelings and undermine our interests in the region."

A "regime change" always has been the policy of the United States regarding Cuba. The difference after September 11 is that its actions were carried out covertly in the past, while now it is openly proclaimed as the official policy of a government that already has put it into practice in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In the case of Cuba, the U.S. has gone from the euphemism of supporting a "transition to democracy" to the need to act "in a swift and decisive manner ... to end once and for all all vestiges of the regime and prevent the succession," a process that Washington links directly to the disappearance of Fidel.

Within that framework and following the same political logic, the U.S. government has produced the plan "to assist a Free Cuba," which attempts to give international legitimacy to the right of the United States to overthrow the Cuban government and impose a regime that responds to its hegemonic interests.

The so-called "Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba" prepared a plan aimed at depriving Cuba of its independence and sovereignty through the intensification of economic and political aggression, so as to provoke internal destabilization and propitiate direct military intervention. Its purpose is to revert the Revolution, restore capitalism in a neoliberal form and perpetuate imperial domination over the Cuban nation.

The United States' plots against Cuba have been diverse: economic war, invasion, plots to assassinate Fidel and other leaders, acts of terrorism, constant propaganda aggression, the promulgation of new laws. The current plot attempts to integrate all previous plots and contemplates both the actions to topple the Cuban government and the organization of Cuban society under U.S. intervention.

The report defines how [the Bush administration] envisions the functions of the state, its repressive mechanisms, the political system, social organization, judicial order, the economic structure with its privatization process and what it considers a "key element" for all this: the process to return all properties. All this is directed, regulated and controlled by the occupying power. It's something like a broadened Helms-Burton Law with a recycled Platt Amendment.

Some people have limited the significance of the plan to Bush's election interests in Florida, but it would be a grave error not to assess in all its dimensions what constitutes the plan's main objective: to wrest from the Cuban nation its independence, to deprive it of its sovereignty and to proceed to the annexation of the country.

The President of the United States asked the Commission to identify additional means to put a rapid end to the Cuban regime. When he established the Commission, he said clearly that the U.S. was "not just waiting" for the Cuban government to fall but that it was "already working" toward that end. To do this, the U.S. would, among other actions, set aside $59 million in the next two years. These are the funds assigned openly under Section 109 of the Helms-Burton Law. The funds distributed under Section 115 through the CIA and other agencies are much larger but secret; perhaps we shall learn about them in 20 or more years, when that information is declassified.

Chapter 1. 'Hastening Cuba's transition'

This chapter is devoted to the "regime change" with a policy that is "more proactive, integrated and disciplined to undermine the survival strategies of the Castro regime and contribute to conditions that will ... hasten the dictatorship's end."

The authors point out that in the past the policies toward Cuba were applied independently from each other. The economic war was waged without simultaneously lending all the support needed by the subversion; this, in turn, was not linked to illegal broadcasts and the international work to bring others aboard that policy. For this reason, the authors undertook to articulate a strategy that would integrate the different instruments at their disposal, structured as a "national commitment," to put an end to the Revolution.

This chapter identifies six interrelated tasks whose principal components are the development of subversive activities within the national territory and the strengthening of the "opposition" through its promotion, training and financing, plus a substantial increase in the funds assigned to its agents for those purposes.

Other tasks are to impede the continuity of Cuban leadership as provided by the Constitution, to intensify the blockade to reduce the ingress of hard currency and to develop new methods to carry out illegal broadcasts, to organize a wide campaign of disinformation abroad and to foment the Revolution's international isolation through multilateral efforts.

To achieve its purposes, the government of the United States would appoint a Transition Coordinator at the State Department, who would take charge of the planning and coordination of the actions of the various government actions for the execution of this plan.

The appointment of this proconsul is one of the examples of the expansion of the Helms-Burton Law, which, in Section 203, established the figure of a coordinating official who would be appointed whenever the President of the United States determined that power [in Cuba] was held by a counter-Revolutionary government on a "democratic" stage.

In Iraq, Paul Bremer was appointed as such an official after the military occupation. Cuba's Bremer would act, starting now, to put and end to the Revolution and to direct the ensuing process.

The immediate deployment of a military plane to perform illegal broadcasts constitutes one of the most provocative and dangerous actions. A measure like this has previously been taken only during war conditions and represents a clear violation of Cuban sovereignty, of international law and of the rules of the International Telecommunications Union.

A notable aspect of the presidential plan is the direct attack on the Cuban family through further restrictions on the trips by émigrés to their country of origin and the remittance of economic aid to their relatives. In addition, [the plan] assumes the right to define what constitutes a family and what doesn't, excluding therefrom any aunts, uncles, cousins and other "distant" relatives.

Chapter 2. 'Meeting Basic Human Needs in the Areas of Health, Education, Housing and Human Services'

Beginning with this chapter, the report devotes itself entirely to outline the measures the U.S. government would take after it begins to administer the colony, under occupation, and implement a capitalist restoration.

Cuba is living proof of how much can be achieved in health care, education and social welfare, despite the material limitations caused by the United States' criminal blockade. Cubans enjoy access, equally and freely, to assistance in these fields, an assistance that would be a dream to most Third World countries and to tens of millions of people in the United States itself.

According to the plan designed [by the U.S.], health and education services would be privatized and would stop being universal and free. In the field of health, the plan contemplates the possibility that some private enterprises and charitable institutions help pay part of the expenses for the "basic" care of people who can't afford it. In the case of education, the plan would reopen the old, elitist schools and facilitate the development of private education and its spread to all levels of education. It would also establish that public education must be paid for.

This chapter proposes the elimination of the Social Security system, because "the Cuban economy and government budget after transition may not be able to sustain the level of unearned benefits and the lax requirements for eligibility that the communist system permitted."

The cost of social services would be financed with funds not only from the intervenient government and the contractors who would suck dry the country's resources "but also from ... philanthropic foundations, nonprofit expert organizations and businesses interested in investing in Cuba's future."

Chapter 3. 'Establishing Democratic Institutions, Respect for Human Rights, Rule of Law, and National Justice and Reconciliation'

This is one of the most all-encompassing chapters in the project of domination, involving the police, the army, the government (all the way to the local level), the judicial system, the Parliament, political parties, labor unions, the churches and religious organizations, civic and professional associations. Nothing escapes the empire's foresight.

Anticipating the repudiation the proposed measures would elicit, the authors assign the organization of repression prominence above all other matters. Thus, they define as "an immediate priority" the organization by the U.S. government of "a professional police force." They consider this to be the "key variable" upon which "will depend, more than any other, the possibility of a regime change."

The administrative power of the new colony intends to change laws and regulations, appoint judges, design an electoral system and finally write a new Constitution that will consecrates the rights of the occupier and its puppet government.

Chapter 4. 'Establishing the Core Institutions of a Free Economy'

The reestablishment of private property rights is conceived in the report as "one of the biggest challenges of the transition period," especially the process of property restitution, which [the authors] consider to be "extremely complex," particularly as it relates to residential property, which they describe as a "Gordian Knot."

Among the claimants are included not only U.S. citizens but also the former Cuban exploiters who later acquired U.S. citizenship, even those who remain [in the U.S.] as residents or citizens of other countries.

The restitution of properties is presented as the "key element" to initiate an economic recovery, because, according to the report, "potential investors will be reluctant to get involved in Cuba as long as questions of ownership, property rights and restitution remain unsettled." Consequently, "the longer this issue remains open, the longer it will take for Cuba's financial and economic recovery."

The report defines the various types of property subject to restitution -- commercial, agricultural and residential -- and, based on the experience of the former socialist countries, it proposes "solutions."

To take away the Cubans' homes and land, [its authors] create a U.S. Government Commission on the Restitution of Property Rights (CRPR) so "an expeditious process may be carried out." They admit that "the situation involving residential property will be extremely complex" because it "raises the potential for major political dissatisfaction by a large segment of Cubans," but say the process should be accomplished in less than one year.

They will form a U.S. Government Standing Committee for Economic Reconstruction (SCER) that will be in charge of returning Cuba to a market economy with the neoliberal prescriptions that have caused so much misery in Latin America and other regions of the world. This committee, among other tasks, would establish a new fiscal and monetary policy, would free price controls, including the controls on energy prices, would eliminate cooperatives, totally privatize the economy and deliver the country to the international financial institutions.

The promises of economic recovery through the restoration of a capitalism with an extreme neoliberal bent cannot avoid admitting that the process will be "slow and uneven" and recall that in other countries the so-called transition to a free-market model has been "slow, painful and politically sensitive."

The neoliberal adjustment includes a "radical overhaul" of the national budget, which implies "determining the economic need and viability of Cuba's numerous social programs."

[The authors] conclude that "the reconstruction effort will be long and costly ... and the burden need not fall completely on the shoulders of the United States." "It will take time to build national institutions," so they propose sharing with the international community of donors, the international financial institutions, and the development organisms of the United States the high costs they foresee for their new possession.

Chapter 5. 'Modernizing Infrastructure'

To carry out the country's conversion, it will become necessary to modify the economic infrastructure. The solution the authors propose is the privatization of public services, assistance from the World Bank and similar institutions, the sale of U.S.-made equipment and the intervention in every branch of Cuba's economy.

The imperial greed encompasses everything: aviation, airports, maritime operations, railroads, highways, energy, public transport, mining, telecommunications, hydraulic resources and many other sectors.

The report foresees the implementation of these measures within the first 90 days of the new regime, legally supported by the drafting of agreements between the interventor and the appointed government to achieve the appropriation of natural resources, guarantee juicy contracts for U.S. companies and thus control the country's economic life in its entirety.

Chapter 6. 'Addressing Environmental Degradation'

The report considers that "the poor environmental protection policies that have been in effect are evident in the quality of land, water, air, and natural habitats that exist on the island today."

This chapter is an example of the manipulation and absolute ignorance of the United States about Cuba. In this field, as in many other parts of the document, the empire's thinking stopped in 1959, ignoring the institutionalization in [Cuba] of the protection of the environment through laws, programs and concrete projects. Besides, Cuba has signed 26 conventions, treaties and protocols related to biological diversity.


We are looking at a plan by the government of the United States that shows the lengths to which the empire is willing to go to deprive the Cuban nation of its independence and sovereignty. It is obvious that, toward that end, military intervention is required, as well as the installation of an occupation government that will execute the detailed plans made for what would become -- from that moment on -- [the empire's] protectorate.

To fulfill its designs toward Cuba, the U.S. government accompanies its actions with a broad propaganda plan of "public diplomacy," for which it has budgeted an additional sum of $5 million. This plan portrays Cuba as a country that violates human rights, shelters terrorists and carries out espionage in the United States, promotes instability in Latin America and produces biological weapons for mass extermination, with which it threatens the national security of the United States.

They try to present an image that delegitimizes the Cuban government in the international community and depicts a country that brutalizes its citizens and functions on the margins of the international community; thus, they would create the conditions that justify armed aggression.

The chairman of this Commission, Secretary of State Colin Powell, recently summarized the essence of the policy against Cuba. When asked why the U.S. did not "liberate" Cuba the way it did in Iraq, he answered that "military options are not always used immediately" and said those options were preceded by other instruments: "isolation, sanctions, pressures, economic activity," although he made it clear that "sometimes there is no appropriate solution other than the use of military force."

Some weeks ago, Army Gen. [John] Abizaid, commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command, asked a group of soldiers returning from Iraq not to quit the Army. "We need your experience in the global war against terrorism," he said, and added: "The country is going to face more wars like this in the years to come."

Miguel Álvarez Sánchez

Sukkot: Be Happy and Rejoice!

Coming on the heels of the High Holidays, Sukkot or the Festival of Booths provides both continuity as well as a startling contrast to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Sukkot, which falls between the 15th and the 21st of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, is the third in a series of pilgrimage festivals which tells the story of the harvest and of the Jewish people. The first in the series is Passover--the planting of seeds and the Exodus from Egypt. The second is Shavuot--the beginning of the harvest and the day we commemorate the receiving of the Torah. And finally there is Sukkot, which celebrates the end of the harvest, and the days when the Hebrews dwelt in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land.
The historical and religious roots of Sukkot are somewhat obscure as it celebrates not an event, but rather a period of time in Jewish history. Yet the mitzvot or commandments of this holiday provide insight into the holiday's many layers of meaning as well as the contemporary message that it conveys.

On Sukkot, we have only three obligations: to dwell in the sukkah or booth that is intended to be an impermanent structure; to wave the *four species which make up a long palm-like branch called the lulav-a combination of myrtle, palm, willow-and the esrog or lemon-like fruit; and finally to be happy and rejoice. This is in sharp contrast to observing Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur where we spend hours in the synagogue praying and contemplating, reviewing our misdeeds and vowing to change for the better.

On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur God often seems remote, and the liturgy of the season reflects this. God is frequently referred to as a "Ruler" or a "Judge" who sits on a throne on high. But on Sukkot, as we leave the confines of the synagogue for the outdoors, God seems closer. We wave the lulav and esrog and call out, Ana Adonai Hoshiah Na-- God save us. It is as if we are shaking God by the lapels and saying, "So nu? Where have you been all this time?"

Outside in the sukkah, with its incomplete roof and temporary walls we are reminded of the precariousness and the fragility of life. We are reminded of how little control we have over life, how dependent we are on God and nature, and then we are commanded, ironically enough, to find joy in it. In conjunction with this command, Rabbi Irving Greenberg in his book The Jewish Way teaches us that, "The liberated person is the one who learns to accept the daily challenges of existence as the expression of self-fulfillment and responsibility ... True maturity means learning to appreciate the finite rewards of [the] everyday."

Although we leave the High Holidays behind and enter Sukkot with resolutions for the year ahead, the real work begins not when we make those promises, but when we begin to fulfill them. Sukkot, which does not commemorate an event, but rather a journey contains the implicit challenge to accept the daily complications and frustrations of living, and then to do so with joy.

The Book of Ecclesiastes, which is read each year on Sukkot, echoes this message, reminding us that life is indeed fleeting, and it is incumbent upon each of us, to find "contentment in our lot". (Ecclesiastes 2:24)

*One interpretation of the symbolism of the four species likens them to different parts of the body, working in harmony, such as the eyes, ears, lips or spine. Others liken these species to the various segments that come together to make up the Jewish community.

Jill Suzanne Jacobs
Reprinted with permission from Jewz.com
This story originally appeared on JewishFamily.com.

It's Not About Stem Cells

Why we must clarify the debate over harvesting embryos.

You've heard the lament by now. Embryonic stem-cell research is the Scientific Thing to do; the religious bio-Luddites standing in its way are so Middle Ages. How can they allow the continued suffering of many with so-far incurable diseases because of a moot religious speculation?

At least that's how some pundits cast the debate, some of them conveniently leaving out key distinctions. But the Devil and God both are in the details.

We see it in the August 24 Pew Research Center survey, which inadvertently reinforces a false dichotomy. Respondents were asked if it's more important to conduct stem-cell research or protect embryos—as if these were mutually exclusive options. Not even a hint that many scientists are already doing both: conducting promising stem-cell research on (adult) stem cells and not destroying embryos in the process.

Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry perpetuates similar falsehoods. In an early August radio address, he asserted that "at this very moment, some of the most pioneering cures and treatments are right at our fingertips, but because of the stem-cell ban, they remain beyond our reach." First, the soonest even the most optimistic researchers say cures can be developed is in five to ten years. Second, Bush didn't institute a "stem-cell ban." In an ethically unsatisfying move, he actually allowed federal funding for limited embryonic stem-cell research. Third, the implication that Bush's ban and Christians' opposition has to do with stem cells is a fallacy committed so frequently that it seems intentional. It's not about stem cells. It's about embryonic stem cells.

According to Mayo hematologist C. Christopher Hook, stem cells—extraordinarily flexible—can be derived from six sources: umbilical cord blood, bone marrow, peripheral blood, the biopsy of specific organs, fetal tissue, and the human embryo.

The research on adult stem cells, derived from the first four sources, poses no ethical dilemmas. Fetal stem-cell research is ethically murky because it is associated with abortion. But it's not debated much because it's deemed impractical, Hook says.

Then there are the controversial embryonic stem cells. What's all the fuss about? After all, as Ron Reagan Jr. assured Americans, "No fetuses are created, none destroyed" in the process of their production. No one, of course, was arguing that fetuses are destroyed in the process. Embryos are. Therefore, humans are.

Take the scenario Reagan described: Grab a cell from your arm and put its entire DNA into a shell of a donor egg. What you've just done is clone a human being. (Somehow, Reagan failed to mention that.) What results is an embryo, defined as a fertilized egg up to eight weeks of development. Putting it outside the womb doesn't change the fact that this process commodifies human life, making it raw material for our enhancements.

The supporters of embryonic stem-cell research say they are motivated by their compassion for the sick. We resonate with their concern. But why end one vulnerable human life in order to potentially prolong another? Why not use adult stem cells?

Scientists disagree whether the healing potential of adult stem cells is going to equal that of embryonic stem cells. But about a dozen biotech firms are developing therapies using adult cells. Recently, a Johns Hopkins University lab converted bone-marrow stem cells from animal donors into healthy liver cells for humans. "It's mind-blowing stuff," the head of this lab told The Washington Post. "I never would have thought this would be possible. Preposterous. Not possible. No way."

Yes way. Yes to all defenseless human life.

A Christianity Today editorial | posted 09/29/2004

Pick Your Shibboleths Wisely

Do we really want to be known as the generation who gave marriage over to the government?

We continue our series on the meaning of marriage with another point of view. Though most evangelicals oppose same-sex marriage, they do not necessarily agree about how exactly to oppose it or how strongly to work against it. Here Daniel A. Crane, assistant professor of law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York City, explains his concerns regarding this issue.

With same-sex marriage licenses pouring out of City Hall in San Francisco before they were declared invalid, state courts inundated with claims of entitlement to same-sex marriage, a federal constitutional amendment proposed to define marriage as a heterosexual union, and the presidential candidates trying to mollify as many constituencies as possible on this hot potato, same-sex marriage certainly has our attention. Indeed, it's becoming a shibboleth.

A shibboleth is a single issue by which a political candidate or party is judged. The word comes from the biblical story of Jephthah and the Gileadites in Judges 12:4-6. Jephthah had routed Israel's foes from Ephraim and was determined to cut them down to the last man. The Ephraimites weren't obviously distinguishable from the Gileadites by physical appearance, and some tried to sneak through Jephthah's lines. So Jephthah devised a clever test: Any man trying to ford the Jordan was required to say the Hebrew word shibboleth, which means "a torrent of water." Since the Ephraimites mispronounced the word as sibboleth, they were easily identified and slaughtered.

When it comes to politics, we evangelicals love our shibboleths. There is a certain convenience in evaluating political candidates, organizations, and movements by their stand on some discrete social issue—think abortion, creationism, and Prohibition. Though reductionist, the shibboleth approach isn't necessarily irrational. If the shibboleth follows closely from a particular worldview, then it may be a reliable predictor about how the candidate, organization, or movement will react to other issues that people haven't had time to think or ask about.

But, before using a shibboleth, we had better be certain that it accurately encapsulates our worldview. The costs of choosing an improper shibboleth are high. Since the purpose of shibboleths is to create a broad rule of action by generalizing from a narrow assumption, error on the assumption means multiplication of the error many times over.

This is why I believe same-sex marriage is a dangerous shibboleth: It reinforces the status of government as the custodian of the institution of marriage. If the church not only abets but actively furthers the notion that marriage owes its legitimacy to the state's approval, then the battle for the family is all but lost.

The Divorce Analogy
Let's take for example the law of divorce. In the 1950s, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien debated Britain's divorce laws, articulating starkly different views on marriage. Tolkien believed that Christian teachings should shape Britain's legal definition of marriage, while Lewis held that secular marriage and Christian marriage are two very different things.

For Tolkien, "no item of compulsory Christian morals is valid only for Christians. The foundation is that this is the correct way of 'running the human machine.'" Tolkien believed that Lewis's arguments for separation between the secular and religious institutions reduced marriage "merely to a way of (perhaps?) getting an extra mileage out of a few selected machines." For Tolkien, "toleration of divorce—if a Christian does tolerate it—is a toleration of human abuse."

Since Lewis married a divorcée, first in a civil ceremony for one set of reasons (compassion) and some time later in an ecclesiastical one and for another set of reasons (love), it is not surprising that his views were different. Lewis believed in "two distinct kinds of marriage; one governed by the state with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the church with rules enforced by it on its own members." Thus, for Lewis, Christians should be willing to tolerate civil rules about marriage that didn't meet biblical standards, since secular marriage was to be governed by an entirely different set of rules.

Who was right, Lewis or Tolkien? In my view, Jesus answered the question directly. Matthew 19 records that some Pharisees put a tricky marriage question to Jesus: Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason, good or bad? The Pharisees saw a good chance to trip up Jesus, since he had already spoken out against divorce in the Sermon on the Mount, yet the law of Moses permitted divorce without enumerating a list of permissible reasons. Indeed, the only condition specified in Deuteronomy 24:1 was that the wife had become "displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her."

In avoiding the trap, Jesus differentiated between God's original plan for marriage, set forth in Genesis, and the human institution of marriage. Moses, Jesus explained, granted the Israelites a right to divorce because their hearts were hard, not because divorce was part of God's plan for marriage.

Jesus' treatment of the marriage issue is significant because it recognizes that the spiritual institution of marriage is quite distinct from the legal institution of marriage—even though the legal institution is directly ordained by God. The legal institution of marriage accommodates sinful man's faults; the spiritual

institution transcends them and aims for the highest ideals in marriage. Further, the legal institution of marriage cannot be soft-pedaled on the grounds that Moses' law instituted the bare minimum necessary to ensure morality, whereas the spiritual institution goes further and dispenses grace.

As Jesus put it rather bluntly, the man who follows the law of Moses and gives his wife a certificate of divorce might cause her to commit adultery (if she remarries). Thus, Moses' law tolerated divorce even though, spiritually, it opened the door for people to become adulterers. In Jesus' view, there unquestionably was an important distinction between the legal and spiritual institutions of marriage.

The harms of equating the spiritual and legal institutions are large. Even if a union between the two were possible in a theocracy, it certainly wouldn't be possible in a pluralistic democracy where hearts are arguably harder than they were in Moses' day. The two institutions cannot merge, but what happens when the church treats them as though they were merged?

Sadly, recent history reveals the answer. Years ago many Christians began to view marriage solely through the legal lens. If no-fault divorce is the rule of the day, then Christians find it easier to break their marriage vows whenever they feel so inclined.

The example of divorce suggests that Christians have already lost much ground on marriage and the family by failing to distinguish secular family law clearly from God's perfect plan for man and woman. This is why it is alarming to see many Christians insist that defeating legal recognition of same-sex marriage is necessary to preserving the institution of marriage. If that is true, it must be because marriage owes its definition and legitimacy to the state—a proposition that Jesus squarely denied and that should frighten anyone who takes seriously the Genesis prescription.

Making It Work
If the church must clearly distinguish between the legal and spiritual domains of marriage, where does that leave us on same-sex marriage? One might like to see the government get out of the marriage business altogether, leaving the definition and consecration of marriage to private choice, meaning, in our case, the church. But that isn't a terribly realistic option today, since the idea of marriage so thoroughly permeates our legal system.

The words marriage or married appear more than 500 times in federal statutes, more than 900 times in federal regulations, and thousands of times in state statutes. The concept of marriage flows through numerous statutory and regulatory schemes, including areas as diverse as taxation, military service, Social Security benefits, adoption, and agriculture.

If the government can't get out of the marriage business altogether, then perhaps we, as Christians, ought to take the lead in reconceiving the notion of civil marriage as distinct from holy matrimony. Perhaps we should abolish the word marriage altogether when speaking of the license granted by the state and instead appropriate the civil union terminology that has been created to deal with the same-sex issue. When asking about the definition of marriage or civil unions for legal purposes, perhaps we should take a functional, rather than normative, view.

If a legal definition of marriage is necessary because we need to know who should be included in a health insurance plan or how we should assess potential adoptive parents, then the definitional question should be asked with respect to the objects of the legislation, not based on a transcendent conception of marriage.

For example, a statute dealing with health insurance benefits may be intended to extend health coverage to uninsured individuals in the same household as the primary insured. Since the object of the legislation is to make health insurance available to a wider group of people, it might make sense to recognize a wide group of civil unions as eligible for inclusion under the statute. Maybe even short-term or temporary civil unions should be recognized for that purpose.

On the other hand, a law making marriage a criterion for adoption is not intended to broaden the group of eligible participants but to narrow it to those most likely to be good parents. If the state concludes that children are most likely to benefit by having both a mother and a father and that heterosexual unions are more likely to be enduring, thus promising long-term stability, the definition of marriage might be narrower for adoption purposes than for health benefits purposes. In both cases, the civil definition of union or marriage would be answered by the particular aims of the legislature, not by the abstract question: "What is marriage?"

None of this should be taken as an argument that the law should recognize same-sex civil unions. There may be important functional (as opposed to moral) reasons why such recognition would be unwise. Nor should a separation of civil and religious marriage lessen our concern over the recent conduct of activist judges and mayors who have tried to impose their own political vision by judicial or executive fiat, contrary to the clear rules established by state legislatures.

But neither should we escalate the culture war by making this debate into a battle for the heart and soul of marriage. If we do that, we concede that the state owns marriage and that the church's function in blessing unions is subservient to the government's. Far better to lose the battle over the legal definition of marriage than to win it and find that the government now owns one of our most sacred institutions.

Daniel A. Crane
Copyright © 2004 Christianity Today.

Does Mr. Bush's Foreign Policy Mirror The American Peoples' Soul?

Occasionally a writer sums up a great deal with one metaphor, and the pen proves to be mightier than the sword. And so it is with American novelist E. L. Doctorow's essay, The Unfeeling President.

Mr. Doctorow finds Mr. Bush's glibly-Reaganesque capacity to emotionally disconnect himself from the people he's devastating, while simultaneously waxing optimistic about the harm he's inflicting, to be a metaphor for America's anesthetized descent into a collective state of shriveled soullessness.

Hence, realists who've retained soulful feeling are experiencing the Bush presidency as "mourning in America." They grieve the loss of our liberal foreign policy, which was strongest when we focused not on the example of our force, but on the force of our example. They agonize over the fact that the USA's 2003 military budget of $450 billion constituted almost half of the world's total 2003 military expenditures of $958 billion. They openly question the effectiveness of the USA spending fifteen times more on its own military (i.e., $450 billion) than it did on foreign aid (i.e., $15 billion) in 2003.

Indeed, the American people seemingly have become morally-blind to their own bullying by inventing for themselves a new type of quasi-cinematic Spectator War, in which indifference to the mass killing of innocent civilian noncombatants is perceived as normal, while the rest of the world perceives it as evidence of a superpower gone rogue. Some would go so far as to suggest that there are historical parallels between Germany in the 1930s and the USA in 2004: The Psychology Of Mass Subservience To Tyranny.

Here are two possible reasons for that trait of deadly indifference, in addition to psychological denial, subconscious racism, and the long-term absence of international warfare on American soil: (A) David Mamet's "Bring It On: Violent Movies - And War Movies - Give Us The Thrill Of Victory. But What Happens When War Becomes Reality?"; and (B) Joan Ryan's "Army's Computer War Game Recruits Kids".

And what about the American peoples' ongoing indifference to the illegality of the Iraq War under international law: Was The Iraq War Legal, Or Illegal, Under International Law?

Conclusion: Mr. Doctorow arrives at the unstated-but-implicit conclusion that a national electorate tends to unconsciously assign to itself exactly the kind of "heroic" leadership that it truly deserves, as in Life Imitates Art: They Call Them Heroes.

The Bottom Line: (1) Shouldn't we be using this presidential election as a referendum on the unwise militarization of American foreign policy?; (2) Isn't Mr. Bush's neocon strategy of "Waging Aggressive War For Peace In The Mideast" the diplomatic equivalent of "Holding Orgies For Monogamy In The Marriage Bed"?; and (3) If so, shouldn't Mr. Bush be promptly turned out of office for his dangerous militarization of US foreign policy, which has alienated our allies, isolated us from the world community, and inflamed global anti-Americanism -- Islamic and secular alike -- to unprecedented levels?

Author: Evan Augustine Peterson III, J.D. Executive Director American Center for International Law ("ACIL")