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

Friday, December 24, 2004

It Came to Pass: Jesus's Miracle Sites Were Found

Israeli archaeologists have unveiled two sites in Jerusalem and Galilee where Jesus is said to have performed miracles: one where he gave sight to a blind beggar, the other where he turned water into wine at a wedding feast.

An excavation led by Professor Ronny Reich, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, claims to have uncovered the Pool of Siloam where, in the Gospel of St John (Chapter 9:6-7), Jesus is said to have given sight to a man who had been blind from birth.

The find is at the bottom of a steep valley below the southern wall of Herod's Temple which was destroyed by Roman legionaries in AD70. Under the rubble and detritus, Professor Reich found a water tunnel, stone steps and paving.Much has still to be excavated, but corner stones indicate that the pool covered 2,500 sq m.

According to scripture, when confronted with the blind man Jesus "spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, and said unto him, 'Go, wash in the pool of Siloam'. He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing."

A combination of the site's topography, Herodian-era coins found on the new site and the way the stones are dressed have convinced the archaeologists that this was where the miracle took place.

The other find unveiled yesterday was in the Arab village of Cana, near Nazareth, long thought to be the site of Jesus's first miracle described in John (Chapter 2:1-12) when Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding feast. Yardena Alexander, a London-born archaeologist who led the excavation, uncovered buildings, clay ovens and grinding stones, as well as a Jewish ritual bath. The dig also turned up fragments of stone vessels of a kind used by Jews in purification rituals.

Although there have been other claimants to the water-into-wine location, including an American excavation several miles to the north, Ms Alexander is convinced that this is the one."With all these," she concluded, "you don't need any more evidence."

Eric Silver in Jerusalem
24 December 2004
The Independent

Iraq's Christian Minority Loses its Innocence Now That the Rule of Saddam is Over

The school year in Baghdad always began the same way for Sister Beninia Hermes Shoukwana. The Christian nun and headteacher of the Hebtikar School near Palestine Street would be peppered with innocent questions from her mostly Muslim charges.

"Madame headmistress, why don't you dress like mummy?" they would ask. "Why do you always wear the same white dress?"

This year, the age of innocence has ended and the remarks from parents and students have become more cutting than curious. "I've been accused of trying to convert little Muslims to Christianity," says the 64-year-old nun, with deep worry lines on her forehead. "Leaflets have been distributed asking the parents to withdraw their children."

This is not a happy Christmas for the country's troubled Christians. Many of the churches have cancelled midnight mass for fear of drawing the attention of terrorists.

After decades of living in relative harmony with the Muslim majority, Iraq's ancient Christian minority ­ who include Chaldeans, with allegiance to the Pope, as well as Orthodox Assyrians and Armenians ­ is threatened as never before.

A spate of bombings directed at churches, apparently the work of Muslim extremists, has led many to the painful conclusion that Christians are now equated with the US-led occupation regardless of their actual views. They insist that they are Arab nationalists who oppose the American presence just as much as resistance fighters in Fallujah or Mosul. One in 10 Iraqi Christians has fled Iraq.

Five Baghdad churches were attacked in October. In August, similar attacks killed at least 10 and wounded nearly 50 Iraqi Christians. Father Saad Hanna's small church was recently attacked. His parish is now one-third of its pre-war size. "The people are terrified about what is happening," he says. "The people no longer come to church. The truth is, we are in trouble, and we don't know how to overcome this."

Many Iraqi Christians say they are terrified of attending Christmas services this year. "I'm afraid of car bombs," says Dinkha al-Dawoudi, a 48-year-old hotel receptionist who has two children. "The spirit of Christmas has really been affected by the security conditions."

Gone are the days when Christians' Muslim friends would join them carol singing, and Christmas trees are definitely out. In fact, few Iraqis are buying the traditional trees. Mohammad Noori sold 35 last year. With two days to go this year he had sold only one.

In Sister Beninia's three decades as head of the 3,000-student school, she has witnessed wars, bombings and the rise and fall of Saddam Hussein. But these, she says, are the worst of times, and she is unable to hide her distress over the fate of her country and fellow-Christians, mostly Chaldeans, members of the Nestorian sect who converted to Catholicism in the 16th century.

First came the pamphlets distributed in her hometown of Mosul during Ramadan, ordering Christian women to wear the headscarf. There were the August and October attacks on Baghdad churches. Among the victims was a young, newly engaged couple close to Sister Beninia. "For years, Christians and Muslims lived like brothers and sisters," she says. "Today the extremists are trying to separate us." But she has no plans to leave Iraq, vowing to continue her efforts to educate Iraqi children and build bridges between the different faiths.

She has stubbornly refused to bow to the extremists, putting up Christmas trees at her school and getting her students to sing carols. She will attend Christmas mass at her convent. "I will pray for peace in the country," she says.

Sister Beninia had plenty of experience facing down troubles, beginning with the Baath Party's 1974 decision to nationalise all schools including Hebtikar, which was originally run by her convent. "They wanted to force me to join the Baath party, but I always refused," she says.

Despite her refusal to sign up to Saddam Hussein's political machinery, she kept her job because of her organisational skills and popularity with students and parents. Another challenge came during the 1980s war with Iran.

After the breakdown in order following the fall of the Saddam regime last year, she spent spring and summer at Hebtikar, protecting it from would-be looters. "I wasn't armed and I was vulnerable," she says. "But I confronted the thieves and they went away."

Despite increasing prejudice against her faith and threats against her school, the numbers of parents trying to get their children enrolled continues to grow. An annex is being built.

Khaled Hamed Rachid, whose three daughters attend Hebtikar, says: "Of course I'm afraid the fanatics will consider this school a target. Even so, I will never take my daughters out of the school, because its level of discipline is unique."

Sister Beninia, born in 1940 in a village just north of Mosul, joined the Convent of Chaldean Sisters at 11. But she also felt drawn to the world of classrooms and books, and pursued a career in education. She has run schools in Dohuk, in Iraqi Kurdistan and Basra in the Shia south. She took jobs at schools in Kuwait and Dubai before returning to Iraq in 1971 and becoming headteacher at Hebtikar.

Every morning at 7.30, she leaves her residence at the Convent of Immaculate Conception, a humble four-storey building, boards a minibus and, without escorts or bodyguards, she heads to work. There she deals with the myriad daily details of running a big school, substitute teachers, tardy students and worried parents. During break-time, her voice can be heard through a megaphone, demanding order from the crowd of uniformed, chattering children pouring into the yard.

"Stay in line," Sister Beninia Hermes Shoukwana commands. "Don't run around." The children obey. If classes end abruptly because of an outbreak of fighting or a nearby explosion, she often stays in the school until dawn, making sure everyone gets home safely.

Sixteen of her students, mostly Christians, have left the country. Every day, desperate parents visit her, saying they are frightened and thinking of leaving Iraq. She urges them to stay. "I try to explain to them that wherever they go they'll always be immigrants," she says. "Iraq is like our house. And it's our duty to try to clean up our house."

Borzou Daragahi in Baghdad
24 December 2004

A Christmas Message From Matthew

What was the gospel writer trying to tell us about Jesus in his opening chapters?

Think about an ancient gospel written with all-capital letters, minimal punctuation, no space between words or sentences (why waste precious papyrus?), and no verse numbers or chapter headings to help your reading. You would be very glad to have a prologue--a kind of overture to give you the whole story in upfront in summary. This is why each of the four gospels begins with such an overture.
Mark’s overture tells the story of John the Baptist’s mission and arrest as overture to that of Jesus. John’s overture is a magnificent hymn to the Logos of God, Word made Flesh.

Matthew and Luke, however, both chose a birth story as overture to their own stories of Jesus. Let’s examine Matthew’s overture to see what he was trying to say about Jesus with his birth story. For Matthew, Jesus is the Messiah, long-awaited by his people, but a Messiah who came as a New Moses. You and I, by the way, understand new rather differently from the way that Matthew did. We think of “new” as “better” and therefore replacing the obsolete old. But for the ancients, the old was good and the new was always suspect--except as the old renewed, transfigured, and fulfilled. That is why, for example, Matthew started his story of Jesus-as-Adult atop a (re)new(ed) Mount Sinai, giving a (re)new(ed) Torah, and proclaiming “you have heard of old, but I tell you now” in Matthew 5-7. Torah-renewal, in other words, not Torah-replacement. That is why Matthew has Jesus explicitly warn, “not to think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”

In composing his birth-as-overture, therefore, Matthew had to write a prologue about Jesus the Messiah, the New Moses of Jews and Gentiles alike. And here was the most difficult part. He also had to foreshadow danger and deliverance, lethal human opposition but eventual divine vindication. He had to hint about crucifixion and resurrection in creating his parable about the newborn Jesus. Finally, he had to do all that in the short space of those two initial chapters.

You can debate whether Matthew’s birth story is history or parable. In my own view, it is clearly a deliberate and very powerful parable. But what does it mean? And there is an even more important question which still presses, whether you take it literally as history or metaphorically as parable. It is also the only question Matthew would have thought worthy of debate: Who is your King and what is your Rule? Is it the violent power of a Herod or the non-violent power of a Jesus?

Back, then, to Matthew’s birth story. His obvious strategy was to describe the birth of Jesus in parallel with the birth of Moses in Exodus 2. In that story, Pharaoh of Egypt tried to destroy the Israelites by killing all their male infants--but the bravery of the Hebrew midwives, the strategy of his mother Jochebed, and the decency of Pharaoh’s own daughter (all females, you will notice) saved the child in his papyrus basket among the reeds of the Nile.

Think of Moses’ birth-story as a drama in three acts. The first act is the King’s Decree. That created a problem for any reader: Was it not just too coincidental that infanticide was ordered at the very moment Moses happened to be born? The next act is the Parental Crisis. That created another narrative problem. Why did the Hebrew parents continue having children and thereby allow even the possibility of male-baby infanticide? The third act is the Child’s Escape. Here the narrative problem was rather different. The baby in the basket was powerfully dramatic for Moses but Matthew could hardly have Jesus saved in a basket among the Jordan’s bulrushes by a Herodian princess.
Fortunately, however, there were available several versions of that Moses story which retold the Hebrew original from Exodus 1-2 in Aramaic translations and commentaries. They not only retold it, but they also expanded upon it and improved its narrative coherence on precisely the first two problems--the King’s Decree and the Parental Crisis. They never, of course, tried to add, subtract, or change the Child’s Escape--any storyteller would recognize the difficulty of improving on that section!

First, the expanded version of the King’s Decree is given in the Jewish historian Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities 2.205-206: “While they were in this plight, a further incident had the effect of stimulating the Egyptians yet more to exterminate our race. One of the sacred scribes--persons with considerable skill in accurately predicting the future--announced to the king that there would be born to the Israelites at that time one who would abase the sovereignty of the Egyptians and exalt the Israelites, were he reared to manhood, and would surpass all men in virtue and win everlasting renown. Alarmed thereat, the king, on this sage’s advice, ordered that every male child born to the Israelites should be destroyed by being cast into the river.”

In this version there is no coincidence. The infanticide is focused precisely on killing Moses lest he become the future liberator of his people. That expansion allowed Matthew to put Herod in place of Pharaoh. The general male-baby infanticide or “slaughter of the innocents” was precisely to kill Jesus as it had been to kill Moses. Further, since Matthew’s Jesus was the New Moses of both Jews and Gentiles, he added in a special element of his own. The Magi, the Gentile wisdom of the East, came to worship Jesus at his birth. Notice, of course, how the “sacred scribes” had interpreted events for Pharaoh, just as “the chief priests and scribes of the people” interpreted for Herod in Matthew 2:4.

Finally, the Magi are guided westward by a star just as the ancestors of the emperor Augustus, descended from the goddess Venus, had been guided westward from Troy to Italy by her star 1,000 years before.

Second, the expanded version of the Parental Crisis is known from two different first-century sources. A first one is in the Book of Biblical Antiquities, once incorrectly attributed to the Jewish philosopher Philo but now more accurately attributed to “Pseudo-Philo:”

“After the murderous decree of Pharaoh, the elders of the people gathered the people together in mourning and said, ‘Let us set up rules for ourselves that a man should not approach his wife until we know what God may do.’ And Amram answered and said, ‘I will go and take my wife, and I will not consent to the command of the king; and if it is right in your eyes, let us all act in this way.’ And the strategy that Amram thought out was pleasing before God. And God said, ‘He who will be born from him will serve me forever.’ And the spirit of God came upon Miriam one night, and she saw a dream and told it to her parents in the morning, saying, ‘Behold he who will be born from you will be cast forth into the water; likewise through him the water will be dried up. And I will work signs through him and save my people, and he will exercise leadership always.’”
In this expansion, Amram, father of Moses-to-be, refuses to participate in the decision of separation or divorce; his daughter, Miriam, has a divine dream; and the liberator will be her brother, the child of her parents, Amram and Jochebed.

The other expanded version of the Parental Crisis continues this story in Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities 2.210-211:

“Amram, a Hebrew of noble birth, fearing that the whole race would be extinguished through lack of the succeeding generation, and seriously anxious on his own account because his wife was with child, was in grievous perplexity. He accordingly had recourse to prayer to God…And God had compassion on him and, moved by his supplication, appeared to him in his sleep, exhorted him not to despair of the future, and told him that [the destined child would be his son].”

Once again, Matthew worked in close parallel with those more developed versions. In his Parental Crisis act, he put Joseph and Mary in place of Amram and Jochebed and had their divorce averted only by heavenly intervention in a dream. In fact, he liked that emphasis on dreams so much that he put in five of them, as well as five scriptural fulfillments, in his birth-as-overture.

That number five was an appropriate number to prepare for Jesus’ five great speeches in Matthew’s gospel as a (re)new(ed) Torah of Jesus fulfilling the five books of the Torah of Moses. In Jewish tradition, a predestined child was usually conceived not from a virgin but from aged and/or infertile parents. Here, as in the first act, Matthew added in one special element of his own--namely, the virgin birth in fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14.

Finally, in the Child’s Escape, Matthew had to do something quite different-indeed, quite ironically opposite the Moses story. Eventually, Moses had fled with his people from Egypt to Israel. But now, with Israel under a savage “King of the Jews” appointed by Rome, Matthew had Jesus flee for safety from Israel to Egypt until Herod was dead and he could return home.

I return, in conclusion, to the fundamental questions raised by Matthew's beautiful parable about Jesus' birth. Who rules the world? Is it Rome's appointed Herod or God's appointed Messiah? Is it violence or justice? Whose is the kingdom, the power, and the glory?

John Dominic Crossan

A Christmas Tree Blessing

Holy Creator of Trees,
bless with your abundant grace
this our Christmas tree as a symbol of joy.
May its evergreen branches be a sign
of your never-fading promises.
May its colorful lights and ornaments call us
to decorate with love our home and our world.
May the gifts that surround this tree
be symbols of the gifts we have received
from the Tree of Christ’s Cross.
Holy Christmas tree within our home,
may Joy and Peace come and nest
in your branches and in our hearts. Amen

CHRIST Nativity

Luke 2:1-20

1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

Families Pay the Price

It's like watching your son playing in traffic, and there's nothing you can do." - Janet Bellows, mother of a soldier who has been assigned to a second tour in Iraq.

Back in the 1960's, when it seemed as if every other draftee in the Army was being sent to Vietnam, I was sent off to Korea, where I was assigned to the intelligence office of an engineer battalion.

Twenty years old and half a world away from home, I looked forward to mail call the way junkies craved their next fix. My teenage sister, Sandy, got all of her high school girlfriends to write to me, which led some of the guys in my unit to think I was some kind of Don Juan. I considered it impolite to correct any misconceptions they might have had.

You could depend on the mail for an emotional lift - most of the time. But there were times when I would open an envelope and read, in the inky handwriting of my mother or father or sister, that a friend of mine, someone I had grown up with or gone to school with, or a new friend I had met in the Army, had been killed in Vietnam. Just like that. Gone. Life over at 18, 19, 20.

I can still remember the weird feelings that would come over me in those surreal moments, including the irrational idea that I was somehow responsible for the death. In the twisted logic of grief, I would feel that if I had never opened the envelope, the person would still be alive. I remember being overwhelmed with the desire to reseal the letter in the envelope and bring my dead friend back to life.

This week's hideous attack in Mosul reminded me of those long ago days. Once again American troops sent on a fool's errand are coming home in coffins, or without their right arms or left legs, or paralyzed, or so messed up mentally they'll never be the same. Troops are being shoved two or three times into the furnace of Iraq by astonishingly incompetent leaders who have been unable or unwilling to provide them with the proper training, adequate equipment or even a clearly defined mission.

It is a mind-boggling tragedy. And the suffering goes far beyond the men and women targeted by the insurgents. Each death in Iraq blows a hole in a family and sets off concentric circles of grief that touch everyone else who knew and cared for the fallen soldier. If the human stakes were understood well enough by the political leaders of this country, it might make them a little more reluctant to launch foolish, unnecessary and ultimately unwinnable wars.

Lisa Hoffman and Annette Rainville of the Scripps Howard News Service have reported, in an extremely moving article, that nearly 900 American children have lost a parent to the war in Iraq. More than 40 fathers died without seeing their babies.

The article begins with a description of a deeply sad 4-year-old named Jack Shanaberger, whose father was killed in an ambush in March. Jack told his mother he didn't want to be a father when he grew up. "I don't want to be a daddy," he said, "because daddies die."

Six female soldiers who died in the war left a total of 10 children. This is a new form of wartime heartbreak for the U.S.

We have completely lost our way with this fiasco in Iraq. The president seems almost perversely out of touch. "The idea of democracy taking hold in what was a place of tyranny and hatred and destruction is such a hopeful moment in the history of the world," he said this week.

The truth, of course, is that we can't even secure the road to the Baghdad airport, or protect our own troops lining up for lunch inside a military compound. The coming elections are a slapstick version of democracy. International observers won't even go to Iraq to monitor the elections because it's too dangerous. They'll be watching, as if through binoculars, from Jordan.

Nobody has a plan. We don't have enough troops to secure the country, and the Iraqi forces have shown neither the strength nor the will to do it themselves. Election officials are being murdered in the streets. The insurgency is growing in both strength and sophistication. At least three more marines and one soldier were killed yesterday, ensuring the grimmest of holidays for their families and loved ones.

One of the things that President Bush might consider while on his current vacation is whether there are any limits to the price our troops should be prepared to pay for his misadventure in Iraq, or whether the suffering and dying will simply go on indefinitely.

NY Times
E-mail: bobherb@nytimes.com

Getting Personal, Putin Voices Defiance of Critics Abroad

MOSCOW, Dec. 23 - President Vladimir V. Putin on Thursday strongly defended Russia's takeover of the main subsidiary of the Yukos oil company by a state oil company. He also expressed deep irritation at the West's support for popular uprisings in post-Soviet states and what he described as Western double standards for elections.

Mr. Putin's remarks, made at an annual holiday-season news conference in the Kremlin, amounted to a forceful restatement of widely known positions and a sometimes layered explanation of the views driving Russia in an increasingly autocratic direction this year. But even as Mr. Putin maintained a calm demeanor, at times speaking softly, his statements were notable for their sharp tone.

The fate of Yukos was a clear example. The main subsidiary of Yukos, once Russia's largest and most profitable company, was auctioned on Sunday for a fraction of its estimated value to a previously unheard-of shell company, and later resold to Rosneft, a company owned by the state. No final sale price has been disclosed, and the process remains cloaked in mystery. Industry analysts have characterized the transfers as Kremlin-rigged farces.

Mr. Putin said the sales were perfectly justified and suggested they righted past wrongs. He neglected to mention that as recently as late September, he said Russia had no intention of nationalizing the oil giant and had vowed transparency since then.

"You all know very well how privatization took place here in the early 1990's, and how, using various tricks and sometimes violating the laws that were in effect at that time, many market participants got hold of state property worth many billions," he said. "Today the state, using absolutely legal market mechanisms, is securing its interests. I consider this to be quite normal."

But later, Washington criticized the sale of the oil giant.

"We certainly don't think it's been disposed of in a transparent or open way," a State Department spokesman, Adam Ereli, said, according to Agence France-Presse. "We think this sends the wrong signals to foreign investors and could negatively impact Russia's role in the global economy."

He added that the case "raises serious concerns about the rule of law as applied in Russia and the way that justice is perhaps politically or selectively applied."

Mr. Putin also engaged in personal attacks in his comments. Speaking of a United States Bankruptcy Court judge in Texas, who issued an injunction last week trying to block the auction of Yuganskneftegaz, the Yukos subsidiary that now belongs to Rosneft, he set aside any pretense of tact.

"I am not even sure that the judge knows where Russia is," he said. Then, even as he insulted the judge, he added that her work "fails to comply with international politeness."

Mr. Putin was also personally dismissive of President Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland, who helped mediate the impasse in Ukraine after the fraudulent president election there on Nov. 21, and who recently said in an interview that a Ukraine free of Russia's sway was better for the world's leading countries.

Assuming a biting tone, he suggested that Mr. Kwasniewski was an opportunist who was playing to the West. He noted that the Polish leader in his youth worked for Soviet interests as a member of the Communist Party's youth wing, the Komsomol.

"We in Russia, though not I personally, know him from the times he was working with the Komsomol with us," said Mr. Putin, who served with the K.G.B. "I get the impression that this is not a statement by an incumbent president, but a statement by an individual who is seeking employment in connection with the end of his term of office."

Mr. Kwasniewski later released a statement that called Mr. Putin remarks "unjust."

"This is the price Poland and I personally pay for participation in the settlement of the political crisis in Ukraine," his statement said.

In all, it was an afternoon of practiced defiance of Western critics. Mr. Putin expressed irritation over what he called double standards in Western assessments of elections in troubled states - with critics pointing out, for instance, that the recent presidential elections in Chechnya were unsound in part because of the continuing conflict there, and yet the United States intends to continue with elections in occupied Iraq.

He also criticized the continuation of revolution in post-Soviet nations, as occurred in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine this fall. "The most dangerous thing is creating a system of permanent revolutions," he said. "One should get used to living in line with the law."

Yet at moments, the display was carefully calibrated, showing signs that he has apparently decided whom he should avoid confronting head-on. Many Russian politicians, including several close to him, have accused the United States of underwriting and encouraging the mass demonstrations in Ukraine. But Mr. Putin signaled a general satisfaction with Russia's relationship with the United States, saying the two nations are cooperating in fighting terrorism and in nuclear nonproliferation.

"I would say, without any exaggeration, that our relations are not those of partners, but of allies," he said. "Behind all of these current things of the here and now, semi-scandalous things or simply things that attract public attention because of tactical reasons, I would urge you not to forget these fundamental things that lie at the basis of our relations with the United States."

And he pointedly expressed his own satisfaction with his relationship with President Bush. "Bush himself, in my view, is a very decent man and a consistent man," he said. "We have said repeatedly in public that our opinions do not always coincide, but I fully trust him as a partner."

Mr. Putin rarely appears for extended periods in public, and journalists' access to him is limited; on Thursday, he seemed at times to enjoy this unusual bit of give-and-take. Even when expressing irritation or disgust, or when offering straight-faced comparisons that strained credulity - for example, drawing a parallel between the election abuses in Ukraine and what he called intimidation of voters in the presidential election in the United States - he appeared comfortable and relaxed.

After an hour and 45 minutes, an aide tried to stop the news conference, but Mr. Putin continued, calling on journalists himself. After two-and-a-half hours, he said he would take five last questions. He then took 11 more.

His body language throughout spoke of someone eager for a bit of sparring. When he was asked questions, he often leaned far back in his chair and rolled his shoulders or adjusted his spine, an athletic gesture vaguely suggestive of a man between weight-lifting sets, except that sometimes as he repositioned his frame, he sipped tea from a fine china cup.

When each question ended, he pushed himself forward to the desktop in front of him, rested his weight onto his forearms and offered long, detailed answers. Working without notes, his command of the finer points of obscure areas of public policy - the monthly wage of a private serving in Chechnya, the percentage of cargo carried by rail in Germany, the clauses of a 1956 declaration between the Soviet Union and Japan over the fate of four islands - suggested a busy micromanager.

"I have tried to read documents I have to deal with," he said.

He also indulged in jokes. By law Mr. Putin is limited to two consecutive terms, and he is serving the first year of his second term now. The possibility of a third term, either through a change in Russia's Constitution for the 2008 race or a return to politics in 2012, has been a source of steady speculation. Asked directly whether he would run again in 2012, he said: "Why not in 2016? I still hope to be fit."

He added, somewhat cryptically, "I do think about how we will negotiate the landmark of 2008."

NY Times

Death Organization

Planned Parenthood Alone Responsible for Nearly 250,000 US Abortions Last Year

Profitable organization getting increasing government funds as private donations decrease

WASHINGTON, December 15, 2004 (LifeSiteNews.com) - American Life League's STOPP International has released its analysis of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America's 2003-2004 Annual Report. STOPP notes that last year Planned Parenthood increased the numbers of surgical abortions at its own facilities by 6.1 percent to 244,628. The pro-life group added that the figures indicate that Planned Parenthood has surgically killed 3.5 million babies since 1970.

Despite Planned Parenthood's claim that it offers mainly counseling and contraceptives, the report reveals the organization took in an estimated $104 million from its surgical abortion business, accounting for over one-third of its $302.6 million clinic income.

While Planned Parenthood (PPFA) claims to make referrals for adoption, its record on such referrals has become so skewed the claim seems laughable. In 1997 when Gloria Feldt first took over as president of PPFA the group's abortion/adoption ratio was 18 abortions for every adoption. Last year Planned Parenthood aborted 138 children for every adoption referral to an outside agency.

Private donations to the agency have dropped but taxpayer funds continue to be pumped into the organization despite massive profits. Private donations to Planned Parenthood declined for the second time in three years, as contributions and bequests dropped 17 percent to $191 million. However, elected officials granted PPFA a record $265.2 million in public funding, nearly 33 percent of its $810 million total income.

For the 18th year in a row, Planned Parenthood turned a net profit. This year's $35.2 million brings its total profits over the 18 years to $538 million.

The report indicates that PPFA care little for the safety of the women it claims to want to serve. Even after 18-year-old Holly Patterson was killed by complications from an RU-486 abortion at Planned Parenthood, the organization sold the dangerous abortion pill over 95,000 times at 203 of its clinics.

Jim Sedlak, STOPP executive director commented on the findings saying, "This report shows the public is increasingly rejecting Planned Parenthood's radical agenda, but apparently our elected officials haven't gotten the message. Now is the time for Americans to expand the growing efforts to close Planned Parenthood clinics and to put pressure on politicians to stop the obscene amount of taxpayer money that is being funneled to the nation's largest abortion chain."