Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Is Death Winning in America?

Five years since the court-ordered murder of Terri Schindler Schiavo, I can still see the vase of flowers next to her bedside. The vase was filled with water, keeping the beautiful blooms resplendent. Terri had gone 13 days without water or food. She was literally withering before our eyes in the hours before her death. Her dying was not a peaceful and gentle process. In all my years as a priest, I had never seen anything like this. Her face showed emotions of terror combined with sadness. She died in a Florida hospice on March 31, five years ago.

Wednesday is Terri’s Day, a day when congregations and people of faith all over the country remember this woman whose life was cut short by the culture of death. On that day at 5pm, I will be the celebrant and homilist of the National Mass for Terri at Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla. We will pray with Terri’s family for all those in situations like hers.

Five years after Terri’s murder, the world has become an even more dangerous and cynical place.

Terri died on Easter Thursday. Liturgically, the Church considers the time from the Easter Vigil through the Sunday after Easter as one “Easter Day.” Terri suffered as the Church meditated on the sufferings of Christ, and she died as the Church celebrated his resurrection. Her anniversary this year takes place within Holy Week. We are assured that Terri shared in Jesus’ victory over death, and that should bring us comfort. But to look around us and see how strong the culture of death has become should send us all to our knees in prayer — and out to the streets in action.

Read it all here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Alarmed Yet?

"Since the President signed the health care bill into law, the federal government now owns or controls, for the first time ever, 51% of the US GDP. Car makers, insurance companies, home mortgages, student loans, and now the health care system. If Ms. Bachmann is correct, the word "socialism" is no longer simply an alarmist word to throw at political opponents . It is simply the truth." -- Michele Bachmann

Monday, March 29, 2010

Obama's Drug Traffic Policy Too Lenient?

KABUL, March 28: Russia accused the United States on Sunday of conniving with Afghanistan’s drug producers by refusing to destroy opium crops, the second time in a week Moscow has taken a swipe at the West over drug policy.

US Marines have advanced into one of the main opium-growing regions of Afghanistan’s Helmand Province since February, but have told villagers there they will not destroy the opium crop that is blossoming this month.

“We believe such statements are contrary to the decisions taken on Afghan narco-problems within the UN and other international forums,” said a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry released by the embassy in Kabul.

“The touching concern about the Afghan farmers actually means, if not directly, then certainly indirectly, conniving (with) drug producers,” it said.

Last week, Russian UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the UN Security Council that US and Nato commanders should continue to eradicate opium poppy fields.

Nato rejected the criticism and said Russia could best help by providing assistance to the fight the insurgency.

US Marines captured the former Taliban stronghold of Marjah last month in what was billed as the biggest offensive of the 8-year-old war.

They say they will not eradicate opium there, but will pay poppy farmers to destroy their own crops and will then provide seed for them to plant other crops next year.

Afghanistan produces more than 90 per cent of the world’s opium, a thick paste extracted from poppies and processed to make highly addictive heroin and then smuggled abroad. Military commanders say the trade funds the insurgency.

The Russian statement said the stance taken by the United States and Nato “ignores the fact that thousands of people die from heroin ... including in Afghanistan”. If Nato troops would not carry out eradication themselves, they should provide force protection for Afghans to do it, it said.

Poppy eradication has largely been seen as a failure by the US and Nato. According to the United Nations, less than 4 per cent of poppy planted in Afghanistan over the last two years was eradicated, and at a great human and economic cost.

Foreign troops in Afghanistan have never carried out poppy eradication themselves, but they have provided logistical support and security for Afghan eradication programmes, and programmes run by wes- tern security contracting firms.

The United States said last year it would phase out its eradication efforts and would concentrate instead on interdiction of the drug, going after traffickers’ heroin factories.—Reuters

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Soldier Charged with Taliban's Murder

A Canadian Army officer is being court martialed for shooting a wounded and unarmed Taliban prisoner in a case which shows the ever-shifting definition of "mercy killing". Captain Robert Semrau has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, attempted murder, disgraceful conduct and negligent performance of duty. It is the first time that a Canadian soldier has been charged with a battlefield murder.

A novel feature of the case is that Captain Semrau is alleged to have asserted the existence of a mercy killing pact in combat. This was supposed to be an agreement between enemy warriors that each would put the other out of mortal pain. As the military prosecutor described it, "You do to the enemy what you would want or expect him to do to you."

According to the prosecution, Taliban insurgents ambushed Canadian and Afghan soldiers late in the evening of October 19, 2008. Video footage exists of a wounded Taliban having his rifle, vest and ammunition removed and being assaulted, spat upon and kicked with sand while Semrau, the senior Canadian, stood by. Then he allegedly decided not to provide medical attention which could have saved the fighter's life. Instead he shot the man twice in the chest. ~ Toronto Star, Mar 25

Quote of the Week - Alexander Schmemann

“The Lenten worship is...a school of repentance. It teaches us what is repentance and how to acquire the spirit of repentance. It prepares us for and leads us to the spiritual regeneration without which ‘absolution’ remains meaningless. It is, in short, both teaching about repentance and the way of repentance. And since there can be no real Christian life without repentance, without this constant ‘re-evaluation’ of life, the Lenten worship is an essential part of the liturgical tradition of the Church.” — Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

Friday, March 26, 2010

Catholic Nuns: The Good and the Bad

National Catholic Register has an inspiring story about an order in France for sisters with Down Syndrone. Here is how the story closes:

The news about women’s religious orders in the U.S. has been somewhat less than inspirational recently—what with some groups of religious sisters doing all they could to ensure that our tax dollars would be used to make “life-affirming” abortion as widely and readily available as possible.

And so it is that this little story of a small community of sisters, doing hidden work while tucked away in France, warms my heart and feeds my soul today. God bless the Little Sisters Disciples of the Lamb.

And thank you, God, for small condolences and reminders of Your grace.

Al Qaeda Cells Busted in Saudi Arabia

RIYADH, March 24: Saudi Arabia has broken up three cells of Al Qaeda militants that were planning attacks in the kingdom, including on its oil installations, according to the interior ministry.

One cell consisted of 101 people, and two smaller cells were made up of six men each. The large cell comprised 47 Saudis and 51 Yemenis, as well as a Somali, a Bangladeshi and an Eritrean, said a statement read out on state television on Wednesday. The two smaller groups were made up of 11 Saudis and a Yemeni. Arms, ammunition, computers, pre-paid telephone cards and unspecified documents were seized in the operation.

The large cell was discovered as the result of an investigation launched after suspected Al Qaeda militants tried to infiltrate the country in October with explosives. The two were killed in a shootout at the border and a third was arrested.—AFP

Obama's Attitude Toward Pakistan

WASHINGTON, March 24: The United States and Pakistan pledged on Wednesday to boost and broaden their relationship although the media in both countries continued to express mistrust and suspicion about each other.

Yet both sides indicated that their strategic dialogue, which began in Washington on Wednesday, would produce several signed agreements, from building dams and roads to power projects and security commitments.

At a joint appearance before the media with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that the two countries were beginning a new chapter in relations.

“It is the start of something new,” said Mrs Clinton as two days of meetings got under way.

“Our countries have had our misunderstandings and disagreements in the past and there are sure to be more disagreements in the future.”

But the influential Washington Post newspaper reminded her that those suspicions were not a thing of the past.

It urged the Obama administration not to give in to Pakistan’s “lengthy laundry list” of demands and reject Islamabad’s requests for nuclear power plants and for US help in restarting the dialogue process with India.

The Pakistani media, on the other hand, continued to express suspicions about US claims of a long-term commitment to Islamabad. Several major Pakistan television channels also expressed indignation with Washington’s refusal to help resolve the Kashmir dispute.

Apparently, this forced Mr Qureshi to mention the Kashmir issue in his speech, urging the US to “constructively engage” in the process of its peaceful resolution with India.

“Pakistan seeks peaceful resolution to all issues in South Asia, including Kashmir,” he said. “We hope the US will maintain its constructive engagement to encourage this process.”

But at a Tuesday evening briefing at the Pakistan Embassy, US special envoy Richard Holbrooke once again refused to take “the K word” when asked what the US could do to help resolve the Kashmir dispute.

He insisted that these talks were not about India-Pakistan relations. Mr Qureshi also sought “non-discriminatory” access to energy, an apparent reference to nuclear cooperation that Pakistan is seeking with the US on the lines of the Indo-US atomic deal.

Secretary Clinton, however, has already made it clear that Pakistan should not expect such a deal, at least not in the near future.

The Pakistanis, however, are hoping that the Americans will somehow indicate a willingness to ultimately recognise their nuclear programme and thus ease international pressure on Islamabad on this issue.

But observers warn that this too may not happen soon.

Yet the Pakistanis will not return home empty handed. The US will sign two agreements during or at the end of the strategic dialogue, one for adding 400 MW to the country’s current capacity of producing electricity. The other would help enhance Pakistan’s depleting water resources.

Pakistani officials, however, expect more.

“These two agreements could have been signed quietly in Islamabad. They would not have created so much hype for this,” said one official.

One indication of what more the US could do came from Under-Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero who said at a State Department briefing on the occasion of the World Water Day that the US would engage Pakistan and India to help resolve tensions over the distribution of water between the two countries.

Mr Holbrooke also said that “some specific announcements” would be made after the dialogue but said he could not disclose them yet.

The talks, he said, were not about those specific announcements either.

“We want a productive partnership with Pakistan,” said the US envoy while explaining what the talks were about.

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir also said that Pakistan was not “seeking a donor-recipient relationship” with the United States and instead wanted a long-term, broad-based partnership.

Mr Holbrooke said that US relations with Pakistan would no longer be tied to Islamabad’s neighbours. “We realise that Pakistan is an important country on its own.”

At the opening ceremony on Wednesday, both sides showed a new spirit of camaraderie. Instead of facing each other across the table, Pakistani and US officials sat side-by-side to show that they were not confronting each other.

Foreign Minister Qureshi declared that an improved relationship between the two countries “is good for Pakistan, good for America and good for international peace, security and prosperity”.

He underlined the importance of Pakistan in the fight against extremism as he pitched for enhanced partnership with the US on a whole range of issues, including energy.

Earlier, Secretary Clinton said the US would help Pakistan in all issues, including meeting urgent energy needs.

While vowing to improve bilateral ties, she and Mr Qureshi said one way to do so would be to expand the security focus to include energy development, education and agriculture. They said all must be addressed to win the war on violent extremism.

Neither Mrs Clinton nor Mr Qureshi outlined specific programmes, but Pakistan has put energy, including civilian nuclear power, at the top of its list of priorities.

Pointing to Pakistan’s growing action against extremism, Secretary Clinton pledged full support, saying, “Its struggles are our struggles”.

But she acknowledged that the two nations “have had our misunderstandings and disagreements in the past”.

“There are sure to be more disagreements in the future, as there are between any friends or, frankly, any family members,” she said.

“But this is a new day. For the past year, the Obama administration has shown in our words and deeds a different approach and attitude towards Pakistan.”

Mr Qureshi also looked for improved ties with Washington. “Now is the time to look forward,” he said.

From here.

Editor's Note:
On Wednesday, the United States agreed to provide $125 million for energy development in Pakistan.  You can't buy friends in the Middle East, but you surely can make enemies.  In the case of Israel, the Obama administration appears to be alienating our only Middle Eastern friend. 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Obama the Diplomat (Not!)

For a head of state to visit the White House and not pose for photographers is rare. For a key ally to be left to his own devices while the President withdraws to have dinner in private was, until this week, unheard of.

Yet that is how Binyamin Netanyahu was treated by President Obama on Tuesday night, according to Israeli reports on a trip seen in Jerusalem tonight as a disastrous humiliation.

After failing to extract a written promise of concessions on Jewish settlements, Mr Obama walked out of his meeting with Mr Netanyahu but invited him to stay at the White House, consult with advisors and "let me know if there is anything new", a US congressman who spoke to the Prime Minister said today.

"It was awful," the congressman said. One Israeli newspaper called the meeting "a hazing in stages", poisoned by such mistrust that the Israeli delegation eventually left rather than risk being eavesdropped on a White House phone line.

A Blogger named Rhonda Writes: "Attention Mr. Natanyahu...the next time our Classless President walks away from you to have dinner on his own...come on over to my place. I'd be honored to make a nice meal for you! Please accept our apologies for his ineptness."

H/T Rick Lobs

Gregory the Great: Encouragement in Lent

"For we who still stand on the peak of pride, when now we have begun to sense something of the fear of eternity, it is fitting that we fall down in penitence. And when we lie there, simply and humbly acknowledging our infirmity, we are ordered through the consolation of the divine word to rise to brave deeds."

Gregory the Great, Homily on Ezekiel 2:1-2

May Christ the Divine Word, by the power of the Holy Spirit, lift you to a brave journey with him through Holy Week.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pelosi: Perhaps the Worst Catholic?

Nancy Pelosi makes yet another Catholic blunder in her remarks trying to say that Catholics, specifically religious sisters, are supportive of the healthcare reform bill.

She says that today, March 19, is the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. While today is the Feast of St. Joseph, most Catholics would recognize that the Church’s official Feast for St. Joseph the Worker comes later in the year, on May 1st.

Perhaps that’s another fact that she was mistaught by the School Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, whom she mentions in her remarks. In the video, she says that the School Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, and “every order you can think of was there saying that they want us to pass this life affirming legislation.”

Pelosi should be the poster-child for Catholic school miseducation. Recall the other things that she hasn’t been taught.

In August 2008, Pelosi told “Meet the Press” that the Catholic position on human life only developed over the past 50 years and that no one can tell you when human life begins.

At least six bishops responded to Pelosi’s statements. One of them was Denver’s Archbishop Charles Chaput.

“...from the beginning, the believing Christian community held that abortion was always, gravely wrong,” responded Archbishop Charles Chaput. “...we now know with biological certainty exactly when human life begins. Abortion kills an unborn, developing human life. It is always gravely evil, and so are the evasions employed to justify it. Catholics who make excuses for it - whether they’re famous or not - fool only themselves and abuse the fidelity of those Catholics who do sincerely seek to follow the Gospel and live their Catholic faith.”

From here.

Obama Care is Here!

WASHINGTON, March 22: US President Barack Obama won a decisive victory on Sunday night when Congress passed a historic bill extending health care to tens of millions of uninsured Americans and cracking down on insurance company abuses.

Mr Obama, who 15 years ago saw his mother struggling with medical bills on her death bed because of a health policy that favours the wealthy, on Sunday night left yet another mark on the American history. Already the first coloured president of the western world, he now became the first president to bring health care to more than 32 million uninsured Americans.

Overnight, Mr Obama’s perception changed from a weak to a strong president, from inept to imposing.

Even before the final vote, a Gallup survey reported that by Sunday evening, his popularity had popped back up to 50 per cent from 43 per cent. And former president Bill Clinton has predicted that Mr Obama’s numbers would jump ten percentage points “the minute health care reform passed”.

The vote on the health care overhaul was 219-212, with not a single Republican in the House of Representatives supporting the measure. Now it goes to Mr Obama who intends to sign the bill into law on Tuesday.

“We proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things,” Mr Obama said after the vote. “We proved that this government -- a government of the people and by the people -- still works for the people.”

On Monday, the US media noted that the bill was among the most far-reaching pieces of social legislation in US history, which brings “the most sweeping social reforms since Medicare was enacted in 1965”.

Before the final debate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi locked arms with her Democratic lieutenants to enter the Capitol through a phalanx of angry protesters.

Republicans demonstrators hurled racial slurs at several African American members of Congress as they walked towards the House to vote.

“We will be joining those who established Social Security, Medicare and now, tonight, health care for all Americans,” Speaker Pelosi told House members as she brought to a close a four-hour debate and called for a vote.

“Shame on this body, shame on each and every one of you,” House Republican Leader John Boehner told Democrats as they prepared to vote. “Shame on us.”

But this did not prevent them from voting for the bill, which, for the first time, requires most Americans to purchase insurance or face penalties. Families at incomes of up to $88,000 a year will receive subsidies to pay their premiums.

The bill also expands Medicaid, a health care programme for the poor, providing coverage for incomes up to 133 per cent of the federal poverty level -- $29,327 a year -- for a family of four. Childless adults would be covered for the first time, starting in 2014.

The insurance industry, which spent millions on advertising in their attempt to block the bill, would come under new federal regulation. They would be forbidden from placing lifetime dollar limits on policies, from denying coverage to children because of pre-existing conditions and from cancelling policies when a policy-holder becomes ill.

Parents would be able to keep children up to age 26 on their family insurance plans, three years longer than is now the case.

A new high-risk pool would offer coverage to uninsured people with medical problems until 2014, when the coverage expansion would go into high gear.

The final obstacle to passage was cleared a few hours before the vote, when President Obama and Democratic leaders reached a compromise with anti-abortion lawmakers whose rebellion had left the outcome in doubt.

From the Pakistani perspective.

American Linked to Mumbai Massacre

MUMBAI, March 22: An Indian judge on Monday rejected a call for a US national who admitted scouting targets for the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks to be made a witness in the trial of the sole surviving gunman.

Judge M. L. Tahaliyani backed a prosecution objection to a bid to have David Coleman Headley testify to the special prison court in Mumbai, the domestic PTI news agency said.

Pakistani national Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab is currently on trial in Mumbai charged with a string of offences, including murder, attempted murder and “waging war” against India.

The application for Headley to be quizzed as a witness came from Sabauddin Ahmed, who is standing trial alongside Kasab with another Indian national accused of providing maps of key landmarks to the 10 gunmen.—AFP

Monday, March 22, 2010

Obama at Prayer

His Dad would be proud.

Michael Poon on the Anglican Covenant

The Anglican Communion as Communion of Churches: on the historic significance of the Anglican Covenant

-- Dr. Michael Nai Chiu Poon

The paper aims to draw out the historic significance of the Anglican Covenant for the Anglican Communion. It begins by examining the nature and reasons of the “ecclesial deficit” of the Anglican Communion. It points out that the ecclesial status of the Anglican Communion has never been clarified. The Anglican Communion arises historically as an accident. It has never been constituted as an ecclesial body. The paper traces the transformations in the Anglican ecclesiastical map amid powerful global undercurrents in the second half of the twentieth century. It reflects on the emergence of the status of the See of Canterbury as “focus of unity” of the Anglican Communion. It proceeds to point out how uncritical adoption of the term “instruments of unity” from Protestant ecumenical dialogues led to confusion and mistrust among Anglican Churches. The paper then explores the potentials of communion-ecclesiology for the Anglican Covenant. It goes on to argue that the Anglican Covenant, grounded in the New Covenant, provides the canonical structure of the Anglican Communion. It constitutes the particular Churches to be a confident Communion of Churches. The inter-Anglican structures of the Anglican Communion should in fact be the ecclesiastical embodiment of the Anglican Covenant.

Read the rest here.
Bottom Line:
"The call to be the Anglican Communion is a call to be a sign and promise to 'a real participation in the divine life, a theosis” (Cyprus Agreed Statement, 1.4).

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Quote of the Week - Donald D. Quinn

If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn't want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher's job. ~ Donald D. Quinn

Anti-War Protests in the Capitol

WASHINGTON: Thousands of anti-war protesters took to the streets of the US capital Saturday, on the seventh anniversary of the US-led war in Iraq in a show of frustration widely ignored by the media and public.

As the National Marathon wound down in the city, protesters after midday gathered outside the White House bearing signs alluding to the high cost of the war both in money and human lives and decrying the use of unmanned aircraft, or drones, to bomb US enemies.

Under sunny skies and the watchful but discreet gaze of uniformed police, some demonstrators carried coffins draped in the Iraqi and Afghan flags in homage to civilian deaths the fighting in both countries has caused.

“Obama policies in Iraq and Afghanistan are as criminal as Bush’s,” said Iraqi Veterans Against the War member Mathhis Chiroux, 26, referring to President Barack Obama’s continuation of the two-front war his predecessor George W. Bush began.

“The US machine produces war regardless of who is president. We are killing innocents,” he added.

Larry Syverson, 61, carried a photograph of his soldier son, Branden, currently deployed in Afghanistan.
“I am here to remind the Americans there are two wars going on,” he said.

But despite the colorful, often vociferous demonstration, there was little awareness elsewhere of the Saturday milestone in the Iraq war.

Besides mentioning the anniversary in passing, US media focused almost exclusively on the political brinkmanship preceding Sunday’s vote in the House of Representatives for Obama’s flagship health care reform bill.

“People are getting used to the war, and don't bother even to think about it anymore,” said Kathy Hoang, of Manchester, Connecticut.

According to the independent Website, 4,385 American soldiers have perished in Iraq since the invasion of the country was launched in March 2003.

Another 1,024 have died in Afghanistan.

Compare that to the civilian casualties in the two countries and the numbers really soar. Just Foreign Policy, an independent group based in Washington, estimates the number of total Iraqi deaths since the invasion to be 1,366,350. And while the total number of Afghan deaths since the US-led invasion in 2001 is uncertain, the United Nation estimates that 5,978 civilians were killed in 2009 alone.


Seven protesters, including activist Cindy Sheehan, were arrested at the rally in Washington.

Sheehan began shouting “arrest that war criminal” through a bullhorn and pointing to the White House from an area of sidewalk that park police had closed off Saturday afternoon. The other six protesters were among a group of more than a dozen who had lain down on the sidewalk next to a row of flag-draped cardboard coffins outside the White House fence.

Sheehan has been a vocal critic of the war since her 21-year-old son Casey was killed in Iraq in April 2004.

From here.

India's Operation Green Hunt

Arundhati Roy, the first journalist to interview Maoist guerrillas living in the forest bordering India.

There are many ways to describe Dantewara. It’s an oxymoron. It’s a border town smack in the heart of India. It’s the epicenter of a war. It’s an upside down, inside out town.

In Dantewara the police wear plain clothes and the rebels wear uniforms. The jail-superintendant is in jail. The prisoners are free (three hundred of them escaped from the old town jail two years ago). Women who have been raped are in police custody. The rapists give speeches in the bazaar.

Across the Indravati river, in the area controlled by the Maoists, is the place the police call ‘Pakistan’. There the villages are empty, but the forest is full of people. Children who ought to be in school, run wild. In the lovely forest villages, the concrete school buildings have either been blown up and lie in a heap, or they’re full of policemen. The deadly war that’s unfolding in the jungle, is a war that the Government of India is both proud and shy of.

Operation Green Hunt has been proclaimed as well as denied. P. Chidambaram, India’s Home Minister (and CEO of the war) says it does not exist, that it’s a media creation. And yet substantial funds have been allocated to it and tens of thousands of troops are being mobilized for it. Though the theatre of war is in the jungles of Central India, it will have serious consequences for us all.

If ghosts are the lingering spirits of someone, or something that has ceased to exist, then perhaps the new four-lane highway crashing through the forest is the opposite of a ghost. Perhaps it is the harbinger of what is still to come.

The antagonists in the forest are disparate and unequal in almost every way. On one side is a massive paramilitary force armed with the money, the firepower, the media, and the hubris of an emerging Superpower.

On the other, ordinary villagers armed with traditional weapons, backed by a superbly organized, hugely motivated Maoist guerilla fighting force with an extraordinary and violent history of armed rebellion. The Maoists and the paramilitary are old adversaries and have fought older avatars of each other several times before: Telengana in the ’50s, West Bengal, Bihar, Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh in the late ’60s and ’70s, and then again in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra from the ’80s all the way through to the present.

Read it all here.

Amit Kumar Jailed for Stealing Kidneys

Impoverished Indian labourer Mohammad Salim had one of his kidneys stolen headed up by a doctor whom the local media are calling the "kidney kingpin", Amit Kumar. An estimated 500 other poor labourers received much the same treatment. Indian authorities believe that Dr Kumar, who is now in jail awaiting trial, sold most of the kidneys to wealthy foreigners. Salim's kidney appears to have been given to a Greek woman.

Two years ago Salim was lured to Delhi from his hometown of Meerut by the promise of a job. Instead, he was taken in a "big black car" to Kumar's clinic. He was forced to give a blood sample and then sedated. When he woke up 15 hours later he had acute pain in his side and was missing a kidney.

He was threatened with death if he revealed what had happened to him. He told the media: "As I entered the building there were four men standing there with guns. They told me not to speak about anything that happened there or they would shoot me." After the surgery, another doctor told him, "We found you in your home town so we can also send a bullet there to kill you too."

Now Salim is unable to work for more than a few hours at a time. His children have all dropped out of school, and some days he doesn't make enough money to feed them. The Australian media has picked up the kidney sale scandal because Dr Kumar is believed to have invested heavily in the Australian property market. ~ The Age, Mar 13, Far Eastern Economic Review, Jan 2009

Murder and Assisted Suicide

In the Tennessee town of Dickson, 50-year-old James D. Hamilton often stayed overnight in the Lynn household. The son, 35-year-old Doug, was a paraplegic. Apparently he had asked several people in the Nashville area to put him out of his misery. They refused. This week, he asked Mr Hamilton to kill him in exchange for prescription drugs. Mr Hamilton was more obliging and began hitting him on the head with a hammer. Doug's mother, 62-year-old Faye, came to see what was going on and Mr Hamilton panicked. He seized a .40 calibre pistol and shot Mrs Lynn in the back and in the chest. For some reason he failed to complete his original assignment and sped off in his car. He has been charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder.

As a suicide assistant, Mr Hamilton's methods lacked elegance, but they do serve as a cautionary lesson about the complex background to what the local TV station described as a "mercy killing" and "assisted suicide". ~ WSMV, Mar 18; Dickson Herald, Mar 18

Friday, March 19, 2010

US Silence on Human Rights

SOURCE: Human Rights Watch

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - New York, March 11, 2010 - Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign relations chief, should raise human rights concerns with Syrian officials during her visit next week and seek specific commitments to improve their record, Human Rights Watch said today. So far, the increased Western engagement with Syria has not resulted in any human rights gains because the US and Europe have failed to press the issue, Human Rights Watch said.

In the last three months, as Western officials reached out to Syria, its security services have detained numerous human rights activists, journalists, and students who tried to exercise their rights to free expression and assembly. In February alone, Prime Minister Francois Fillon of France and US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns have visited Damascus.

"As the last few months have demonstrated, talking to Syria without putting its rights record on the table emboldens the government to believe that it can do whatever it wants to its people, without consequence," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "A message to Syria that says 'We only care about your external affairs' is a green light for repression."

On March 2, 2010, Military Intelligence in Aleppo stormed the apartment of Abdel Hafez Abdel Rahman, a board member of the unlicensed Kurdish human rights group MAF ("Right" in Kurdish), and detained him with another MAF board member, Nadera Abdo. Other members of the group said that the detention is tied to Abdel Rahman's activities for the group MAF. While the security services released Abdo on March 6, Abdel Rahman remains in detention.

Security services have also detained bloggers, journalists, and writers. On December 27, 2009, State Security called in Tal al-Mallohi, 19, a secondary school student, for interrogation, reportedly for articles she wrote and distributed on her blog. A few days later, the security services confiscated her computer and detained her. A Syrian human rights activist told Human Rights Watch that she remains in detention. Human Rights Watch was unable to determine what article the security forces deemed objectionable.

On November 22, State Security detained without explanation Ma'en 'Akel, a journalist at the newspaper Thawra. Syrian activists following the case said 'Akel apparently was detained for investigating government corruption. Security forces finally released him on February 23, 2010, without charging him with a crime. On January 7, security forces detained another journalist, Ali Taha, and a photographer, Ali Ahmad, in the Sayyida Zaynab neighborhood of Damascus. They were released on February 7, without having been charged. Both work for the satellite TV station Rotana, which mainly focuses on social life topics.

On February 10, border police detained Ragheda Sa'id Hasan, who had been a political prisoner in the 1990s for her Communist Action Party membership, as she tried to cross into Lebanon. Three days later, unidentified individuals entered her apartment and confiscated a copy of "The New Prophets," a manuscript in which she describes her experience as a political detainee, as well as publications issued by various Syrian opposition parties. She remains in detention.

"A government that fails to respect the rights of its citizens can't be counted on to respect any other international obligation, to anyone," Whitson said. "Ending the persecution of Syrian citizens should be part and parcel of any plan to rehabilitate this government from its isolation."

Two detained human rights lawyers, Muhannad al-Hasani, president of the Syrian Human Rights Organization (Swasiah) and Haytham al-Maleh, a 79-year-old prominent human rights lawyer who has been jailed repeatedly, are on trial. On February 18, al-Hasani appeared before a Damascus criminal court for interrogation on charges of "weakening national sentiment" and "spreading false or exaggerated information" in connection with his monitoring of the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC), a special court with almost no procedural guarantees.

Al-Maleh appeared before a military judge on February 22 to face new charges of "insulting the president" and "slandering a governmental body." According to his family, his health is failing since the 'Adra prison authorities stopped allowing families to bring medication to inmates on February 11. Al-Maleh, who has diabetes and an overactive thyroid, has refused the prison pharmacy's medicine because he believes the medicine is of poor quality.

"While Syrian officials are chatting up Western diplomats in their gilded front parlors, they're jailing anyone who dares to utter a critical word in their basement prison cells," Whitson said.

Security forces also have cracked down on political activists, particularly Kurdish leaders. On December 26, Political Security detained four prominent members of the Kurdish party Yekiti: Hassan Saleh, Muhammad Mustapha, Ma'ruf Mulla Ahmad, and Anwar Naso. All four remain in incommunicado detention. In a recent report, Human Rights Watch documented the increased repression of Syria's Kurds following large-scale Kurdish demonstrations in March 2004. The Syrian authorities also are expanding their travel bans on activists. On February 24, security services prevented Radeef Mustapha, the head of the board of the Kurdish Human Rights Committee, and the coordinator of the Syrian Coalition to Combat the Death Penalty, from traveling to Geneva to attend the fourth annual conference to combat the death penalty. According to a February 2009 study published by the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, at least 417 political and human rights activists are banned from traveling.

"We are back to the bad old days where you have to watch every word you say," a Syrian lawyer who wished to remain anonymous told Human Rights Watch over the phone.
For more information:

Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10118
hrwnyc (@)
Phone: +1 212 290 4700
Fax: +1 212 736 1300
Human Rights Watch

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pakistan Wants US to "Deliver"

ISLAMABAD, March 18: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Thursday it was time for the United States to address Pakistan’s security concerns and economic development needs.

“We have already done too much … Pakistan has done its bit, we have delivered; now it’s your (the US) turn. Start delivering,” he said at a media briefing on the upcoming US-Pakistan strategic dialogue.

The first such dialogue at the ministerial level in Washington on March 24 will cover a wide spectrum of bilateral relations.

The meeting to be co-chaired by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Minister Qureshi would bring together Pakistani and American officials for in-depth discussions on issues of economic development, water and energy, education, communications and public diplomacy, agriculture and security.

Mr Qureshi said efforts would be made to rebuild confidence and trust and develop a long-term partnership based on mutual respect, mutual interest and shared values.

He was more categorical about Islamabad’s expectations that included a realisation of Pakistan’s concerns in “the realm of security and economic development”. Stressing the need for the US to address Pakistan’s strategic concerns, he said economic aid “cannot be a sole driver for stable strategic partnership”.

Read it all here.

Episcopal Church Converted to Muslim Awareness Center

Former Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd

At BabyBlue’s, Matt Kennedy, former priest at Good Shepherd Church, writes in the comments:

The fact is that Good Shepherd had doubled in size from 2002 to 2009 when we lost the building despite the poor demographics in town.

And, during negotiations, we offered three times the amount for the property than did the mosque which eventually bought it.

Instead the diocese sued us, kicked us out of the building and my family out of our home, and sold the church building cut rate to those who teach that Jesus is not God, did not truly die, did not rise, and is not Lord.

Read more here.
They have removed the cross, the most fundamental reality of creation.  Those who sold it and those who now inhabit it little understand the seriousness of this affront to Christ our God. Lord, have mercy!

Public Debt: Your Share is $41,047.88. and Growing

The Outstanding Public Debt as of 18 Mar 2010 at 11:39:06 PM GMT is:

The estimated population of the United States is 308,032,693 so each citizen's share of this debt is $41,047.88.

From here.

Ethiopia Threatened by Ogaden Lib Front

Founded more than 25 years ago, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) is now playing an increasingly important role in the Horn of Africa's complex politics. Its recent operations in Ethiopia's Somali Region (commonly known as the Ogaden) have shown that the insurgent group remains a threat to Ethiopia and its hopes of opening up the area to foreign investment. The group also has a presence in neighbouring Somalia, where it may be fighting alongside Hizbul Islam, one of the two main Islamist insurgent groups.

Read it all here.

Nothing Ethical About Obamacare

After a year of debate and legislative scheming, President Obama and congressional Democrats are making one last push for their ill-conceived health care plan. Fittingly, the endgame is as unseemly as the various maneuvers and backroom deals that got them this far.

The procedural machinations are outrageous and embarrassing. But they are not nearly as bad as the substance of what the Democrats are pushing. Obama-care (like the public's distaste for it) has not changed -- and the sordid details of the desperate struggle to pass the bill must not cause us to forget its ruinous implications for the country. It is a sweeping and expensive plan to put the federal government in the driver's seat of American health care. But no less important than the dangers it poses for American medicine are the ways it threatens to undermine the nation's prosperity.

The heart of the Democratic plan is a promise to provide subsidized insurance coverage to some 35 to 40 million people. This will cost about $200 billion per year by 2019. And despite all of the talk of bending the cost curve, the Congressional Budget Office says the price will grow by 8 percent per year every year thereafter -- which parallels the rapid cost growth of Medicare and Medicaid over the last four decades. In other words, the White House and congressional Democrats want to create another runaway entitlement program, piled on top of the unaffordable ones that are already slated to bankrupt the government.

Read it all here.

Obama Diverts Military Shipment to Israel

Officials said the U.S. military was ordered to divert a shipment of smart bunker-buster bombs from Israel to a military base in Diego Garcia. They said the shipment of 387 smart munitions had been slated to join pre-positioned U.S. military equipment in Israel Air Force bases.

"This was a political decision," an official said.

From here.

Sahil Saeed 's Kidnappers Arrested

ISLAMABAD: A five-year-old British boy was reunited with his father in Pakistan on Thursday, a British high commission official said following a kidnapping ordeal that saw a ransom paid in Paris.

Sahil Saeed was recovered by Pakistani police on Tuesday after being dropped near the town where he was kidnapped at gunpoint from his grandmother's house as he and his father prepared to fly home to Britain after a family holiday.
His father Raja Naqqash Saeed flew into Pakistan on Thursday and was reunited with his son at the British high commission in Islamabad, an official at the diplomatic mission told AFP.

Spanish police announced Wednesday that a Pakistani man and a Romanian woman travelled to Paris to collect a ransom of 110,000 pounds (168,000 dollars) for Sahil and were then arrested in the northeastern Spanish town of Constanti.

Another Pakistani man was also arrested in Constanti while French police detained two family members of the man who went to Paris, accusing them of being accomplices.

From here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sahil Saeed Home. Where is Mahnoor Fatima?

GUJAR KHAN / GUJRAT, March 16: A British boy kidnapped about two weeks ago was freed unharmed on Tuesday, ending the traumatic ordeal of the family settled in the English town of Oldham.

Five-year-old Sahil Saeed was kidnapped on gunpoint from his grandparents’ home in Jhelum where he was on vacation with his father.

After receiving a call early in the morning, a police team went to Channan village in Gujrat district and found the boy standing near a petrol pump. The kidnapers had left him in a field, regional police chief Mohammad Aslam Tareen said.

He told journalists in Jhelum that the kidnappers had been under immense pressure to free the boy unharmed because of efforts of police and other law-enforcement agencies and active cooperation extended by the Greater Manchester Police of Britain.

The boy was handed over to officials of the British high commission who took him to Islamabad. The police official said a medical officer had examined Sahil and found him physically fit and confident.

He thanked the British government for its help and said that the boy’s recovery was only the first stage in resolving the case and further investigations were under way.

There have been reports that the boy was freed after payment of ransom, but Mr Tareen said he had no information about it.

Journalists saw the child engrossed in playing games on a cellphone at the Jhelum police rest-house. Officials of the British high commission and police did not allow anyone to take his photograph. Mr Tareen said Sahil’s parents would arrive from the UK in a couple of days and the boy would be reunited with them at the British high commission.

According to Jhelum district police chief Dr Mohammad Azam, the boy’s overjoyed mother Akila Naqqash spoke to him on telephone from Oldham and Sahil inquired about his two sisters and other members of the family.

Sahil was kidnapped on March 3 by a group of gunmen who had barged into the house minutes before he and his father Raja Naqqash Saeed were to board a taxi for the Islamabad airport to catch a flight for the UK.

The men also looted valuables from the house. Before taking away the child, they reportedly demanded a ransom of 100,000 pounds for his release. According to some reports, Sahil’s father received a call from Spain after the incident.

At least eight people, including the driver of the taxi, were rounded up by police who claimed that they had significant leads about the identity of the criminals. Raja Naqqash quietly flew to the UK on March 9 and, according to media reports, worked with the Manchester police to get his son freed.

Denying reports that the kidnapping was an insider’s job, the boy’s grandfather Mohammad Basharat Raja said that no member of the family was involved. He also denied that any ransom had been paid in or outside Pakistan.

However, sources claimed that the ransom had been paid abroad. They said plain-clothed policemen had been deployed in areas around the place where the boy had been found.

AFP adds: Sahil’s mother told BBC radio in Oldham that he appeared unperturbed by his ordeal. “I talked to him on the phone and I thought ‘that’s my little boy’, that’s enough for me. The way he spoke to me was normal, like a normal little boy.”

She said he had asked about his sisters and remarked how much he was missing his favourite toy. Akila Naqqash said: “I am just waiting for my little boy to come back. No more crying, I just want to have a big party.”

Source:  Pakistan Dawn

Where is the 6-year old girl, Mahnoor Fatima, whose poor family can't pay a ransom?

2 Kidnapped Children Worlds Apart

JHELUM, March 16: When six-year-old Mahnoor Fatima disappeared, her mother’s world collapsed. But she was too poor and kidnappings too common for police to do much more than register the case.

So when Shamin Akhter Butt discovered senior officials were working round the clock to free a five-year-old British boy kidnapped nearly two weeks ago, she rushed to his home in the vain hope of attracting attention to her plight.

“Despite our cries and tears these last six months, nothing has happened. Why isn’t the same attention given to my daughter?” asked Mrs Butt through tears as she stood on the lawn of the British boy’s family home this month.

Mahnoor disappeared while playing outside on October 6 last year, but unlike Sahil Saeed, whose overjoyed family heard on Tuesday he had been released, she has never been seen again.

“This shows the difference between rich and poor. No one even came to my house to console me... Everything is done here for the rich and the British but nothing for Pakistanis and the poor,” she told AFP by telephone on Tuesday.

When Sahil Saeed was kidnapped at the end of a holiday with his grandmother, other people with loved ones missing descended on his home in Jhelum.

The compound shared by Sahil’s grandmother and uncle was crowded with Jhelum notables, political leaders, journalists from local newspapers and correspondents from some of the world’s most influential news channels.

The parents and families of children missing far longer than Sahil, with none of the diplomatic support or pledges of assistance from the government and police, were left wishing for more.

According to statistics, 240 people were kidnapped across the country in the first two months of the year alone — with only 74 of them recovered so far. Many of the cases are related to family quarrels, love affairs, property disputes or simple quests for money — particularly for the wealthier victims.

In Karachi, Mohammad Masroor, a sales executive with a local firm, said he welcomed Sahil’s release, but was desperately worried about his brother Irfan Ali, 22, who was kidnapped when he went out to run errands.

“Other poor Pakistanis should be helped in the same way as the authorities helped that British family,” Masroor told AFP.

“We searched for him the whole night. I inquired about him from relatives and searched hospitals but didn’t find him. Then we lodged a report with the police about his disappearance,” he said.

The next day, the family received an anonymous call demanding Rs5 million for his release.“That call was a bombshell for the family, for our mother in particular. We were helpless as the amount was far beyond our reach,” he said.

Police apparently believe kidnappers are holding Irfan somewhere in thick forest in Sindh, leaving police “helpless” in accessing what has become a virtual no-go area for law enforcement authorities.

“The whole family is extremely disturbed, but I have put all my savings together and borrowed from relatives to make it one million rupees. I believe Allah will help me in getting my brother released soon.”

In Peshawar, Tariq Ali’s 15-year-old son was kidnapped last August but he is still without news. “Our rulers don’t consider the children of Pakistani citizens human beings.—AFP

Yemen Shuts Down Al Jazeera

SOURCE: Committee to Protect Journalists

(CPJ/IFEX) - New York, March 12, 2010 - The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Yemeni authorities' seizure of equipment enabling the pan-Arab satellite news channels Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera to broadcast live from the country.

Security forces raided the Sana'a offices of Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya on Thursday, according to news reports and CPJ interviews. The move came after both channels had broadcast clashes between police and protesters in the southern town of Daleh, as well as rallies in the north against the crackdown. The stations can still report and transmit taped coverage.

In a statement, Yemen's Information Minister Hassan al-Lozy said that the channels did not have proper authorization for the equipment, a claim both stations dispute. Al-Lozy added that the equipment would eventually be returned to the stations.

"We condemn this arbitrary seizure and ask the authorities to allow Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya to resume their live broadcasts without delay," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. "To suddenly assert that the confiscations are due to lack of authorization is not credible given than both channels have been broadcasting from Yemen for years without such a claim by authorities."

Al-Arabiya's bureau chief in Sana'a, Mahmud Munassar, told CPJ that his employees were briefly detained and questioned. He called the raid an "intimidation" tactic designed to silence the channel's coverage of Yemen. "Al-Arabiya received the green light from the president of the republic in 2009 to bring live broadcasting equipment into Yemen," Munassar told CPJ. "The Sana'a government is clearly trying to cover up its policies in the south."

Murad Hashim, Al-Jazeera's bureau chief in Sana'a, told CPJ that a Yemeni official had telephoned him earlier on Thursday, cautioning that measures would be taken if the channel covered a meeting of southern opposition leaders.

Dissatisfied groups in the south of the country have increasingly accused authorities of marginalizing the region's residents. Since April 2009, as clashes between government forces and protesters have been reported throughout southern Yemen, CPJ has documented the persistent harassment of the country's press, including two raids on a newspaper office and the banning of multiple papers. Journalists have gone missing and have been imprisoned. In May 2009, Yemen established a special court to examine media and publishing offenses.
For more information:

Committee to Protect Journalists
330 7th Ave., 11th Floor
New York, NY 10001
info (@)
Phone: +1 212 465 1004
Fax: +1 212 465 9568

Committee to Protect Journalists

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Archbishop Tomasi on Religious Persecution

Statement by H.E. Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, Permanent Representative of the Holy See to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva at the General Debate Item 3 of the 13th Session of the Human Rights Council Geneva, 12th March 2010

Mr. President,
Three weeks ago the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the permanent Committee of al-Azhar University for Dialogue among the Monotheistic Religions held the annual meeting of their Joint Committee for Dialogue in Cairo (23-24 February). In their joint declaration the participants recommended paying “greater attention to the fact that the manipulation of religion for political or other ends can be a source of violence”, and avoiding “discrimination on the basis of religious identity”.

Mr. President, in a number of countries freedom of religion is not yet fully guaranteed. Recent surveys indicate that nearly 70 percent of the world’s 6.8 billion people live in countries with high restrictions on religion, the brunt of which often falls on religious minorities. The latter’s rights are seriously violated, their freedom of worship hampered. In some regions followers of minority religions, that are not recognized by law, have to confess their faith in hiding and illegally, in fear of prison terms and persecution. In other places, while the right to freedom of religion is legally recognized, religious minorities are harassed and persecuted by members of the majority religion. Their properties are damaged, their houses of worship are destroyed, their lives severely threatened. These criminal acts are often committed in total impunity. Authorities stand idly by or are partisans in the conflict. Victims are forced to desist from reporting the injustice done to them for fear of further negative repercussions. Perpetrators harassing religious minorities feel encouraged by the silent collusion of State authorities and by a judicial system that is ineffective or partial. The limitation clauses in international instruments should not be used in a disproportionate manner to strike at the rights of religious and ethnic minorities and political opponents but only to protect and promote the human rights of all.

The Holy See calls therefore upon States to respect and promote the right to freedom of religion in all its aspects, through national legislation, including appropriate sanctions against violators to eradicate impunity effectively.

Mr. President, victims of discrimination and violent attacks have a right to obtain redress and compensation for the harm done to them by public or private agents. The State has the responsibility of protecting the fundamental human rights of all people in its territory. In order to obtain just redress, standard and objective methods should be laid down in national legislation for working out retribution and relief measures. As long as the State is not able or willing to provide effective legal protection for all its citizens, the continuous persecution of ethnic and religious minority communities will continue to afflict the world and to weaken the human rights of everyone.

Mr. President, in his address to the members of the Diplomatic Corps last January, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI underlined that “sadly, in certain countries, (…) one increasingly encounters in political and cultural circles, as well as in the media, scarce respect and at times hostility, if not scorn, directed towards religion (…). It is clear that if relativism is considered an essential element of democracy, one risks viewing secularity solely in the sense of excluding or, more precisely, denying the social importance of religion. But such an approach creates confrontation and division, disturbs peace, harms human ecology and, by rejecting in principle approaches other than its own, finishes in a dead end. There is thus an urgent need to delineate a positive and open secularity which, grounded in the just autonomy of the temporal order and the spiritual order, can foster healthy cooperation and a spirit of shared responsibility.”

Mr. President, the way forward rests on an effective implementation of all human rights by recognizing and respecting the dignity of each human being, without distinction of ethnicity or religion; on rejection of all forms of discrimination on the ground of race, colour, sex or religion; on fair treatment in the courts; on an educational system that teaches peaceful coexistence built on mutual respect, solidarity and cooperation as means that promote a healthy social pluralism and a prosperous life for all members of our one human family.

Thank you, Mr. President.

From here.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Choudary: Violent Islam

Anjem Choudary, a leading Muslim radical says Islamic teachings are what shaped his pro-jihad message.

Although both George W. Bush and Barack Obama have declared that Islam is a religion of peace, Choudary begs to differ.
"You can't say that Islam is a religion of peace," Choudary told CBN News. "Because Islam does not mean peace. Islam means submission. So the Muslim is one who submits. There is a place for violence in Islam. There is a place for jihad in Islam."

Choudary is the leader of Islam4UK, a group recently banned in Britain under the country's counter-terrorism laws. He wants Islamic Sharia law to rule the United Kingdom and is working to make that dream a reality.

Read it all here.

Yemen's Brutal Treatment of Mohammed al Maqaleh

(IFJ/IFEX) - 11 March 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has today accused the Yemeni authorities of "brutal inhumanity" in their treatment of a leading editor who has been subject to kidnapping, detention and denial of access to basic medical treatment for six months.

"The ordeal of Mohammed al Maqaleh is a scandalous story of neglect and brutal inhumanity," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "We fully support our colleagues in Yemen who demand his immediate release and an end to all the violations of his rights."

The IFJ is backing protest by the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate (YJS), an IFJ affiliate over the case and has written to the country's President Ali Abdullah Saleh, calling for an investigation of how the authorities have handled this case and for those responsible for al Maqaleh's maltreatment to be brought to justice.

Al Maqaleh is the editor for the opposition Socialist Party's website, Al Eshteraki. He was kidnapped in September after the news site reported on Yemeni military air strikes targeting civilians in an incident that killed 87 people and injured more than a hundred.

He was snatched by gunmen on the streets of the capital Sana'a and since then has been subject to systematic abuse. For months security agencies as well as the Attorney General repeatedly denied knowledge of his fate, until official agencies revealed his abduction and transferred him to prison and to be charged with criminal charges on 30 January 2010.

The union says that during his disappearance he has been subjected to systematic psychological and physical abuse. He suffered three simulated executions, his captors fired guns close to him, he has been beaten, denied food and drink for days, and finally put blindfolded in a dark, secluded area outside the capital Sana'a.

In the letter to President Saleh, White and IFJ President Jim Boumelha accused the authorities of "bringing shame to the country" by a process of abuse that has also included psychological torture of his family who have been sent mixed messages about his fate by officials.

The IFJ says there have been dozens of instances in which plain clothes security officers have snatched journalists off the street. There have been many reports of severe beatings, sexual assaults, threats to family, whipping and other forms of violence used again prisoners and kidnap victims in Yemen. Mohamed al Maqaleh is the latest victim of such treatment.

The targeting of journalists and suppression of newspapers and web sites has taken place at a time when the government is anxious not to have critical coverage of the ongoing Sa'ada War.

The syndicate has announced plans to organise protest activities next Monday to coincide with the day of the Yemeni press. Protests will focus on the cases of Al-Maqaleh and Al-Yawm newspaper, and jailed journalists Fouad Rashid, Salah Al-Saqaladi as well as that of Al-Raboui, who was assassinated on 9 February.

The syndicate has been calling for the Attorney General to put a stop to the mistreatment of Al-Maqaleh and to allow him access to medication due to his deteriorating health. But court officials have continued his criminal prosecution, despite evidence of crimes of abduction and reliance on charges that the defence says are trumped up. A hearing last Saturday had to be postponed due to his failing health.

At the trial, prosecutors alleged in the indictment, that the arrest was ordered by them, while the Attorney General had assured the syndicate in the early days of the kidnapping of Al-Maqaleh that he did not issue any arrest warrant against him.

"The anger of Yemeni journalists at the treatment of Mohamed Al-Maqaleh and others is understandable," said White. "Now the international community must raise their voices in this case to highlight the horrific abuse of journalists and intellectuals in the country."

For more information:
International Federation of Journalists
International Press Centre, Residence Palace
Bloc C, second floor, Rue de la Loi, 155
1040 Brussels
Phone: +32 2 2352207
Fax: +32 2 2352219

International Federation of Journalists

Quote of the Week - Robert Samuelson

"If not now, when? If not us, who?" Obama asks. The answer is: It's not now, and it's not 'us.' Pass or not, Obama's proposal is the illusion of 'reform,' not the real thing." --Robert Samuelson

More Images of Orthodoxy

Gilded onion domes of Moscow

Elder Porohyrios

Orthodox in Spain

Our children are taught reverance.  They are taught to worship the Holy Trinity and to venerate what is holy.

May our prayers rise as fragrant incense to the throne of God.

Father Artemy

Coptic twins with their priest

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Obama's State of Union Address Criticized

The Supreme Court being a usually quietly deliberative body, couldn’t exactly hold press conferences after President Obama made unprecedented (and unpresidential) remarks harshly rebuking the High Court in Obama’s last SOTU address. The most we got was a camera shot of Justice Samuel Alito silently shaking his head and mouthing the words ‘not true’. But now, after due diligence, Chief Justice Roberts is talking, and taking Obama to task.

Read what Justice Roberts has to say here.

Georgia Monasteries to Take Inmates

Officials in the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia have announced a scheme to let prisoners shorten their jail terms by spending time in a monastery instead.

The scheme for petty criminals has been proposed by the country's Orthodox Church and government officials.

It comes as prisoner numbers in Georgia continue to rise and so too does the popularity of the Church.

It is unclear how many prisoners will be allowed to become monks or if they have any choice in the matter.

To say that the Orthodox Church plays an important and influential role in Georgia is an understatement.

Some 80% of its population are said to be Orthodox Christians and its leaders have at times played a part in politics.

Now the Church has gone a step further by directly offering to help reform certain criminals by handing them a cassock and allowing them to serve out their sentence as monks.

In a joint statement, officials from the prisons ministry and the Church said they would work together to select the convicts they thought would benefit most from spending time in a monastery.

They said the purpose was to liberalise the criminal justice system, but the reality is that prisoner numbers are rising fast in Georgia.

A report last year by a penal reform organisation said the incarceration rate had risen by 300% since 2004 and that jails were badly overcrowded.

A senior cleric told the BBC he believed the Church played a positive role in society and that the scheme could work.

Read it here.

(H/T Ad Orientem)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Protestant Devotion to Mary

David Mills, in his latest book, Discovering Mary, helps us linger in the domain of Mary by opening up to us the riches of divine revelation, both from tradition and Scripture. Mills, a convert from the Episcopal Church, former editor of the Christian journal Touchstone and editor of the 1998 book of essays commemorating the centennial of C.S. Lewis’ birth The Pilgrim’s Guide: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Witness, as well as the author of Knowing the Real Jesus (2001), has written a rock-solid introduction to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and done so with intellectual rigor and an affable tone.

His book begins with an introduction in which he describes how he came to discover the riches of the Church’s teachings on Mary: “I began to see how a sacred vessel is made holy by the sacred thing it carries,” he writes. “I began to feel this in a way I had not before. I found myself developing an experiential understanding of Mary and indeed a Marian devotion. Which surprised me. It surprised me a lot.”

Read it all here.
Editor's Note:  In icons Mary is often shown holding the Christ between two angels. This reflects that she is holy and in God's presence, even as God was conceived within her womb (the true Ark of the Covenant). This is the fulfillment of the image of the two angels facing each other with wings extended over the old Ark of the Covenant, which prefigured the Theotokos. In both images, God dwells between the angels.

How Congress Does Diplomancy (Badly)

WASHINGTON: It was a field day for Pakistan bashers at the US House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia where speaker after speaker blamed Islamabad for allegedly continuing to support Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“There is, in fact, no reason to doubt that Pakistan’s military is likely paying compensation to the families of the terrorists killed in the Mumbai attacks,” said the panel’s chairman, Gary Ackerman. “These are our allies in the war on terror,” he bemoaned.

It’s no surprise coming from a lawmaker who heads the Indian caucus on Capitol Hill and has received India’s third highest civilian award, the Padma Bhushan.

However, even a Pakistani-American expert, Shuja Nawaz, was forced to acknowledge that the LeT was “a Frankenstein’s monster”, which assumed a broader regional role.

Mr Nawaz, who is the director of South Asia Centre at the Atlantic Council of the US, warned that “another Mumbai-type attack involving the LeT might bring India and Pakistan into conflict, a prospect that should keep us awake at night.”

But he also defended Pakistan, saying that both the civil and military establishments in the country now appeared to have recognised the existential threat from groups like the LeT.

“The army appears to have dislocated the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. Yet, it faces a huge and, to my mind, greater threat in the hinterland, in the form of the LeT.”

Equating the LeT with Al Qaeda, Mr Ackerman said the Mumbai attack of November 2008 showed that the LeT was capable of conducting such raids anywhere it wanted.

“We need to take this threat very, very seriously. The LeT is a deadly serious group of fanatics. They are well-financed, ambitious, and most disturbingly, both tolerated by, and connected to, the Pakistani military,” he alleged.

He claimed that operational funding for the LeT came from charitable fundraising amongst the general population in Pakistan, but it also depended heavily on contributions by Pakistani businessmen living abroad and other wealthy individuals from the Persian Gulf.

Claiming that one of the key facilitators of the Mumbai attack was an American of Pakistani extraction, the congressman warned: “Unfortunately, the LeT enjoys a substantial global network.”

Ashley Tellis, an Indian-American associated with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, went a step ahead and urged the US to be prepared to take action against the Lashkar if Pakistan was unable or unwilling to act against it.

From here.
Editor's Note:  Some sensitive deliberations should be done behind closed doors without the media so that our leaders don't look like uninformed bigots to the world. The Congressional Record recounts the facts of the deliberation and the record is public.

New Martyrs of Optina

The beginnings of the Optina Pustyn Monastery are not formally known because there is no actual documentation as to when the Monastery was established. What is known is legend, which, as the tradition relates; in the 15th century, Opta the Outlaw renounced the world, asking forgiveness of his sins, and by embracing holy monasticism, became the Monk Makarii. It was he who founded the Monastery of Optina Pustyn.

Optina Pustyn means, “living together”, in Russian. A name earned because prior to 1504, both nuns and monks had residences within the cloister. The first evidence of this was discovered during Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich’s reign in the 17th century. At this point the Monastery was but a small wooden structure with a few monastic cells, one church and less than twenty monastics.

In the period of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, the Monastery increased significantly both in size and in income. The advent of the Staretz or Starchestvo, which means ‘a lineage of wisdom of prayer’ maintained by Startsi, the Russian Orthodox ‘Elders’, stimulated and contributed to the growth of the Monastery. St Sergius of Radonezh introduced this tradition to Russia, the roots of which are found in hesychasm (see St Gregory Palamas, 14-15th century). St Paisius Velichkovsky (November 15) was powerfully influential in bringing the almost-lost hesychastic tradition of Orthodox spirituality to Russia in the eighteenth century, and his labors found in Optina Monastery a ‘headquarters’ from which they spread throughout the Russian land. The monastery itself had been in existence since at least the sixteenth century, but had fallen into decay through the anti-monastic policies of Catherine II and other modernizing rulers. Around 1790, Metropolitan Platon of Moscow undertook a mission to restore and revive the monastery in the tradition set forth by St Paisius. By the early 1800s the monastery (located about 80 miles from Moscow) had become a beacon of Orthodox spirituality, partly through their publication of Orthodox spiritual texts, but more importantly through the lineage of divinely-enlightened spiritual fathers (startsi, plural of starets) who served as guides to those, noble and peasant, who flocked to the monastery for their holy counsel. The fathers aroused some controversy in their own day; a few critics (some of them from other monasteries) disapproved of their allowing the Jesus Prayer to become widely-known among the people, fearing that it would give rise to spiritual delusion (prelest). For a wonderful depiction of the deep influence of the Jesus Prayer on Russian life during this period, read the anonymously-written Way of a Pilgrim.

Optina Pustyn Monastery became a primary center of this holy tradition.

Read it all here.

Friday, March 12, 2010

US - Israel Relations Strained

Hours after Vice President Joe Biden declared that there is “no space” between Israel and the U.S., the Israeli government announces the approval of 1,600 new housing units in contested East Jerusalem, expanding the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood for ultra-Orthodox Jews on land that Palestinians also claim. The announcement from the Interior Ministry, run by the head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, claimed that the expansion has been in the works for years (true) and that the timing was just a coincidence (hard to believe).

The day after, press reports said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was surprised and embarrassed by the timing of the announcement. If true, that suggests he is incapable of managing his sprawling administration, so packed with patronage that it is the largest in Israel’s history — hardly an encouraging thought.

In any case, this is no way to treat a guest. The timing and the substance of the announcement left Biden in a terrible spot, forced to condemn his host’s behavior even as he was trying to launch a new round of indirect negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.

As Americans, we feel insulted. Contrary to the spin generated in some quarters, the Obama administration has gone out of its way to support Israel and the Netanyahu government. As the Forward has reported, cooperation between the two nations is flourishing — the Obama administration has worked hard to bolster Israel’s qualitative military edge, which had eroded during the final year of the presidency of George W. Bush. America continues to do the heavy lifting required to fend off unfair criticism of Israel in unfriendly venues. And American Jews continue to pour money, resources and energy into ensuring Israel’s future.

Read it all here.

Help for Chile

CHILE EARTHQUAKE: £3930.00 now raised.

The University of Ohio has announced that the city of ConcepciĆ³n, near the epicentre has moved 3.9 metres into the Pacific. Santiago has moved 27.7 cms to the west, and even Buenos Aires is between 2 and 3 cms further west than it was before the earthquake. So South America continues to distance itself from Africa!

The list of fatalities is now 479. There has been tremendous relief at finding groups of people in the hills fearing tsunamis, or in shelters and refuges unknown to family and friends. The lack of communications did not help. The list is about half of what was first feared.

One and a quarter million pounds worth of stolen goods has been returned or abandoned. Either the thieves had the grace to repent, or found they were unable to resell. In any case condemnation of the looting and pillage has been very vocal.

The Ministry of Education plans 3 shifts of children in some schools as a temporary measure while repairs and rebuilding take place. The school where Margaret teaches has 9 classrooms out of action. In Talcahuano, near the epicentre, a secondary school has a trawler sitting in its playground, deposited there by the tsunami.

Read it all here.

Homosex and Catholic Education of Children

Archbishop Chaput deserves another round of kudos for a stand he has taken regarding a school in his archdiocese.

Basically, he backed the school up when it refused to allow two children of lesbian “parents” to renew their enrollment.

This should cause no controversy whatsoever, but of course it has.


I’m not surprised at the controversy, because a few years ago I blogged about a similar case in Orange County, California. The amount of blowback was a bit startling, given my readership. That led to a follow-up post, and then another follow-up post as we sorted through the arguments.

A key issue that was raised at the time—and that, indeed, kicked off the discussion—was the question of where Catholic schools should draw the line regarding what is acceptable in parental behavior.

And—no surprise—that argument is being trotted out now.

You see, an awful lot of parents of kids in Catholic school aren’t morally perfect, and if children were to be excluded on the mere grounds that their parents are sinners then enrollment would be quite low indeed.

Read it all here.

Mufti Saeed Murdered in Karachi

KARACHI, March 11: Panic gripped the city when a senior cleric of a religious organisation, his son and two associates were gunned down on Thursday night.

In another attack earlier in the day, another prominent cleric, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Nadeem, was wounded and his son was killed. Police said that Mufti Saeed Ahmed Jalalpuri of Aalmi Tahaffuz-i-Khatm-i-Nabuat, his son Huzaifa Jalalpuri and close associates Fakheruz Zaman and Abdul Rehman were returning from Jamia Masjid Khatman-un-Nabi on Metrovill Road in Gulshan-i-Iqbal area when four to five gunmen on motorcycles sprayed their car with bullets.

Police found the casing of spent bullets of 9mm pistol at the scene. Gulshan-e-Iqbal SP Javed Meher said the attackers had opened fire from two directions.

“The assailants appeared to be waiting at a place for the cleric and ambushed the car when it reached there,” a police officer said.

They were taken to Patel Hospital where Mufti Saeed and his son were pronounced dead while their associates died some time later.

Tension gripped the area after the incident and unknown people started firing in the air, forcing shops to close. A large number of people and students of a seminary gathered at the hospital.

The bodies were later taken to the Aalmi Tahaffuz-i-Khatm-i-Nabuat in Gurumandir.

In the morning, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Nadeem, a central leader of Ahl-i-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (formerly Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan), was injured in what appeared to be an assassination attempt in the city’s Nazimabad area.

The attack, however, claimed the life of his youngest son. Maulana’s two other sons and a security guard and a driver were injured.

Police said that Maulana Nadeem and his two sons, Rashid Nadeem and Zubair Nadeem, were going in their car to the city courts for a hearing of cases registered against them on August 17 last year during disturbances which followed the killing in Khairpur of Maulana Ali Sher Hydari, chief of the defunct Sipah-i-Sahaba.

When the car was near Annu Bhai Park, two men on a motorcycle opened fire. Maulana’s younger son Mauvia Nadeem, 25, who was following the car on a motorcycle suffered fatal bullet wounds, Liaquatabad SP Abdul Hameed Khosa told Dawn.

Source:  Pakistan Dawn

Thursday, March 11, 2010

More Bad News About ACORN

WASHINGTON, March 11 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it has obtained documents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) detailing federal investigations into the alleged corrupt activities of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). The documents reference serious allegations of corruption and voter registration fraud by ACORN as well as the Obama administration's decision to shut down a criminal investigation without filing criminal charges.

The documents include background information on two specific complaints filed in October 2008 by Lucy Corelli and Joseph Borges, Republican Registrars of Voters in Stamford and Bridgeport, Connecticut, respectively, during the 2008 election season.

According to Corelli, on August 1, 2008, her office received 1,200 ACORN voter registration cards from the Secretary of State's office. Over 300 of these cards were rejected because of "duplicates, underage, illegible and invalid addresses," which "put a tremendous strain on our office staff and caused endless work hours at taxpayers' expense." Corelli claimed the total cost of the extra work caused by ACORN corruption was $20,000. Likewise, Borges contended that: "The organization ACORN during the summer of 2008 conducted a registration drive which has produced over 100 rejections due to incomplete forms and individuals who are not citizens..." Among the examples cited by Borges was a seven-year old child who was registered to vote by ACORN through the use of a forged signature and a fake birth certificate claiming she was 27-years old

Read it all here.

Responses to Radical Islam

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo

This paper is published to promote discussion of a vital issue in the contemporary Church. It is not intended in any way to impugn the Christian integrity of any of the people or organisations whose views are considered or critiqued.

Introduction: The impact of 9/11

Since 11 September 2001 (9/11) there has been a sea change in relations between Islam and the non-Muslim world, fed by the fear of a cataclysmic clash of civilisations and a war of religions. The devastating attacks by Muslim terrorists from al-Qaeda on the USA evoked not just condemnation of the violence but also a wave of sympathy for Muslims around the world, with Christians and many others in the West pointing out that most Muslims had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks and asserting that their religion is peaceful.

The leaders of both the US and the UK governments, George W. Bush and Tony Blair, began to re-define the nature of violence and the threat posed by Islamic terrorism. They concluded in effect that there was no such thing as Islamic terrorism and that al-Qaeda was a heretical strain of Islam, a "virus" that had to be isolated, defeated and eradicated from mainstream Islam. Government policies in the two countries sought therefore to strengthen the institutions of Islam, driven by the rationale that the Muslim community should be brought into the mainstream wherever possible so as to prevent its radicalisation.

9/11 was followed by invasions of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), both part of the so-called "war on terror". The Muslim world believed that the West, in particular the US, was attacking Islam. The West on the other hand, led by Bush and Blair, increasingly asserted that there was no war on Islam but only a "war on terror", with the terrorists now increasingly defined as "criminals". This claim led to Western governments' effectively legitimising Islam as a valid religion, whose values are shared by Judaism and Christianity, and which they therefore regarded as for all practical purposes the same religion. The alleged legitimacy of Islam was promulgated within both the US and the UK and also around the world in order to discourage Islamic violence.

The unfortunate use of the word "crusade" by Bush alarmed Muslims, who already believed that the war on terror was being fought by an alliance of the US government, Christian fundamentalists and Christian Zionists against Islam. Evangelical Christians were in a quandary, as they were labelled both by Muslims and by the Western media as fundamentalists bent on fighting Islam and were treated as the Christian equivalent of al-Qaeda.[1] Many evangelicals responded by distancing themselves from the governments of their countries and their policies and by efforts to reach out to Muslims with gestures of peace and goodwill. As we shall see, these included active engagement in interfaith dialogue with Muslims and cooperation with Muslims in specific projects.

Read it all here.

Editor's Note:  I find it interesting how often the Orthodox Church's response is ignored.  Orthodoxy has so much to offer to the discussion about radical Islam.  Many Arab Christians are Orthodox.