Dec 302005

We human beings have created this concept of time. We like to have beginnings and endings, and we American’s seem especially prone to the shorter increments of time. We celebrate almost all of our important holidays annually. We acknowledge birthdays and anniversaries every year. We note seconds (nano-seconds sometimes), hours, days, the months, the annual cycle of the seasons, and especially the years.

It’s pretty traditional, as the we close one calendar and open another, to evaluate the year just past, and contemplate the year to come. So as 2005 fades, I’ll follow tradition and offer up my review of 2005.

On the largest scale is the war in Iraq. Never popular with the rest of the civilized world, it is now wearing thin on even us Americans. The internal debate on the war shifted significantly during 2005. The president is clearly on the defensive, as the tactics he has used come under scrutiny. The political will to pursue this war to some "successful conclusion," however that is defined, is simply flagging. When Pennsylvania’s Representative John Murtha, a Pentagon favorite and a decorated marine of undeniable heroism and integrity, decided that the time to speak out for withdrawal had come, things got nasty. The White House said that Representative Murtha was advocating surrender. Vice President Cheney attacked Murtha’s patriotism. To these charges, Murtha made reference to the fact that Vice President Cheney sought and received five exemptions from the draft to avoid fighting in Vietnam. That was a war of words the administration was not going to win and shortly thereafter both the President and Vice President began to praise Representative Murtha’s patriotism and to say simply they disagreed with him.

Underneath the bluster of this administration, there will be a small but highly publicized draw-down of troops in advance of the 2006 elections. This cynical act will result in greater fatalities for the remaining U.S. Troops, but will help take pressure off the Republicans who are in tight races. Expect troop levels to return to current levels or higher after the 2006 election cycle. The cost of the war is now affecting projects back home and is an issue raised in local political campaigns. When a Democratic Iraqi veteran nearly beat an incumbent in a heavily conservative Ohio district, the White House and the Congressional leadership took notice.

Sixty years ago the American people were told that our exit strategy was to train the army of South Korea to defend its own country. American troops are still in Korea today. Thirty years ago it was to ‘Vietnamize’ the war in Vietnam. We did, but without any popular support our puppets collapsed. Now our ‘strategy’ is turn over the defense of Iraq to the newly trained Iraqi army. Reality is, however, that the militias of both the Kurds and the Shiites are stronger than the prospective national Iraqi army. No election and no Iraqi army can alter these facts. We American’s just can’t learn that people in the Middle East measure time, not like us…in hour long “Law & Order” segments, but in generations and millennia. What is yet to be gained by our military presence no longer seems to justify the sacrifices of American capital, to say nothing of the rising toll of deaths among our service personnel, which now approaches 2,200. The president, whose poll numbers are plunging, now puts his hope in the recent election. Yet none of the potential prime ministers has sufficient broad support to build stability, and we won’t accept an anti-American government in this conquered land.

Iraq and Afghanistan are not the year’s only unfinished business. It was in 2005 that the world had to recognize tragedy of last December’s tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people. 2005 also brought us the earthquake in Pakistan that claimed tens of thousands of lives and left many others destitute and doomed to die with the onset of winter. In the United States, hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, and category 5 winds and massive flooding also constantly victimized the State of Florida. Florida, however, seemed to fade in the nation’s consciousness because the tragedy of New Orleans was so total and revealed so much about the character of our national life.

We finally had laid bare how far the separation has become between the haves and the have nots, when the authorities gave orders to evacuate the city, assuming that everyone had both the means to leave and a place to go. That was followed by the ineptitude of our government’s response, the revelation of poverty at the heart of our major cities and the fact that the safety net underneath our poorest citizens has been significantly dismantled. New Orleans forced us to see the priorities by which this nation lives. It was not a pretty sight.

In 2005, by deliberate political decision, the tax laws were restructured to allow the gap between the rich and the poor to grow to what are surely immoral levels. The specter of the two houses of Congress at the end of 2005, with New Orleans still heavy upon our nation’s collective conscience, voting $90 billion in additional tax cuts, weighted toward the wealthy, while reducing expenditures in Medicare, public education and public safety, that serve the nation’s poor, was deeply distressing.

There was also a growing understanding that the increased strength of the hurricanes was not just a freak of nature; but a direct result of global warming that we in the US seem to refuse to accept. Many scientists contend that the warmer waters of the Atlantic Ocean are the primary factor in making the intensity of the hurricanes much greater. In 2005, Brazil experienced a drought sufficient to dry up its inland water sources. This too is said to be related to ocean warming. Europe looks destined to become much colder as the jet stream that warms it is bending farther and farther south due to the same ocean warming trends. The leadership in both China and the United States, the world’s two largest polluters appears to be in denial. One wonders how much more evidence will be required to open the eyes of these two countries’ decision-makers.

The trends of 2005 deepened my belief that we are fast heading toward a new “Dark Age.” Inadequate and inept leaders are using fear to rule over ignorant people too obsessed with their own lives to care what happens in the rest of their community and world.

The seeds of fascism have been planted – and the media is nurturing it like their newborn child. The brainwashed, ignorant people are falling in line, waiting for their leader to tell them what to do next. We’ve been taught to no longer question authority. Our freedoms’—the only thing that ever made us great—have been declared a vulnerability, instead of our shared treasure, and no one seems prepared to stand up to this madness.

We seem to stand by as Lady Liberty is raped and plundered, our freedoms, our country, our proud name; Americans – are sullied and dragged through the mud – all to preserve the Kingly right of Bush and his cadre of corporate sycophants to reign in absolute monarchial power. Congress does nothing; our Courts are bypassed; our Laws rendered moot by a power-grabbing administration. Our sacred covenant has been broken – and the ones whom we’ve entrusted to protect our freedoms, are the same ones who would sell them to the highest bidder.

In the world of religion, the biggest story had to be the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Joseph Ratzinger, the head of the Vatican’s Inquisition Office, to be Pope Benedict XVI. Ratzi is the guy that used the power of his office as Grand Inquisitor to censure and to drive underground the leading scholars of the Roman Catholic Church. He has consistently opposed initiatives to equalize his religions view of women. He is an open persecutor of homosexuals, despite the widely accepted fact that homosexual prelates dominate the Vatican itself. Retired
Episcopal Bishop Spong says, “His election removes all hope for the viability of that faith system in our lifetime.”

Christianity is no longer about peace on earth, loving our neighbor, caring about the least of these, but is now being used to justify lingering prejudices and the blessing of “tribal attitudes.” Mega churches rise up to give the middle-class the ability to hide among the masses, but only so long as the masses are just like them.

While I will talk about what I see coming in 2006, the doom and gloom of 2005 is sometimes bathed in rays of hope. With Prayer and action, perhaps the right-wing takeover of this sensible country has been stopped.

Just in the past several weeks, three things happened that bore a common thread. In each case, mainstream positions won out over the bluster of blowhards. People of principle stared down charges that they were unpatriotic, loved Osama or hated religion. The results were gratifying — not only to liberals, but to moderates and a good number of self-described conservatives, who have distanced themselves from the excesses of the White House.

First, the Senate said "no" to opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. It has saved the refuge before, but this time the Republican oilmen turned the vote into a game of chicken. The drilling provision was first stuck to the budget bill. When lawmakers balked, it was unstuck and attached to the defense-spending bill. Once there, the gamesters figured they could smear anyone voting against it as uncaring about the troops.

The pro-environment senators easily ignored the latest tantrum by Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican obsessed with developing the refuge. And then they turned the tables on the opposition: Some questioned the patriotism of those who would load the "must-pass" defense bill with extraneous special interests.

In another vote, the Senate temporarily extended the USA Patriot Act past its Dec. 31 expiration date. President Bush wanted the anti-terrorism law renewed, but that wasn’t going to happen without a frank conversation on his recently revealed surveillance activities.

Not long ago, anyone who wanted to contain the president’s powers was smothered by accusations of leaving America open to attack. It’s true that after Sept. 11, 2001, many of us agreed that the government needed more powerful tools to track the bad guys. That the rules had to change, however, didn’t mean there should be no rules. The citizens have not signed on to giving Bush the right to wiretap Americans making international calls without a warrant — especially since he already can do it in an emergency and ask permission later.

Vice President Dick Cheney bared his teeth and warned that politicians who criticize these policies will pay a heavy political price. Sen. Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, coolly responded, "My oath is to the Constitution, not to a vice president, a president or a political party." If we’re lucky, we’re going to hear that kind of thing more often.

The third victory for rational thinking took place in central Pennsylvania. There, a federal judge ruled that "intelligent design" — a crypto-creationist challenge to the theory of evolution — is religion, and forcing it on science classes in Dover, Pa., was unconstitutional.

Judge John E. Jones, a Bush appointee, called intelligent design "relabeled creationism." He accused its backers of lying about their true intentions, which was to promote religion in a science class. And before the intelligent-design sponsors could utter the words "activist judge," Jones told them to get lost.

Actually, the tide first turned against the intelligent-design boosters in November. That’s when the Dover voters removed School Board members pushing the scientific-sounding doctrine.

As far as I can tell, there’s hardly a liberal in this story. The judge is a Republican. The voters who kicked out their school board come from a staunchly conservative community. It appears that the movement to sneak religion into science class — which has commanded a national debate — is the work of a noisy few.

All these events, one after another, suggest that the newfound courage of moderates is not a fluke. There never was this big groundswell to develop a wildlife refuge, make Bush king or teach creationism in the schools. I sincerely hope this nation has begun to march in the other direction from the right-wing majorettes. The “moral majority” was never a majority. The American Family Association, as Disney, Kraft and now Ford can tell you, is nothing more than one guy, a website, a mailing list, and some appearances on the 700 Club.

Time marches on, and all things are transitory, so I vest my hope as 2006 and a re-awakening of Americans to the American Dream, and pray that we will come to actually strive to be that “City on the hill…the shining beacon.” As Bishop Spong wrote:

“I take comfort from the lessons of history that it is always darkest before the dawn. Support for the war in Iraq is weakening. Global warming is beginning to be recognized as a major problem. The attempt to ignore the poor is proving too expensive to continue. Awareness of the interdependence of all life is rising in each of us. I see the day coming when to the cry of the prophets, ‘How long, O Lord, how long?’ will be answered by an aroused public, ‘No more, no more!’ I greet 2006 with that prayer.”

And I too greet 2006 with a prayer…a prayer for an awakening of the great American Spirit and a revival of the religious principles on which we claim to live.

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