Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Four Developments Worth Pondering, and Helping Along

The items below address four recent developments that warrant more attention. The first three address dysfunctions in U.S. politics—including another attempt to breach the wall of separation between church and state. The fourth notes progress on religious disagreements between Israelis and Palestinians.

Columnist Fears Congress May Not Be Able to Rescue the Rescue

In a column 9/30, widely respected New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas L. Friedman said that the House of Representatives’ failure to pass the economic rescue package marked the fourth time in his 55 years that he’s been truly afraid for his country. But he finds the current crisis the most frightening:

“…this moment is the scariest of all for me because the previous three were all driven by real or potential attacks on the U.S. system by outsiders. This time, we are doing it to ourselves. This time, it’s our own failure to regulate our own financial system and to legislate the proper remedy that is doing us in…

“I’ve always believed that America’s government was a unique political system—one designed by geniuses so that it could be run by idiots. I was wrong. No system can be smart enough to survive this level of incompetence and recklessness by the people charged to run it…

“I always said to myself: Our government is so broken that it can only work in response to a huge crisis. But now we’ve had a huge crisis, and the system still doesn’t seem to work. Our leaders, Republicans and Democrats, have gotten so out of practice working together that even in the face of this system-threatening meltdown they could not agree on a rescue package, as if they lived on Mars and were just visiting us for the week, with no stake in the outcome.

“The story cannot end here. If it does, assume the fetal position.”


Special Prosecutor Will Investigate Criminal Violations in Gonzales’ Firing of U.S. Attorneys

AP reporter Mark Sherman reported 9/29 that, following recommendations made by internal Justice Department investigators in a 358-page report, U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey named a special prosecutor to investigate whether former A.G. Alberto Gonzales and other Bush administration officials broke the law in firing nine U.S. attorneys.

Potential targets of the investigation include other ‘formers:’ White House advisor Karl Rove, White House counsel Harriet Miers, Justice Department official Monica Goodling, Gonzales’ deputy Paul McNulty and Gonzales’ chief of staff Kyle Sampson.

Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine and Office of Professional Responsibility Director Marshall Jarrett said in their report that despite administration denials, political considerations played a part in the firing of at least four of the U.S. Attorneys, and that lack of cooperation by key Justice Department and White House officials had left “serious allegations involving potential criminal conduct” unresolved.

Perhaps those who abused the federal laws they were in charge of enforcing will yet be called to account.

Pastors Who Endorse Specific Candidates Should Insist on Paying Taxes

In an editorial today, the Houston Chronicle applauds Americans United for Separation of Church and State for filing complaints against five pastors who specifically endorsed John McCain for president—and a sixth who said, “According to my Bible and in my opinion, there is no way in the world a Christian can vote for Barack Hussein Obama.”

Conservative Christian lawyers calling themselves the Alliance Defense Fund claimed they had recruited hundreds of churches to openly break the IRS rule that prohibits nonprofit organizations from using tax-deductible contributions to engage in partisan politics. On 9/29 the group released a list of 33 offending pastors they pledged to defend.

The Chronicle observed that if the pastors “feel so strongly that they have a right to inject politics into their tax-exempt organizations, the ethical stance would be to insist on paying taxes.”


Departing Israeli PM Says Peace Requires Giving Up East Jerusalem and Almost All of the West Bank

In a farewell interview published 9/29, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said there would be no peace with the Palestinians until Israel agrees to give up East Jerusalem and most of the West Bank.

Olmert saw no hope of Israel perpetually controlling the 200,000 Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem. Although he saw Israel retaining a portion of the West Bank, he said the Palestinians would have to be given the same amount of Israeli area in exchange.

His remarks were ground-breaking, since as mayor of Jerusalem and a hard-line lawmaker, he opposed conceding any of the city and, to extend Israel’s control, encouraged efforts to build Jewish neighborhoods in the largely Arab eastern sector. He was seen as finally coming around to the views of more liberal Jewish politicians—views he has denounced for years.

It remains to be seen whether Olmert’s successor(s) will follow his advice. But it is certainly an advance that a conservative prime minister has faced facts that have been evident to others for decades.

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