Monday, March 24, 2008

Tibet Genocide

Yesterday, I sent the following email individually to President Bush, my two U.S. Senators, and my U.S. Representative:

“Regarding the current events in Tibet: Last Fall the US government awarded the Dalai Lama a medal, amid a great ceremony of recognition. Now, when a strong voice is needed about what China is doing to the people of Tibet, our executive branch is virtually silent. Where is our unified statement of moral outrage? Where is our pro-democracy evangelism now? This is a uniting issue for both Democrats and Republicans. I urge our government to speak up forcibly to stop this continuing shameless cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing.”

In our current political environment where public relations and photo ops substitute for actions of substance, our failure to make an unequivocal public statement about Chinese leaders' actions in Tibet is deplorable. A few individual Congress-people have spoken up. Yet President Bush's only statement on the subject through his spokeswoman is that he "will not cancel his planned trip to the Olympics in August." Condoleeza Rice lamely offered that "we are certainly concerned about the situation in Tibet," and that she "hoped China would show restraint." Well, that strong State Department statement should certainly give Chinese leaders pause to be concerned (given that no such restraint has yet to be seen)!

We have certainly offered up noble statements about bringing democracy and self-determination to selected parts of the world --- most notably those places where we have vested oil interests or can claim politically self-promoting defenses against terrorist threats. If the Himalayan Mountains of Tibet were oil or mineral rich, would we have far more to say about what happens to it? It took Laura Bush to make the case against the oppression of Buddhist monks and civilians in Burma out of her genuine humanitarian concerns. Where was her husband during that similar pitiful situation?

Where there is no vested economic connection, it appears that we have no moral or humanitarian interest. We have become a junior partner in our trade with China. We have become a debtor nation, with China as our creditor, in order to finance our Iraq misadventure. We have become a hollow international voice because the world knows we are already beyond our capacities militarily and financially, and have no reservoir of trust and goodwill to draw from in our strained relationships with other countries.

I had the extreme pleasure of making a solo visit to Tibet in 1999. It was an incredible personal experience to meet these people, and to observe first-hand a culture stymied under China’s external political control. It was very sad to see the relegation of their culture to a "museum status" while being made-over into a Chinese facelift. We brought everything possible to bear to stop this kind of thing in the Balkans 10 years ago. Why not now?

It is easy to show up at the dinner, present the medal, pose for the pictures, and bask in the glow
of a true spiritual and moral leader who embodies the good of his people. Today, when our collective voice is most needed, we sit silent.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Religous Test

The other night, I sat down and read anew the Constitution of the United States and its several amendments. I recommend such an exercise to everyone on some periodic basis (for example, Such a reading provides a good opportunity to refresh ourselves as to the original thinking, priorities, fears, and experiences that our Founding Fathers drew from in writing this fabulous document. Much of what is there would come as a profound shock to the Religious Right and neo-conservatives who continually shout about needing “strict constructionist judges who will “not make laws from the bench but will interpret the Constitution literally.” Because the Constitution ― and the Founding Fathers actions and statement at the time ― rarely support their pet concerns.

One major observation in my re-reading was that the word “God” exists nowhere in that document. Indeed, the closest one might get to that is the one instance of the word “Lord,” and that is only there in the context of defining the acceptance date of the document by the Constitutional Convention as the “Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth.” Hardly a ringing marriage between our country and government and God; certainly a far cry from constituting America as a Christian Theocracy as some self-appointed spokespersons would claim. Further, the only two references to religion at all in the Constitution are in the negative:

· Article VI: “… no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
· Amendment 1: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; …”

Pretty clear one thing they were worried about in 1787, huh?

Yet here we now are in the presidential election of 2008. The would-be election of the head of the American Church of State, if some would have their way. Just as with the Queen of England, who also serves as the head of the Church of England (Anglican Church) and with whom we fought a war to be free of such an investment of Church + State power. As some seek to declare a national religion for America, so apparently we must now also inaugurate a Presidential Pastor.

So we have seen:
· John McCain saying and acting in various ways to cozy up to newfound relationships with Religious Right people previously held at arm’s length disdain. None of it done too convincingly; as they say, “that dog just don’t hunt.” Cancel both principle and credibility.
· Mitt Romney, awkwardly trying to take a page from John Kennedy’s playbook with a “Pastor’s Meeting In Houston” to explain (diffuse) his Mormonism. Except that he only said the word Mormon once; he staged it within a blatant Madison Avenue marketing backdrop at the G.H.W.Bush library; he took no questions; he made a speech and left. Could have phoned it in. As was said about a prior Vice President, “[Mitt], you are no Jack Kennedy.”
· Mike Huckabee, the most avowed pastor-candidate, but failing to get much beyond the 30% vote that the Religious Right minority represents in national Republican party politics;
· Barack Obama, having to defend himself against unfounded gossip charges that he is secretly a Moslem, and having to prove his Protestant church history and membership;
· Hillary Clinton, against her desires and sense of good taste, being forced to discuss her Methodist upbringing, and how her religious faith and counsel from Rev. Billy Graham brought her through the trials of “life with Bill.”

All 20-odd presidential candidates this year have had to make some declaration of religious faith and affiliation in order to be a viable candidate. This in spite of our wise Constitutional prohibition that “… no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Romney having to defend his Mormonism was a low point this year; Obama’s need to prove that he is not a Moslem is a similar travesty― and so what difference would it make if he was, except to the bigots for whom Islam = Terrorist = Kill America. And what will we do when a Jew is finally elected President: how will she conduct the annual Christmas Tree lighting service, and to whom will he send the White House Christmas Cards?

I frankly agree with all those who say “Go back to the Constitution.” But some should be careful what they ask for. That Constitution tells us explicitly to “butt out!”