On January 7, second-term Republican Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia and two friends prayed over a door. It was not just any door, but the entranceway beneath the Capitol that President-elect Barack Obama will pass through as he walks onto the inaugural stage to take the oath of office. “I hope and pray that as God stirs the heart of our new president that President Obama will listen and will heed God’s direction,” Broun proclaimed.
Standing beside Broun, Rev. Patrick Mahoney launched into a prayer originally delivered by Billy Graham at Richard Nixon’s inauguration in 1969. “For too long we have neglected thy word and ignored thy laws,” Mahoney preached. “…We have sowed to the wind and are now reaping a whirlwind of crime, division, and rebellion. And now with the wages of sin staring us in the face, we remember thy words.”
On January 11, an estimated 10,000 people rallied in front of the Israeli consulate in midtown New York in support of Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip. The rally, which was organized by UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York in cooperation with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, featured speeches by New York’s most senior lawmakers. While the crowd was riled to righteous anger by speeches about Hamas evildoers, the event was a festive affair that began and ended with singing and joyous dancing.
Sen. Chuck Schumer highlighted Israel’s supposed humanitarian methods of warfare by pointing to its text messaging of certain Gaza Strip residents urging them to vacate their homes before Israeli forces bombed them. “What other country would do that?” Schumer shouted from the podium. Gov. David Paterson appeared on stage wearing one of the red hats distributed to demonstrators as symbols of the red alerts some residents of Israel endure when Palestinian groups fire rockets their way. Paterson cited the many Qasam rockets that have fallen on Israel as a justification for the country’s operations in Gaza, a military assault that has resulted in over 800 casualties and thousands of injuries.
While much of the neo-Nazi fringe remains opposed to the existence of Israel, the whites-only British National Party recently declared its full-throated support for Israel’s attack on Gaza. The shelling of Gaza City by Israeli forces has brought joy to the heart of BNP head of legal affairs Lee Barnes: ”This sort of ‘disinfecting’ process whereby Israel is required to sterilise areas of radical Islamist support … is what all nations have to do in order to eradicate Islamist cells who have managed to take over territory either within or on the edges of their borders,” Barnes wrote on his blog on January 4. He continued, “Get used to the casualties – for without them any nation so infected with Islamism will surrender, rot away into liberal apathy and then dies as it is taken over.”
Nick Griffin, the BNP’s Cambridge-educated, media-friendly chairman, echoed Barnes’ comments in an essay called “Israel’s Gaza affair:” “The Israelis will NEVER get unbiased reporting on the Brussels Broadcasting Corporation, despite being the only civilised country in the region & fighting for their very existance [sic],” Griffin proclaimed. “It is NOT our place to get involved but you aren’t the only one to be 100% behind them, they are an example to us all because the only thing the Islamic Terrorists understand is FORCE.”
Rick Warren joins Chuck Colson and other Christian right activists to oppose funding condom distribution in Africa
Once hailed by Time magazine as “America’s Pastor,” California mega-church leader and bestselling author of The Purpose Driven Life Rick Warren now finds himself on the defensive. President-elect Barack Obama’s selection of Warren to deliver the inaugural prayer has generated intense scrutiny of the pastor’s beliefs on social issues, from his vocal support for Prop 8, a ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage in California, to his comparison of homosexuality to pedophilia, incest and bestiality. Many of Obama’s supporters have demanded that he withdraw the invitation.
Warren’s defense against charges of intolerance ultimately depends upon his ace card: his heavily publicized crusade against AIDS in Africa. Obama senior advisor David Axelrod cited Warren’s work in Africa as one of “the things on which [Obama and Warren] agree” on the December 28 episode of Meet the Press. Warren may be opposed to gay rights and abortion, the thinking goes, but he tells evangelicals it is their God-given duty to battle one of the greatest pandemics in history. What could be wrong with that?
But since the Warren inauguration controversy erupted, the nature of work against AIDS in Africa has gone unexamined. Warren has not been particularly forthcoming to those who have attempted to look into it. His website contains scant information about the results of his program. However, an investigation into Warren’s involvement in Africa reveals a web of alliances with right-wing clergymen who have sidelined science-based approaches to combating AIDS in favor of abstinence-only education. More disturbingly, Warren’s allies have rolled back key elements of one of the continent’s most successful initiative, the so-called ABC program in Uganda. Stephen Lewis, the United Nations’ special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, told the New York Times their activism is “resulting in great damage and undoubtedly will cause significant numbers of infections which should never have occurred.”
Warren’s man in Uganda is a charismatic pastor named Martin Ssempa. The head of the Makerere Community Church, a rapidly growing congregation, Ssempe enjoys close ties to his country’s First Lady, Janet Museveni, and is a favorite of the Bush White House. In the capitol of Kampala, Ssempa is known for his boisterous crusading. Ssempa’s stunts have included burning condoms in the name of Jesus and arranging the publication of names of homosexuals in cooperative local newspapers while lobbying for criminal penalties to imprison them.
Almost as soon as the first Israeli missile struck the Gaza Strip, a veteran cheering squad suited up to support the home team. “Israel is so scrupulous about civilian life,” Charles Krauthammer claimed in the Washington Post. Echoing Krauthammer, Alan Dershowitz called the Israeli attack on Gaza, “Perfectly ‘Proportionate.’” And in the New York Times, Israeli historian Benny Morris described his country’s airstrikes as “highly efficient.”
While the cheerleaders testified to the superior moral fiber of their team, the Palestinian civilian death toll mounted. Israeli missiles tore at least fifteen Palestinian police cadets to shreds at a graduation ceremony, blew twelve worshippers to pieces (including six children) while they left evening prayers at a mosque, flattened the elite American International School, killed five sisters while they slept in their beds, and liquidated 9 women and children in order to kill a single Hamas leader. So far, Israeli forces have killed at least 500 Gazans and wounded some two thousand, including hundreds of children. Yesterday, the IDF blanketed parts of Gaza with white phosphorus, a chemical weapon Saddam Hussein once deployed against Kurdish rebels.
“It was Israel at its best,” Yossi Klein Halevi declared in the New Republic.
2008 went fast, but it was a very good year for the left blogosphere. I made out fairly well myself, according to some of my favorite sites. I finished fourth in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s 2nd Annual Smackdown Awards and earned Alternet’s fifth most outrageous story of the year. I also finished fifth in Alternet’s top ten hottest videos of 2008 for a collaborative investigative project with filmmaker Michael Wilson about Prop 8. It’s good to be in the middle of the top.
But no blog award meant more to me than being included in Phil Munger’s top five Alaskan muckrakers of 2008. Without Phil and his wife, Judy, my coverage of Sarah Palin would not have been possible. They were more than generous hosts, they were skillful guides to a vast, complex and utterly fascinating local culture that I knew little about before I arrived. Phil’s presentation is below the fold, from his blog, Progressive Alaska: