Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Jackson: Peace is at the heart of the Christmas Story

Published on Tuesday, December 19, 2006 by the Chicago Sun-Times
Peace Is At the Heart of the Christmas Story
by Jesse Jackson

Christmas -- the mass celebrating the birth of Christ -- is the biggest shopping season of the year. To save Christmas, some on the right seem to think the best thing is to commercialize it. They insist stores advertise "Christmas sales," not holiday sales. They judge leaders by whether they send out cards wishing a "Merry Christmas," and not simply a happy holiday.

But shopping isn't the point of the story. It's not about exchanging Christmas cards, or about holiday parties. The story of Christmas is about a couple -- Mary and Joseph -- forced by an oppressive imperial government to leave their home to travel far to be counted in the census. When they got there, they were like immigrants, homeless in a strange land. The innkeeper had no room for the strange couple. If he had understood who the baby was, he would have offered them his bed.

Christmas is the story of a child born in a cow's barn, and placed in a manger, a makeshift crib. Mary and Joseph had no address, so it wasn't about exchanging cards. It wasn't about purchasing gifts. Yes, wise men left their daily ways, followed the star, and brought gifts to the child, while others might have stayed away from a poor child with little hope. The wise men were wise not because of the value of their gifts, but in their ability to see what the innkeeper missed: the potential of the infant asleep in a wooden manger. The Christmas story instructs us to treasure every child -- even what are now delicately called "at risk children" -- for we do not know what gifts even the poorest child of a homeless couple may possess.

What is Christmas about? It is about an oppressed people praying for a Messiah, a mighty warrior who would conquer their oppressors. He would come, they thought, assemble a great army and conquer the Roman legions. The expectation grew so high that even Herod grew uneasy. But when the Messiah came, he came as the prince of peace, not the marshal of war. He taught love and hope and charity, not violence and vengeance. He was the greatest liberator of them all, but he carried no arms, and provisioned no army. His army would transform the world, but it consisted of the legions of the faithful struggling to follow in his path.

Clearly, too few get the point of the story. Sales are reportedly up this year, particularly in the high-end, exclusive stores. But the moral report is grim. In this rich country, poverty is up, homelessness is up, hunger is up. Inequality is at obscene levels. The United States witnesses record numbers of billionaires and growing numbers of families without shelter, working people without health insurance, poor children without adequate nutrition. After Katrina, the saints didn't come marching into New Orleans. And even now, the survivors are still scattered across the 50 states, their homes still not rebuilt, their government still failing them. Poverty has been erased not from our streets but from our public debate, as politicians cater to their wealthy donors or their largely middle-income voters.

Peace reports are also dire. Our soldiers are mired in armed occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Our cities are girded against terrorist attack. We spend more than $500 billion a year on the mightiest military that the world has ever known, but we are more insecure than ever. We turn our backs on the genocide taking place in Darfur. We stain our own reputation -- and our own Constitution -- with torture, renditions and detentions without review. The image of the hooded prisoner of Abu Ghraib -- arms outstretched, bag over his head, electric shock device attached to his body -- indicts us all as we remember the suffering of the cross.

You don't have to be Christian to understand the point of the Christmas story. So let each of us pledge to celebrate the real deal this year. It's far more important that the Christmas story be in our souls than our stores. Let us gather and embrace our families. Let us join together to protect the babies in the dawn of life, care for the elderly in the dusk of life. Let us nurture the sick, shelter the homeless. Stop for the stranger on the Jericho Road. Work for the promise of peace. Surely that is the point of the story.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Some Presidents Speak of Prayer, Mutual Respect and Love, Mean it, and are Taken Seriously

As our 39th president, James Earl Carter, Jr., who brokered the Camp David Accords, the Middle East's longest lasting and most important peace treaty, speaks out eloquently again in behalf of peace and justice in his new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, and nobly weathers the slanders of those who have no use for peace or justice, it's high time Americans took another look and listened carefully once again to the parting words our 34th president, Dwight David Eisenhower. Wise statesmen work for the welfare of humanity even while they strive to promote the interests of their national or racial groups.

Click here to access video of the 34th President's Farewell Address to the Nation: Burn these Republican Words into Your Mind

Posted by Evan Derkacz on December 11, 2006 at 1:35 PM.

On January 17, 1961, Dwight D. Eisenhower said goodbye to public office with an address that concluded with the words below [strangely, the Eisenhower Library's version and the audio in the video to the right, differ slightly. Brackets represent the text in the Library version omitted from the audio file...].

You're familiar with the warnings in this speech against the "military-industrial complex," but the subtler parts of the speech are every bit as powerful and refreshing...

"As we peer into society's future, we - you and I, and our government - must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

"During the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.

"[Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.]

"[Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative.] Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war - as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years - I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.

"Happily, I can say that war has been avoided. Steady progress toward our ultimate goal has been made. But, so much remains to be done. As a private citizen, I shall never cease to do what little I can to help the world advance along that road.

"So - in this my last good night to you as your President - I thank you for the many opportunities you have given me for public service in war and peace. I trust that in that service you find some things worthy; as for the rest of it, I know you will find ways to improve performance in the future.

"You and I, my fellow citizens, need to be strong in our faith, that all nations, under God, will reach the goal of peace, with justice. May we be ever unswerving in devotion to principle, confident but humble with power, diligent in pursuit of the Nation's great goals.

"To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America's prayerful and continuing aspiration:

"We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love."

Friday, December 01, 2006

Arnold: The Way to Egress

Published on Friday, December 1, 2006 by CommonDreams.org
The Way to the Egress
by Caroline Arnold

Phineas Taylor Barnum, the great 19th century American showman who was called the "Prince of Humbug," kept people moving through his exhibitions with signs pointing "This way to the Egress."

It is unclear how many customers were actually tricked into exiting by seeking an egress, but people everywhere are tickled by that story, which slyly suggests that others are ignorant and gullible.

Similarly, we like to quote P.T. Barnum as saying "There’s a sucker born every minute." But he didn’t say that, which is another story to tickle our funnybones, and possibly offer an instructive story for this Christmas season, when we desperately need an egress from a cruel, unjust war, and from a chamber of horrors including torture, civil war and nuclear weapons.

In 1868, in the wake of evangelists preaching that there had once been giants roaming the earth, George Hull had an anatomically correct giant carved from a slab of gypsum 12' x 4' x 2' , buried it beside a barn near Cardiff NY, and "discovered" it a year later. Hull immediately started charging a quarter to see the wonder, then quickly doubled the price.

Clergymen decreed it was a fossilized giant from Biblical times; scientists decided it was an authentic ancient statue.; no-one suggested it was a hoax. Hull soon sold a majority interest in his ‘Cardiff Giant’ for $30,000 to a syndicate headed by David Hannum, who moved it to Syracuse and charged $1 to view it.

Naturally, P.T. Barnum wanted piece of this action, and tried to buy the giant for $50,000. When he was rebuffed he quietly hired a crew to carve another giant, which he put on display with public announcements that he had purchased the Cardiff Giant and that Hannum was exhibiting a fake. Newspapers quickly circulated Barnum’s story – he was already a celebrity for his showmanship, and fakery sold even more newspapers than fossils.

Hannum, believing his figure was a real fossil, angrily proclaimed "There’s a sucker born every minute" (in reference to the ‘fools’ who paid to see Barnum’s ‘fake’) and sued Barnum for discrediting his giant. After George Hull confessed to his original hoax the judge ruled that Barnum couldn’t be sued for calling a fake a fake, and the case was dropped. But somehow, the "sucker born every minute" phrase got attributed to Barnum, who perhaps didn’t deserve it.

Without doubt P.T Barnum was America’s greatest practitioner of humbug, hype, and hucksterism – but he was apparently a decent man. While he was willing, even eager, to supply the public with the wonder and novelty they craved (for a price) he drew the line at deliberate deception, and even worked to expose spiritualist mediums who preyed on bereaved families.

Though he claimed to hate politics, P.T. Barnum was an active Republican and served in the Connecticut legislature, where he spoke in support of ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment: "A human soul is not to be trifled with. It may inhabit the body of a Chinaman, a Turk, an Arab or a Hottentot - it is still an immortal spirit!"

For six years we have had a "Prince of Humbug" in the White House, assuming that Americans are ignorant, gullible suckers and mindless consumers of whatever hucksterism and hoaxes he deploys to support his neocon agenda, like "weapons of mass destruction," "war on terror," or "enhanced interrogation techniques." The news media have tamely played along.

But since the election the MSM is returning to reality. This week they called the civil war in Iraq a "civil war," and started using the word "withdrawal" in reference to Iraq.

Also this week a Christmas wreath in the form of a peace symbol sparked accusations that it "signified Satan" and was "anti-Christ." But instead of generating outrage among the gullible about a "liberal war on Christmas," it triggered scorn and ridicule from the public.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was exposed as a humbug when Toto ripped aside a curtain and revealed an ordinary stammering mortal, who admitted he was powerless to get Dorothy egress from Oz. In this fable, however, the wizard admits his humbuggery, but shows Dorothy that she has herself the power to get home from Oz .

Americans aren’t ignorant and gullible suckers; we really do care about important things, we want meaning in our lives, we value fundamental things -- our children, our life companions and homes, our neighbors’ welfare and our planet’s health; honesty, mutual respect, justice, mercy; our heritage of Christmas and holiday observances.

This Christmas Americans have started to pull back the curtain on a White House that has been scaring and awing us into ever more inhuman and un-Christian actions. We must be cautious: so far there is little evidence that Bush is giving up his efforts to legitimize first-strike strategic delivery systems for nuclear or conventional weapons, and we may yet be trapped by giants of nuclear war and global warming.

But for Christmas this year let’s try not accusing one another of being suckers, stupid, ignorant or evil, and recognize our common humanity. To Scrooge’s "Bah, Humbug!" let's reply with Tiny Tim’s "God bless us, every one!"

To the humbug in the White House, let's say "This way to the Egress, Mr. President." It’s not humbug, it’s a way to go toward peace on earth and other good Christian and universal values, a way to stop trifling with human souls, and a few steps toward giving all humans the power to go home to whatever Kansas their hearts’ desire.

Caroline Arnold csarnold@neo.rr.com served 12 years on the staff of U.S. Senator John Glenn. In retirement she is active with the Portage Democratic Coalition http://www.pdcohio.us/aboutus.html and the Akron Council on World Affairs http://www.akronworldaffairs.org/.