The American Empire

Instruction: fill in the blank with the first US Administration that comes to mind as you are reading the following passage:

The contemporary United States expresses the greatest of all paradoxes. It is at one and the same time a democracy — at any rate a pluralist open society — and an empire. No other country has ever been, or had, both things at once. Or not for long. And there must be some question about the durability of this present coexistence, too. Already spokesmen of the … Administration say plainly that their foreign and military policy is incompatible with the disloyalty and division that stem from a deliberative Congress and an inquisitive press. They laughably exaggerate the reflective capacity of the first and the adversary character of the second, but they have a point. If it is to have the least chance of success, their strategy calls for an imposed national unanimity, a well-cultivated awareness of “enemies within,” and a strong draft of amnesia.

If you had guessed George W. Bush, you could be forgiven for the mistake. The missing word was Reagan, the passage taken from Christopher Hitchens’ defense of Noam Chomsky, in his 1985 essay
The Chorus and Cassandra.

The passage is as relevant then as it is now – just like the following quote:

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?
John Kerry, 1971

As Iraqis brave insurgent attacks to vote today, let us hope that, unlike the war in Indo-china that Kerry courageously denounced, the American mission in Iraq can still be salvaged. They owe the Iraqi people at least that much.

SpongeBob welcomed by UCC

From The Gamer’s Nook,

CLEVELAND — Joining the animated fray, the United Church of Christ today (Jan. 24) said that Jesus’ message of extravagant welcome extends to all, including SpongeBob Squarepants – the cartoon character that has come under fire for allegedly holding hands with a starfish.

“Absolutely, the UCC extends an unequivocal welcome to SpongeBob,” the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC’s general minister and president, said, only partly in jest. “Jesus didn’t turn people away. Neither do we.”

For that matter, Thomas explained, the 1.3-million-member church, if given the opportunity, would warmly receive Barney, Big Bird, Tinky-Winky, Clifford the Big Red Dog or, for that matter, any who have experienced the Christian message as a harsh word of judgment rather than Jesus’ offering of grace.

The UCC’s welcome comes in the wake of laughable accusations by James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, that the popular SpongeBob and other well-known cartoon characters are crossing “a moral line” by stressing tolerance in a national We Are Family Foundation-sponsored video that will be distributed to U.S. schools on March 11, 2005.

After all the hysteria surrounding TV cartoon by right-wing fundamentalists such as James C. Dobson from the Focus on the Family, it is refreshing to see a humorous, inclusive response hopefully more representative of American Christians than those who are more outspokenly misrepresenting them in the media.

Further reading:
Photos of a “visit” by SpongeBob
• Wikipedia entry on UCC
• Wikipedia entry on United Church of Canada, a similar organization in Canada
Older entry on my other blog on Clinton’s speech at the Riverside Church in NY, affiliated with UCC

Ukraine: the beginning of the end?

The tumultuous presidential elections in Ukraine is finally over.. at least on the surface. There were worries that the Russian government of Vladimir Putin, after publicly backing Viktor Yanukovych, the anointed heir of outgoing (now ex-) President Leonid Kuchma, would continue in its refusal to acknowledge the result of the Dec 26 rerun, which Yuschenko decidedly won by a margin of around 8%. Considering Russian involvements in separatist movements in Moldova and Georgia, such continued hostility could have been potentially disastrous for the region.

It is quite interesting to note that a closed Yuschenko ally, Yulia Timoshenko, considered by some to be too radical for the Prime Minister position,
extended an olive branch
to Russia in an editorial published by
the Moscow Times on January 12th. One week later Yuschenko’s side sealed victory when the Supreme Court rejected Yanukovych’s last appeal of the results, and the Russian government finally offered its congratulations to the President-elect.

On the inauguration day itself, it is notable that while heads of state from the ex-Soviet Baltic republics and the ex-satellites in East Europe attended – and outgoing US Secretary of State Colin Powell, in his last overseas trip – Russia only sent a low-level dignitary. Relations between Ukraine and Russia is likely to be thornier than that between US and the European Union for the time being.

It is interesting to note that Timoshenko is insisting that she is not in the running for any position in the new government. That she will get a position is assured, so her insistence might be aimed at assuaging Russia and the Russian speakers, or part of negotiations between the parties in Rada, the parliament. The line-up of the upcoming cabinet will be something to watch: the challenge will be to push for reforms, which could potentially be economically painful for the industrial East, and moving closer to Europe, without alienating Ukraine’s giant neighbour to the East. The upcoming constitutional changes ceding power from the President to the Rada, originally pushed through by Kuchma’s administration as the chance of a Yanukovych victory grew dimmer, might throw a spanner in the works, unless Yuschenko capitalized on his popular support by holding snap parliamentary elections. Heady times..