Obama: Agent of Change? Well, Agent of Somethin’

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah says — and he should know — there is no difference between the policy of “absolute support” for Israel between Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

Obama’s own spokesman Robert Gibbs affirmed that, as under Bush, “all options remain on the table” with regard to Iran.

A recent executive order from the new president allows the CIA to continue to operate its “safe houses” — possibly a torture loophole.

Even President Obama’s massive stimulus plan continues the print-and-spend insanity preferred by the former administration.

And depending on whom you ask, Obama might want to ramp up military activity in Afghanistan — one area where Bush’s policy wasn’t quite forceful enough for the new president.

Don’t forget Obama’s new Homeland Security appointment of a “cybercrimes expert” as general counsel. You know, instead of abolishing Bush’s gargantuan Homeland Security bureaucracy altogether.

So aside from closing Guantánamo Bay in an extremely literal sense — after all, many of the detainees will remain such — what “change” have we witnessed thus far?

Did Mugabe Finally Croak?

This might just be the Miami in me (Castro is dead…now!nnnnow!nnnnnnnow!), but Zimbabwe suddenly nixing price controls and allowing foreign currency to be exchanged freely, with mea culpa from the finance minister and no comment from the 85-year-old dictator himself, makes me think he is either finally deposed or dropped dead. This will help a lot of common Zimbabweans, and erode the state’s grip on the economy. But maybe, as a friend pointed out, though this seems to be against Mugabe’s interests, “they don’t call them acts of desperation for nothing.”

But really, I hope he’s just dead.

Holy Sepulchre, Batman!

Likud Party leader and well-known soothsayer Binyamin Netanyahu has predicted that if Israel doesn’t have total control over Jerusalem then al-Qaeda will blow up the Holy Sepulchre, sparking “an escalation of religious conflict” we can’t even envision.

It seems to me that either the once and future Israeli Prime Minister or al-Qaeda is dramatically over-estimating the importance of the Holy Sepulchre to modern Christianity, its claims to being “Christianity’s holiest site” notwithstanding.

1,000 years ago (actually it’ll be 1,000 years ago to the day on October 18) the Fatimid caliph destroyed the previous Sepulchre, and that did indeed spark a series of Crusades (ok… so it look 70 years for the Crusades to get going, but news traveled more slowly in those days). Yet it seems to me that Christianity has matured somewhat since the depths of the dark ages, and as eager as some in the west remain for any excuse to start a major war, I’d like to think the bulk of Christendom really isn’t so hung up on some 11th century building in Jerusalem.

Is Obama a Terrorist?

If so, it’s not because he has associated with Bill Ayers.  He did, however, order a terrorist attack on Pakistan that resulted in the deaths of civilians. That is a hard statement because we have been conditioned to believe that governments don’t commit acts of terrorism, terrorists do. Well, we probably all learned in school that during the French Revolution, the government’s Committee of Public Safety carried out what was called the Reign of Terror. I know I did, but never thought about it until I was recently reading The War on Terror: How Should Christians Respond?, by Nick Megoran (IVP, 2008). Says Megoran: “Richard Falk, a professor of law at Princeton University, observes that the word terrorism first emerged as applied to the activities of the French revolutionary government, which used violence against civilian society to terrorize the population into acquiescing to the new government.” How could I have forgotten this? But even worse, how can so many Americans believe that a terrorist is anyone who detonates a bomb but doesn’t wear a U.S. Air Force uniform?

Aid for Gazans

Prof. Floyd Rudmin sends the following:

Material aid to Palestinians in Gaza can be given by donations to the following aid agencies. These are not listed in any order of priority.

1) The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has been responsible for the necessities of life for refugees in Gaza since 1948. UNRWA runs hospitals and schools, and provides basic food supplies for Palestinian families long trapped in Gaza. Donations can be made online here. Donations by bank transfer and international checks are also possible.

2) The Norwegian People’s Aid (Norsk Folkehjelp) has been actively helping Palestinians since 1987 and opened a local office in Gaza in 1996, with a focus on supporting women’s rights and development. Donations can be made online here. Select "Gaza" as the "Cause" which you wish to support.

3) Action by Churches Together (ACT) International is a Swiss-based alliance of Protestant and Orthodox churches to provide aid during emergencies. On January 14, ACT International delivered 3 truckloads of food, milk, and medicine to the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza. Donations can be made following instructions here via bank transfers or international checks. The Church World Service is a member organization, accepting online donations here, for fund #6824, "2009 Gaza Humanitarian Response." Church World Service meets all 20 Better Business Bureau standards and has a 2-star rating by Charity Navigator.

4) Medecins sans frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) runs a clinic in Gaza and has 21 tons of medical supplies and a team of surgeons set to enter Gaza as soon as allowed. MSF meets 19 of 20 Better Business Bureau standards and has a 4-star rating by Charity Navigator. Donations can be made online here.

5) The United Palestinian Appeal (UPA) is a registered US charity with a focus in Gaza on first aid training and mobile clinics. The UPA meets 19 of 20 Better Business Bureau standards and has a 4-star rating by Charity Navigator. They are now fund raising for medical and food supplies. Donations can be made online here.

6) American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA) is a registered US charity, founded in 1968, to give aid to impoverished Palestinian families. On January 9, ANERA delivered 81 pallets of fortified milk to Gaza. ANERA meets all 20 Better Business Bureau standards and has a 4-star rating by Charity Navigator. Donations can be made online here.

7) Oxfam America is a well-known aid agency. It meets all 20 Better Business Bureau standards and has a 4-star rating by Charity Navigator. Oxfam has established a "Middle East Crisis" fund to help with emergency medical needs. Donations can be made online here.

8) The International Medical Corps (IMC) delivers aid to Gaza via Heart-to-Heart International, International Relief Teams, and The Bridge Foundation. The IMC meets all 20 Better Business Bureau standards and has a 4-star rating by Charity Navigator. Donations can be made online here or by 24-hour phone line.

9) Episcopal Relief & Development operates in Gaza via the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. It supports the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in central Gaza and is sheltering 400 Gazans displaced by the conflict. Episcopal Relief & Development meets all 20 Better Business Bureau standards and has a 4-star rating by Charity Navigator. Donations can be made online here, where you can select the "Middle East" fund.

10) CARE was established in 1945 to deliver aid to war-torn Europe. It is now one of the most reputed U.S. aid NGOs, active in Gaza since 1948, with a focus on food security and clean water. CARE meets all 20 Better Business Bureau standards and has a 3-star rating by Charity Navigator. Donations can be made online here.

11) World Vision is a Christian relief agency with field offices in many countries, including Gaza. World Vision meets all 20 Better Business Bureau standards and has a 4-star rating by Charity Navigator. Donations can be made online here.

12) Medical Aid for Palestine is a registered Canadian charity established in 1982. It is subsidized by two government agencies: the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Secrétariat à l’Aide Internationale du Québec (SAI). Donations can be made online here.

Floyd Rudmin is a professor of psychology in Arctic Norway.

Slaughter “A Product of Circumstance”

Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni announced today that the Palestinian civilians killed by the IDF in Gaza were “a product of circumstance.”

Livni recognizes that the carnage may present a public relations problem for the Israeli government: “These matters will present us with a complicated task … The consequences, in the context of civilians casualties, are something we have to deal with, among ourselves and in facing the world.”

Livni need worry little about either the U.S. Congress or the bulk of the American media. Her “product of circumstance” explanation will be taken as sufficient absolution regardless of how many hundreds of corpses of dead women and children are uncovered in Gaza in the coming days and weeks.

And whatever Rules of Engagement the IDF used will be irrelevant. It wouldn’t be fair to blame the Israeli military for “circumstances,” after all.