Monday, December 25, 2006

The True Meaning of Christmas

A picture of the Christmas tree at the Barrett house.

When I was a child my family went to a Methodist church every Sunday. I remember that at this time of year a popular topic of conversation among the church-goers was how the true religious meaning of Christmas had been lost in recent times by the increasing commercialization of the season. At some point it struck me that although a lot of the people in the congregation talked this way my father and the minister did not. When the minister talked about what our religious duty was he never mentioned restoring the true Christian meaning to Christmas and purging the holiday of all its unchristian elements.

I asked my father, who had also studied for the ministry at seminary, about this and he explained to me that our minister did not believe that Christmas needed to be restored to its original religious meaning because in seminary they had studied the history of the church. They had learned that the supposed Christian meaning of the holiday – the birth of Jesus –was a non-historical graft onto an existing pagan celebration. Celebrating and gift-giving was the original meaning of Christmas. There was no true Christian meaning that needed to be restored.

It was about 45 years ago that I first heard people talking about how the true meaning of Christmas had been lost recently. Amazingly people are still saying exactly the same thing. I guess that must be something that people enjoy saying to each other.

Merry Christmas and Feliz Navidad!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Generals oppose surging troops in Iraq

The Washington Post has been reporting that the Joint Chiefs of Staff are unanimous in opposing the idea of sending 15,000 to 30,000 more troops to Iraq because those proposing the surge have not come up with a clear mission for those troops.

Although I believe strongly in civilian control of the military I think generals should have the right to tell the President they will not follow orders they consider ill-conceived and misguided. I hope they remain resolute about not sending more soldiers to Iraq in the absence of a mission and clearly defined goals. I also hope that if President Bush orders them to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities they would also refuse to do that.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Judith Regan fired over O.J. Simpson "confession" book deal

Judith Regan was just fired by HarperCollins because of her plan for a book and television interview with O.J. Simpson giving his account of how he might have murdered his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald L. Goldman.

It must be a cold day in hell. Someone was just fired for underestimating the tastes and sophistication of the American public.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Children Left Behind

Just in time for Christmas the federal government Grinch has left numerous children without parents by arresting 1300 Swift company workers (some of whom have already been deported).
(I found this picture at

In their public statments the ICE keeps talking about how they are catching identity thieves and other dangerous criminals but the statistics show that the vast majority of the people they are snatching are guilty of nothing other than being undocumented.

Announcing the success of its massive "Operation Wagon Train" yesterday, DHS officials insisted the raids that netted nearly 1,300 arrests were about busting up an identity theft ring. The stats tell a different story.

According to DHS' own tally, only 65 of the 1,282 arrests were for criminal violations, including identity-theft related crimes. That means that over 1,200 of the people arrested had no connection to any identity theft rings, and were guilty only of run-of-the-mill immigration violations.

Iowa Governor Vilsack's statement about the arrests in Marshalltown

The following statement was released by the Governor's office on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2006
DES MOINES – Governor Tom Vilsack released the following statement today regarding recent incidents in Marshalltown , Iowa :

"The actions at Swift Packing in
Marshalltown yesterday reinforce the demand from Americans that the federal government reform the nation's immigration and enforcement policy.

A straightforward path to lawful citizenship, reinforced with secure borders, is long overdue.

As Iowans, we all share the immediate concern of caring for the children in
who may be without one or both parents.

These innocent children must be protected until they can return safely to their parents. I have directed my office to assist in every way possible so that these children, many of whom were born and go to school in
Iowa, are properly protected.

We will also continue our outreach to families in the
Marshalltown community to ensure they are aware of the resources that state government can provide."

Joe Mowers
Sr. Policy Advisor
Office of the Governor
State Capitol
Des Moines , IA 50319


Is caring for the children (many of whom were born here and are citizens) who were abandoned when their parents were arrested at work and deported another unfunded mandate the federal government is imposing on the states?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Those with lighter skin were released immediately

A troubling report from the Salt Lake Tribune about yesterday's ICE raid on the Swift pork processing plant in Hyrum, Utah.
If only for a few minutes, Maria felt like an ''illegal alien'' in her homeland - the United States of America.
She thought she was going on break from her job at the Swift & Co. meat processing plant here on Tuesday, but instead she and others were forced to stand in a line by U.S. immigration agents. Non-Latinos and people with lighter skin were plucked out of line and given blue bracelets.
The rest, mostly Latinos with brown skin, waited until they were ''cleared'' or arrested by ''la migra,'' the popular name in Spanish for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), employees said.
''I was in the line because of the color of my skin,'' she said. ''They're discriminating against me. I'm from the United States, and I didn't even get a blue bracelet.''
Maria was one of hundreds of plant employees targeted by federal agents.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

U.S. Citizens are being put into chains until they can prove their citizenship

People in the Hispanic community in the Quad Cities have been getting phone calls today from relatives and friends who have family members working at the Swift pork processing plant in Marshalltown, Iowa. They are saying that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials raided the plant and shut it down. They are saying that Hispanics, some of whom were born in this country, some who have green cards and are legally entitled to be in this country and working and some who are illegal immigrants with false papers have all been put into chains and told to phone home and have someone come with papers proving their legality.

If ICE officials came into your workplace and put everyone who did not have papers with them proving that they were either citizens or legal immigrants into chains and said that you would be held until someone came from home with paperwork proving your legality how would you react?

I know what I would say. "This is the United States of America. You cannot hold me without probable cause. I don’t have to prove that I am legal. You have to have some reason, other than the color of my skin, to hold me. If you do not let me go immediately I am going to sue every one of you and your bosses all the way up to the President."

But, of course, I am not Hispanic. Hispanics in this country do not have the same rights of outrage as the rest of us.

475 years ago today the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego

From the Vivirlatio blog
Coming by any means at their disposal including by foot and by bike, hundreds of thousands are at the Basílica de Guadalupe in Mexico City to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe. Today marks the 475th anniversary of the alleged apparition of the Marian image to Juan Diego in 1531. The legend claims that the image apppeared to the Indigenous man in his shawl. The shawl is now in the basilica. Last night, as is traditional , Las Mañanitas was sung.

All over the country, even in places as unlikely as Wisconsin, the faithful are celebrating the dark skinned virgin and Juan Diego, who was made a saint in 2002 by Pope John Paul II.

Monday, December 11, 2006

March on Washington, Jan. 27, 2007

United for Peace & Justice is an organization that is organizing a huge march on Washington on January 27 to send a message to the newly elected Congress that we want the troops brought home from Iraq immediately.

The Iraq Study Group report calls for major changes in U.S. policy in Iraq -- but doesn't call for the only change that will help solve the horrible crisis there: Bringing all the troops home, now.

Join us in the streets of Washington, D.C., on Saturday, January 27, to deliver a resounding message to the new Congress: We don't want half measures that will only prolong the bloodshed. It's time to bring an immediate end to the war!

There will be buses going to Washington from this area. To book a seat email Chris Schwartz at

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Did the Founders view this as a Christian nation?

Some people are now claiming that this country was viewed by its founders as a Christian nation. In 1797, the last year of President Washington's presidency, a treaty with the "Bey and People of Tripoli" was signed, promising cash and other considerations to Tripoli in exchange for peace. The following provision was written by a governement composed of Founding Fathers:
As the Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the law, religion or tranquility of Musselmen; and as the states never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mohometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever produce an interruption of harmony existing between the two countries.

- 1797 Treaty of Tripoli Article 11

Unlike many European countries which had state religions the United States was specifically founded as not being "in any sense" a Christian nation -- a fact which was seen by the authors of this treaty as an advantage when dealing with Muslims. It would be a shame to throw away this foreign policy advantage our Founding Fathers bequeathed us.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Does the public really oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants?

Many Democratic candidates in the recent Congressional election were quick to say they opposed amnesty for illegal immigrants. Even those politicians who in other respects seemed very pro-immigrant shied away from the word "amnesty." Based on that you might think that they were reacting to polls which showed that the voters were overwhelmingly opposed to any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in this country. If you thought that you would be wrong.

Quinnipac Poll, 11/13-19:

"Do you support or oppose creation of a guest worker program that would allow illegal immigrants to register for temporary legal status and employment?"

Support 65%, Oppose 32%

Currently illegal immigrants cannot apply for citizenship. If the law were changed to allow illegal immigrants to register into a guest worker program, should that program offer them the ability to work toward citizenship over a period of several years?"

Yes 69%, No 27%

Profits of Health and Insurance Corporations Politically Untouchable

Interesting reporting by Ellen's Illinois Tenth Congressional District Blog

Sen. John E. Sununu, R-NH told a group of New Hampshire business leaders that there is nothing that can be done about health care costs, so they should stop talking about how it's making US businesses less competitive.

Apparently, Sununu has decided that health and insurance corporations are more important than other businesses in the US because there is a lot that can be done, he just doesn't want to do any of it.

In an unrelated story, the insurance industry contributed $322,500 to Sununu's campaign war chest and the health care industry another 76,240.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

How to respond to the "War on Christmas"

I am starting to see blog entries and letters to the editor again this year talking about a so-called "War on Christmas." The evidence that a war is being conducted is that businesses are telling their employees to say "Happy Hollidays" rather than "Merry Christmas" when talking to customers and groups like the ACLU are mounting legal challenges to government holiday displays which contain specifically Christian symbols.

Of course, there are no objections to Christmas displays in individual homes or houses of worship, nor would any business object to their employees saying "Merry Christmas" to people they personally know well enough to be sure they would not be offended. Yet some Christians feel that home and church Christmas displays are not enough.

What sort of Christmas spirit is this? Why would a Christian, during what should be a joyous time of year, be indulging such negative thoughts. In such an overwhelmingly majority Christian society and culture why are some Christians feeling so persecuted?

I have a suggestion. As part of their Christmas spirit why don’t Christians show solidarity with religions that really are persecuted? When the Aryan Nation invaded Montana and Idaho in the 1990s this is how the people of Billings, Montana reacted as told by Jo Clare Hartsig and Walter Wink:
On December 2, 1993, a brick was thrown through 5-year-old Isaac Schnitzer’s bedroom window. The brick and shards of glass were strewn all over the child’s bed. The reason? A menorah and other symbols of Jewish faith were stenciled on the glass as part of the family’s Hanukkah celebration. The account of the incident in the Billings Gazette the next day reported that Isaac’s mother, Tammie Schnitzer, was troubled by the advice she got from the investigating officer. He suggested that she remove the symbols. How would she explain this to her son?

Another mother in Billings was deeply touched by that question. She tried to imagine explaining to her children that they couldn’t have a Christmas tree in the window or a wreath on the door because it wasn’t safe. She remembered what happened when Hitler ordered the king of Denmark to force Danish Jews to wear the Star of David. The order was never carried out because the king himself and many other Danes chose to wear the yellow stars. The Nazis lost the ability to find their enemies.

There are several dozen Jewish families in Billings. This kind of tactic could effectively deter violence if enough people got involved. So Margaret McDonald phoned her pastor, the Rev. Keith Torney at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, and asked what he thought of having Sunday school children make paper cut-out menorahs for their own windows. He got on the phone with his clergy colleagues around town, and the following week menorahs appeared in the windows of hundreds of Christian homes. Asked about the danger of this action, police chief Wayne Inman told callers, "There’s greater risk in not doing it."

Five days after the brick was thrown at the Schnitzer home, the Gazette published a full-page drawing of a menorah, along with a general invitation to put it up. By the end of the week at least six thousand homes (some accounts estimate up to ten thousand) were decorated with menorahs.
Wouldn’t it be great if when some hate monger tried to stir up a "War on Christmas" the whole nation responded by putting symbols of groups currently being persecuted in their windows? It could become a Christmas tradition to each year pick the symbol of a religion or group that was currently facing hardship to put in the window. That would be my idea of the true Christmas spirit.