A Left-Wing Priestess for Allah — A Seattle priest has become a Muslim while also retaining her clergy status in the Episcopal Church.

A Left-Wing Priestess for Allah
By Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | June 25, 2007

A Seattle priest has become a Muslim while also retaining her clergy status in the Episcopal Church.  Her local bishop has described the development as “exciting.”  “I look through Jesus and I see Allah,” explained the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding to the “Seattle Times”, which reported that Redding puts on her Islamic headscarf on Fridays and her clerical collar on Sundays.  She has denounced Christianity as a “world religion of privilege.”   But she still sees Jesus as her Savior, even if not divine, and plans to remain both a priest and an Episcopalian.

Bishop Vincent Warner of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia told the Seattle Times that Redding’s embrace of Islam has not been controversial in his diocese.  Redding, who has been a priest for over 20 years, announced her new joint religious affiliation in an interview with the Diocese of Olympia’s newspaper.

 

“I was following Jesus and he led me into Islam, and he didn’t drop me off at the door,” Redding told the “Episcopal Voice,”  “He’s there too.”   Making no effort to disguise its topic, the article in the diocesan newspaper carried pictures of both a cross and an Islamic crescent, with the headline, “On Being Christian and Muslim.”  The story was buried in the middle of the newspaper, on page 9, as though unexceptional.

 

Until recently, Redding was director of faith formation at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, from which she was laid off because of budget cuts.  The cathedral dean insists, believably, that Redding’s conversion to Islam was not a problem.  She now worships both at the Al Islam Center of Seattle and at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church.  This Fall, Redding will begin teaching graduate courses in theology at Seattle University, where she also hopes to start an institute on the “Abrahamic faith traditions.”

 

“I want to concentrate on the three Abrahamic faiths because I believe our dysfunction has led to killing and intolerance and war,” Redding shared in an interview with the Seattle Times’ blog.  “I think we need to begin with one another.”

 

Redding recounted that friends tell her “you just glow” ever since her conversion to Islam.   “Let’s see how big God really is,” she explained of her joint religious affiliation.

Redding rejects the Christian doctrine about Christ’s divinity.  But she still believes that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, which Islam rejects.  Both Christianity and Islam believe that Jesus was born of a virgin.  Arguably, Redding’s faith in the virgin birth and resurrection place her closer to Christian orthodoxy than many of her left-wing Episcopal clergy colleagues!

 

“Of course, my church has the power to say that I can no longer function as a priest because of my embrace of Islam,” Redding admitted to the Seattle Times blog.  “Earlier in my ministry, my identity as a woman caused some authorities to decide that I should not function as a priest. To give up my ordained ministry would cause me great sorrow, but no one can take away my baptism or my relationship to Jesus.”

 

In fact, Redding well knows that the current leadership of the Episcopal Church, especially in her left-wing diocese, is more likely to salute than condemn her enthusiastic profession of multicultural religious diversity.   As she described, “In the Episcopal Church, as in Islam, there is a strong tradition of using one’s mind in living a life of faith.”

 

Redding insisted that she has “reviewed the vows of the baptismal covenant and the vows I took as a priest many times since I entered Islam” and saw nothing contradictory.  She pointed out that her rejection of the Trinity and Christ’s divinity has been evident in her sermons and teachings for a long time and is “well within the range of the opinions of faithful Christians over the years.”

 

After watching an Islamic preacher at her Episcopal cathedral, Redding was profoundly moved by his intense prayer and visible surrender to Allah.  “It wasn’t about intellect,” she told the Seattle Times. “All I know is the calling of my heart to Islam was very much something about my identity and who I am supposed to be.”  Another Muslim leader subsequently taught an interfaith class at the cathedral and chanted an Islamic prayer that Redding began to repeat herself.   In March 2006 she professed for the first time the Islamic creed that God is one and Mohammed is his prophet.

Redding reports that she remains close to Jesus and his suffering, but she is striving to become closer to Mohammad.  “I’m still getting to know him,” she said.

 

One of Redding’s Episcopal colleagues has hailed her as a “bridge person” between two great faiths.   But Redding’s bridge does not join two religions.  It is an escape route out of the collapsing gothic castle that is left-wing Episcopalianism, where priests can deny the tenets of their historic faith and still be acclaimed by their bishop and clerical colleagues.

 

Unsurprisingly, Redding was more moved by the chants of Muslim preachers in her Episcopal cathedral than by the vacuous social justice sermons and diversity seminars that undoubtedly emanated from its pulpit Sunday after Sunday.  Her conversion to Islam is no special compliment to Mohammad but rather a sad reflection of left-wing Christianity’s spiritual implosion.

 

Germany bans Cruise film shoot from military sites

Defense Ministry spokesman Harald Kammerbauer said the film makers “will not be allowed to film at German military sites if Count Stauffenberg is played by Tom Cruise, who has publicly professed to being a member of the Scientology cult”.

http://www.reuters.com/article/entertainmentNews/idUSL253889920070625?feedType=RSS&rpc=22&sp=true

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Democrats tear into Fred Thompson

Democrats hope to hush Rush

Muchas gracias, Sen. Graham-nesty

Evasive action

Evasive action

Bob Myer
Listening to Senators Lott and Feinstein talk about immigration “reform” on Fox News Sunday  yesterday, I was amazed at just how much these two seem to believe that compromise and bipartisanship are more important than doing the right thing for America.  Both of them have said that there are things in the immigration “reform” bill each of them does not like.  Therefore there must be some compromise for there to be any movement on the issue because, presumably, there is such a difference of opinion between sides of this debate.
And yet when Chris Wallace put forth the position that among the American public there is great support for border enforcement as a single issue, both say that the immigration issue – really the illegal immigration crisis – is a more complicated issue than can be addressed with border enforcement alone.
More complicated indeed.  But with Congress suffering a lower approval rating than even the much-maligned President, there can be little doubt that Americas have a diminished faith in their government.  And it’s not just Iraq that is lowering those numbers, as Feinstein would have the FNS viewers/listeners believe.  It is the severe disconnect between the government and the governed – on ethics, on Iraq, on illegal immigration, on education, on energy, and on and on and on.
And that is why, I believe, there must be a simple, single-step approach to slowing illegal immigration.  If the federal government can find the resolve to accomplish the singular task of securing the borders of the United States – a seemingly straightforward requirement of any sovereign government – then perhaps the governed will have a little more faith in the legislative and executive branches.  If the federal government cannot, or chooses not to, accomplish this task, then asking for the faith of the citizens governed, American citizens, is simply out of place.
Bob Myer blogs at http://www.mindofflapjack.blogspot.com/.

Obama and Moral Courage

Obama and Moral Courage

By Ed Lasky

This past weekend, Barack Obama passed up two key opportunities to stand up and be counted when it comes to making good on his campaign themes of bringing people together, healing, and fighting cynicism. But instead of action to realize his proclaimed goals, all we got was slippery evasion and bland talk. If you think Obama can be a leader, examine his brhavior this past weekend and draw your own conclusions.

Background
While many Christians, notably the evangelical community, are deeply supportive of Israel, the leaders of a few Christian church groups in America have issued anti-Israel resolutions over the last few years. These are often established groups that are politically liberal (and often have become so secular that they are suffering a decline in membership).  The anti-Israel Resolutions are typically one-sided and blame Israel for the problems of the Palestinians. 
These resolutions often encourage boycotts and divestment proposals.  They rarely find any failing among the Palestinians. They are silent regarding the teaching of hate in Palestinian schools. They are either silent regarding Palestinian terrorism (including violence within Palestinian society) or serve as apologists for such violence. They ignore the many examples of Muslim oppression of Christians throughout the Arab world, and also ignore Israel’s very highly regarded approach to its own Christian population.
Needless to say, these liberal Christian groups generally also ignore or do not emphasize much more severe severe human rights violations in a wide swath of nations (Zimbabwe, North Korea, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Iran and on and on). By obsessively focusing on Israel, they betray a certain perspective that has unsettled many, including many of their own parishioners.
Among these churches is one that does not fit the mold of established liberal Protestant groups: the United Church of Christ (UCC). The UCC, primarily an African-American denomination, has taken a pronounced lead in anti-Israel invective. So pronounced that a broad coalition of major Jewish groups has publicly rebuked (usually these types of disagreements are not aired publicly) the United Church of Christ for its unbalanced treatment of Israel. The coalition noted that the UCC failed to mention Israeli peace overtures, Palestinian rejection of those overtures, and the “brutal Palestinian campaigns of terror aimed at innocent Israeli children and families”.  
Obama’s church and Obama’s spiritual mentor
It so happens that aspiring Presidential candidate Barack Obama is a prominent – almost certainly the most prominent – member of the United Church of Christ. Obama has made political hay from emphasizing the role that his church and his faith have played in his life and career. He has credited his Pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, for being his inspiration and spiritual mentor
But now that Obama is in the midst of his political campaign and raising money and support from prominent Jews among many others,  he has tried to bury this relationship, because Wright’s philosophy and teachings have a very pronounced anti-Israel bias and are divisive on the issue of black-white relations in America. These views of Obama’s church would have significant political repercussions for Obama, if they were more widely known. Even Pastor Wright recognizes that this history would be a problem, noting that he has been temporarily shunted aside because his views and relationship with Obama would hurt Obama’s image.
How has Obama, who wants to appeal to people of faith, responded? Has he faced the issues raised by his mentor’s radical racialist rhetoric and hard line against Israel? No.
He has tried to burnish his image with the help of other ministers who have a less controversial past. Welcome to political theatre!

Obama has a problematic view toward the American-Israel relationship and questions about his commitment towards the alliance have dogged him throughout his campaign. He has had several opportunities to address the issue, but has tried to muddle through. He has apparently blown some prime opportunities to clarify his views, and he has missed what could have been his “Sister Souljah moment.”
A missed opportunity
This past Saturday, Obama spoke to a group of 300 delegates at the United Church of Christ state convention in Iowa
He delivered his usual bromides, including an attack on the “Christian Right.” He did not mention Israel or the controversial anti-Israel positions that the United Church of Christ has taken. Not a word. Here is a man who preaches tolerance and the coming together of people, a man whose voice is a powerful instrument and can be used to heal wounds. He chose to remain silent about the bias within his own church.
Obama again had a chance to try to heal the rupture between the United Church of Christ and supporters of Israel when he addressed the important 26th annual synod of the United Church of Christ in Hartford, Connecticut. This event was attended by thousands of members and will help to set church policy in the years ahead (comparable to  “platforms” established by political parties). So enthusiastic was his welcome that one UCC member called it “a Democratic pep rally.”
However, it is important to note that Obama never touched upon the issue of the UCC’s approach toward Israel, despite having numerous opportunities to do so; he never took the opportunity to address the bias towards Israel either when he spoke before UCC groups or otherwise. Only when the UCC was on the verge of passing a milder version of the resolution regarding Israel did the Obama campaign issue a statement,

“Senator Obama has been a consistent and stalwart supporter of Israel, our strongest ally and only democracy in the Middle East, throughout his career in public service and his entire life,” a spokeswoman for the campaign, Jennifer Psaki, said. “While he is a proud member of the UCC church and values its tradition of openness and diversity, he strongly disagrees with the portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict presented by individual members of the church.”

In the speeches he has given over the last year or so, in the written statements his campaign issued, he voiced no criticism about his church’s anti-Israel resolution before. Only after the church was well on its way in passing a milder resolution towards Israel, did Obama see fit to issue a statement about the church’s position towards Israel. He also phrased it in an odd way that could be subject to various interpretations.  He never specifically stated that he opposed the previous harsh denunciation of Israel embodied in official church resolutions, he merely stated that he “strongly disagrees with the portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by individual members of the church.”
Individual members”? That is meaningless. The Church has over a million members. With which individuals’ views does Obama have a problem? This is such a wishy-washy statement that it verges on blather. For all anyone knows, he found the prior official UCC resolutions acceptable, since he never specifically denounced them. There are certainly individual members whose view he may disagree with but so what? I imagine if Obama stated that there are those individual members of Hamas whose views he disagrees with? What would that mean? Is that a courageous statement? Of course not.
The same spokesman had previously  issued a statement in Obama’s name criticizing George Soros’ approach towards Israel after Soros issued particularly fierce denunciations of Israel and its supporters here in America that generated a lot of airplay; it did not prevent Obama from shortly thereafter attending high-powered fundraising parties with Soros; Obama also refused to return donations from a basketball player notorious for previous anti-Semitic outbursts.   
During his weekend speeches to chucrch groups did he bring up, did he even touch upon, the issue of the church’s views towards Israel? Did he touch upon the church’s silence regarding Palestinian Muslim violence against its own Christian community? Did he use his powerful voice to appeal to the church members to listen to the concerns of their fellow Americans who were so upset that they issued a public letter to express their sorrow that the church would so single-mindedly attack Israel-a nation besieged by enemies and threatened by an Iranian dictator with a genocidal dream? Did he use his gifts of oratory to ask the church to reconsider its positions and to reach out to those it has harmed-to help heal wounds? In a word, No.
Within his silence, there is a powerful message.
Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker

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Big Immigration, Low Employment

Big Immigration, Low Employment
By Steven Camarota
The Center for Immigration Studies | June 25, 2007

WASHINGTON (June 20, 2007) — Some businesses in Georgia argue that they need large numbers of immigrants because there are not enough native-born Americans to fill jobs that require relatively little education. However, state employment data show that as the number of less-educated immigrant workers has grown dramatically, the share of less-educated natives holding a job in Georgia has declined significantly.

  • Between 2000 and 2006 the share of less-educated native-born adults (ages 18 to 64) in Georgia holding a job declined from 71 percent to 66 percent. (Less-educated is defined as having no education beyond high school.) 

  • Had employment rates for natives been the same in 2006 as they were in 2000, then 186,000 more less-educated native-born adults and teenagers would have been working. The number of less-educated immigrants holding a job increased by 218,000.

  • Less-educated blacks in Georgia have seen a somewhat larger decline in employment, from 66 percent holding a job in 2000 to just 60 percent in 2006. 

  • There are nearly 800,000 less-educated native-born adults in Georgia not working. There are likely between 250,000 and 350,000 less-educated illegal aliens holding jobs in the state. 

  • Wages and salary for less-educated adults in Georgia have stagnated. Over the entire six-year time period of the study, real annual wages for less-educated adults grew by just 1 percent. If there was a labor shortage, wages should be rising fast. 

  • Native-born teenagers (15 to 17 years of age) have also seen a dramatic decline in employment. Between 2000 and 2006 the share of native-born teenagers holding a job declined from 22 percent to 11 percent in the state. 

  • There are about 300,000 native-born teenagers not working in Georgia. 

  • Immigrants (legal and illegal) increased their share of all less-educated workers in Georgia, from 7 percent in 2000 to 19 percent by 2006. Other research indicates that at least half of this growth was from illegal immigrants.
     

Discussion: It would be a mistake to think that every job taken by an immigrant is a job lost by a native. However, it would also be a mistake to think that the kind of dramatic increase in immigrant workers that has taken place in Georgia does not have serious implications for the employment of less-educated natives there. The natives impacted by immigrant competition are already the poorest workers and have the lowest rates of employment. This raises important questions about the fairness of creating so much job competition at the bottom end of the labor market through our immigration policies.

There would seem to be a huge supply of less-educated native-born adults and teenagers in the state to meet the needs of businesses. Of course, a large share of persons who are not in the labor force do not wish to work. But it is also clear that many would be willing to do so if properly paid and treated by employers. This is especially true in light of the fact that so many less-educated natives who are not working were in fact working as recently as 2000.

If, for example, immigration laws were enforced and this resulted in say two-thirds of illegal immigrants leaving the state, it would mean that employers would have to find about 200,000 workers to replace them. Given the very large size of the non-working population in the Georgia, replacing illegal workers would seem to be very possible. Again, assuming they are properly paid and treated properly. It is worth noting that businesses in the state could attract natives from other parts of the country with weaker economies if the large existing pool of less-educated natives in the state was still found to be inadequate. There is also the option of utilizing labor-saving devices and techniques.

While the decline in employment among less-educated natives in Georgia is not in dispute, some may feel that immigrants have little to do with it because they work very different jobs than do natives. While there are some differences in the concentration of immigrants and natives across occupations, the fact remains that less-educated immigrants and less-educated natives very often do the same kinds of work. If we look at the top-five occupational categories done by less-educated immigrants we find that 44 percent of less-educated natives are employed in these same occupations. These include building cleaning and maintenance, construction, production, food preparation and service, and transportation and moving occupations.

Other Research: In a paper published last year by the Center for Immigration Studies, Andrew Sum and his colleagues at Northeastern University found that the arrival of new immigrants (legal and illegal) in a state results in a decline in employment among young native born workers in that state. Their findings indicate that young native born workers are being displaced in the labor market by the arrival of new immigrants. In another recent paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (Working paper 12518), the authors found that immigration was responsible for 40 percent of the decline in black employment between 1980 and 2000.

Data Sources: The data for this analysis come from the Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey (CPS) collected by the Census Bureau in March of each year. It includes legal immigrants and most illegal immigrants. The occupational data discussed above was based on a combined sample of March 2005 and 2006 CPS. We combined two years to get more statistically robust estimates by occupation for the state of Georgia.

The ‘Do-Nothing’ Congress

The ‘Do-Nothing’ Congress
By Dick Morris and Eileen McGann
FrontPageMagazine.com | June 25, 2007

Americans are not happy about the job that Congress is doing, and with very good reason. According to the results of a Gallup Poll completed last week, only 14 percent of the American people have a lot of confidence in Congress.

That’s the lowest Congressional rating since Gallup started measuring confidence in American institutions in May of 1973. Even then, at the height of the Watergate scandal, Congress scored a 42 percent confidence rating. And now, Congress is rated as the worst of all 16 American institutions measured.

The results are hardly surprising when you look at how little the House and Senate actually work, their minimal accomplishments and their generosity to themselves and their families. They have not been able to pass important legislation on minimum wage, immigration reform, or anything else of importance. Instead, they spend their time raising money for themselves, bickering and passing bills to change the names of courthouses and post offices, commending winning sports teams, and suggesting that the flag be flown on Father’s Day. These are their weighty concerns.

Congress Will Be Out of Session for More than 16 Weeks

In our new book, Outrage, we document the awful truth about the “Do-Nothing Congress.” The fact is that they are paid at least $165,500 a year, and they hardly show up at all. In 2006, for example, Congress was only in session for 103 days, slightly more than two days a week on average. Nice work, if you can find it.

When Harry Truman criticized the “Do-Nothing Congress” in 1948, the House was in session for only 108 days!

In the current Congress, despite Speaker Pelosi’s loud promise of a five-day workweek, the House schedule is laughable. The first clue that members wouldn’t be working harder was when House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced that the House would take a day off during the first week in session. Why? Was there a national emergency? Maybe a catastrophic storm? Not at all. It was because of the championship college football game between Oklahoma State and Florida State. Obviously oblivious to the criticisms of Congressional laziness, Hoyer explained that the work of the Congress would be suspended so that everyone could watch a football game.

How many American workers are given a day off to watch a football game?

A close look at the schedule of the House is shocking. Congress will be out of Washington for more than 16 weeks. And when they are technically in session, they don’t do much. Take the month of February, for example: the House was only in session for nine days — and on three of those days, the sessions lasted less than 20 minutes, while a fourth lasted for 39 minutes. Their designated “President’s Day District Work Period” is a ridiculously transparent euphemism for a vacation week — sometimes involving free travel. Right after the so-called travel “reforms” were passed, 66 members of the House traveled during February at the expense of private organizations (legal under the new rules), many of them to exotic vacation spots.

Free Trips to San Juan in February — Bring Along the Kids!

Fourteen members and their spouses spent five days of the “President’s Day District Work Period” at a luxurious hotel in sunny San Juan, Puerto Rico at an Aspen Institute conference on “No Child Left Behind.” Several of the members apparently took the conference mandate quite literally and brought their own children for a free trip: Congressman Zach Wamp, of Tennessee, was joined by his son, Cody, and Congressman Jan Schakowsky, of Illinois, was accompanied by her daughter, Mary Hart. The average cost of the trip was about $7,000 per member. Only five of the 15 were members of the House Education Committee:

• Zach Wamp (R-TN)
• Melvin Watt (D-NC)
• John Tierney (D-MA)*
• Janet Schakowsky (D-IL)
• Edward Pastor (D-AZ)
• George Miller (D-CA)*
• Nita Lowey (D-NY)
• Raymond Green (D-TX)
• Diane Degette(D-CO)
• Susan Davis (D-CA)*
• Russ Holt (D-NJ)*
• Lynn Woolsey (D-CA)*
• Sam Farr (D- CA)
• Bob Etheridge(D-NC)
• Richard Lugar (R-IN)

* member, House Education and Labor Committee

Last summer, the director of the Aspen Institute Congressional Program, former U.S. Senator Dick Clark, insisted, in an interview with us, that Aspen had discontinued paying for the trips of the children or siblings of members. Apparently, that policy has been changed, since two children went to San Juan and another sibling to China.

And, by the way, Speaker Pelosi has proposed that adult children be permitted to accompany members on taxpayer paid trips.

A number of the February travelers are perennial beneficiaries of the Aspen largesse. For example, while House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller may have had an interest in the “No Child Left Behind” conference, he is a serial traveler on the Aspen dime. Since 2000, he and his wife have attended a total of 30 Aspen conferences at a cost of more than $125,000, and total trips valued at over $200,000 — and only three of them were concerned with education. Mr. and Mrs. Miller traveled to Aspen conferences in:

Naples, Fla., San Juan, Vancouver, Prague, Grand Cayman, Florence, Helsinki, Punta Mita, Mexico (three times) Scottsdale, China, Barcelona (two times), Montega Bay, Jamaica, Rome, Moscow, Cancun, Venice, Dublin, Istanbul (two times), Honolulu, Krakow, and Llubjana.

In addition, Congressman Miller has traveled on government expense to:

Mexico, Cambodia (two times), Vietnam (two times), South Africa, France, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Laos, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel (two times), Jordan, Iraq, Italy (two times), Sudan (two times), Ghana, Liberia, and Cape Verde. (The records do not indicate whether his wife also joined him on these trips.)

The government trips consumed almost 75 days at a cost of over $65,000, excluding the airfares for military transport. And, Congressman Miller is not a member of any committee dealing with foreign relations. The Aspen trips took over 150 days! That’s an average of almost 30 days each year!

Who has time to work with this kind of travel schedule?

But he’s not alone.

Fellow traveler Sen. Richard Lugar is another Aspen favorite. He and his wife were on 25 other Aspen trips and visited:

Naples, Helsinki (two times), Grand Cayman, Punta Mita, Mexico (three times), Scottsdale, London, Montega Bay, Rome, Moscow, Honolulu, Cancun, Barcelona, Lausanne, Venice, Dublin, Istanbul, and Krakow.

Almost makes you want to be a Senator, doesn’t it?

Other Aspen regular travelers and their wives with the number of free trips include:

• Howard Berman (D-CA) — 18
• Donald Payne (D-NJ) — 16
• Henry Waxman (D-CA) — 13
• Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) — 12
• Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) — 11
• Gene Greene (D-TX) — 11
• Barbara Boxer (D-CA) — 10
• Nita Lowey (D-NY) — 10

April in China

During the so-called “Spring District Work Period” in April, many of the same characters went on yet another Aspen trip to China for a Chinese-American relations conference at a cost of about $25,000 per couple. Only two of the travelers were on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Don Payne (D-NJ) brought his brother along. Joining the group were:

• Donald Payne (D-NJ)
• Lloyd Doggett (D-TX)
• Frederick Upton (R-MI)
• Lynn Woolsey (D-CA)
• Susan Davis (D-CA)
• Brian Baird (D-WA)
• Mike Honda (D-CA)
• Michael Castle (R-DE)
• Anna Eshoo (D-CA)
• William Clay (D-MO)
• Tom Petri (R-WI)
• Tom Udall (D-NM)

Slovenia in May

During the “Memorial Day District Work Period,” the following members went on an Aspen sponsored trip to Slovenia, no doubt tending to their district and constituents all the while they were sight-seeing. Most were accompanied by their spouse. What is truly amazing is that every single one of the participants had already attended other conferences on the same subject. Howard Berman, Henry Waxman and George Miller — and their wives — went to five separate Aspen conferences in various European capitals and a Mexican resort; Lloyd Doggett and his wife attended four. The complete list of attendees:

• Lloyd Doggett (D-TX)*
• Rush Holt (D-NJ)***
• George Miller (D-CA **
• John Tierney (D-MA)*
• Melvin Watt (D-NC)***
• Harry Waxman (D-CA)**
• Carl Levin (D-MI)***
• Phil English (R-PA)***
• Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)**
• Howard Berman (D-CA)**

* Attended four Aspen conferences on Political Islam: Mexico, Barcelona, Istanbul, and Slovenia

** Attended five Aspen conferences on Political Islam: Helsinki, Mexico, Barcelona, Istanbul, Slovenia

*** Attended two Aspen conferences on Political Islam: Istanbul, Slovenia(Holt)Mexico, Slovenia (Watt),

**** Attended three Aspen conferences on Political Islam: Barcelona, Istanbul, Slovenia

What’s wrong with this picture?

Why would the Aspen Institute invite the same people back to conference after conference about the same topic in expensive and exotic places? Why are so many members invited to participate in forums that have nothing to do with their committee assignments? Why are most of the participants Democrats?

Aspen points out that it does not lobby and only wants to give Congressmen the opportunity to think about important issues away from the pressures of the Capital. Given what we know about their schedules, that’s hardly a good argument for the free trips.

It’s true that Aspen does not lobby, but it does develop public policy initiatives on a wide range of issues and even has a special conference for legislative staff. So, it definitely has a point of view — and usually a liberal one. There’s nothing at all improper about Aspen’s conferences, but the lavish foreign trips contribute to the evolving Congressional imperiousness.

What’s wrong with the free travel? Well, for one, it creates a sense of entitlement. Members of Congress have gotten used to being wined, dined and flown to beautiful and expensive places. It adds to the insulation from their constituents, it takes up time that should be spent on the job they were elected to do and it basically provides tax free income for free travel.

And it’s not just Aspen. Another favorite travel underwriter is the International Management and Development Fund, which hosted Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and his wife on a $20,000 trip to Germany in February. Congressman Hinchey has received over $200,000 worth of free travel since 2000. Congressman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Mark Souder (R-IN), Tom Feeney (R-FL) and Ralph Regula (R-OH) also went to Germany.

It’s not what they were elected to do. Since 2000, Aspen has spent over $4 million on 719 trips for members of Congress and their spouses and family members.

It’s time for Congress to stop the free travel and focus on the important issues that need resolution. That means showing up for work and making tough decisions.

Maybe then, Americans might have some confidence in Congress.

The Fight for Iran

The Fight for Iran
By Kenneth R. Timmerman
FrontPageMagazine.com | June 25, 2007

[ParisJune 21, 2007] – Iranian opponents to the Islamic Republic of Iran have remained in exile these past 28 years because they can’t agree on the basic principles for how their country should be governed. While diversity of opinion is normally a good thing, in this case diversity has generated paralysis – a paralysis that has been encouraged and secretly nourished by the intelligence services of the Tehran regime.

Should Iran be a constitutional monarchy? A Republic? A federal state, with regional governments allotted to major ethnic groups such as Kurds, Balouchis, Azeris and Arabs?

Advocates of each side see their ideas as exclusive. It’s them or us, they have been saying for 28 years. And that’s why they are still in exile and the Islamic Republic is still in power, despite its extraordinary lack of governing skills.

The conference I attended last weekend in Paris to announce the creation of a new opposition movement, Solidarity Iran, ran head on into these contradictions. Rather than announce a plan for action against the Tehran regime, as the organizers had hoped they would be able to do, the conference attendees decided that they had to resolve these basic contradictions before they could move forward together to confront the regime.

So is there any common ground among these three apparently opposing visions of Iran’s national identity and future government? I think so.

Why do we care how Iranian exiles conceive of their country? Because in a matter of months, Iran’s apocalyptic regime – to borrow a term from Dr. Assad Homayoun – will have nuclear weapons. Without a coherent, well-financed, and broadly-supported opposition project, Iran’s apocalyptic leaders soon will have the means to enact their chiliastic vision of a final showdown with their opponents within the Muslim world, the Dar al-Islam, and the non-Muslim West, the Dar al-Harb, or House of War.

Here in a nutshell are the arguments that each makes.

Constitutional monarchists argue that only the institution of monarchy can guarantee Iran’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and unite the fractious opposition.

Dr. Ramin Parham, a Monarchist intellectual I encountered in Paris shortly after the Solidarity Iran conference, compared the Iranian opposition to the national Iranian soccer team.

“We’ve got terrific individuals, world-class players. And yet we lose every time, even against second-ranked teams, such as Qatar or Dubai, because those players don’t play together as a team. Why is that? Because they have no good coach, and no team identity. That’s what we need with the Iranian opposition. That’s what the institution of the monarchy can bring.”

Republicans, such as former political prisoner and leader of the July 1999 student uprising, Roozbeh Farahanipour, argue that Iranians don’t want to bring back the Pahlavi dynasty, whose mistakes directly led to the 1979 revolution. They prefer a strict republican form of government, similar to America, with popular sovereignty delegated by the people to their elected representatives.

Proponents of a federal state come primarily from among Iran’s non-Persian ethnic components, who by all estimates comprise over 60 percent of the population.

I met with Hassan Sharafi, the deputy secretary general of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran, shortly after the Paris conference as well. He argues that Iran’s minorities believe in a single, unified Iranian nation, but want regional autonomy as a guarantee that their distinct cultures will be respected within the confines of a single, united, federal Iranian state.

 

Iran has been a nation for over two thousand years. “You don’t need to do nation building in Iran,” Ramin Parham told me. “You need to do state building, to build the institutions of a modern democratic state.”

I think Parham is right, and that the fear-mongerers among the ultra-nationalists are wrong. They fear that any concessions made to Iran’s ethnic components will be the first step toward the dissolution of a united Iran.

The KDPI’s Hassan Sharifi was not speaking as an individual when he told me solemnly that he considers himself an “Iranian nationalist.”

 

Iran is a mosaic compromised of many different nationalities, each with their own cultural identity and language. “Together, we make up the Iranian people,” Sharafi said.

Similarly, without the support and consent of the Kurds, the Azeris, the Ahwazi Arabs and the Balouch, Iran can never be a nation at peace with itself or with the world. Nor can it ever get rid of the Islamic Republic.

So what about the complaint of the republicans, who fear –not without justification – a return of an absolutist monarchy?

I think the answer to that question lies with the monarchists themselves. Are they willing to impose strict restraints on the powers of a future king through a constitutional framework? “We look for example to Juan Carlos of Spain, a monarch who became the symbol of national unity,” Parham said.

Parham noted that Iran’s monarch had rallied the country in moments of crisis, such as the Soviet invasion of northwestern Iran right after World War II.  While there had been long periods where monarchs did not behave as they should, he said he believed that a constitution could create strict limits on a king’s authority.

Do these through groups share common grounds? I think so.

“We have never had any issues with regard to identity and are crystal clear on and quite aware of our identity,” the nationalist Roozbeh Farahanipour tells me.

“To form a union, to become unified, everyone involved must agree on a common geographical area – country, and a common flag and a common nation. The words “nationalities” or “sects” can be used, but we only recognize the Iranian Nation. Our national unity is based on our being Iranian not on a supermarket style union: 2 women, 1 student, 3 workers, 2 Lors, 4 Azeris, etc.”

When you listen to these leaders carefully, the outlines of a national concessus clearly emerges. But they alone can work out the details.

How do you go about state-building? By hammering out the details of a national constitution. The Constitutionalist Party of Iran, which did not attend the Paris gathering because of differences over national identity, argues that the 1906 constitution establishing limits on the monarch is a unifying document.

But clearly, it is not. Iranians old enough to remember the final years of the former shah know well how that earlier constitution was ripped into shreds by the very monarch whose powers it was designed to limit.

Some opponents of the regime, such as former Hezbollahi Amir Farshad Ebrahami, argue that Iranians should set their differences aside until after they have gotten rid of the mullahs.

While from a distance, that sounds like a reasonable proposal, it falls short when it comes down to motivating people such as the Kurds or students or labor groups inside Iran to risk their lives to oppose the regime.

Risk their lives for what? That’s a legitimate question, and they ask it all the time.

Khomeini came to power in 1979 with a clear (if deceitful) program. He said he planned to abolish the monarchy and institute an Islamic republic. He eventually put that question to the people of Iran in a referendum that passed overwhelmingly – in part, because he was never clear what his Islamic republic would look like until later.

There may be no better time than now for Iranian constitutional lawyers to gather to write a new constitution, a document that resolves the contradictions of the three positions I’ve outlined above.

 Is it possible to achieve a historic consensus uniting a limited, symbolic monarch to a federal republic that guarantees the rights of Iran’s ethnic communities while protecting every Iranian as an individual from the tyranny of the state?

Maybe yes, maybe no. That will be up to Iranians to decide.

But the time for them to work toward that historic compromise is now, while they are in exile and the most powerful weapons the different factions possess are words.

I have no doubt that a unity document would transform the Iranian opposition and terrify the ruling clerics in Tehran. Nor do I doubt that such a document would confer an immense legitimacy on the opposition, who could travel the capitols of the world with a project, a leader, and a pledge for the future.

Are the Iranians ready for this? Participants at the Paris conference gave themselves three months to resolve most of these issues. We will know soon enough whether they are up to the challenge, or whether they will have to remain in exile another 28 years until this generation dies off.