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Peace & Justice

Continuing King's legacy

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Fifty-four years ago Martin Luther King Jr., reluctant leader of a great new movement in America’s segregated South, was at his Birmingham, Ala., home. Author Nick Kotz, in Judgment Days, tells this King story:

About midnight he picked up the ringing telephone to hear a menacing voice: “Nigger, we are tired of you and your mess now. If you aren’t out of this town in three days, we’re going to blow your brains out and blow up your house.”

Stammering about abortion

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Essay

In mid-November, the New York-based Human Rights Watch weighed in on the Stupak amendment to the U.S. health care reform bill. If signed into law, the amendment would prohibit using a federal subsidy to purchase an insurance plan that includes coverage of abortion except in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest. The bill’s restriction, Human Rights Watch argued, “would effectively eliminate abortion access for millions of women and threatens women’s human rights.”

Group fasts to close Guantanamo Bay prison

WASHINGTON -- Undertaking 11 days of fasting, prayer, meditation and public action, a group of Catholic and other activists has renewed its push for the immediate closing of the military-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Members of Witness Against Torture, established in 2005 with the goal of closing the prison housing suspected terrorists, began their fast Jan. 11 at the White House. The group marked the eighth anniversary of the prison's opening with a demonstration and a procession through downtown Washington.

U.S. Franciscan detained on Cairo street

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Franciscan Fr. Louis Vitale's recent travel to the West Bank and Cairo was not a journey for the fainthearted.

He was tear gassed outside a Palestinian olive grove and detained on the streets of Cairo, Egypt, by a large police force. He went without food for a few days in solidarity with residents of the Gaza Strip who do not have enough to eat because of Israel's ongoing blockade, and he offered energy bars and water to weary Egyptian cops who surrounded him and some of the 1,362 people from 42 nations who were in the Egyptian capital for a Gaza freedom march Dec. 31.

A realistic idealist at Oslo

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Viewpoint

Many on the political left have become disillusioned with Barack Obama because of his escalation of the Afghanistan war, his bailout of the financial industry, and his failure to advance his domestic agenda. As a result, they read his speech in Oslo, Norway, through the lens of disillusionment. Pacifists (who must not have been listening during the presidential campaign) are appalled by his defense of the just-war theory. Others argue that he has not proved that the Afghan war truly is a just war.

Such criticisms failed to see the speech for what it was: not a detailed defense of the Afghan war, but a comprehensive overview of the role of the United States in international affairs, a view that is principled and realistic, not ideological or naive.

The Nobel War Lecture

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Viewpoint

In accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, President Obama, one of the world’s great orators and purveyors of hope, gave a speech that must reflect the divisions within himself and his personal struggles to reconcile them. It was a surprising speech for the occasion. Rather than a speech of vision and hope, it was a speech that sought to justify war, and particularly America’s wars. It was largely an infomercial for war, touting not only war’s necessity but its virtues, and might well be thought of as the “Nobel War Lecture.”

Peacemakers also see the world as it is

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As with a berg of ice in a shipping lane, Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize speech in Oslo, Norway, was a collision between peacemaking and war-making.

Several times he mentioned Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. “There’s nothing weak, nothing passive, nothing naive in their creed or lives,” he said. But the praise was faint, the tone patronizing. “I face the world as it is,” said the nation’s latest war president, implying that Gandhi and King were dwellers in another world where they and the rest of dream-driven pacifists have their heads either in the clouds or in the sand. “There will be times,” Obama said, “when nations, acting individually or in concert, will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.”

Afghanistan: Speaking Truth to Power

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Commentary
There’s a phrase originating with the peace activism of the American Quaker movement: “Speak Truth to Power.” One can hardly speak more directly to power than addressing the Presidential Administration of the United States. This past October, students at Islamabad’s Islamic International University had a message for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. One student summed up many of her colleagues’ frustration. “We don’t need America,” she said. “Things were better before they came here."

The students were mourning loss of life at their University where, a week earlier, two suicide bombers walked onto the campus wearing explosive devices and left seven students dead and dozens of others seriously injured. Since the spring of 2009, under pressure from U.S. leaders to “do more” to dislodge militant Taliban groups, the Pakistani government has been waging military offensives throughout the northwest of the country. These bombing attacks have displaced millions and the Pakistani government has apparently given open permission for similar attacks by unmanned U.S. aerial drones.

Report: Executions rise as death sentences decline

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The number of state-sponsored executions jumped 41 percent in 2009 even as the number of death penalty sentences dropped, according to a new report from the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center.

Last year's 52 executions nationwide represented a 41 percent increase from the 37 executions in 2008, the DPIC said in its annual report on capital punishment trends.

Medicating and medicalizing dissent

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Commentary

In “Sir! No Sir!” David Zeiger’s 2006 documentary about G.I. resistance to the war in Vietnam, Bill Short tells how revolted he was by having to count the bodies of enemy dead for his unit. When he refused to do it any longer, he was sent for psychological counseling. At the moment he thought he was about to be remanded for psychiatric confinement, the shrink, as Short refers to him, pulled a copy of the Nov. 9, 1969, New York Times from his desk and pointed to a full-page advertisement against the war signed by 1,365 active-duty GIs. Bill didn’t need a diagnosis, he needed a social movement — and there it was.

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