Not too much Islam, too little Christianity

Lutheran pastor’s kid Angela Merkel, now the chancellor of Germany, had some striking things to say about the immigration debate in that country:

Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans debating Muslim integration to stand up more for Christian values, saying Monday the country suffered not from “too much Islam” but “too little Christianity.”

Addressing her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, she said she took the current public debate in Germany on Islam and immigration very seriously. As part of this debate, she said last month that multiculturalism there had utterly failed.

Some of her conservative allies have gone further, calling for an end to immigration from “foreign cultures” — a reference to Muslim countries like Turkey — and more pressure on immigrants to integrate into German society.

Merkel told the CDU annual conference in Karlsruhe that the debate about immigration “especially by those of the Muslim faith” was an opportunity for the ruling party to stand up confidently for its convictions.

“We don’t have too much Islam, we have too little Christianity. We have too few discussions about the Christian view of mankind,” she said to applause from the hall.

via Merkel: Germany doesn’t have “too much Islam” but “too little Christianity” | Analysis & Opinion |.

End of the welfare state?

England’s coalition government is getting tough on welfare.  As are other European nations:

Britain announced the most radical overhaul in decades Thursday to its once-generous welfare system, pledging harsh penalties for those who refuse jobs and community work service for the unemployed in return for benefit checks.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith unveiled sharp changes to the country’s cradle-to-grave social safety net, which was first introduced after World War II to better protect newborns, families, the jobless and the sick.

Critics have long said the British system offered hefty benefits unavailable to other citizens across Europe, the U.S. and other major economies — encouraging some people to snub modest jobs in favor of an easy life on handouts.

“The message is clear. If you can work, then a life of benefits will no longer be an option,” said Prime Minister David Cameron, whose government last month announced it would slash benefits payments by 18 billion pounds ($29 billion) under a four-year package of spending cuts worth 81 pounds ($128 billion).

Under the new plan, many of the 5 million people who claim jobless benefits in Britain will be ordered to regularly do four weeks of unpaid community work to remain eligible for their 65 pounds ($105) weekly welfare payment. The stints could include manual labor tasks like removing graffiti or gardening in public parks.

Unemployment claimants routinely also receive other welfare payments to help with housing costs and raising children.

The plan is the centerpiece of Cameron’s legislative program, and one of the key elements of his strategy to fix so-called “Broken Britain,” his election slogan for the social problems that he says have blighted the nation’s prospects.

Duncan Smith said under his reforms, those who turn down job offers, fail to show up for job interviews or decline to take part in community projects face tough punishments. Benefits will stop for three months on a first offense, for six months for the second time and for three years after a third breach.

The system is still much more lenient than that in Spain, where a third offense means a person loses their welfare payments for good.

Duncan Smith insists the changes are not just to reduce the country’s budget deficit but are meant to jolt a group of around 1.4 million Britons who have been without a job for about a decade.

“For too long, the success of our welfare system has been judged by the number of people who are on benefits,” said Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. “Our welfare system should be judged by the number of people who are off benefits and into work.”

Britain’s reforms echo a program by Sweden’s center-right government to get more people into the work force and reduce the number of benefit-takers.

Sweden’s motto — “it should pay off to work” — was echoed by Duncan Smith.

via Off the sofa! UK gets tough on welfare.

Jacksonian foreign policy

Michael Gerson thinks that the country is going back to “a Jacksonian” foreign policy:

Even without a developed Tea Party foreign policy, the center of gravity on Capitol Hill is likely to shift in a Jacksonian direction. Historian Walter Russell Mead describes this potent, populist foreign policy tradition as “an instinct rather than an ideology.” Today’s Jacksonians believe in a strong military, assertively employed to defend American interests. They are skeptical of international law and international institutions, which are viewed as threats to American sovereignty and freedom of action. Jacksonians are generally dismissive of idealistic global objectives, such as a world free from nuclear weapons. Instead, they are heavily armed realists, convinced that America operates in an irredeemably hostile world. In particular, according to Mead, Jacksonians believe in wars that end with the unconditional surrender of an enemy, instead of “multilateral, limited warfare or peacekeeping operations.”

The Jacksonian ascendancy on Capitol Hill is likely to mean resistance to foreign assistance spending as well as undermining engagement with the United Nations. Who was foolish enough to schedule, immediately after the midterm election, a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in which Cuba, Iran and Venezuela scrutinized America’s human rights record? Even without such provocations, Jacksonians will urge more forceful policies against Cuba, Iran and Venezuela – along with Russia and China.

But the largest test case will be Afghanistan. Here Obama faces a rare challenge. His base of support for the Afghan war lies mainly in the opposing party, making Republican attitudes toward the war decisive. As Obama’s July 2011 deadline for beginning the withdrawal of American troops approaches, any hint of civilian-military divisions on strategy could dramatically erode Republican support. Jacksonians like to win wars. But if Obama appears reluctant, they could easily turn against a war the president does not seem determined to win.

No one cares about foreign policy – until a foreign policy crisis overwhelms every other issue. Or until a drifting, demasted foreign policy begins to offend the Jacksonian pride of the nation.

via Michael Gerson – Will the Tea Party shift American foreign policy?.

Would you agree with a Jacksonian foreign policy?  Or would you prefer isolationism, imperialism, or WHAT?

USA judged on human rights

President Bush refused to allow the United States to be dragged before the United Nations Human Rights Council, but President Obama has reversed that policy.  So the United States was hauled before the Human Rights Council, currently chaired by Cuba, to answer for its alleged human rights violations:

A delegation of top officials, led by Assistant Secretary of State Esther Brimmer, gave diplomats at the U.N. Human Rights Council a detailed account of U.S. human rights shortcomings and the Obama administration’s efforts to redress them. It marked the first time the United States has subjected its rights record to examination before the Geneva-based council as part of a procedure that requires all states to allow their counterparts to grade their conduct.

Several delegations camped out overnight to be first in line to criticize Washington, with the initial few speakers including Cuba, Iran and Venezuela.

The administration has engaged in an intensive effort, including holding town hall meetings with Muslims, Native Americans, African Americans and other minority groups, to assess the extent of domestic rights violations. In August, it gave the U.N. rights council a 22-page report documenting U.S. abuses, including practices by federal and local police and corrections and immigration officials, and defending President Obama’s counterterrorism policies. Friday’s meeting provided the first opportunity for states to comment on the report. . . .

The United States’ most vociferous critics – Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea and Venezuela – opened the session with a string of highly critical accounts of U.S. policies, denouncing detention policies from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo Bay and characterizing the embargo on Cuba as an act of genocide.

The tone struck by succeeding speakers was more restrained. But even Washington’s closest friends found fault with some of its policies. Many urged the United States to suspend the death penalty, with the ultimate goal of abolishing the practice, and to ratify international treaties aimed at protecting the rights of women and children.

China and Russia, two major powers with poor rights records but important relations with the United States, acknowledged U.S. advances in human rights, citing efforts to expand health care. But China, which has brutally repressed its own ethnic minorities, criticized U.S. law enforcement officials for using “excessive force against racial minorities.”

Germany’s envoy scolded some of America’s most strident critics. “We have noted with interest that some of the states which are on the first places of today’s speakers list had spared no effort to be the first to speak on the U.S.,” said Germany’s delegate, Konrad Scharinger. “We would hope that those states will show the same level of commitment when it comes to improving their human rights record at home.”

via U.S. offers its human rights record for U.N. review.

We hold other countries, including many of those on this panel, to human rights standards. Shouldn’t we submit to the same medicine? Or is this exercise inherently bogus?

The opiate of the people

Communism teaches that religion is the opiate of the people, a consolation that prevents the masses from rising up against their oppressors.  Apparently, judging from this article by David Ignatius, the true opiate of the people in still-Communist China is material prosperity and pop culture:

Americans sometimes assume that a richer China will soon demand greater freedom and democracy. Don’t bet on it: What Chinese repeat to foreign visitors, in so many settings that the canned phrases become credible, is something like this: We like what we’ve got; we’re worried about losing it; we want stability even if it means less freedom and openness.

Chinese don’t seem to know much about Xi Jinping, the man who this week became heir apparent to President Hu Jintao, beyond the fact that he is a “princeling” son of power and that he is married to a star singer. This makes him a man who is likely to maintain the status quo — and perhaps reform the system and spread the wealth just enough to keep any dissenters quiet. For most Chinese I encountered, those qualities seem to be enough. . . .

There’s protest in China, to be sure, but it’s largely about economic and property issues. The freedom agenda of Tiananmen Square in 1989, embodied today by the imprisoned Nobel Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, has mostly been throttled. Among the elite in China’s wealthy cities, fear of the peasants in the hinterlands seems to be a bigger concern than the opaque Communist Party leadership.

For a snapshot of China’s future, talk with students at Beijing High School 101. Decked out in their blue-and-white uniforms to meet visiting Western journalists (organized by the Committee of 100, a private U.S. group that promotes Chinese-American dialogue), the children are astonishingly bright and well-spoken in English. But even here at the top of the heap, there’s a fragility. They’re all products of China’s one-child policy, and you sense the heavy expectations of their parents: Study, succeed, prosper, don’t lose your seat on the express train to riches. . . .

At Tsinghua University, a graduate student named Yin Wang offers a catchy and probably accurate line: “Young people don’t care who succeeds Hu Jintao; they care about who succeeds Michael Jackson.”

A recurring theme here is self-censorship by a population that doesn’t want to risk crossing the fuzzy limits on free speech. Students attend journalism school partly to learn what subjects are off-limits. Young reporters who dig beyond the official account get branded as “unreliable” and lose good assignments.

The government monitors the Internet to keep it tame, and Chinese businesses and consumers play along. One of China’s biggest Web sites is said to employ 100 people to scan the proliferation of micro-blogs here. Parents avoid telling their children about the Tiananmen protests for fear they will ask more questions — and get in trouble.

The threat to this elite urban life comes from the still-poor rural provinces. The Chinese revolution began among such peasants, and there’s an almost palpable fear that the new China’s growing inequality could trigger another such revolt. That’s one reason people are nervous about democracy: They don’t want to enfranchise those angry peasants.

via David Ignatius – In China, it’s all about prosperity, not freedom.

And isn’t that a danger here as well, that materialism and our entertainment fixation (“who will succeed Michael Jackson?”), are breeding political and spiritual apathy?

Out of the depths

As the 33 Chilean miners are finally being rescued, one at a time, from their 68 days being trapped 2,000 feet below the surface, Christianity Today has an interesting report:

Jimmy Sanchez, one of the 33 Chilean miners who have been trapped for over two months in the San Jose copper-gold mine in the Atacama Desert, would like to make one small correction to all the stories about life in the mine:

“There are actually 34 of us,” the nineteen-year-old miner wrote in a letter sent up from the mine on Tuesday, “because God has never left us down here.”

Amid reports of squabbling on the surface among families of the trapped miners, some say things are much calmer underground as everyone prepares for this week’s attempt to bring them back up. The men have worked hard to keep their spirits buoyant during the ordeal, organizing themselves into a community and dividing up their living-room-sized space. Early on, they set aside a space to pray daily, and religious groups have converged on the mine to serve the miners’ spiritual needs. Once a supply line was established, Seventh-Day Adventists sent down mini-Bibles with magnifying glasses; the Jesus Film Project loaded 33 MP3 players with an audio adaptation of the famous JESUS film. A crucifix was sent down in August, and it’s said that miners also requested statues of Mary and the saints. The miners signed a flag which was presented to Pope Benedict this weekend.

Christian leaders of various denominations have come to the San Jose mine; the Guardian is rather bemused by all the activity, describing a “surge in religious fervor” as the rescue operation takes shape.

Baptist Press reports that two miners have “made professions of faith” since their entombment started. Pastors are also ministering to the families of the miners, who have camped out nearby. . . .

Spirits are so high that the miners are fighting among themselves about who will be the last to ascend—too many men are volunteering to stay down till the end.


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