Morning Report, July 21

Morning Report, July 21 July 21, 2009

1.  As explained in a Washington Post piece today, North Korean labor camps have been in operation for twice as long as the Soviet gulag and twelve times as long as Nazi concentration camps.  Experts estimate that roughly 200,000 political and religious prisoners reside in the camps today, and hundreds of thousands more have passed through the camps before.  According to newly published testimony from the Korean Bar Association, the conditions are horrific:

“Eating a diet of mostly corn and salt, [the prisoners] lose their teeth, their gums turn black, their bones weaken and, as they age, they hunch over at the waist. Most work 12- to 15-hour days until they die of malnutrition-related illnesses, usually around the age of 50. Allowed just one set of clothes, they live and die in rags, without soap, socks, underclothes or sanitary napkins…[And] photographs corroborate survivors’ stories, showing entrances to mines where former prisoners said they worked as slaves, in-camp detention centers where former guards said uncooperative prisoners were tortured to death and parade grounds where former prisoners said they were forced to watch executions.”

North Korea, almost certainly in search of bargaining chips, ventured across the Chinese border and seized American reporters Laura Ling and Euna Lee.  They were convicted in a closed trial and been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor.

Gung Jong Il was a prisoner in such a camp for three years, and he describes the horrific experience.  Like many other prisoners, he says the worst part of the process was, prior to the camp, his interrogation by the National Security Agency.

“They wanted me to admit to being a spy,” Jung said. “They knocked out my front teeth with a baseball bat. They fractured my skull a couple of times. I was not a spy, but I admitted to being a spy after nine months of torture.”  When arrested, Jung weighed 167 pounds.  When his interrogation was finished, he weighed less than half that.  He actually gained weight in camp, working summers in the corn fields and winters felling trees in the mountains.

“Most people die of malnutrition, accidents at work, and during interrogation.  It is people with perseverance who survive. The ones who think about food all the time go crazy. I worked hard, so guards selected me to be a leader in my barracks. Then I didn’t have to expend so much energy, and I could get by on corn.”

One wonders how many Christians are imprisoned in North Korea for their faith.  We should pray for the end of this regime, the freedom of its prisoners, and the return home of Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

2.  Newsweek has been quite open about refashioning itself as a liberal opinion magazine.  Ted Kennedy wrote the following piece on the pressing need for health care reform.  I would be happy to see a reasonable consideration of the merits and detriments of different approaches to the problems with our current health care system.  Yet too often the rhetoric suggests that there is either 1 solution or there is none.  Either one is for the government plan, Obama suggests, or one is for doing nothing.  Or else the discussion is put in such rigid and dichotomized terms that it loses all meaning; either it is the Republican alternative, some suggest, or else it is socialism.  Neither sides are serving the interests of an informed electorate.

Kennedy also refers to “decent, quality health care” as a “fundamental right and not just a privilege.”  This is somewhat beside the point, but the rhetoric of “rights” seems to have lost all meaning.  As a Christian, and simply as a human being, I hope that all people receive quality health care.  Yet this is not a “right”?  Are we to say that all those people who did not receive “decent, quality health care” over the generations had their rights trampled?  Of course not.  Rights are granted by God, or else (in a lesser version of the term) they are granted to citizens by means of a social contract, yet we seem to be discovering “rights” everywhere, in places where no one knew they previously existed.  Mysterious.

For a conservative response to Kennedy, see Bill Kristol’s piece at The Weekly Standard here.

3.  Jimmy Carter very publicly breaks with the Southern Baptist Convention because of its position on women in ministry.  He writes as though the SBC left him behind, but the SBC (unless I am mistaken) has not changed its view on the matter.  It’s fine that Carter’s views have changed and he no longer agrees with what he once did.  Carter says his break was “inevitable” when the heads of the SBC “ordained” that women should be subservient to their husbands and not hold positions of leadership in the church.  Perhaps someone can corret me on this, but I’m virtually certain this is not a change in position.  Perhaps Carter left the SBC because it did *not* change, or at least did not change in the way he wanted it to–but that implies that Carter has accepted the SBC view for 60 years, and he may not be keen to admit that.

I disagree with the SBC’s position for a variety of reasons.  What irks about the letter, however, is the way that it blurs together the traditional (in some quarters) Christian view that men are especially called to be spiritual leaders in the home and church with severe and violent oppression of women such as rape, genital mutilation and the refusal to educate women.  Clearly, as an “Elder” (I find the whole “Elder” thing rather pretentious), he wants to spread the blame around.  But this results in an intellectually lazy moral equivalence.

4.  Richard Cohen, the ultimate beltway insider and the dean of Washington columnists, sums up a successful but not entirely impressive showing from Sonia Sotomayor.

5.  U.S. support of ousted Honduran leader Manuel Zelaya continues to mystify, and now Spanish-language newspapers are reporting that they have found pre-determined “vote” counts for the referendum Zelaya had planned.  If this reporting is corroborated, will the State Department stop pretending that Zelaya’s ouster was a betrayal of democratic principles?

6.  Some are condemning Barack Obama’s choice for Surgeon General because she is overweight.  Blogs have speculated that she is roughly 40 lbs overweight and wears a size 18.  Can we all just agree this is absurd?  Dr. Regina Benjamin operates a free health clinic for the rural poor in Albama, was the head of the Alabama Medical Association, and received a MacArthur “genius” grant.  She’s a talented and very accomplished woman whose achievements should be celebrated.  She is also a Catholic whose faith inspired her to acts of service.  It would be especially nice if more African American women were inspired, by her example, to become doctors.

Christians who are interested in “making culture” through books, movies and television should tend to issues of weight and the body.  There is a desperate need now for a thoroughly biblical theology of the body that emphasizes health and care but also turns away from the crass mockery of the overweight and ever-increasing glorification of skinny young bronze-skinned bodies.

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