Saturday, December 25, 2004

Do they know it's Christmas Time at all?

Do they know it's Christmas Time at all is one of my favorite Christmas songs because it reminds us all that in our times of happiness, we should not forget others.

From the Pope on
BBC News: "The frail pontiff, 84, used his sermon to express "grave apprehension" over the continuing conflict in Iraq. He described violence in all its forms as a "source of untold suffering", and voiced fears about suffering in Sudan and hopes for peace in the Middle East. As thousands sheltered from rain, the Pope spoke of "invincible confidence" about eventual peace in the Holy Land. "I think of Africa, of the tragedy of Darfur in Sudan, of the Ivory Coast and of the Great Lakes Region" he said in his Urbi et Orbi address...In the West Bank town of Bethlehem, revered as the birthplace of Jesus Christ, Palestinian leaders gathered alongside church leaders. Palestinian presidential favourite Mahmoud Abbas travelled to Bethlehem as PLO chairman accompanied by the interim chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Rawhi Fattuh. The pair were the most senior Palestinians allowed to attend Christmas services in Bethlehem for three years. Israel barred former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died in November, because of alleged terror links."

In Iraq, Christians are scared to celebrate. From
Informed Comment: "Iraq's approximately 700,000 Christians actually are having to hide their celebrations for fear of violence from radical Muslim extremists. Borzou Daragahi reports that most Iraqi Christians are declining to put out Christmas lights or symbols, and many are attending daytime masses or none at all for fear of car bombs. Many masses have even been cancelled by the churches. Christians had been relatively safe under the Baath regime. Daragahi writes, "It's true that the Americans are Christians and we are Christians. But they should not associate us with them. All the Christians want the Americans to get out and the occupation to end. Nobody is with the Americans," said Father Gabriel Shamami, who leads the St. George's Church in Baghdad. 'There have been some horrific bombings of Christian churches by Muslim radicals in the past year, and some churches were bombed as recently as Monday, Dec. 20, 2004. A wave of kidnappings of Christians has also plagued the community.Thousands of Christians have fled Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Estimates vary widely, from just 10,000 to as many as 200,000. Most have moved to Jordan, Syria or Lebanon, all of them relatively hospitable to Christians. The Baath regime had been generally tolerant of Christians, since it stressed Arab nationalism rather than Islam as the basis of the state.A conference on Christian-Muslim dialogue was held recently in Baathist Syria, where major Christian and Muslim figures spoke about harmony between Christians and Muslims. Most Syrian Christians support the Baath government because it provides tolerance to them, and they know that were it to fall, it would likely be replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood. About 10 percent of Syria's 18 million citizens are Christian.Ironically, the Bush administration wants to overthrow the Syrian government, risking the same kind of destabilization there that has so hurt Iraqis--including Iraqi Christians."

From John Kerry's e-mail,
Operation Phone Home: “As a soldier, I remember how much it meant to hear from loved ones - especially at the holidays. So, I thought you and I could work together to make it easier for our soldiers serving in Iraq to phone home and hear a friendly voice. We've found a program that does just that. Operation Phone Home is run by the USO, which has been an extraordinary friend to American soldiers for decades. The USO buys phone cards at cost and provides them to our soldiers free of charge…In January, I will go to Iraq to see the situation firsthand and personally visit with our courageous troops who are serving America so well. Nothing would please me more than telling them that hundreds of thousands of us have expressed our thanks to them in this concrete and personal way.”

From NY Times, America, the Indifferent: “the latest available figures show that the percentage of United States income going to poor countries remains near rock bottom: 0.14 percent. Britain is at 0.34 percent, and France at 0.41 percent. (Norway and Sweden, to no one's surprise, are already exceeding the goal, at 0.92 percent and 0.79 percent.) And we learned this week that in the last two months, the Bush administration has reduced its contributions to global food aid programs aimed at helping hungry nations become self-sufficient, and it has told charities like Save the Children and Catholic Relief Services that it won't honor earlier promises. Instead, administration officials said that most of the country's emergency food aid would go to places where there were immediate crises. Something's not right here. The United States is the world's richest nation. Washington is quick to say that it contributes more money to foreign aid than any other country. But no one is impressed when a billionaire writes a $50 check for a needy family. The test is the percentage of national income we give to the poor, and on that basis this country is the stingiest in the Group of Seven industrialized nations. At the Monterey summit meeting on poverty in 2002, President Bush announced the Millennium Challenge Account, which was supposed to increase the United States' assistance to poor countries that are committed to policies promoting development. Mr. Bush said his government would donate $1.7 billion the first year, $3.3 billion the second and $5 billion the third. That $5 billion amount would have been just 0.04 percent of America's national income, but the administration still failed to match its promise with action. Back in Washington and away from the spotlight of the summit meeting, the administration didn't even ask Congress for the full $1.7 billion the first year; it asked for $1.3 billion, which Congress cut to $1 billion. The next year, the administration asked for $2.5 billion and got $1.5 billion. Worst of all, the account has yet to disperse a single dollar, while every year in Africa, one in 16 pregnant women still die in childbirth, 2.2 million die of AIDS, and 2 million children die from malaria. Jeffrey Sachs, the economist appointed by Kofi Annan to direct the Millennium Project, puts the gap between what America is capable of doing and what it actually does into stark relief. The government spends $450 billion annually on the military, and $15 billion on development help for poor countries, a 30-to-1 ratio that, as Mr. Sachs puts it, shows how the nation has become "all war and no peace in our foreign policy."