Monthly Archives: October 2015

Bible Sunday – and Brother Ivo’s Petty Larceny

Yesterday was Bible Sunday, and Brother Ivo joined the company of preachers seeking to make a sermon that encompassed not a single text, not a parable or a story – but the entire book – from Genesis to Revelation.

He began by reminding the congregation that not only is the “Good Book” – not a ” book” at all, but rather a collection of books, a library, but also that there are a variety of contenders vying for what might be called the definitive version of the Bible.

Is it St Jerome’s original Latin text – the Vulgate – or the “Authorised” Version? Not only are there some books respected but not recognised as canonical, across different traditions, Coptic, Syriac, Orthodox, but in the English speaking world we have many versions, a few of which include the New Jerusalem, Revised, New American, to say nothing of the Good News. We Anglicans don’t do “Good News” as much as we perhaps ought to.

This quest for THE “Bible” which we were celebrating, became even more complex as the congregation was reminded that there are many incomplete bible translations for many of the 6000 languages of the world community. Some Christians have to learn and teach the good news of Christ’s redeeming love via only a handful of completely translated texts , maybe a Gospel or two, Genesis and a few of the letters.

Lest we think them impossibly disadvantaged in attaining salvation, it is worth recalling that for the first three centuries there was no Bible as such, yet the early Church not only survived but positively exploded into life despite massive persecution. It is also important to recognise that celebrating our Bible is not just about celebrating its artifactual presence: equally important is the uses to which we put it.

Brother Ivo had encountered a quotation by the great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon which he knew, early in his sermon preparation, that he needed to share .

“A Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone whose life isn’t”

Brother Ivo decided to take and exhibit his usual Bible, only to disconcertingly realise as he examined it, that it bore on its inside cover the stamp from his old secondary school! He hopes they don’t come for it!

In the context of the sermon, close examination of that Bible revealed that the New Testament – the Gospels especially – was decidedly dog-eared, tatty, with paper clips marking past preached texts. The Old Testament ? Less so…

That probably needs attention, but at least there was some objective proof of engagement with the texts.

The earlier reference to the partial texts of other cultures came to cover Brother Ivo’s embarrassment, for the liturgical texts for the day referenced the word of God being “living and active”.

Last week Giles Fraser wrote in the Guardian of the fact that nearly a quarter of Anglican Churches had fewer than 10 worshippers in them on a Sunday. It is not good to generalise, but it might be a safe assumption that a goodly portion of those did not prioritise the effective sharing of the Bible with the young who are conspicuous by their absence in too many churches.

Winston Churchill once said that a community never makes a better investment than “putting milk into babies”. Brother Ivo reminded his congregation that Churches never make a better investment than putting a love of the word of God into the heart minds and spirits of the young. That has long been his number one priority

Remembering that many good faithful followers of Jesus don’t yet have a fully translated set of Bible books – Brother Ivo was not downhearted if his own bible showed a bias to the Gospels – declaring

“I’d rather share the Good News of the Gospel a hundred times from the small parts I know well – than have read the whole Bible a hundred times over and told nobody about it “.

Spurgeon was himself critical of the undisturbed bible. In one of his sermons he declared

“Most people treat the Bible very politely . They have a small pocket volume, neatly bound; they put a white pocket-handkerchief round it and carry it to their places of worship; when they get home, they lay it up in a drawer till next Sunday morning; then it comes out again for a little bit of a treat, and goes to chapel; that is all the poor Bible gets in the way of an airing. That is your style of entertaining this heavenly messenger. There is dust enough on some of your Bibles to write “damnation” with your fingers”

If that inspires you to both read and share insights from reflecting upon your own Bible, Spurgeon will have inspired you to get in touch with your own inner Evangelical, Bible Sunday will have been productive, and you will have helped Brother Ivo’s in his own necessary quest to repent and offer some reparation for his own petty larceny.

What did I learn about Benghazi? – Cynicism pays.

 

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From the days of his youth, Brother Ivo has been interested in US politics. He recalls the Kennedy-Nixon campaign of 1960, albeit hazily. He followed the progress of the Civil Rights movement and the tragic assassinations of Dr King and both Kennedys.

He was a “Watergate junky ,waking early each morning to eagerly receive the overnight update on the inquiry, from a BBC which covered it in depth, making the slow southern drawl of “Senator Sam” Ervin of Texas a minor media star as he doggedly pursued the questions that revealed the unthinkable – that a US President had both acted  and lied  for political advantage.

Nixon fell and repented, but that appears to be the last wholesome precedent in living memory.

Subsequently, and in sharp contrast, Bill Clinton lied and was forgiven. He was aided and abetted in that by a wife who knew perfectly well of his widespread philandering, yet faced the press and people down.

More importantly she vilified the victims of her husband as liars, fantasists or gold diggers, yet still manages to represent herself with a straight face as the champion against those waging a “war of women”.

Only recently did Brother Ivo learn that Mrs Clinton had in fact been thrown off the Watergate inquiry team by its lead Democrat prosecutor for unethical behaviour. She had borrowed the only copy of an obscure legal precedent from the Library of Congress which supported the beleaguered Nixon’s request for Legal Counsel to assist him, she locked it in her room and then argued that if he could not produce it, he had no case for assistance in the process.

Her then boss discharged her saying that said she could never be trusted with such responsibility again.

Times have changed. Brother Ivo had been an admirer. If Watergate taught us anything however, it is surely that for integrity to remain in public life, one sometimes has to stand against one’s “own side”, something that Watergate Republicans of a different era did do; sadly, the Benghazi Committee Democrats have proved themselves incapable of following that ethical precedent.

Brother Ivo watch much of the Clinton evidence – so you didn’t have to.

What did he learn?

First that the BBC has ceased to be a serious reported of the issues of American politics. Jon Sopel’s report only addressed one issue -” Did Mrs Clinton’s Presidential bid survive?” One might have expected such a culturally liberal institution to assert that the deaths of 4 Embassy staff was too important to be politicised – which they accuse the Republicans of doing – and yet none of the evidence has been reported by our National Broadcaster.

This is evidence of a decline in broadcasting standards. Watergate was arguably less important – nobody died – and yet Brother Ivo and others of his age could probably even now give a fair summary of how bad practice came to be exposed.

The Benghazi Committee Chair, Trey Gowdy, came out as a man of integrity and forensic focus. He said he would concentrate on the events of Benghazi, and although the tale of Mrs Clinton’s secret and illegal email server is fascinating, he did not dwell on it at all.

He did neatly dispose of the claims that there was no new facts to investigate, pointing out that Mrs Clinton had never testified to any of the other bodies purporting to have investigated the matter, neither had any of those inquiries seen or even asked for her emails or those of Ambassador Stephens.

None of them had heard from witnesses on the ground.

The notion that this inquiry is irrelevant was thus despatched easily in his opening remarks, to the satisfaction of anyone of a non partisan nature.

The one big issue clarified was major. The Benghazi attack was not caused by the getting out of hand of a demonstration about an internet film, watched by only 300 people at the time of the attack occurring.

Nobody on the ground reported a demonstration.

Nobody called from the compound talking of a demonstration at all, still less it becoming ugly. Congressman Jordan put this directly to Mrs Clinton and she acknowledged its truth. There was not only no demonstration but no proper basis upon which to discuss one.

Sen John McCain – a personal friend of Mrs Clinton – had observed at the time that “nobody brings a rocket propelled grenade to a demonstration”, and although Mrs Clinton mentioned in passing that as Libya fell into turmoil, weapons were increasingly available, that may actually prove a hinderance rather than a help when we come to consider her responses to requests for greater security.

The key new revelation comes in three parts evidencing that the video claim was both patently false and known by Mrs Clinton to be false.

.On the night in question, Mrs Clinton emailed her daughter Chelsea to speak of a terrorist Al Quaida attack on the Benghazi Consulate. There is no reference to a video or a demonstration.

More officially, in two official records of telephone conversations with the Egyptian Prime Minister ( where there had been a demonstration) and the Libyan PM , Mrs Clinton said – in plain terms- that this was a pre-planned attack by an armed terrorist group and nothing to do with a video.

Within days that changed, with no evidence of reason for change being advanced; Mrs Clinton stood over the coffins of the dead and asserted that they had arrested the video maker who was responsible for this dreadful state of affairs. In the meantime, her staff had prepared “talking points’ for Susan Rice, the Whitehouse National Security advisor,as she  toured the Sunday morning talk shows asserting that it was the video that had inflamed the situation.

Why would anyone do this?

Would not most people have accepted that sometimes attacks like the original 9/11 literally come out of a clear blue sky? Unfortunate, tragic, but capable of being maturely explained and accepted.

The answer of course comes from the context. it was only 56 days from the election date, the President and Mrs Clinton were running on a record encapsulated in the phrase “General Motors is still alive and Bin Laden is dead”. They were proclaiming the victory over Al Quada and this was now falsified by the attack.

A second reason is more specific to Mrs Clinton and her own political ambitions currently being pursued. The evidence showed a picture of less than due diligence towards the security needs of Ambassador Stevens.

Mrs Clinton claimed him as a personal friend, implying that she would never neglect her duties towards him, with professional obligation underpinned by personal loyalty. She referred to him as “Chris” throughout.

Yet when questioned on this, she confirmed that he did not have her private telephone number, nor her cell phone, fax number or access to her through the notorious secret private email server. Her friend had never visited her house.

In contrast, her friend Sidney Blumenthall , was not only in possession of all her contact details but, despite being declared persona non grata to the Administration by the President in direct, unambiguous terms, was in constant discussion with her and she engaged with him regularly, sometimes sending his opinion over Libya higher up the chain – after carefully redacting his identity as the source of opinions.

She knew he was not trusted, neither did he have security clearance. He had never been to Libya but did have commercial interests as an advisor there, interests he was happy to advance with her by email. He was one of her most prolific email correspondents. His views and advice was “ put into the mix” as if a credible source though she knew that had those receiving the advice known its source they would have brought a degree of scepticism to the evaluation of the weight to be attached to it.

Congresswoman Brooks graphically displayed two piles of emails, one, approximately 750 in the year before the attack, but in the second barely a hundred and fifty in the time leading up to the attack. Whilst email is not the only measure of engagement, the contrast was striking.

It became more so in relation to the plight of Mrs Clinton’s  “friend”, who was simultaneously expressing concerns about the security situation for himself and his staff, sending about 600 requests.

Mrs Clinton made two sound points; first that emails alone are not the only indicator of concern, she was, after all having meetings, telephone calls cable reports etc. Second, that there were things she did do to improve security across the region; she had more obligations than Benghazi, even if “Chris” was specifically a friend.

Where that hits a credibility problem is in relation to her staff.

Two of them, writing form the State Department Libya desk, recorded that she appeared not to know that there was a consulate in Benghazi. She denied knowledge of the memo or its authors and specifically denied knowing their names.

This is puzzling.

How many unknown parties in a large organisation would risk upsetting its head by reminding her of a significant memory lapse?

Is that not usually the role of trusted confidantes?

Further, if unknown parties had access to the private and secret email address of a Secretary of State, does that not raise increasingly worrying questions of security?

More substantial is the fact that some 600 emails from Ambassador Stevens appear to have been received by her staff ( these were only disclosed two weeks and on week before the hearing so evaluation time was truncated). Mrs Clinton says that she never received or knew of these increasingly worried pleas from the Ambassador. What does it say of the culture of the Department of which she “takes full responsibility” that such powerful pleas and indicators of concern were never thought sufficiently important for her staff to refer to her for executive consideration and decision?

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We learnt that not only did the Ambassador specifically raise concern that the Consulate might have to be abandoned – again never put to her by her staff, but that as other Countries Missions, Charities, and Non Governmental Organisations pulled out, the worried Ambassador began buying cut price security apparatus to improve the security because his pleas to his Secretary of State were persistently unanswered.

Not only did Mrs Clinton laugh at this, referring to her “ friend’s ” ‘entrepreneurial spirit’, but insisted that he was making the decision to stay – he could have raised it with her if he was especially worried.

He was signaling anxiety, but these signals cut no ice with Mrs Clinton’s Staff who arguably were anxious not to break the political narrative that all was well with the Administrations policy in relation to the Arab Spring.

Is there no lesson to be learned here?

Is it not at least apparent that when staff screen out 600 pleas for help a Secretary of State in future needs to put in place procedures that such matters should be offered to him/her for risk assessment?

To put this in context, in specific answer to a question from Congressman Pompano, Mrs Clinton agreed she read every email from Sidney Blumenthall who advised and opined on Libya, having never been there, but not the many emails coming into her Department from her Ambassador in the front line,

The refrain that he was an experienced Diplomat and the best man to decide when the risk escalated to an unacceptable level may underplay the loyalty that Ambassador Stevens showed to Mrs Clinton. At times she was perilously close to asserting “ death by misadventure” – that he was “asking for it”.

If nobody knew the risks better than the Ambassador, the question begs to be asked “why did she and her staff ignore his advice that greater security was needed?”

Ambassador Stevens had 5 security men protecting him. The US had more security men defending their Embassy in Bermuda. Congressman Westmoreland from Georgia spoke with a slow Southern drawl, but one small part of his questioning was powerful.

He specifically asked Mrs Clinton about attacks on the Benghazi Consulate. She said she knew of only two, including the last fatal one. Westmoreland then pointed her to emails in which no fewer than 18 other attacks – of varying severity- were referenced. She agreed she had absolutely no knowledge of them.

We learned an important  new reason for this. Asked directly, she agreed that she could remember not a single occasion on which she spoke to her friend/Ambassador after he was appointed and sent into one of the most volatile war zones at the time,

As can be seen, far from being an “Irrelevant” political witch hunt, real new information is emerging about what happened that night, Mrs Clinoton’s Democrat colleagues desperately tried to run the “ nothing to see here” line, frequently offering criticism of the process whilst asking no specific questions.

Unfortunately for them, in a moment of unguarded candour, Mrs Clinton answered to one congresswoman that “ There are legitimate questions ……”

If this is the case – as indeed it is – why were the Democrats not attempting to ask them?

Not all legitimate questions would necessarily have been to Mrs Clinton’s detriment, yet her supporters seemed to have no faith in her ability to offer full and credible explanations of the character identified as “ legitimate” by Mrs Clinton, and chose not to risk any serious invitation to ask her explain more.

So there you have a brief resume of the principle points of the 11 hours of testimony. Only half of those hours were made up of serious questions and Mrs Clinton was not shy of giving extended answers to run down the clock.

Chairman Gowdy did not interrupt her and was scrupulously polite throughout.

Anyone can watch the entire hearing on the internet if there is any concern about Brother Ivo’s summary or interpretation.

So what did Brother Ivo learn?

Beyond the factual matters, he has come to a very depressing conclusion. Bill Clinton lied to get elected and was forgiven. Barack Obama’s election was secured partly thanks to a less than frank account of what happened in Benghazi that night; it was not an error but a strategy.

Mrs Clinton is seeking election on the back of a significant lack of transparency, resistance to accountability and plain evidence to having advanced a full narrative about the significance of the rogue video.

In Watergate, there were Nixon supporters who reluctantly came to the conclusion that however much they liked “ their man” , integrity forced them to turn away. Sadly in these three more recent scandals partisanship has triumphed. Committee Democrats bemoaned the costs of the process – $4.5m. They seemed blissfully unaware of the irony that the easier you make it for a lying politician to remain in office , the more it incentivises lying, prevarication, and subterfuge. Only by always calling out the miscreants, will you curtail waste in the future. All Secretary of State Clinton is seeing as a result of her mistakes from that time, is unqualified approbation and adulation from her side of the aisle

So reluctantly, sadly, Brother Ivo’s abiding lesson from the Behnghazi investigation is just that – cynicism pays.

 

P.S. As he reviewed his notes and wrote this piece, many on twitter were declaring that “nothing new” had emerged, that there was no “gotcha moment”, and even that the whole inquiry must be closed down in consequence.

This profoundly misunderstands the quasi-judicial process,

  1. Mrs Clinton had to be given an opportunity to put her side of the case – as she was with time opportunity and politeness, That is a prerequisite of a fair process,
  2. Something important has happened; her account is now fixed on oath,with no more opportunity to adjust the narrative.
  3. It can now be compared to other evidence, past and future, and any inconsistency can be identified and brought into account.

PPS Should the BBC wish to use this analysis as the basis for intelligent discussion they are more that welcome to use it to ” up their game”

Redcar is all about Chinese growth and Chinese jobs

It used to be said that when the American economy sneezed, Europe caught a cold. Plainly that is now an out of date notion, and today we must all take note of the news that the Chinese economy has slowed to its lowest growth rate for six years.

The signal was there for us to see earlier in the year, when there was considerable volatility on the Shanghai stock exchange: even if Chinese growth figures look healthy by old world standards, they are plainly heading into worrying times and this will effect us all.

More topically, if the price of keeping their economy moving is the dumping of commodities onto the world market, then that is what a command economy does. The notion of workers fraternal links across the world plainly do not extend to Redcar no matter how some of our quainter politicians may envision the world.

China is now the workshop of the world. We all need it to prosper, not least because it, in its turn, is an increasingly important destination for British exports. Europe is still in the economic doldrums and whilst America is doing slightly better than it was, the uncertainty of the US electoral cycle will soon be upon us. Regardless of which decision the UK makes in the oncoming EU referendum, China’s health remains a matter of concern to us all.

As he pondered the problem Brother Ivo called to mind a passage in “Deciion Points” the book written shortly after leaving office by President George W Bush. It is a far more interesting and enlightening book than many of his detractors would predict.

In it, he writes that all world leaders need to get to know each other a little before they settle down to serious business. They need ” ice breaker ” questions.

Brother Ivo hears that when meeting her subjects, the Queen’s opening gambit ( for, by tradition she must speak first) is ” Have you come far?” Whilst that may be an warm and appropriate question for such meetings: it might, however seem a little worrying to the visitor if he happened to be the President of China!

President Bush’s question of choice was a little more searching. “What problem keeps you awake at night?”

The answer he recieved from the then Chinese President was both precise and startling in its implication.

” How do I create 22 million jobs every year?”

That figure is approximately the current stubbornly fixed unemployment statistic for the entire EU. We cannot shift it into downward motion over decades, yet our Chinese friends must achieve that every year. Success ensures political peace; failure would risk social unrest and inevitable repression, which we know the Chinese Communist party is capable of, but modestly to its credit, it does not seem enthusiastically to wish to deploy.

Given the pragmatic choice of repressive ideologogical purity, or the embracing of free trade and a large slice of capitalism, the People’s Congress did make the right decision in their people’s interests and both by their hard work and example, that compromise has been responsible for lifting more people out of absolute poverty in the world than almost any other in modern times.

During this same period of economic growth, there has been a degree of lifting of party suspicions in religious matters, so that Christianity is becoming increasingly trusted by China’s leaders as a benign influence which will not destabilise the country, as it pursues its secular economic priorities. That too can be cautiously welcomed.

It is not only their own people who have benefitted. Not only are the UK poor advantaged by low priced good quality manufactured goods, but other countries have seen what works in the real world, and are following the example.

It began with a willingness to compromise.

In the more comfortable West, political compromise has become a dirty word, not least on each extreme of the political spectrum. Perhaps we have the luxury of getting it wrong. It is still possible in the UK to be a welfare claimant and still be within the statistical “richest 5% ” in the world. China has no such cushioning. Absolute grinding poverty is remembered and feared; so is its ideological cause. The Party knows that it’s interests are best served by continuing to deliver the goods. If that hurst a trivial number of workers in Redcar (by their standards) then sobeit.

Reflecting upon the problems of managing a behemoth economy for a population three times larger than that of the USA, it probably makes sense to tone down the moralising rhetoric. Of course, we wish China was more democratic, more attuned to western notions of human rights and ecological concern.

Yet the imperative for those jobs to be created this year, next year, and every year into the foreseeable future, ought perhaps to be calming influence on our more confrontational instincts. We in Europe have been unable to close that 22million employment gap once; the Chinese Premier, whom the Prime Minister will be in discussion with this week, needs to do this every year.

Asked whether he expected to be challenged about human rights by Jeremy Corbyn, as some have speculated, the Chinese Premier remarked that the Britsh are a polite people who know how to act properly towards guests. If Mr Corbyn decides to not to press matters too quickly Brother Ivo will not blame him.

He hopes they have an interesting conversation. Perhap’s someone in the Chinese delegation will ask him what future challenges might keep him awake at night. It would be fascinating to hear the answer.

We can all agree with Mr Cameron that ……

Whatever one’s politics, there is little doubt that in his Party Conference speech the Prime Minister set out his agenda for the next five years with clarity and no small degree of passion.

In the following hours and weeks it will be examined, questioned, praised an/or sceptically evaluated, and in future months and years he will be held to account, as indeed he should be.

There was one section of his address however,  where there can surely be widespread consensus, and one upon which the Church of England’s incoming General Synod might perhaps take a supportive position without risk of accusation of political partisanship.

I refer to that section in which the Prime Minister addressed the problems of those whose start in life was blighted, leading to institutional care.

The prognosis for such young people is unbelievably bleak. The PM was absolutely right to identify this as a priority.

If you have had such a poor start to life, so that the State intervened in your family and became your “Statutory Parent”, your life prospects have plunged from that point on. One does not have to apportion blame as one remarks upon this, but simply look at the historical statistical outcomes.

Such a young person will be highly unlikely to achieve 5 reasonable GSE’s; university education is incredibly rare.

One’s prospects of falling into crime, homelessness, worklessness, substance abuse, family breakdown, mental illness  or suicide, are very high indeed, and if there are children – which is more likely than not, they will statistically be highly likely to repeat the cycle. Few areas of publicly funded failure have such long lasting or cruel consequences.

When we hear folk speak of the alienated “under-class”, those with a history of being parented by the State will feature with excessive prominence within the cohort.

These outcomes will occur despite the whole process having cost the State a fortune. It is wasteful on every level, not least in the spoiling of human potential.

Yet it does not have to be like this. There are rare examples of people from difficult backgrounds making it against the odds, and no better example currently exists, than the present Justice Minister, Michael Gove who was himself an adopted child.

That gives Brother Ivo hope.

Mr Gove has responsibility for the prison service in which so many of those who began life like him currently languish. He seems to have a sense that ” there but for the grace of God go I’ and if he ever appears to  lose that sense, he may be properly reminded of it as he goes about his reforming work. Such work will complement the work of the Home Secretary and Children’s Minister in this multi-faceted field.

Surely nothing the Prime Minister said on this subject can be controversial or sensibly denied?

Neither Party has a decent record on the subject so political point scoring by either side is unsustainable; one hopes a joint determination to go forward from here is possible.

Our Churches should be at the forefront of encouraging the Government  in its endeavours within this area, yet we also need to be sympathetic critics, monitoring performance of the specific policies that flesh out the fine aspirations.

If we are to lift the alienated underclass, which all politicians aspire to achieve, it plainly makes sense to first stop adding to it. Already there are moves to preserve such youngsters within a stable family orbit beyond technical adulthood, but we need to do so much more.

This is one of those areas where strong supportive funding does make sense; such is the accumulation of costs “downstream” if early intervention is unsuccessful, that a focus on intensive  investment, innovation and the developing of consistent, long lasting, supportive relationships is wholly justified.

If the Churches cannot find a supportive role within this project, it will scarcely be able to lecture either Government or Society on the “socially relevant Gospel” again.