Monday, March 31, 2008

Clarity, Charity, or the greatest of these, Hillarity?

HILLARY MISS-SPOKEN. "...and there we were under sniper fire at Tuzla
- or was that Tulsa?

I'VE not commented on the run up to US presidential elections so far. Of course, they are important. The way some Brit bloggers and commentators go on, you'd think we had a vote there, or that it made a difference.

It's depressing to think that whichever of the likely candidates wins, America will continue to rule the world or think that it should; and America will continue to be ruled by the big business interests that, having backed the politicians' razzmatazz can expect a return on their investments.

It's depressing to report each of the main candidates vying with each other to pledge more than 100 per cent support for whatever actions Israel carries out in the Middle East, so that Israeli leaders and military commanders can ignore any different views, including those of peace forces within Israel.

It is depressing to know that our British government and for that matter Opposition politicians will consider it an honour to do as they are told by the United States, and at most hope for a less obvious prick in the White House than George W., to make their obedience seem respectable.

It is worrying to reflect that the 'leadership of the free world' is in the hands of the country that has the highest adult illiteracy of any industrialised nation. It is more worrying to realise that
the world's biggest military and nuclear power, brandishing its missiles at the ayatollahs and their alleged ambitions, has got powerful Creationist lobbies in schools and people with access to the White House who believe they can hasten their "Rapture" and the Second Coming with a nuclear Armageddon.

But all of that cloud can be dispelled, you may say, with new and more liberal candidates on the horizon. Really? There have been various speculations about Barack Obama, from those concerned about his origins (why doesn't he spell his first name Baruch? It means the same and would have them really confused. Or maybe Barak, like the Israeli Labour leader.) to those picking up remarks by his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. But what about that fine example of modern American womanhood, forgiving Bill and his cigar their trespasses, Hillary Clinton?

It seems that in 1993 the First Lady and now White House hopeful found faith in the form of a Bible study group catering for the wives of famous men, and connected with a secretive religious movement called The Family. This little-known outfit is to feature in a book due out next month, written by Jeff Sharlet, and called "The Family; the Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power".

The Family runs single-sex hostels for young people in northern Virginia, where they foreswear sex, alcohol and drugs, and learn about Jesus. It holds a National Prayer Breakfast each year in Washington. But this is not your ordinary Jesus preaching the meek shall inherit the earth, according to Sharlet. At least, not around Capitol Hill, where it is also known as "The Fellowship" ( putting me in mind of a rather good spoof "radio broadcast" I once heard, performed on tape at a youth movement camp). Nor presumably at its spacious mansion, the Cedars, set in its own estate by the Potomac, where powerful right-wing politicians are served dinner by the Family's meek young female acolytes.

This religious group, which promoted Hillary Rodham Clinton to its "most elite cell" when she became a Senator, according to Sharlet, cultivates its links with elite politicians and not just in Washington. Brazilian dictator Costa de Silva convened its Latin American following, while in the world 's most populous Muslim country, Indonesia, General Shuharto presided over its gatherings, as he had over the butchery of Indonesian communists. Highly ecumenical.

Some of Hillary Clinton's curious stands, such as supporting police officers who refuse to guard abortion clinics, and pharmacists refusing to handle birth control prescriptions, may owe something to the Family's influence. "We work with power where we can," explains Dug Coe, of the Family, and "build new power where we can't."
Hillary's Nasty Pastorate, by Barbara Ehrenreich, The Nation, March 19, 2008

But before we condemn Mrs.Clinton as a creature of the religious right, let's acknowledge her recent contribution to the annals of would-be presidential heroism, or political humour at least.
In a speech last week she described how she had been sent as president's wife to war-torn Bosnia, landing at Tuzla airport, and having to dodge sniper bullets as she ran from the plane, with no such thing as an official reception.

I've been to Tuzla twice. On my first trip, travelling a devious route over mountain tracks to hopefully stay out of range of the guns or ambush, we could hear artillery at night. The guy at whose home I stayed was off to do a stint of service in the hills because that was where the fighting was. We were not kept awake by sniper fire, but by the local students running a rock concert. On our way back, through the country we were stopped for a brew by the roadside when some kids appeared from nowhere, and told us "the Serbs shelled this place last night". We decided not to stop for a second cup.

Later, when I was back in England, I heard about a Kiwi friend, Sue unloading medical supplies at the hospital while mortar shells ("grenades" in local parlance) were landing around. The worst mortar attack was on May 25, 1995, Yugoslav Youth Day, killing 75 young people celebrating in the city's cafe area. But by the time I made my second visit, again by road, things had quietened down, people were trying to get back to 'normal' ,, and no one talked about snipers. There was still a 'blackout' at night - but then power supplies were scarce, anyway..

Tuzla airport had been controlled by UN forces, before the Americans arrived. They decided who and what flew in. A Bosnian friend who needed to get home quickly because of a family crisis was told that no exceptions could be made. Even quite urgently needed supplies had to be trucked in over the mountains. So Hillary Clinton was one of the privileged. And by the time she flew in the war was over and the airport in US hands. Maybe the snipers were bored GIs, trying to make it feel at home like an American college campus, if not Bosnians wanting their airport back?

But in fact, contemporary newsreel footage shows nobody having to dodge sniping, and that there was an official reception for the US President's wife. Now Hillary Clinton acknowledges that she may have "misspoken" when she recalled her ordeal under fire, and US commentators say "well, she is a politician". Maybe having enjoyed George Dubya in the White House they are looking forward to another comedy act.

Hilary's heroic trip recalled:

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