Thursday, December 23, 2004

Merry Christmas!

Presidential Christmas Message, 2004

For 2,000 years, Christmas has proclaimed a message of hope: the patient hope of men and women across centuries who listened to the words of prophets and lived in joyful expectation; the hope of Mary, who welcomed God's plan with great faith; and the hope of wise men, who set out on a long journey guided only by a slender promise traced in the stars. Christmas reminds us that the grandest purposes of God can be found in the humblest places. And it gives us hope that all the love and gifts that come to us in this life are the signs and symbols of an even greater love and gift that came on a holy night.

The Christmas season fills our hearts with gratitude for the many blessings in our lives. With those blessings comes a responsibility to reach out to others. Many of our fellow Americans still suffer from the effects of illness or poverty. Others fight cruel addictions, cope with division in their families, or grieve the loss of a loved one. Christmastime reminds each of us that we have a duty to love our neighbor just as we would like to be loved ourselves. By volunteering our time and talents where they are needed most, we help heal the sick, comfort those who suffer, and bring hope to those who despair.

During the holidays, we also keep in our thoughts and prayers the men and women of our Armed Forces -- especially those far from home, separated from family and friends by the call of duty. In Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, these courageous Americans are fighting the enemies of freedom and protecting our country from danger. By bringing liberty to the oppressed, our troops are defending the freedom and security of us all. They and their families are making many sacrifices for our Nation, and all Americans are deeply grateful.

Laura joins me in wishing all Americans a Merry Christmas.


Monday, December 20, 2004

Monday Reads

Arthur Chrenkoff has "Good News from Iraq" part #17 posted today. (Also available at Opinion Journal and Winds of Change.)

Lots of bloggers and columnists are weighing in on the on-going debate about whether Christ can be mentioned in the public square during the month of December:
A couple of noteworthy items about Judaism in America
  • Powerline provides a history lesson in "Teaching the Free Man":
    American Jews are celebrating their three-hundred and fiftieth anniversary here. The first Jewish community in North America was established in New Amsterdam (New York) in 1654. In 1658 fifteen Jewish families arrived in Newport, Rhode Island. By 1759 their numbers and resources had increased sufficiently that they undertook the construction of what has become America's oldest synagogue, the Touro Synagogue of Newport.

    In 1790 Rhode Island became the thirteenth state to ratify the Constitution and complete the Union. To mark the occasion, President Washington made a ceremonial visit to Newport when Congress recessed in August. Newport welcomed Washington with open arms. In Newport on August 18, according to James Thomas Flexner, Washington "completely fatigued the company" by walking, fortified by the wine and punch served in four different houses along his route, briskly from nine in the morning until one in the afternoon.

    In anticipation of Washington's visit to Newport, the congregation prepared a letter welcoming Washington for presentation to him at a public event on the morning of August 18. The letter was authorized by the congregation's board and signed by its president, Moses Seixas. It is Washington's magnificent letter responding to Seixas's that is known as a testament to religious freedom and that has become famous as one of the classic statements of religious toleration in America.

    The congregation's letter to Washington is not so well known. Ironically, however, the most famous line in Washington's letter is an echo of the congregation's letter to Washington. By far the most striking feature of the congregation's letter is its expression of sheer gratitude to Washington for the religious freedom afforded by the United States (pre-First Amendment).
  • Betsy's Page excerpts from Dennis Prager's piece in yesterday's LA Times, "Born-Again President -- White House Hanukkah":
    As a yeshiva graduate, I never thought I would live to see identifying Jews, let alone Orthodox rabbis, so happy to be in a room with a menorah and a Christmas tree. Yet that signified a sea change taking place in American Jewish life — the realization that Christianity is no longer the enemy or the great Other but, for the first time in 2,000 years, a great ally.
    This realization has yet to dawn on many Jews. The memory of almost two millenniums of European, i.e., Christian, anti-Semitism culminating in the Holocaust is seared deeply in Jewish hearts and minds, and it is very hard for most Jews to truly believe that the cross is a friend, not an invitation to a pogrom.

    But American Christianity has never been like European Christianity in its attitude toward Jews and Judaism. Jews have been equals and honored as such from even before the creation of the United States. Many of the founders studied Hebrew; Thomas Jefferson wanted the Seal of the United States to depict the Jews' exodus from Egypt; Yale University's insignia is in Hebrew; a verse from the Torah (Leviticus) is inscribed on the Liberty Bell; a rabbi attended George Washington's inauguration — the list of pro-Jewish expressions in U.S. history is endless. But perhaps most telling is the fact that although there have been any number of Christian countries and there are many secular ones today, it is the U.S. that calls itself Judeo-Christian.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

The Tale of a Teddy Bear

The news from Iraq isn't all about terrorism and bombings. While cross-checking links for more info on the reconstruction effort, I came across a letter from a Marine gunnery sergeant at Blackfive about a little girl, a teddy bear, a landmine and a Marine convoy. It's worth reading the whole thing. (Hat tip Winds of Change) It ends with this comment:
It was the heart of an American that sent that toy. It was the heart of an American that gave that toy to that little girl. It was the heart of an American that protected that convoy from that mine. Sure, she was a little Iraqi girl and she had no knowledge of purple mountain's majesty or fruited plains. It was a heart of acceptance, of tolerance, of peace and grace, even through the inconveniences of conflict that saved that convoy from hitting that mine. Those attributes are what keep Americans hearts beating. She may have no affiliation at all with the United States, but she knows what it is to be brave and if we can continue to support her and her new government, she will know what it is to be free. Isn't that what Americans are, the free and the brave?

If you sent over a toy or a Marine (US Service member) you took part in this. You are a reason that Iraq has to believe in a better future. Thank you so much for supporting us and for supporting our cause over here.
[Update] One way you can help send toys to Iraq is through Operation Give. "Operation Give is grass-roots, non-partisan, volunteer-driven, and non-political. All we want to do is help children of Iraq in their recovery from years of depredation, and make the world a better place."

Blackfive also posted a long list of ways to help our troops, including Soldiers' Angels, and Spirit of America.

Rebuilding Iraq

Our local newspaper carried a personal-interest story in the business section today, about a local woman, Kathye A. Johnson (an engineer, no less!), who spent three months in Iraq this year for her company:

In August, Johnson, 47, of Medford, planned a short trip to Iraq to explore business opportunities for her employer, a global construction management firm where she was vice president of operations.

She hoped to expand on the $1.2 billion contract already awarded by the Army Corps of Engineers to a combination of Hill and Michael Baker Jr. Inc. of Moon Township, Pa., and Stanley Consultants Inc. of Muscatine, Iowa. The joint, five-year contract is part of an $18.4 billion package approved by Congress in 2003 to rebuild Iraq.

She remained through October because the person Hill had hired to run the entire job in Iraq was not working out. Johnson volunteered to fill in until James E. Koch of St. Louis replaced her.


One of the architects of the reconstruction efforts in Iraq, Army Gen. Tom Bostick, praised Johnson's work.

"We were in dire straits before she arrived. Kathye was an impact player from day one. She was a great leader and most helpful in bringing disparate teams together working toward a common goal," said Bostick of the Army Corps of Engineers.

When she stepped in to mop up the mess, she said the reconstruction effort was at a standstill. Less than 5 percent of the hundreds of planned construction projects from rebuilding schools to restoring potable water had broken ground. Morale was deteriorating because communication among the various divisions had broken down and cohesive leadership was lacking.

"There was a lot of insurgent activity, plus I picked up a serious respiratory infection about 10 days after I arrived. Still, we worked nonstop, seven days a week, on the database and got all the players talking to one another again. There's probably 100 companies involved under our joint team, which has grown from 12 to 22. I helped put the reconstruction effort on track and I believe I made a difference," said Johnson, who had traveled extensively, including a two-year stint in Bangkok, while working for Fluor Corp. before joining Hill's staff nearly three years ago.

Sites that regularly carry good news from Iraq and Afghanistan include Chrenkoff, Blackfive, Winds of Change, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division, US State Department, and DefenseLink. Some recent stories:

United States Forgives 100 Percent of Iraqi Debt

Washington -- The U.S. government has written off 100 percent of Iraq's sovereign debt to the United States, a total of $4.1 billion, with an agreement signed by Secretary of State Colin Powell, Treasury Secretary John Snow and Iraqi Finance Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi December 17.

"Lifting the crushing burden of the old regime's debt is one of the most important contributions we can make to Iraq's new beginning," Powell said at the signing ceremony.

Minister al-Mahdi noted that Iraq was a donor nation in the early 1970s, but he said, "Over two decades, all the fortunes and wealth of Iraq were destroyed. Instead of having billions of reserves, Iraq was left with billions in debts."

The minister blamed the former regime of Saddam Hussein for wasting Iraq's wealth in wars with its neighbors.

Secretary Snow said, "The situation that Iraq faces is unprecedented, and the response of the world community needed to be unprecedented as well." He said dramatic debt relief is necessary if Iraq is to be able to reintegrate into the world community.

The agreement to write off Iraq's debt to the United States follows a decision by the Paris Club of creditor nations to write off 80 percent of Iraq's debt to its members in a three-phase process over the next four years. The November agreement of the Paris Club reduced Iraq's debt to the member nations from $38.9 billion to $7.8 billion.

Al-Mahdi characterized the Paris Club agreement as "a second liberation of Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein." He said that liberating the economy is an important part of liberating Iraq.

Powell hailed the debt relief that Iraq has received saying, "Rather than financing the vices of the old tyrant, Iraq's treasures and resources are being used to bolster security and build infrastructure, to care for the nation's elderly and educate its young people."

Rehabilitation of Iraq's Sweet Water Canal Completed, USAID Says

The U.S. Agency for International Development's $23 million rehabilitation of Southern Iraq's Sweet Water Canal was successfully completed this week. The project was conducted on behalf of Iraq's Ministry of Water Resources with Bechtel Corporation serving as the prime contractor.

The massive cleansing and repair of this vital 149 mile waterway also includes the $12 million refurbishment of 13 water treatment plants and the repair of the RZero pumping station that sends water from the canal's reservoir through a network of pipelines leading to residential, commercial and agricultural users.

The Sweet Water Canal has been a primary source of fresh water for the city of Basrah since 1996. But lack of maintenance caused sediment to accumulate in sections of the canal and pumps to break because of the turbidity. When USAID undertook the rehabilitation, the canal's embankments were cracked and many mechanical and electrical components in the pumping stations were beyond repair.

The completed USAID project improves the quality and nearly doubles the quantity of fresh, potable water produced for the 1.75 million of the Basrah region. The training of local plant managers insures proper maintenance in the future.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has provided economic and humanitarian assistance worldwide for more than 40 years.

Airport Opening Considered First Step to Return of Iraqi Tourism
BASRA, Iraq, Dec. 17, 2004 -- In July 2005, Basra International Airport in Iraq will officially open for commercial air and passenger traffic.

"The airport was never really functional," said Nolan Smith, assistant area engineer for the Basra office, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region South. "It was never formally opened to large commercial flights, primarily because of war. But now, it could open up to cargo flights in the very near future."

The $4.9 million renovation of the terminal includes the air traffic control tower, according to Erick Bush, with construction services for the Transportation and Communications Sector of the Corps' southern district. The navigational aids contract has not yet been awarded, but it is out for bid, according to Bush.

Construction needs not yet funded include upgrades to the fuel farm and electric feeder lines. A Native Alaskan firm, Nana Pacific, won the bid and was to start work in early December.

"The airport is one of highest profile projects we have here, with high likelihood of success: being on schedule, on budget and being fully functional when complete," Bush said.

The airport has managed to avoid the 10 years of war, embargo and looting that have devastated other places in the country, according to Smith. "The art is still there," he said, "and there is a lot of it. The facilities are old and suffer from neglect, but we are hoping that some may be reparable.