Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Watch Out, Scandanavia! Here Comes Starbucks...

In my daily news from the US Embassy came this tidbit:

McDonalds, Burger King, 7-11 – and now Starbucks. As the latest US global consumer phenomenon, the Seattle-based international coffee giant will open its first outlet in this country at Copenhagen Airport on the 1st of June, in response to demands from coffee-thirsty travelers. A spokesman for Copenhagen Airport Au-thorities said: ‘Everybody keeps asking why there is no Starbucks at the airport so we’ve made a massive effort to attract the company here. It’s a massive compliment to us that we will be home to the first Star-bucks in Scandinavia.’
One of the most charming things about Denmark that I have discovered is that the small store is alive and well. There are chains, but they compete with small, entreprenurial shops run by families. This is something the US has lost in the last 50 years of suburbanization and the ever present pursuit of "a bargain." Denmark, and the rest of Scandavia would do well to guard against this particular American phenomenon.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Leave It to South Carolina

From the state that brought us the nullification crisis of 1832, secession in 1860, the Dixiecrat movement of 1948, and the rabid segregationist Strom Thurmond comes the next stellar idea to embarass American democracy! That's right, dear readers, South Carolina is at it again, but this time, they are going for the body organs of prisoners.

You have not misread that sentence. The South Carolina Senate is now considering a set of 3 bills, which you can read here, here, and here. For the mere cost of a kidney or bone marrow, a prisoner could have six months of his or her sentence reduced. The bill that made it out of a SC Senate committee would allow the Department of Corrections to decide which inmates could donate. Presumably, they would have to clear the inmate of common prison health problems such as TB, HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Of course, participation would be entirely "voluntary". "Voluntary" in the sense that perhaps the only thing standing between you and early freedom is giving up your kidney or some bone marrow. "Voluntary" in the sense that the prison environment is not based on coersion at all.
“We would check that this was voluntary and they had all the information. It would not be forced upon them,” said State Senator Ralph Anderson, who came up with this gem of an idea.

According to the LA Times (warning, must register to see the article), the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network estimates that, nationally, over 95,300 people are awaiting an organ transplant and that about 6,700 die annually while waiting. Of course, there are rigorous standards for donating an organ, and it is unclear whether a state prisoner could meet those requirements, given the condition of prisons today, and the activities (rapes being one) that go on inside.

Some credit does go to the South Carolina legislature, though. While in the past, they have been little concerned with the legality of their actions, this time, the South Carolina legislators are examining whether the proposal violates federal law which prohibits the exchange of organs for “valuable consideration.” Ah, the fly in the ointment. Anderson, of course, argues that personal freedom in the form of a reduced sentence is not "valuable consideration", probably because you cannot place a dollar value on it. That is the point, though. Freedom is completely invaluable. Over the centuries, millions of men and women have willingly died in defence of freedom. To wave an early ticket out of prison in exchange for an ORGAN is certainly "valuable consideration." Even if the federal government would give the OK for this scheme, it has to be argued that it violates medical ethics. When a proposal such as this one gives you an immediate feeling of being "dirty", that is a pretty good sign that it is grossly unethical.

South Carolina is on the way to passing this bill. Will someone with some sense stop them before they embarass themselves (and the United States) yet again?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Immigrant Integration

A touchy subject in Denmark (not to mention the United States) is immigration. Denmark was one of the first to enact strict immigration rules in the wake of 9-11. The country has received criticism for this stance. They have also closed the doors to further immigration by Iraqi refugees, preferring instead to send money to Jordan or Syria where many of those refugees now live. Critics of the Iraq War have said that Denmark, until recently a key member of the "coalition of the willing", is morally obligated to take in refugees that they helped create. Perhaps there is a ring of truth to that, but this is not the main topic for my post today.

The question I am pondering is what does it mean for an immigrant to integrate into his/her adopted nation? The United States is a land of immigrants, but we have struggled with that throughout our history. At various points of US history, the Irish, the Italians, the Eastern Europeans, and finally, the Latinos have all received ferocious push back from "US born" citizens. Currently, we have seen much bigotry from the GOP on the matter of suppressing the use of Spanish or enacting draconian measures to stop illegal immigration.

Yet, as a nation of immigrants, the US is unique in that there is an understanding of what it means to be American, at least on the basic level. We have a set of ideals, which we sometimes do not fulfill very well, that guide us. These ideals are embodied by the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. Our system of government and concept of liberty is what defines us as Americans, although we fight vociferously about what it all means exactly. There is now an argument whether the English language is essential to the American identity, since our founding documents are all in English and we have traditionally spoken English. I do not know the answer to that question, although in our public life together as Americans, I think we should agree to conduct ourselves in English. I also do not want to deny anyone their heritage or their language, because it is our diversity of backgrounds that has made the US strong.

The Danish are struggling with what it means to be Danish. They do have a constitution, but Denmark itself as a land and a people are far older than that document. The Dane are an ancient people whose ancestors were Vikings and who once ruled all of Scandanavia. As Africans and Muslims flood to Europe to escape hardships in their homelands, the question of integration has risen its ugly head.

In today's US Embassy news update, there was discussion of a new report coming out today. It asks: Should men have precedence over women when applying for a job? And is it OK to demand to be examined by a doctor of one's own gender? According to a report to be published today by a group called "Think-Tank for Better Integration" (sounds like an anti-immigrant group named by a the jokester who named Bush's open pollution law the "Clear Skies Initiative"), the answer to both questions is no – but according to many immigrants from non-Western countries the answer is yes.

The report, based on a survey of the attitudes and values of foreigners in Danish society, states that many immigrants' "cultural baggage" plays a decisive role in their lack of integration. 92% of all Iraqi residents in Denmark disagree with homosexuality and 50% of those with a Turkish background believe that men should have first refusal on vacant jobs. These are statistics that Denmark's local councils and authorities should take into consideration when formulating integration policies, according to the think tank. "It's up to administrators at local level to stress what is important for integration," says one member of the think tank. "Should a Muslim be forced to work alongside a homosexual, and how should a school teacher react when parents say that their son's education is far more important than their daughter's. There has to be a clear policy."

Clearly explosive stuff, but these are questions people ask, especially when immigrants coming into a country do not seem to value the same things at a basic level that the other citizens do. Hence the question: What does it mean to be Danish? Or to be American? Considering the conflicts of today, can a person be both a "good Muslim" and a "good Dane"? How about a "good American"?

For the Danish, it is the question of Muslims. For Americans, the question is increasingly about Latinos, although the code words will be about "illegals". I watched an interesting show on BBC world this weekend called "The Doha Debates" where this British guy hosts a debate in front of an audience in Dubai on controversial topics. This week was the wearing of the face veil. Many women were indignant that people were not willing to just look in their eyes and see their heart, but insisted on seeing their face too. The question there was one of integration too. If you are an immigrant, is it OK to keep yourself clearly apart from your new country through the wearing of a face veil or anything else? How much of yourself do you have to sacrifice to fit in? Should you even sacrifice at all?

They did not come to a conclusion in that show, and we do not have an answer to the immigration question. The questions posed by the report in Denmark are interesting. I believe a person should have absolute freedom to see the doctor of his or her choice. If you want only female doctors, so be it. If you are a black person and do not want to see a white doctor, that may be a foolish attitude, but I think it is to your benefit to see a doctor with whom you are comfortable. Men should NOT have precedence over women. We live in a society where everyone is considered equal in the eyes of the law, and to give men preference would be discrimination.

I am also terribly sorry that 92% of Iraqi immigrants disagree with homosexuality (not sure how you can disagree with a fact), but they can be as prejudiced as they want in their homes. If you do not like having an openly gay coworker, get another damn job. It is YOUR problem, not the gay worker's. And if a parent tells a teacher that his son's education is more important than his daughter' what? As a teacher, you are not asked to agree or disagree with parenting styles or choices. You teach the child you have in your classroom, and if the parents refuse to get help for a female child because she doesn't have a penis, there is not much you can do.

If, as an immigrant, having a culture where women are subverient to men and where freedoms are based on religious law, gay people are not tolerated, etc....why in the world would you move to a Western nation? Especially when you know that nation has laws which directly conflict with your deeply held personal beliefs? Oh, is it about the opportunity to make money? Well, good. Have you ever considered that the freedoms you find so offensive in that society have been the basis for that opportunity to make money? Which is more important to you: suppressing women and gays or making a good living? Life is sometimes full of these hard choices, especially for an immigrant.

I think immigrants should honor their culture, language, and history. But I think too that there must be a desire to fully enter the life of your new nation. Maybe that means learning English (which in the US, we should help you do). Maybe that means gritting your teeth when you are "forced" to work with an openly gay colleague and not say or do anything about it. Maybe it means having to accept authority from a woman over you. Both the immigrant and the new nation have a duty to each other to meet in the middle. If one side refuses, the integration will never occur.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The ECUSA Executive Council Responds

On Sunday, March 4, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church issued a letter as its initial response to the Primates' Ultimatum to get rid of gays in the church, or else. The letter is typically Episcopalian in that seeks a compromise statement that is not too strident. There are two things that I found most interesting in the letter.

1. "We wish to reaffirm to our lesbian and gay members that they remain a welcome and integral part of the Episcopal Church."

In a separate account of the meeting, it is clear that the letter underwent two drafts. Considering my friend Bruce Garner was invited to join in the 2nd draft, which was adopted, the first draft must have been much weaker and did not include the statement I just quoted.

(Bruce) called for a clear statement about the continuing inclusion of gay,lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the Episcopal Church. He said that the statement was needed because gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people were "targeted" by the communiqué issued by the Primates after their Tanzania meeting. Those people are feeling "very vulnerable" and worried that they have been cast out of the Church or will be "exiled" soon.

He recalled that while being in church on Ash Wednesday he found it "painful for me to keep replaying parts of that communiqué and wondering if I was welcome in that place." Garner said that if he, who has felt for years that he was welcomed in the Episcopal Church, wondered how new members of the church must be feeling.

The Rev. F. N. "Butch" Gamarra (Diocese of Los Angeles) told the Council that he was conflicted between the desire to work for remain open to reconciliation and the "elephant in the room," which he said was the fact that the Church is getting "hammered" for being inclusive.

The people in the pews need to hear from the Council that "we are not appeasing" people whom he characterized as bullying and disrespecting the Episcopal Church, he said.

"The language is terribly important to people in the pews," said Bettye Jo Harris (Diocese of Hawaii). She described how her son feels as if he's been driven from the Church since the communiqué was issued.

I applaud the determination of the Executive Council to stand up for LGBT Christians in their midst. They have given clear voice to the violence done against LGBT Episcopalians by the Primates Ultimatum. Rev. Gamarra is correct to call the conservatives and Africans trying to force gays out of the church bullies who disrespect the Episcopal Church itself.

2. Yet, they also issued this statement: "Further, we offer our prayerful affirmation to all who struggle with the issues that concern us: those who are deeply concerned about the future of their Church and its place within the wider Communion, and those who are not reconciled to certain actions of General Convention. We wish to reaffirm that they too remain a welcome and integral part of the Episcopal Church."

That is a damn sight more than what the conservatives offer US! For the conservatives, it is their way or the highway. There is no living together in peace. They either want to force their vision on everyone, or they will attempt to destroy the Anglican Communion by driving out anyone who disagrees with them. Here, the Executive Council is saying, you may not agree with us or the decisions of the church, but you are still welcome. Of course, that means they would have to accept that in some places, gays are welcome, as well as women in leadership roles. Can't have that, can we?

I do not see any way forward that does not lead to schism. The right wing of the church are determined to force their agenda down everyone's throat they way they accuse us of doing that. Yet, the Episcopal church does not force any church or diocese to have female priests or bishops if they do not want them. No one would even force them to accept LGBT Christians into their congregations, let alone force them to bless relationships. The Episcopal Church says that as a church, we allow women and gays, but we won't force anyone who cannot accept this to do anything against their conscience. That is not the case with conservatives. Anything short of banishment and condemnation of gays will not satisfy them. If the ECUSA finds a way out of the current Ultimatum bind, we will certainly be backed into a corner with the proposed Convenant. And God only knows what kind of draconian resolutions the Africans and others will ram through at the 2008 Lambeth. In fact, I think the 2008 Lambeth will be the place of final schism, if it does not occur before then. The "Global South" will demand draconian measures against gays, and they have the sheer numbers to pass such a resolution.

In the end, it will backfire. The Global South will be separate even from England. What has not been widely discussed is that priests in England are already performing blessings for gay couples who marry under the new Civil Union law. The way they have gotten around the vexing questions is a stated assumption that no sex will occur in these unions, and the priests are not to ask the intentions of the couple entering the union. It is "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" at its most ridiculous. If the ECUSA is kicked out of the Anglican Communion, it will not be long before England will find itself in the crosshairs too.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Copenhagen Riots Update

I have discovered more information thanks to a news service that the US Embassy sends out to all Americans stationed in Denmark. First, the situation has been calm since the weekend, and nothing happened Monday or Tuesday as they tore down the Youth House.

The new owners of the Youth House (who got a court order evicting the youth and demolishing the building) are a fundamentalist Christian sect in Denmark called Faderhuset. Faderhuset was founded in 1990 by the married couple Knut and Ruth Evensen who are still involved in its leadership. Both have been involved in Christian movements since the 1970s. They started their own religious community in the beginning of the 1980s in the Nørrebro district of Copenhagen. As of January 2007, the church has 120 members and is an approved religious community by the Danish state. Apparently this fact is well known on the "street" level, but the press make no mention of it. The US Embassy newsletter, though, has no hesistation, which is as it should be.

Before last week's riots, the Youth House students had rejected an offer to take over a closed school near their location. This was the final offer by the Copenhagen City Council, which is furious at the amount of damage the riots have cost. The spokesman for the controlling Social Democrats said that he had "no wish to enter into any form of dialogue with tehse people or spent time looking for alternative accomodation for them." This from a political party that is to the left of center in Denmark! I am not sure why the students rejected the offer for a free new place, other than sheer stubbornness in the righteousness of their cause. The result is that they are now either arrested or homeless.

Ruth Evensen, the leader of the Faderhuset sect (not sure where the husband is in all this...and I thought fundamentalists did not like women as leaders...or is that only in the USA?), has been forced to hire bodyguards. She has received numerous death threats related to the case with the Youth House, and the threats have escalated since riots began last week.

That is not the only person being targeted either. Someone vandalised Mayor of Copenhagen Ritt Bjerregaard's private residence by carving out a large '69' in her front door, a direct reference to the Youth House's address at Jagtvej 69. The buildup to a massive protest outside city hall this Saturday seems set. The question is, will violence continue to be avoided now that the leftist youth have nothing to lose? Their Youth House is rubble now, and even workers are wearing full face coverings to protect their identities. Companies have hidden logos to protect themselves too as the demolition and removal continues.

Faderhuset plans a building to house a Christian café and cultural activities. Not sure what a Chrisitan café means. Will they only use Holy Water for the coffee and tea? Sell Jesus biscuits? Napkins with "Repent Now!" written in Danish? And with the trouble they have experienced from buying the Youth House, evicting the inhabitants, and then demolishing the building, do they imagine that Youth activists will let their new building sit in peace? I do not even know how they will build on the spot without fear of sabotage. What construction company would take the risk? Maybe some of our American fundies can "help" out against what I am sure they would consider "attacks by the forces of Satan on a Godly group." Shoot, I am sure that more than one gay person lived in the House too, so they could make it part of the "Gay Agenda" to conquer the world and force heterosexuals into gay relationships.

I wonder what the motives of the Faderhuset were in buying the Youth House, which has been well known since 1982. Was it to get close to their leaders' roots in Nørrebro? Didn't they forsee the problems they would have with buying this house and taking the steps have taken to possess it? They were within their legal rights, and the students should have taken the deal for the alternative property that would have been theirs outright. In this situation, they all lose.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Riots in Copenhagen

Imagine my surprise when, Thursday evening, I discovered pictures of cars ablaze, police in riot gear, and breathless Danish TV reporters covering it all LIVE in downtown Copenhagen. The TV reporters were really quite dramatic, although I could not understand what they were saying. I found out later, they were describing the scene as a "war zone".

Copenhagen and Denmark are such nice, peaceful, and friendly places. The Danes are quite possibly the most orderly people I have seen. Even their riots seem orderly, and amazingly enough, no one died. You can be sure in the United States, people would be killed in such riots. The rioters threw things at the police, but no one had a gun or started shooting.

The reason behind this rioting is a long simmering controversy over something called "UNGDOMSHUSET" or Youth House. In the early 80s, this building was abandoned, but still owned by the city. Leftist youth groups, made up of mostly Communists and hard left Socialists (I am told), started squatting on the property, turning it into a sort of commune. The city did not do much to evict them, and the situation has remained for the past 25 years.

In 2000, the city finally sold the property to a mysterious "Christian Group". I say "mysterious" only because no one in the media will name this group. It is unclear if it is the Danish state church or some other organization. Yet, I would think the identity of the group would be important. Why did they agree to buy a property they had to know was occupied?

Upon sale, the group went to court to get an eviction notice. The students fought back, saying that the city had no right to sell "their" house while it was occupied. The courts disagreed, and an order of eviction was entered. That brings us to Thursday, March 2 when the riots began.

The students protested by overturning cars, setting them on fire, setting fire to police barriers in the area, and throwing bottles, rocks, etc at the police. The police have arrested over 500 people during the weekend, and everyone was urged to stay away from downtown Copenhagen. The police have tightened border controls, because this Youth House is a rallying cry for far left groups throughout Europe.

The interesting thing about this situation for me is that under US property law, the students would long ago have seized title over the Youth House. They would have done this under the concept of Adverse Possession. From 1982 onward, the city did nothing to exercise its legal property rights or dominion over the building. They sat back while the students seized the building, lived in it, and passed it on to other students. In the US, when you neglect your property as it is being publicly seized and used by someone else for a period of 7 years, you lose that property. It is as if you legally made a gift of it by abandoning it. So around 1990, those students could have had title in US courts. Not so in Danish courts.

The building is being demolished so the police are expecting things to quiet down. However, that may not be the case for long. On a website devoted to the students, plans for major protests this weekend are in order. Hopefully, it will be peaceful.

The sad thing in all this to me is the lack of US coverage of this event. I went online to let my mom know quickly that I was OK, and she said, "What riots?" Same for my friends. No one had any idea that anything was happening in Copenhagen. The US papers said nothing. A bus full of ball players crashes on I-75 in Atlanta, and every news website in the world headlines the event. I would think that a peaceful city like Copenhagen exploding into riots would also merit coverage.

To educate my readers on this issue, I refer you to the following articles:

And if you can perchance read Danish, the best coverage is probably found here: