Kilian McDonnell’s “Perfection, Perfection”

kilianI wrote a teeny-tiny micro-review for the March issue of Sojourners of Kilian McDonnell’s newest poetry collection God Drops and Loses Things. Here’s a poem from his earlier collection Swift Lord, You Are Not. McDonnell is a Benedictine monk at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. I love his wry intimacy with God.

Perfection, Perfection

I have had it with perfection.
I have packed my bags,
I am out of here.

As certain as rain
will make you wet,
perfection will do you

It droppeth not as dew
upon the summer grass
to give liberty and green

Perfection straineth out
the quality of mercy,
withers rapture at its

Before the battle is half begun,
cold probity thinks
it can’t be won, concedes the

I’ve handed in my notice,
give back my keys,
signed my severance check, I

Hints I could have taken:
Even the perfect chiseled form of
Michelangelo’s radiant David

the Venus de Milo
has no arms,
the Liberty Bell is

Whither Goes the Cash in Iraq?

us_auditors_of_iraq_reconstruction_see_potential_and_roadblocksSpecial Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen has been on the Hill this week going through the gory details of Hard Lessons:The Iraq Reconstruction Experience, his Feb. 2, 2009, report on waste, fraud, and mismanagement of the roughly $51 billion we American tax payers gave for the rebuilding of Iraq.

“For anyone who has followed the issue,” reports Wired blog, “the conclusions are not surprising. In advance interviews, Bowen estimated that around 15 percent–or $3 billion–of the $20 billion allocated for big-ticket reconstruction projects in Iraq had been wasted. In a draft copy of the report that was leaked last year, Bowen recalled seeing bags of dollar bills literally being hauled out of the Republican Palace, headquarters of the Coalition Provisional Authority. ‘What I saw was troubling: large amounts of cash moving quickly out the door,’ he wrote. ‘Later that same day, walking the halls of the palace, I overheard someone say: “We can’t do that anymore. There is a new inspector general here.”’”

Below are a few of my personal favorite highlights from the report. I especially like #4 where the Coalition Provisional Authority tried to keep track of $20 billion using an Excel spreadsheet! Additionally, there have been at least 35 convictions of U.S. personnel on charges of  fraud, theft, embezzlement, etc.

1. “I have no idea what CENTCOM was planning, and I have absolutely no idea what the Joint Chiefs of Staff were planning. I do know that the political guidance they were getting from Rumsfeld, the NSC, and the White House was, ‘You got about three months to get [the postwar Iraqi government] up and running.’”–General Colin Powell, Secretary of State (2001-2005), from SIGIR interview February 4, 2008 (Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience p.3)

2. “Production of electricity came to a near-complete halt during the 2003 invasion. By mid-April 2003, the grid was generating an average of just 711 megawatts of electricity per day. Postwar looting and sabotage had destroyed nearly 1,000 electrical towers, and the loss of numerous electrical control systems caused frequent blackouts in Baghdad. Without electricity, oil production also came to a standstill. Many oil facilities were safely shut down, but some oil stocks were destroyed by fire. Although production restarted fairly quickly, it averaged only 300,000 barrels per day—about one-eighth of prewar levels—in May 2003.96 Already in a state of severe disrepair, Iraq’s essential services declined precipitously after the March 20 invasion due to war damage, looting, and sabotage. ORHA had neither the time nor the resources to fix these problems. Thus, the CPA took them on, shouldering the responsibility for restoring broken essential services and distributing them more fairly among all Iraqis.”—Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience (p.65)

3. “In early 2006, a controversy aose over the near-full payment of fees of $263 million billed by the contractor KBR for oil-sector work, including what appeared to be exorbitant charges for transporting fuel to Iraq from Turkey and Kuwait. Defense Contract Audit Agency auditors raised serious questions about these charges. Although a 2004 audit reported that the costs were inflated and not supported by documentation, the Army decided to pay KBR all but $10.1 million of those contested costs. That meant the Army withheld payment on just 3.8 percent of the charges questioned by the Pentagon audit agency, far below the rate at which the agency’s recommendation is usually followed or sustained by the military.”—Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience (p.351)

4. “But the Coalition Provisional Authority failed to keep detailed accounts of how most of this money was spent. Expenditures of the roughly $20 billion in Development Fund for Iraq money used by the CPA were initially tracked on an Excel spreadsheet—hardly a sufficient control. At its end, the CPA had barely begun to execute the grand reconstruction program it had designed.”—Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience (p.328)

5. “By mid-2008, daily electricity production had edged up above prewar levels, with outputs averaging 4,400 megawatts per day. The third quarter of 2008 showed postwar highs, averaging over 4,900 megawatts per day. But Iraqi demand still far outpaced production. The electricity distribution system improved too, but equitable allocations among the provinces and major cities remained a problem. Oil production continued to rise through 2008, falling just short of prewar levels of 2.58 million barrels per day by mid-year. The July 2008 production rate reached 2.43 million barrels per day—the highest since the 2003 invasion. Because of the success of infrastructure security measures, no successful pipeline attacks occurred in 2008.”—Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience (p.319)


6. “[A reservist] on his second tour in the violent Sunni-dominated province, served as an economics liaison officer for the Marine command. Since his first tour, the situation had grown dire. [He] saw no purpose in continuing approaches to reconstruction that had already failed in the province. “If it wasn’t working,” he said, “doing more won’t help.” In place of existing programs, he proposed the kind of interventions that fell outside IRRF 2’s focus on infrastructure construction, but beyond CERP’s purview. “We need local community action plans—livestock vaccines, seed distributions, housing funds,” the reservist said, projects that could jump-start Anbar’s idle factories and farms. USAID programs could provide some of these, but it was for the most part too dangerous for them to operate in the province. …

[The reservist] was right to notice that U.S.-funded reconstruction programs had overlooked the agriculture sector. Although agriculture was Iraq’s second-largest economic activity, with the potential to employ an estimated 25 to 30 percent of the population, the IRRF 2 supplemental did not fund any agriculture programs in 2003.69 The CPA ultimately stepped back from its initial policy and tasked USAID to work with the Ministry of Agriculture to develop a plan. Three years later, activity levels were still low. In 2006, the primary instrument was still the “Agricultural Reconstruction and Development Program for Iraq,” which USAID had launched with $5 million in October 2003.70 During the November 2004 IRRF 2 reprogramming, Ambassador Negroponte increased its funding to $72 million, but even this amounted to an investment of only $3 per Iraqi.”—Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience (pp.282-283)

Lingering in the Prayer Cloud

The Sojourners clan meets once a month for worship at the office. Yesterday, Sojo Assistant to CEO Tim King led us in a “prayer and praise” service.

Afterward, Sojo immigration organizer Allison Johnson sent a note saying, “Here is an image of the word cloud made of our collective prayers from today’s chapel.”

I thought it was lovely word-art. (It’s the kind of thing that makes the Baby Jesus smile.)


Jesus: The “King-style” Nonviolent Activist

ched-elaine-6-04Friends Elaine Enns and Ched Myers of Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries in Oak View, California, spoke in Philadelphia a few weeks ago at a conference of the historic Peace Churches (Quaker, Mennonite and Brethren).  You can listen to Ched’s talk on Jesus as a “Kingstyle” nonviolent activist online:

Ched Myers in Philly in January 2009

(Note: the talk begins at the 16 minute mark, is about 50 minutes long, and includes an interlude by jazz musician Warren Cooper).

God and Money: Two Great Things That Go Great Together

csmlizandkimorigIn case you ever wonder what Sojourners interns do after they spend a year in SojoLand, check out A Spiritual Approach to Money in yesterday’s Christian Science Monitor. The lead photo shows 2006-2007  Sojo Internet/Organizing intern Kim Szeto and 2004-2005 Sojo public policy intern Liz Green participating the a Lazarus at the Gate project. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

In turbulent economic times, the watchwords are usually: Cut back. Live frugally. Hunker down and put money in safe places!

But here in Boston, small groups of churchgoers have been applying a different message to money management. During the past two years, they have studied what the Bible teaches about money and wealth, discussed their personal budgets, and taken concrete steps aimed at four commitments: “Living gratefully, spending less, buying justly, and giving more.”

With gratitude as a foundational principle, the study groups follow a 12-session curriculum called “Lazarus at the Gate,” referring to the challenging gospel story about a rich man who persistently ignored a beggar named Lazarus at his gate (Luke 16). They discuss passages from the Old or New Testaments that consider wealth as a blessing, a potential idol, a resource for meeting needs, and to be justly distributed.

Read the whole article here.

Alice Kesner’s “The Peace Vigil”

6830081_550x550_mb_art_r0I’m not sure what to think about ending up as a minor character in a short story, except to say that I’m honored. Alice Kesner posted “The Peace Vigil” at Political Affairs magazine (tag line “Marxist Thought Online”).  I think she makes a good effort at crafting the “stuff” of life into the art of life–carving away what’s less important, so that the essential tensions and beauties stand out. Thanks, Alice! Here’s an excerpt:

Dusk, in the living room of a rambling, country-style house in Texas, where three women and two men are about to mark an important occasion. It’s the second anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, and while in urban places people are commemorating the day with antiwar marches and demonstrations, in this small Hill Country town these five folks are about to hold a peace vigil. …

At this moment, Bruce, who reclines at the other end of the sofa, waves some sheets of paper in the air. “Folks, I’ve got me some copies here of a humdinger responsorial by a Rose Marie Berger, hot off the Internet.” Bruce, who owns a thirty-acre pecan ranch, is slim, loose-jowled and rugged in blue jeans, sports jacket and the cowboy hat he always wears, even indoors. A friend of Mary’s from school days, and for a brief period a long time ago her lover, he finds himself, now twice divorced, drifting back into Mary’s emotional orbit.

Read Alice Kesner’s whole story here. If you want to read the litany she references,  see below.

Continue reading “Alice Kesner’s “The Peace Vigil””

Bill Moyers Quotes Sojo’s “Between the Lines”

I’m super excited that journalist extraordinaire Bill Moyers mentioned Sojourners magazine Friday night on his show Bill Moyers Journal. And not only did he mention the magazine but he specifically drew on the “Between the Lines” section, which I edit. Very gratifying. Thanks to Sojo assistant editor Jeannie Choi for writing up the “Stats” column that caught Moyers’ eye. Here a snippet of the transcript:

BILL MOYERS: We are empowered to think beyond ourselves, to imagine the more perfect union for which this compact was forged. But as Obama himself reminded us Tuesday, stubborn facts crouch just offstage, waiting to pounce. We return to a minefield of tripwires ready to ensnare our hopes and dreams. By chance, Tuesday evening I came upon some of those stubborn facts, in this issue of “Sojourners” magazine.

For the first time in history, more than one in every 100 adults in America is in jail or prison that’s 2.3 million people. One reason? The leader of one organization working with prisoners’ families told “Sojourners” that “The education system, particularly for inner-city youth where the bulk of our prisoners come from, is abysmal.”

You can watch the video clip here (the Sojourners part is between sections 1:09-1:40).

The Pope’s Long Right Arm

Pope Benedict–theologian, intellectual, scholar–said, in effect, pastoral leadership and inter-religious unity be damned this week when he “un-excommunicated” the irregularly ordained crazy Catholic-ish right-wing sect known as the Society of St. Pius X.

Read the clip below from Whispers in the Loggia:

In an effort to stem the nightmare of perception born from his lifting of the excommunications of the four illicitly-ordained bishops of the Society of St Pius X and concurrent comments from one of the clerics disputing the use of gas chambers by the Third Reich during World War II, the Pope used this morning’s General Audience to give a reflection on the Holocaust and his weekend decree removing the gravest of sanctions from the ultratraditionalist leaders.

My question is: How long is the Pope’s left arm? If his right arm can reach far enough to un-excommunicate the unrepentant Holocaust deniers, certainly his left arm can stretch out to lift the excommunication orders on the irregularly ordained Catholic women bishops and priests–members of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement–who seek to serve their church. Can I get an Amen?!

Last Supper Fish Lures by Charles Krafft

Seattle artist Charlie Krafft’s art is not for everyone. I first noticed him when he did an exhibit in Slovenia of “putting weapons beyond use” by turning hand grenades and machine guns into fine Delft china. (See it at his Villa Delirium museum.)

I check in on Charlie every once in awhile just to see what wacky notion he’s playing with now. I particularly like his Jesus fish lures. Ah, the creative mind.