Thursday, April 06, 2006

A day for the ages

On one day, three stories.

First, a story of truly Biblical proportions. The Gospel of Judas Iscariot has emerged. The papyrus manuscript was discovered in the Egyptian desert and today the National Geographic Society announced the publication of the first translation of the Coptic text of the Gospel of Judas.

And what a story it tells. Judas, it seems, was not a Judas at all. Rather, in betraying Joshua ben Joseph to the Romans, Judas was literally doing the Lord’s work. The section of the gospel beginning "The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week, three days before he celebrated Passover" relates how Jesus asked Judas to betray him and turn him over to the Roman authorities.

Jesus understood what he was asking of Judas, who he said would “be cursed by other generations” for his actions, and explained to Judas that he was asking of him an act of devotion over and above the other disciples. “You will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me."

What does it mean that the story that has been passed down for 2,000 years appears to have gotten it wrong? Judas did not sell out Jesus for a fistful of dollars? Jesus’ prophesy that one of his disciples would betray him was not prophetic at all? How then does one view Jesus’ condemnation of the friend who was actually doing his bidding?

How do our stories change when the facts that first supported them grow less certain in the face of new information? Do we reconsider Judas now?

Second, a more mundane story. Scooter Libby––unlike Judas as we may now have to understand him––is not inclined to take one for the team and keep his conversations with his boss quiet for 2,000 years.

Libby’s testimony to the Grand Jury investigating the leaks of classified C.I.A. information involving Valerie Plame and pre-war intelligence appears to indicate that both Dick Cheney and President Bush explicitly authorized Libby to leak classified information to New York Times reporter Judy Miller, in order to counter charges made by Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson, that undermined the credibility of the Administration’s rationale for war with Iraq.

The President, who has publicly excoriated leaks from his Administration, was provided with a legal opinion from Cheney adjutant David Addington that a Presidential action to disclose classified information ”amounted to declassification of the document.” The ultimate defense, it would seem, though one observe replied caustically to that theory. “There is no process for declassification? The President can declassify documents on a whim, even if the only purpose is to smear a political opponent?”

It all goes back to the rationale for the war. That elusive story that twists and turns. The one rationale that just never seems to be there is that Iraq was an imminent threat, that traditional casus belli that would squeeze the round peg that is the Iraq War into the square hole that is International Law.

Finally, the third story. The Senate has reached its compromise on immigration reform with a bill that at least grants a nod to the realities on the ground, the 12 million illegal immigrants who are increasingly dug into American society and who really are not going anywhere. 12 million people, 7.5 million of them employed. Five percent of the United States work force.

The Senate is about to come face to face with their counterparts in the House, who led by James Sensenbrenner and Tom Tancredo passed their own measure for the defense of the U.S. border and the imposition of harsh criminal penalties on the aliens in our midst.

Defense of the border is a good and necessary thing. The U.S. border should be guarded as well as any in the world, but as any good economist will tell you, building a ten-foot wall dividing the United States economy from the Mexican economy, dividing a world of opportunity and hope from a world that offers a bleak future will only spark a run on eleven-foot ladders.

The House may have good intentions, but their hearts are punitive and unforgiving. The House leaders, who are leading the right wing of the Republican Party, imbued with evangelical fervor and arrogating unto themselves the mantle of God's wisdom, are forgetting the central wisdom of Joshua ben Joseph. They shall be judged for how they treat the least among us. All the rest is rhetoric.

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