Archive for February, 2012

So, I’m watching Meet the Press this morning. One of my least favorite theocrats, Rick Santorum, commented on Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy’s speech before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in which Kennedy said he believed in an “absolute” separation of church and state. Rick Santorum said that Kennedy’s words almost made him throw up, and that and absolute separation was never the intent of the founding fathers. Really? (Read the full text of Kennedy’s speech.)

Of course, David Gregory didn’t take the trouble to call him out on this…I suspect that challenging Santorum wasn’t part of a pre-appearance agreement setting the interview ground rules…so I just muttered what the f*** to myself, figuring that there must be another Constitution out there that I hadn’t read.

He then goes on to say that the founding fathers wanted a public square filled with a diversity of ideas, and that the ideas belonging to people of faith were not meant to be excluded from that debate. You’re right, Rick, the founding fathers did not intend to exclude people of faith…or people of no faith…from the public square, but I am equally confident that the ideas they had in mind were those that were well reasoned and intellectually based, rather than those rooted in religious myth and custom. The latter, no matter how widely they are believed, have no more place in the public square than do beliefs in Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny or, my personal favorite, the Tooth Fairy.

To say this in a less prejudicial way, when ideas cannot stand apart from the faith-based belief set from which they spring, especially when those ideas can influence domestic and foreign policy, they must have no standing in the public square debate. Maybe that’s what James Madison meant when, in a letter to William Bradford, Jr., April 1, 1774, he wrote, “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprize, every expanded prospect.” Having channeled Madison on a number of occasions, I know, when he spoke of debilitations of the mind, he was referring to Santorum’s inability to embrace Darwin’s theory of evolution, as well as the threat of global warming.

Later on in the interview Santorum unleashed a Republican favorite; the government shouldn’t pick winners and losers. What drives me insane about this is that even left-wing pundits seem comfortable with the winners and losers thing as though picking them is some kind of transcendent evil. Tell it to China or Germany or Brazil. They find winners pretty easily, and then eat our lunch with them.

Of course, Rick Santorum will argue that American exceptionalism takes us down a different and better path…a path that includes exceptional ignorance.

Congressman Poe and Governor Mitt Romney

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There comes a time in one’s life when age matters a whole lot. Not because the end is near…of even that you can see the end from where you are…but, rather, because there’s so much to be done and said. So many loose ends to tie up. So many battles to win and, sadly, so many to win again. And the presidential election of 2012 gives them all a sense of urgency and priority, as well as a daily stream of reminders that the Right will do anything it can to win.

Today, for example, I watched some tape of Mitt Romney saying that he had nothing against unions, just union leadership. What a crock! The Right goes positively orgasmic over thoughts of a world-wide wage race to the bottom that guts whatever is left of the middle class. Unions, even in their weakened, post-Reagan condition, provide the only check against the Right’s full-frontal assault on the American worker. I wonder if the manufacturing machine of modern Germany, where labor sits on boards of directors, feels that way about trade unions? Could it be that the Right’s anti-union mission is simply a means to further consolidate the plutocratic gains of the past 30 years?

Mitt Romney his no fool. His backers, their money, their goals and their greed threaten everything that is good in the human spirit. The time to fight is now. The time to win is November.

Listen to how he positions President Obama as “not one of us,” how he said recently that Obama believes in some kind of “non-bible theology,” or claims that global warmists (as he calls them) are involved in a worldwide liberal conspiracy to concentrate more power in the hands of government while reducing individual freedoms. Salon.com has a good summary of what dominionism is all about . I also recommend that you visit the Talk2Action web site and sign up for periodic news summaries regarding the activities of the religious right.  To say that Talk2Action is eye-opening is like saying a tornado is a wind storm. And a related site, Barry Lynn’s Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is nothing less than a tireless, 24/7 check on those who would transform America into something that the founding fathers wouldn’t recognize.

Of course, there are those on the right who will argue that the alleged threat to our democracy as posed by those of the dominionist/evangelical mindset is wildly overblown. And there are those on the left who will say that Rick Santorum has little chance of being elected president so why worry. Even if both of these positions turn out to be factually correct, it is also correct to say that whatever traction Rick Santorum has been able to muster is due to his appeal to a voting block that has no problem with a domestic and foreign policy agenda that is guided by god’s law, whatever that is. In that regard, consider these ongoing stories.

Intelligent Design aka Creationism
When the judge in the 2005 case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (Pa) ruled that Intelligent Design was not science (duh!), rational people who followed the case breathed a collective sigh of relief. I was one of them. What I didn’t realize was that the fight is hardly over. It will be fought again and again until intelligent design finds a foothold somewhere, perhaps in Missouri where, on January 10, 2012, a bill was introduced in the Missouri House that would require “the equal treatment of science instruction regarding evolution and intelligent design.” The lesson in this is that those who allow religious dogma to trump their own, god-given ability to think and reason believe they are on a never-ending mission to make the world “Christian.”  Frankly, I think that the whole lot of them, including Rick Santorum, are both nuts and dangerous.

Home Schooling
In view of the ever-unfolding saga of intelligent design, it is little wonder that evangelical Christians would latch onto home schooling. That way they don’t have to deal with the heresies of science and other annoying worldviews. “According to the documentary Jesus Camp, 75% of all home schooled children are Evangelical Christians.”  The author of the piece (I found it on answers.com) notes that he wasn’t able to verify the percentage, but it seems to mesh with other information. Ian Slater, the spokesperson for the Home School Legal Defense Association, notes that the “majority of home-schoolers self-identify as evangelical Christians. Most home-schoolers will definitely have a sort of creationist component to their home-school program. And for most home-school parents, a Bible-based version of the Earth’s creation is exactly what they want.”

Not incidentally, Rick Santorum said he would home school his children if he is elected president, saying that “having a homeschooling family in the White House would certainly be a shock to the establishment.” It will even be a bigger shock to the rest of the world that American voters would elect this guy to be president.

Onward Christian Soldiers
“In the ’90s [the Air Force Academy] had a code of ethics that stated that no professional or commander will attempt to change or coercively influence the religious beliefs of their subordinates. And in ’05, the Secretary of the Air Force came out with a new code of ethics…which allowed proselytization in the military.”

How bad did it get? Damned bad, because the goal was to “convert Air Force cadets – future pilots with fingers on nuclear triggers – into religious zealots.” And, in a 2010 article in Truthout entitled “ ‘Underground’ Group of Cadets Says Air Force Academy Controlled by Evangelicals,’ the author, Mike Ludwig wrote: “An anonymous cadet at the US Air Force Academy (USAFA ) spoke out against alleged religious discrimination at the school last week, saying that some cadets must pretend to be evangelical Christians in order to maintain standing among their peers and superiors. In an email to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), the whistleblower stated that he is part of an ‘underground group’ of about 100 cadets who cannot rely on proper channels to confront evangelical pressure.”

So let’s see…
We have a guy running for President of the most powerful county in the world who aligns himself with religiously fundamental group that believes that a Christian god is the only one that counts and who…just maybe…believes that the Crusades left some unfinished business to attend to. I’m a hell of a lot more frightened about Santorum than I am about Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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Note about the Military Religious Freedom Foundation: The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is dedicated to ensuring that all members of the United States Armed Forces fully receive the Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom to which they and all Americans are entitled by virtue of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Official portrait of United States House Speak...

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Was it just the way things played out or was it a carefully crafted strategy brilliantly executed?

A year ago the prospect of a second term for Preside’snt Obama presidency looked problematic, at best. A lousy economy, high unemployment and intractable legislative gridlock will do that. And, to make matters worse, Obama’s base sent him to Washington to implement change, not compromise his way to the middle, as was evidenced by the way the health care bill was negotiated; give, give, give and get damned little back in return.

Then came the midterm elections. The house was lost and the incoming Republicans, most of them Tea Partiers, vowed to obstruct Obama at every turn even as he continued to play nicely with others. Frankly, it drove me nuts until the debate over the debt ceiling. It was here that the political calculus seemed to shift.

With the ultra-conservative ideology of the Tea Party holding sway over the House, with Majority Leader and Tea Party favorite Eric Cantor holding a gun to Speaker John Boehner’s head, President Obama held his ground, refusing to provide offsets for the debt ceiling increase. But it was something John Boehner said in a press conference that connected the dots for me. Boehner called on the President to display some leadership and to bring the sides together. In other words, he wanted the President to do what he (Boehner) wasn’t able to do within his own party. To say it another way, he wanted Obama to step into what had become an abyss of irreconcilable differences … differences that had Boehner swinging in the wind. Wisely, President Obama declined to do so in favor of allowing the inevitable dysfunction play out.

Had Obama set a trap going which actually began during the health care debate? Did he get the best deal he could get and, in so doing, keep a campaign promise? Did he wave a white flag during the midterm elections realizing that to do otherwise was a waste of political capital in the face of an overwhelming right-wing headwind against everything he stood for? Did he display an infuriating willingness to compromise with his political enemies in order to appeal to independents? Did he know that the Republican primary would turn out to be a bloodbath with no candidate emerging undamaged? And, most importantly…

…did he know that the Tea Party overreach at the federal, state and even local levels
would energize the Democratic base like nothing else ever could? (See Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Maine, etc.)

Of course, from my liberal outpost in the suburbs of north Jersey I can only speculate as to what the overarching strategy really was (or even if there was one), but if ever there was a time for a trap, this was it. I believe that the Republican Party correctly sees 2012 as the biggest election in generations and, perhaps the swan song of its conservative, trickle-down-economic ideology. The reasons are many but chief among them are increasingly unfavorable demographics as non-white populations continue to increase, and baby-boomers continue to age. That creates an all-in sense of urgency that will make the 2012 Presidential election the dirtiest and the most corrupt in the history of the Republic. Fortunately, the President appears to have recovered from a couple of tough years, while the other side looks like a bunch of monkeys trying to screw a football.

Federally-supported gun violence intervention ...

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While watching the news on TV a few days ago, I saw the pained faces of two mothers who had recently lost youngsters to gang violence in Newark.  What a terrible tragedy!  They spoke about wanting to motivate other moms to stand with them against those who have such little regard for human life.

I think the time has come for mothers to use the enormous political power they could have in a world that has gone mad.  Inspired by their mother’s love, they should organize against the gun lobby that assures a steady supply of guns to the street…or any testosterone-fueled special interest group that all too easily trades precious lives for business objectives.

Frankly, this world needs a hell of a lot more estrogen than it is getting and it can only come from one place.

This was written during President Bush‘s first term in office.

Letter to the editor…

We have a president (Bush ’43) who has an infallible view of good and evil, who doesn’t allow facts to get in the way of his vision, and who sends American sons, daughters, mothers and fathers into combat “knowing” that there will be no casualties. This irrational behavior makes sense only in the context of his “born-again,” evangelical beliefs which, when checked at the church door, are of little consequence. However, when those beliefs are allowed to guide the foreign policy of the most powerful nation on earth, they have the potential to thrust the world into the abyss of worldwide cultural and religious war. (For a summary of Christian evangelicals’ view of middle-east strife, click http://www.bitterlemons-international.org/previous.php?opt=1&id=55#226)

Christian evangelicals may argue that such conflict is the inevitable playing out of Biblical prophacy: They are entitled to their beliefs. But for the sake of good men and women everywhere who do not share them, this obsession with Armageddon must be made part of the national debate before it, indeed, becomes prophecy, not of the Biblical variety, but one tragically self-fulfilling.

We often hear pleas for moderate Muslims to reject the radical fundamentalism that has hijacked Islam. At the other end of the spectrum, where are the voices of moderate Christians who reject the back-door theocratic policies of this administration?

English: Helen Keller. Français : Helen Keller.

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While listening to the Ed Schultz show on radio, I heard an exchange with a listener who identified himself as a conservative. He offered that participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement should, as he did, take steps to improve their own lives and not blame others for their problems. That kind of talk infuriates me, because it’s an easy way for Republicans to avoid taking a hard look at issues that broadly affect millions upon millions of Americans.

Well, as fate would have it, later that afternoon I came across some words written by Helen Keller, a person who knows a thing or two about overcoming life’s obstacles. She wrote:

“I had once believed that we were all masters of our fate–that we could mold our lives into any form we pleased… I had overcome deafness and blindness sufficiently to be happy, and I supposed that anyone could come out victorious if he threw himself valiantly into life’s struggle. But as I went more and more about the country I learned that I had spoken with assurance on a subject I knew little about… I learned that the power to rise in the world is not within the reach of everyone.”  

Helen Keller became an avowed socialist and fawning apologist for the nascent Soviet Union…an unpopular position to be sure…but it does not diminish the implicit humanity and compassion in her words. She understood the influence of circumstance and, more importantly, she  felt no joy at the misfortune of others.

I confess to being ideologically driven; I find little that I am willing to compromise with those whose selfishness and greed overwhelms any sense of compassion and caring. But, more importantly, I am deeply saddened that my country’s fundamental immorality is on display for the rest of the world to see. America and Americans should be better than this.