Sunday, December 7, 2008

Christmas Wars and Televised Simony

One of the worst aspects of religious fundamentalism and fanaticism is their love of victimization. They must be the one true faith, and as proof of that, persecuted by some larger entity that surrounds and threatens to engulf them. That, of course, is typical of cult behavior and also psychosis. The poor, sad individuals who are desperate to feel special despite their innate mediocrity can't really be blamed for seeking shelter under the wing of a religion that makes them feel special. Yet we can blame the despicable con men who sell the various brands of claptrap to the rubes. I'm singling out hucksters like Pat Robertson, Billy and Franklin Graham, L. Ron Hubbard, Sun Myung Moon, Jim Jones, Bob Jones and similar frauds peddling a half-assed religiosity rather than genuine religion. But in this case I want to focus on Bill O'Reilly.

O'Reilly is about as vile a person and opportunist as this society has produced. Each year he tries selling the idea that there is a "war on Christmas". It's a blatant con to whip up a frenzy of fear and victimhood in the hearts of the mindless marks of this video fraud. Just looking at the tsunami of Christmas kitsch that descends upon us, usually about the time the Halloween decorations get marked down, the persistent, insistent, ubiquitous presence of creches, carols and Claus belies the idea of a "war on Christmas." Drive through any residential neighborhood or any commercial district from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day across America and you'll be convinced that Christmas has warred and won against all comers. But facts and logic have never been friends to Bill O'Reilly.

This year the chief, perhaps only, hook on which O'Reilly has been able to hang his "war on Christmas" con is the atheist statement included in a Washingtom State display of seasonal memorials. What's especially bad this year is that that statement deserves some criticism though not anything that comes from O'Reilly's bloviations.

The text of the sign reads, "At this season of the Winter Solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

Had the Freedom From Religion Foundation stopped at the second sentence I would have been in complete agreement. In fact I agree that religion is "but myth and superstition." However, I have seen the beneficial effects of religion in many people. I have know many truly religious people who express their various faiths by helping their fellow men. These people have shown me open hearts and freely questioning minds. It is the kind of narrow religiosity peddled by the con men named above and their ilk "that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

Let's take an example. I truly love the King James Version of the Bible. It was the first version that I heard as a child attending the Methodist Church. I still credit the rich Jacobean prose of that translation with giving me entree to Shakespeare, a fact self-sufficient to warrant admiration and love. But one of the tenets of much recent fundamentalism is that the KJV is the sole authoritative version of the Bible. Apart from the absurdity of claiming that Moses, the Prophets and Jesus wanted to be passed down to us in fulsome Jacobean prose that assertion is born of ignorance, descends into stupidity and all in furtherance of a pernicious agenda.

First, it ignores the fact that most of the fundamentalists of Elizabethan and Stuart England accepted only the Geneva Bible as authoritative. My New England Puritan ancestors considered the KJV a Papist abomination that had no place on the lecturn in their churches. The Geneva Bible was the version that Shakespeare knew best. His plays echo its phrasing in a number of sublime passages. Yet the Geneva Bible itself has antecedents not the least of which is John Wycliff's Middle English translation. The KJV is a major revision of Miles Coverdale's Tudor Great Bible that derives from William Tyndale's 1525 translation that became the basis for the Matthew Bible, Coverdsale's immediate predecessor. Additionally, some of the language from Thomas Cranmer's translation of the Book of Common Prayer for Henry VIII informs the KJV, particularly in the Psalms. And Wycliff, Tyndale, Coverdale, Cranmer, Erasmus, Melancthon and all the others had as their starting point Jerome's Latin Vulgate. So the King James Version touted as uniquely authoritative by the Protestant fundamentalists, is no more authoritative and no less so than its antecedents. That's where the ignorance comes in. Sort of in the same way that one is having sex with one person and all of those who've had sex with him or her before, the KJV is just the early 17th Century slut with whom you're currently sleeping.

But the surpassingly stupid and the primary purpose of asserting the primacy of the KJV is the insistence that no subsequent translation has authority. The idiotic subtext of this assertion is that all knowledge and divine inspiration ended in 1611. How divine inspiration could escape all translators and scholars of the last 400 years while being readily available to your friendly, neighborhood fundamentalist preacher is clearly a divine mystery. If the church service can include a hymn composed more recently than 1611, we shouldn't have much to fear from more recent translations. However, the real point in asserting this absurdity is to keep the faithful from questioning the authority of their con men/preachers.

If, as current scholarship has definitively shown, the sole Biblical allusion to a divine trinity is a 16th Century insertion, that calls into question the principle that the KJV is the one, true, immutable and definitive word of god. We can't have that, now, can we? Calling the text into question in any way turns the Bible into a work of men, not of god. It means that slavery, racism, homophobia and other disgusting justifications of bigotry as well as the claim of the Jews to the land of Palestine lose their Biblical support. But the irony is that none of that challenges the existence of a god.

This may sound funny coming from a proud atheist but fundamentalism, be it Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Islamic or any faith's, is a greater insult to god than my lack of belief ever can be. That one's faith is so shallow, fragile and mindless that, for example, the filioque (if you don't know what that is, look it up!) being exposed as a marginalia note by a later reader and not an article of faith shakes one's faith, then it is not rightly faith at all.

Religious fundamentalism is a mental straight jacket for those so intellectually precarious that they probably need an actual straight jacket to keep them from harming themselves and others. Fundamentalism is a comfort because it allows its adherents to check their minds at the door on the presumption that all thinking has conveniently been done for them. One of the reason such people are a danger to society is that they have been taught the Orwellian idea that their ignorance is actually intelligence of a higher order.

If a greeting like "Happy Holidays", an assertion by an atheist group or any such petty expressions constitute an attack on your individual faith then it is your problem that your faith is weak and insubstantial and no "war on Christmas" as a neo-fascist demagogue like Bill O'Reilly would con you into believing. If you are genuinely religious then the contrary opinions of others are of little or no consequence. If you are possessed by a narrow, puscillanimous, windging religiosity then of course your faith will be challenged because it is really no faith at all.

I have neither patience nor respect for the religiose. And I have far less tolerance or respect for the demagogues who exploit their narrow, ignorant religiosity to incite them to fear and hatred against some object of the demagogues' wrath.

Is the man with the biggest, most elaborate creche on his front lawn, lit by the greatest wattage the most religious person in the neighborhood or town? I doubt it. I also doubt that the person who makes the most noise about his faith, howsoever he expresses it, is the person of deepest faith. If you have genuine faith your works will witness to it. If the great joy and mystery of the whole power and potential of life itself coming in the form of a newborn baby moves you as a thing sublime then not even a real war on Christmas can meet the slightest success. The only thing you need fear or hate is the simoniac who would pervert your faith, your religion into something that can be threatened by a phrase.In short, the only person warring on Christmas is Bill O'Reilly himself.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fuck You, Milton Friedman!

In my view when Milton Friedman died in 2006 at age 94, his passing was was a good 60 years overdue. Friedman claimed to champion the individual and the "free market" over government intervention. He famously said late in life that government had to be starved of taxes in order to curtail its excesses. Of course, in Friedman's view government "excesses" were things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and any regulation that inhibited the swashbuckling of "free market" pirates. His disciples extend far beyond the infamous "Chicago School" of economics and the odious Hoover Institution into international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Friedman's essential insanity was the proposition the markets are "rational". By this he meant that unfettered markets would always correct themselves achieving balance between buyers and sellers, supply and demand. The concept is insane because, first, we have centuries of evidence that markets are nothing like rational and, second, because his postulate presumes that the people who participate in those markets are, ultimately, rational too. We haven't a single shred of evidence in all of human history for that preposterous proposition.

Essentially Friedman was a very smart man who, for some reason probably unknown even to himself, proposed an economic ideology as foolish and destructive as Scientology. That ideology was very congenial to a widely separated and utterly unprincipled collection of capitalist plutocrats who saw the potential for profit in such an insane ideology and financed its promulgation. Those plutocrats lionized Friedman and those of his acolytes who were most dedicated and least principled. The plutocrats gave the true believers forums, fellowships and fame thereby insuring that they would become confirmed toadies of those plutocrats. Friedman and his followers became famous because those whose interests they served promoted them, published their books and paid their expenses. Most of us tend to succumb to bombardment. The more often we hear that someone is famous the more we tend to believe that publicity. Thus Friedman and his followers, rather like Paris Hilton, became famous, even lionized, because their publicity said they were. We are not supposed to notice that there is nothing whatever that is rational in that process.

At this point some toady is going to offer the fact that Friedman won a Nobel Prize in Economics as if that validated his ideology. Actually, the Nobel Committee cited Friedman's work before his conversion to unfettered free marketism. His theory of rational markets is part of that work. His fanatic pursuit of it is not. Thus in Friedman's case and rather like another Nobel Laureate and neo-fascist darling, William Schockley, the Nobel Prize is simply a red herring.

As ideology became more and more important to Friedman and, simultaneously, he became further and further divorced from economic reality, he failed to notice that the plutocrats who kept him as their pet were systematically removing all countervailing forces to themselves. They brutally reduced and blocked greater union participation, evaded anti-trust laws, bought legislators and legislation that made them ever richer and burdened the middle class with disproportionate taxes - disproportionate because the middle class was the only group left to absorb the shortfall as the plutocrats ceased to pay even a modest fee for running the government that protected their wealth. Just as the forced collectivization in the U.S.S.R. under Stalin destroyed the Russian economy, the Friedman ideology destroyed the American economy...but only for the middle class.

The great mass of us were faced with rising taxes, curtailed services, increasing bureaucracy and wages that fell in real buying power faster than they grew. This environment set the stage for tax revolts, like California's Proposition 13, which were themselves financed by the plutocrats who most benefited from them. Each of these Trojan Horse "limitation" initiatives served only to exacerbate the problem.

In contrast to the ideological, through-the-looking-glass world of Milton Friedman let's consider the real world for a moment. As was proved in October, 1929 and 2007-2008, when consumers can't afford the products they are supposed to consume, they cease buying. When consumers cease buying, producers cease selling. When producers cease selling they cease generating capital for their investors. When capital ceases to grow, this whole house of cards comes tumbling down, stock markets crash, deflation ensues and there is economic disaster.

The Friedman ideologues, rather like Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion stand about with their eyes shut tight intoning, "I do believe in free markets! I do! I do! I do!" Meanwhile, all about them, the economy comes tumbling down. There is nothing rational about "securitizing" mortgages or credit card debt. Worse still, there is nothing rational about credit default swaps that back those attempts to pretend that a debt is really an asset. The fact is that markets are greedy and greed is not rational. Markets are greedy because the people drawn to operate them are, themselves, greedy. It is only by regulating markets up the yin-yang that we inject even a modest amount of rationality by curbing their instincts toward greed.

For 40 years we have systematically dismantled the regulations put in place during the Roosevelt Administration to prevent the Great Depression's recurrence. During that same time we have reduced personal incomes and increased prices, forcing people to live on credit. As the middle class' debt rose many who were less ideological than Friedman and his disciples understood that there would come a point when all the cards were maxed out and consumers had no ability to buy. We have reached that point. Actually, we reached it almost a decade ago but the plutocrats then encouraged everyone to turn the equity in their homes into ready cash because property values could go nowhere but up. Another ideologically inspired farrago. Finally, within the last year even that resource was tapped out and the collapse we now endure inevitably came. There is nothing complicated about the economics. It's simple. If consumers can't buy....

I wish I could claim that there is an evil genius behind this, that there is some conspiracy to be uncovered and rooted out. There isn't. Each of us has greed in his heart. Given the chance and the right information every one of us would have "securitized" debts and called them assets in order to feed our greed. But, that said, it is just more reason to say, "Fuck you, Milton Friedman!"

The sole bright spot in this whole economic meltdown is that the Republican Party, a wholly owned subsidiary of the plutocracy and unvarying force for evil has had the disaster they were so eager to make laid right in its lap. As in 1929 they deserved it. With any luck it will be at least another 20 years before they can regain anything even vaguely resembling power and we can rebuild our society again.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Glorious Fourth: Some thoughts on Patriotism, Jingoism, Chauvinism, and genuine love of country.

This Fourth of July, 2008, the 232nd anniversary of American independence, the news came that former North Carolina Senator, and life-long racist, neo-fascist, homophobe and vile scum, Jesse Helms, had died. Unfortunately for our nation he died 86 years too late. A statement from Dubya’s White House characterized the odious Mr. Helms as a “true patriot”. It’s a good thing that we’ve long since ceased to credit any statement from this White House gang else that characterization of Helms would confirm of Ambrose Bierce’s modification of Dr. Johnson’s definition of patriotism: that it is the first refuge of a scoundrel. Jesse Helms succeeded in a way that far too many before him had in embodying the worst characteristics of America. He was the poster boy for jingoism, bigotry and hate-mongering. The nation is better for his passing and would have been better still had he never lived. Yet calling him a “true patriot” calls up the question of what “true” patriotism might be.

Vladimir Nabokov said that we know that we’re in the presence of the sublime when the little hairs on the backs of our necks stand up. At some point on each July 4th those hairs stand up for me. I may be when I hear the Declaration of Independence read, occasionally by myself, or when someone plays Ray Charles singing America the Beautiful. They might stand up in the presence of the sublime manifest in a number of ways, including the utterly trite snap of a flag on the summer breeze. I respond that way when the Statue of Liberty fills the screen and someone reads Emma Lazarus’ The New Colossus or Francis Bellamy’s unadulterated Pledge of Allegiance.

Yes. I admit it. I love my country. I am not one of those doomed to be “unwept, unhonor’d and unsung” of whom Sir Walter Scott wrote,

“Breathes there the man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
‘This is my own, my native land!’
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burn'd
As home his footsteps he hath turn'd
From wandering on a foreign strand?”

Yet I am loathe to call myself a patriot not least because it might associate me with the likes of Helms, Dubya, Cheney, Feith or some similar charlatan. There is nothing even casually patriotic about that gang of criminals. But what is it to be patriotic? Why is this crop of neo-fascists not patriotic while I think that I am?

Flags and flag pins, patriotic songs and gestures like rote repetition of the Pledge of Allegiance are simply trappings. They are not the nation any more than are my cats. Burning a flag may have symbolic meaning but it has nothing whatever to do with respect for the principles of this nation. Those things are gewgaws. They may be gewgaws that we treasure but they are not the core of the nation despite their being mistaken for such by far too many people.

What is the core of our nation is its Constitution as amended and, to a lesser extent, the statement of principle in our Declaration of Independence. Our public officials from the president, congress and the Supreme Court on down to the lowliest bureaucrat swear to protect and defend our Constitution, not the flag, the national anthem, or any particular item. It is the Constitution that is at the core of America and why we are a nation of laws not men. Yet few citizens and even fewer of those who wear their patriotism on their sleeves read the Constitution or understand the history and the debate that led to its adoption. I dare say that perhaps one in 50 of us have even heard of the Articles of Confederation that preceded the Constitution’s adoption. The so-called Libertarian Movement thrives on the ignorance of the Articles of Confederation because we tried their prescription for governance from 1777 through 1787 and it didn’t work. Out of that failure came our Constitution.

The ultra-rightists who currently run the Executive Branch, have a stranglehold on the Legislative Branch and have largely taken over the Judicial Branch are not patriotic because they violate our Constitution on a regular basis. The right wing that now has usurped the Republican Party may talk a good game, wrap themselves in the flag and the gewgaws of patriotism but their actions demonstrate that their entire program is one of undermining the Constitution by sewing fear and keeping the populace fragmented and distracted by meaningless issues like opposition to same-sex marriage or who does or does not wear a flag pin.

There is not a person serving since January 20, 2001 in the White House staff or above the Deputy Assistant level in the cabinet departments who is not just unpatriotic but a traitor to the Constitution.

So, I do consider myself a patriot. I’ve seen a great deal of this nation. I come of a family that came to New England on the Mayflower in 1620 and that had men in all this nations wars through World War II. Those hairs on the back of my neck stand in the presence of many of the symbols of my nation and in the significant places like the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials or on the hallowed ground of Gettysburg. Yet I am nothing so much as furious at those who trade in a shallow, triumphalist patriotism while trampling on the Constitution.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fruitcakes I: Ayatollah Dobson and Christo-Fascism

Dr. James C. Dobson is a doctor of pediatric psychology. He has made it clear that he is not an ordained minister of any denomination. He has stated that he is not a theologian. He comes by his religion via his father who never bothered to study theology either but made his living as a “preacher”. But, though he disavows theological learning, he is awfully quick to interpret the Bible. Of course his interpretation leans heavily on the Old Testament and even more heavily on passages that reinforce his many and deep bigotries. In point of fact, Dr. Dobson is simply an ultra-right wing bigot who couches his hate in slightly less incendiary language than say, Rev. Fred Phelps. Dobson is, since such coinages are de rigueur these days, a Christo-Fascist (not crypto-, nothing crypto-fascist about him) whose ravening hunger is political power. He simply conceals his voracious ambition for power under a thin cloak of religion to fool the rubes and, just incidentally, get a tax exemption or two.

In his Dictionary of the English Language, Dr. Samuel Johnson, a man of great faith, defined patriotism as “the last refuge of a scoundrel.” About 140 years later, the American writer and humorist, Ambrose Bierce, a man of far fewer delusions, noted that Dr. Johnson was incorrect because patriotism is the first refuge to which the scoundrel runs. Bierce, apart from being correct, did not see fit to cite anything as that “last refuge.” A long list of jailhouse conversions by criminals including Charles Colson, Eldridge Cleaver and Manuel Noriega have served to point out what Ayatollah Dobson confirms with every breath, that the true last refuge of a scoundrel is religion or, rather, religiosity.

To digress for a moment, I really haven’t any argument with people who are religious. I’ve known many good people in many religious groups who express their faith by making the love and mercy of the gods in which they believe manifest in our world. They work with the poor and homeless, with the sick and lonely and with all manner of the least of these, their brethren as their gods direct. Religiosity, however, is a cathedral wide and a communion wafer deep. Religiosity uses faith as a cloak for hate and bigotry and, sometimes, insanity. As examples of that religiosity I would cite Jim Jones’ People’s Temple, the Heaven’s Gate Cult, the Worldwide Church of God and Focus on the Family. Religiosity is, at best, the faith of the lazy and ignorant. It has no depth, learning or understanding associated with it and puts its emphasis on the fear of god and the word of a preacher whose ignorance may be greater than that of his congregation. At worst, religiosity is the mask behind which bigotry, hatred and fascism hide from well-deserved prosecution. Ayatollah Dobson’s brand of religiosity is of the worst.

But to return to the most recent ex cathedra statements from Ayatollah Dobson, he has injected himself into the 2008 U. S. Presidential race by attacking Barak Obama’s understanding of the Bible. He’s called Obama’s call for a sensible view of the Bible “a fruitcake interpretation.” Understanding that if anyone should know “a fruitcake interpretation” of scripture based on acquaintanceship since birth, it’s James Dobson, this is an extraordinary statement from a self-confessed non-theologian. Dobson’s political fatwa against Obama is actually revealing. It strips from Dobson the cloak of religion to reveal his true interest which is in unelected political power. Indeed, Obama’s crime in the view of Ayatollah Dobson is not just an humane interpretation of the Bible, it is being humane itself. If Barak Obama’s faith, with its emphasis on Matthew 25 were to prevail, it would expose Dobson’s pusillanimous, hate-filled interpretation of scripture for the noisome perversion it is. The best we can say about Dobson’s most recent ravings are that they are the outcry of a simoniac, exposed and abandoned by the public he’s heretofore deceived.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Money Matters I: Pay Back’s a Bitch

Barak Obama is not going to limit his fundraising by taking Federal matching funds for the general election.

How dare he!

How unfair!

Poor little Johnny McCain with his stunted fundraising abilities will get just under 85 million dollars in Federal matching funds for his run at the presidency while Oprah can find that much by cleaning the change out of her couch.

Quel horreur!

Maybe Johnny will have to hit up his wife, Cindy, for some cash if he can get away from calling her names not usually used by husbands who expect to stay married very long. And it will mean that the neo-fascist and racist cash cows of the Republican Party and the up-and-coming Karl Roves and Lee Atwaters (including Karl Rove?) they have under contract will have their Willie Horton/Swift Boat ads answered within one news cycle.

That Obama sure plays dirty. He won’t even let the ultra-rich far right and the Natzionalistiche Republicanische Partei scuttle his candidacy. Damn! Not fair!

I actually believe that the public air waves are public in consequence of which broadcasters must provide free coverage of political events and free political advertising. I also believe that all elections must be totally, publicly financed. But I feel about Obama’s decision on public financing much the way I felt about the execution of John Wayne Gacey: I think that capital punishment is wrong but for him, I’ll make an exception. I’m willing to give Obama a pass on this one.

Ultimately, Obama is correct. The current public financing system is broken. The allegedly unconnected interest groups like the Swift Boat Veterans in 2004 can be set up quickly, financed anonymously by one or more rich neo-fascists and skew the results of an election. Obama has shown the ability to raise huge amounts of money, most of it in relatively small donations, and is not going to allow himself to be hamstrung by the party of wealth. In fact, one can argue that Obama’s fundraising has been more democratic, more populist than any Republican’s since, quite possibly, Ulysses Grant.

But I was struck by an interesting but of serendipity. On the same day, June 19, 2008, that Obama announced that he would forego public financing of his campaign two hedge fund managers from Bear-Stearns were arrested for bilking investors out of millions. The most important term in that sentence is hedge fund. The Investopedia defines a hedge fund as “a mutual fund for the super rich”.

And your point is?

That no one who’s bilked a family out of its savings and home with an unaffordable mortgage is going to jail. The big mortgage companies that were constructing mortgage applications out of whole cloth and pixie dust are still in business. But two guys who lied to millionaires and cost them a few percent of their trust funds are headed for jail.

Mathew Tannin and Ralph Cioffi probably each deserve a cell in Attica, preferably each will have a huge cellmate who hasn’t seen a woman in about 15 years and won’t be seeing one anytime soon. They have committed crimes for which they should pay but their arrests demonstrate that money matters. Those who bilk the rich are headed for court. Those who bilk the poor and middle class get a pass once they insinuate that the families they cheated should have been aware that they were being cheated. That’s the blame-the-victim argument just as surely as is “if she didn’t want to be raped she shouldn’t have worn a sexy outfit". But the mortgage companies’ attempts to blame the victim aren’t the only similarity between their actions and rape.

The case of the Bear-Stearns managers and Barak Obama’s refusal of Federal matching funds for the presidential election likewise are similar. They are flip sides of the same issue: money matters. Those who have money get what they want whether it’s the presidency of the United States or the arrest of the con men who cheated them. The rest of us can go suck wind. In the case of the Bear-Stearns hedge fund managers we have all the trappings of the sacrifice that will distract everyone from the real criminals amongst us. In the case of Barak Obama we have the first indicator that those of us who truly want change and a more just America will once again have our hearts broken. Unfortunately a broken heart is not anywhere near as lethal as the bloodsucking that we’d get from continuing the neo-fascists in power.

Continued Vilification: McCllellan vs. the Army on the Potomac

It all goes to credibility, doesn’t it?

I’m no defender of Scott McClellan as you can read in the post below. He continues to defend Dubya as a good man, an evaluation that holds less water than a sieve. He also continues to defend the right wing despite the bankruptcy of their ideology that our experience of our national decline and whose inner corruption he himself has now brought to light. He has also not adequately explained why the outright lies and defamations he fed to the press in his daily briefings shouldn’t damage his credibility now. Yet I believe Scott McClellan’s current account of his time in the White House despite the man himself. My reason for this belief in spite of my suspicions is that the people speaking out against him are even viler than he is.

It’s not quite an “enemy-of-my-enemy” situation as much as it is that I can’t help noting the viciousness of the neo-fascist attacks on McClellan must mean something. Those attacks are bitter, vile and continuing…and loud. It’s as if the whole neo-fascist right-wing were sticking its collective fingers in its ears and shouting, “La-la-la-la-la-la! I can’t hear you! And neither can anyone else.”

Yes, McClellan was chief liar-for-hire at the White House before Dubya hired the even more odious Tony Snow, but the array of voices set against him only makes him more, not less credible. The neo-fascists who are trying to drown out some level of truth in McClellan and his book by protesting so disproportionately much are making him more, not less credible.

The mole rats are calling Scott McClellan ugly. That doesn’t make him the handsomest man on earth but it does rub a little of the tarnish that he spent many years acquiring off of him. I’m not sure whether the shine we’re beginning to see is gold or brass but it’s certainly cleaner and more worthy than any of his critics.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Says it all, doesn't it!

Generally I like to rant on about topics that interest me but a friend sent me the following link that is hilarious largely because it's so dead on. People, except in West Virginia, it appears, have learned to use euphemisms so that their ignorance and bigotry won't be glaringly visible. Yet strip away the linguistic acrobatics and this is what you get:

http://www.imvotingrepublican.com

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Failing On Her Own: Hillary Out

Ultimately Hillary Rodham Clinton didn’t deserve to be President. She has the fortitude and experience and the energy for the job. She even started out with a good deal of respect but it was exactly that respect that she forfeited as the primary campaign progressed. She proved herself willing to say and do anything to win which, in turn, proved the suspicion that I and others had about both her and Bill: that everything, without exception, is fungible in the interest of their own power. She couldn’t be trusted and squandered that considerable fund or respect all by herself.

A lot of women would like to believe that Hillary was done in by sexism. Hillary made that argument herself as she found her campaign foundering. There unquestionably was some sexism voiced in the media and amongst parts of the electorate. Yet Hillary proved in Pennsylvania, Indiana and West Virginia that racism trumps sexism every time. And Hillary exploited that racism when it suited her.

The most specious argument that she put forward during the campaign was that she won the primaries that mattered and Barak Obama carried the insignificant caucuses. She was trying to turn her own failing against her opponent. Hillary initially fell victim to her own publicity and her inherent hubris. She believed that she was the overwhelming front-runner for the Democratic nomination and that she should be. She bought into her own publicity and failed to organize effectively in the caucus states. In the meantime Obama, a community organizer from the get go, organized the pants (you should excuse the expression) off her.

In February when I went to my precinct caucus I was amazed to find that the Obama people had out organized Hillary’s campaign. There were nearly 3 times as many Obama supporters at the caucus as Hillary supporters. In fact there were more than 5 times as many Democrats of all stripes at those caucuses as there had been in 2004. There was no reason for the lopsidedness of the caucus attendance other than that Hillary hadn’t organized. If she had, she would be the presumptive Democratic nominee today and Obama would be a hopeful for the nod as vice-president.

And before some mourning Hillary supporter calls me out on it, there is no sexism in calling her Hillary. Go back and look at her campaign literature and signs. She styled herself as Hillary and then had the temerity to foster the nonsense that it was sexist to call her what she called herself. If she’d wanted to be called Ms. Clinton, Sen. Clinton or Hillary Rodham Clinton she should have put that on her bumper stickers.

Despite the protestations of Clinton pit-bull, Harold Ickes, Hillary was not deprived of anything that she won fairly by the Democratic Rules Committee. The whole rules fight was an embarrassing attempt to change the rules that she’d whole-heartedly endorsed last fall. She was losing and so she reversed her earlier position and tried to re-roll the dice in her own favor. I will not dwell on the resemblance of that tactic to her sudden conversion to Iraq War opposition. Suffice it to say that this attempt only further cemented my inability to trust her. Hillary has issues that she’s long supported but no core principle that isn’t for sale if the price is an increase in personal power.

I started out this campaign supporting Bill Richardson. I still think that he would have been a fine president but his campaign never grew legs. But early on I was impressed by Obama’s oratory. I was then impressed with his good humor and coolness under pressure and, finally, by his intelligence. Yet above all I was impressed by his consistent instinct to take the high road in competing with Hillary. I’d been won over to Obama well before Bill Richardson left the presidential race.

By contrast, Hillary never failed to take the low road. She whined about the order of questions to her and insisted that she was the candidate of “good, hard-working white people”. She even blurted out the revealing remark about Robert Kennedy’s assassination.

I am a Democrat. There is no Republican for whom I would vote and no Democrat for whom I would not vote. Joe Lieberman is a special case. He’s a Republican in everything but name. I kept telling people right to the end that I would vote for the nominee of the Democratic Convention regardless of who that might be. Even Mike Gravel would have been infinitely better for the nation than any Republican. Yet as the primary campaign ground on to the final showdown between Obama and Hillary I found myself getting edgier and edgier whenever I considered Hillary as the nominee. I all goes back to 1996 when Bill Clinton signed the Welfare Reform bill. I didn’t care who cleaned his pipes, how or where but I would have impeached him for signing that bill. I was left impressed with his abilities as a politician but appalled by his willingness to toss the poor of our nation overboard in the interests of his reelection campaign. Hillary constantly proved that ambition trumping principle was not solely Bill’s problem in the Clinton family.

No Hillary shouldn’t have won this race and, thank heavens, didn’t. She should not be on the ticket with Obama either. Hillary has had her time in the sun. She can go back to the Senate and do as Ted Kennedy has done by making herself an important voice for good in the nation. She might even make a good appointment to the Supreme Court. But she doesn’t and shouldn’t move into higher office. Worse yet, were Hillary to become vice-president Obama would be saddled with two vice-presidents, Bill included, one over whom he would have some control and a second, unofficial VP over whom he’d have no control whatever unless he had Bill spirited off to Guantanamo Bay in the wee hours of next January 21st. Consider the problems that Hillary’s campaign had with Bill’s logorrhea and he ostensibly was trying to help her.

At the end of the day, Hillary Rodham Clinton did herself in regardless of what diehard supporters would like to believe. Those grieving for her ambitions are weeping over a suicide and not a murder victim.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Untruth In Advertising I

You’ve seen them, those Visa Check Card commercials. The whole world is an harmonious, well-oiled machine. Everything is running in sync with the music, varying from Raymond Scott’s Powerhouse or Ary Barroso’s Aquarela do Brasil to Danny Elfman’s Breakfast Machine from PeeWee’s Big Adventure, until someone pulls out…

a) cash
b) a check
c) something else that most people actually have.

The consequence of this implicitly anti-social act is that the music slows and stops, things fall from the sky, disasters ensue until someone with a Visa Check Card comes along and sets the world to rights again. The music swells, and everything resumes moving harmoniously.

I’m going to gloss over the paradigm implicit in those commercials of regimentation and conformity, a society that cannot run smoothly if it admits of any individuality at all and go straight to the point that we all knew from the beginning: they’re a load of crap.

A day ago I was in a local grocery store. As is my wont, I found the shortest checkout line. There was a mother and daughter team who had a huge, combined grocery order that ultimately totaled $486.77. The cashier was moving the order right along so I unloaded the dozen or so things from my cart and awaited my turn to pay.

I could almost hear Powerhouse playing as the items went over the scanner. The $486.77 total came up on the register and mom pulled out her Visa card. She wanted to use it as a debit card.

First there were problems in running the card through the machine. It didn’t read. It wasn’t swiped in the correct sequence. The third time was the charm or, rather, the curse. The transaction was rejected.

It seems that mom’s card didn’t process transactions of more than $200 all at once. What? What would have happened if she were buying furniture? But we hadn’t figured that one out yet. Oh, well. Mine not to reason why. Mine just to stand and wait. So the manager was called over, the transaction voided and there was a second try. Still no good. Another transaction voided. Both the cashier and manager were giving me apologetic looks. I was actually enjoying the process and mentally working on this blog entry. Well, next they broke the transaction up into a pair of $200 and $286.77 pieces. The $200 was good. The $286.77 didn’t make it. Again a transaction voided.

Now they broke the $286.77 into two pieces of $200 and $86.77. The second $200 went through as a charge rather than a debit once the attempt to do it as a debit resulted in voiding another transaction. The $86.77 didn’t go through. She was now over limit. Well, that’s o.k. Just write a check. The check processes as insufficient funds. As if that hadn’t been obvious already when the last debit failed.

By that time my milk was past its “sell by” date.

As the mom and daughter began sorting out things that they could do without to reduce the bill to $400, the manager took me to another register and arranged for me to get a $3 credit for being so patient and good humored about it.

Let me be clear that I have great sympathy for that mom. We’ve all been there. The card is rejected. The check bounces. We forgot our wallet or don’t have enough cash in it. We knew our balance but underestimated the cost of the things in our cart. It’s an embarrassing moment that we don’t wish on anyone and I certainly wish that the mom preceding me through that checkout line could have been spared that torture. Still, the next time you see one of those Visa commercials, think of that mom and don’t be conned into thinking that you need a Visa Check Card. You’re an individual person, not a cog and the only machine for which that card provides the grease is Visa itself.

Finally, you’ll notice that this is the first installment of “Untruth in Advertising”. I have a feeling that it’s going to be a very long series.

Friday, June 6, 2008

1968 II: The Day Hope Died

In high school we’d had local radio stations in the Waterbury, Connecticut area sponsor students in Junior Achievement. I’d worked for a couple of them, call letters that, I believe, are now long gone: WATR, WBRY. The last was WOWW. “Radio WOW! 1340 (AM) on your radio dial. Red Carpet Radio in Naugatuck, Connecticut.” I worked there during my senior year in high school and was invited to stay during the summer of 1967 and back for the summer of 1968.

I was scheduled to work in the afternoons each weekday and on Sunday mornings. On the morning of June 5th my mother knocked on my bedroom door and announced that Robert Kennedy had been shot. It was hard to believe. After Martin Luther King, Jr. to have an assassination of another major American leader seemed impossible. That began a deathwatch that lasted until June 6th, 40 years ago today.

I went to work and spent far more time than ever before running back and forth to the AP news printer. This murder did not affect me as deeply as had Dr. King’s. I think that I was a little numb after April 4th. And I was not as invested in Robert Kennedy as I had been in Dr. King.

I couldn’t support Hubert Humphrey despite his long and strong record of support for Liberal causes. He was, just as John McCain is today, tied, nay, shackled to the, wrong, insane, pointless Vietnam War. I did support Eugene McCarthy but had little hope that he’d be elected. Though I viewed Robert Kennedy as an opportunist and Johnny Come-Lately to the race, I was convinced that he was the one Democrat who could take the party nomination and rally the country to its better, more hopeful nature. The Kennedy name and power, the residual good will from his murdered brother could overcome the stark divisions in the country and lead America into a positive direction.

It was already clear that George Romney of Michigan was not going to get the Republican nomination and the ultra-right wingers who’d managed to nominate Barry Goldwater in 1964 were not going to allow Nelson Rockefeller of New York to win the nomination either. James Rhodes of Ohio, the man who would later order his National Guard to murder student protesters at Kent State University, hadn’t killed enough people yet to gain any real chops with the neo-fascist Republicans. It was already clear that the Republicans would nominate the psychologically unstable, blindly ambitious, pathological liar and criminal Richard M. Nixon. He was, in a very real sense, the essence of the Republican Party and “the new Nixon” (really a repackaged old Nixon) would run again for President.

Had Robert Kennedy lived to contest the general election, we would have had a second Nixon versus Kennedy contest resulting in a Kennedy win, this time by a far wider margin. In that sense, Robert Kennedy had to be killed lest he keep the Republicans out of power for 16 straight years.

I am not a conspiracy theorist but I believe that the elections of Reagan, Poppy and Dubya Bush are the culmination of insidious action by the neo-fascist underbelly of America for whom assassination would be a tool rather than a horror.

I kept running to the AP printer until the afternoon of June 6, 1968 when the bulletin came that Robert Kennedy was dead. I went back to my disc jockey’s console and pulled down the record I’d had beside me for 24 hours. I put on the last cut on the original cast recording of Camelot and out came Richard Burton’s sonorous voice reciting Alan Jay Lerner’s poetry:

Each evening from December to December,
Before you slip to sleep upon your cot,
Think back on all the tales that you remember,
Of Camelot.

Ask each person if he’s heard the story,
And tell it loud and clear if he has not,
How once there was a fleeting wisp of glory,
Called Camelot.

…………………

Don’t let it be forgot,
That once there was a spot,
For one, brief, shining moment,
That was known as Camelot.

At the end of the cut the chorus swells for those last 2 lines. I took the turntable out of gear and let the record slow down trailing off to nothing.

The Kennedy loyalists tried feebly to rally his delegates behind George McGovern of South Dakota but that came to nothing. It was over: the dream of Camelot, hope for America. The dark night of Nixon’s rule and our long slide to the neo-fascism of today would soon be upon us but there was another horror to come before that horrible year descended to Nixon’s election.

In August, I’ll write more about Chicago.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Scott Free: McClellan vs. the Army on the Potomac

Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan has written a book and the level of vilification from the Bush White House, neo-cons and other ultra-right wing loyalists has been swift and deafening. The gist of all the criticism from the neo-fascist propaganda mill from Ari Fleischer to the noisemakers at Fox and other ultra-right wing media is, "How dare he!" The amazing thing to me is that the response has been so swift and so rancorous the McClellan must, at long last, be telling the truth.

The criticism I've heard most frequently goes something like if Scott thought that something was wrong, why didn't he step up and say something at the time?

That question is what's known as a "gimme". McClellan saw what happened to Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame when Wilson reported honestly that there was nothing to one of the neo-fascists' rationales for the Iraq invasion. Looking at that and knowing how the Bush loyalists fetishized loyalty he had only two choices. He could resign in protest and probably be relegated to the same outer darkness that the neo-fascists are hustling him toward now or stay on and try to make money and connections that would support him should he eventually find himself in that outer darkness.

In some sense the choice he made is a quintessentially Republican one. He chose to stay on because he, even today, excuses Dubya and because staying was in his self-interest. Self-interest ahead of nation, community and law is the ultimate Republican characteristic. Thus, asking why McClellan stayed is both foolish and self-evident. For hitman, Karl Rove, to pose that question is deliciously ironic and reveals two more essential characteristics of Dubya’s neo-fascist crew and Republicans in general: they know neither shame or irony.

One of the other questions frequently asked is, “Why now?” Why did McClellan put his account of Administration machinations and perfidy out now? That too is obvious. It’s an election year. This year his book is likely to sell better than in any other year. Again, self-interest trumps everything. Still, being a little less cynical, I think that Scott McClellan, like several former denizens of this Administration like Colin Powell and George Tenet before him, knows that this crew of war criminals and civil rights violators is going to be called to account as soon as they are out of the White House and regardless of the raft of pardons that Dubya, like Poppy before him, is going to issue on his way out the door. McClellan is jockeying for position. He’s a relatively little fish. If he suddenly develops or counterfeits a moral compass the coming storm is likely to break lightly on his head.

In 1980 Cyrus Vance who’d differed with Jimmy Carter over the disastrous Iranian hostage rescue mission allowed the mission to fail and then had the decency to resign once his reservations had proved all too prescient. But Vance was a Democrat a bit less steeped in total self-interest than Republicans. McClellan, like his Republican cronies, talks a good game when it comes to morality, personal responsibility and shared values but doesn’t stand up until it’s too late for the nation and profitable for himself.

To be a true Republican of this time it seems to me that one must have steeped one’s self in Ayn Rand’s pernicious screeds Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. The wildly misnamed Objectivism contends that nothing matters but the individual and what that individual deigns to grant to others and society as a whole. Indeed life is characterized by the struggle of the individual against society. In truth it is extreme subjectivism and a close, even incestuous, cousin of fascism. Scott McClellan hasn’t had a change of heart; rather he’s decided that his bread is buttered on a different side. Still, that he’s being more truthful today than he was while he was one of Republican minions is to be celebrated but much in the way that one thanks a match seller for turning in an arsonist he before sets another fire. While we congratulate him for his current honesty we should remember that had he found a spine in 2004 we would have been spared some of the depredations of the last three and a half years of neo-fascist rule.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rights at the Wrong Time: Bad timing from the California Supreme Court

First, though it's going to seem a bit hollow, I have long supported gay rights. I've had gay and lesbian friends since I was in high school more than 40 years ago. All the hoopla over rights for blacks, women, gays, etc. in fact is something of a continuing shock to me because it seems to me obvious that we all should have those "unalienable rights" of which Thomas Jefferson wrote. We are all human beings (though I have doubts about Dick and Lynn Cheney, Pat and Bay Buchanan and am quite sure that Ann Coulter is not) and by virtue of that fact we all inherently have those rights regardless of our color, ethnicity or whom we love. That said, I am more than a little ambivalent about the decision of the California Supreme Court today (May 15, 2008) declaring California laws banning same-sex marriages illegal.

I would, however, have no ambivalence whatever had this same decision come down on, say, November 10, 2008. The Supreme Court's decision is obviously and unquestionably correct. But this decision in our largest and most populous state is only going to electrify the bigots and loonies during an election campaign. The effect is likely to be that we will spend more time talking about same-sex marriage than we will about the criminally prosecuted war in Iraq or the decimation of the American economy by the neo-fascist ideologues of the Republican Party.

This past Tuesday we were treated to interviews with older white voters in West Virginia making clear that their bigotries had survived unchanged since the 1950s. They offered a raft of false excuses and outright racist statements for rejecting Barack Obama's candidacy. Their bigotries reveal the dark, noisome depths of American ignorance, fear and hatred that the Republican Party has mined so effectively for the last 60 plus years. The Republican prescription for winning elections has been to fragment and intimidate the electorate. They exploit the fears of black and white, young and old, rich and poor, gay and straight bringing those ephemeral and foolish issues to the fore so that we never have to consider why the United States alone amongst the industrial nations of the world deny our citizens health care, adequate housing and decent pensions.

Ultimately the California Supreme Court's decision was long overdue. It was correct. The dissent that would have it that the decision violates the separation of powers is, prima facie, absurd and an abdication of judicial responsibility. If it is not for the Supreme Court to rule on the Constitutionality of a law, what is the Supreme Court for? I am glad that my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters now can legally marry in California as well as Massachusetts. Still, had I had my druthers I would have allowed the injustice to continue for another 6 months so that we could have a presidential election without scum from Focus on the Family and other bigots energized by this decision. I'm not proud of that position but I must own it mine.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Part and Parsing: Why Antonin Scalia must be impeached.

In neo-fascist circles, Antonin Scalia is what passes for a major intellectual. I refuse to call him "Justice" Scalia because justice and Antonin Scalia don't belong in the same sentence. Like most ultra-right wing pseudo-intellectuals Scalia is well read but nothing that he's read penetrates the denser-than-a-black-hole certainty of his ideology. Mr. Scalia in interviews with Lesley Stahl and with the BBC has insisted that torture is not "cruel and unusual punishment". That terminology comes from, among other places, the 8th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution which reads in its entirety, "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

Mr. Scalia, being a "strict constructionist" and all, he obviously knows the language of the 8th Amendment. Since Mr. Scalia claims to be a legal scholar he obviously also knows the history that culminates in the 8th Amendment. He knows that it derives from the English Bill of Rights of 1689. He knows that the English Bill of Rights stems from nearly 400 years of almost constant civil war in England going back to the reign of Edward II. In those wars winners used such punishments as impaling their live opponents on stakes or drawing and quartering. Burning and beheading were also favorite forms of punishment. Of course, often as preparation for trial, what modern attorneys call the "discovery process", came torture, usually in forms that make water boarding look positively benign. Mr. Scalia's scholarship certainly includes reading in the history that led to the language of the 8th Amendment. Which is, of course, exactly the point. Mr. Scalia can read the history, read the records of the public debate leading to the 8th Amendment, read the entire history of the law's interpretation by our courts and have none of it penetrate his impenetrably black ideological certainty.

I do think that I understand Mr. Scalia's specious logic. I think he must be relying on a definition of punishment that beggars Bill Clinton's parsing of the word is. I believe that Mr. Scalia has convinced himself that punishment is something that follows adjudication. Since the people that we are and have been torturing over these last 7 years have not had an adjudication of their guilt or innocence, the torture is not, in Mr. Scalia's view, punishment per se. It may be cruel. It may be unusual, but absent an adjudication it cannot be punishment in the ideologocally benighted mind of Antonin Scalia.

In typical neo-fascist fashion, Mr. Scalia insists that what is sauce for the liberal goose can't even come close to the ultra-rightist gander. The Constitution which, as a "strict constructionist", Mr. Scalia believes does not enshrine a right to privacy does clearly enshrine a right to torture. He maintains this ideologically insane position despite the reading that clearly informs him that the right to privacy was of paramount concern to the framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights while torture was anathema to them.

Mr. Scalia lacks what is losely referred to as a "judicial temperament". His refusal to recuse himself from the deliberations in Cheney v. USDC for the District of Columbia shows that his ideology and friendships override his legal judgment when it suits him just as did his vote in Bush v. Gore. But now he has gone beyond the pale. He has shown himself willing to embrace the kind of "judicial activism" (albeit from the far right) and "moral relativism" so decried by his fellow neo-fascists. Once more we see that the people most apt to wrap themselves in the flag are those with the least respect for the Constitution that flag represents.

I would hope that my fellow Democrats and anyone with even modest respect for our Constitution, for civil and human rights would stop the nonsensical pursuit of a bill of impeachment against Dubya and Cheney and put that energy into a bill of impeachment against Antonin Scalia who is a clear and present danger to the U. S. Constitution.

Friday, April 18, 2008

An Oxymoron from a Nazi and a Moron: No good words for Benedict XVI

On April 19, 2005 then Cardinal Ratzinger delivered a homily to which Our Fearless Leader, Dubya, saw fit to refer in his introduction of now Pope Ratzinger...er Benedict XVI at the White House last Tuesday, April 18, 2008. In that homily the Cardinal stated, "Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and “swept along by every wind of teaching”, looks like the only attitude (acceptable) to today’s standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires."

One of the most serious faults of reasoning is allowing some conman with an agenda to set the terms of a debate. "Clear faith" hasn't anything to do with fundamentalism. The Cardinal, now Pope knows as much. He's a well educated and knowledgeable man whose faith, I presume, is "clear". Like most people of "clear faith" Josef Ratzinger has found that faith and reason have come to him together. Faith and reason are not mutually exclusive.

Fundamentalism, however, is exactly the antithesis of Josef Ratzinger's path. It insists on blind faith, not clarity. Fundamentalism insists that reason is faith's enemy, that mindless acceptance of absurd literalism is the true path of belief, and that questioning the Bible and the teachings of your church or preacher is heresy. (And, yes, I too have an agenda about which I’m being far more honest than Benedict XVI.)

So let’s continue to parse the Cardinal/Pope’s homily. Relativism is “letting oneself be tossed and ‘swept along by every wind of teaching’….” in Ratzinger’s phrase but is it? I am an atheist who comes by his lack of faith through a solid grounding in the teachings of the Methodist Church and life-long inquiry into religion. I consider myself relativistic but in a different form than that which Joseph Ratzinger seeks to define. As the starkest example of which I can think, let’s consider abortion.

According to the Catholic Church and certainly in the view of Benedict XVI, life begins at the moment of conception. In that moment an act of god has occurred. I think that the Pope and I could agree that in that moment there are the stirrings of the great mystery of life and that something sublime is occurring but we would be talking of very different things. What to the Pope is an act of god is, to me, an act, sweaty, gasping, straining and delightful, of two people carrying out a biological imperative and the entirely random, haphazard serendipity of male and female cells meeting.

So where does relativism enter the picture? In our attitudes to the results of those stirrings of the great mystery of life.

For about three week of initial development the fertilized egg remains a mass of largely undifferentiated cells. Only in the eighth week does that mass of cells begin to resemble anything like a human baby. And even then the organs are undeveloped and there’s no possibility that the fetus could exist outside the mother’s body. Only after about 12 weeks is the fetus sufficiently formed to be viable outside the mother’s body. Therefore, I don’t think that there is anything “relativist” about acknowledging that the fertilized egg up to the 12th week of pregnancy is entirely a function of the mother’s body. Yet Catholic dogma says otherwise. The dogma here relies on blind faith rather than “clear faith”.

Absurdly, the Roman Catholic Church opposes all methods of birth control. Catholic dogma insists that methods of birth control whether physical or chemical interfere with “god’s plan” as if any god had the time to determine a plan for pregnancy in every copulating couple. I personally have some squeamishness about abortion. I think it far better to reduce or eliminate the risk of pregnancy before the fact than after yet the Roman Catholic Church and certainly Pope Benedict XVI will not hear of birth control as a means for reducing the need for abortion.

Similarly the Catholic Church preaches against a “morning after pill”. The fertilized egg hasn’t even attached itself to the uterine wall to begin developing into a fetus but chemically preventing that attachment is anathema to Benedict XVI. Thus Roman Catholicism places itself in an absurd and self-defeating straight-jacket. Preventing pregnancy is a violation of “god’s will” and abortion is too. Again blind faith paints the Catholic Church into a corner into which “clear faith” wouldn’t have allowed it to go.

But the most troubling aspect of this fundamentalist blind faith is the attitude toward the living. Steeped in the dogma of sin abortion is impermissible even if the life or health of the mother hangs in the balance. The reasoning appears to be that the baby is innocent of all but “original sin“ (a pretty dodgy concept in itself) while the mother is ipso facto a sinner. Therefore, preserving the baby’s life is preferable to that of the mother. Is it any wonder that some have seen a gross anti-feminine bias in this dogma?

So it’s “relativism” to see that a woman might have other children if this fetus that threatens her life were aborted and, therefore, save her. It’s relativism to weigh the two lives and find in favor of the woman rather than the baby. If that’s relativism then so be it. I will proudly wear the mantle of relativist.

And, yet again, comes the con that relativism has has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires." Josef Ratzinger did not become a cardinal or pope without setting his own ego and desires ahead of everything else. To fail to see that this pot is calling all the other kettles black is utter absurdity. I’m sure that he would tell you that he was elected by the holy spirit moving amongst his colleagues rather than by careful pruning of the College of Cardinals throughout most of the last 3 papacies, ruthless attacks on all liberal interpretations of Catholicism and incessant politicking with his colleagues. Convenient how the holy spirit is so in tune with Josef Ratzinger’s ambitions, isn’t it? But the biggest con of all is the characterization of relativism as a dictatorship. One has to expect that one’s audience is willing to jettison all rational thought to accept that oxymoron. Relativism, also known as empiricism, by definition, looks at the circumstances of a given situation and tries to find the least hurtful or most accurate resolution to the situation. It is fundamentalism and dogma that impose an immutable will on the world and all circumstances admitting of no other choice but that dictated by its hidebound inflexibility. It’s dogma that insists that the mother must carry to term a child of rape, incest or one whose continued development jeopardizes her own life, not relativism.

Pope Benedict XVI has taken some pains to distance himself from his past as a member of the Hitlerjugend. What he’s not done is reject the inflexibility of his Nazi past. Certainly he may visit a synagogue or confer with some Imams but Benedict XVI, like Cardinal Ratzinger and young Josef Ratzinger before him believes in a totalitarian dictatorship of his version of Catholicism. In that sense he has merely exchanged Hitler for Roman Catholic dogma. That Dubya should give lip service to the Cardinal’s oxymoron is both typical and blatantly dishonest. For Dubya and his mal-administration to condemn “relativism” when they have parsed the meaning of torture in ways that make Bill Clinton’s parsing of “is” look inconsequential. For a man who insists that his government does not torture people to attack relativism while his top advisors manage the very torture he denies is beyond despicable. But then again, Dubya is probably too “incurious” to realize that he’s contradicting himself. I wonder what Pope Benedict’s excuse is?

Monday, April 7, 2008

So?

So?

So!

It’s just too perfect. When asked about polls that show that 80% of Americans don’t support the neo-fascist, colonial war in Iraq Dick Cheney answered “So?” This is the man who was at great pains to con the American people into believing that the will of the majority required an end to the recounting of votes in Florida in 2000, the man who tries to sell the idea that our invasion and occupation of Iraq was justified at every turn, the man who spouts his support of “democracy” everywhere in the world but in America who now, conveniently, thinks that the opinion of his constituents matters not at all.

And when asked about the toll this war is taking on our servicemen and women, Cheney’s similarly unfeeling answer was, “They enlisted.”

When Marie Antoinette asked a courtier why the Parisians were rioting in the streets she was told the people had no bread. Her reply, “Let them eat cake,” has become a proverbial statement of the insensitive stupidity of the ruling class. Yet in Marie Antoinette’s defense we must say that the word traditionally translated as “cake” probably more accurately meant “rolls” and in her removal from the plight of her subjects she was so uninformed that she could not conceive of a world in which rolls or cake could not instantly substitute for a temporary dearth of bread.

Cheney, however, unlike the Queen of France, knows the situation and doesn’t give a damn. He doesn’t care that young Americans are dying daily to increase the value of his holdings in Halliburton. And he certainly hasn’t the least use for democracy except as a convenient cover for the imperialism that he favors.

They enlisted.

That remark is of a piece with Donald Rumsfeld’s rationalization that, “As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time,” to explain why the military in Iraq was inadequately equipped. Like the neo-cons’ contempt for actual democracy even as they bandy the word about at every opportunity, Cheney believes in tossing out the phrase “support our troops” while doing nothing to actually support them.

Cheney’s interview with Martha Raddatz confirms that he is probably the highest ranking sociopath in this Administration if not in any American Administration since Aaron Burr.

Any number of my friends and fellow Democrats insist that both Cheney and Dubya must be impeached. It’s far too late for that now but they and their partners in crimes, Con-yo' Sleeza, Rumsfeld, Gonzales and Wolfowitz, should be remanded to the International Court of Justice in The Hague for their war crimes if only to establish that no American, regardless of how thoroughly convinced of his unassailability, is above the law. Cheney would probably plead that his alleged heart condition precludes his imprisonment, that dragging him off to the cell of Slobodan Milosovic as justice demands, would be tantamount to a death sentence.

So?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

1968 I: The Day Our Conscience Died

(I began writing this entry, after a long absence, on April 2nd. Life often interferes with plans, even well-intentioned ones and so it did here. But also I must admit that returning to 1968 to give context Dr. King’s murder is, in many ways, as difficult as living through it was. It is a time that is vivid in memory as is the worst of nightmares. Looking back into the maw of evil in 1968 has taken longer than I thought.)
Last Friday was April 4, 2008. It is one of the saddest anniversaries in American history, the day that Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The anniversary of the day that the conscience of America, the voice of what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature” was murdered at the hands of the racists and neo-fascists amongst us. Please don’t mistake any part of that statement as hyperbole. Dr. King was our conscience personified. That doesn’t deify Dr. King. A conscience may be imperfect but most certainly Dr. King called America to its best nature, to fulfill its promise and strive toward its dreams something impossible to say of most of our leaders since.
Let me set the scene for myself and for the nation for you in case you do not remember that time.
On April 4, 1968 I was 3 months short of my 19th birthday. I was a freshman at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, a sleepy hamlet whose chief industry was the college about 10 miles from Utica. I was involved in theatre. That evening I had a rehearsal for a production of Georg B├╝chner’s play, Leonce and Lena. Hamilton still is a private college where Ivy League, particularly Princeton, wanna-bes go when they aren’t quite up to snuff for the more prestigious schools. Hamilton at that time was a men’s school only. The majority of my fellows in the student body of less than 900 were sons of wealth or better than comfortable means.
Most upper classmen were members of fraternities. We freshmen, however, all lived in a horrid cinderblock, prison-like dorm, Dunham. The noted architect, Edward Durrell Stone, designed the building at best on the cheap, at worst as revenge for some wrong done him in the past. It was a “U” shaped building opened toward the east. It was one of 3 Stone-designed buildings on campus in all of which I spent considerable time, which is why I have not the slightest grain of respect for him as an architect.
Apart from the blight of the Stone buildings, Hamilton College had a very beautiful campus, especially when it wasn’t buried in snow. Elihu Root, who’d been U. S. Secretary of War and State and was a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, had been born on the campus. His elderly daughter-in-law still lived across the street from the campus in The Glen House. Her home derived its name from the Root Glen, a piece of early 20th Century landscape architecture as sublime as the Stone buildings were appalling. The Glen itself was a carefully planted “natural” space which had one patch of formal garden just behind the Glen House. Though the Glen was a beautiful delight, that small formal garden was a place of order and peace to one side of the studied rankness and riot of the Glen.
From the specifics of where I was, let me explain how it was.
The year 1968 is the pivot point on which turns American history from September, 1945 to the present. It is the most horrible year in my memory. In 1968 American neo-fascism cemented its position with murder and made the world in which we live today nearly inevitable.
Since World War II we’d given in to our fears: real fears of nuclear holocaust, imagined fears of communist subversion and general fears of a world utterly changed by war, economics and nationalism. We call it The McCarthy Era instead of the Eisenhower Administration and ignore that it might as well be called The Martin Dies Era, The Nixon-Hiss Era, The Apotheosis of J. Edgar Hoover or any one of dozens of other more apt names that don’t have the comforting sub-context of an alcoholic conman who was finally exposed, disgraced and dead; nothing more to worry about.
In 1960 enough of the old New Dealers and Left-wing patriots coalesced around John Kennedy to get him elected president and all too briefly turn the nation from its fears to its hopes and aspirations.
I am not going to do more than brush against conspiracy theories here. Suffice it to say that I don’t believe that all of the people responsible for the assassinations of the 1960s were ever caught or named or have ever paid for their crimes. But regardless of whether my belief is foolish or factual, John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Allard K. Lowenstein, Fred Hampton and Robert F. Kennedy sought to turn us from fear toward hope, from resignation to aspiration. When it became clear that they would use power to focus America on its hopes and aspirations, they were murdered and the disciples of fear and resignation profited.
In 1968 if your hair were long enough to cover your ears, you had a beard or a moustache, didn’t wear the "correct" clothes or supported the “wrong” ideas the police could freely stop you without cause. Such detentions were as illegal then as they are today but the society was bent on keeping a lid on any variations from a comfortable norm. Conformity, rigid, debilitating and demeaning conformity, meant security to the many. Those who didn’t fit their rigid norms were treated as Muslims are since September 11, 2001 or Hispanic immigrants are and have been.
The vile Richard Nixon was again running for president spouting specious claptrap about a “secret plan to end the Vietnam War” to pander to the anti-war majority while developing a “Southern Strategy” meant to enfold the racists and other neo-fascists, who’d been allied with the Democrats since the Civil War, in the loving arms of the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan was governor of California, elected on a platform of fear and neo-fascism supported by the likes of Max Rafferty.
The fact was that the nation was in the grip of change, some growing pains if you will. Anyone who was dissatisfied with the status quo was a “commie”, a “subversive” or, regardless of name, someone to be crushed so that nothing might change. Like King Canute, the guardians of the norm were trying to hold back the tide. Unlike Canute, this alliance of wealth, business interests, old pro-fascists, America Firsters and rabid anti-communists had a bloodthirsty eagerness to use force to hold back the tide.
The National Review was the front organ for the more rabid Human Events. The Young Americans for Freedom was the front organization for the John Birch Society. It was a time that grew out of the McCarthy Era and made its progenitor look tame. Still it was not the top-down institutional neo-fascism that’s gripped America since January 20, 2001. In 1968 it was still societal and informal even if in both cases snarling hate for anything that challenged the entrenched norm was the order of the day.
After supper on the night of April 4, 1968, I went back to my depressing dorm room to ready myself for rehearsal. On my way out my suite-mate, Lenny Kornberg, was listening to the radio and told me that Dr. King had been shot. I went to rehearsal not knowing whether he was alive or dead but fearing the worst. By the time rehearsal ended for me some other cast members had brought the news that King was dead.
On returning from rehearsal, I went into my room and shut the door. I sat at my desk numb for I don’t know how long, certainly less than half an hour. I sat there only until the celebration began.
Out my open window I heard voices, then cheers and fireworks. Some of my classmates were having an impromptu celebration of Dr. King’s murder.
I couldn’t take it. I put on my coat, grabbed a flashlight and went out to the quiet and peace of the bench in the formal garden of the Root Glen. By the time I got there I was moving from fury at the scum celebrating in the Dunham courtyard to an overwhelming sadness for my country and my world. I sat on that bench and cried for more than half an hour.
The night had grown misty. I was cold. Eventually I was worn out. I went back to my dorm. The next day I heard and read about the rioting that had erupted. I resolved to place my hope in Eugene McCarthy though I’d be quite happy to have Bobby Kennedy as president too. I crawled into bed believing that there might still be hope that we could salvage America from the fear merchants.
I was wrong.

[P. S. (November 8, 2011)  Not long ago a friend of mine mentioned that he'd read this entry. He asked me how many of my classmates were out celebrating Dr. King's murder that night. I told him that I did not know. It certainly was at least two and, from the cheering I heard rather more than three. Richard then made the point that a group of two or three or four racists was different from having a majority of my fellow students celebrating. On the surface he's correct but that is, I'm afraid, a parsing of the situation that is inaccurate as it is comforting. That anyone was out cheering a murder is pretty appalling. It's the same repulsion I felt at the dancing in the streets the night Osama bin Laden was killed. I'm not sorry that bin Laden is gone. He was a man of disgusting evil made worse by it's veneer of religiosity, much like Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps or Terry Jones. Personally, I'd be privately pleased if any of them were shot through the eye; however, I'm not about to dance in the streets should they be. What is worthy of note is that the college took no action against the celebrants. The incident didn't raise as much concern as fraternity vandalism.

What I would point out an illustrative incident that took place almost exactly two years later. By 1970 Hamilton College had undergone some changes. The coordinate women's college, Kirkland (since absorbed into Hamilton) opened in the autumn of 1968 bringing some civilization to the campus. The times and attitudes were slowly changing toward a consensus for personal liberty though the national slide into fascism was accelerating. We actually had significant numbers of students participating in efforts to keep military recruiters off the campus. On Thursday, April 30, 1970, Richard Nixon went on television to announce that his "secret plan to end the war in Vietnam" included, as all neo-fascist "peace plans" always do, expanding the war into Cambodia. The response from America's campuses was predictable and angry but largely non-violent. That opposition was most definitely growing. Over the weekend Republican President Nixon referred to the protesters as "thugs". On Monday, May 4, 1970, as the school year was winding toward its conclusion, the Ohio National guard under the direction of Republican Governor James Rhodes, murdered four students and wounded sixteen others. Ten days later the Mississippi State Police murdered two black students at Jackson State. Largely in response to the Kent State murders a national student strike gained momentum and reached the Hamilton Campus. A group of my fellow students, motivated by worries that the police and military were now shooting white students like themselves and seeing more of an opportunity for advancement than a way to express a real conviction, convened a meeting in the college chapel.

The student strike committee had commitments of cash for supporting strike activities and there were various resolutions on how to apply that cash to express the opposition of Hamilton and Kirkland students to Nixon's expansion of the war. Among the requests for money was one from the Black Student Union for a modest amount. I don't recall the amount exactly but don't think it was more than $250. The debate went on longer than for many more dubious requests we'd already approved. I rose to advocate for the allotment to the black student group. Another man rose to oppose it and said the we had no idea how "those people" would spend the money. I replied that his statement was the most racist comment of the many I'd heard during that debate. I was generally and loudly booed by hundreds of students for pointing out that they were actually racist and ended up shouting down the entire assembly. The black students did not get any money from the strike committee and no one ever got an accounting of how the white students spent what they'd reserved to themselves. The point is that Hamilton College's administration and its student body in the years from 1967 through 1971 tended toward an easy, passive racism of which the celebration of Dr. King's murder was a stand out example regardless of whether two or two hundred students were out that night setting off fireworks. Not everyone was racist. I knew many who were not. I also know that we were a distinct minority of the student body.]