Monday, December 21, 2009

An Inconvenient Religiosity

I just recently spent a week with my oldest daughter, my son-in-law and my four grandsons. It was wonderful to see the boys who are far too far away. While I was there my daughter related an incident from one of her recent speaking engagements that is my current subject.

The daughter in question is a notable in the movement toward sustainable uses of the environment, particularly in agriculture. She spoke at a conference in Georgia organized to bring evangelical Christians together with environmentalists over global climate change. From the environmentalist point of view it seemed as if an immanent threat to the creation of the evangelicals' big imaginary friend in the sky should create a natural alliance. After all, if you want to save the world it doesn't much matter whether you're saving it because you don't want to die or because it violates something you misinterpret from a work of poetry and historical fiction you call "The Bible".

Unfortunately, the fundamentalists who make up the bulk of evangelical Christians, as I have noted before have answers and need not ask questions. With the discussion turning to rising sea levels that could drown a number of populated islands and coasts one fundamentalist offered that there was nothing to worry about because his god had promised Noah that he would not again destroy the world with a flood.

Say what?

Well, it's right there in the King James Version, isn't it? God, speaking in his native Jacobean English, promises Noah that he will send no more floods to cover the earth. Ergo and ipso facto all this melting of ice caps is simply irrelevant. God said no more floods.

My daughter couldn't learn tact from me because I don't have any, but she did learn to think on her feet and answered this poor fool that god may have promised that he wouldn't flood the world again but he didn't say he would stop humanity from destroying the earth with a flood. This, she said, seemed to give this person pause. Whether it will penetrate the armor of ignorance this person has eagerly donned we shall see and can only hope. Personally, I don't think it will. Such a distinction requires too much of the thought from which fundamentalists flee headlong.

Thought and questioning are anathema to fundamentalism but what is absolutely essential to the fundamentalist mindset is victimhood. These folks absolutely must see themselves as a tiny, persecuted minority in a vast sea of humanity fully prepared to attack them at the slightest provocation. They are never the oppressors. In the evangelicals' delusion they hang the witch, assassinate the apostate, burn the book and hold themselves apart in a closed and closed minded circle of their congregations as a desperate defense against the attacks of others whom, in their clouded minds, they would never think of attacking.

Take the farrago of "the homosexual agenda" for example. For the evangelical fundamentalists they are a tiny island of true Christians amongst a vast sea of corrupt mainstream sects and homosexuals salivating over their children. The mainstream sects, in their view, have capitulated to the gays, lesbians and transgendered but weren't "true" Christians to begin with since only the fundamentalists descended, uncorrupted from the original Christian apostles. The homosexuals are out to victimize this tiny, beset minority. The gays are the lions to whom the mainstream religions, in the role of Nero's Roman legions, would feed the poor defenseless evangelicals. A simple demand for equal rights under law like the right to visit a sick partner, inherit the share of what had been joint property for many years and, of course, the right to marry are not cries for justice, they are subtle attacks on these "true" Christians.

The fact is that these evangelical fundamentalists, the Bob Jones, Oral Roberts, Fred Phelps, Pat Robertson followers are not Christians at all. Their crabbed, selfish and blinkered religiosity is simply a fun house mirror version of Christianity, distorted beyond recognition and with barely a millimeter or two of depth. They know what their god said to the fictional Noah but not what is actually happening to their own world. Worse yet, their willful ignorance speeds the destruction of what they claim is their god's creation. Further, and worst of all, when they do acknowledge that destruction they find some excuse that fits with their willful ignorance much as those twin banes of genuine religion Falwell and Robertson did when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. And, of course, when tornadoes destroy churches in Kansas or Oklahoma their god had taken a lunch break or perhaps was away in the bathroom and just didn't notice. Those devastations are accidents, not visitations of their god's wrath. Perhaps they should be wary of the fact that no voice from the skies has instructed any of them to build an ark. Perhaps their god has simply decided that they are so blockheaded and stupid that explaining the measure of a cubit wouldn't be worth his while. Perhaps their yearning for victimhood will get it's final expression when their big, imaginary friend in the sky makes them the victims of climate change.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How Quickly We Forget or We're Forever Blowing Bubbles

Someone, Napoleon, George Santayana, who really said it doesn't matter, observed that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Of course, the originator of that quote was himself speaking in an age before mass electronic media and definitiely before those mass electronic media were completely made subservient to corporate con men and pirates.

Just over one year ago the worldwide economy collapsed because a bunch of con men and pirates convinced people who were supposed to know better that securities based on dodgy mortgages were a good thing because everyone, just everyone knew for an absolute fact that home prices would never ever fall and that every person conned into signing a mortgage contract built on incomes just as falsified and inflated as those home prices would make every single payment. Mortgage backed derivitives were a scam just as surely as Bernard Madoff's investment firm was a scam.

As I write this the spot price of gold has reached $1,145.90 and has risen as high as $1,500.00 per ounce of 24kt gold bullion. Just a decade ago the price of gold was at $284.00 per ounce.

Ask yourself a few questions, please.

In the last decade have we stopped mining gold?

In the last decade has three-quarters of  the world's gold supply disappeared?

Is there anything to indicate that there is less gold today than there was a decade ago?

The answer to all these questions is a definitive and resounding, NO!

So why is gold over 400% more valuable in late November, 2009 than it was in late November, 1999?

The answer to that question is, gold is not more valuable now than a decade ago. But what it does signial is that the con is on again. Or as the late Fred Rogers would have said, "That's a big word but can you say it with me? Bubble."

I know that this will be painful for those who have trouble remembering that they were conned just a year ago or those who see the world through the not so Funhouse mirrors of Fox News but we have actually been here before. Let me whisk you back some thirty years and more to the last gold bubble. It was a bubble blown by a silver pipe.

Back in the early 1970s as our fourth truly criminal president*, Richard Nixon, was finally being driven from the office he never deserved to hold in the first place, the Hunt Brothers of Texas, Nelson Bunker and William Herbert, commenced a scheme to corner the world silver market. With the support of some similarly criminal Arab plutocrats, the Hunts drove the price of silver from $1.95 per ounce up to a high of $54.00. Their scheme was virtually identical to that carried out by Jay Gould and Jim Fiske in cornering the gold market a little more than century before. The Nixon Administration's removal of the cap on the price of gold was the immediate spur for the Hunt's actions.

The scheme foundered in March, 1980 when the price of silver dropped by more than 50% in one day and caused a 16% drop in the Dow Jones Stock Market average. The Hunts and their Middle Eastern cronies made a pile of money to add to the piles they already had and, in the meantime, lengthened the economic recession that began under Nixon.

As a corollary to the silver fever that developed and even persisted after the collapse of the Hunts' silver bubble, gold skyrocketed. In mid 1980 it hit about $600.00 per ounce before falling back to less than a third of that high. A lot of con men and pirates profited while a lot of other folks were left hiding $600.00 Krugerrands that were subsequently worth only about $200.00 in safe deposit boxes. The economy continued in the doldrums through 1983.

We hear the same drumbeat today that we heard back in 1980. The world economy is in the crapper. The only safe hedge against inflation is something of intrinsic value like gold. Gold can only go higher. Fear spread by the con men and pirates pulls money out of the economy and into the pockets of the same con men and pirates who were selling you mortgage backed derivitives just over a year ago. The con men and pirates profit from the fear they spread and in a few months someone holding a fist full of $1,200.00 American Gold Eagles, Canadian Maple Leafs or Krugerrands will be out between $600 to $800.00 per coin and the con men will be that much richer.

Can you say, "Bubble?"

We are not simply condemned to repeat the history from which we don't learn. Rather we are condemned to repeat the history that the con men and pirates convince us to unlearn. They appeal to our fear, our greed, our ignorance and our bigotry for their own profit then distract us with tabloid crap until they can run the next scam. Caveat emptor is their battle cry and excuse. Those stupid people whose incomes mortgage brokers inflated outrageously should have known better. Blame the victim of the scam, not the criminal who perpetrated it.

Just remember to sell those Krugerrands bought in 1980 now and stay away from the gold scammers of 2009.

*(Note: I count Rutherford B. Hayes, Warren G. Harding and Calvin Cooledge as first through 3rd of our 7 truly criminal presidents. Herbert Hoover was an ideologue who founded an institution that has become a criminal enterprise. Ronald Reagan and the Bushes, Poppy and Dubya round out the 7.)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Speaking Volumes

During the summer of 2009 we were beset by a collection of charlatans, dupes and dunces shouting, "Read the bill," at town hall meetings held to discuss health care reform. The charlatans knew, the dupes didn't know and the dunces were to stupid to care that there was no one bill to read.

Now we have the Congressional Republicans introducing a 200 page health care reform bill and touting it as a work of exceptional brilliance when contrasted with the majority Democrats' bill that is some 1900 and more pages long. This is the same mentality that equates reading the Cliff's Notes of War and Peace with reading the entire novel. It is great for the dunces whose attention spans are shorter than the life of most subatomic particles. But there's an adage that, I think, applies here: you get what you pay for.

So why would a bill hovering in the range of 2000 pages be so large and another bill purporting to do the same thing be one-tenth that size?

First, let's consider that health care and related industries represents somewhere between 30 and 35 per cent of the American economy. The Republicans will tell you that in ominous tones as if that much of the nation's economy were about to be murdered. So, let me ask you, would you like about a third of the nation's economy considered carefully and in detail or would something that is, by contrast, scribbled on the back of an envelope be equally good?

Second, there is the long, arduous effort that Democrats have made to consider and include Republican ideas where they have been offered in a cooperative spirit. Not just this year but over the last thirty years Democrats have made sincere efforts to overcome objections by Republicans even when, as now, the objections are simply hysterical and obstructionist. Currying favor with senators like Olympia Snow of Maine has added bulk to a health care overhaul.

Third, the stated goals of health care reform are to extend coverage to all Americans, improve health in the population as a whole and control the run-away inflation of health care costs while not reducing the coverage enjoyed by anyone who currently has health insurance. Achieving those goals requires some careful consideration of the effects of reform on private insurance plans, on Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans and Indian Health Services, military medical care, private for profit and non-profit medical facilities, health care cooperatives, HMOs, the Federal prison system and 50 states and additional territories and their state and state licensed health care systems and providers. The dunces, dupes and charlatans may clamour for something that their tiny minds and blinkered visions can encompass, but I for one think it's a very good idea that there be a great volume of paper in a bill that has attempted to consider all the implications of reform on these systems.

The point is that a 200 page bill is not a serious consideration of health care reform. It cannot possibly be such. Yet to the dunces, that segment of the population that the great H. L. Mencken aptly called the "booboisie", are ready to surrender themselves to something that is a sham simple version of health care reform in the same way that they surrendered themselves to a sham common man and genuine simpleton in George W. Bush. They take the absurd position that something one-tenth the size must be better than the larger version.

Even these booboisie could figure out that a box containing 20 ounces of corn flakes is a better deal than one containing 2 ounces if both are priced the same but when it comes to a bill in Congress they clamour for the short weight that short changes them.

But that's not the only issue with volumes currently in the news.

Sarah Palin has uh...written Her biography is a hot item on Amazon despite its being weeks from actual release. There may actually be some fun in reading whatever the ghostwriter recruited by Palin's handlers has put together but for it to be a best seller even before publication raises my eyebrows and probably ought to raise yours.

Let me pull out an incident from my long memory to contrast a little here.

Back in 1988 and 1989 there was a scandal involving House Speaker Jim Wright of Texas. It seems that Speaker Wright had actually written a slim book. Not many people were clamouring for copies for some friends of Wright's bought some copies in bulk. Those friends freely admitted that they were attempting to help Wright finance his campaigns for his seat in the House of Representatives. They were using the book purchases as a subterfuge meant to evade campaign finance limits. This scandal caused Wright to resign his seat in May, 1989.

Given the paucity of ideas rattling around in the space between Sarah Palin's ears, perhaps someone ought to look into the sales of her book. Perhaps some of the neo-fascist plutocrats that regularly hire amiable dunces as political fronts for their rapacity are buying cases of the Palin book for kindling in their ski lodges or hunting camps. Their bulk purchases could be seen as political contributions except for one thing. Governor Palin isn't governor any longer, is she?

Everyone was puzzled by the dramatic resignation of Palin as Alaska governor last summer. Puzzled, that is, unless they were just a little bit cynical and were thinking like trailer trash. You see, Sarah Palin is not now running for anything. She can rake in all the cash she wants without violating anything but reason and decency before she declares herself a candidate for something like president of these here United States of America. Had she remained governor of Alaska to the end of her term she would have been that much poorer and have had about a year and a half less to suck at the teat of embarassingly large private neo-fascist fortunes.

In the one case we have the dumbing down of complex issues seen as a positive thing by the boboisie that the forms the Republicans base and in the other we have the very personification of that dumbed down booboisie pretending to be a bestselling author...with a little help from her neo-fascist friends. It's an apotheosis of ignorance that speaks volumes about the Republicans and their base, you betcha.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Defining Terms - Religion vs. Religiosity

I have been wont to contrast the terms "religion" and "religiosity" in these entries. It's more than time that I define their meaning.

A number of factors make this a timely discussion but the most immediate causes are the attempt by Pope Hitler Jugend the First to poach Anglican bigots and the decision by a French Court to cut through the religiosity, the veneer of religion, and define the Church of Scientology for what it is, the cult of a bunch of con artists purveying a lot of idiotic nonsense for personal profit.

Despite the appearance that I deride all religion, I have a certain respect for actual religion sincerely held. True, I do not believe in any god of the sort that George Carlin called "a big, imaginary friend in the sky." However, I do believe that religion - and here I specifically mean "religion" - can be a good thing. There is clear evidence for that positive benefit. The current Dalai Lama is unquestionably a person of deep religion and a force for good in our world. Dorothy Day and her Catholic Workers' Movement have been a force for good. The great Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated by the neo-fascists of El Salvador for his religion. I have known a number of people of deeply held religious belief from nuns and ministers to captains in the Salvation Army to decent lay people who manifest their religion in positive ways. I have also known good people who find comfort in their religion during trials physical, moral and circumstantial as they progress toward that universal vanishing point of death. What is common to all of those people is a depth of knowledge and understanding that comes from examination of their faiths. They have posed questions and found an answer in something far larger and more mysterious than themselves. They have decided that the grand mystery is god while I have decided that it is chance. Their decisions and mine come from confronting our questions and finding our own satisfactory answers.

Religiosity is the opposite. Religiosity derides understanding, thought, questioning and genuine confrontation with problems. Religiosity can be very comforting but at a cost. It matters not at all whether we are discussing Christian, Jewish, Mormon, Islamic, Hindu or any other form of fundamentalist religiosity, the basic message to adherents can be summed up as, "Don't think. Don't question. The answers are already laid out for you." Religiosity is religion for dummies, real dummies. Those dummies may be relatively smart people in other areas but they have such a need for certainty in something that they are willing and even eager to put aside rational thought to achieve that certainty.

Why that eagerness? I cannot look into the minds of those eager to empty those same minds and know for certain the motives - reasons would be granting them far too much - of those who surrender to the ignorance of religiosity. Clearly those motives are closely related if not identical to those of cultists. Essentially those motives seem to stem from blind egotism, selfishness and an utter lack of empathy. Yet also included seems to be a species of infantilism, a yearning for an authority figure who will tell the follower what to do and think and feel in all aspects of his or her life. The religiose seem to find comfort in a top-down structure in which a guru, Duce, Fuhrer, Pope or preacher pander to their weaknesses and bigotries.

While religion - many of whose sects started out in bursts of religiosity's fervor - tends to say that there are many things which we do not understand raising many questions. Religion suggests that in considering those questions and attempting to reach understanding it has concluded that the resolution to their uncertainty a god of some name or other.

Religiosity, on the other hand suggests that there are no questions and that a lack of understanding is simply a species of "over-thinking" the problem. All answers have been laid out in the past. All answers are in some book. Any confusion results from an imperfect understanding of that book, an understanding which the local imam, guru, rabbi or pastor is more than willing to supply for you from his special, revelatory insight. You need only surrender to the book, the leader, the cult. And, by the way, how do you take your coffee and would you like a piece of the cake that Mildred made?

Yes, the cultists are nothing if not welcoming and homey. It's only when you find that you like these people and you get some clues that they share your biases, fears and anger that the dogma of religiosity comes out. It may sound a bit odd at first but how can it be bad if it comes from the nice grandmother handing you a brownie and how can it be wrong if these people fear what you fear and hate what you hate?

A few years ago a person whom I'd met over the Internet through a common hobby interest insisted to me that her Baptist sect was not Protestant. She was a committed follower of Bob Jones, Sr. It seems that Bob Jones, Jr. had strayed into error in her view when he allowed some room for some contact amongst the races. She insisted that her faith had been transmitted directly from the original disciples of Jesus through the Cathars and Albigensians and that her faith as preached by Bob Jones, Sr. survived uncorrupted and undiluted until 1927. Apart from the fact that even a rudimentary knowledge of the beliefs of the Cathars and Albigensians quickly turns that claim into utter nonsense, the very premise that one set of ideas could be passed down for over 1900 years without the least divergence creeping in is simply insane. Yet what she claimed had its own logic. Like all cults, in order to isolate its adherents from all others there must be an ideology that the cultists are different from everyone else. They must be an elect with entitlement to special knowledge and privileges not available to those without excluded from or not yet privy to special grace conferred on the cultists. She had "drunk the Kool-Aid" in a way that is the metaphorical equivalent of the Jonestown horror from which we get the phrase.

This woman did not need to think. She was part of the Bob Jones-town Cult and enfolded in the unadulterated teachings of the Jesus who said, as Scripture tells us, "Suffer the little children to come unto me...but not the niggers." Her Jesus says, "For as much as you have done it unto these, my brethren, - only the white ones who are of the Bob Jones approved faith - you have done it unto me. And the rest can go suck wind." She holds these beliefs because they are part of her own visceral bigotry into which no thought, no question can penetrate and of which no deeper understanding is necessary or even allowed.

When former Arkansas governor, hale fellow well met and thoroughly frightening presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, insists that he opposes the idea of evolution, he is placing himself in this camp of the religiose and mindless. Despite all attempts to manufacture phony evidence to the contrary, there is an overwhelming body of empirical evidence that life on this planet evolved by random, natural selection over millions of years. There is no valid evidence to the contrary. Yet Christian fundamentalist dogma insists that every word of the Bible is true, accurate and the word of their "big, imaginary friend in the sky." The answer "for dummies" is that the Biblical account, quick, easy and confined to a couple of chapters is the only answer. The Biblical account must necessarily be the only permissible answer largely because if it is not literally true then other Biblical stories might not be literally true either. If one thread in the fabric unravels the whole system of belief comes into question and questions are exactly that from which the religiose flee.

Religiosity would simply be the stuff of satire - not that it isn't already - were it not deadly dangerous. The Hasidic gangs in some New York City neighborhoods that beat up Jews moving their cars to the opposite side of the street on a Saturday are different only in specifics from the Hindu fundamentalists who destroyed a mosque in Amritsar or the suicide bombers who flew planes into the World Trade Centre eight years ago. The details of the acts are different, not the fanatical motivation.

Another aspect of religiosity, peculiar to American Christianity but with analogs in other religions, manifests itself in a perverse dogma of wealth and material success. One would think that the religion whose founder insisted that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into heaven might not be a congenial home for a doctrine that Jesus wants his followers to be rich yet from the late Rev. Ike to the salesmen preaching in contemporary mega-churches the doctrine of Jesus the bringer of wealth finds voice in sermon after sermon. Like the hot coffee and pastries after church, this is part and parcel of the con. Not only is the mega-church welcoming and friendly but it promises its adherents prosperity and wealth through it many personal networking opportunities. After all, the wealth and success of the parishioner means a heaping offering plate and hefty income for the pastor.

It is actually nothing new. One of the great examples of architecture in the city of Boston is Henry Hobson Richardson's Trinity Church in Copley Square. Trinity is the church built for the great 19th Century preacher Phillips Brooks. If we posit a pantheon of gods the great god of Old Boston Brahmin wealth and Robber Baron lucre resides within Trinity's Roman arches there in Copley Square. Yet Brooks preached to his well-off congregation of responsibility and the obligations which their wealth imposed. Today's gospel of wealth is blissfully devoid of guilt. Any number of preachers will tell you that you deserve every penny you can squeeze out of anyone in your path. There is always an appeal for the odd addition to the church, personal jet for the minister, etc. Still, as I've pointed out before what's good for the parishoners' wallets is equally good for the preachers' wallets as well. It is a very ancient problem which, in early Christianity, was known as Simony, a term too little used and far less understood today.

The wonderful Sarah Vowell published an insightful and quirky study of my ancestors entitled The Wordy Shipmates. She concludes that both the best and worst of America originate with the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Plimouth Plantations. Though their self-righteousness is the bedrock of the worst bigotry, xenophobia and jingoism in the American character, their rejection of self-satisfaction and insistence that greater knowledge of their world led to greater knowledge of their god forms the bedrock of what is great and good in the American character too. Ms. Vowell's coming to that conclusion takes questioning and thought. It's why she is a writer and performer worthy of attention and on many levels. It is also why she and her book are anathema to religiosity.

Religiosity is, no offense to Soren Kierkergaard, always deals in eithers and ors. Everything must be true or false, black or white, in or out, right or wrong. There can be nothing between. Complexity leads to questions, uncertainty and confusion. Religiosity avoids complexity just as it does thought and questioning.

The great Rev. William Sloane Coffin said that we cannot blame god for the people who believe in him. I think he was correct though I think we can properly separate those who espouse religion from those infected with the disease of mere religiosity.

So when I use the term religion properly I am speaking of something of substance. Religion has depth, intelligence and complexity. One arrives at religion through understanding and questioning. Religion is open, permissive and alive. It can grow and change as ones understanding develops and evolves.

When defining religiosity the facile phrase "a mile wide and an inch deep" springs to mind but that phrase is far too generous. Religiosity is narrow, crabbed and without perceptible depth. It is an excuse for bigotry, hatred and exclusion. Religiosity is, quite literally, the apotheosis of ignorance.

So that is the distinction I regularly draw between religion and religiosity. It is what I mean by the terms. I will apologize for the times when I rage at fundamentalists and their claptrap and lump the religious with the religiose. What I will never apologize for is insulting religiosity because it is impossible to insult such crap too much. Religiosity is, at ground, the worst insult to religion there is.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Taking The Prize

In Richard Rhodes magisterial work The Making of the Atomic Bomb he recounts how the Nobel Prize committee was concerned for the safety of Italian physicist Enrico Fermi. Fermi’s wife, Laura, was Jewish and Fermi himself was no friend to Mussolini’s Fascist Regime. Members of the selection committee for the 1938 Physics prize made overtures in advance of the award to see if Fermi would be ready to leave Italy if the Nobel could get him and his family out to Stockholm and safety while providing them a financial buffer. Thanks to the award of that Nobel Prize in Physics the first controlled nuclear fission reaction happened in a squash court at the University of Chicago and not within the confines of Mussolini’s Italy or Hitler’s Germany.

That story came to my mind when I heard the announcement that President Barak Obama was the selected recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

Since the award we have been subjected to cogitations by an array of fools, scum and thinkers opining on whether President Obama deserved the prize. Some have objected that there are groups working, often with little recognition, to promote peace in The Congo, Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Horn of Africa generally and promoting democracy in China, Burma, Iran, Saudi Arabia and a raft of countries that once were part of the Soviet Union who might lay more claim to this prize. Others, mostly lurking in the neo-fascist shadows of Fox News, the Heritage Foundation and the Weekly Double Standard, have attempted to argue that Obama does not deserve the prize at all based on a thinly disguised version of the racist “it’s just affirmative action” farrago.

I am about as far from knowledge of what goes through the minds of the people who select the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize as one can get. Still that story about Fermi came to mind.

To those who consider themselves members of the political Left who object that President Obama has not yet closed the Concentration Camp at Guantanamo Bay, repudiated all of the odious acts of the previous Administration or withdrawn troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, let me point out that in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt was awarded the Peace Prize for organizing and hosting the Portsmouth Conference that ended the Russo-Japanese War. At that same time Roosevelt was pursuing a genocidal war in the Philippines and bullying much of Central and South America.

America’s next Peace Prize winner, Elihu Root, was a staunch Republican from Clinton, New York who won the prize for his work in that bugaboo of the xenophobes and jingoists in his own party then as now, international law. Root won despite his record of support for Theodore Roosevelt’s worst imperialist tendencies and service to William McKinley in promoting the overtly imperialist Spanish-American War. In short both TR and Root won their prizes more in spite of their records promoting strife rather than their records of promoting peace.

But let’s go back to the story of Enrico Fermi’s prize in Physics. The Nobel Committee chose Fermi as much because of his future potential as for his past accomplishments and, most significantly, to demonstrate its opposition to Mussolini’s fascism and Hitler’s Nazism. Those wise men, whose formative experience had been the senseless and vicious World War I, now saw their world descending rapidly toward the horrors of World War II. Their practical motive was depriving the forces of fear and violence of a great mind whose genius might be forced to feed the fascist monsters’ military bloodlust. Their ideological motive was to demonstrate their opposition to fascism.

The faces of the committee members have changed many times in the last 71 years but the motive to oppose fascism has, I think, remained constant. I would suggest that the Nobel Peace Prize winners, particularly since 2001, have demonstrated the committee’s increasing fear of America’s descent into fascism.

In 2001, the prize went to Kofi Annan who had capped his service as Secretary General of the United Nations by opposing the Bush Administration’s imperialist militarism. In 2002, as the Bush Administration gear up for an unjustified, ill-planned and ill-executed war against Iraq, the prize went to former President Jimmy Carter for his 21 years of work toward world-wide democracy and peace. Carter, we should note, has been the neo-fascist’s whipping boy since the day of his inauguration and at no time more than during the Bush Administration. In 2005, as the Bush Administration ginned up nuclear fears for a third war against Iran, the prize committee chose Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in good part for his refutations of Bush propaganda. Then in 2007 the Peace prize went to Al Gore for his work in raising awareness of global climate change though no one could miss the rebuke in honoring the man from whom Bush and Cheney stole the 2000 presidential election.

And now we have the selection of President Obama. The president has accepted the prize with characteristic modesty and decency while the neo-fascists scream that he’s done nothing to deserve the prize. That, however, is only in their blinkered and clouded eyes.

Throughout most of the rest of the world Barak Obama has done many things from addressing the Arab-Israeli conflict in real terms to trying to mitigate the world-wide economic collapse created by American financial pirates. But his greatest achievement is neither his personal history, his understanding of Islam nor his skin color. President Obama has done enormous service to world peace simply by not being George W. Bush or, in fact, any other Republican. Just not being a representative of American fascism is to be worthy of the prize in the eyes of those beyond our borders.

And, I believe, the committee that chose him as the 2009 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize also had in mind another factor that may have moved them to significant haste. You see the Nobel Committee awards the prizes to living persons. I suspect that committee members may have worried that their time might be short. America’s reputation for violence and insanity, its racism, its senseless fetishizing of guns and its history of turning character assassination into actual assassination may have influenced the award while the committee had the chance.

The Nobel Committee, I’m sure, wishes President Obama well and long life just as I do. Yet I cannot but think that some members saw the news footage of neo-fascist lunatics bringing pistols and assault rifles to presidential appearances and thought those pictures a prelude to their worst fears for the President.

So I have to conclude that the award of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama was both earned and timely. Earned by the simple fact of his presidency making the world a less dangerous place and timely because we do not know when the next Timothy McVeigh, Byron de la Beckwith or Eric Robert Rudolph incited by a Rush Limbaugh, James Dobson, Fred Phelps or Glenn Beck will target this good man.

If those considerations entered into the prize committee’s deliberations I am as ashamed for my country as I am proud for President Obama. I am glad he’s been awarded this honor. After eight years of wishing that my president could live up to even the lowest aspirations of my country I find myself in the position of hoping that my country will rise to the least of President Obama’s expectations for it. However, since this award, we seem to have been bent on demonstrating that Americans generally stand shoulder to shoelace with the president.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Oiling The Cogs of Cognitive Dissonance I

When General Motors and Chrysler were in financial trouble in the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009 we heard very little about the ways in which management had screwed up those companies. What we heard was a deafening chorus primarily from those in the pocket of the Chamber of Commerce and similar neo-fascist organizations of blame heaped on the unions. A great, Visgothic Horde of pillaging unionists were sucking the lifeblood out of the American auto industry having steamrollered a valiant phalanx of noble executives and directors in a 20th Century Thermopylae. There were no incompetent, greedy members of management. The Unions alone were the ravening wolves dragging down American industry. In fact, this is a chant we've heard for decades. Noble corporate executives aided by white knights like Lee Iacocca, Carl Icahn, Kenny-Boy Lay and Jeffrey Skilling and more faceless others are simply overwhelmed by the selfish, vile trade unionists who make unreasonable demands like living wages and decent medical care for their workers or comfortable pensions for those who've given their productive lives in service to the company. The critiques were all but silent on the multi-million dollar salaries and bonuses paid to executives and directors regardless of the health of the companies. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, Fox News, The American Enterprise Institute, Hoover Institution and economists well aware of the side on which their bread is buttered from The Wharton and Harvard Business Schools or that nexus of neo-fascist thought, the University of Chicago demanded the gutting of union contracts as the sole prescription for saving these corporations.

Yet when it came to bonuses in the millions and billions of dollars for the people at banks who had bankrupted their own institutions, their investors and the nation as a whole, with barely a pause for breath, we were told by the same propagandists for neo-fascism that the contracts with these pirates must be honored, the exorbitant bonuses paid. While perpetuating this con they mount a vociferous defense of the necessity of paying these traders and executives to blare from their propaganda machines.

This is only one of the more subtle -yes, subtle - examples of how the Republican Party, fundamentalist religion and the right wing generally actually are a corporate sponsored criminal conspiracy got up in ill-fitting but no less ugly Halloween disguises.

Another example?

How about Jamie Leigh Jones?

Ms. Jones is a very pretty young woman. Let me note at this point that those are three attributes over which she has little or no control: pretty, young and female. They are an accident of birth. Her husband was in the military and at age 20, she decided to do her part by taking a job with Halliburton's subsidiary, Kellog, Brown and Root (KBR), Inc. Subjected to the unwanted advances of a KBR supervisor at its Houston headquarters, Ms. Jones requested a transfer. We don't know whether Ms. Jones refusal to put out for her supervisor influenced the choice of tranfers offered to her but she was sent to work for KBR in Iraq. KBR placed Ms. Jones in a dorm with no separate facilities for women. The bathroom was one floor below her bunkspace accessed through a men's dormitory.

Ms. Jones was subjected to continual harassment whenever she had to pass through that dorm. At this juncture it seems only fair to note that the sexual harassment of Ms. Jones has nothing to do with accidents of birth other than the lack of intelligence in those who carried it out. The harassment is behavior over which the rapists engaged in it and their employer had complete and absolute control. Had KBR personnel docked the pay of or fired any of the harassers they would have sent a powerful message that such behavior had to stop.

Ms. Jones complained about the harassment to her supervisors exactly as she was supposed to do. The next day following her complaint she was cornered, drugged with a date-rape drug and repeatedly gang raped. As the drug began to wear off she made her way back to her bunk only to find another rapist lying there. The next day she reported the rape to a supervisor. She was sent to an Army hospital where they took a rape kit and photographs. The medical staff also completed reports all of which were supposed to be confidential. Yet the next day her rapists threw her into a shipping container where she was imprisoned without food or water by the rapists under armed guard for more than 24 hours.

After she'd been out of contact for a couple of days, her father back in Houston contacted KBR for news of his daughter. He got no help from KBR and so contacted his Congressman. The Congressman contacted the State Department which eventually sent a delegation that freed Ms. Jones from her imprisonment and got her out of Iraq.

What is eminently clear so far is that the KBR supervisors colluded if not participated in Ms. Jones' drugging, rape and imprisonment. Moreover, the Army may have colluded with KBR because reports and photos of Ms. Jones taken at the Army hospital in Iraq remain missing. In fact, the damage even now continues. You see, Ms. Jones found that she had signed away her right to sue KBR over its, at minimum, negligence as a condition of her employment under a policy implement under the leadership of - I'm sure you're way ahead of me here - Dick Cheney. In short and in fairly typical right wing cognitive dissonance Ms. Jones was not even entitled to the apology that Cheney undeservedly got from a friend whom he'd shot in the face during a drunken quail hunt.

Ms. Jones was more than a little upset by her treatment by co-workers and KBR. When she found that she could not hold her rapists or KBR accountable she went public and testified before Congress. This, of course, set off the whores paid by Halliburton in the neo-fascist blogosphere. Predictably they have projected their own trade on Ms. Jones. After all, those neo-fascist bloggers voluntarily line up to accept money for what they do. But there is more which is how we now come to the most interesting development in this case.

One would think that gang rape would be unable to gather much public support. You would think. Yet this is not just a matter of gang rape. It involves Halliburton and KBR. If you are a Republican Senator and very well paid to lie back and make noises like you enjoy whatever Halliburton chooses to do to you, you do as you are told.

Senator Al Franken of Minnesota proposed an amendment inspired by this case to a military funding bill. Franken's bill would withhold Federal funds from corporations that attempt to shield themselves from liability when their employees rape a co-worker. Not a tough call one would think. Yet 30 of the Senate's Republicans bent over for Halliburton, just as they have been well paid to do, and sang, "Do It To Me One More Time."

Amazing? Who would go on record siding with rapists rather than their victims? I am so glad that you asked.

From Alabama - Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby
From Arizona - Sens. John McCain and John Kyl
From Georgia - Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson
From Idaho - Sens. Mike Crapo and James Risch
From Kansas - Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts
From Kentucky - Sens. Jim Bunning and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
From Louisiana - Sen. Mike Vitter
From Mississippi - Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker
From Missouri - Sen. Kit Bond
From Nebraska - Sen. Mike Johanns
From Nevada - Sen. John Ensign
From New Hampshire - Sen. Judd Gregg
From North Carolina - Sen. Richard Burr
From Oklahoma - Sens. James Inhofe and Tom Coburn
From South Carolina - Sens. Lindsay Graham and Jim DeMint
From South Dakota - Sen. John Thune
From Tennessee - Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker
From Texas - Sen. John Cornyn
From Wyoming - Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso

To be honest I don't think that any of these senators are in favor of rape, gang or otherwise. The issue for them was not crime. The issue was who pays their bills. These senators, all of whom will grab a noose and scream for the public hanging of the odd criminal, even rapist, who is not a generous campaign contributor found themselves suddenly overwhelmed with Christian charity and, dare I say, empathy when the issue became the profits of corporations that pay for their campaigns. They have spent a great deal of time on the public airwaves and in the Congressional Record decrying Federal funding for ACORN which tries to insure that all Americans actually get to vote and are counted in the census, but will eagerly give KBR a pass on gang rape.

These senators argued that the Federal government should not interfere with the terms of private contracts. They were arguing a few months ago that the Federal government needed to void all sorts of terms of the contracts between both current and retired workers of General Motors and Chrysler.

These same senators have argued that there is grave moral hazard in renegotiating mortgages of families who were conned into contracts that they plainly could not afford by loan officers and companies interested only in their own commissions. Yet these same senators see no moral hazard in exempting corporations from liability when they fail to protect all their employees.

To a man they argue that 1 trillion dollars over a decade is too much to pay for universal health care for Americans yet have had no trouble in writing 1 trillion dollars in checks to pay for an unnecessary and ruinous war in Iraq.

They claim a mantle of fiscal responsibility in the face of deficit spending while expecting everyone to forget that when they came to unrestricted power in 2001 they immediately turned a Treasury surplus into the largest deficits in American history.

The fact is that we aren't even talking about cognitive dissonance which implies honestly held opinions at variance with one another. We are dealing with simple, old fashioned fraud. The Republican Party has long been bought and paid for. One can reasonably argue that has been true since it emerged as a majority part following the Civil War. Yet over the last six decades with the fascist militarization of America the whoring of the Republican Party has reached its apotheosis. We accept that both parties are in thrall to wealth and particularly corporate wealth. Yet the Democratic Party has created the "big tent" that the Republicans lie about having. The Democrats' multiple constituencies both immobilize it, at worst, and make it, at best, responsive to the people. The Republican Party, the ultra-right religious fanatics and Fox News whores who promote it, is responsive to none but its corporate masters. The Republican Party is more a criminal conspiracy like the Mafia than a political party and far more a threat to the nation than most of organized crime.

So when a Republican or one of the neo-fascist apologists from their foundations, institutes or propaganda outlets like Fox News begins to spout about fiscal responsibility, moral hazard, or the necessity of something utterly counter-intuitive, ask yourself, "Who's profiting from the course he or she proposes?" If it's not you and/or your partner and your combined income is less than $75,000.00 per year let me suggest that regardless of any buzz words in the presentation, it is not in your interest. Taking a position opposite to the con man to whom you are listening is almost certainly the best for you. The Republicans would not know moral if it bit them on the ass. It is they who are the hazard to America.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Oh, Mr. Willlllllsson!

Remember Dennis the Menace? Hank Ketchum created the annoying but loveable Dennis nearly 60 years ago to menace the stuffy neighbor, Mr. Wilson.

I think we need someone to menace Representative Addison Graves "Joe" Wilson, Sr. of South Carolina's 2nd Congressional District. First, one can sympathize with his use of "Joe" when he is actually named after two rather awful diseases. That may account for some of the odd bent of the man. Mr. Wilson cut his political teeth working for Floyd Spence and Strom Thurmond both (R-Racism). Joe has a penchant for blurting out an inappropriate comments in public to his betters and then, dripping crocodile tears, making a public apology that no one takes seriously. And, of course, he's done it again during President Obama's speech to Congress on health care reform on September 9, 2009.

Rep. Wilson has apologized to President Obama (drag out the crocodile!*) and the President has once more demonstrated that he is an infinitely better and more gracious human being that Joe Wilson or, in fact, the bulk of the Congressional Republicans of both Houses by accepting Wilson's apology. Once again President Obama has demonstrated why he, rather than any Republican drawing breath today, deserves to be the leader of the nation.

During a speech in which the President went out of his way to validate Republican concerns, Republican ideas and Republican legislators who have a serious interest in improving health care for all Americans, Wilson and the neo-fascist, ultra-rightist jackals booed the President and, in their pusillanimous, partisan response, rejected his extended hand. By doing so the Republicans show clearly that they feel that by leaving millions of Americans without adequate health care, allowing insurers to steal the premiums of thousands of taxpayers only to revoke their coverage in time of need, and sewing lies and fear about health care reform they can win back control of Congress in 2010 much as they did in 1994. The problem with that strategy is that it's not going to work this time.

The President has met the Republicans more than half way and a majority of Americans know that despite the screaming antics of lunatics and bought-and-paid-for professional protesters. For every family afraid to go to a doctor because they have no health insurance, for every hard-working American denied coverage during an illness, for every household forced into bankruptcy by outrageous medical bills there are friends, neighbors, relatives and co-workers who are going to hold the Republicans responsible for any failure of reform in the 111th Congress. The Republicans are not going to be able to claim that they are running against a "do-nothing" Congress because, this time around, Rahm Emanuel, Nancy Pelosi and the President are going to be out hanging any failure of health care around the necks of the Republicans of the House and Senate.

Joe Wilson won't have any trouble being re-elected, of course. The professional soldiers, veterans and retired military personnel who form the core of his support in and around Beaufort, South Carolina will rail against "socialized, government-run" health care to and from visits to the base and VA Hospitals. But other Americans are going to hold Wilson's party responsible when a friend or loved one dies.

The issue that was the proximate cause of Wilson's outburst during the President's speech was the matter of extending health care to "illegal" immigrants. Right now I'm not going to take up the issue of "illegal" immigration other than to say that no immigrant is "illegal" until we make him so. If the Wampanoag tribe in coastal Massachusetts had had an immigration policy similar to America's currently my ancestors, William, Susanna, Resolved and Peregrine White would have been summarily deported from Plymouth Rock. Yet Wilson's narrow partisanship is more to the point. So is his profoundly un-Christian attitude. After all, isn't it better that we treat the 1 "illegal" than leave the 90 and 9 uninsured and untreated? Not in Joe Wilson's world of Old Testament wrath it's not.

President Obama's call was to rise above partisanship and care for our neighbors. It was a call to take both personal and societal responsibility for the health of our nation and its citizens. The President called us to look in the eyes of our neighbors and offer our help. The Republican response was a resounding "no". The Republicans, as they always do, put themselves and the profits of those who pay their bills ahead of the good of the nation while couching their disdain for their fellow citizens in concerns for deficits and "illegal" immigrants and other nonsense that is just, as the President said, plain lies.

The problem with Mr. Wilson is that he's lied so long and so hard that he can't recognize a real lie, especially his own.

* It seems that we now know for a fact that Wilson's apology was not his idea (as if he had any). He was told to call and apologize to President Obama by the House Republican Leadership. Of course, Minority Leader John Boehner has gone as far as to repeat the lie that health care reform will cover "illegal" aliens and defend Wilson. One wonders if one has to be born craven and corrupt to be a Republican or if it is a fault acquired as one grows? Given the extent of inbreeding amongst Republicans it is very hard to know, especially when we are speaking of Southern and Ohio Republicans.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Code Talkers

No. This has nothing to do with the heroic Navajo who sacrificed much to win the war against Imperial Japan in the 1940s. It certainly has nothing to do with anything one can reasonably call heroism.

No. I am writing about the talking heads like Glenn Beck, Steve Doucey, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Lou Dobbs. I am talking about the hardcore of racists who have learned to frame their bigotry in code.

When an American president cannot tell the nation’s school children to work and study hard without being accused of “socialist indoctrination” we are off into something other than simple political disagreement. We are in the realm of something darker, more vicious and more odious, something that, if dragged out into the light, would discredit its purveyors completely. This, of course, is why those purveyors take such pains to hide it in irrelevant language, disguise it as religious preference or even claims of upholding the law.

The storm of protest over disseminating President Obama’s speech on the opening of the public school year on September 8, 2009, had nothing to do with conservatism, nothing to do with indoctrination, nothing to do with socialism. It was the most thinly disguised expression of racism yet by the neo-fascists who call themselves Republicans. The accusation of “indoctrination” is of a piece with the “Birther” insanity. President Obama is not “white,” therefore he is not one of “us.” His father was an immigrant from Kenya and, therefore, his Hawaiian birth certificate must be phony. He must have been born in Kenya say O’Reilly, Dobbs and Hannity and many whose fathers were Italian, Greek, German or Polish. Clearly no one whose father or grandfather or some ancestor was born outside the United States can’t be a real American especially if he’s not white. Clearly, if he’s not white, President Obama is out to control the minds of our children and better hide the white women while we’re at it.

Basically, the right wing of this nation is racist at its core. It built itself just as the German Nazis and Italian Fascists did on fear and bigotry. We have simply substituted Afro-Americans and “non Aryan” immigrants for Jews. The fascist America Firsters of the late 1930s dug in while Liberalism fought World War II only to reemerge as the Red Scare McCarthyites of the post-war period. And at the very moment when their heroes, Tailgunner Joe and his vile factotum, Roy Cohn, discredited themselves and their movement, Brown v. the Board of Education came along to reinvigorate the American neo-fascist movement with an influx of racist rednecks. It took a while. After all Dwight Eisenhower sent troops into Little Rock, Arkansas. He was a Republican and a war hero which is why the billboards in the South all demanded, “Impeach Earl Warren,” and never called for Eisenhower’s impeachment. But the cultural shifts of the 1960s that disoriented those who, having lived through World War II, wanted no more upheavals and a nation conditioned to see any cause in which America fought as just, regardless of all contrary evidence, gave the neo-fascists their opening to join sweaty palms with their white racist brethren in Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.”

This marriage of bigotry and fear has a pantheon of Boogie Men. They raise up the straw men of “socialism”, “communism”, “homosexuality”, “indoctrination” even as the Log Cabin Republicans commune with their peers at the country club and indoctrinate anyone within earshot about a “free market” that demands billions of taxpayer dollars to salvage it from their mismanagement. We have had tastes of this vile bigotry before. It has been test marketed with the accusations of homosexuality by Teletubby Tinky Wink and Sponge Bob Squarepants. But now the veneer applied to this racism is getting thinner and more transparent.

Glenn Beck and the rest of the neo-fascists will certainly trot out black and brown friends to claim that they are not racist. Unfortunately, those black and brown right wingers prove nothing of the kind. They merely prove that there are minorities too who are as venal, amoral and self-promoting as there are whites.

We have reached the point at which we need to start calling this racism and bigotry for what it is. We need to drag it out in the light where the good people easily confused by rhetoric can look at this deformed, odious, disgusting thing and shun it before it churns their stomachs further.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

It’s Not You; It’s Me.

His guilt or innocence is irrelevant.

His reception at home is irrelevant.

The complexity of the government’s motives is irrelevant.

It’s not about him. It’s about us.

When the Scots Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill gave compassionate release to the only person convicted of the 1988 PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie on August 20, 2009 he faced a storm of criticism. The storm rose in volume and intensity when Abdelbeset al Megrahi landed in Libya to cheering crowds. The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has washed his hands of the matter while expressing outrage at Megrahi’s reception and President Obama has similarly expressed his dismay. Subsequent releases of government documents and speculation on the multiple considerations that lead to Megrahi’s release have further incited anger and conspiracy theories. Amongst the families who lost children and other family members aboard the PanAm flight a range of equally stormy emotions rage. Some are plainly angry. Others despair that they will never know whether Megrahi was a mass murderer or simply a sacrificial goat.

Before going further, let’s consider what we actually know. On Wednesday, December 21, 1988 a bomb loaded inside luggage at London’s Heathrow Airport exploded on board PanAm Flight 103 as it passed over Lockerbie, Scotland on its way to New York. The bomb killed 243 passengers, 16 crew members and 11 Lockerbie citizens on the ground. An investigation lasting nearly 3 years concluded that Libyans al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifah Fhimah had participated in the bomb plot. The Scottish arrest warrants for al Megrahi and Fhimah could not be served for 8 years during which time sanctions and negotiations proceeded with the Libyan government. Finally the parties created a compromise that allowed the Scottish Courts to try al Megrahi and Fhimah in the Netherlands on a former military base and under Scottish Law. The result was that al Megrahi was found guilty and Fhimah was acquitted. Al Megrahi was sentenced to life in prison.

But al Megrahi and his attorneys continued to protest that he was innocent of the charges. Many people in Lockerbie and even some of the victims’ relatives came to believe that al Megrahi was simply the goat sacrificed to atone for and mask the guilt of others in Libya or possibly Iran.


Yes, Iran. Possibly Iran

Lest we forget these things too quickly, on July 3, 1988 a missile from the USS Vincennes destroyed Iran Air Flight 655 over the Straight of Hormuz killing 290 passengers and crew. Some felt that it was a greater and far more proximate cause of the PanAm 103 bombing than the air strike on Libya on April 15, 1986 that killed 40, including a 15-month old adopted daughter of Libyan leader Muammar al Gaddafi.

The point is that there has always been some doubt about al Megrahi’s guilt. But whether he is guilty or innocent is utterly irrelevant. The facts, as we know them are that a plane was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland killing 270 people. An investigation ensued followed by a trial and a conviction. Those are facts. Guilt or innocence are at best findings, judgments. Without specific evidence those judgments can be wrong. But in this particular case let’s grant out of hand that the judgment against al Megrahi was correct and just and he was guilty. Even so his guilt is irrelevant.

Let us also grant out of hand that doing business with Libya, exploiting its oil reserves was one of the complex of considerations that motivated the British Government in its acts or inaction surrounding Megrahi’s release. That too is irrelevant.

What is relevant to the issue at hand is that al Megrahi is dying. He has spent 8 years in prison. Now he will be dead in a matter of months…3…6…who cares? Al Megrahi is dying. That is a fact. The length of time until his death is not relevant to anything. That Libya has orchestrated a hero’s welcome for a murderer is not terribly relevant either.

What is relevant – perhaps the only thing relevant to MacAskill’s decision - is compassion. I think that we can agree that whoever blew up PanAm Flight 103 for whatever reason was utterly lacking in compassion. Whoever plotted and carried out that horrible murder showed no compassion for the people on the plane, those on the ground or the families who survived those victims. The act was despicable and criminal. Anyone who participated in that horrible act deserves ostracism from the community of all decent people. But it is a mark of our decency, our compassion that we supersede our anger and outrage and, especially, our lust for revenge.

If we are in fact decent people, better, more civilized and of higher moral standards than Megrahi, Gaddafi or any other person who participated actively or passively in the bombing of that plane 21 years ago MacAskill’s decision was correct.

When faced with vile acts the lust for revenge is understandable. Yet if we are to display why those acts are vile we must be able to rise above them. We must be able to assert compassion in the midst of our anger and disgust for by doing so we demonstrate that as a society we are not on the level of the murderers, the terrorists, the criminals.

Though I have never seen it adequately expressed the failure to understand that just chanting, “We’re number 1,” does not make it so. We have to demonstrate our moral superiority by our acts. In fact, the utter failure to understand that it is by our acts of empathy and compassion that we establish that superiority is one of the hallmark differences between the right and left wings of American politics.

George W. Bush demonstrated his absolute unsuitability for the office of president by proceeding with the execution of Karla Faye Tucker and further confirmed his unsuitability by mocking her pleas for clemency. That vile, vengeful inability to rise above his basest instincts also played out when he sent inadequately armed and armored American troops to die in an unnecessary war in Iraq. He also demonstrated his basest instincts with his insensitivity to the plight of the people of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit.

Bush and Cheney more clearly demonstrated that they are no better than the murderers and terrorists they claim to abhor by instituting their own reign of terror with secret prisons, renditions and torture. Certainly they cloaked their confirmation that they are no better than Megrahi, Gaddafi, or bin Laden in claims that they were defending the nation against a terror that their acts further incited. Still by surrendering to revenge and sadism their whole Administration demonstrated that they are not to be trusted with any level of power.

More broadly the neo-fascist Republicans have demonstrated that they are, as a group unsuitable for high office let alone leadership by defending those violations of law and decency perpetrated by the Bush-Cheney Administration. They continue to do so by sewing lies and fear to defend the profits of insurance companies in the health care debate and polluters in the debate on climate change.

In the health care debate Republicans have abjured any sense of compassion for their fellow citizens by actively campaigning for the implicit exclusion of their fellow citizens from effective medical coverage. The Republicans couch their arguments in red herrings like the cost of extending coverage when they really are concerned with the profits of their supporters in the insurance industry. They terrorize elderly citizens with false claims that they will lose Medicare coverage when the real purpose is to extend Medicare to every American. The opposition is mean, dishonest and utterly lacking in compassion for their fellows.

In the debate over mitigating climate change, the Republicans make great and loud lamentation over the cost to this and future generations of reducing dependence on oil and coal while defending their contributors and employers in the oil industries even as they jeopardize the health and welfare and even the life of future generations.

It is about us. Are we better? Are we decent enough to translate our concern for our children and grandchildren to the children and grandchildren of every person on our small, blue-green planet? Are we decent enough even to a murderer to show compassion? If we are, then we have some claim to that chant of “We’re number 1!” If we cannot, then we are down in the sewers with the murderers and terrorists we claim to abhor.

Kenny MacAskill did the good and right and decent thing in releasing a man, Abdelbeset al Megrahi, who is probably neither good nor right nor decent. I repeat, it is not about Megrahi. It is about us. It is about demonstrating our goodness, our rightness and our decency. Is it not, after all, what we are commanded to do in that cliché voiced by some old, dead white guy, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Military Prisoner

We probably learn before age six that reality can easily shatter the very best of intentions. Reality, the practical, tradition and expediency have an inexorable way of grinding the correct, the decent, the humane, the Constitutional alternatives into dust. We always face negotiations with those who are not correct, decent, humane or respectful of our Constitution and so it was in May for President Barak Obama.

Entering office on the hopes of a majority of Americans so large that race became irrelevant and the political machines of the Republicans could not steal sufficient votes to upset elections as they did in 2000 and 2004, President Obama tried to make good on his pledges to restore Constitutional Law and decency to America at home and abroad. He even pledged to make a government made impenetrably opaque by the neo-fascists of the Bush Administration and their cronies on the U. S. Supreme Court, transparent to the people who are the government in a democracy.

To his credit, in one of President Obama’s first acts he signed an order requiring that the infamous concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay close by the end of 2009. Of course, the neo-fascists immediately launched a campaign using their most familiar weapon: fear. In no time at all Congressmen and women had hysterical constituents calling to oppose housing Osama bin Laden under each of their individual beds.

The fact that the neo-fascists were able to spread fear so effectively highlighted the main failing of the Obama closing order: that in the rush to perform the symbolic act of closing the Guantanamo concentration camp, the President failed to decide where those prisoners would go. Certainly President Obama, during his first days in office, thought that we needed to look at individual prisoners to determine whether they needed to be held at all or not. Still, let it never be said that the American herd will stand around for nuanced explanations when a bunch or drunken cowboys with guns like Rash Lamebrain, Glenn Beck, Steve Doucey and Bill O’Reilly are bent on starting a stampede.

To date, prisoners remain at the shameful concentration camp on American occupied Cuba and the closing date becomes ever more hazy and distant. Reality has pulverized decency, law and good intentions. But the clearest example of the ineffectuality of Constitutional Law, decency and humanity in the face of negotiation is the death of openness in the name of pursuing an effective strategy in the Afghan War. We can call the political calculus, at best, pragmatic but truly it is ruthless and Machiavellian. In our violent society rife with patriosity rather than patriotism, people who stop wars are reviled while those who pursue them, however wrong headed, are exalted. President Obama needs to put an end to the neo-fascists’ imperialist debacle in Iraq. In order to do that he unquestionably must rattle the sabre elsewhere and the logical place to do so is Afghanistan. American militarism requires that he do so. That is one of the ugly truths about our society.

Upon entering office, President Obama inherited a gung-ho military commander in Army General David McKiernan. General McKiernan’s tenure in Afghanistan was much like the disgraceful mismanagement of William Westmoreland in Vietnam forty years ago. His portfolio was the kind of “get the country ‘pacified’ by any means necessary” use of massive force against the Taliban’s guerrilla campaign that resulted in the fall of Saigon in 1975 and was having similarly poor results in the mountains of Afghanistan. Meanwhile, all the information coming to military and civilian experts convinced them that the Afghan people hate the Taliban but hate the random violence and insults from NATO and especially American invaders more. The inescapable conclusion reached by those not blinded by neo-fascist ideology was that a policy that respected the population, confined violence to bad actors like the Taliban and helped build a stable infrastructure one school, road, hospital and town meeting at a time could defeat the Taliban, up-root Al Qaeda, capture bin Laden and stabilize Afghanistan to a point unknown since 1979. General McKiernan was definitely not the person to implement that policy.

So President Obama needed a new general. He knew that. Defense Secretary Gates knew that. The Joint Chiefs of Staff knew that. But that also didn’t mean that General McKiernan was without friends either real or ad hoc. The military wanted some things of its own, chief amongst them continued secrecy for the Abu Ghraib photos that might well reveal complicity of high ranking officers in the abuses of that particular torture chamber. Conversations ensued. Ultimately, the President and Secretary Gates got Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, a policy that will tend to kill fewer Afghan civilians, build friendships within the Afghani population and infrastructure to cement the fragments of tribal areas into something sufficiently like a nation to survive NATO withdrawal. In return, the American High Command got secrecy and probably immunity from their involvement in torture and similar war crimes in violation of American and International Law.

President Obama’s choice was, inherently, one of those uncertain “Lady or the Tiger” problems. If by protecting high military officers on whom he must depend to achieve his goals in Afghanistan he can lower the death toll of civilian Afghanis and build a nation that 250 years of Western interventions had repeatedly destroyed, would it not be worth the cost? If we can trade immunity for war crimes by the American General Staff for the destruction of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, will we not have gotten the better of the bargain?

The short term answer is, yes, of course. A policy that saves innocent lives and achieves several important political and military goals, including an end of bin Laden and his lieutenants is worth the price of continued secrecy for the Abu Ghraib photos.

The long term answer is, of course, no. Immunizing military commanders from the consequences of their war crimes has horrible and destructive consequences for American democracy and Constitutional Law. The continued secrecy of information that may show complicity in war crimes by our general officers is detrimental if not fatal to civilian control of the military and raises genuine fears for the future of our democracy.

There are many times in our history when the fate of our nation has balanced precariously on the willingness of our military to accept the authority of our Constitution over their own will to power. General George Brinton McClellan’s political ambitions might well have meant an end to the Lincoln Administration in 1864 had not Ulysses Grant and George G. Meade demonstrated what a disastrously incompetent military commander McClellan was in the field. The nearly unchecked power of the military in the former Confederacy following the Civil War led President Andrew Johnson to belatedly restore some balance between the President and the military by removing Edwin M. Stanton as Secretary of War in 1868. That same threat to civilian rule was a factor in the Faustian bargain struck by Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 to end Reconstruction and pass the much maligned Posse Comitatus Act. In 1933-34 Marine Corps Major General Smedley Darlington Butler exposed a plot for a military coup against Franklin Roosevelt’s government thereby ending a plan that might have put America firmly in the fascist camp as World War II began. And, of course, in the 1980s we had a presidency controlled by the military and conspirators against Constitutional rule like Defense Secretary Caspar Wineberger, Admiral John Poindexter, Colonel Oliver North and neo-fascists Elliott Abrams, John Negroponte, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.

The fact is that any President of the United States who is not at least a tacit co-conspirator of our military interests (uniformed and corporate) is its prisoner. He remains its prisoner so long as he is unwilling to assert control over the military and its true masters, the corporate interests. Right now there is a battle going on within our government. Defense Secretary Gates, while a creature of the military-industrial complex, is certainly aware that its wild excesses are themselves a threat to military-corporate hegemony. Thus we have the fight to kill the F-22 fighter plane and other ridiculously unnecessary war toys from the enormously bloated Defense “budget”. Yet the military still holds an armored fist to the throats of civilian authority in America. I hope that President Obama can break that death grip over the next three and a half or seven and a half years. How he loosens that grip or does not do so will, sad to say, determine whether he has a second term in which to loosen it. Further, it will determine whether a successor Democrat can extend the process for another four or eight years. Until he does so, just as surely as the people held in the concentration camp at Guantanamo, I think we can say accurately that President Obama is a military prisoner.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Reality (TV) Check

One of the more absurd issues that the neo-fascists who disguise themselves as Republicans and Libertarians have is their apparent inability to distinguish fact from fiction. The list of examples is long and runs the gamut from the absurd in Dan Quayle's inability to discern that Murphy Brown was a fictional character played by Candace Bergen to the horrifyingly serious in the "ticking bomb" scenario incessantly dragged out to justify the Bush Administration's torture policies despite the lack of any evidence that the scenario exists outside of the Fox (of course) series 24. Despite the genuine danger of the phrase "Republican principles" becoming a synonym for cognitive dissonance as well as an oxymoron the ultra-right wingers continue down this dead end path.

As one example there's the inability of Fox flacks like Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck to make up their minds as to whether the Obama Administration is bringing socialism or fascism to America. That may not be the best example because it smacks more of a bunch on impotent, frustrated hacks flinging epithets at the Administration in the hope that one will stick and give them the focus that they currently, utterly lack. There is also the attempt to attack same-sex marriage by lumping the practices of some committed, loving couples with a catalogue of bizarre sexual practices and inclinations that only the neo-fascists themselves seem to know about. (We won't even consider the motives that have those "family valies"-types eagerly combing the literature of pervertions for new terms to get all breathless and sweaty over.)

But now we have proof that right wingers are unable to distinguish fact from fiction. A study by three researchers from Ohio State University titled The Irony of Satire has found that conservatives have convinced themselves that Stephen Colbert is one of their own. Yes. I am not making this up.

Colbert's personna is a satire of Bill O'Reilly in all his smug, self-satified, self-righteous, neo-fascist venality. According to the study conservatives find Colbert funny and know that he's satirizing some of their icons but they have convinced themselves that Colbert does this with a wink and a nod, that he's really one of them. Perhaps their limited self awareness entails a rationale of, "I think he's funny so he must think like me." Whatever the illogic involved it is simultaneously hilarious and disturbing. Colbert is anything but in sync with the ultra-right wing claptrap spouted by those he satirizes but clearly there is a core of neo-fascists who can convince themselves of anything. After all, Dubya still had a core of support in the range of 20 to 30 percent of the population as he left office. A similar percentage of the population were convinced that Richard Nixon had done nothing wrong while in office. At our peril we consider them idiots. They are not. They are something far more disturbing and dangerous. They are people who will pervert any reality contradictory to their ideology into something that reinforces their own bankrupt view. It is the same willful ignorance that fires the deniers of evolution, the Holocaust, that pursued collectivization in Stalinist Russia in the face of widespread famine, that massacred the Tutsis of Rwanda and littered the killing fields of Khmer Rouge Cambodia with bodies.

When the neo-fascists mistakenly adopt Stephen Colbert we laugh but that is the absurd and comic flip side of a dark and dangerous record that is playing itself out in a broken world and American economy, unnecessary and unwinnable wars and degradation of civil and human rights. The real reality is not a television show and it is not funny.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Backtracking Slightly

Maybe I'm just vacillating. But first, a digression.

There is a wonderful Terry Gilliam movie that appeared in 1981, Time Bandits. Suffice it to say that it's a film with which every child in the range of 7 to 14 years old will identify and in which parents will find much to love as well. Without spoiling anything in any significant way toward the end of the film Sir Ralph Richardson's Supreme Being intervenes to render David Warner's threat less serious with the result that the cast must collect all the bits of charred and glowing "pure evil" lest they infect the world further. But, of course, they miss a piece that young Craig Warnock's Kevin can't get to before he's transported back to his bedroom in the present. Kevin's house, you see, is filling with smoke because his hopeless, clueless parents have attempted to cook a roast in a microwave. The Fire Department appears and Sean Connery, whom we've previously seen as an heroic Agamemnon, in fire gear, gets the family out onto the lawn along with the smoking microwave. Kevin's parents open the microwave to find what they think is a spoiled Sunday roast but which Kevin recognizes as the unretrieved shard of pure evil. Despite Kevin's shouted warning, the parents reach for the evil and disappear in an explosion, no doubt to reappear as creatures in a Ramsey Campbell or Clive Barker novel. We know that Kevin will be all right because Sean Connery is there to take him under his wing and so the movie ends. (My apologies for the spolier but the ending is hardly the point of the movie.)

That unretrieved bit of pure evil is, of course, Dick Cheney (also an old supervisor of mine named Kathy Vadala) who embodies in every way the vilest, most despicable darkness in the American soul. I have previously written that we must have an open investigation of the crimes of the Bush Administration in order to purge our nation of the evil it represented. I based that conclusion on the recurring nightmare of Cheney's reappearances to croak about how the Obama Administration is destroying America. Yet now I'm not so sure.

I still think that a public airing of the Bush Administration's crimes will make it hard for the ne0-fascist Republicans to repeat them in the future but I am backtracking on the timing. Cheney's latest appearance - they are getting fairly regular by now - leads me to wonder about his motives. His motives are necessarily nefarious. That's beyond question. It's which nefarious motive that has me worried.

President Barak Obama (I just love that construction!) consistently says that he wants to look forward rather than back. I can't argue with that intention. As he's stated himself, Obama has two wars, the Middle East, a failing Pakistan, an insanely childish North Korea, a schizoid Iran, problematic relations with Latin America, a major economic crisis, properly funding Social Security, a crisis in health care and the dismemberment of government that's taken place over the last 40 years to worry about. And did I forget to mention the hysteria over the non-pandemic of N1H1 flu or the search for a new Supreme Court Justice? He obviously has enough crises to keep him off the streets and out of trouble for a week or two.

Now let me suggest to you that Cheney, whose ego is almost as enourmous and comprehensive as his evil, keeps coming out to croak his vileness in order to challenge Obama. I am sure that he believes that he can hand Obama his head in a debate and that a concerted attempt to silence him can only disrupt the new Administrations plans. Taking up Cheney's croaked challenges would only further polarize the Congress and the nation. It would also, in some more mindless circles, make Cheney the sympathetic victim of the great, implacable Obama Socialist Juggernaut ( a registered trademark of Fox News).

So I am going to backtrack. I still think that exposing the Bush Administration's crimes and removing from serious consideration from Federal Office all those who participated in those crimes is essential for the mental and political health of this nation. Yet for now I think it is also essential to ignore Cheney and the other strident neo-fascists. Marginalizing them is nearly as effective as prosecuting them and, at the moment, far more important.

President Obama needs to focus on undoing the damage that Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Poppy Bush, Gingrich and Dubya have done and the damage that Carter's impotence and Clinton's political cravenness allowed to continue. If he continues to demonstrate what effective government can do to relieve the burdens the neo-fascists have shifted from the wealthy onto the middle class, the Republicans, Libertarians and their ultra-right wing sponsors will remain out of power for at least the next 30 years. In that time we will have ample opportunity to consign the Alberto Gonzalezes, John Yoos, David Addingtons, Jay Bybees, Condoleeza Rices, Cheneys, Bushes and others who violated their oaths to uphold the Constitution to the hell that they so richly deserve. For now, ignore the bastards. They don't deserve the air time that Fox gives them let alone the exponential increase that prosecution would provide them.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Empathy Antipathy

It's so very Republican, isn't it? After all, if one understands the concept of empathy and actually has empathy for others one can't be a Republican much less a "Conservative" at least as defined in the last four or five decades.

Empathy is the ability to understand and feel the distress, pain, and the sting of injustice visited on others as if it were your own. Further, it is the ability to translate that understanding, that feeling into the will to prevent further distress for yourself and for the others with whom you empathize. Clearly that is a dangerous thing. If we have empathy we will want to do horrible things like improve treatment and conditions for whiny, special interest groups like wounded veterans. We might be moved to stop traditional practices like racial, ethnic and religious bigotry and even that great tradition of lynching. We might disrupt traditional families by insisting that women have a right to education, work outside the home and flee abuse by the men in their lives. No. Empathy is something that leads to the destruction of the world as it was meant to be.

But perhaps I'm being too harsh about Republicans, Conservatives and their thinly disguised cousins, Libertarians. They do have empathy. They have shown it when they've defended the six and seven figure bonuses to the financial whizzes who drove their companies into bankruptcy. They show it every day when they insist that we must remove onerous regulations that keep disease and poisons out of our food and drugs. They even show it when they seek to protect the populace from evil drugs like marajuana by insuring that those people whose pain and suffering it eases never get it. In short Republican, Conservative and Libertarian empathy knows on which side its proverbial bread is buttered. Right Wing empathy is always bought and paid for.

What the neo-fascists really rail against is empathy for the great many people whose lives are made worse while they forcefully protect their rich friends. Those rich friends are the ones who fund their campaigns and, when out of office, pay for their fellowships at the American Enterprise, Cato and Manhattan Institutes, Heritage Foundation, Hoover Institution or for their chairs at neo-fascist incubators like Pepperdine University.

If we get involved in empathy we would be rejecting the greatest of the neo-fascist prophetesses, Ayn Rand. The alleged philosophy of "Objectivism" is nothing but the apotheosis of an utter rejection of empathy. No. We can't have that. Atlas Shrugged is second only to the exerpts of The Bible that fundamentalists prefer (no Matthew 25 in those Bibles) as holy writ.

Let's take a famous example, the recently corrected travesty of Lilly Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. Lilly Ledbetter went to work for Goodyear in its Gadsden , Alabama plant in 1979. When she started working there she was recieving pay comparable to the men doing the same job and who had similar experience but over the years and unbeknownst to Ms. Ledbetter, a gap began to open. In 1997, on the verge of retiring she found that she was making $3,727 per month. That's a very nice pay check that I would have happily receieved. But at the same point the men doing her job were receiving a minimum of $4,286 per month and as much as $5,236 per month. There was ample evidence that Ms. Ledbetter's sex was the sole factor in the difference of roughly $500 to $1,500 per month reduction in pay. Goodyear had not only discriminated in Ms. Ledbetter's pay but had kept the information about that discrepancy secret for most of two decades.

So I think that most people would see Ms. Ledbetter's treatment as unfair. You wouldn't want your mother, daughter, sister or wife treated like that. However, if you're reaching that conclusion you are falling in to the dangerous role of a "fellow traveler" of empathy. You should thank whatever god to which you pray that there are five Supreme Court "Justices" who are Republican and Conservative enough to be utterly unaffected by empathy. Writing for his fellow protectors of business over labor, wealth over poverty and crime over justice, Samuel Alito threaded a very fine needle and rejected Ms. Ledbetter's argument. Sure she'd been victimized by Goodyear and sure that victimization represented illegal discrimination but Lilly Ledbetter hadn't filed suit soon enough.

Say what?

You see, Ms. Ledbetter's lawyers had argued that every time Goodyear cut a pay check for Ms. Ledbetter the company committed a distinct act of pay discrimination. The law included a limitations clause requiring that the discrimination claim be filed within 180 days of the act of discrimination. Judge Alito along with Antonin Scalia, Scalia's Houseboy, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy decided that argument was wrong. Goodyear had decided to discriminate against Ms. Ledbetter way back in the 1980s and though Goodyear had kept the fact secret and Ms. Ledbetter's typical human clairvoyance was somehow impaired she hadn't filed suit soon enough. A judicial wag of the finger went to Goodyear with a stern admonition to behave and Lilly Ledbetter got a simple, "Sorry. Go fuck off."

Now if Alito, Scalia, Thomas (included soley for completeness; not seriously), Roberts or Kennedy had succumbed to that dangerous empathy for Lilly Ledbetter all manner of evil would have flowed from the decision. Ms. Ledbetter would have recovered the back pay unfairly withheld from her with interest and damages for discrimination and the cost of the settlement might have been so great that Goodyear and even other companies might have decided that they'd better not do the same to their employees. In short, Goodyear would have gotten a lesson in the "personal responsibility" that Republicans, Conservatives and Libertarians always insist is lacking in the poor who don't pay the bills for those Republicans, Conservatives and Libertarians.

In 2008 Congress attempted to remedy this situation albeit too late for Ms. Ledbetter. But the Republicans in the Senate, also unaffected by empathy, filibustered the bill to death. Had it made its way through the Senate there is no doubt that George Bush, whose sole claim to empathy was his desire to limit the persecution and suffering of the noble Lewis "Scooter" Libby, would have vetoed the bill that President Obama has since signed.

So as we look for a Supreme Court appointment worthy of the title "Justice", watch out for that code word "empathy" and the horrors that it could visit on our nation. If there were a majority on the Supreme Court with empathy we might find all manner of horrible decisions coming down as some empath "legislates" from the bench. We might see decisions that hold mortgage originators responsible for defaults by home buyers whose incomes the originators inflated, foreclosures might be stopped in cases where the lenders lied about the terms of the loans or withheld information from the borrowers. Food processors who allowed their plants to use unsafe and unsanitary practices or introduced poisons into their products to boost profits might be held responsible for those acts. Even companies that illegally evade taxes might be called on to pay their fair share. The consequences for the Republicans, Conservatives and Libertarians would be dire. Their sponsors might not have sufficient disposable income to finance their campaigns and the fellowships that keep them on the cable news networks in spite of their lack of anything relevant to say. William Kristol might disappear from view entirely.

So let us not fall into the trap of empathy. I certainly hope that the fundamentalist preachers will get on this anti-empathy bandwagon. Clearly it's an assault on Christianity whenever we get involved in something like empathy that boils down to an odious statement like, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my bretheren, ye have done it unto me."