Tuesday, November 24, 2009
It's just really tragic after all the horrors of the last 1,000 years we can't leave behind something as primitive as government sponsored execution.
-- Russ Feingold; U.S. Senator
A modest brick building in the small town of Huntsville, Texas (population 35,000) houses an horrific secret - the place where over four-hundred people have died in the past 33 years - and 247 since the current governor, Rick Perry, has taken office.
Last week, while the rest of the country was planning Thanksgiving festivities, Robert Lee Thompson was planning something else -what do to with his corpse, his modest property, and who to invite to the circus which had been planned to mark his passing.
You see, Robert Lee Thompson was about to become the latest in a series of new records in the State of Texas - by signing-off on the execution of Terry Hankins in early June of this year, Governor Perry set a macabre 'record' - Hankins became the 200th victim of Texas' execution-mill since Perry took office; a record previously held by the previous occupant of that office, George W. Bush.
He fired a pistol over the head of a convenience-store clerk. Thompson's partner in the holdup, Sammy Butler, was identified as the trigger-man who actually killed the clerk; Butler and Thompson were tried separately. Butler got life in prison; Thompson was sentenced to death.
Thompson, likely insane (in his statement to the police, he told them that 'god' had told him to 'do something' about Middle Eastern convenience-store clerks who were discriminating against blacks), was sentenced to death for the crime committed 13 years ago when Thompson was 21.
Two days before his execution, Thompson's attorney pleaded with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, stating that given Thompson's mental-state the sentence was not fair, and asked that the sentence be commuted to life.
In a rare reversal of what has become policy for the Texas Department of Corrections, the Board voted 5-2 to commute Thompson's sentence. Perry rejected the recommendation, in effect giving the greenlight to execute Thompson.
Perry, with his value-system firmly on the right-hand side of the radio-dial, has made it clear that he will not change his position on the death penalty (he's also come out in favor of 'boy scout values', and secession).
Texas' track-record of executing people is consistent - but it's not without serious controversy. Perry signed off on the execution of a Mexican national rather than return him to Mexico to serve a life sentence (Mexico does not have the death penalty); in the case of Cameron Willingham, Perry fired three members of the Forensics Board when they raised the all-too-real potential that Willingham had been executed while innocent of the crime for which he'd received the death penalty.
(Thompson went to his death peacefully, declaring that 'Allah would forgive' him. His mother screamed, cried, and pounded the walls; demanding to be taken away before her son died. Thompson was pronounced dead at 6:19PM; less than ten minutes after receiving the first of three drugs in the lethal-injection process. In addition to the relatives of the victim and Thompson's mother, there were two reporters. News of this event was a footnote, nationally.
There are over 300 people on Texas' death row. A disproportionate number are persons of color.)
There are no further executions scheduled through the end of the month. They tend to shut things down for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Monday, November 23, 2009
The year was 1620. A group of people (latecomers; really) who didn't like the notion of the Church of England telling them how to worship their Imaginary Friend pooled their resources, bought a license from the Crown to start a colony, rented a ship, and headed west.
When they got here, they immediately began applying their 'values' to the locals - the way they saw it, the land was 'wild', and hence open for the taking - the people living here were 'savages', and not 'Christian' - with those three strikes against them (they hadn't 'improved' the land; they didn't have a recognizable political structure and didn't worship the same Imaginary Friend) - they were considered little more than bands of wandering hellions with no rights at all.
The 'Pilgrims' (I put that in quotes; they never referred to themselves by this term - they used the terms 'Separatist' and 'Puritan') simply set up shop and began platting farms, cutting trees, and acting as if they owned the place. To their minds, they did. 'God' was on their side, you see.
(A friend of mine is a tribal leader for one of the Northwest tribes. She once told me, "If my people had been there, they wouldn't have gotten off the boat. Ears and noses would have made fine trophies.")
While there were colonies up and down the eastern seaboard at this time, these folks were 'special' - just ask 'em. They managed to create their own mythology - by example, while no launch would have survived fetching up on a rock (their own records state that they first landed the Mayflower's launch on 'dry lande'), they rewrote their own history in this first-of-many-cases; 'Plimoth rock' became their first landfall, echoing the book of Matthew: "...thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church...."
While the 'official' histories are bogus, the reality of the situation is that their first foray to the interior of this new land didn't net them any friends - in fact, they found an iron kettle (the result of earlier trading; this wasn't the Wampanoag's first encounter with Englishmen) full of corn; they took this, along with several 'sundrie and prettie things' from a child's grave.
The Puritans set about poisoning the locals with the twin scourges of the day - smallpox and Christianity - 'converting' native peoples, 'relocating' them into 'praying towns', and teaching them of the tender ministrations of the Lord and the effects of the overconsumption of alcohol.
We're asked to believe that a fellow named Squanto appeared out of nowhere to organize a feast for these people. The truth is that several of the natives still traded with the Puritans, because they had items which made life easier - 'trade muskets', for example (shoddy firearms which exploded with some regularity).
In truth, Squanto (Tisquantum) had been sent by Massasoit (chief sachem of the Wampanoag) to keep an eye on the Puritans and determine their intentions. He rapidly learned that he could obtain trade goods for giving the Puritans the same sort of information about Massasoit - becoming, if you will, the first recorded double-agent in American history. Far from organizing the first 'Thanksgiving' (Tisquantum was later killed by Massasoit for trying to stir up trouble among the Puritans against the Wampanoag) Tisquantum added to the problem - proof that, if anything, the native peoples were far too lenient and far too trusting for far too long.
The first harvest-feast probably occurred around the fall of 1621 - there are no clear records; save for an oral-history later committed to paper with many inaccuracies. The natives were attracted by the gunfire of hunting colonists; they originally showed up as a band of men (no women and children were present at this first harvest-feast); when they saw that a feast was being prepared, they left, returning with some deer and wild turkeys - in fact, it's more than likely that the natives provided most of the food for this now-historic event.
Far from a 'celebration of friendship', this event was a cautious affair; likely there was more than a bit of scheming which went on thanks to the efforts of Everyone's Buddy, Tisquantum.
By this time, the toothpaste was truly out of the tube, metaphorically speaking, and there was no chance to put it back - the Puritans had established their 'holy kingdom' on the backs of people who, while cautious, had been welcoming - and had been repaid in the 'coin' of the era.
(By the 1670's the native people's legendary tolerance and patience had seen its end - corn-stealing and grave-robbing had progressed to wholesale land-theft, rape, pillage, and other depredations - with 'Jesus' on top of it all, grinning like an idiot.
A Wampanoag chief named Metacom (a man the Puritans called 'King Philip') raised an army among his own tribe and the Narragansett, with support from several minor tribes in the region, and went to war against the 'Pilgrims'.
A year later, Metacom was dead, along with half of his effective fighting force.
The Puritans responded to this event with some joy. The fight had gone out of the native coalition of the willing.
Shortly afterward (likely in late September), the Puritans declared a 'day of Thanksgiving' for the death of Metacom and the victory of the forces of light over the forces of heathen darkness -- the first recorded, official 'Thanksgiving'.)
Happy Thanksgiving, later this week, all.
Now, at least you know what you're celebrating.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
One of my favorite e-'zines, RawStory.Com, has a reputation for some pretty good investigative journalism; their editors have the knack for obtaining interviews with people who are on the forefront of sociopolitical commentary.
This article below is no exception.
I encountered this a bit ago - it was actually the inspiration for a blog of my own - but I was reminded of it again today by a reader, so I put up a link to the piece, and am reprinting it here in its entirety.
Most of you know I'm not fond of 'reprints' or sandwich pieces - this is an exception. Read on, and remember that the admonition in 'The Godfather' really is true - Anyone Can Be Killed.....
Former Right-Wing Leader Warns of Religious Right Violence - "Anyone Can Be Killed"
Frank Schaeffer is an outspoken critic of the politicized Christian evangelical right. He sees the “End Times” movement as anti-Semitic. He fears that a right-wing terrorist might assassinate the President of the United States.
None of these talking points would be novel on the left, but Schaeffer is hardly a bleeding heart liberal. His father, Dr. Francis Schaeffer, is considered to be the godfather of the modern religious right movement. Schaeffer himself took up the family mission and became a prominent speaker and writer, promoting many of the sentiments that have given rise to the politically active, extremely well organized and zealous movement of today. He left the religious right in the 1980s, and was a Republican until 2000.
In an interview with Raw Story, Schaeffer -- who has a new book coming out this month called Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism) -- discussed his concerns about the radicalization of the Christian right and the increasingly violent rhetoric he foresees turning into actual violence.
"Since President Obama took office I've felt like the lonely -- maybe crazy -- proverbial canary in the coal mine," Schaeffer said. "As a former right wing leader, who many years ago came to my senses and began to try to undo the harm the movement of religious extremism I helped build has done, I've been telling the media that we're facing a dangerous time in our history. A fringe element of the far right Republican Party seems it believes it has a license to incite threatening behavior in the name of God."
"The bestselling status of the Left Behind novels proves that, not unlike Islamist terrorists who behead their enemies, many evangelical/fundamentalist readers relish the prospect of God doing lots of messy killing for them as they watch in comfort from on high," he added. "They want revenge on all people not like them -- forever."
The former religious right leader also says he's worried President Obama could be assassinated -- or that extremists might launch another "Oklahoma" type bombing.
"Sadly that line from the 'Godfather' sticks in my brain about the fact that anyone can be killed," Schaeffer told Raw Story. "The scary thing is that there are a number of pastors on record as saying they are praying for the President’s death. Can you imagine what some gun-toting paranoid who hears that in a sermon is thinking and might do? And to them the fact that 'the world' likes this black man is reason enough to hate him. You wait. The reaction to Obama winning the Nobel Prize will be entirely negative from the far Religious Right. 'See the world, all those socialists like him that just proves he’s a -- fill in the blank -- communist, secret Muslim, the Antichrist, whatever.'"
Schaeffer asserts that he's trying to "right" the Christian right while also trying to explain God and religion to non-believers. But ultimately, he has a very critical view of the Christian right and what he believes is the reason for their deep-seated anger: resentment. He has recently written a column in support of a campaign to prosecute threats of violence and hate speech that may incite violence:
“The campaign includes letters from attorney Kevin Zeese and myself to Attorney General Eric Holder asking that he take the issue of domestic terror seriously by investigating and prosecuting threats and acts of violence," Schaeffer says. "I'm working with others on a campaign to reach religious leaders who enable and encourage this violence, and asking for the launching of investigations into the use of the media and web organizations by the right wing to foment violence. It is time to combat hate speech.”
(Interview with Schaeffer)
Coming Full Circle
Larisa Alexandrovna: For those who are not familiar with you and your family, could you please provide a brief summary of your history?
Frank Schaeffer: One morning in the early 1980s, I looked out over several acres of pale blue polyester and some twelve thousand Southern Baptist ministers. My evangelist father -- Francis Schaeffer -- was being treated for lymphoma at the Mayo Clinic, and in his place I’d been asked to deliver several keynote addresses on the evangelical/fundamentalist circuit. I was following in the proudly nepotistic American Protestant tradition, wherein the Holy Spirit always seems to lead the offspring and spouses of evangelical superstars to “follow the call.”
A few weeks before, after being introduced by Pat Robertson, I had delivered a rousing take-back-America speech to thousands of cheering religious broadcasters. And not long after, I would appear at a huge pro-life rally in Denver. Cal Thomas -- once the vice president of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, who later became a Fox News Commentator -- would introduce me as “the best speaker in America.” The “anointing” he said, was “clearly on this young man!” They were saying that I was a better speaker than my famous father.
LA: You mention your father and I think it is important to point out just how well connected your father was and subsequently how important you and your family were to the movement.
FS: [Yes]. At that moment the Schaeffers were evangelical royalty. When I was growing up in L’Abri, my parents’ evangelical/fundamentalist religious community in Switzerland, it was not unusual to find myself seated across the dining room table from Billy Graham’s daughter or President Ford’s son, even Timothy Leary. The English actress Glynis Johns used to come for Sunday high tea. I figured it was normal. They were just a few of the thousands who made it through our doors. Only later did I realize that L’Abri attracted a weirdly eclectic group of people who otherwise would not be caught dead in the same room. My childhood was, to say the least, unusual.
When Gerald Ford died in January of 2007, I recalled that the day he had assumed the presidency, his daughter-in-law Gayle w as babysitting my daughter Jessica as her job in the work-study program at L’Abri, where Mike Ford, the President’s son was a student.
Mom and Dad met with presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush Sr. and stayed in the White House several times. In the 1990s when my mother Edith -- then in her eighties -- heard that George W. Bush might run for the presidency, she exclaimed, “What? But Barbara asked me to pray especially for young George. She didn’t think he had what it took to do anything.”
LA: But you have moved away from that history or perhaps a better way to put it is that the movement moved entirely away from you -- from Conservatism to extremism?
FS: Dad and I were mixing with a new set of people that had not known much, if anything, about my father. If they had even heard of Dad before he came on the pro-life scene in the mid-seventies, they probably hadn’t liked the sound of him. These people included Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, James Kennedy and all the rest of the televangelists, radio hosts, and other self-appointed “Christian leaders” who were bursting on the scene in the 1970s and early eighties.
Compared to Dad these slick media figures were upstarts. They were “not our sort of people,” Dad often said. What people like Robertson and Falwell got from Dad was some respectability.
Dad had a unique reputation for an intellectual approach to faith. And his well deserved reputation for frugal ethical living, for not financially profiting from his ministry, for compassion, openness and intellectual integrity, was the opposite of the reputations of the new breed of evangelical leadership, with their perks, planes, and corner offices in gleaming new buildings and superficial glib messages. Empire builders like Robertson, Dobson and Falwell liked rubbing up against (or quoting) my father, for the same reason that popes liked to have photos taken with Mother Teresa.
What I slowly realized was that the religious right leaders we were helping to gain power were not “conservatives” at all in the old sense of the word. They were anti-American religious revolutionaries.
LA: Then you defended Senators Jim Webb (D-VA) and John McCain (R-AZ) for the way they were treated by this movement. Can you point to a particular issue you took with both the attack on Webb and on McCain? What happened after?
FS: I had long since left the evangelical subculture when I wrote an op-ed for the Dallas Morning News, and it was picked up by several hundred blogs and posted on the front page of James Webb’s campaign website. I had defended Webb against a series of scabrous attacks wherein his novels were smeared and he was even labeled a “pedophile” because he had described a sexual tribal ritual. I noted that Webb is a serious novelist whose work has been widely praised by many, including Tom Wolfe, who called Webb’s books, “The greatest of the Vietnam novels.”
I also took the Republicans to task for doing to Webb what they did to another war hero, Senator John McCain, back in the 2000 Republican primaries. I went so far as to say that, in disgust, my wife Genie and I were switching from registered Republicans to independents.
A few days after this op-ed was published I wrote another piece, this time for the Huffington Post, about the reaction to my departure from the Republican Party. This was picked up by dozens of Democrat-friendly blogs. As the congratulatory e-mails poured in I was reminded of the welcome given new believers when they converted from some particularly hideous life of sin. Then the Drudge Report and dozens of other right wing and/or evangelical outlets alerted their faithful to my treason.
Furious e-mails flooded in. They fell into two categories: The evangelical “Church Ladies” said they hadn’t read Webb’s novels but were shocked by his immorality nonetheless and went to three and four page single-spaced quivering lengths to justify the Republicans' tactics; The second group were simply profanity-spewing thugs. The Church Lady emails contrasted markedly with the insults. It was as if I’d stumbled into a Sunday school picnic at a Tourette’s syndrome convention.
“As a Christian the best question you could ask is what would Jesus do? He wouldn’t give Webb’s books a pass just because he’s a veteran.. .”
“Mr. Schaeffer: Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out you FUCK!”
"Mr. Webb has no excuse for using profanity..."
"Good fucking riddance -- you fucking cry baby!"
"I have never read any of Mr. Webb’s novels. However, the excerpts [in the Drudge Report] are very disturbing. . . . As for the Bible, yes it has all the things you mentioned: rape, murder, adultery, masturbation, etc. However, the Lord did not give us graphic details . . . And I hope as Christians we can remember that and be a voice crying out against ALL the ugly things..."
"We don’t need your lame ass motherfucking comments or your support..."
When combined the hundreds of emails seemed to boil down to: "Do what we say Jesus says -- and if you don’t we’ll kick your head in!" The reaction confirmed why any sane person would run, and keep on running from the right-wing/evangelical/Republican morass as far as their legs would carry them, something I’d been doing for more than twenty years. But I had brought this upon myself. The truth is, that with my father I had once contributed mightily to the creation of the right wing, evangelical/Republican sub-culture that was attacking me.
Alarms Bells Sound
LA: Most recently you have expressed serious concern about right-wing extremism in the name of God and the radicalization of the Christian right since the election of President Obama. What is it that has you so alarmed?
FS: Since President Obama took office I've felt like the lonely -- maybe crazy -- proverbial canary in the coal mine. As a former right wing leader, who many years ago came to my senses and began to try to undo the harm the movement of religious extremism I helped build has done, I've been telling the media that we're facing a dangerous time in our history. A fringe element of the far right Republican Party seems it believes it has a license to incite threatening behavior in the name of God.
They have singled out President Obama as their target. Since the real President Obama is not who they describe -- no, he's not the Antichrist, was born in America and doesn't want to kill your grandmother -- they have resorted to lies and intimidation to try and stop his agenda of much needed change. The problem is that I believe that Religious Right leaders and their Republican base are also potentially inciting violence. Within their numbers are unhinged people who also happen to be well armed.
Rachel Maddow and the readers of Huffington Post and Alternet have heard my warnings and so have a lot of bloggers. However, most of the media have ignored the looming threat of far right violence while conservatives deride those of us who link crazy talk to the potential of crazy actions. (I explain and expose the link between evangelical/fundamentalist "End Times" theology, politics and violence in my new book Patience With God--Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion (Or Atheism).
LA: Have we not seen angry rhetoric before or is this something new, something different?
FS: David Gergen recently said that the racial attacks on Obama are reminiscent of the atmosphere leading to the killing of President Lincoln. Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times that he saw this same disturbing play of religious hate shortly before Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in Israel. And Roger Ebert warned of the rise of the fringe in the GOP and how they are undermining democracy.
Of course in [President] Roosevelt's time the far-right was pro German and called him a Jew.
LA: This I did not know. But to the current far-right, why do you think religion, Christianity in particular, has become so politicized?
FS: Power is a strong drug. But the most recent power grab goes back to Roe v. Wade. It was too soon and too fast a change. That started the whole culture war as we know it. The bestselling status of the Left Behind novels proves that, not unlike Islamist terrorists who behead their enemies, many evangelical/ fundamentalist readers relish the prospect of God doing lots of messy killing for them as they watch in comfort from on high.
They want revenge on all people not like them -- forever. Knowingly or unknowingly, Jenkins and LaHaye cashed in on years of evangelical/fundamentalists’ imagined victimhood. I say imagined, because the born-agains had one of their very own, George W. Bush, in the White House for eight long, ruinous years and also dominated American politics for the better part of thirty years before that.
Nevertheless, their sense of being a victimized minority is still very real -- and very marketable. Whether they were winning politically or not, they nurtured a mythology of persecution by the "other." Evangelical/fundamentalists believed that even though they were winning, somehow they had actually lost.
LA: Can you better explain this mentality?
FS: I used to be part of the self-pitying, whining, evangelical/fundamentalist chorus. I remember going on the Today Show with host Jane Pauley back in the late 1970s (or early 1980s). I debated with the head of the American Library Association about my claim that our evangelical/fundamentalist books weren’t getting a fair shake from the "cultural elites." We Schaeffers were selling millions of books, but the New York Times never reviewed them. I made the point that we were being ignored by the "media elite," which was somewhat ironic, given that I had been invited to appear on Today to make that claim.
I dropped out of the evangelical/fundamentalist subculture soon after that Today appearance. Others carried on where I left off, pushing the victimhood mythology to the next generation of evangelical/fundamentalists, and they have cultivated a following among the terminally aggrieved based on ceaselessly warning them about "the world."
The Radicalization of Religion
LA: Do you think there a direct correlation between the radicalization of Islam by extremists to the radicalization of Christianity by extremists?
FS: No. we were ready to try and take over America long before the present wave of Islamic-inspired terror started. But now it's another excuse for the far right to hate the "other."
LA: What is it that is driving the Christian right to such extremes? Is it fear? If so, fear of what? Is it something else?
FS: It is fear of facts. Look, if you believe in the earth being 6000 years old, that gays chose to be gay and can "change," that Jesus will come back soon, that war in the Middle East is good... what you fear is the real world, the reality-based Americans who know you are dumb, crazy or both. It is resentment that drives the right.
LA: For those of us who are not familiar with the "end-times" movement, could you please summarize what it is? How does it relate to Israel?
FS: The expanding Left Behind entertainment empire also feeds the dangerous delusions of Christian Zionists, who are convinced that the world is heading to a final Battle of Armageddon and who see this as a good thing!
LA: A good thing? And what does Zionism have to do with this movement?
FS: Christian Zionists, led by many "respectable" mega-pastors -- including Reverend John Hagee -- believe that war in the Middle East is God’s will. In his book Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World, Hagee maintains that Russia and the Arabs will invade Israel and then will be destroyed by God. This will cause the Antichrist -- the head of the European Union -- to stir up a confrontation over Israel between China and the West.
LA: Wait a moment. Aside from the obvious of the real geopolitical allegiances and resource interests -- making this scenario less likely than all of us packing up and moving to Mars soon -- they believe this is a good thing?
FS: Yes. It will "prove" that they will "inherit the earth." In other words they’ve spent their lives feeling left behind by culture and scholarship. If the "End" comes, they get the last laugh. So they cling to this like an addict clinging to his last fix.
Perhaps, in the era of Obama, Hagee will do a fast rewrite and say that President Obama is the Antichrist, because the same folks who are into Christian Zionism are also into the far, far loony right of the Republican Party represented by oddities like Sarah Palin.
These are the same people who insist that President Obama is a "secret Muslim," "not an American," and/or "a communist," "more European than American," or whichever one of those contradictory things is worse -- not like us anyway, that’s for sure. Christian Zionists support any violent action by the State of Israel against Arabs and Palestinians because the increasingly brutal State of Israel is, in the fevered evangelical/fundamentalist mind, the nation presently standing in for Jesus as avenger on evildoers everywhere, by which they mean Arabs and others not like us.
Christian Zionists are yet another reason why I and countless other Christians, including many of the more moderate evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox are hesitant to be labeled "Christian." Who wants to be confused with some of the most dangerous and stupid people in the world: nuclear-armed, paranoid evangelical/fundamentalist Bible-thumpers rooting for Armageddon on and worrying in paranoid "official" documents about being forced to become like "the Europeans"? (Just a thought: does that make high-speed rail service a tool of the Devil?)
LA: Being a Jew, this idea of Christian Zionism sounds very much like anti-Semitism. Would you say that Christian Zionism -- and the whole end-times philosophy -- is anti-Semitic or am I misunderstanding it?
FS: Yes. The "purpose" of the Jews is to be there to be killed after the Second Coming. Christian Zionists love Israel the way oncologists love cancer. It's a good living. Jews who play footsie with evangelicals in return for the "support" of the State of Israel are fools.
LA: What do you fear will happen? Who or what do you fear will be targeted?
FS: I don't fear large scale violence. I fear another Oklahoma type bombing, and most of all the assassination of President Obama.
Sadly that line from the "Godfather" sticks in my brain about the fact that anyone can be killed. The scary thing is that there are a number of pastors on record as saying they are praying for the President’s death. Can you imagine what some gun-toting paranoid who hears that in a sermon is thinking and might do? And to them the fact that "the world" likes this black man is reason enough to hate him. You wait. The reaction to Obama winning the Nobel Prize will be entirely negative from the far Religious Right. "See the world, all those socialists like him that just proves he’s a -- fill in the blank -- communist, secret Muslim, the Antichrist, whatever."
LA: How would you describe the audience to whom this violence is marketed?
FS: This is rube white America. This is the cracker fundamentalist South. These are the Sarah Palin "He's Not-A-Real-American" Obama haters. These are the people waiting for Jesus to come back and/or the UN to take over the world or the Army to take their guns.
LA: Who do you see as fueling this rhetoric?
FS: Fox News, Rupert Murdoch, Glenn Beck... we all know this crew. And of course there's Rush Limbaugh. But worst of all are not the famous leaders but the every day religious leaders feeding hate. Look how they came together in California to push prop 8. Behind them are those like James Dobson who has told his followers to beat their children into submission. He is always looking for new enemies and is now aiming at gays. But none of this would happen if there were not thousands of pastors and followers whose idea of faith is to divide themselves from the "other."
LA: What do you think motivates these media personalities, politicians, and so forth? Are they true believers or opportunists?
FS: I'll speak for the ones I know personally. Dobson gave away 150,000 copies of one of my far right 80's hate screeds. He had me on his show. His intentions started out as good. Then he got used to power and became a genuine egomaniac. Pat Robertson is a genuine lunatic. I've been on Fox talking about my military-friendly books before they put me on their shit list. They are just plain stupid.
LA: Have you seen similar extremism from left-wing Christians? If so, how is it the same or different from what you observe from the right-wing?
FS: I wouldn't say I've seen the same levels of hate and outright lies from the left. If you read the comments on places like Huff Post they are shrill sometimes but no one is being condemned to hell, and people try and stick to facts. The amazing thing about the religious right is the combination of lies, myth and hate into a rather unique blend.
LA: What do you think a workable solution might entail? Some would argue that no matter how hateful, ugly, even violent the speech, it is still protected speech. How then do you think your concerns could be addressed in that context?
FS: All I'd say is this: The hate speech of the right ought to draw the same level of public and governmental attention as, say, Muslim hate speech. If we take bin Laden seriously when he talks about God hating America's sins, we should take the America extremists as seriously. There should be no free ride for these idiots carrying weapons near presidential or other political gatherings. People like Operation Rescue should be investigated to see how many of their members are planning to murder more abortion providers. And if you want to know what the greatest threat to our president is, look no further than where evangelical "Christianity" intersects with Glenn Beck's fans. The FBI should seize his fan letter email. I'll bet they'd find some very interesting folks out there, people in militias, far right hate groups, and all the rest.
LA: How do you think your father would react if he were still alive today? How about Jesus?
FS: Dad would despise Glenn Beck. My father was not a hater. He opposed abortion on demand and Roe. But he never bashed gays but welcomed them and everyone else in his ministry. Even before he died in 1985 he told me that he thought Robertson was a nut, Falwell crass, and Dobson power-hungry. Except for the abortion issue my father was center left, interested in art and culture. As for Jesus, well, I won't speak for him, but let me just say that if "conservatives" are now going to edit out the "liberal" parts of the Bible, they better cut the four Gospels in their entirety.
LA: Thank you for your time.(Larisa Alexandrovna is managing editor of investigative news for Raw Story.)
Saturday, November 14, 2009
It's coming up again; the Ultimate Day of American Gluttony.
While I'm not going to make any friends with this piece, I'm going to say this, anyway -- You Still Have Time, Brothers and Sisters, to Make Amends.
Herewith are some suggestions for a peaceful, productive, and positive Thanksgiving Day:
1. Volunteer at a homeless shelter. The government and your employer will give you the day off (if you're lucky enough to have a job), so use that time wisely - instead of consuming 1,200 calories per person, find out ahead of time where the nearest homeless shelter is located - and do some volunteer work. Be a leader; take the rest of the family with you. You'll learn something.
2. Instead of killing a turkey, have a cup of rice and a stalk of celery. This is the standard fare for over 80% of the planet's human population. Again; you'll learn something.
3. Kill your T.V.(s). When you get home from volunteering, spend some family time - read a book together. Reflect on the fact that most of humanity doesn't have a T.V.
4. Donate the money you'd've spent on the Great American Pigout to a charity of your choice. I've listed a few below. Yes; most of them are run by godless atheists. If that's a problem, look in the mirror, and ask 'why'.
5. The day after The Day, don't go shopping. That's right. I'm asking you to boycott Christmas, too. It's about time. If the Fundies manage to take over, they'll declare such an act 'terrorism', and shoot you for it. Do it now, while throwing a metaphorical wrench in the works still has meaning.
That's right - you don't have to obsess about family members whom you never see unless they want to mooch a free dinner; you don't have to stroke-out about how much, what-of, and when - and you don't have to participate in a 'holiday' which is 100% aimed at haves - when the world is full of so many have-nots as to make the whole thing obscene.
You have time to put this all into action. Don't let me down.
S.H.A.R.E. (Secular Humanist Aid and Relief Effort)
HopeEquity Foundation (division of Heifer.Org)
Humanist Charities International (division of American Humanist Association)
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
"We have shared the incommunicable experience of war. We felt, we still feel, the passion of life to its top. In our youths, our hearts were touched by fire."
-- Oliver Wendell Holmes; on his Civil War experiences.
(Sullivan Ballou was a major in the 2nd Rhode Island infantry. He wrote this letter to his wife prior to leaving for what became a general advance of Federal forces into Northern Virginia in July; 1861.)
My very dear Sarah,
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days-perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I am no more.
I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing-perfectly willing-to lay down all the joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.
Sarah, my love for you is deathless. It seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.
The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most grateful to God and to you that I have enjoyed them for so long. How hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me-perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and that when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness.
But, oh Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights...always, always. And if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, and as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for me, for we shall meet again....
(Sullivan Ballou was killed a week later at Bull Run.)
He came to this sorry pass by way of the American legal system, for having killed several of his fellow countrymen at some distance, in an insane and convoluted plot which was eventually intended to claim his ex-wife (the only original target).
What I'm about to say here should in no way be interpreted as some form of apologetic for Muhammad's actions -- what he did was cowardly and evil. However, this evening the government is going to do something equally cowardly, and equally evil -- they're going to kill someone, and whitewash that crime with the rule of law.
See, there's something most death-penalty aficionados don't understand: When the State kills someone, they do it in our name.
That's right -- that means you - and I - were forced to throw the switch.
We're going to kill John Muhammad. And there's nothing anyone can do about it except wait for the outcome, which is certain.
As always, some stats are in order:
1. There's no proof that the death penalty reduces crime. To that end, it's useless - unless you happen to be a bloodthirsty moron who wants good, old-fashioned, eye-for-an-eye vengeance - then, it has value; at least, to your kind of 'American'.
2. America is the only industrialized republic (outside of Japan) which still has a death-penalty on the books. The rest abandoned it long ago; those nations actually have less crime of all categories than we do.
3. Legalized killing brutalizes a society. America's history is full of blood-lust; I'm doubting this will change any time soon based on our socioethnographic background (I wrote about this in a prior post regarding the social mores of our Borderer ancestors; I'll stand on that as proof of this statement).
4. There are plenty of people who have been executed when innocent of the crimes for which they were accused. While this isn't the case with Muhammad, the state of Texas is now in the middle of a controversy regarding a man they executed who may well have been telling the truth all along - that he had nothing to do with the crime for which he was accused - and the governor is now trying to sweep the situation under the proverbial rug.
Unless you've been avoiding such news over the past few years, there've been more than a few people exonerated from capital crime through DNA evidence - so much so that the governor of Illinois issued a moratorium on the death-penalty in his state until every case could be reviewed.
"But what of the victims?" I hear this one every time I make this argument - and my response is the same: What about them? If they don't have the basic morals to know that killing people is wrong, no matter the circumstances, then I haven't much sympathy - and in fact they're not any better than the person on the other side of the jail-cell bars; they just have a bad law on their side.
As a Libertarian, I'm of the belief that the death-penalty is wrong in its essence. I've excused myself from two juries based on that belief, and I'll continue to vote against the death penalty at any turn when it is on a ballot here in Oregon.
Let him break rocks; make blue-jeans; build furniture - but don't compound the violence of American society by putting his blood on our collective hands.
Leave him conspicuously alive.
In that, we send a clear message, not only to the rest of the world, but to ourselves - that we value life, and not death; that spilling more blood doesn't solve anything - and that, in the end, we are better than he and all those like him by not demanding a tune for the tunesmith and an eye for an eye.
Over the past few days, I've seen the responses I've expected from you regarding Fort Hood and healthcare. It was actually your collective response to the Fort Hood incident which made me pause and reflect on what's really going on here in America, and why we're in such danger now as a nation.
Before you start in - no; we're not in danger from a 'godless Muslim president'; from 'godless heathen raghead 'Muzzies', 'godless abortionist mass-murderers', or 'godless atheists'.
We're in danger from you.
Citizenship 101 isn't taught any more -- never mind the reason. Likely, you were home schooled in that generation after the '70's; an 'army' of 'God's Warriors', ready to pick up the proverbial sword and 'take your country back for Jesus'.
There's a problem here. Your teachers - whether they were your parents, your pastor, or someone else - failed you.
American citizenship isn't for the faint of heart - and frankly, it's not for everyone. It requires something you were never taught along the way - tolerance, and critical thought. Instead, your teachers taught you intolerance, hate, jingoism, xenophobia, and a lot of other things you probably don't understand.
I'm not letting you off the hook with a perverted version of 'forgive them, for they know not what they do' - I'm hauling you up short and telling you why you're the problem, and why you have to get your heads out of your asses and out of the clouds.
First, you're not being persecuted. All of this talk about some grand conspiracy to 'persecute all the poor Christians' is horseshit. Get over yourselves.
Example: Yesterday, I drove by a large church here in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. People were streaming in to the building, and while traffic was a mess at that time, no one was throwing rocks at cars, picketing the place, or demanding that the building be locked and burned with everyone inside.
Those of us who weren't going to worship services weren't there to protest your religion.
We were just waiting in traffic for a few minutes to get on with our day.
I'll wager this went on all over America this weekend - at churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other venues where Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and many other religious affiliations went about the quiet practice of their religions.
What I think personally of religion does not matter.
Its free expression is the law.
No one is telling you that you can't worship. No one is telling you that you have to have an abortion against your will. No one is telling you that you're going to have to pay a tax if you're a Christian.
Secondly, America isn't a 'Christian nation'. All the rhetoric and bullshit from your 'leaders', and all the chest-beating, pulpit-pounding, wailing and other sizz-fizz isn't going to change that.
I'm awfully sorry that your teachers failed you - that you do not understand that America was founded as a secular republic with no religion - but that's the truth, and I have history plus the Constitution on my side here.
Third, while no one is going to take away your right to peaceably assemble and worship, we're also not going to let you change the law so your religion holds primacy. You're not in charge. Get used to it.
To be an American, you have to agree to support the rights of everyone who lives here. Period. Making exceptions by hating on immigrants, bashing the beliefs of others and trashing on people who don't hold your worldview doesn't make you right, better, or even smart.
It makes you bigots and haters -- it makes you part of the problem here, rather than any solution.
Don't want an abortion? Don't have one. No one's going to force you. However, when you stand up and say "Doctor Tiller got what was coming to him!", and "Hooray for the guy who shot Tiller!", you're not making America a better place - you're supporting domestic terrorism.
Don't like Islam? Fine. Don't like it. I don't, either. However, the moment you start calling for laws turning Muslims into second-class citizens - or revoking their citizenship entirely - you're engaging in hate-speech. And, whether that's against the 'law' or not is not the issue -- that sort of thing makes you part of the problem.
Do you want to be real Americans?
Then start supporting the right of someone whose opinion you loathe and despise to voice that opinion in a public forum. Acknowledge that while your 'god' holds abortion to be an evil, support the right of your fellow-citizens to obtain that operation without hindrance - not because you like it, but because it's the law.
Do you support those two wars in the Middle East? Fine by me. However, to be an American, you have to grit your teeth and say, "That's legal, and I support their right to do so" when someone protests against those wars and burns the flag you purport to revere as much as your 'god'.
You're howling about your 'free speech' - when you'd cheerfully silence others who don't agree with you. You're howling about your religion - when you'd subjugate anyone who doesn't accept yours. If you're not willing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those people with whom you disagree most vehemently, then you've missed something along the way - and you're living in a state of moral bankruptcy.
Your symbol is a cross. Fine by me. Don't ever even presume to make it mine, because when you do, you are stating by that action that you are against everything America stands for - a nation, founded as a secular republic, which embraced the faiths of many other peoples and made manifest the Latin motto, "E Pluribus Unum" -- One, out of many.
That is America.
Embrace that, or leave.
I'll hold the door.
Monday, November 2, 2009
CIT, a large financial resource to the retail industry (it's involved in 'factoring' - the process of funding merchandise which sits on a sales-floor until it's sold) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy the other day.
The fifth-largest corporate bankruptcy in American history, this one's notable because CIT had taken a staggering 2 billion dollars in direct government 'bailout' funds.
So, what happens to the money?
That depends on CIT's debtholders.
They'll have a 'creditors' meeting', which will involve a discussion of the company's assets relative to its debts. As to the money you and I and your great-grandchildren have underwritten - it's likely gone.
While a rant is probably in order, I'll instead comment briefly on the job of government vs. the private-sector.
A Brief History Of American Economics
Around the turn of the century, America had gone through a similar unequal distribution of wealth - working-people were forced to work for months at a stretch with no fixed working-hours and no days off; there was no such thing as a 'safety-net', and the concept of the 'sweatshop' was an all too real part of life for people on the lowest rung of the ladder.
From the 1880's to the turn of the century, working people (who were striking for the right to form unions and bargain collectively) turned increasingly to rioting in order to make their cause known - and also from the sheer frustration of their position.
Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt saw the problem for what it was - and began the process of wealth-redistribution by the then-controversial acts of 'trust busting'. Now almost-universally viewed as a good thing, the labor movement in America brought about two-day weekends, eight-hour workweeks, overtime laws, and other benefits which we accept today as a part of the social fabric.
Through this process (which was really completed during the Great Depression of the 1930's with the regulation of the banking and securities industries), America saw some of its greatest growth. We'd learned, or so it seemed, the lesson which seems to have eluded us in this present generation - that the people who founded our country hadn't codified an economic system; it was up to subsequent generations to work out.
The system which developed - a hybrid of social capitalism - worked until the late 1970's when President Carter began the process of deregulating the financial markets.
President Reagan continued this process, and also overhauled the tax structure, which favored the wealthy - in sum, beginning a redistribution of wealth in America not seen since the turn of the century, and which began the long road to where we are today.
For our part, we cheered - taxes for some of us were lower, and if we cared that debt-paper was being sold to the Chinese to pay for the balance and fund this particular lunacy, we didn't show it.
When we gave the keys of the asylum to the inmates, we also forgot - if we ever knew - that unbridled capitalism is actually at fundamental odds with democracy.
Everyone Has A Job - Sort Of....
The free market doesn't do a good job of regulating itself. This isn't any inherent failure in an economic system; it's simply human-nature. Give a person the ability to make $50.00 from thin air, and he'll try to make $100.00. Some people will be scrupulous about this process, and exercise a high degree of ethical restraint and moral responsibility. Many others won't.
It falls to a governing body to do this for them, so people like you and I don't wind up snookered by the likes of a Bernie Madoff, freezing in our homes while 'energy traders' from Enron engineer rolling blackouts so they can reap the profits from suddenly and artificially scarce electricity, or waking up to find our investments worthless because the banking system had deluded itself into believing that taking bad loans and wrapping them up in bundles with bows on them constituted 'creating wealth'.
Put another way, it's the job of the free market to create jobs and wealth in a responsible fashion - it's the job of the government to create a stable medium-of-exchange (currency), to protect that currency by ensuring its ongoing stability, and to police the market via regulation in such fashion as permits everyone to make a decent living without fear of preventable loss.
That both have failed us is the fault of government.
The government - for at least thirty years - has failed in this. The results were evident in late 2008, when the banking system quite nearly self-destructed. By this time, the only thing the government could do was to say 'Oh, shit!' - and start printing money to fill the gap and keep the whole thing from unraveling.
The effect is beginning to be felt - paradoxically, some are thriving due to this lunacy; most of us are going to suffer, because just as a dog working its way through a python will eventually come out the Other End in far worse shape, the nearly five trillion dollars the government has 'created' from thin air is working its way through the economic system as we speak.
It'll come out the Other End as more business failures and hyperinflation.
We're being told that money from thin air equals wealth - that the true job of government is to create jobs and buy businesses - that everything is getting better every day - and that all we have to do is 'believe'.
You'll pardon me if I don't share this enthusiasm.