Xpatriated Texan - A Maverick Believer in the Garden State

Christian Liberal is not an oxymoron

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Location: United States

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Update on Katrina Relief

This was a big one, folks.

Cross Left has a more comprehensive list of organizations helping clean up.

Let YOUR Voice be Heard!

This has been a crazy week for me. I'll spare you the details, but the good news is that I'm no longer unemployed. While that means that I'll have money finally going INTO my bank account, it also means that some of my time will be taken up in work-related projects. On top of that, the one class I'm taking this semester is going to be reading intensive.

SO...

Fans of my sister-site "Riding Herd on the Blogosphere" will be saddened to know that I am going to discontinue it indefinitely. Those of you who aren't fans - well, won't be saddened, I suppose.

However, there is an opportunity to make your voice heard elsewhere - at the Voice of Opinion internet forum. For now there is only the bulletin board forum, but I hope to be adding to the project soon.

Thanks for your support!

XT

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Katrina Relief

The Gulf Coast states have been devastated by Hurricane Katrina. If you are able to do so, please make a contribution to the American Red Cross so they can help those who need it most.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Lies, Money, and Politics

Why is it that Mr. Whipple can be thrown in jail if he can't prove that Charmin really is softer than other brands, but our political leaders are allowed to pass off outright lies to us with complete immunity?

One reason, of course, is that Mr. Whipple doesn't make the laws.

While that may be the right answer in a political-science kind of way, it sickens me that our political system has become a way to determine who is the best liar - which is usually determined by who tells the best lies to the people with the most money.

Of course, the Bush Administration has reached new heights in doing so. It's no longer good enough to take money from the willing to promote your lies, you now need to use taxpayer money, official government workers, and, of course, any political hack with a public voice that is willing to be a good whore.

Amid silence of deafening proportions, the Lautenberg-Kerry Bill was introduced - and not even a whimper was heard (full text of bill listed here). Officially, the bill will be debated in May, which means it will come up for a vote on the 5th of Never. The simple truth is that politicians don't want to tell the truth.

And that is the problem. Democracy depends on a well-informed public who weigh the issues (somewhat carefully, it is hoped) and vote in their own self interest. When official propaganda supplants legitimate news sources, though, how well informed can the public be? Yes, there are people who carefully wade through tons of misinformation to try and get an honest story out, but they are generally shouted down by the echo-chambers from either side. I am a firm believer that truth will always eventually win out - but political campaigns are on a tight schedule. "Eventually" the current President's popularity has plummeted lower than even Richard Nixon's at the height of Watergate. That did little good for those of us who say through his inst-o-matic grin and platitudes back in 2003.

True, Lautenberg-Kerry will not drastically change everything that needs to be changed. It is only one tiny step towards makign our government more transparent and our news more reliable. But, to borrow words from a certain astronaut, some small steps can become giant leaps when viewed through a historical lens.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Public Advocate News

Last week saw the first debate in the NYC Public Advocate race. The general consensus is that Betsy Gotbaum is in hot water.


Gotbaum Debate Performance: Got a Clue?

While the incumbent Public Advocate stumbled over basic issues and failed to cite a single accomplishment of note, Rasiej presents big ideas to re-imagine New York 's future.

NEW YORK -- In the first major debate of the Public Advocate campaign, incumbent Betsy Gotbaum stumbled through a gaffe-filled performance last night; failing to cite a single significant accomplishment, flip-flopping on a major campaign pledge from four years ago, and showing a shocking lack of familiarity with basic and big issues alike for someone who has been a public figure for three decades.

By contrast, Andrew Rasiej showed a clear command of the issues and presented several new ideas for connecting New York and bringing the city into the 21 st Century, including his signature plan to create a low cost citywide wireless Internet system.

"It's time New Yorkers had a real Public Advocate who does more than put out trivial reports and trumped up press releases, and that's just what voters will get with Andrew Rasiej -- new leadership, new ideas, new results," said Rasiej campaign spokesman Jay Strell.

With a live television audience watching on NY1, Gotbaum proved one thing: she doesn't need opponents to demonstrate that she's uninspiring, ill-informed, and ineffective. She's more than capable of that herself.

Consider:

Ineffective: Given several opportunities to talk about her accomplishments, Betsy Gotbaum failed to name a single accomplishment of note. Not a single one. Betsy Gotbaum might be the first incumbent in history to run on a broken record -- her answer on practically every issue was "I've talked about that."


Ill-informed: In confirming her support of Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards development project in Brooklyn , Gotbaum said she was unaware that Ratner was threatening to use the city's power of eminent domain to forcibly take people's property.

Given that community groups have been protesting against this use of eminent domain for months, and that the news media has been reporting on it for j as long, Gotbaum either blatantly misled the audience or showed that she is completely out of touch with one of the biggest issues in the city.

New York 's voters, and the people of Brooklyn in particular, deserve to know which is the case.

Uninspiring: She spent more time telling people what the Public Advocate's office "wasn't about" than what it "was about." She doesn't know what the office can do because she's failed to do anything.

Case in point: When Andrew Rasiej touted his groundbreaking plan to shed light and crack down on the City Council's secretive and abusive process for funding special projects, and asked Gotbaum why she had not taken a similar action to prevent public funds from being funneled to the Church of Scientology, Gotbaum's only defense was to say that the Public Advocate does not have oversight over the City Council budget. But the truth is that the Public Advocate has clear authority to introduce legislation to change the budget process, and is charged with providing the public information on what the government is doing with taxpayer dollars and a fundamental responsibility to look out for their interests.


Flip-Flop: In one of the 2001 campaign debates, Gotbaum pledged she wouldn't use the Public Advocate's office to run for mayor. According to a October 5, 2001, article in the Daily News, she said, "I am promising I will never run for mayor." Then, last night she turned around and said she was now open to becoming a mayoral candidate. We can only guess that the word "never" has a different meaning to Betsy Gotbaum than it does to the rest of us.

"If last night proved anything it's that Betsy Gotbaum doesn't have a clue, especially about how to use this office to address this city's big challenges," Strell said. "She broke her pledge about not running for Mayor without breaking a sweat, she demonstrated no understanding of the issue of the role of eminent domain as part of the Atlantic Yards development, and most important, talked more about what the Public Advocate's office can't do instead of what it can."



Also:



Is Gotbaum Master of Her Domain?
Public Advocate candidates dispute what's eminent and imminent in the Atlantic Yards deal

What's worse, feigning ignorance or being ignorant? That is the question raised by the latest attack by public advocate candidates Andrew Rasiej and Norman Siegel on the woman they each want to unseat, incumbent Betsy Gotbaum.

In Tuesday's NY1 debate, Siegel asked Gotbaum how she squared her support for the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn with her opposition to the use of eminent domain. Siegel opposes the recent Supreme Court decision allowing government "takings" for private development rather than old fashioned public uses like hospitals and highways, and he has provided legal help to opponents of Bruce Ratner's plan to build a Nets arena and housing complex around the MTA rail yards.

In March, Gotbaum told the Brooklyn Rail newspaper that she "will not support any project that is dependent on the use of eminent domain for private use," but then in July called the Atlantic Yards project—and its community benefits agreement that includes jobs for locals and affordable housing—" a wonderful, wonderful example of what development should be all about." She went on to say: "To bring all these different groups together to get everybody on board, to have negotiated like that, Bruce Ratner, I think we can only praise you to the highest."

So, Siegel asked, what gives? According to an unofficial transcript of the NY1 debate, Gotbaum replied:
Well, Mr. Siegel, let me point out to you that I am against the use of eminent domain and . . . it is not my understanding that the developer at the Atlantic Yards is going to use eminent domain. I have been told in fact that that is not the case, so if you know something different that is something I don't know, but I am against the use of eminent domain in the northern part of Manhattan and at the Atlantic Yards. I am concerned about the project at the Atlantic Yards. I am concerned about the size and I am concerned about the traffic and I am also concerned if there is to be a use of eminent domain but I have been told there is not.

Perhaps Gotbaum has new information, but eminent domain's been in the Atlantic Yards mix since the beginning, and it remains part of the equation. It's mentioned in the February memorandum of understanding between Forest City Ratner and the city and state, as well as in the May presentation that Ratner's people made to the City Council, as well as in several articles in the local papers about the Brooklyn deal.

It's true that Forest City Ratner has bought up many of the parcels that lie in the project footprint, but some people so far are refusing to sell out (Besides, selling out with the prospect of eminent domain hanging over your head is a little different from deciding freely to relocate). That's why ACORN's Bertha Lewis, a champion of the Atlantic Yards deal, told the Voice in July that she supports the use of eminent domain "if it's a last resort and they are buildings where there's no other strategy to be dealt with." Gotbaum's salute to the Atlantic Yards community benefits deal can't have hurt the public advocate when she asked for ACORN's endorsement, which she received.

A spokesman for Gotbaum's campaign says simply, "If eminent domain is part of the project she's not supporting it."


Ah, where would the PA be without someone to think for her? Apparently, in much the same place she is in now - but she'd look a lot dumber.

Carnivals and stuff

The weekly Carnival of NJ Bloggers is up at If this is paradise, I wish I had a lawnmower.

For those who are looking for a way to get more input into what is considered news, I refer you to Political State Report - if you think your voice is missing from the mix, feel free to throw it in.

Yet another way to wade in on the issues of the day - Voice of Opinion has launched a new political discussion forum. More developments are, well, developing.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Milestones - Sister Site

Today, Tammany has gone over one thousand hits.

In less than two months, more than one thousand people have stopped by to see why Hudson County remains one of the most corrupt places in America. Short of Arriana Huffington, that kind of response is more than a novice blogger could expect. I thank you for your interest.

I hope this is a jumping-off point for others in Jersey (and elsewhere) to join in the effort to bring better government into reality. If it is only a passing way-site on the internet, then it has not truly served its purpose.

Help me make Hudson County a better place to live.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Pat Robertson Redux

Pat Robertson actually had the gall to say that he didn't call for the assassination of Hugo Chavez.


"I didn't say 'assassination.' I said our special forces should 'take him out,'" Robertson said on his show. "'Take him out' could be a number of things including kidnapping."


Yeah, right. It could also mean, "Let's get some ice cream and see a moving picture." That isn't how it was used, though. Robertson is just in a mad scramble to save face for exposing his soft inner core of hatred and violence.

The fact is that Robertson has a long history of making such "colorful" - I'd use the word "shameful" - comments. The fact is that he owns a television show that exists for the sole purpose of telling people what to think. The fact is that he is still an important figure in the Republican Party.

Yes, there have been a lot of people saying weak things like, "Pat Robertson's day has passed." What does that mean? He thinks it's still Sunday?

I'll accept Pat Robertson doesn't speak for the Republicans when either George W. Bush or Ken Melman stand up and say, "The Republican Party does not stand for the sort of international strong-arm anarchy that Mr. Robertson is advocating. As long as he insists on talking this way, he will be persona non grata at any Republican gathering - as will his money."

I'm not holding my breath.

Because to do that would undermine an important Republican core group - the militant (non) Religious Right.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

To Protest Too Much

I'll be the first to admit - I'm not a "take it to the streets" kind of guy. I'm just not really into the whole "group think" kind of atmosphere - which is why I don't go to sporting events but prefer to sit and home and laugh at the idiots in the crowd on TV.

Some friends of mine - fellow DFA members - are organizing a group to go to Washington to participate in a anti-war rally. I support their decision to go as being what's best for them and am 100% behind the idea of them having a public voice for their concerns. I'm not going, though.

One reason is that it just becomes so much political theatre. Just look at what Cindy Sheehan has started. Yes, she's getting good press for wanting to stop the war - but she's also mobilizing people just as avidly against her as she is for her cause. In other words, it's just become a divisive tool for spin-meisters to whirl away. Meanwhile, the TV cameras scoop up every ounce of manure on both sides and the rhetoric gets more and more hysterical.

To be perfectly honest, I thought the invasion of Iraq was unjustified and needlessly hurried. However, I saw what Saddam did to Kuwait City and I'll never regret that he doesn't have the power to do that again. There were reasons for toppling Saddam, but they weren't what we heard a couple of years ago.

I am also a veteran who carries a great deal of empathy for my comrades-in-arms deployed in Iraq as well as their families back home. I'd really like to not have another flag-draped coffin land in Delaware. Walter Reed simply does not need more practice in rehabbing young men and women with shattered bones, missing limbs, empty eyes, and even emptier futures. When I hear all the arguments about the moral of our troops, it is the forgotten ones within our borders that comes to my mind. (So I've talked myself out of the last excuse I had for not signing the VFW letter asking me to visit wounded veterans.)

I want the war ended. But I won't march for the same reason that, while I fully support our troops (and get quite literally fighting mad when it is suggested that I don't), I won't put a ribbon magnet on the back of my car. In the end, it's all just for show. Yes, it's a show of what you believe in, but it's still just a show.

It sickens me to hear someone say, "Casey Sheehan volunteered, so protesting his death is spitting on his grave." No, it isn't. At least, it doesn't have to be. I'm not convinced that mass demonstrations and candlelight vigils are the way to do it, though.

This is just one more issue where Americans are simply talking right past the other side. No one cares what the other side says because no one believes that the other side has any moral ground on which to stand. Though both sides are partially right, they are equally wrong.

I understand why George W. Bush won't meet with Cindy Sheehan - and though his words come off as insulting he is right in saying that nothing would change if they met. He isn't going to budge and neither is she. Both right, both wrong, both viewing the other as wrong.

I've mentioned my idea on what should happen in Iraq - and I think it's a good one. If I could get half as many people looking for such a solution as are involved in protesting and counter-protesting; then I truly believe that within a few weeks things could be drastically different on the ground in Iraq.

That's the problem. That's why people get so pissed-off at politics. As soon as we mention collective action, we forget that we are first and foremost Americans - and then Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives. That's why so many Americans stay home on election day, I think. They realize that no one is really going to reach across the aisle and unite the country. No one is going to scold their base and say, "You're wrong. Stop acting like a child!" No, those words are reserved only for those with whom we disagree.

Meanwhile, people die. Some will live and carry scars upon their flesh for their entire life. Many more will carry the scars upon their souls.

That, my friends, is what we have to stop.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Marginalize this Man, Please

"And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?

And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder,"


The short passage above is taken from the 19th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus is about to shatter a young man's fantasy of being a great religious leader. He starts with the easy part - having him quote the great Commandments of Jewish Law. The young man then asks what else must he do, apparently taking the stance that following the Commandments was too easy. Jesus answer was to sell all he has, give it to the poor, and follow him. When he is unable to do so, Jesus laments how difficult it is for the wealthy to follow his teachings.

I couldn't possibly tell you how many times I have heard sermons on this passage. It is about as direct a statement on the evils of wealth and comfort as you could possibly imagine. Today, however, it suggests a different message to me.

My homepage is set to Yahoo, and one of the first things I do is scan the headlines to see what's going on in the world. Today, this headline was one of the first I saw: Televangelist Calls for Chavez' Death.

Surely that had to be a mis-print!

Well, it helps to understand that we are talking about Pat Robertson. The failed Republi-vangelical candidate for President in 1988 has a long history of making controversial statements. On the surface, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being controversial. After all, Jesus, Elisha, and Moses were all pretty controversial in their day.

But there is a distinct difference between being controversial by preaching a literal interpretation of the Bible - which is what Robertson professes to do - and injecting a militaristic nationalism into the Gospel. I do believe that Robertson is a very patriotic man - after all, he is a former Marine and Korean War veteran - but the Gospel is no place for patriotism. Christians are not called to advance national causes, but to profess and embody (as best as they are able) the teachings of Christ.

So how do you gel the outright call for the death of a person with Jesus' position that it is necessary to keep the Commandments? How can anyone claim to protect or even be concerned about life from a Biblical perspective and then say, "We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability."?

The Chavez in question is Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is no friend of the Bush Administration. Fine. The Bush Administration is not mentioned at all in the Bible. Neither is their any Biblical imperative to prevent a country from becoming "a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism."

Forget the fact that the vast majority of Venezuelans are Catholic - and that those who are Muslim have roundly denounced terrorism. Forget the geo-political implications of sending US military into another country for the express purpose of bringing down their government. The singular fact is that this is a Christian Right leader and a member of the Republican Party establishment who is speaking. Just on the basis of calling for murder alone, Robertson should be thrown out on his ear.

The fact of the matter is that the 19th chapter of Matthew must be missing in its entirety. Here is a Christian who has not only repeatedly called for anti-Christian actions, including the use of a nuclear weapon against the United States government. Wait. Maybe he isn't so patriotic after all. And while he has said that he has used his great personal wealth for charitable causes, there are also reports that he has used it for some very unChristian enterprises.

Pat - wait, let me call you by the name you were really given - Marion Gordon Robertson, you have officially fallen off the deep end. You no longer preach the Gospel of Peace and Love, if you ever did. You are guilty of perverting the words and teachings of Jesus and remaking them into your own Semper Fi image. There is still time for repentance. Come to the altar and confess your sins. It doesn't have to be public; you can keep it between you and God. For the sake of your own soul, and for those who tune into your show and trust in your leadership, renounce your anti-Biblical teachings.

Until then, every Christian that claims that belief should turn off Robertson. Every Republican that cares about our country should demand a retraction. Every American should push this man to the fringe element of Eric Rudolph and Timothy McVeigh.

God have mercy.

Monday, August 22, 2005

This and That

Sloppy Dawg has this week's Jersey Carnival. Give the Dawg a bone and visit his site!

Don't forget Tammany on the Hudson. Trust me, with the big mob bust, some things are coming up in Hudson County.

Take a whirlwind trip around the Blog-o-herd.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Should a Wall have a Window?

It's easy to understand why Americans have a schizophrenic split on the correct role of faith in the public sphere. The same men who penned the First Amendment, which states "Congress shall pass no law respecting the establishment of religion" spoke and wrote almost incessantly about religion. Although some, such a Jefferson and Washington, eventually moved towards a personal indifference towards established churches, the majority still held that (at least for the great unwashed masses) religion was both necessary and desirable.

I think those who are pushing for more "faith-based government" would do well to realize that, in a democracy, any religious denomination that can become a majority has been and is likely to again become a minority. When you contemplate the history of oppressive majorities once they lose power, it is a bit frightening to be lumped into such a group.

Which is why I so strongly oppose the voice of the Religious Right (which is neither).

I believe, first and foremost, that the "wall of separation" between church and state should exist - and it should be complete. But it is the "church" that is being walled out from the state, not "faith". (It should also be noted that the state is supposed to be walled out of the church, as well.)

The fact is that it would be stupid to try and get people to leave behind their faith when they step into the public sphere - either as a candidate or as a voter. It is telling that in the 1960s, John F. Kennedy had to reassure voters that he believed in this separation of church and state and would, in effect be a "bad Catholic" by not allowing the Pope to dictate his stance on important issues. Yet today, President George W. Bush openly mixes his religion and politics and defends this practice as being not only "Biblical" but being a defense of "American values". In fact, this is just the culmination (so far) of a long trend of Evangelical Conservative Churches gaining a political voice.

Unlike many people on the left, I don't think it is entirely wrong. I do think it is wrong for a President to try and get his hands on church membership rolls in order to gain a fund-raising edge, as it is reported that the Bush campaign did in 2004. The push by the Rev. Jerry Falwell to mobilize Conservative Christians is unsettling to me in the possibility of his organization turning over membership rolls from member churches to the Republican Party, but not in his effort to mobilize voters that share his values.

The fact is that American churches have always viewed our democratic society as a means of implementing greater fairness and to bring official policy more in line with their moral values. The role of the Quaker Churches in abolition has been well-documented, as well as their efforts to improve conditions in America prisons and mental institutions. What we are likely to forget is the activism of American churches in the 20th century for progressive causes.

Take a look at the "Social Creed of the Churches of the Federal Council"

"To us it seems that the Churches must stand --

"For equal rights and for complete justice for all men in all stations of life.

"For the right of all men to the opportunity for self-maintenance, a right ever to be wisely and strongly safeguarded against encroachments of every kind.

"For the right of workers to some protection against the hardships often resulting from the swift crisis of industrial change.

"For the principle of conciliation and arbitration in industrial dissentions.

"For the protection of the worker from dangerous machinery, occupational disease, injuries, and mortality.

"For the abolition of child labor.

"For the regulation of the conditions of toil for women as shall safeguard the physical and moral health of the community.

"For the suppression of the ‘sweating system.’

"For the gradual and reasonable reduction of the hours of labor to the lowest practicable point, and for that degree of leisure for all which is a condition of the highest human life.

"For a release from employment one day in seven.

"For a living wage as a minimum in every industry and for the highest wage that each industry can afford.

"For the most equitable division of the products of industry that can ultimately be devised.

"For suitable provision for the old age of the workers and for those incapacitated by injury.

"For the abatement of poverty."


A living wage? A day off for religious observance? Equal rights for women? Abolition of child labor? Arbitration? Equitable division of industry? Anti-poverty?

What liberal in America today would stand against any of these stances? Looking over them, do they not, in fact, read like a Democratic Party platform from any Presidential election dating back at least to Franklin Roosevelt?

Oh yeah, the Social Creed was issued in 1908.

In other words, the problem with the power exerted by the Religious Right today is that it is not balanced by a voice from the Religious Left. Anyone who claims that personal faith has no part of politics is simply ignoring history and not really thinking about the issue at all.

If you take the secular view of religion - that it is simply a group of superstitions that work as a type of pseudo-ethics - then it is impossible to ask a person to forget about religious views when contemplating political action. Whatever source of ethics a person uses, those beliefs are with them constantly. Even in such cases where they vote for tolerance, it is because they value tolerance over their person ethical stand.

For example, I believe that adultery is morally wrong. However, I would never vote to make it illegal. Why? Because I believe that it is a moral wrong and must, therefore, carry a moral price. It should not carry a legal price, though. To put it differently, morality only has value when it is chosen. If you force people to never commit adultery, then what profit is there to living a moral life that eschews adultery? If there is no choice, there is no guilt - but where there is no guilt, there is no salvation.

In other words, codifying Christian morality is the worst possible action for a Christian to take. This is true because Christiantiy is based wholly upon the idea of choosing to give up one's life to follow Christ's example and teachings. Faith without works is truly dead, but works without choice is a soul-less life.

When I have spoken about this belief, I often get some well-intentioned, but rather simplistic arguments. Such as, would I then support the removal of murder laws? After all, that's a moral decision, too.

True, but it is also a legal one. To end someone's life without justification is to deprive them of their primary legal right to exist. Therefore, it must have a legal price. The fact that it carries a moral price is inconsequential to that discussion.

So how is a Christian to approach this paradox where they are called to exercise personal faith in their decisions, but not to enforce their religion upon others?

I admit, it is truly a paradox, because votes have very real consequences.

The model I suggest is that the wall of separation between church and state should remain firm and complete (or be made complete). However, that wall should have a window of faith cut into it. The church hierarcy should not have influence upon the actions of the government and the actions of the government should not have influence over the teachings of the church. However, people of all faiths should be able to look through a window at the actions of their government and say, "This action is immoral. That one is not." Those who live on the other side of the wall - our government employees and public officials - should be able to look through that window for moral guidance and support when they must make difficult decisions with which they may not be fully comfortable.

In reality, it is a fine line. The President should not be denied the ability to seek a spiritual confessor or to have his personal spiritual advisor speak to him openly about the issues he faces (of course, that advisor should go through a full security clearance). However, the President should not pick up the phone and call the Pope, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, or the Rev. Jerry Falwell to simply say, "Tell me what to do and I'll do it." The same is true of voters. They should be free to hear their spiritual advisors speak openly about the compelling political issues that confront the individuals of their churches. They should not, however, threaten them with expulsion or eternal damnation for not supporting specific political stances.

This window already exists. Perhaps the most frequent visitor to the White House over the last fifty years has been the Rev. Billy Graham. I know that Bill Clinton called Jesse Jackson to be his confessor after the Monica Lewinsky relationship was made public. I'm positive that George W. Bush has spoken at least once to a priest, pastor, or preacher. It is encouraging, to me, for a President who can anhilate the entire planet with one command to have the idea that some power greater than himself exists to which he will have to answer for his actions. History has taught us that even with such beliefs that religion can be a very malleable value. The idea of anyone with such power standing on the threshhold of oblivion without any fear of what comes next is much more horrifying to me, though.

What we have, I believe, is a debate over the size of that window. Some people want a huge picture window. Some want a bay window with a breakfast nook. Some want a peep-hole to see who is knocking. The window, however, is not anything to fear or hate. The absense of such a window, in fact, would make the wall truly problematical and would lead to the wall being torn down as faith and government truly became opposed.

Let the wall stand, but let us have our window. After all, everyone enjoys a room with a view - and government that happens in secret is a perversion of democratic values.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Solving Democracies Oldest Problem

The age old problem of democracy is that it isn't.

Honestly, when was the last time you had a face-to-face talk with your City Councilmember, much less State Assemblyperson? God forbid you actually ask for face-time with your federal Representative or Senator. The President? Now you're just dreaming.

That is a problem because there are millions of us and only a handful of them. Even here in Jersey City, a single City Ward has several hundred thousand residents. It's simply impossible for any one person to keep their finger on the pulse of a population that size. The best they can do, if they are inclined, is to have someone listen for festering issues that can be addressed with quick reassurance and maybe a rabbit-trick or two. After all, most politicians have substantially less power than most people think.

Democracy really works only when all voices can be heard. Greek city-states used this effectively, but were very limited in who could speak and how big the city would grow. New England has a history of this type of direct democracy with its townhall meetings where everyone can come and have their say. Even there, however, a growing population with limited time is finding it difficult to maintain their democratic heritage and still get the kids to ballet and little league and do the shopping, fix dinner, wash the dog, get the car serviced, and somehow set aside some "us" time with their mate.

Hey, democracy is hard work!

But as surely as the personal computer revolutionized the business industry in the 1980s, it holds the potential for doing the same with government. Of course, it always has - the problem has been there is a significant lack of inovative ideas in our political elite. After all, they got where they are by using the system as it is, so why change something that works so well?

For starters, because it really doesn't work at all.

See the above example of face-time for elaboration.

Fortunately, in New York City they have a position that is specifically dedicated to being the voice of the public in government dealings - the Public Advocate. But how can the Public Advocate, well, advocate for the public when they don't even hear them?

This has been the problem with Betsy Gotbaum, the current office resident ("holder" would indicate that she takes some sort of action). How public can you be when you don't even publicize where you are going to be? In the middle of your campaign?

Andrew Raseij is trying to pull all of these threads together in a single campaign. His plan is to utilize municipal wi-fi to allow citizens to truly tie-in to the city government. But it isn't just a new faster way to bitch about taxes. It would also allow police and fire personel to find building blueprints while on the way to the site of an emergency (could a few hundred deaths been prevented on 9/11 with such a tool?). It would allow inner-city schools to access learning sites on the internet and bring down the cost of providing textbooks so that equality of education could actually become a reality instead of a cruel dream for the eternal next generation. It would allow your neighborhood grocer to take your order and have it waiting for you when you stop by on the way to work. It would allow politicians to speak directly to their constituents and to have their constituents speak back. It would allow tennants of absentee landlords to report persistent code violations to building inspectors.

It would restore democracy in the modern age.

Messy, noisy, nothing-else-in-the-world-beats-it democracy.

Best of all, the cost would be negligible to taxpayers. Companies have already lined up to submit bids to provide the links for the populace to connect. Rather than costing the city money, it could actually pay for itself and potentially be a source of income for the city. How about "Wi-Fi for Lower Taxes"?

And, if it can work in NYC, then it can work in Peoria and Hudson County and Kansas City and Austin and Tuscaloosa and (please insert where you live here). This is a project that literally no one who supports democracy should oppose and everyone should support. If we take NYC this year, then maybe next year we can go to your town.

Because it's about more than just the internet. It's about true democracy - turning the political establishment and its thousand-dollar-a-plate dinners on end. See, Andrew has built a competitive campaign on the pledge to take no more than $100 per person. Why? Because that is an amount people understand. That is an amount that requires him to build broad support among the real working people of the city. That is an amount that is scoffed at by politicos because it represents "little money" - money to small to be important (which means it comes from people to small to be important). Yet Andrew has taken on the machine of the last century and built a thriving co-operative effort with the people he wants to represent.

Who listens to you more? The candidate needs your ten, fifty, or hundred dollar donation - or the one who doesn't even know who gives less than a thousand?

Of course, most of the people who read this blog are not in NYC. This does not mean you are powerless, though. If you don't think I've given you enough info, then visit Andrew's website and learn more. Then call whoever you know in New York City. There is no Republican running for this office, so whoever wins the Democratic Primary in September is the one who will take the office. If you don't know anyone in NYC, then consider making a small donation. Just like at church - if you have a dollar, you give a dollar. If you have ten dollars, you give ten dollars. If you have a thousand dollars, I need a job.

Help change politics in your area by showing the Democratic Party that inovators like Andrew should be embraced and supported - not marginalized and feared. You want to change the world - go look in the mirror, the only tool you have to do that will be looking back at you.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Unpopular with the Right; Unpopular with the Left

I often find that I simply can't agree with anyone on military matters. I surely don't agree with President Bush's idea (and that of his supporters) to simply "stay the course". The reason why is simple: It isn't working. Yes, there is some notable progress (Thanks to Ranting Profs for the link). However, there is a decided lack of realistic goals and therefore a lack of realistic means of attaining them.

Neither do I find myself in agreement with the left who adamantly call for an immediate pull-out and abandonment of Iraq. While I abhor the death and destruction of war, I truly believe that leaving prematurely will not make the world a safer place, but simply allow radical elements to grow unabated until they can safely strike any number of worldwide targets. That is simply, in my opinion, a bad option that abandons all claim to fulfilling our obligations as the people who destroyed the existing power structure for extremely flimsy reasons.

However, like most real problems facing the world, there is much more than simply two sides of the equation. We do not face a scenario where our only choices are to continue in the exact same vein as we are acting now or to fully withdraw and abandon Iraq.

The alternative I propose is to expand total troop strength in Iraq and push more resources for rebuilding into it.

Rebuilding cannot be done (in a widespread sense) while their is still fighting and bombings. Implementing peace is the first step towards accomplishing any goal. Peace-keeping can only be accomplished by neutral forces - that means non-US, Muslim forces on the ground in Iraq are needed.

That means Egypt.

Egypt has an army of somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 men. They could easily send a comparable amount of troops to what is maintained inside Iraq by the US. 100,000 Egyptian troops would immediately rob the insurgents of the ideology of "driving out the infidels" and quell anti-US sentiment from fear of colonialism. In other words, it would immediately change the battle from a war against terror on one side and America on the other to a legitimate battle for the future of Iraq. Egyptian troops could accomplish what American troops never will - which is to bring every side to the table for peace talks.

And don't forget Pakistan.

With approximately half-a-million troops in their armed forces and a desire to be a true world power, Pakistan has already moved close to the United States in the post 9/11 world. Moving 100,000 or so troops to Iraq for peace-keeping allows even more American troops to pull out and for Pakistan to move onto the world stage as a responsible world power and fellow-Muslim nation.

Pulling Egypt and Pakistan into Iraq will be a hard sell. Violence against foreign diplomats has been a disturbing trend in Iraq. However, the large contingent of troops would make it easier for those two countries to protect their diplomats and, if accompanied by a US withdrawal (or at least withdrawal into other areas) would lead to a direct lowering of violence.

An Egyptian-Pakistani partnership would strengthen two earstwhile allies that desperately need both respect abroad and legitimacy at home. A joint peace-keeping mission (perhaps under the auspices of the UN) would support both and would use the Pan-Arabic and Pan-Muslim ideologies to their benefit.

An investment strategy by European, American, and Russian (and perhaps Chinese) interests could fund infrastructure development that could actually get the Iraqi oilfields back on line reliably so that country could take advantage of the high oil prices. In other words, they could use the market forces to rebuild Iraq. Again, this investment strategy could be run through the UN (under strict strutiny) and could possibly tie investments to such developments as debt-forgiveness in Africa and South America.

It is a combination of creating a new Axis of Allies with our Muslim allies and implementing a new Marshall Plan for Iraq. Peace, followed by prosperity.

It's a combination that works.

Monday, August 15, 2005

From Stupidity to Stupidity in One Fluid Step

I believe I may have been one of the first few thousand people back on airlines after 9/11. I took my first "new era" flight the day after the flight ban was lifted. I have to say that I was amazed at the stupidity of some of the measures that had been thrown together.

For instance, I had to throw away my ninety-nine cent nail-clippers because they had a nail file on them that was all of about an inch and a quarter long. However, I carried along an equally cheap Bic cigarette lighter that, when rigged properly, has an explosive equivalent of a stick of dynomite. Then, as I flew from Florida into Newark, I was given an in-flight meal complete with metal utensil - including a knife that I estimated to be ten times the length and at least equally as sharp as the banned finger-nail clipper. On the flight back, they took my book of matches, but I still got to carry the Bic.

Stupid.

The last time I flew a few months ago, they had finally gotten around to banning cigarette lighters - four years after the idiot shoe bomber incident.

This weekend as I sat with my brother-in-law, drinking a beer and watching the nightly news, I was shocked (shocked, I tell you) that the TSA was going to allow some weapons to be carried on board airplanes now. Honestly, I had to look twice to make sure it was only beer I was drinking.

First of all, the stupidity of allowing box cutters back on flights is perhaps the dumbest thing ever contemplated by government. It is just short of daring someone to use them again to take over an airplane and use it as an instrument of terror. The only way to tempt fate at a greater level would be for Michael Cherkoff to personally meet and greet every fifth passenger and hand them a box cutter. Of course, he could say something like, "Now be careful with this. Don't cut your fingers!"

Look, I grew up in an area where somewhere close to 90% of men probably carry a pocket-knife. It isn't for personal protection or anything like that, it is simply an indespensible tool that cannot be replaced with almost anything else. However, I've long understood that I simply don't need to carry a knife on a plane. After all, I'm not going to be cutting binding twine or whittling or anything like that. I'll even go way out on a creaky limb and say that I don't feel particularly repressed for not having a knife in my pocket when flying from Newark to Texas (or pretty much anywhere else).

However, the stupidity of box cutters and pocket knives pales in comparison next to the ruling that it is now perfectly fine to carry a bow and arrows onboard a flight. I have a pretty active imagination, and I can't even come up with a single scenario where a bow and arrows would be needed on a flight.

I can think of a reason for an ice pick - but they are going to have to get much stronger Solo cups to serve soda in before it's legitimate.

I can't imagine what has gotten in to anyone at any level of government in any agency to approve such measures. I've long suspected that many people in the Bush Administration were put in their positions to keep the government from doing anything. The best way to stop governmental action, short of legislative actions, is put someone in charge who can't imagine a reason to act.

I just didn't think that Homeland Security was one of the areas where the Bush Administration was willing to look past reality to implement their hands-off ideology.

I'm still waiting to hear a Bush supporter spin this as being logical. So far, nothing but silence

Of Various Degrees of Note:

Rielhworld hosts the NJ Carnival this week. For those who haven't heard of it, it's a round-up of the self-selected best of New Jersey Blogs. Don't take my word for it. Take a look yourself.

For Progressives ready to tackle grassroots organizing, consider the New Jersey DFA training. Tell 'em Tex said you should "Give 'em Hell!"

If you haven't heard/seen it before, take a gander at Lefty Blogs and see what's going on in your neck of the woods.

Ah, and I saw "Skeleton Key" this weekend and finally understood why Kate Hudson spent all of her interview time with John Stewart talking about their babies. Wait for this one to hit video - and that should be about Thursday.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Scandals in New Jersey Politics?

Republicans are trying hard to scandalize the campaign of Senator Jon Corzine in his bid to become Governor of New Jersey. The big kerfluffle at the moment centers around the Senator's $470,000 loan to his extra-marital girlfriend several years ago. At the time, he was already Senator and she was the head of the state employees union who was going through a messy divorce (the Senator would also go through a divorce around that time). The loan was for her to buy out her husband's interest in their house in Hunterdon County (nice houses out there).

Ah, but then she didn't pay back the loan, the relationship ended, and he forgave the debt.

But, she apparently still lives in the same building as the Senator and her phone in Hunterdon County is disconnected.

While I'm not crazy about the idea of the Senator breaking his marriage vows, that issue should remain between him and his now ex-wife. Senator Corzine is certainly not the first or last middle-aged man or politician of any age to look outside his marriage for whatever reason. Both Corzine and the union leader have publically stated that their relationship is over. So much the worse for the Senator as he apparently flung with a woman on a romance that wasn't as lasting as the marriage it broke up. Well, it's personal business for all three - all of whom are grown-ups and have no protection from poor judgment and broken hearts.

Is it political corruption?

Well, he was already Senator and she was already in charge of the union. You can't make any case that either used the other to get where they are.

The Senator is also charged by Republicans as having "bought" his nomination with a series of high dollar donations to the various county party chairs. Apparently the loan didn't do the trick, then. He still had to go through the same muddy swamp of county fifedoms that everyone else in New Jersey has to deal with.

Was it likely that the state employees union would back anyone else but the Democratic nominee? For the life of me, I can't think of a single Republican Governor they've said anything good about, or vice versa.

So what would have been different if Corzine had not become involved with the union leader and hadn't given her the loan? Well, he'd probably still be married and she wouldn't have the house she apparently doesn't even live in. If the $470,000 were called "pal-imony" would everyone be happy and leave it alone?

Honestly, I understand why there is concern about this, but I can't really see political corruption playing out in this game.

The problem is that it is sexy (literally, I suppose) and it makes good headlines. Because of that, and the ultimately empty ending, it throws into question real ethical questions that need to be pursued.

If I were just going to play the party game, I'd blast into Doug Forrester here. However, I have a different point to make and Matt Stoller has done a good job of chronicalling Forrester's problems anyway. (Of course, he's paid to do that sort of thing, and I'm not.)

What bothers me about the Corzine "sex scandal" is that it comes too closely on the heels of the revelation that Kay Elizabeth LaCuisi went from low-level, underpaid district staffer for Congressman Bob Menendez to one of the highest paid lobbyists on the East Coast with only one stop between - that stop being Menendez's bed. Compared to the meeting of two people at the top of their games (as in the Corzine story), here is a story where there is simply no way LaCuisi gets to where she is today without Menendez "helping" her along the way.

It isn't that a female staffer can't rise quickly. And, if LaCuisi had been the district Chief of Staff with heavy contacts throughout the state prior to working for Menendez, that would be a plausible explanation. However, she was his scheduler - the person who keeps his personal schedule and makes appointments. Every contact she made was by, for, and through the Congressman. As a scheduler, she wouldn't sit in on meetings and learn the power-play - she would sit outside the meeting and take phone calls requesting the Congressman's attendance.

In her defense, LaCuisi claims that she is good at her job and it cannot be denied that she definitely gets results. The question is: does she get those results because of her political abilities or because of her personal relationship with the Congressman? After all, not only did she go from his employee to his lobbyist, but she also holds a leadership position on the Hudson County Democratic Committee - which determines which candidate they will support in various elections. If it isn't intentional, then an incredible circumstance just developed where LaCuisi is in position to help Menendez pick who gets to run on his under-ticket, to funnel pet projects to the Congressman, and to pick up incredible personal wealth along the way. If nothing else, there is an incredible conflict of ethical interest in her position on the HCDC and her work as a lobbyist in Washington.

Given the fact that many consider Menendez to have a lock on the Senate seat that Corzine will vacate if he wins the Governor's race, I would expect Republicans to pick up on that relationship a bit closer. After all, it's the one with the real meat on the bone. If they continue to gnaw at what continues to amount to much-ado-about-nothing, they will find they have no teeth left when '06 rolls around.

In Your Free Time

Take a look at the the format for Ridin' Herd on the Blogosphere. I've begun to split up posts by topic to make it easier for both you and me to make sense of.

Also stop by Tammany on the Hudson to see the nonsense Hudson County residents have to put up with from their elected officials.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Pluralism - a Good Idea that Works


Contrary to the revisionist history most Americans want to remember, there was no monolithic group known as "the Founding Fathers". The men who declared their independence from Britain, then men who fought in the War of Independence, and the men who wrote the Constitution disagreed on almost every single thing. The only thing they did agree on with some regularity was that they had to work together to make things work - and even that idea had its detractors. The "Great Experiment" that became the United States of America was founded entirely upon the idea of compromise and moderation. The very concepts of freedom and liberty demand some level of tolerance or else they become hollow. What good is freedom of speech, for example, if one can only say what is approved?

Religion was one of the most contentious issues of all. Attitudes varied from the most vigorous supporters of a church-state, to those who were indifferent, to those who abhorred the idea. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had almost complete disdain for the Presbyterian Church and its mandatory attendance and tithing under colonial rule, yet they both spoke regularly about the necessity of a moralizing religion for society. Ethan Allen (before he was a furniture store) wrote, "I have generally been denominated a Deist, the reality of which I never disputed, being conscious I am no Christian, except mere infant baptism makes me one; and as to being a Deist, I know not strictly speaking whether I am one or not." Thomas Paine, perhaps the most socialist and atheist of all of Founding Fathers, wrote: "I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any Church that I know of. My own mind is my own Church."

Yet this group found a moderate road. They found a way to allow the existence of churches without the encroachment of civil authority upon or from those houses of worship. Oddly enough, Thomas Paine fought vigorously for the legal protection of all churches. "He who would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression," he wrote.

For centuries now, that model of moderation and toleration has worked to slowly increase our liberties and freedoms. In the last thirty years, however, a group of Christians has worked to erase that heritage. They have fought to eradicate the idea of our agnostic founding and to implement an alternative history whereby the Ten Commandments would be lain side-by-side with the Constitution for legal authority.

I'd like to say that this group is well-intentioned, but misguided. However, when their intention is to destroy the foundation of our country, it's a bit of a stretch for me to be so generous. Instead, I'll say that they are so gullible and ignorant of reality that they allow themselves to be used by leaders that amount to nothing more than demogogues.

You have groups such as the Wallbuilders whose only purpose for existence is to alter reality so that the United States becomes an official Christian Nation. I have no problem with someone who says they want to use this or that as a basis of morality in law. These guys, however, are trying to rewrite history to make us something we never have been.

It is the culture of plurality that has always let America settle its internal differences in a peaceful manner (with the obvious and glaring exception of the Civil War). This isn't to say that there is never any strife or violence, because quite obviously there have been. On the whole, however, we tend to work out legislative compromises that let just enough steam escape from an issue to keep it from boiling over.

Europe's history, however, has tended to be very different. Each little country of Europe has historically developed its own culture, language, money, and feeling of superiority over its neighbors. It has only been since the end of World War II that Europe has begun to move towards unity and break down those divisions. There is one area, however, where Europe still hasn't abandoned its old ways.

Take a look at the requirements for gaining citizenship in Germany. Basically, if your parents weren't citizens, you're just out of luck. There is some loopholes - such as having EU citizenship. That, however, doesn't not do anything for 23 million Muslims in Europe - most of which come from abroad and most of which are used as manual laborers.

By contrast, the United States has fairly easy citizenship rules. This has allowed generations of people to come here and, within a generation, feel greater connection to their new home than to their old one. Many people complain about the inherent distance created by such labels as Italian-American or Korean-American, but the fact is that the emphasis is still on the "American" part of the phrase.

It is telling that the terrorists that planned and perpetrated the attacks of 9/11 were not American citizens, but Muslims from abroad who had come here specifically for that purpose. It is also telling that many of the Muslim organizations in Europe have the express intent of spreading discontent about Western policy towards the Middle East while those in America tend to focus strongly on interfaith efforts at understanding and peace. It's too simplistic to say that it all hinges on the ability to achieve citizenship, but citizenship is a key measure of assimilation - as is the ability to achieve a "Middle Class" way of life.

When you have a group of Christians on the extreme right who are the apparent power ascendent in the Republican Party (which is also the majority party as of this writing), then it is a bit frightening to see that their intolerance extends not only to other faiths, but to interior divisions among Christians. If they are successful in re-making America into an Evangelical Right-wing Nation, then the era of terrorism will never fall, but will be ushered in with greater and greater commitment to stamping out dissent through hostility. Already Muslims and people who "appear to be Arabic" are subjected to more intense scrutiny at airports and on international flights. With the ongoing calls to close our borders, it is not difficult to predict (hopefully I'm wrong on this) that America will move to put limits on how many and in what way Muslims can gain the rights of citizenship.

Pulling back into a shell of protective isolation has never worked. We should refrain from advocating it. However, there is a world of difference betweeen isolationism and the overly-aggressive and muscular foreign policy the Bush Administration has used as its first recourse.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

This and That

It's late and I've been a bad blogger boy today - but I was a good husband and did some shopping, finished a significant section of my flooring project in the living room, and managed to pick up my wife at work on time. Yeah, there were a few things along the way that didn't quite get finished, but I'm not going to mention them.

Some updates of note for me - I have discontinued the "Roundin' Up the News" site. The traffic was low and the effort to put it out was high. Plus, I think having to register with half a dozen newspaper sites just turned people off. Instead, I'll work some of the more important stories into this blog like I did before I split it off. The much more popular "Ridin' Herd on the Blogosphere" will continue as I enjoy it greatly, it gets a decent amount of traffic and comments, and it's a good way to single out some of the better stuff on the blogs that don't get airplay on CNN's stupid little blog segment. I'll also continue with my political action project - Tammany on the Hudson - that chronicles all the proof anyone should need to uphold Hudson County New Jersey's claim to the most corrupt county in America.

For those of you who just can't get enough Xpatriated Texan - I'll also continue random posts at both Old Towne Review Chronicles and Come and Take It! I'll try and let you know when I get something up at either place.

A few noteworthy friends have blogs that are fairly new - stop by and make a comment and encourage them. Democracy works best when there are many voices crying for attention:
The Anti-Fascist looks at the incestuous relationship between business and government in America.

Ephemeral Stuff looks at random occurances that catch the author's eye.

Modern Iconoclast also takes a stab at American politics. This guy really knows what he's talking about when he takes up foreign relations with Latin America - and I'd like to see him do it more often, but I understand that he also has a life.

Frongsdong has become a frequent commenter here. See how easy it is to get noticed?

Greek Shadow is also a frequent commenter and holds the record for the most referred people to this blog. I don't know if it's just him or if others use his site as a portal, but either way I thank him.

On a personal note, I finally made personal contact with the first three members of the New Jersey Christian Alliance for Progress and we have a pretty good plan for getting our name out into the community. Anyone in New Jersey who is interested in helping create an alternate to the voice of the Religious Right can contact me directly. Those outside of New Jersey should visit the national website.

Thanks everyone for your continued support and comments.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Torture Thy Neighbor

"And Jesus said, "If a man strikes you once, you should turn the other cheek and let him strike that one also - unless there is reason to believe he is part of a conspiracy, and then you should drag him to your basement and hammer splinters under his fingernails until he gives up his pals."

Yeah, I couldn't find that in my version of the Bible, either. The first part: yes. The basement and splinter thing: no.

Yet the same voices that cry most stridently that America is a Christian nation also turns a blind eye to the abuse of force and authority that yields torture at its lower levels.

When the International Red Cross examined the pens used to hold prisoners at Gitmo, they found "conditions tantamount to torture". The Bush Administration merely defends itself by deflecting such criticism as being from people that aren't sympathetic to our goals or who don't understand what we are trying to do. In their hubris and arrogance, they mistake concern and principle for naivity.

When the photos taken at Abu Ghraid became known to the public, the Bush Administration reacted by promoting the person responsible for the authorization and defense of such acts.

But we don't have to cross the ocean to find evidence of abuse and torture.

The Coalition Against Torture and Racial Discrimination found plenty of evidence of the complicity of the United States in torture right here in our own country.


Physical and Sexual Abuse of Women in Prisons

Gender based physical and sexual abuse is too common an occurrence in prisons in the U.S. Recent on-site evaluations of conditions in women's prisons have found extensive gender-based mistreatment, physical abuse and outright sexual assault. A pattern and practice has been found to exist, throughout the prison system, but especially at state institutions, of male prison personnel engaging in rape, sexual assault, sexual taunting, and unwarranted visual surveillance of female prisoners in showers and bathrooms. Similar types of abuses against women have been attributed to law enforcement personnel policing the border between the U.S. and Mexico to prevent unlawful immigration. To make matters worse, most states are failing to address custodial sexual misconduct because they do not have adequate policies and criminal sanctions in place (or refuse to apply them), and do not provide proper training for custodial personnel. The strong tendency is to punish the prisoners who have been abused, rather than their abusers. In the report they submitted in 1995 to the U.N. Human Rights Committee, the U.S. Government, in the judgment of Human Rights Watch, "vastly underestimated the problem of sexual abuse in women's prisons in the U.S., and greatly overstated the degree to which it is being remedied."


It isn't just a case of a "few bad apples" but rather a culture (or sub-culture) that views the abusive use of power as an inherent right. Typically, the blame is placed on the victims - "If they don't like it, they shouldn't be there." That is simply an attitude of an abuser looking for a safe victim and a good opportunity.

I'm not a person that has a weepy view of the poor oppressed criminal. I believe that incarceration is, in most cases, deserved. However, the incarceration itself is the price paid for the crime - not the excessive degradation of individual worth. Such actions only increase the likelihood of negative behaviors when the person is released. You simply cannot make someone behave better by making them feel worse about their self.

Beyond that, it is simply wrong to do so. We all understand that it is wrong to assault, taunt, or leer at women outside of prison walls, so why do we tolerate it inside?

Honestly, the only answer (other than blaming the victim) is that it happens outside of our range of awareness. We build prisons, in part, so that we don't have to see what goes on inside. We are uncomfortable with the reality that we find when we do. However, it is too easy to forget that uncomfortableness and simply go about our business. Even for those of us who don't blame the victim, we are too easily convinced to become silent accomplices of acquiescence.

Even at our borders, we turn a blind eye to the reality faced by many people seeking our succor. The report continues to list other problems:


Return of Refugees to Situations of Torture and Persecution, and Their Long-Term Detention Under Abusive Conditions

Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture establishes an unconditional right of an emigree who has experienced or faces torture to not be expelled (refouled) back to their country of origin where they are likely to face additional torture. Although the U.S. government makes frequent assurances that it recognizes and observes the right of victims of torture and persecution not to be refouled, in fact it has adopted many practices and policies that help to produce this unfortunate (and prohibited) result. This includes the practice of "interdicting" boat people at sea, and automatically returning them without analysis of potential refugee status. This approach recently was approved by the U.S. Supreme Court under the dubious principle of "extra-territoriality," which considers actions taken by the U.S. government outside the nation's territorial limits as not subject to the jurisdiction of U.S. law and international human rights treaty obligations.

Increasing instances of refoulement of refugees and torture victims also are taking place as a result of the newly enacted Illegal Immigration Reform Act of 1996, which calls for "expedited return" of those seeking entry without proper papers, and significantly reduces opportunities for legitimate refugees to make effective asylum claims. Unless individuals are quickly identified as likely victims of torture or persecution during a very brief interview with an immigration officer immediately after their arrival, they are automatically returned to their countries of origin. Victims of persecution, especially torture and rape, often need time and medical or psychological treatment before they can tell their stories. These are not provided in expedited processing, nor is the opportunity to obtain legal or other representation that would help victims deal with the asylum process.


There is also a desire to hide the US complicity in foreign torture:


Failure to Extradite or Prosecute Torturers

Under international treaties all governments are equally responsible for the effective criminal prosecution of violators of the most significant international standards of conduct, such as war crimes, terrorism or torture. This principle of "universal enforcement" means that a government finding this type of offender within its borders must either extradite them for prosecution by the country where the offense occurred, or initiate prosecution themselves. The U.S. government has strongly supported this approach, as is the case, for example, with the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, the truck bombing of the U.S. barracks in Dharhran, Saudi Arabia, and other similar terrorist and war crime activities. However, the U.S. government recently declined to extradite or prosecute Emmanuel Constant, an alleged Haitian torturer, purportedly to keep from focusing public attention on the fact that Mr. Constant may have been receiving payments from the Central Intelligence Agency during the time when he was engaged in torture related activity. Instead, the government entered into an agreement with Mr. Constant to find him a safe haven in neutral territory, over the strenuous objections of the Haitian government.


Sadly, profits of international arms companies are also a component:


Arms Sales and Other Assistance by the U.S. Government that Support Torture in Foreign Countries

While CAT does not specifically address the problem of governments providing arms or other assistance that is used to promote torture in other countries, it is reasonable to interpret the prohibition against torture as preventing these forms of "indirect" support for acts of torture committed abroad. Two forms of assistance along these lines by the U.S. government have recently begun to receive public attention and condemnation. First, the government transferred or authorized the sale of military equipment to several governments that have used these armaments in acts of torture. Human Rights Watch has documented that U.S. weaponry sent to Turkey, notably small arms and helicopters, has played a major role in a wide range of abusive practices committed against the Kurdish minority civilian population. Along similar lines, Amnesty International in its April, 1998 review of human rights violations by the U.S., has reported several cases involving the transfer of electronic stun equipment to governments likely to use them to engage in human rights violations, such as the shipment of 10,000 shock batons to Turkey. Similar problems have been raised in connection with proposed arms shipments to Peru and Indonesia.


There is simply no way a practicing Christian can embrace torture as having any Biblical blessing. In a country where the majority profess to be Christians, it is shameful and sinful that our government participates in torture in our collective name.

This is one issue that should reach beyond partisan and denominational divides. We should truly have a rainbow coalition dedicated to the abolition of such atrocities. We should not tolerate the defense of such practices in the least.

Monday, August 08, 2005

For many Americans, I suppose the strident nature of the Religious Right towards the courts is like something out of science fiction. How can they claim that Christianity is being persecuted? How can they say that America should deny a religious plurality? Come to think of it, exactly why are they so worked up anyway?

The answers lie in the history of the American Conservative movement. Early Conservatives built a platform based on three legs - anti-New-Deal, anti-tax and government regulation, and anti-Communism. The New Deal and tax/regulation opposition was based entirely upon the Chicago School of Economics concept of individual liberty as an economic reality. The idea was that, obviously, the more money you have, the more things you are able to do. This amounts to a de facto purchase of freedom and liberty. Taxation - really, over-taxation at the time - was wrong because it necessarily took away the freedom of the people to use their money however they pleased. It didn't matter if it was used for a good purpose or not - it only mattered that the money was being taken away from the people who should rightly possess it.

That was why early Conservatives (and there are still a few around today) opposed the New Deal so strongly. In order for the government to do all of these wonderful things for mankind, it must first over-tax those who had money and redistribute it. This created an economic dis-incentive for work - which simply means that they thought that by taxing people enough to, say, build a school and let people go there for free that it took away the incentive to work hard and save enough money to send your kids to a for-profit school.

Regulation, likewise, curtailed freedom because it simply stopped people from doing what they wanted. If Joe the Shoemaker bought a piece of ground and wanted to rent it out as a dump for toxic waste, then, by God, he should be able to do it. Who is the government, or his neighbors, to tell him what he can do with his own property?

Communism was not simply a matter of economics, though. If it had been, then today's China is proof that a communist nation that doesn't care about abusing human rights or turning massive profits can be a great boon to capitalists. No, Communism was opposed because it was Godless. The term "Godless Commies" was not invented as a punchline, but rather a deadly serious indictment of why Communism had to be stopped.

It was Communism that pushed the Religious Right into the arms of the Republican Party just in time to catch the ascendency of Ronald Reagan. During the Carter Administration, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and Iran overthrew its pro-US dictatorship. It seemed that we were only two small countries away from slipping into second place behind the Soviets - and everyone knew (even I knew it, and I was still in elementary school) that the Soviets would launch an all-out assault on the US homeland (probably using Nicaraguan and Cuban military as shock-troops). Not only Jerry Falwell, but Billy Graham openly made statements that they feared the worst for the United States if we, as a people, did not repent and turn back to Jesus.

To this foreign relations issue, Ronald Reagan gave the Christian Right a second bone to chew. "Let me worry about the Rooskies," he said (okay, I'm paraphrasing). "You go out and stop abortion." In return for this deputization, evangelicals turned into what was largely known as "Reagan Democrats".

When Reagan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor for the Supreme Court, no less authority than Jerry Falwell opposed the selection. It is reported that it actually took a personal phone call from the Gipper to shut up the Yapper. That must have been a heady day for the Reverend.

Of course, we know now that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was the rush of Napoleon to Waterloo. We survived the fall of the Shah and the world's oil supply continues to flow today. But it was the holy alliance of Conservatism with the religious crusade against Communism that led to enough popular support to squelch the outcry when it was discovered that Ronald Reagan had defied Congress and supplied guns and money to the Contras in Central America - because, of course, they were fighting the Communist Sandanistas. Strangely enough, it was not until funding was removed from the Contras that peace returned to Central America and the Communist Sandanistan leader was voted out of office - something that might have happened much earlier without Reagan's meddling.

But if Central America was confusing for Americans with the Contras and Sandanistas and reports of Catholic nuns being raped and murdered and both sides blaming the other, there was no confusion where the Soviet Union was concerned. The internal rot of the Soviet Union became apparent - so morbidly apparent that Ronald Reagan could actually utter his most famous tag line - "Tear down that wall!". The end was not swift or certain, and the Russian states are no where near through their upheaval, but the fall of the Berlin wall was the symbolic triumph of muscular Christianity over the Godless Commies. Jesus had stared down Ivan over the Berlin Wall and Ivan had blinked. The Iron Curtain was rent in half like the Most Holy of Holies on the day of Jesus' death.

Of course, communism still thrives in North Korea, China, Vietnam, and Cuba. But the Great Bear had been brought low and stuffed and mounted.

An interesting geologic aside: three points will always define a plane. An architectural note: a well-defined plane is one of the most stable of constructs. A political note: Conservatism was left reeling from its success. The Reagan Administration had dismantled the tax code and regulatory body of the New Deal and successfully changed the entire culture from Social Democracy to Rabid Self-Interest. These were the days of "Greed is good!" on the big screen.

Conservatism had to find a third leg to shore itself up again. That leg was provided by the Christian Right through their Deputy Dog badges handed out by Ronald Reagan. What began as a bone to be tossed for political support in a close election now became the central piece in a political platform. As successive cuts were made to regulations, social services, and taxes, the only avenue of no progress was abortion.

And that, make no mistake, was due entirely to the Courts.

The Courts had struck down Roe v. Wade and Griswald v. Connecticut to "invent" this concept of a "right to privacy". The Courts had done what the Pope had feared the birth control pill would do - it separated the act of having sex from the natural consequence of pregnancy. This created a crux of cooperation between Conservative Catholics and Conservative Evangelicals. It was eventually understood that it wasn't necessary to have the Deacon of First Baptist on the Supreme Court, it was perfectly fine to pick the "right kind" of Catholic. Since the attacks on Kennedy's Catholicism, any mention of religion impacting governmental duties had become seen as a low blow - which the Right would exagerate into an attack on faith itself.

How much more important does that anti-abortion plank become now that George W. Bush has even further destroyed the New Deal and the tax code? Enough to where there is suddenly a new leg in the opposition to islamo-terrorism. The anti-regulation and tax front can be combined into a single leg and a new plane can be defined. Since it is decidedly Islamic terrorism that is targeted (nothing is said about non-religious based or Christian terrorism), it provides a second leg for that brand of paranoid Christianity to cling to. They hate us because we are Christian - both the Muslims and the pro-abortionists.

Internally, their logic is tight and allows no dissent. To question the Mission is to question God Himself.

It has been a slow ascendency to power for the Religious Right, but they are not likely to give up easily. While George W. Bush seems willing to distance himself from them with a wink and a nod, any politician on the Right who is threatened can run to their embrace for succor - which explains why both Zell Miller and Tom DeLay are speaking at Justice Sunday 2 this week.

For some, it looks like the looney bin just threw the gates out wide. Upon closer examination, it is merely the culmination of a sustained popular movement - just like every other force in American politics. And that means it can be opposed, and defeated, by the same type of popular movement.

If you haven't already, please join the Christian Alliance for Progress or pick up a copy of Soujourners Magazine.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

My Life as a Pendulum

I can't say that my earliest memories were of church, but a large number of my early memories are. Until about sixth grade, that church was Jefferson Church of Christ in Hobbs, NM. I often have a hard time explaining exactly what all of the beliefs of that church are - in some ways they were incredibly conservative, in other ways they weren't. For instance, they frowned on women wearing pants, make-up, and jewelry, didn't like men with long hair (somehow Jesus was exempt), and wouldn't even allow an altar or musical instruments in the sactuary of the church. In my memory, though, they didn't make pulpit calls for political action - though, to be fair, a fourth grader might not really understand the politics behind the message. However, it seems to me that they seemed to take a kind of pleasure in cutting themselves off from the world in many ways.

One thing they did stress was Bible knowledge. Every time we walked into the church, we (the kids) were expected to have memorized another Bible verse. Maybe this is one reason why I have such a competitive intellectual nature - I just can't stand to be the only one in the room who doesn't know something. Being singled out to recite the latest verse and not having a clue will do that to you, I suppose. Who knows? Maybe I would have been like this anyway.

From sixth grade onwards, we moved often. Mostly it was in and around the city of Lubbock, Tx. Lubbock is a city of slightly more than a quarter of a million people spread over an area of about 114 square miles. By way of comparison, Queens is the largest borough of New York City and has only 109 square miles. (Of course, Queens has a population of about 2.2 million.) So it's a bit understandable that moving every year or so, and sometimes more than once per year, meant that there was a lot of difference schools and a lot of different churches. For the most part, they were Churches of Christ, but occassionally a Southern Baptist.

Our church life was one of excess and absence. When we attended, we generally were there at least three times a week. When we didn't, - well, we didn't at all. A year or two might pass without darkening the entrance of a church, then we'd be there a hundred times a month.

As I grew up, I began to listen a bit more to what was being said and to understand how it was different from what was written in the Bible. Periodically, I get tired of being preached at when it was so obvious no one really believed what they were saying - either you believe what the Bible says and stick to it or you deviate, you can't say you are sticking to the Bible and then deviate. Then after a while of not being at church, I'd begin to miss the fellowship and friendship and go back. Sort of like a drunk staggering between rehab and the bar, I'd turn my back on the church and swing away from it, then I'd run back and embrace it whole-heartedly.

This pattern has continued in my adult life. I spent a few months while I was in school in the Navy attending nightly Bible study and going to "independent, fundamental, Bible-believing churches" in central Florida. Then, fairly abruptly, I left it behind because one day the pastor of the church said that he would not allow a bi-racial couple to join his church unless they got divorced and refused to speak to each other. As we walked out of the church, he told me, "I'm a bit concerned about you. You don't look like you took my sermon too well today." I ignored the hand he held out for me to shake and said, "I don't think it was a sermon at all, just a statement of bigotry and ignorance." I never went back to that church.

There is nothing like the faith of the newly converted, and there is nothing like the total disregard for right and wrong like the recently disillusioned. I spent the next several years making sure that no one would ever attach the word "Christian" to their description of me.

After I got out of the Navy and settled in Corpus Christi, I finally found my way back into the church - though I did so cautiously. I was living with the woman who would become my first wife at the time and I wasn't too happy to hear a whole series of sermons directed at the sanctity of marriage, the failure of man to submit to God, and the like. When I was told I was being silly for thinking they were directed at me, I asked the pastor and he said, yes, they were, and he hoped they were getting through.

I'm getting ready to explain why I left that church, so let me first say that there were some very good people there. The pastor there conducted my wedding service and he was the one my family turned to when my nephew died. They were definitely there in the hard times. I can't fault them for not caring, because they did.

But, one day in Sunday School, the group was speaking about holding a protest at a Planned Parenthood clinic against abortion and how wrong it was that they had to remain on the far side of the street to do so. I was doing my usual trick of flipping through the Bible that I had learned helped pass the time when I didn't like the direction the conversation was going. At some point, I became aware that everyone was silent and staring at me. The leader of the group, Russ, asked me if I intended to participate in the protest as God wanted us to.

I told him I couldn't find anywhere in the Bible where it said I should participate in protests. Since it wasn't based in the Bible, he couldn't claim it was what God wanted. I also told him that we should view Planned Parenthood as a partner for expanding our ministry to those in need and distress instead of as our enemy to be shut down. This is especially true since at the time Nueces County had the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the country.

Before the day ended, I was informed several times that people were "concerned" for me. I told them to save their concerns and pray for their own guidance.

Again I left the church. I simply don't need to be anyone's example or prayer concern for trying to stick closely to what the Bible teaches.

I could go into other swings in detail, but the effect is much the same. I've eventually determined that what draws me back to church is the desire to connect with God and what pushes me away is the hypocrisy of man. It doesn't bother me that Christians are not perfect - after all, no one is. What bothers me is when they try to act as if they really are perfect. Abortion is not mentioned a single time in the Bible and there is no point in acting as if it is. The backwards Jim-Crow-religion belongs consigned to the dust-heap of history. Christianity should be focused on expanding and uniting people, not confining and dividing them.

My core belief is that when we focus on God, we find commonalities that unite us. When we focus on each other, we find differences that divide us. If Christianity is to fulfill its mission to draw people to Christ and to be the conscience of our society, then it must begin by re-focusing on the Grace of God, not the pettiness of man.

And that remark is meant as much at me as it is at anyone else.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Windows Internet Explorer Totally Sucks

If you are having trouble finding the writing on this blog, it is because you are using IE and it sucks. I use Opera and Firefox and have no problems with either.

IE, however, screws up the blogger template quite often.

Remind me to hurt Bill Gates when I meet him.

XT

Plea for Justice (and other important items)

Anyone who has ever sent me a chain letter or meme or anything of the sort knows that I am the least likely person to do anything with it. I'll read it - usually - but then it goes into the circular file. There isn't any particularly earth-shattering reason why. I just don't generally do it.

This is going to be the exception that proves the rule. One of my DFA friends sent this email out the other day:


How many times have you said "It's not fair!" without thinking about what the words really mean?
Unfortunately, a young woman named Linda Loaiza knows the bitter taste of injustice far too well.
Four years ago when Venezuelan police rescued 18 year-old Linda from her kidnapper's apartment she was bruised and cut inside and out and severely malnourished. One nipple had been cut off, her earlobe destroyed, her lip cut off, her skull fractured, and her entire body covered with cigarette burns. Even after nine surgeries, Linda will never recover from these injuries. Scarred for life, with reduced hearing and movement, her eyes clouded by chataracts, Linda can never have children.
Click here now to demand Justice for Linda!
Despite the fact that Linda's attacker, Luis Carrera Almoina (the son of Gustavo Carrera Damas, a very influential man who was president of one of Venezuela's major universities at the time) had kept her prisoner for four months while he repeatedly raped and brutally tortured her, Linda's case was passed over by the Venezuelan judicial system 29 times and a total of 59 judges declined to prosecute on her behalf!
Demand Justice for Linda! Click below now to send an email to Venezuela's top judicial officials demanding a timely and fair trial!
Click here now to demand Justice for Linda!Nearly three years later, the courts had still not set a trial date and Linda's case was in danger of being dismissed. So she took matters into her own hands, holding a two-week hunger strike on the steps of the Supreme Court to raise awareness of her plight. The media coverage that followed forced the court to finally assign a judge and set a trial date.
After all that, the judge let the man who'd raped and tortured Linda off scot-free, citing a "lack of evidence." Worse yet, the judge had the gall to order an investigation into Linda on the alleged grounds that she had been part of a prostitution ring.
This April, Linda and her supporters finally succeeded in getting the courts to reopen her case and request a retrial with the hope of convicting Carrera Almoina. After several more months of terrible waiting, Linda is still waiting for a trial date to be set.
Click here now to ensure Justice for Linda by sending a free message to high-ranking members of the Venezuelan government and key members of the country's judicial system on Linda's behalf.
Click here now to demand Justice for Linda!
We need your help to let the Venezuelan government know the world is watching.
Pressure from supporters like you will help hold the court accountable to make sure a trial date is set and that justice is served this time.
Our goal is to get a trial date set by the end of August by sending at least 10,000 messages in the next two weeks demanding Justice for Linda.
After you send your message to the Venezuelan justice system, please help us spread the word about the Justice for Linda effort by forwarding this message to everyone in your address book with a personal request to join you in demanding justice in this horrifying case.
Linda's experience is deeply disturbing - both for the violence she suffered and for the corruption and the injustice she has faced in her quest to put her attacker behind bars where he can't hurt her or others. The incident occurred in Venezuela, but it is representative of the immense difficulty faced by women in many parts of the world when they seek justice in the face of violence and abuse.
Your support will mean a great deal to Linda and to women everywhere.
Thank you for all your help.


Perhaps I am too cynical, but I'm not sure the effort will do much good. However, I do know that doing nothing will do absolutely no good. So, weighing a thin chance against none, I signed the petition, and I'm asking the rest of you to do so, too.

God willing, Linda would do the same for me if the roles were reversed.

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Don't forget the Republi-vangelicals are still trying to rob Social Security! For an entertaining and informative look at the issue, click here.

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Also, next week will mark the 60th anniversary of mankind using their greatest discovery in pursuit of their most ancient desire - to kill their enemies. On August 6, 1945 Hiroshima, Japan ceased to exist. Three days later, Nagasaki would join it. I won't go into whether the decisions were right or wrong - I'll only say that this exhibit shows why North Korea must be disarmed and Iran cannot be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.

God save us all.

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Although it may seem a small thing to many of us, we recognize a truly earth-shattering (in a good way) announcement from Reverend Mother.

Yes, indeed. God save us all.

XT

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