Monday, November 20, 2006

The Reigious Right War on Common Decency

  In Mother Jones magazine: Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) appeared at a prayer breakfast just after the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 240,000 people.  DeLay read a passage from Matthew about a non-believer: "…a fool who built his house on sand: The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew, and buffeted the house, and it collapsed and was completely ruined."  Then, without comment, he righteously sat down.   

  The Religious Right (RR) has been using the last few year-ends to complain ever more stridently about a “War on Christmas” as if such a war actually existed and, if it did, that such a war was immoral.  This effort on the part of high profile pundits has filtered down to the local level – it is now not uncommon for local politicians and citizens of many typical American communities to gripe about how “radical secularists” are trying to destroy, prohibit and/or defame Christmas, Christians and Christianity.  It will be shown that these complaints are at best based on ignorance and at worst, a calculated hypocrisy.

  At the same time, the incredible arrogance of the Religious Right and their need for conformity and control inevitably has led to the most immediate result of their campaign: a “War on Common Decency.”  See Tom DeLay’s quote above for evidence of that war.  Listen to Rush Limbaugh for further confirming evidence of their contempt for decency, every day.

  Now, to provide evidence that this seemingly orchestrated campaign to make Americans believe there is a “War on Christmas” actually exists, here is what some RRers have said, including a Long Islander:

  From the Conservative Voice, By Michael l J. Gaynor: “The so-called non-existent war just reached my town.  The Christmas tree lighting ceremony in the Town of Huntington, on Long Island, New York, was targeted by a young attorney who got his name in Newsday, Long Island's notorious secular extremist newspaper, and hopefully will be boycotted by all persons who are friendly to the free exercise of religion and patronized by people like himself, since people should spend their money to support their ideas instead of contrary ones.”  (Go to ).

  I’m sure INQUIRER readers will be surprised to learn that Newsday, the same newspaper that publishes the bigoted and anti-secularist God Squad column each week, and has no corresponding secularist counterpart, is a “notorious secular extremist newspaper.”  Wait ‘til Newsday finds out that they’re secular extremists – what will Raymond Keating do?

  Of course, this brouhaha referred to, in Huntington, Long Island, home of the INQUIRER, is the result of the Religious Right’s arrogant and aggressive tactics regarding the public square – the public square that they believe they own for their own personal religious promotions, from “God Bless America” signs to Christian nativity scenes.  They are so used to ramming their beliefs down the throats of others that they are shocked when someone simply points it out, let alone takes action.

  Would the Religious Right stand on the sidelines if “secular extremists” had an “Imagine There’s No Heaven… and No Religion Too…” sign on public property to commemorate John Lennon’s death?  Answer: Don’t make me laugh!

  Mr. Gaynor’s column then proceeds to name companies that have “banned” Christmas from their retail ads and advises readers to tell these companies that they are offended by the omission.

  It would be easy to dismiss or simply ridicule Mr. Gaynor; and truly that is all he deserves, but the unethical nature of his efforts must be clearly pointed out.  He writes that readers should let companies who substitute “holiday” for “Christmas” know that they are offending shoppers with their “anti-Christan and anti-Christmas bias.”

  Imagine!  Mr. Gaynor cannot deal with the idea that someone else does not handle Christmas or the holiday season in the same precise manner as he.  It does not matter that hell would freeze over before Mr. Gaynor pays the same respect to a Muslim, Hindu, Scientologist or secular humanist…  This is the arrogance of faith at its finest.

  Bill O’Reilly of FoxNews has been one of the leaders of the “War on Christmas” myth.  In 2004 he shot this salvo:

  “Christmas under siege — the big picture.  That is the subject of this evening's "Talking Points Memo."

  All over the country, Christmas is taking flak. In Denver this past weekend, no religious floats were permitted in the holiday parade there.  In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg unveiled the holiday tree and no Christian Christmas symbols are allowed in the public schools. Federated Department Stores, [that's] Macy's, have done away with the Christmas greeting, "Merry Christmas…"

  Secular progressives realize that America as it is now will never approve of gay marriage, partial birth abortion, euthanasia, legalized drugs, income redistribution through taxation, and many other progressive visions because of religious opposition.

  But if the secularists can destroy religion in the public arena, the brave new progressive world is a possibility.  That's what happened in Canada.”  (Go to,2933,140742,00.html .)

  Oh: Blame Canada!

  So here is O’Reilly’s thinking: The Religious Right has a special right to have the government promote their religious holidays in the manner they prefer, but it cannot and must not promote any sort of secular neutrality, or dog forbid, atheism… as if atheism has ever been promoted by a US government!

  They either truly believe that neutrality equals bias, which leads one to question their intelligence, or they know better; which leads one to question their integrity.   This writer leans towards both explanations.

  John Gibson, coincidentally also of Fox, has written the, so far, “definitive” book on the subject: The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought.

  The book description that one finds on is very informative:

  “Yes, Virginia, there is a war on Christmas. It’s the secularization of America’s favorite holiday and the ever-stronger push toward a neutered "holiday" season so that non-Christians won’t be even the slightest bit offended.

  Traditionalists get upset when they’re told—moreand more these days—that celebrating Christmas in any public way is a violation of church and state separation.  That is certainly not what the founders intended when they wrote, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

  For instance:

  * In Illinois, state government workers were forbidden from saying the words "Merry Christmas" while at work

  * In Rhode Island, local officials banned Christians from participating in a public project to decorate the lawn of City Hall

  * A New Jersey school banned even instrumental versions of traditional Christmas carols

  * Arizona school officials ruled it unconstitutional for a student to make any reference to the religious history of Christmas in a class project

  * Millions of Americans are starting to fight back against the secularist forces and against local officials who would rather surrender than be seen as politically incorrect. Gibson shows readers how they can help save Christmas from being twisted beyond recognition, with even the slightest reference to Jesus completely disappearing.

  The annual debate will be hotter than ever in 2005, and this book will be perfect for everyone who’s pro-Christmas.

  What about these “examples”?

  In the Illinois case, the Attorney General overruled a supervisor of some state employees one month after the supervisor tried to enforce a ban on “Merry Christmas.”  Yes, that’s right, Mr. Gibson’s first example of the “war” consisted of one grumpy supervisor who was quickly chastened.  (Go to 

  The banned “Christians” in Rhode Island?  An individual (whose case was eventually summarily dismissed in court) apparently had challenged the use of the lawn for display of all religious symbols (not just Christian) in a public square in Rhode Island.  It was found that many displays, including secular ones, could easily be applied for and allowed.  The court decided that religiously themed displays could not be discriminated against.

  Once again, a pathetic example!  Is this part of an orchestrated war on Christmas as Mr. Gibson and others imply?  Once again, stupidity or dishonesty are the only explanations for why this example is presented as part of a “war.”

  What about the New Jersey ban on “Christmas Carols”?

  According to MSNBC (we’re sure this is also a secular humanist front), and other news sources, the ban on religiously themed music is an acknowledgment of the growing non-Christian diversity of the public school population and the fact that Christians have no more right to have their sacred music played than do Jews, atheists or anyone else, no matter the time of year.

  Mr. Schwartzberg, whose young children are about to enter school (in Maplewood, NJ) said (bad) memories (from his own childhood in the Bible Belt) surfaced this month when the South Orange-Maplewood school district decided to ban instrumental Christmas carols at school-sponsored holiday concerts…

  Schwartzberg said a line can be drawn.

  “When students are compelled to engage in evangelical activities — even without intent or proselytizing — with the alternative being nothing except to sit out, I think that’s not appropriate.”

  A school board decides that it may be in poor taste to shove Christian music down the throatsof its substantial non-Christian student body and some spoiled Religious Right apologist seize upon the opportunity to fabricate a mythical “War on Christmas.”  Please note that all Chanukah based music was also banned.  Some war!

  How about the final teaser – Arizona school officials ruling it unconstitutional for students to make any reference to the religious history of Christmas in a class project?  After searching the web, including the website of the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona Christian defense group, nothing can be found that ties together the gist of this claim.  Perhaps it is, as the others were, an exaggeration that did not target Christmas or Christians, or it is an outright fabrication.  Duly noted on the website was an effort by the ADF to mobilize attorneys to defend Christians in public schools, but this “case” was not mentioned.  (Go to .)

  Ultimately, and with details supplied by Mr. Gibson’s own book, it becomes clear that there is indeed a coordinated effort being made centered on the public celebration of Christmas: of course, the campaign is on the part of Christian fanatics.  All the supposed anti-Christmas efforts by so-called “secular extremists” consisted of, at most, incidents in which a single or handful of well-meaning persons, usually believers themselves, thought it would be better if state-sponsored events or celebrations were more inclusive and non-sectarian.  If these persons over-reached, they were quickly chastised and curbed.  No evidence of a coordinated national campaign was documented.

  The Religious Right’s act may finally be getting old to many Americans: while these fanatics whine about not being able to control every aspect of American life in the manner they see fit, right down to how even non-Christians celebrate the holidays, it is becoming more understood, via poll after poll, that their tolerance for pseudo-science (creationism), torture (Limbaugh calls it “blowing off steam” and Cheney calls it “a no-brainer”), lies(WMDs, Saddam-Al Qaeda connection), corruption (DeLay and friends), and disregard of the civil rights of others (habeas corpus, gays) is indeed very broad.  The Religious Right War on Common Decency continues full blast.

Monday, November 13, 2006

GOP, Elton John, Barack and more!

News item: The Texas GOP has “accused” a candidate for the Appeals Court, E. Ben Franks, of being an atheist.  They believe this means he is out of touch with the public and would fail to uphold the laws of Texas.  According to, “The Republican Party noted in its recent newsletter that Article 16, §1(a) of the Texas Constitution prescribes the oath of office for all elected or appointed officials.  The officeholder swears to faithfully execute the duties of the office and, to the best of his or her ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this state "so help me God."”

  His Republican opponent,  Bailey C. Moseley, says he thinks (but is obviously not sure) an atheist can take the oath and is bound to support the laws and Constitution of Texas.

  "I think it's pertinent," Moseley says of the allegation. "In east Texas, a person's core beliefs are important."  Yes in Texas, unless you believe in talking snakes, and a 6000 year old earth, you’re “out of touch.”

  Jeff Fisher, the state Republican Party's executive director, says there are other sources of the allegation that Frank is an atheist.  Fisher says "some people who know Franks" -- people whom Fisher did not identify -- have told him that Franks professes to be an atheist.

  Fisher says the GOP sent the newsletter to people who subscribe to the party's e-mail publications to inform them about Franks.

  Comment: Exactly how commonplace and routine must be anti-atheist bigotry be for a major political party to be so comfortable airing their bias?  Answer: Very commonplace and routine.

  What are the chances of E. Ben Franks being elected?  Answer:

  (For the whole article by Mary Alice Robbins go to: )


  News item: Ohio executed areligious cult leader Tuesday for murdering a family of five followers who were taken one at a time to a barn, bound and shot to death.  The youngest was a girl just 7 years old.

  Jeffrey Lundgren, 56, died by injection at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. "I profess my love for God, my family, for my children, for Kathy (his wife).  I am because you are," Lundgren said in his final statement.

  The evidence against him in the deaths of the Avery family - Dennis, 49, Cheryl, 46, Trina, 15, Rebecca, 13, and 7-year-old Karen - was compelling.

  Upset by what he saw as a lack of faith, Lundgren arranged a dinner hosted by cult members.  Afterward, he and his followers led the family members one by one - the father first, young Karen last - to their deaths while the others unknowingly cleaned up after dinner.

  Lundgren shot each victim two or three times while a running chain saw muffled the sound of the gunfire.

  Lundgren argued at his trial in 1990 that he was prophet of God and therefore not deserving of the death penalty.

  "It's not a figment of my imagination that I can in fact talk to God, that I can hear his voice," he had told the jurors.  "I am a prophet of God. I am even more than a prophet."

  Comment: What, exactly, would be the believers argument against Lundgren the “Prophet.”  That he’s not a prophet?  And how would one know that if one also believes that prophecy actually has occurred and may occur again?

  If one argues that God wouldn’t be giving such messages to anyone, then one has admitted that God can be judged by human-based standards of morality.  If one argues that humans, however, cannot create moral standards, however, then one must just “accept” what God orders, as Mr. Lundgren did.  Who is Mr. Lundgren to question God?  How can Mr. Lundgren or others tell whether God speaks tothem or not?

  The whole point of revelation is that its “truths” lie beyond reason.  To mount a coherent argument against revelation requires rejecting all of revelation itself, doesn’t it?


  News Item: (AFP) -The top US general defended the leadership of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, saying it is inspired by God.  "He leads in a way that the good Lord tells him is best for our country," said Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

  Comment: If this story is true, and it has not been denied, well, that changes everything!  Instead of being an unmitigated disaster, the War in Iraq is actually the work of God!  That makes everything OK!

  And isn’t it comforting to know that this is how the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCoS) thinks?  Who needs military intelligence?

  Truly if God inspires President Bush (who refers to him as his ‘higher Father’), Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and the Chairman of the JCoS, then our troubles are over!

  Of course; unless God does not exist…

  News item: In an interview with New Yorker editor, Sen. Barack Obama addressed the topic of religion saying, "It's not 'faith' if you are absolutely certain," and noted that he didn't believe his lack of "faith" would hurt him a national election.  He added, "Evolution is more grounded in my experience than angels."

  Comment: It’s sad but his (or anyone else’s) support for a more scientific approach to reality may cost votes at the ballot box.


  Item: (AP, HOUSTON (Nov. 10, 2006) Michael Lord and Gary Lackey, a gay couple requesting bids for a landscaping job at their new house, received a polite - and, well, honest - e-mail from Sabrina Farber, a co-owner of Garden Guy: "I need to tell you that we cannot meet with you because we choose not to work for homosexuals."

  Stunned, Lackey forwarded the e-mail to 200 friends, asking them not to patronize Garden Guy and urging them to pass the word on to friends and family.  "I'm still shocked by the ignorance that exists in today's society," Lackey said in his e-mail.  And word was indeed passed on - as fast as the Web could carry it.

  Within days, the e-mail had been forwarded to thousands of people around the world, and quickly became the subject of heated and often ugly debates on the Internet.  Because of the furor, a professional association of landscapers created a nondiscrimination policy.

  But Farber said she and her husband have also gotten hundreds of calls and messages offering encouragement and have been touched by that.  "We just cried.  We have been through so much," Farber said.  "We become accidental crusaders for Christ."

  Comment: Yes, you read it here: Discriminating against gay couples is “crusading for Christ.”  That makes it ok.


  Item: (AP) Sir Elton John thinks all religions should be banned because they turn people into "really hateful lemmings... I would ban religion completely, even though there are some wonderful things about it," the British singer said in an interview with the Observer newspaper on Sunday.  "Religion has always tried to turn hatred toward gay people.  It turns people into hateful lemmings and it is not really compassionate."  The singer, who tied the knot with long-term partner David Furnish in a civil ceremony last year, said he admired the teachings of Jesus Christ, but disliked religious bodies.  "The reality is that organized religion doesn't seem to work," he added.

  The 59-year-old singer, who has sold an estimated 200 million records, is no stranger to controversy.  In 2000, he hit out at the "ignorance" of the Roman Catholic Church after a priest said homosexuals were engaged in "a lifestyle that can never respond to the deepest longings of the human heart."  Since then he has received blanket media coverage for a series of high-profile outbursts.

  Comment: As bad as many forms of religion are, you cannot outlaw religion; freedom of the mind to believe in even the most ridiculous things, including Zeus, Poseiden, Xenu, Virgin births, revelations from a god, Vishnu, raising the dead, a world-wide flood, a 6 thousand year old earth, and so on, is the most fundamental right of all human rights.

  However, this freedom allows for another thing which is what Elton John should concentrate on: freedom to CRITICIZE religion.  This is the freedom that is the typically FIRST victim of religious intolerance.

  Throughout history religious dissent has rarely been tolerated.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Ted Haggard

"At the end of the day, this comes down to bringing Jesus into politics," he says. "Right now, it's not Ted Haggard on trial.  It's Jesus.  This is about the God he represents.  When you make yourself a public figure and you fall, you bring the perception of your God with you."  -- David Kuo, author of “Tempting Faith.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Kuo himself does not follow where his own logic should take him.

As has been reported in the last month, Rev. Ted Haggard has been accused by a self-described mail prostitute of having a three year homosexual affair while using illegal drugs, including methamphetamine (a.k.a. “speed”).

Oh yes, Rev. Haggard is a vociferous opponent actively campaigning against gay marriage in Colorado, as well as preaching to his large congregation that faith can answer any problem.

The accuser did “fail” a “lie detection test” and this fact has been widely reported in the media.  At the same time, the Reverend Haggard has admitted by the drugs and that he has indeed met this accuser at a hotel for a “message.”

What is one to believe regarding the facts?

First of all, it is not widely known that there is much scientific skepticism regarding “lie detector tests.”

CSICOP, a project of the Center for Inquiry reports:

“The secret of the polygraph-the polygraphers' own shameless deception-is that their machine is no more capable of assessing truth telling than were the priests of ancient Rome standing knee-deep in chicken parts.  Nonetheless, the polygrapher tries to persuade the unwitting subject that their measurements indicate when a lie is being told.  The subject, nervously strapped in a chair, is often convinced by the aura surrounding this cheap parlor trick, and is then putty in the hands of the polygrapher, who launches into an intrusive, illegal, and wide-ranging inquisition.  The subject is told, from time to time, that the machine is indicating "deception" (it isn't, of course), and he is continuously urged to "clarify" his answers, by providing more and more personal information.  At some point (it's completely arbitrary and up to the judgment of the polygrapher), the test is stopped and the polygrapher renders a subjective assessment of "deceptive response."  Even J. Edgar Hoover knew this was senseless.  He banned the polygraph test from within the ranks of the FBI as a waste of time….  The truth is this: The polygraph is a ruse, carefully constructed as a tool of intimidation, and used as an excuse to conduct an illegal inquisition under psychologically and physically unpleasant circumstances.  Spies know how to beat it, and no court in the land permits submission of polygraphs, even to exonerate the accused.”  (Go to .)

Therefore it would seem to then go to the likelihood of the stories presented: the accuser’s and the accused.

Buying “speed” is no routine matter: it is one of the most addictive and dangerous drugs available and only illegally.  Furthermore, how did it come to pass that the drug was purchased from or in cooperation with a self-confessed male prostitute?  It is often claimed that “speed” and male (or female) prostitutes are often intertwined.  Drugs and prostitution DO have a relationship.

What may be concluded is that the accuser’s over-all story is more likely, but that it does not yet rise to the level of certainty that would be needed to convict a person in a court of law.  But it would be fair to conclude, and many will claim, that Rev. Haggard has some deep problems.

But many will not mention Rev. Haggard’s biggest problem: he like so many others, live in a world that denies reality.  Rev. Haggard lives in a world of denial.

Is the Bible really inerrant and without contradiction?  Is the earth and universe really 6000 years old?  Was Jesus really God?  Is homosexuality really immoral?  Is Rev. Haggard’s moral system really absolute?

The overwhelmingly likely answer is “no” to all the above about which Rev. Haggard is absolutely certain.

In fact it is easy to find contradictions within the Bible: one cannot for instance reconcile the key chronology of the crucifixion of Jesus nor the text of the sign placed on his cross by the Romans as obvious examples.

Further, there is no scientific evidence that points to a young earth; none whatsoever.

There is also no way to determine the “divinity” of a person, particularly one who is long dead, such as Jesus.  Any suggestions?

As far as morality goes, is there really a need for a moral system that does not relate morality to harm or help to others, but instead is based on supposed offenses taken by an invisible omnipotent and omniscient deity who created everything in the first place, including the human nature that some will claim leads to those very offenses?

And finally, on what basis does Rev. Haggard and all the other absolutists expect others to buy into their moral system and follow their leadership when it is clear that they are clueless?

Rev. Haggard’s absolute certainty about everything in life must be called what it is: delusional.  Although he called Richard Dawkins “arrogant” and “elitist” in an interview that Dawkins had with Haggard, (go to ) the plain truth is that there is nothing more arrogant than certainty or believing that one has been created in the image of a God.

Religious apologists such as David Kuo decry the mixing of religion and politics, and of hypocrisy; but will not deal with the facts: if the literalists and absolutists are wrong in the certainty, then indeed, the moderate interpretation is even more suspect.  It takes chutzpah to “compromise” or make judgments about the Word of God, does it not?  Who is David Kuo or anyone else to question or modify it – unless it cannot be proven to be the Word of God after all?  Agnosticism would seem to be the only approach with integrity and a failure to believe based on lack of evidence, or atheism, completely reasonable.

Although not all persons who claim certainty about the inerrancy, absolutism and accuracy of their Biblical belief system turn to illicit sexual affairs and drugs, they are also delusional.  The tragedy is their living of their only known and verifiable life in pursuit of a heaven there is no reason to believe follows.

This, of course, will NEVER be reported in the mainstream media, as obvious as it is.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Difference BEtween Republicans and Democrats

In the aftermath of the Mark Foley scandal, you probably have heard Republican apologists make this argument: the difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Rep. Foley's behavior was unnaceptable and that he was forced to resign from office while the immoral Bill Clinton was supported by his party.

Let us take a close look at the logic of this statement: the evidence is mounting that instead of forcing Mark Foley out of office for his behavior, it seems that for a number of years his behavior was ignored and actually tolerated because of his fundraising and electability.  It may be that even the Republican speaker of the House may have known something about all this and did nothing - until the whole thing became publicly known.  And to cap it all off, Mark Foley resigned BEFORE anyone put any pressure on him to resign.

To these charges, Republican apologists then say they also demand that those who knew also should resign; thereby cleansing the Party from all guilt.


The fact remains that the bulk of current scandalous behavior resides on the Republican side of the aisle.  For every Bill Clinton you had a Henry Hyde and Newt Gingrich; for every Democrat on the take you have numerous Republicans taking money from Abramoff or profiting from Halliburton.

But here is the key to the Republican apologist thinking: morality is all about sex and that Republicans are granted forgiveness by God.

Yes, in the twisted mind of the Religious Right/Neo-con Republican, torture is not a moral issue; all things sex are moral issues.

The Deomcrats, to their detriment, but also to their credit, do not claim they are more moral than Republicans or blessed by God.  A large portion of the American Electorate hearing the Republicans claim exactly that, believe it and vote Republican.

The result: sex outside marriage is the great moral outrage of our time while torture is just another foregn policy tool.

They can keep their blessings.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Why We Don't Vote

In recent years, Americans have become notorious for not voting.  To make matters worse, it would seem that those who are ignorant yet certain may actually vote more often than those who are informed and racked with doubts.  The result: the elected officials now in office.

Obviously this habit of not voting is not genetic; therefore it must be cultural and the question becomes "Why have Americans become conditioned into not voting?"

The factors are numerous and they conspire together to keep people apathetic, disgusted and, yes certain in their ignorance.

First the level of political discourse is unbelievably low.  Since the media is now omnipresent, from radio, TV, print media and the Internet, we are blasted with more nonsense than ever.  Journalism is a dying art; what we get are spinmeisters masquerading as journalists - and some not even bothering to make the effort to seem like a journalist.

Do you remember Rush Limbaugh describing the events at Abu Ghraib as just some soldiers "blowing off some steam"?  Did Rush ever argue that Saddam was just "blowing off some steam"?  Looking back, it could be argued that this outrage began the complete unraveling of any remaining <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />US moral authority in the conflict.  After Abu Ghraib we could not even claim to have ended the torture of the Saddam Hussein years in Iraq.  Now it is clear that torture is an integral part of the “new” Iraq and perpetuated by the previously victimized Shiites.  Of all the things they chose to learn from the US

The relative comfort that Americans live in also also contributes to political apathy.  As long as one is fat and happy, one remains uninvolved.  In fact, being involved is viewed as a nuisance.  Many persons take the blessings of liberty for granted and are ready to give up some liberties if they’re merely told without evidence that it’s too much trouble to retain them!

Another problem has become the absolute garbage that campaigning has become.  "Swift-boating" is now a part of the language.  What it means is that even an American's heroism in service to their country can be trashed for base political purposes.  No fact is safe from not only questioning, but complete reversal, no matter the actual evidence.  Nothing means anything in politics.  This only serves to destroy interest in voting except on the part of the “true believers.”

Recently more news stories have served to destroy the average citizen’s interest in politics: the new book by Bob Woodward, “State of Denial,” and the scandal involving Congressman Mark Foley.

The Woodward book claims that the Bush Administration tolerated no dissent from their dogmatic view of the world, particularly when it came to Iraq policy.  The results are obvious.  Yet about 40% of Americans remain in this state of denial, not to mention the Administration.  To this day, the President and Vice President will not tell the general public what the Intelligence Community tells them about the future of Iraq – e.g.: that it’s deteriorating badly.  Instead we hear the unjustifiably optimistic untruths – e.g.: the insurgency is in its “death throes.”  At the same time, the opposition party is inexplicably cowardly in voicing its outrage.  Perhaps they fear that such passion will scare off likely voters who hate bad news and the bearers of bad news.

Congressman Foley’s Internet contacts with under-age pages may have been the subject of a cover-up so that a valuable Republican Congressional seat might not be lost in this year’s elections.  It certainly seems possible that power was chosen over the well being of children – does this sound familiar?

Even though we’re a country at war, the administration has made sure that only a few families understand the agony of the loss of their loved ones by limiting the losses to volunteers largely coming from families of the poor or from the families of “true believers,” and that only future generations will have to pay for the war’s costs.  It all adds up to an uninvolved, uninformed, apathetic electorate.

And if there is anything that this Administration needs to have, it’s an ignorant, apathetic citizenry that is told nothing in response to asking for nothing.

Meanwhile the debt, in both financial and moral terms, mounts.

What are you doing on Election Day?


Friday, September 29, 2006

Iraqis Agree: Killing US Soldiers Is OK

By now this is old and unsurprising news: Iraqis, by and large, think killing American soldiers in Iraq is OK.

AP reports the following: “About six in 10 Iraqis say they approve of attacks on U.S.-led forces, and slightly more than that want their government to ask U.S. troops to leave within a year, a poll finds.

The Iraqis also have negative views of Osama bin Laden, according to the early September poll of 1,150.

The poll, done for University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes, also found that almost four in five Iraqis say the U.S. military force in Iraq provokes more violence than it prevents.

About 61 percent approved of the attacks — up from 47 percent in January. A solid majority of Shiite and Sunni Arabs approved of the attacks, according to the poll. The increase came mostly among Shiite Iraqis.

It found an overwhelmingly negative opinion of terror chief bin Laden and more than half, 57 percent, disapproving of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Three-fourths say they think the U.S. plans to keep military bases in Iraq permanently.

A majority of Iraqis, 72 percent, say they think Iraq will be one state five years from now. Shiite Iraqis were most likely to feel that way, though a majority of Sunnis and Kurds also believed that would be the case…

The State Department, meanwhile, has conducted its own poll, something it does periodically, spokesman Sean McCormack said.  The State Department poll found two-thirds of Iraqis in Baghdad favor an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces, according to The Washington Post. McCormack declined to discuss details of the department's poll…

What I hear from government representatives and other anecdotal evidence that you hear from Iraqis that is collected by embassy personnel and military personnel is that Iraqis do appreciate our presence there," McCormack said.  "They do understand the reasons for it, they do understand that we don't want to or we don't intend to be there indefinitely."

Is it a surprise that a Bush Administration official so easily denies all the evidence and data in favor of vague conjecture and infallible ideology?

Even the fight against Al Qaeda seems to be made moot; they’re not popular in Iraq anyway since they kill Shiite Iraqis.  Only a continued comparison of Al Qaeda vs. US soldiers would boost Al Qaeda’s popularity.

Exactly what are we doing in Iraq, once again?  The results seems so distant from anything that could be described as advantageous that one cannot even claim it’s better than some other alternative.  What is this better than?  They hate us and want to kill us; they hate Israel and support its enemies; they are closer to Iran, the US’s greatest foe in the world, than ever before; Iraqis are now subject to even more violence than they were in recent years when Saddam Hussein was in charge and the no-fly zone was being enforced; Al Qaeda and its clones are more experienced andmore of a threat to the world thanks to this war than when Hussein ruled.

At this point it is clear that the best that can be hoped for is an American exit to somehow be engineered, leaving the rival Iraqi factions to solve their own disputes by themselves.  There is no chance that Iraq will be a reliable US ally, or a free country, or peaceful.  What better scenario is even imaginable at this point?

New Federal Law: There is No Law

    Exactly what does it mean to live in a “free country?”  Does it mean that you have certain inalienable rights, such as a right to trial and legal representation?  If one’s rights can be summarily be suspended, revoked or made irrelevant forever by a single branch of government without recourse to the courts or a legislature, is one still “free?”

    On September 28, 2006, the Senate passed a bill giving President Bush extraordinary abilities to do almost anything if not anything, with almost anyone, if not anyone, he chooses.  The Bill awaits expected reconciliation with the House version before it is signed into law by the President.

According to a NY Times editorial on 9/28/06, these are some of the bill’s biggest flaws:

“Enemy Combatants: A dangerously broad definition of “illegal enemy combatant” in the bill could subject legal residents of the United States, as well as foreign citizens living in their own countries, to summary arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal.  The president could give the power to apply this label to anyone he wanted.

The Geneva Conventions: The bill would repudiate a half-century of international precedent by allowing Mr. Bush to decide on his own what abusive interrogation methods he considered permissible.  And his decision could stay secret — there’s no requirement that this list be published.

Habeas Corpus: Detainees in U.S. military prisons would lose the basic right to challenge their imprisonment.  These cases do not clog the courts, nor coddle terrorists.  They simply give wrongly imprisoned people a chance to prove their innocence.

Judicial Review: The courts would have no power to review any aspect of this new system, except verdicts by military tribunals.  The bill would limit appeals and bar legal actions based on the Geneva Conventions, directly or indirectly.  All Mr. Bush would have to do to lock anyone up forever is to declare him an illegal combatant and not have a trial.

Coerced Evidence: Coerced evidence would be permissible if a judge considered it reliable — already a contradiction in terms — and relevant.  Coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Mr. Bush chooses.

Secret Evidence: American standards of justice prohibit evidence and testimony that is kept secret from the defendant, whether the accused is a corporate executive or a mass murderer.  But the bill as redrafted by Mr. Cheney seems to weaken protections against such evidence.

Offenses: The definition of torture is unacceptably narrow, a virtual reprise of the deeply cynical memos the administration produced after 9/11.  Rape and sexual assault are defined in a retrograde way that covers only forced or coerced activity, and not other forms of nonconsensual sex.  The bill would effectively eliminate the idea of rape as torture.”

Under this law, the President could literally designate Al Gore, the Dixie Chicks and Jon Stewart “enemy combatants” and imprison them, secretly if he chooses, torture them, deny them even an opportunity to see an  attorney or go to court, deny them contact their families and possibly even kill them.

Here is the question that Americans must ask themselves, although too few will: Are we still free?

Monday, September 25, 2006

If It’s Not About Religion, Then What?

(AP) Two gunmen on a motorbike killed the provincial director of Afghanistan's Ministry of Women's Affairs outside her home in the southern city of Kandahar on Monday, officials said.
    Safia Ahmed-jan was shot to death while walking to her office, said Tawfiq ul-Ulhakim Parant, senior adviser to the women's ministry in Kabul.
    Aleem Sidique, the spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said the U.N. was "appalled at this senseless murder."
    "What we need to see in Afghanistan is peace, development and progress," Sidique said. "We share the sentiment of the majority of Afghan people who are appalled at this killing."
    Ahmed-jan was an active proponent of women's rights in a region where insurgents are extremely active.
Recently on CNN, Christiane Amanpour hosted a “summit” featuring former President Bill Clinton and “an expert” panel including Israeli Vice Premier, Shimon Peres; U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Dina Powell; Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan; Former United Nations Special Envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi; Former U.S. Senator and Northern Ireland peace negotiator, George Mitchell and editor-at-large of Beirut-based Daily Star newspaper, Rami Khouri.
    At the end of the program President Clinton was given the final word and as one could predict, absolved religion as the cause of the world’s troubles: no, the problems are “political,” said President Clinton.
    Is it any wonder that absolutely no progress is being made to deal with the escalating violence and hatred when even a comparatively bright world leader is so oblivious to the obvious?
    Precisely what is the problem, politically, between the Palestinians and the Israelis?  Or the Muslims or Hindus in
Kashmir?  Or the Tamil Tigers and the government in Sri Lanka?  Catholics vs. Protestants in Northern Ireland?  Or Al Qaeda and the US?  Iraqi Sunnis vs. Iraqi Shia?  The US vs. Iran?
    Is it socialism vs. capitalism?  States rights vs. federalism?  Freedom vs. tyranny?
    Answers: No, no and no.
    The defining difference in each case is religious.  There indeed may be differences in income status or in state-sanctioned discrimination or some other “political” injustice; but the motive for the injustice or difference is based on religious identity.
    The Shia vs. Sunni tragedy is a shining example: both sides of this conflict view Islam as integral to governing a nation; neither side is noted as more freedom loving or hating than the other; neither is noted as more right-wing or left-wing than the other.  Both sides distrust the
US and resent US presence in Iraq.  What is the problem?
    Answer: One side is Sunni and the other is Shia.
  The story in
Afghanistan is another example of the religious root of so many of the world’s problems: the victim was not killed because of a political difference; she was killed because of her work toward the liberation of the women of Afghanistan and the opposition was religiously motivated.
    To be in denial of this is to close one’s eyes to the facts and to render oneself incapable of solving the underlying problem.
    And indeed, the underlying problem will remain unsolved as long as religion remains untouchable.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Does Humanism Have an Answer for Winning the “War on Terror?”

What kind of grade would one give the Bush Administration for their self-proclaimed “War on Terror”?  First one must decide exactly what the “War on Terror” is and what is the goal of this “war”?  Could a humanistically guided policy do better?  What would be the differences?

Defining the “War on Terror” is, of course, an enterprise that could easily veer into parody.  The concept assumes that there are organizations that promote terror for the sake of terror itself.

Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hizbullah and other non-government groups do not promote terror merely for the sake of enjoying terror although it may be that some of its leaders are psychopathic.  Their real goals are religiously inspired: they want to promote their brand of Islamic fundamentalism by any means necessary, and if terror is the method, so be it; if democratic elections are the method, that is also fine.  Should there be a concurrent “War on Democracy” as well?  Answer: No, the problem is not democracy (or psychopaths.)

Thus, the concept of a “War on Terror” is a sham; the real war should be on religious extremism and fundamentalism.  Unfortunately the US government is guided by a religious fundamentalist extremist sympathizer who has claimed on a number of occasions to a number of different persons that God has spoken and/or guided him even on matters of war and peace!  To a fundamentalist, the “War on Terror” is code for “Holy War”; a war of “good versus evil.”  Osama Bin Laden, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, and President G.W. Bush all see it precisely this way.  They ALL see it similarly - this should distrub every American.

In a “War on Terror/Holy War/War of Good versus Evil” since the other side is defined as evil, the only recourse is to wipe them out.  We take it for granted that if they could, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Ayatollahs and other such groups would do exactly that – kill all the infidels.  But exactly what does the Bush “War on Terror” imply?

Basically it implies killing all those who support Islamic religious fundamentalism and extremism.  This adds up to a lot of human beings if one is honest about it.  It is a nearly genocidal policy if carried out to its extreme.  Considering that for every jihadist killed in the “War on Terror,” there are some innocent civilians also killed which in turn radicalizes more disillusioned persons into jihadism, isn’t this where the current “War on Terror” is headed?  Could this really be implemented?

To date, no effort has been made to convince anyone that religious fundamentalism is incorrect, immoral or anti-reason.  How could President Bush, a religious fundamentalist extremist sympathizer himself at the least, bring himself to do this?  Even if he were a religious moderate, what could he say?

The onlyargument ever made by “moderate” religious believers is that Islam is being “incorrectly” interpreted or that it is being “hi-jacked.”  Unfortunately, this is a losing argument if indeed the fundamentalists are actually interpreting scripture and tradition correctly!  Why is that impoosible?  What moderates always fail to consider (just as religious fundamentalists do) is that they may be wrong.  The God of the scriptures and tradition just might be the tyrant that fundamentalists say he is and the fact is that in practice the more literally and devoutly a person adheres to scripture and tradition (in most religious traditions) the crueler their resulting religious practice seems to become.

Besides possibly being on the incorrect side of scriptural and religious tradition, religious moderates undermine themselves in another way: they promote respect for all religious beliefs.  This respect, of course, is often then extended by moderates to persons with fundamentalist beliefs who would then persecute and kill those very same moderates extending their respect if they were ever to gain authority in that respective society!  This is, of course, a suicidal and a losing strategy.  All persons have the right to their beliefs; they do not have a right to be respected for those beliefs.

Humanists cannot see the possible course of the “War on Terror” and the possible path to religious genocide as acceptable or optimal.  Self-defense is not eschewed in the short run; but in the long run, more than force must be used.  The attack of Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan could be viewed as self-defense; nothing about the war in Iraq could be so viewed however.  This sort of aggressive and ultimately genocidal form of the “War on Terror” is a losing strategy.  Are there more or less religious fundamentalists today as a result of the war in Iraq?  Answer: Many more.

Far better would be for the US to set an example by displaying to the world the blessings of liberty at home while at the same time undermining religious fundamentalism by undermining the concept of faith.  By promoting reason and science and by promoting concern for other persons as the highest good, not the universal worship and obedience to invisible and undetectable supernatural deities who if exist anyway, being omnipotent, can fend for themselves, we may better be able to win hearts and minds by setting this ethical example than by the use of bombs.

How could this be done without doing damage to the First Amendment?  The answer is simply to honor and strictly enforce the First Amendment while teaching critical thinking and logic in schools.  Objective courses in comparative religion would also assist in the effort to promote reason and reject irrational faith.  This can all be done while remaining neutral towards religion and non-religion.

The US also must not remain dependent on religiouslyfundamentalist nations for its own public welfare, particularly in the field of energy.  Every dollar spent in the US that finds its way into a school promoting religious fundamentalism will come back to haunt us.

The US must also be more helpful in resolving issues that religious fundamentalists use as excuses to blame the infidel US for their problems.  The Palestinians must be given a viable state while at the same time Israel is guaranteed security and recognition by some of its current enemies.  Border disputes between Lebanon and Israel and Syria and Israel must be resolved as well.  Yes, Israel may need to make significant sacrifices in order to have an opportunity for peace but it may be necessary to do so to have any chance for peace.  If it does not work out, war could resume... what would be the difference?  Resolving the Israeli differences with Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinians seems unthinkable but the irony is that the “solutions,” as understandably distasteful to Israel as they would seem, are probably necessary and perhaps inevitable.  Peace HAS been sustained between Jordan, Egypt and Israel, something once thought impossible; the resolution of the problems of Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria are central to defeating religious fundamentalism in the world.  The idea that God gave one or another group a parcel of land on this earth cannot be a factor in US policy-making even if most Americans now believe that God gave the “Holy Lands” to the descendents of Abraham.

Differences based on faith in Gods who MUST be obeyed cannot ever be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties however; these differences, in a world of WMDs threaten the lives of billions of persons; therefore we must make our SECULAR way of life the envy of the world and the expected way of doing business in the world.  We must give the religious fundamentalists no rationalizations to offer prospective followers for why the US is at the root of their failures – we must truly be even-handed in US policy.

What are the chances that these changes in direction will occur?  Honestly, the chances are nil under the current administration and any other with similar ideology and next to none under most potential successors.  However, at some point it will become a necessity to promote reason at the expense of faith.  Hopefully it will happen before it’s too late.

Rosie Knows Best (or At Least Better Than Ashcroft)

News Item: (Sept. 2006) Rosie O'Donnell is blasted for saying on TV that radical Christianity poses as much of a threat to the US as does radical Islam.

News Item: (Bill Berkowitz, Three antigovernment activists were rounded up (in May, 2003): Edward Feltus, 56, a member of the New Jersey Militia movement; William Krar, a 62-year-old tax protester with ties to the New Hampshire militia and a range of hate groups; and Judith L. Bruey, 54, Krar's common-law wife.  Last November, Krar pleaded guilty to federal charges of "possessing a dangerous chemical weapon" and faces up to life in prison.  Bruey and Feltus also pleaded guilty to different charges.  According to CBS news, hundreds of federal subpoenas were issued during the course of the investigation, intelligence experts were alarmed enough to include mention of the case in President Bush's daily intelligence briefings, and more deadly cyanide bombs may still be in circulation.

One journalist who has closely followed all these developments is Daniel Levitas, author of The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, Nov. 2002).

In an e-mail exchange, Levitas told me that he was curious about the lack of media coverage of the Tyler, Texas case so he telephoned the chief Department of Justice antiterrorism coordinator for the Eastern District of Texas, who is an assistant US attorney.  According to Levitas, "Heconfirmed all of the details as previously reported in the media and then some.  This case was huge," the assistant US attorney told Levitas.  "The real facts of this case are as bad or 'worse' than all previous reports and it does not appear as if media exaggeration is at work," Levitas said.

"The sodium cyanide device was fully functional and could have killed anyone within a 30,000 sq. foot facility; "Krar's stockpile contained more than 100 explosives, including 60 fully functional pipe bombs, as well as land mine components, det. cord and trip wire and binary explosives; machine guns and other illegal weapons; and racist, anti-Semitic and antigovernment literature, including William Pierce's Turner Diaries; "Krar, a tax protester who has never been indicted for his tax-related offenses, is from New Hampshire and has numerous ties to white supremacist and militia groups; "Feltus was a member of the New Jersey Militia.”

Why the severely limited coverage of the original arrests? Levitas believes that the Tyler, Texas arrests came at a time when the media was "distracted" by the invasion of Iraq.  However, "unlike the numerous arrests of suspected Al Qaeda militants, Attorney General John Ashcroft said nothing about this case."

It is more than curious that perhaps the most tangible terrorist threat to America in the few years may have been from a non-Muslim source; and that it may be a fact that since the threat was non-Muslim it was then “buried” by the media.

Is there any question that John Ashcroft (Attorney General in 2003) would have been front and center of this story if those captured had been Muslim?  Contrast his absence in this case with his conspicuous behavior when charging Muslim suspects (as in the Buffalo, NY area) accused of far less serious crimes and who had done far less to advance terrorism.

The New Jersey Militia, (they are not accused of being involved in this plot) is not a direct offshoot of any particular religious sect as far as can be seen.  However, they do promote belief in God as is evidenced by the following quote from their newsletter: “When government treats Unalienable Rights as though it has power to "grant" them, it, inadvertently or not, puts itself in the place of God as do all tyrants and dictators.” (

Despite the President’s constant claim that Islam is a “religion of peace,” it may be that within the administration, non-Islamic terrorists and Islamic terrorists are not seen in quite the same light.

And perhaps Rosie O'Donnell has it right after all.