Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Haditha Revisited

I actually wrote about Haditha back in March, when I first came across this story. Since then, Haditha's tragic tale has exploded across the American press, prompting responses from Congress and multiple investigations. The Pentagon is even now confirming details of the worst (via AlterNet):

"Military officials say Marine Corps photos taken immediately after the incident show many of the victims were shot at close range, in the head and chest, execution-style." Women and children were among the 24 civilians murdered: "One photo shows a mother and young child bent over on the floor as if in prayer, shot dead, said the officials. ..."

This incident is an ugly tragedy demonstrating the horror of unnecessary war. While I certainly hope that each and every Marine responsible for Haditha spends the rest of his/her life in prison, I cannot completely lay the blame at their feet. The United States is bogged down in the worst kind of war in Iraq with no real hope of a good outcome left, except in the minds of the war's most fervent supporters. The Bush administration owns a fair share of the blame for Haditha, for placing our soldiers in a situation where these types of atrocities can occur. These Marines should have been home with their families instead of paying for Bush's political capital.

Beyond the horror of the actual incident itself lies the story of how Haditha is being perceived here at home. Democratic Representative Jack Murtha, himself a retired Marine, offered some pointed clarification on Haditha just last week:

Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., told reporters that "sources within the military" told him that "there was no firefight, there was no IED that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood."

What's so interesting about Murtha's comments is the reaction they garnered, particularly from the war's supporters. Many of the rightwing warbloggers immediately tore into Murtha, questioning his patriotism, his loyalty to the Marines and essentially chalking up his comments to a partisan bias or dismissing him as "liberal". That speaks volumes for the pro-war crowd.

It shows that the entire Bush theme of "bringing democracy to Iraq" was just a sham and his supporters know it. In fact, they embrace it as political cover for the perceived "moderate" vote in America. Put another way, Bush's supporters realize that many Americans are willing to support a war when they perceive a dire threat or a just cause, but are very quick to abandon that war once those factors cease to exist. Such is happening today, as the poll numbers show. Most Americans have turned against the war and against the empty suit in the White House that sold it in his State of the Union address. The pro-war folks know they need the political cover for their bellicosity and they embrace a poorly conceived ideology of "spreading democracy" for just that reason. If only the real world were as simple as the minds of Iraq war hawks.

The moral vacuousness of the pro-Iraqi war segment of our society is truly disheartening to behold. At the end of the day, they are more interested in a display of American military power than in the actual goals the war is purported to be advancing. I find it very hard to believe that those supporting the war truly believe that the Iraqi people are better off because of the U.S. invasion and the resulting chaos. Worse, I don't think they really care. They are so wedded to the cathartic rush of U.S. military dominance that it's become a cheap high for them. They support the war because it makes them feel powerful and patriotic, part of something nobler than themselves, and the consequences of the war be damned.

It's difficult as a liberal to get much footing on an issue involving military criticism and I commend Rep. Murtha for taking that step. Murtha, while certainly no liberal, is a very respected Democratic voice on military matters and demonstrates that an incident like Haditha deserves bi-partisan condemnation. Of course, the war-at-all-costs constituency can only paint Murtha as a traitor. They conflate criticism of the military, regardless of how well-vetted the source, as a threat to their pollyannish view of American hard power. They intertwine condemnation of this war and its architects with a completely imaginary liberal hatred of the military. Completely wrong and completely ignorant.

I am a liberal and I don't hate the military. I believe the war in Iraq is a disaster of epic proportions and I believe that the architects of this war should stand trial for what they've wrought. I often question how are military is used, what it's priorities are and even if having a standing military is in itself wise public policy. I wish, as all progressives do, that we didn't need a military. I wish the affairs of the world could evolve to a point where violence was no longer seen as a solution to state problems. However, that's not likely to occur any time soon. I see military power as a necessary evil, where the war's supporters see something to be glorified. It would be only an ideological difference if not for the lives destroyed in the balance.

I see what the Marines did in Haditha, assuming these strong allegations are true, not as something to defend, in the mode of defending our military because it's "ours", but as something to condemn as an attack on our country's character. These Marines committed an atrocity that disrespects the uniform they wear, the Corps in which they serve and the country they represent. They offer nothing but a disrespectful slap in the face to the millions of military personnel, personnel like my brother, who perform their service with class and distinction. The actions of these Marines should not be defended from a nationalistic perspective, but condemned from the same. They have disgraced their country and acted as traitors to its ideals, not Jack Murtha. Yet even so, they are to be pitied as well. Pitied, because they should never have been in Haditha to begin with and will live the rest of their lives with the knowledge and, hopefully, the consequences of their heinous actions.

But they never should have been there in the first place, and someone in the White House needs to answer for that.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Liberal Love

Quotes: Past and Present

Of all the varieties of virtues, liberalism is the most beloved.

John Stuard Mill:
Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives.

G. K. Chesterton:
The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected.

George Washington:
As Mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations of justice and liberality.

Jose Ortega y Gasset:
Liberalism is the supreme form of generosity; it is the right which the majority concedes to minorities and hence itis the noblest cry that has ever resounded on this planet.

Mort Sahl:
Liberals feel unworthy of their possessions. Conservatives feel they deserve everything they've stolen.

P. J. O'Rourke:
The Democrats are the party of government activism, the party that says government can make you richer, smarter, taller, and get the chickweed out of your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then get elected and prove it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Reform is affirmative, conservatism negative; conservatism goes for comfort, reform for truth.

William Gladstone:
Liberalism is trust of the people, tempered by prudence; conservatism, distrust of people, tempered by fear.

Author Unknown:
Politicians are like diapers. They both need changing regularly and for the same reason.

Abraham Lincoln:
What is conservatism? Is it not the adherence to the old and tried against the new and untried?

Leonard Bernstein:
A liberal is a man or a woman or a child who looks forward to a better day, a more tranquil night, and a bright, infinite future.

Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.

Leo Rosten:
A conservative is one who admires radicals centuries after they're dead.

Alfred E. Wiggam:
A conservative is a man who believes that nothing should be done for the first time.

Woodrow Wilson:
A conservative is a man who just sits and thinks, mostly sits.

Author Unknown:
The Christian Right is neither.

Friday, May 26, 2006

A World So Toxically Hostile

It's been a slow week in the news and a busy week in the real-world existence of the fellow hiding behind the name "Samurai Sam". As such, I haven't blogged much, for which I apologize to those of you showing up each day to read my scribblings.

One great thing about a slow news/busy life week, is it gives me some time to reflect on the bigger issues happening in our country. I write about current events frequently because I'm a news addict and whatever story inspires, angers or confuses me on a given day has a good chance of showing up here. However, on these quieter weeks, my thoughts turn to certain things that are sitting out there on the horizon, waiting to leap back into the country's consciousness. One of those issues is gay marriage.

Now, I don't suggest that the issue had disappeared for awhile. Quite the contrary. It had just been drowned out by the cacophony of Bush and Republican implemented disasters that afflict our nation. It had merely dropped off of my radar for a bit, though the knowledge that our wingnut Senate is about to take up the Gay Marriage Amendment again next week had been tickling at the back of my mind. The entire issue jumped straight to the forefront of my thoughts, though, after having read this letter from playwright Jeff Whitty to Jay Leno, chastising Jay for his constant use of obtuse gay stereotypes in his humor. It's not really the target of the letter that interests me; I don't watch Leno and have no idea what passes for humor on his show. What really touched me about Jeff's letter was his bleakly honest description of what life is like being gay in America.

Some excerpts:

When I think of gay people, I think of the gay news anchor who took a tire iron to the head several times when he was vacationing in St. Martin. I think of my friend who was visiting Hamburger Mary's, a gay restaurant in Las Vegas, when a bigot threw a smoke bomb filled with toxic chemicals into the restaurant, leaving the staff and gay clientele coughing, puking, and running in terror. I think of visiting my gay friends at their house in the country, sitting outside for dinner, and hearing, within hundreds of feet of where we sat, taunting voices yelling "Faggots." I think of hugging my boyfriend goodbye for the day on 8th Avenue in Manhattan and being mocked and taunted by passing high school students.


When I think of gay people, I think of suicide. I think of a countless list of people who took their own lives because the world was so toxically hostile to them. Because of the deathly climate of the closet, we will never be able to count them.

I challenge anyone to try and imagine what life would be like to be treated this way, assuming, God forbid, that you don't already know from first hand experience. Imagine living each day knowing that a huge chunk of the country you live in despises your lifestyle so much that they're willing to commit unprovoked violence and murder. Imagine waking up each morning and reading in the paper how your government, the government to which you pay taxes and turn to for a redress of grievances, is working fervently to ensure you never enjoy the same rights as the rest of society. Contemplate the horror of realizing that a large chunk of your fellow Americans are willing to amend the very framework of our society just to prevent you from marrying the one you love. It would take a supreme act of courage just to get out of bed each day, and yet this is the reality that the millions of gay Americans constantly face. It's horrifying...

When I think of gay people, I think of a brave group that has made tremendous contributions to society, in arts, letters, science, philosophy, and politics. I think of some of the most hilarious people I know. I think of a group that has served as a cultural guardian for an ungrateful and ignorant America.

This probably my favorite paragraph of the entire letter, as it was a point I had never even considered before. The stereotype of the artsy gay man is so ingrained in our pop culture that it quite literally squeezes out any deeper understanding of gays as individuals. It does seem to me that, anecdotally at least, many gay men are drawn into areas of art and literature as professions or hobbies. And Jeff is absolutely correct: that makes them the caretakers of our American culture. A society without art is a gray mass of individuals wandering in a dismal institutional wilderness. Artists like Jeff create and preserve the brilliance that elevates American culture out of its mundanity. Our gratitude to the gay community for this invaluable service is so sorely lacking as to be a national disgrace.

When I think of gay people, I think of centuries of suffering. I think of really, really good people who've been gravely mistreated for a long time now.

I think of a group of people who have undergone a brave act of inventing themselves. Every single out-of-the-closet gay person has had to say, "I am not part of mainstream society."

I suspect that sometimes, I, as a liberal and progressive, get so in-tuned to the fight for civil liberties, that I forget I'm not just fighting for better public policy. These issues have real consequences and the treatment of homosexuals in this country is not just a philosophical battle for a higher morality. A culture that despises homosexuality, with a government willing to legislate that hatred, tears the very life out of people. It cheapens our culture and erodes our humanity. It's not just about policy and morality but about the lives of real people, with real lives, real hopes, dreams and aspirations. Real people forced to live in a country that doesn't value them and doesn't protect their interests. I say a heartfelt "Thank you" to Jeff Whitty for reminding me of just why stopping the Religious Right is so important; these are real lives in the balance.

I know the canned religious response to homosexuality is "hate the sin but not the sinner". Well, I think that's self-deluding garbage designed to help certain religious folks justify despicable treatment of others. We are taught from an early age to judge a person on their words and deeds, the indicators of their beliefs and character. Sexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are as individuals; it cannot be neatly compartmentalized away. It is impossible to condemn a person's sexuality and lifestyle, stripping them of the same rights enjoyed by all other Americans, and claim that it's a moral stance against an evil behavior. Hating the "sin" is hating the "sinner", and it takes an utter lack of empathy to believe otherwise. Claiming to care about the well-being of homosexuals as people while supporting every attempt made to marginalize them is shameful hypocrisy.

Next week our Senate will begin deliberations again on enshrining the Christian prohibition against homosexuality into our Constitution, an unnecessary and cruel violation of everything for which America is supposed to stand (and the First Amendment, frankly). The only other time our nation has placed an Amendment in our Constitution limiting the rights of Americans, it was an abject failure with far-reaching consequences. And that was over something as insignificant as booze. The Gay Marriage Amendment is many magnitudes more destructive than any liquor prohibition, and yet our Republican Senators, most either servants or leaders the Religious Right, have placed this dung pile on their legislative agenda, in hopes of getting out the anti-gay vote in November. It may work but I doubt it will pass.

The more Americans consider the real human costs of anti-gay bigotry, the costs of which Jeff reminds us , the more they begin to see their gay fellow citizens as people just like them. And that's the bane of bigots of all stripes and the antidote to the toxicity of intolerance.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Rockin' In The Me World

Please, I beg you, read the post beyond this link:

Rockin' the Right

It discusses a list, put together by conservative National Review writer John J. Miller. It purports to list the Top 50 conservative rock songs. It's is one of the finest crafted bits of wingnut delusion ever penned. It's a real education in the absurd.

Here's just a few of the things I learned:

  1. U2 using Latin in Gloria makes them conservative.
  2. Being glad the Cold War ended makes you a conservative.
  3. CCR's most famous Vietnam protest song is really a diatribe against liberalism.
  4. Using Bush style cherry picking works great for making song lists too.
  5. Everclear and Blink 182's songs about family strife are actually just eulogies for the Ward and June Cleaver era.

I don't know what's more laughable about this list: the fact that Miller includes Dylan, CCR, The Clash, U2, The Who as examples of conservative songwriting or that he doesn't include the most famous wingnut rockstar of them all, The Nuge!

Sorry, conservatives, but you just don't get rock n' roll. It's not for you. It's for us. You get Toby Keith and Charlie Daniels. I know it's a cruel reality but you can change it! Just try being on the right side of history for once...

Monday, May 22, 2006

Defending Atheism

It's not something I do very well. Part of the reason is that I hid my atheism for such a long time. I have much family and many friends who are Christians of various kinds, as well as a few who belong to other religious beliefs. I surely don't want to offend any of them, and I remember from when I was a Pentacostal Christian that the belief in persecution is central to the faith. Christianity is taught, at least in a Pentacostal church, as the one true faith without which humanity is doomed to an eternity of torment. No atheist son wants to put his Christian mother through that kind of spiritual conflict, I assure you.

Another reason atheism is difficult to defend is because it's not a unified belief the way Christianity or Islam is. Sure, many theists will argue that atheism is just another religion, which is nothing more than an ignorant attempt to create parity where none exists. Atheism is no more a religion then an empty glass is a brand of beer. Atheists don't have dogma to support; rather, we have a decision to make as to what degree our individual spiritual beliefs affect others. It's not so much a difference in belief as it is a difference in how that belief should inform our actions in the world. While an atheist like myself tends to have a "leave me alone and I'll leave you alone" attitude towards the religious, others, such as Michael Newdow, have a more confrontational modus operandi. Neither is more morally correct than the other.

I mention the issue of defending atheism after reading this article from AlterNet, and the comments attached to it. It's part of an interview with Sam Harris, a noted atheist and author whose central argument about religion is that it's an irrational behavior which humans need to outgrow in order to evolve. Given the overwhelming religiosity of the United States, it's no surprise that Harris's work has been heavily criticized by people of faith. Conservative Christians I've read see him as just another example of atheists persecuting Christians, while the more liberal Christians I've read tend to see huge flaws in his reasoning and philosophy. Personally, I think the whole notion that American Christians are persecuted by atheists is absurd, so I discard that criticism accordingly. I tend to agree a bit with the liberal Christian criticism, however.

For my own part, I don't see religion as an intrinsic problem for humanity. Trying to frame an argument that says religion is the cause of so many social ills and should be discarded is to misplace the cause of those social ills, while also focusing too broadly on "religion" as a whole. Rather than debate the points in Harris's interview or book, I thought I'd write down some of what I believe when, as an atheist, I'm confronted with the question of religion's effect on human society.

First and foremost, I believe that religion is a reflection of humanity's actions, not the driving force behind them. I don't see that a very credible case can be made that by eliminating religion, we would usher in a period of peaceful rationalism. Perhaps that would be true in certain cases, but then that's already true in certain cases and religion dominates the globe. The ills attributed to religion, such as intolerance, violence, lack of critical thought, etc., are evils born from the lack of empathy and compassion that can be so prevalent among people. Religion is not the cause of this lack, it's the reflection of it. Religion doesn't breed intolerance, it only gives intolerance a focus. The good done by Christian missionaries or the evil done by the KKK is not symptomatic of their religious underpinnings. Those underpinnings only give a framework for the good and evil acts committed. It's the individuals who set the tone of their behavior. A KKK member will be a racist regardless of their religious beliefs, while a missionary helping the poor would still do so as an atheist.

Second, I do believe that literalist belief in religious dogma is a dangerous thing, and a detriment to our society. Hence my continual ranting against Intelligent Design and literalist Biblical morality like prohibitions against homosexuality. As an atheist, I utterly reject the idea that any one word of any religious document is divinely inspired truth. The only moral truth to be gained is that which is crafted by human innovation. After all, humanity crafted religion as surely as any other structure of our societies. Good moral beliefs certainly can rise from religious texts. I would argue that the Bible is chock full of positive codes of conduct and healthy ways to respect others. There was certainly a moral debate taking place when each book of the Bible was written; a debate that informed each concept written down and advocated as the "good" way to act.

Problems arise, however, when that debate ends, which is largely what has happened in the intervening years since Christ's death. The Bible was ideologically "set in stone" for many. Debate over its truthfulness and, more importantly, its relevance to human society has been placed beyond question for many. That sort of moral rigidity is what leads to affronts like gay marriage bans or abstinence pledges. The debate over moral standards as a positive for mankind is left off in favor of a belief in absolute truth. The debate being had 2,000 years ago that led to the plethora of Christian writings, both canon and apocryphal, is no more or less a relevant debate than any being had today. The danger is when the value of Biblical morality, or any religious dogma, is deemed absolute and beyond debate. In that sense, I agree with Harris in that belief in religion as dogma is a bad thing for society.

The over-arching point is that religion by itself is not the cause of the ills Harris claims that it is. Or, rather, it's not the root cause. The shortcomings of human behavior give rise to intolerant religions, just as they give rise to intolerance in all forms. Perhaps, as Harris says, mankind will be better off without religion and will be able to advance society to a more enlightened age. However, if that enlightenment happens, I believe an enlightened change to human society will bring that same kind of change to religion. Changing or eliminating religion is not the answer. Changing human behavior and morality is.

Finally, I confess that it's easy to fall into the trap into which Harris seems to have fallen if one's an atheist. When confronted with day after day of unyielding absolutist dogma and seeing the kind of damage it can do to people, it's very easy to condemn religion in response. I've found myself doing so on many occasions. However, that really is just letting the most reprobate members of our religious communities call the tune to which we're all marching. I believe the better path is plurality; to seek the common ground. I, for example, believe whole-heartedly in Jesus' teachings about how to treat the poor and respect others. Just because I don't believe he was some supernatural figure does not mean I can't find common ground with those who do. A culture war between atheism and religion doesn't serve anyone's good. It only distracts from the larger moral issues which both secular humanism and religious dogma seek to address.

[Note: This post was supposed to be a "Philosophy Friday" entry. However, real life snatched me up in its slavering jaws, shook me vigorously and spat me back out into cyberspace today. Better late than never, I always say... - S. Sam]

Thursday, May 18, 2006

No More A Protector Of The Constitution

The Senate Judiciary Committee once again gave the greenlight to a divisive "value voters" issue. The Republican controlled committee voted to send the Gay Marriage Amendment to the full Senate for a vote, despite some very pointed criticism from a certain Wisconsin Senator (from the AP via DailyKos):

A Senate committee approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage Thursday, after a shouting match that ended when one Democrat strode out and the Republican chairman bid him "good riddance."

"I don't need to be lectured by you. You are no more a protector of the Constitution than am I," Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., shouted after Sen. Russ Feingold declared his opposition to the amendment, his affinity for the Constitution and his intention to leave the meeting.

"If you want to leave, good riddance," Specter finished.

"I've enjoyed your lecture, too, Mr. Chairman," replied Feingold, D-Wis., who is considering a run for president in 2008. "See ya."

Maybe I'm just being too partisan, but I find it rather disturbing that the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee doesn't see protecting the Constitution as part of his job. Granted, that responsibility is delegated to the President in Article II, but it still seems to me like an elected committee chairman on a committee that oversees issues such as Supreme Court nominations and Constitutional Amendments, should perhaps give at least the appearance of commitment to our nation's founding ideals. Like any good Republican, Specter also has to try and tar his critics with the same lack of responsibility he shows, attacking our nation's finest Senator for his objections. Maybe Specter ought to listen up instead; he might learn something (via WisPolitics):

"Constitutional amendments deserve the most careful and deliberate consideration of any matter that comes before the Senate. In addition to hearings and a subcommittee markup, such a measure should be considered by the Judiciary Committee in the light of day, open to the press and the public, with cameras present so that the whole country can see what is done. Open and deliberate debate on such an important matter cannot take place in a setting such as the one chosen by the Chairman of the Committee today.

The Constitution of the United States is an historic guarantee of individual freedom. It has served as a beacon of hope, an example to people around the world who yearn to be free and to live their lives without government interference in their most basic human decisions. I took an oath when I joined this body to support and defend the Constitution. I will continue to fight this mean-spirited, divisive, poorly drafted, and misguided amendment when it comes to the Senate floor."

I guess his Republican colleagues forgot to tell Feingold that actually caring about our laws and our Constitution is just so liberal these days. That whole "Rule of Law" thing went out of style in 2000, when the Oral Sex Receiver in Chief stepped down. The Republicans have clearly shown that it's much easier to just take our laws and our Constitution as a suggestion; a quaint guide to how government could possibly work if only we weren't under the dire threat of Islamo-fascist Armageddon.

In all seriousness, Arlen Specter may have jumped up a few places on my Most Despised Republicans list lately, both with his utterly partisan backing of the horrid Gay Marriage Amendment and his failure to hold the Bush administration in any way responsible for its trampling of the FISA and the Fourth Amendment. Specter has shown that he's nothing more than a slightly more palatable John McCain, a Republican willing to break ranks with his party vocally but too lacking in principles to actually put his votes where his mouth is. For Specter, it's Republican political goals before all else, with a light dusting of phony ethical pearl-clutching to fool the moderate rubes into thinking he actually gives a damn about our Constitution. I see a committee in desperate need of a new chairman come November...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

This Is Why Republicans Cannot Win On Immigration

I took some grief from a few conservative readers over my Charlie Daniels post in which I make the accusation, repeatedly, that the immigration debate is fueled by racism. I've also been taken to task for my argument that the so-called "Minute Men", vigilantes who have taken it upon themselves to "police" our southern border, are nothing more than fascist Brown Shirts in training. I see a tremendous undercurrent of racism and nativism in the entire debate, and I have no fear of calling the racists in the Republican party on their rhetoric.

Luckily, I generally don't have to wait long before some misguided rightwing fool spouts off and confirms views worse than any of which I've accused them. Case in point, from World Nut Daily (via AmericaBlog):

[Bush] lied when he said: "Massive deportation of the people here is unrealistic – it's just not going to work."

Not only will it work, but one can easily estimate how long it would take. If it took the Germans less than four years to rid themselves of 6 million Jews, many of whom spoke German and were fully integrated into German society, it couldn't possibly take more than eight years to deport 12 million illegal aliens, many of whom don't speak English and are not integrated into American society.

Honestly, this made my hair stand up on end just a little bit. Notwithstanding the use of the phrase "to rid themselves of" as a description of the Holocaust, it creeps me out to no end that anyone would make this argument. Once again, the "it can't happen here" crowd would certainly laugh this commentary off as a misguided "joke" or some such. However, listen closely to the rhetoric surrounding the immigration issue and the joke really loses its humor.

First of all, the idea of sending our National Guard to the border, as Bush suggested last night, is a horrendously bad idea. If history has taught anything, it's that involving the military almost certainly leads to violence. That's why we have a military, after all. No matter what Bush may believe, the military's first purpose is not dopey photo ops for unpopular politicians. The Bush administration may claim that the National Guard will be "for support purposes" only on the Mexican border, but the reality is that the tension raised is almost certain to cause problems. Just ask Ezequiel Hernandez, Jr. what can happen when the military gets involved in immigration control. Creating a 2,500-mile militarized zone on our southern border doesn't serve anyone's interests, except those nativist bedwetters who are terrified that their children might hear Spanish in their local public school.

The second part of that quote that is truly terrifying is the nuanced feel of dehumanization attached to it. Most social scientists agree that one key ingredient for a genocide is the dehumanization of the target group. There is much of that kind of talk taking place in this debate. Illegal Mexican immigrants are slowly being stripped of their humanity by rightwing rhetoric, which emboldens trash peddlers like World Nut Daily to unleash the dogs of nativist discontent. Whether mass deportation is possible or not isn't even a really substantive issue anyway. The real issue is what effect such deportation efforts would have on the Mexican-American families living in the U.S. But that sort of thought tends to slip away once the individuality of living, breathing immigrants is replaced by a broad categorization such as "illegals" or "criminals". That slope is oh so slippery, as the German people discovered.

The Nazi quote above aside, it's easy to see why this issue is such a loser for the Republicans. They cannot afford to write-off the entire Latino vote which, with a few exceptions, is largely in favor of liberalized immigration laws. However, they also cannot really afford to abandon their "Southern strategy"; playing to the racists and nativists in the conservative base. A far too vocal chunk of the American people have a gross ignorance and xenophobia about immigration, a fact born out by the quote above. I actually have to say I supported Bush's speech last night, if for no other reason than because he tried once again to find the middle ground on immigration. What he doesn't seem to realize is that, when dealing with the kind of people who support walls and mass deportations, there is no middle ground. Bush either has to embrace the extremists in his party, or break with his base. Good luck with that Devil's choice...

Monday, May 15, 2006

Religious Exploration II: Jain Dharma (a.k.a. Jainism)

Jain Dharma
(a.k.a. Jainism)

Courtesy of religioustolerance.org:

Early History of Jain Dharma
Jainism traces its roots to a succession of 24 Jinas ("those who overcome", or conqueror) in ancient East India. The first Jina is traditionally believed to have been a giant who lived 8.4 million years ago. The most recent and last Jina was Vardhamana (a.k.a. Mahavira, "The Great Hero") He was born in 550 BCE) and was the founder of the Jain community. He attained enlightenment after 13 years of deprivation. In 420 BCE, he committed the act of salekhana which is fasting to death. Each Jina has "conquered love and hate, pleasure and pain, attachment and aversion, and has thereby freed `his' soul from the karmas obscuring knowledge, perception, truth, and ability..."

Jainism is a syncretistic religion, which contains many elements similar to Hinduism and Buddhism. The world's almost 4 million Jains are almost entirely located in India. There are about 1,410 in Canada (1991 census).

Jainist Beliefs and Practices
The universe exists as a series of layers, both heavens and hells. It had no beginning and will have no ending. It consists of:
*The supreme abode: This is located at the top of the universe and is where Siddha, the liberated souls, live.
*The upper world: 30 heavens where celestial beings live.
*Middle world: the earth and the rest of the universe.
*Nether world: 7 hells with various levels of misery and punishments
*The Nigoda, or base: where the lowest forms of life reside
*Universe space: layers of clouds which surround the upper world
*Space beyond: an infinite volume without soul, matter, time, medium of motion or medium of rest.

Everyone is bound within the universe by one's karma (the accumulated good and evil that one has done).

Moksha (liberation from an endless succession of lives through reincarnation) is achieved by enlightenment, which can be attained only through asceticism.

They are expected to follow five principles of living:
*Ahimsa: "non violence in all parts of a person -- mental, verbal and physical." 3 Committing an act of violence against a human, animal, or even vegetable generates negative karma which in turn adversely affects one's next life.
*Satya: speaking truth; avoiding falsehood
*Asteya: to not steal from others
*Brahma-charya: (soul conduct); remaining sexually monogamous to one's spouse only
*Aparigraha: detach from people, places and material things. Avoiding the collection of excessive material possessions, abstaining from over-indulgence, restricting one's needs, etc.

Jains follow a vegetarian diet. (At least one information source incorrectly states that they follow a frutarian diet -- the practice of only eating that which will not kill the plant or animal from which it is taken. e.g. milk, fruit, nuts.)

They often read their sacred texts daily.

Jains are recommended to pass through four stages during their lifetime:
*Brahmacharya-ashrama: the life of a student
*Gruhasth-ashrama: family life
*Vanaprasth-ashrama: family and social services
*Sanyast-ashrama: life as a monk; a period of renunciation

Divisions among Jains

There are two groups of Jains:
*The Digambaras (literally "sky clad" or naked): Their monks carry asceticism to the point of rejecting even clothing (even when they appear in public).
*The Shvetambaras (literally "white clad"): their monks wear simple white robes. The laity are permitted to wear clothes of any color.

Become The Media

As far as the polls indicated, a small majority of Americans didn't really have a problem with the notion that the NSA was monitoring calls supposedly between foreign terror organizations and Americans domestically. I, along with most liberals, had a huge problem with the program only in as much that the Bush administration refused to seek a warrant for its activities. The program itself at least sounded like good intelligence policy.

That all changed with the revelation last week that AT&T, Bell South and Verizon have been providing the NSA with customer call records, sans warrant or judicial oversight. The mood of the country is changing profoundly as the collateral damage potential of such a program is assessed by Joe and Jill Taxpayer. Perhaps even more disturbing, via John Aravosis, is this latest bit from an ABC News blog:

A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick," the source told us in an in-person conversation.

We do not know how the government determined who we are calling, or whether our phone records were provided to the government as part of the recently-disclosed NSA collection of domestic phone calls.

Other sources have told us that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation.

Now, certainly I don't equate the media as having a greater right to privacy than any average American. The average American, however, is not going to be disclosing information in an average phone call that is going to mean much to the NSA or the White House. My friend and I discussing the virtues of Champions of Norrath for the PS2, while certainly an indication of our commitment to lifelong geek-dom, is not a matter which could threaten our democracy. The unwarranted exposure of confidential government sources is such a threat however, and one that the American people had better start taking much more seriously. Pinheads like John Kyl and Jeff Sessions either fail to see the danger their abject fear of all things Muslim is stirring amongst the "red-staters" or they see government spying as a step in the right direction to some very unpleasant ends.

For make no mistake about it: unwarranted surveillance of Americans, especially those engaged in anonymous "whistle-blowing" or political commentary, is entering Soviet-style fascist territory. The idea that we should somehow just trust the government to act responsibly, sans any oversight of any kind, is a sure recipe for disaster. It reflects the stubborn notion that fascism cannot happen here, which is absurd. The Bush administration's policies have shown a clear tendency towards authoritarian rule. This is the real thing happening before our very eyes, abetted by the likes of the two Republican Senators above.

I borrowed this post's title from Jello Biafra as a reminder of how important it is to consider the wider implications of government power. Where the government is concerned, trust is never, ever an option. Only oversight, constant, unrelenting and penetrating oversight, can protect our democracy from the likes of George W. Bush's handlers. When rightwing pundits are spouting off in the media that perhaps we need to sacrifice some of our civil rights in exchange for protection from Al-Qaida, we've gone around a corner from which it may be very difficult, if not impossible, to return.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Add It Up

As everyone is probably aware by now, a recent Harris poll in the Wall Street Journal has President George W. Bush's approval rating at a Nixonian 29%. It seems the old adage that you can fool some of the people all of the time still applies to those rugged diehards still waiting for that beer with Dear Leader. For the rest of us, however, watching this President do a slow burn into deep unpopularity is a bitter sweet reward. It's comforting to know that the rest of the country is finally catching on, but sad as well to see what kind of damage this man and his cronies have done and continue to do to the planet.

So, in honor of this low-water mark, I say it's time to remember just why George W. Bush doesn't pack the gear to serve as our President, and never did. Christians, like Bush, believe that every sin is equal in the eyes of God. I believe in measuring someone with his or her own scale, so I'll consider every trespass by Bush as having equal value; say, perhaps, 1 percentage point. Thus, it's easy to see why his approval ratings are in the basement. Let's take a little trip back down memory lane and look back at 6 years of executive incompetence, shall we?

Here, for your reading pleasure, are 71 reasons why George W. Bush is unfit to sit in the Oval Office (in no particular order):

  1. Bush was appointed President by the Supreme Court, in what many legal scholars have argued is the most egregious example of "judicial activism" in history.
  2. "You're doin' a heckuva job, Brownie!"
  3. 2,437 American soldiers dead in Iraq.
  4. Went AWOL from the Texas Air National Guard.
  5. Believes God wanted him to be President.
  6. Wrote a signing statement for the McCain Anti-torture amendment that essentially gives Bush the authority to ignore the law.
  7. The No Child Left Behind Act.
  8. The "Clear Skies" Initiative.
  9. Supports a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage.
  10. Abu Ghraib.
  11. Said in an interview that Intelligent Design creationism ought to be taught in public schools.
  12. Turned a robust federal budget surplus into the largest deficits in history.
  13. Is looking forward to sitting on the porch of Trent Lott's new mansion.
  14. Admitted that his best moment as President was catching a fish in his stocked, man-made lake.
  15. Continued reading "My Pet Goat" after learning on the morning of 9/11 that the United States was under attack.
  16. Used the term "Islamo-fascists" in the State of the Union address.
  17. Believes the Star Spangled Banner should be sung only in English, after having it performed in Spanish at his inauguration.
  18. Nominated Harriet Miers to be a Supreme Court justice.
  19. Drummed up a phony fiscal crisis as an attempt to eliminate Social Security.
  20. "Bring it on!"
  21. Staged a photo op with Iraqi troops in which he presented them with a plastic turkey.
  22. Cannot pronounce "nuclear".
  23. Joked about not being able to find WMD's at the Radio and TV Correspondents' Association dinner.
  24. Refused to meet with Cindy Sheehan.
  25. Gave $14 billion in tax cuts for oil companies booking record quarterly profits.
  26. Asserts the authority under Article 2 of the Constitution to spy on American citizens without a warrant.
  27. Refuses to speak with the NAACP.
  28. Deputy chief of staff helped out Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA agent working in nuclear weapons nonproliferation.
  29. Held hands with Saudi Prince Bandar while strolling through the Rose Garden.
  30. Attempted to turn over control of all major U.S. ports to the United Arab Emirates, one of the only nations in the world to recognize the Taliban.
  31. Osama bin Laden still at large.
  32. Has spent more time on vacation than any President in history.
  33. Mocked Karla Fay Tucker's appeals for her life.
  34. Supports repealing the Estate Tax.
  35. Pledged to be a "uniter, not a divider" before leading the most partisan government in U.S. history.
  36. Asserts the right to hold U.S. citizens, such as Jose Padilla, indefinitely, sans trial.
  37. Claimed in the State of the Union address that Saddam Hussein had recently sought yellowcake uranium from Niger, despite copious evidence indicating it wasn't true.
  38. Claimed that several hydrogen production labs found in Iraq were mobile weapons labs capable of producing chemical or biological WMDs.
  39. The Downing Street Memo.
  40. Told the Houston Chronicle's Mickey Herskowitz in 1999 that "If I had a chance to invade;...if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it" when speaking of his father's war against Iraq.
  41. Implied that John Kerry falsified his injuries suffered in Vietnam.
  42. Cut the highest marginal tax rate, netting billions in tax savings for the wealthiest 1% of Americans.
  43. Refused to sign the Kyoto Accords.
  44. Authorized "extraordinary rendition", where captives from the "War on Terror" are shipped, for interrogation purposes, to countries which allow torture.
  45. "We're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here."
  46. Wants to privatize social security.
  47. Has never vetoed a single bill.
  48. Thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin has "a good heart".
  49. Wants to implement a "Guest Worker" program that would create a permanent underclass of non-citizen cheap labor.
  50. "But I'm the decider and I decide what's best!"
  51. May actually believe that we're making progress in Iraq.
  52. Doesn't know the difference between an election and a functioning democracy.
  53. Thinks Donald Rumsfeld has done a great job prosecuting the "War on Terror".
  54. Authorized the creation of the Orwellian Department of Homeland Security.
  55. Doesn't find Stephen Colbert funny.
  56. Has repeatedly signed cuts to veterans benefits, while exhorting the country to "support the troops".
  57. In 2004, authorized federal environmental regulators to ignore the Clean Water Act.
  58. Mars, bitches!
  59. Has a contingency plan in case the Rapture occurs during his presidency.
  60. Has authorized re-classifying information from the National Archive.
  61. Wants to open the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve to exploratory oil drilling.
  62. Has nearly doubled the national debt, raising it to almost $10 trillion.
  63. The prison at Guantanamo Bay.
  64. Has refused to intervene in the Darfur genocide, while decrying the war crimes of Saddam Hussein.
  65. "George W. Bush doesn't care about black people." - Kanye West
  66. Placed John Roberts and Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court.
  67. Is opposed to stem cell research but not in-vitro fertilization.
  68. Signed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban into law.
  69. Worst job growth under any President since World War II.
  70. Referred to Iran and North Korea as member of the "Axis of Evil" and then ignored them for most of his presidency.
  71. "Mission Accomplished"

Ugh! Time for a good stiff Tanqueray after wallowing in that much filth. Sadly, it really didn't take my accomplice Gifted-1 and I long to come up with 71 reasons why Bush is unfit for the Presidency.

Now it's your turn, dear readers. Give us 29 more reasons why John Conyers, after he becomes chair of the House Judiciary Committee following the November elections, should immediately draw up Articles of Impeachment. The comments are open...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Boiling Up From The Fever Swamp

With the Republican party in near full retreat, now is a good time to look at where to take progressive politics in the next ten years or so. The Democrats have kept their platform close to the vest and rightly so, for why should we give the Republicans an easy target for their slash-and-burn politics? They wanted control of Washington, they got it and now they can use their own ideas to govern. The fact that those ideas have resulted in a disaster is both frightening and unsurprising. Hopefully America will finally wake up and realize that the governing policies of the conservative movement are an abject failure and, worse, have done real damage to our nation.

As an antidote to six poisonous years of Republican failures, it's high time to get some progressive ideals back into the country's dialogue. Control of the "conventional wisdom" is essential in getting our country back on the progressive track for which it was once known throughout the world. Digby, as usual, has an astute take on moving progressive ideas back into the mainstream:

I have long felt that one of the things the right does well is prepare the ground for ideas that are not considered mainstream. The ideas themselves ... well, that's another story and their ideas often fail on their own merit. But they are very good at bringing their ideas into mainstream dialog and making them sound comfortably familiar. And with each success, they move the goalposts farther to the right.


I just think there is merit in thinking about the right tactics for advancing big ideas that may not be on the radar screen right now, but could be if we are tactically intelligent about advancing them. And I think the blogosphere may be a good place to get these ideas percolating.

An excellent idea! There are plenty of great progressive ideas just floating around out there that are really not getting talked about much in the media or even the blogs. In fact, in our media's current deplorable state, progressive ideology is almost non-existent. Time to change all that. What I lack in "tactical intelligence" I can make up for with verbosity and enthusiasm! So let's look at one of my favorite progressive ideas and see if we can't start to nudge the CW in the proper direction once more.

The Maximum Wage

The unequal distribution of wealth is a huge problem for capitalist countries and ours is no exception. While the problem here has not reached the level of Mexico, for example, it's still a nagging problem which doesn't get addressed nearly often enough. In fact, almost all of Bush's economic policies, supported by his Rubber Stamp Republican Congress, have helped to exacerbate the problem. Most economists agree that one of the keys to economic success for a nation is a thriving middle class, which is something a maximum wage would help insure.

I've heard several ideas of how such a program might be implemented and here's the method I favor. First, set the maximum wage at a multiple of the minimum wage. I think 20 is a good multiple personally. Under such an indexing program, keeping the current minimum wage at $5.15 per hour, $10,712 annually, would force a maximum wage of $103 per hour, or $214,240 annually. Any income, be it salary, bonuses, interest, capital gains, dividends, whatever, above the maximum, is taxed at 100% by the federal government. The only way to raise the maximum wage is to raise the minimum. With our money-driven electoral system, this puts the entire impetus for tax relief and income enhancement on those with the most political clout: the wealthy.

Now, I realize some glaring problems jump out with the implementation of a maximum wage, so I also suggest a few other changes to smooth the road. First of all, I would recognize a few exemptions to the 100% tax. I would allow the overage to be donated to charity in its entirety to avoid the maximum wage overage tax. I would also allow an unlimited exemption for paying down debt. Being wealthy doesn't mean it's impossible to build some tremendous debt problems (in fact, it might be even easier than when being poor). I would also allow limited exemptions for building retirement funds and college funds, the details of which could be worked out later.

Once the overage tax is collected by the federal government, I would have restrictions on how it can be used. The whole purpose of the maximum wage is to help improve the overall well-being of all Americans, not give Republicans economic fuel for more pointless invasions and corporate giveaways. The revenue from the overage tax must be used first to fund government obligations, such as Social Security, Medicare, veterans benefits, Universal Health Care (I can dream...), etc. After that, the remaining funds must be used to retire federal debt. While I do think the government should be allowed to borrow under very certain circumstances, such as the Katrina disaster, that debt must be retired as soon as possible. Borrowing to support tax cuts and corporate welfare is fiscally irresponsible and should be abolished. Any remaining overage tax in a given year should be refunded on a per capita basis to all taxpayers, with those paying the most receiving the largest refund.

The beauty of this program rests in keeping the multiple low. That way, in order to raise the maximum, the minimum must be raised as well. This forces the income distribution to remain the same, while also giving those with the most political power, the wealthy, every incentive to fight for a higher minimum wage. It would also act as a dampener on inflation by holding down the highest incomes. I realize that such a program would require massive shifts in the way wealth is held at the top of our economy. It would require a slow implementation over a number of years to avoid some serious economic problems, and even then the going would be rough. The alternative, however, is a society where 1% live in luxury while the remaining 99% struggle to make ends meet. That's a sure-fire method to insure political instability and unrest. With a maximum wage, everyone benefits more equally from American innovation, and labor is valued in relation to the commercial success achieved by industry as a whole. It just might work...

So, how wrong am I?

Religious Exploration: Eckankar

Religion of the Light and Sound of God

A new segment, dedicated to educating people on various world religions. I feel that there are positive aspects to all religions and there is always something new you can learn. "Different" isn't a negative!

Courtesy of religioustolerance.org:

Eckankar is a unique religious and spiritual path, sometimes called the Religion of the Light and Sound of God. Its name can be translated " co-worker with God". Eckankar members are called ECKists or ECK chelas. ("Chelas" means "student").

Eck teachings have ancient roots. Unfortunately much knowledge was lost to history until Paul Twitchell (Paulji) rediscovered it. He founded Eckankar in 1965 and established it as a non-profit religious organization in 1970. Details of Twitchell's life are obscure: his date of birth has been listed variously as 1908, 1912 and 1922. Eckankar followers believe that he studied under two Eck Masters: Sudar Singh in Paris and India, and a elderly monk Rebazar Tarzs in Tibet. They believe that he received the title of the 971st Eck Master from Tarzs in 1965, thus becoming the latest in a series of Masters which began before recorded history. Some of the past Masters are known historical figures; most have been solitary practitioners or have taught small groups. Paul Twitchell apparently gained additional knowledge from Kirpal Singh, an Eastern Guru, founder of the Ruhani Satsang movement.

After Paul Twitchell's death in 1971, Darwin Gross, the 972nd Eck Master became the Mahanta of Eckankar. (A Mahanta is the spiritual leader of Eckankar, a "living manifestation of God"). Subsequently, Sri Harold Klemp (1942-) became the 973rd Eck Master in 1981; he now heads the movement as its Mahanta.

Eckankar currently has over 50,000 members, who live in over 100 countries. They maintain facilities in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and North America. The main spiritual center is the Temple of ECK, located in Chanhassen, MN near Minneapolis-St. Paul. A public reading room, chapel, fellowship hall, classrooms and administration offices are located on the same site. They publish a periodical, the Eckankar Journal.

*Sugmad is a sacred name of God. God is perceived as neither male nor female.
*An ECK Current connects every person with the Heart of Sugmad. It flows from the Creator to the lower levels of existence and then returns to God. It is often called the Holy Spirit. ECK manifests itself in two forms: an "Inner Sound", the "Voice of God calling us home". The Sound may be present as a sound of nature or as music.
*An "Inner Light which is a beacon to light our way". During spiritual exercises, the light sometimes materializes as "brightness or colors on your inner visual screen".

*Eckankar believes in the duality of the soul and body. The soul is the inner, most sacred part of an individual. It is eternal, without beginning or end. It lives only in the present. One's soul can exist and travel separately from the body and even from the mind.
*A person is capable of exploring other planes of existence, through Soul Travel. Unlike "Astral Projection" which is taught by other spiritual traditions, Soul Travel is not limited to the Astral Plane; it allows you to go further and explore any of the God worlds.
*Among the 11 worlds there are 5 lower (psychic or material) and 6 upper (spiritual) planes. Each has a regular name; a classical name; an associated sound and light; a Temple of Golden Wisdom and a guardian. The lower planes are: Physical plane: the coarsest material level
**Astral plane: the "source of human emotion, psychic phenomena, ghosts and UFO's".
**Causal plane: where memories of previous lives are stored
**Mental plane: which contains the source of ethics, moral teachings and philosophy
**Etheric plane: this is the boundary with the higher worlds. It is the source of the "subconscious and primitive thoughts".

Before entering the spiritual levels, the chela (student) discards their mind and continues in their Tuza (soul).

*Eckankar has a concept of Karma which is somewhat similar to that found in Hinduism. Through attachment to the five passions (anger, greed, lust, undue attachment to the physical world and vanity) one's bad karma accumulates. This requires a person to be reincarnated at death, in order have an opportunity to work off the debt of karma in their next life. The goal of Eckists is to pay off all of this accumulated debt and achieve Self-Realization in their present life. Once this state is reached, at death one need not return and spend another lifetime on earth. One is freed from the endless cycles of reincarnation.
*Eckankar is regarded by its followers as the best (but not the only) path to God-realization. Christianity is recognized as an alternative path that can aid a follower to achieve a degree of enlightenment. Christians, and others, may join Eckankar without renouncing their existing religion.


*Eckankar does not attempt to evangelize the world by aggressively converting individuals to their religion. They do not actively proselytize. However, they do advertise their presence and distribute literature to interested persons.
*Members generally sing or chant a mantra for 20 to 30 minutes each day. HU (pronounced "hue") is a common mantra; it is an ancient name for God, and is considered a love song to God.
*Various spiritual exercises are promoted by the organization: chanting, contemplation, meditation, singing, trance work and visualization techniques are used to achieve soul travel. Travel during dreams is an area of growing importance in the movement. Dreams are regarded as an important teaching tool; a "look into the heavenly worlds". Members are urged to keep a dream journal to facilitate study.
*Worship Services consist of a readings, singing "HU", silent contemplation and an open discussion. It "may also include music, group singing and talks".
*Initiations mark an individual's spiritual progress within Eckankar. At the Second Initiation, one makes a personal commitment. At the fifth initiation, one becomes a Mahdis (High Initiate) and a member of the ECK clergy.
*Members who have reached the Second Initiation are urged to conduct a partial or full fast each Friday.
*Eckankar considers abortion, divorce, sexual orientation, and a decision to terminate life to be personal matters. They discourage the use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs. Many followers are active in a community service.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Amoebic Design Creationism

It's always a sure bet that some really fascinating wingnuttery will spew forth anytime a really vocal Christian theocrat runs for public office. The open forum of an election gives some of the most odious ideas a loud megaphone and the race for governor in South Carolina is no exception.

I very much wanted to believe that the Dover, PA ruling on Intelligent Design would finally be the silver bullet that slayed this particular ideological werewolf. I guess I was foolishly optimistic in that respect. My decade or so of following the body politic should have taught me by now that no idea is so wrong, so ignorant that it cannot be resurrected. Intelligent Design is one pesky zombie ideology in that respect.

So what's going on in South Carolina? Only this, from kc at Rogue Planet:

Dr. Henry Jordan - a surgeon - is running for the GOP nomination for Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina.

Dr. Jordan attained fame, or infamy, in 1997 when he was a member of the South Carolina State Board of Education and he said, "Screw the Buddhists and kill the Muslims."

Now, I know many of you are wondering just who Dr. Henry Jordan is exactly. For one, he's the founder of the South Carolina chapter of the Christian Coalition. But, really, bios are a little dry sometimes. Let's get to know Dr. Henry in his own words:

"I think everything ought to be taught ... and let people decide for themselves. There is no science to support trans-species changes, in other words, a monkey becoming a man," the Republican said in an interview this week with The Associated Press.

It makes one wonder how this man got to be a doctor. You have to admire his egalitarian approach to teaching, though I really think the school years would have to lengthened to teach "everything". I've got an idea: how about we just stick with teaching science in science class, eh Dr. Henry? I mean, we could teach astrology in physics or phrenology in biology, but that would take some of the academic shine off of the disciplines, wouldn't it? By the way, there is plenty of science to support trans-species change. Just because no Creationist has ever seen a howler monkey transform into a third-rate political hack doesn't disprove evolution. In Dr. Jordan's case, though, it may disprove the value of an education in medicine.

"A bunch of amoebas didn't get together and design all this," Jordan said, referring to the human body. "We'd be operating on people ... looking at their hearts, their liver and their lungs, I'd tell the techs, 'Can you believe those little amoebas figured all this out?'

Seriously, did the good doctor get his medical degree from a correspondence course? There is a multitude of intelligent, well-learned religious folks in the United States, which makes me believe that Dr. Jordan is acting dumb just to impress a certain constituency. I've never heard the Amoebic Design corollary of Creationism; I wonder if Dr. Jordan has some sort of pamphlet I can read? I'm sure Fox News will do a weekend expose: Single-Cell Controversy: The Debate Over Amoebic Design.

"I mean you've got to be stupid to believe in evolution, I mean, really," he said.

Talk about the pot and kettle! I can't imagine these quotes bode well for Dr. Jordan's chances of getting elected, even in conservative South Carolina. The entire scientific world, of which not nearly enough dwell in the U.S. anymore, understands the theory of evolution and exactly what it supports. Wingnuts like Jordan are just playing to a certain crowd and I don't believe enough of that crowd exists to move elections by themselves.

Still, I can't get over the fact that this guy's a surgeon. Christ, don't they have any standards in the medical field? It's not like he's an accountant or something...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Hayden Go Seek

The So-Called Liberal Media has been all a-twitter with talk of Bush's new selection to be director of the CIA. As a matter of track record, it's probably safe to assume that Hayden will have what's best for the Bush administration in mind as he approaches the position (assuming he's confirmed by the Senate), and hopefully the good of the nation will get some trickle down devotion as well.

Personally, I have a bit of a problem with a director of the CIA that doesn't know the Fourth Amendment, but then I'm funny about civil rights that way. The following exchange between Hayden and Knight Ridder's Jonathan Landay should fill us all with a great sense of unease (via Just Citizens):

QUESTION: Jonathan Landay with Knight Ridder. I'd like to stay on the same issue, and that had to do with the standard by which you use to target your wiretaps. I'm no lawyer, but my understanding is that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution specifies that you must have probable cause to be able to do a search that does not violate an American's right against unlawful searches and seizures. Do you use --

GEN. HAYDEN: No, actually -- the Fourth Amendment actually protects all of us against unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But the --

GEN. HAYDEN: That's what it says.

QUESTION: But the measure is probable cause, I believe.

GEN. HAYDEN: The amendment says unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But does it not say probable --

GEN. HAYDEN: No. The amendment says --

QUESTION: The court standard, the legal standard --

GEN. HAYDEN: -- unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: The legal standard is probable cause, General. ... I'd like you to respond to this -- is that what you've actually done is crafted a detour around the FISA court by creating a new standard of "reasonably believe" in place [of] probable cause because the FISA court will not give you a warrant based on reasonable belief, you have to show probable cause. Could you respond to that, please?

GEN. HAYDEN: Sure. I didn't craft the authorization. I am responding to a lawful order. All right? The attorney general has averred to the lawfulness of the order. Just to be very clear -- and believe me, if there's any amendment to the Constitution that employees of the National Security Agency are familiar with, it's the Fourth. And it is a reasonableness standard in the Fourth Amendment. And so what you've raised to me -- and I'm not a lawyer, and don't want to become one -- what you've raised to me is, in terms of quoting the Fourth Amendment, is an issue of the Constitution. The constitutional standard is "reasonable." And we believe -- I am convinced that we are lawful because what it is we're doing is reasonable.

If only the bolded part were true in Hayden's case. Maybe it's just a lapse in memory. Or maybe it's yet another Bush administration shill setting up to defend the President rather than the Constitution. Seems like that sort of thing's been going around lately, like a deadly virus...

The whole issue of the NSA domestic spying program is certain to come up again in Hayden's confirmation hearing and the conservative spin is that Bush actually wants the debate. See, the conventional wisdom among fearful Bush supporters is that this program is so well loved by the American people that it will be a political winner for the administration. For conservative hacks in the media, such as the professor on Wisconsin public radio this morning, there really is no substantive debate to be had on this topic. The American people want the government to spy on Al-Qaida and its contacts here, so Democrats like Russ Feingold have no leg to stand on for their opposition to the program. Once again, Bush's supporters are completely missing the point.

To be very painfully clear: no one is saying that the NSA should not be allowed to spy on domestic terrorist agents communicating with terrorist groups overseas. Feingold's not saying that, the Democratic party at large is not saying that, I'm certainly not saying that; in fact, not one liberal voice that I can find anywhere is saying the NSA should not be allowed to spy on terrorists. Yet this is the mendacious spin perpetuated by Republicans day in and day out on this issue. They're trying their damnedest to spin this issue into an attack on liberals for not wanting the country to be safe from terrorism. If anyone bothers to think about the issue for even a moment, they would realize this is an absurd line of thought. We liberals want our families to be safe as much as any conservative. However, we are engaged enough to realize that while terrorism is a danger, it's not the only danger our country faces. It may not even be the biggest.

The problem with the NSA domestic spying program is that Bush has chosen to engage in it without a warrant, which is required by both the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Fourth Amendment (Editor's Note: For my regular readers, I know this is a review. Bear with me...). The President does not have the authority to ignore the law or the Constitution, even if he feels the law is inadequate or Unconstitutional. If he believes the law is broken, then Bush must take his concerns to Congress to change the law. If he believes it is Unconstitutional, then Bush must take his concerns to the Supreme Court to get their interpretation and possible striking down of the law. He has no other recourse but to follow the law until either Congress changes it or the courts annul it. The President's responsibility to uphold and be bound by the law is a basic feature of our three branches of government, designed to prevent the President from assuming authoritarian powers. Sadly, with the Rubber Stamp Republican Congress out to lunch for the past 6 years, Bush has been able to push his way into further and further expansions of executive power.

My outrage with the actions (or lack thereof) of Congress hasn't cooled, though I'm not as vocal about it as I once was. The current Congress is broken beyond repair and I believe the American people will demonstrate to the Republican party in November just what happens when incompetence and malfeasance have free reign in Washington. My concern about this is more the reactions of everyday Americans, particularly those who support the Bush administration. I've done a little unscientific research and the results are astounding: 100% of the self-identified Republican supporters I talked to supported the President's spying program without warrants, essentially saying either that they personally were doing nothing wrong so they didn't mind being spied upon or, worse, that "9/11 changed everything" and Americans need to give up some of their freedoms in this post-9/11 world. My small sample's views are consistent with what I'm hearing and reading in the rightwing media as well.

The first of these two justifications plays off a common belief of most people: the "it can't happen to me" delusion. These conservatives believe Bush (and all Republicans) are just inherently good people who can be trusted with as much power as they desire in spite of a toxic river of Republican scandals flowing out of Washington lately. The second justification is another step along the road to fascism and should scare the hell out of any American contemplating such a thing. Once we're willing to give up our Bill of Rights and Constitution for the illusion of safety, then the American experiment has officially failed. Al-Qaida will have succeeded beyond its wildest dreams in crippling the United States and demonstrating that our liberal democracy really was too fragile to live. All because many conservative Americans lack the courage to stand up and face the price of freedom, as they demand our soldiers do. Shameful!

To those conservatives who really believe that our rights should be stripped away from us in a "time of war" such as this, that truly believe that the Fourth Amendment can be altered or suspended by the President with no judicial or legislative oversight, I ask the following question: How would you feel if Bush found some other Amendments to ignore? I realize that most conservatives have no use for many of the Amendments; the First, for example. They would have no problem with establishing a state religion (Christianity, of course) or subverting the press (Fox News, anyone?). But what about that most cherished of all conservative ideals; that one right that every conservative will stake their very lives upon? What about Amendment Number Two?

Suppose there is another terrorist attack in America by Al-Qaida, using an array of weapons purchased with false identification around the country. Say a shooting spree in a prominent public area tragically occurs. Suppose then that President Bush, his fervent desire to protect the country shining from his righteous brow, declared that, in the interests of national security, the right to own a firearm was going to have to be curtailed. Of course, it would never be done so blatantly; after all, Bush never actually announced that he was intending to ignore the Fourth Amendment. It was coded in words devised to speak of safety and protection for Americans from the shadowy terrorist threat. But suppose that, instead of a Terrorist Surveillance Program, as Bush calls his domestic spying program, the President decided on a Terrorist Disarmament Program. NSA agents could covertly enter the homes of Americans suspected of communicating with Al-Qaida (or, really, any Americans because, like the current program, Bush would allow no oversight) and seize their firearms and ownership identification cards. I wonder what the Radical Right would think when they woke up disarmed in the name of protection from terrorism?

Let's not be coy any longer because we know exactly what would happen. Conservatives would take to the streets in droves. It would make the immigration protests look like a 24-hour Christmas sale at Toys-R-Us. The truth is that anyone supporting the President's authority to break the law and ignore the Constitution is engaging in the worst form of hypocrisy. They're all too willing to give up rights they don't particularly value (or, in reality, don't realize exactly how much they value) but would be "storming the Bastille" at the thought of giving up the rights they do value. Any American unwilling to stand up for each and every right guaranteed by our Constitution is nothing but a base coward, willing to throw away the most valuable thing America has, it's democratic ideals, in exchange for the illusion of safety. And make no mistake: it is an illusion. The gravest threats any nation faces always come from within and a President that doesn't respect the law is a dire threat indeed.

As a final note on Hayden, I think the concern about his being an active member of the military is much ado about nothing, though I recognize the inherent danger to our republic when the military exerts too much control in the government. However, sadly, I think we're long past the point of too much military power in the United States, and harping about Hayden is far too little, too late. As a conciliatory gesture, it would be nice to see him resign from the Air Force, but I don't see that happening.

Monday, May 08, 2006

"Money, So They Say, Is The Root Of All Evil Today."

It's long been a contention of mine that a big problem with the conservative approach to taxes is that it redefines taxation as an onerous burden to be avoided rather than a civic duty that promotes the general welfare. I have no problem with cutting taxes so long as we (a) cut spending as well and (b) cut it in such a way as to not harm those whose well-being depends on government aid. I have been a staunch opponent of Bush's tax cuts, not because they were completely unwarranted initially, and that's a topic for another time, but because they targeted the top 1% of wealthiest Americans, none of whom actually needed tax relief. They unfairly shifted a huge amount of our tax burden, and future government debt burden, onto the middle class. This is not only unjust but also a recipe for economic disaster down the road, as more and more of our economic wealth accumulates among fewer people. See our neighbors to the south for an idea of what happens when a country has a very wealthy aristocracy awash in a sea of poverty. Not a pretty picture...

Unfortunately, another hallmark of conservative thought in America is a complete unwillingness to ever admit that one of their policies may, in fact, be hurting the country more than helping it. Case in point: the popular drum beat over the past decade agitating for a repeal of the estate tax. You'll never guess who's behind that drumbeat (From United for a Fair Economy):

The multimillion-dollar lobbying effort to repeal the federal estate tax has been aggressively led by 18 super-wealthy families, according to a report released today by Public Citizen and United for a Fair Economy at a press conference in Washington, D.C. The report details for the first time the vast money, influence and deceptive marketing techniques behind the rhetoric in the campaign to repeal the tax.

It reveals how 18 families worth a total of $185.5 billion have financed and coordinated a 10-year effort to repeal the estate tax, a move that would collectively net them a windfall of $71.6 billion.

The report, available at http://faireconomy.org/reports/2006/EstateTaxFinal.pdf, profiles the families and their businesses, which include the families behind Wal-Mart, Gallo wine, CampbellĂ‚’s soup, and Mars Inc., maker of M&Ms. Collectively, the list includes the first- and third-largest privately held companies in the United States, the richest family in Alabama and the worldĂ‚’s largest retailer.

Well. It's no surprise, sadly, that the effort behind the repeal of the estate tax has been championed by those most likely to benefit from it. Apparently these families feel that they owe nothing to the nation whose laws, economy and workers have allowed them to enjoy the vast wealth they've accumulated. In fact, they're determined to make sure that as much of that wealth as possible passes, unearned, to their children, in the way that medieval aristocracies have always transferred wealth. Once upon a time it was actually considered tasteless and crass to accumulate so much wealth and not give it back to society. There's a reason why so many museums, schoolslibrarieses and more, bear the names of wealthy families from years past.

The public support for repealing the estate tax is a marvel of modern political advocacy. It's probably the most visible example of the Republican party convincing everyday Americans to vote against their own economic interests. The entire sell appeals directly to a very American sense of fair-play; after all, the thought of the government taking from a small group of people does inflame some Americans. The problem is that this is a very misleading representation of the issue. It's all predicated upon the belief that taxes are something evil that governments wrongly inflict upon the citizenry, instead of being seen as the contribution each person makes, according to their own abilities, to the common wealth of our society. Conservatives have so internalized the idea that taxes are evil, that they hate all taxes, to the extent that they no longer associate paying taxes with receiving the services for which taxes pay.

The estate tax is completely misrepresented in the conservative spin in three main ways. The first is that it could affect middle class families, which is garbage, as it only effects less than 1% of all households in the United States. After all, it comes with a $3.5 million exemption. I don't know about anyone else, but my lucrative career in corporate middle management hasn't yet yielded me that kind of financial success. Moreover, there is not one, single documented instance of the estate tax forcing the forfeiture of a family farm, which is one of the most common examples the anti-tax crowd whips out to demonstrate the evil of the estate tax. There is simply no way around this simple truth: the estate tax is a tax on the wealthy and only the wealthy.

The second lie that conservatives perpetuate about the estate tax is that it's a tax on "death", as if that somehow makes the estate tax morally questionable. The truth, however, is that it is not a tax on the accumulated wealth of the person passing on the estate. It's a tax on the unearned wealth received by the heir to the estate. Once upon a time, it was a core conservative principal that our nation should be a "meritocracy"; that each should benefit according to their contribution to society. When the estate tax is discussed, however, that notion of earning one's own way is completely thrown aside. George W. Bush is the poster boy for unearned power and affluence; his conservative cohorts are only trying to emulate his shameful example.

The final bit of mendacity associated with the estate tax is the notion that if the wealthy are not taxed, they will use their additional wealth to bolster our economy. This is also the same rationalization that Bush's targeted tax cuts are based upon. Now, while that may certainly be true anecdotally, there is no reason to believe such a thing is true across the board. For one, even conservative economists admit that it is still too early to tell if Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy have actually stimulated growth. Beyond that, the idea that more untaxed wealth means more philanthropy is nonsense. Funds donated for the public good, such as libraries, museums, schools, etc., are not subject to the estate tax anyway. It's only that huge unearned income that is taxable; income not earned from labor or investments but from a fortunate birth.

I have nothing against the wealthy, which is a common accusation against liberals like myself. I believe everyone is entitled to their own well being and if someone invents the next best thing since sliced bread, they deserve what they get for it. However, the ability to benefit so greatly from one's own innovation and entrepreneurialism is a hallmark of our liberal democracy. As such, those reaping the benefit of such a system should give back a bigger share of that largesse to the common wealth. Of course no one thinks the government spends their money well and that's partly the point. Taxes pay for things that are not market viable; either because those that need them can't afford them or those who can afford them don't need them. Paying taxes is part of the responsibility of being an American and it's something that should be undertaken proudly, and with great deliberation. What the families above are doing is disgraceful and, frankly, un-American. They are essentially asking that they be able to reap the benefits of a system that enabled their great success while giving nothing in return. It's selfish and immoral, and it says much about the Republican party that it is one of their core platform issues.

It's just another give away to the high vitalogy, first class traveling sect in exchange for more of those sweet, sweet campaign dollars.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Zacarias Moussaoui Shall Live

As much as I know that this will send the conservative wing of this country into a firebreathing tizzy, it's actually a good thing for several reasons.

First, for my own part, I am staunchly opposed to the death penalty for any reason. The power to murder anyone is not a power any government should have. That we make war with practical impugnity in the United States is abhorrent enough. The death penalty is not justice; it's vengeance. If the United States is truly a Christian nation with Christian values, then surely it must remember to Whom vengeance belongs.

Second, the death of Moussaoui at the hands of the United States would have likely made a third-rate failure of a terrorist thug into a shining martyr for the cause of anti-Western extremism. For those who followed the trial, as I did, it's impossible to escape the conclusion that Moussaoui is more the product of Bush administration terror propaganda than any devious plot by Al-Qaida. He's clearly incompetent and a little deranged, and was completely disavowed by Al-Qaida leadership. As the oft-repeated refrain in the trial has gone so goes the truth: Zacarias Moussaoui was a small fish; a propaganda tool for Bush's "War on Terror".

Finally, there is something fundamentally wrong about the Bush administration's attempts to hang all of the horror of 9/11/01 around the neck of this one incompetent nutjob. I see it as an attempt by Bush to abdicate any responsibility for his incompetent response to the attacks by Al-Qaida, as well as a distraction from the disastrous war in Iraq.

The tragedy of 9/11 cannot and should not be encapsulated in this one man, lest too many Americans be given the false impression that a personal vendetta was waged for no purpose but the deranged musings of a would-be terrorist. The roots of 9/11 are deep and wide, spanning decades of U.S. foreign policy and political intervention in Middle Eastern nations. To assign away the causes of the tragedy to this one man takes the teeth out of the lessons that, hopefully, have been learned by our future leaders. Certainly the Bush administration learned nothing but that national tragedy can be exploited for political gain, a lesson any quick read of history could have taught.

I sincerely hope that Zacarias Moussaoui lives to a ripe, old age, alone and forgotten except as a footnote to the worst terrorist disaster in American history and as a symbol of the ideological nonsense that is the "War on Terror".

Samurai Sam Versus Charlie Daniels

I've been looking high and low for the proper context within which to vent my growing exasperation over conservative xenophobia towards Mexicans. Each bit of blatant racist stupidity propagated by the likes of Fox News (it's on in our cafeteria at work) building within my psyche like a sword slipped slowly from its sheath. Then, as if from On High, an email floated gently into my inbox, containing the fevered rantings of country music performer and latter day wingnut pundit Charlie Daniels. My enemy stands before me...

Charlie Daniels on Immigration: Mexican Standoff

I don't know how everybody else feels about it, but to me I think Hispanic people in this country, legally or illegally, made a huge public relations mistake with their recent demonstrations.

The same thing was said about the Selma march led by Martin Luther King, Jr. Those who are opposed to minority rights always claim that minorities are "hurting their own cause" by standing up and being heard. Fortunately, we have a Bill of Rights, not mob rule. Civil rights aren't granted by majority opinion; according to Thomas Jefferson they are an "inalienable right" granted "by the Creator". Demonstrations aren't supposed to be a popular PR move. They're supposed to challenge the status quo. Maybe Charlie needs to actually learn a little of the history of the country he lives in to learn about the struggle for minority civil rights. Of course, you won't find that on The History Channel or Fox News, even in February...

I don't blame anybody in the world for wanting to come to the United States of America, as it is a truly wonderful place. But when the first thing you do when you set foot on American soil is illegal it is flat out wrong and I don't care how many lala land left heads come out of the woodwork and start trying to give me sensitivity lessons.

I'd sooner be able to teach a pig philosophy than a racist bigot sensitivity, so I won't even try. Many of the undocumented immigrants from Mexico have risked their lives and their freedom for the opportunity to make sub-poverty wages in the U.S. They risk deportation, arrest, death even, on the journey here, all for the chance to be denigrated by people like Mr. Daniels, while they break their backs laboring for our economic success. These are the kind of people we want in the United States; the kind of people who are willing to take such risks for the betterment of themselves and their families. If we really want to make America wonderful, we should naturalize these hard-working Mexican immigrants and deport some lazy conservative faux-intellectuals!

I don't need sensitivity lessons, in fact I don't have anything against Mexicans! I just have something against criminals and anybody who comes into this country illegally is a criminal and if you don't believe it try coming into America from a foreign country without a passport and see how far you get.

I'll bet some of Charlie's best friends are Mexicans. Just like some of Lee Atwater's best friends are black and some of James Dobson's best friends are gay. Only the target changes, not the behavior, sadly. Also, Charlie needs to spend himself some time studying up on the difference between criminal and civil law. Undocumented immigrants are in violation of a civil statute, not a criminal one. Perhaps if the U.S. adopted a sane immigration policy, one that allows for expedient entry and citizenship, then perhaps we could talk about the illegality of certain kinds of immigration. Maybe I'm crazy, but I suspect that most, if not all, undocumented Mexican immigrants would much prefer a legal way into the U.S. that didn't involve risking death in the Sonoran Desert.

What disturbs me about the demonstrations is that it's tantamount to saying, "I am going to come into your country even if it means breaking your laws and there's nothing you can do about it."

Again, perhaps that's an indication that our laws are the problem. Of course, that would never occur to someone like Charlie. If conservatives were to admit that our immigration policy is the problem, then they wouldn't be able to demonize an entire nationality of people as "criminals". I suspect that what really disturbs Charlie is the idea that those shifty brown folks from south of the border might bring their own culture and language with them.

It's an "in your face" action and speaking just for me I don't like it one little bit and if there were a half dozen pairs of gonads in Washington bigger than English peas it wouldn't be happening.

Shorter Charlie: "If only we had more elected racists in Washington; they'd shut those rowdy wetbacks up!"

Where are you, you bunch of lilly livered, pantywaist, forked tongued, sorry excuses for defenders of The Constitution? Have you been drinking the water out of the Potomac again?

Someone needs to remind Charlie that our country decided awhile ago that being the "United States of White People Only" was not a good way to build a nation. We even fought a war about that (Tennessee's side lost, Charlie). Individual rights in the Constitution are no longer limited only to wealthy white people. Being cruel to the downtrodden isn't a sign of strength; it's a sign of moral decay and serious character deficiency.

And even if you pass a bill on immigration it will probably be so pork laden and watered down that it won't mean anything anyway. Besides, what good is an other law going to do when you won't enforce the ones on the books now?

Can't argue with him there. Republican hypocrisy knows no depth. Fiscal responsibility is a liberal ideal and law enforcement under a President who openly flaunts the law is a joke. The Republicans can do nothing about immigration except destroy their chances in November. They either lose the Latino vote with their draconian Sensenbrenner legislation or they lose the bigots in their base by granting amnesty. Fun for me; for the Republicans, not so much...

And what ever happened to the polls guys? I thought you folks were the quintessential finger wetters. Well you sure ain't paying any attention to the polls this time because somewhere around eighty percent of Americans want something done about this mess, and mess it is and getting bigger everyday.

I actually have to concede this point to Daniels; none of our politicians are getting much done on this issue. I've heard the whispers of certain good policy changes from various local Democrats, mainly in the southwest, but nothing much from Washington. Again, though, immigration is such a losing issue for the Republican party that it's almost unfair to expect them to actually do something about it. Almost...
As for the polls: I guess in the sense that Republican governance is so poor as to be almost non-existent, it's almost true that they don't govern by the polls. While a majority of Americans do believe we need immigration reform (as I certainly believe), the implication Daniels is making is that most Americans want the racist cruelty of Sensenbrennar or Tancredo made into law. Not true for the vast majority of Americans, I hope.

This is no longer a problem, it is a dilemma and headed for being a tragedy. Do you honestly think that what happened in France with the Muslims can't happen here when the businesses who hire these people finally run out of jobs and a few million disillusioned Hispanics take to the streets?

What a cutting analysis of the France situation; completely wrong, of course, but a bold attempt. The problem with the French riots wasn't that businesses ran out of jobs. It was the inevitable result of a "guest workers" program. The French created an entire underclass of immigrant workers, segregated away from French society, with little social or economic recourse for their situation. This is the kind of government approach to immigrants that most Republicans actually want! They're just too ideologically blinded by the color and language of the immigrants coming in to the country to make the connection. France purposely avoided integrating Muslim immigrants into its society, which is exactly what conservatives are trying to do with our Mexican immigrants. The arrogant belief in complete American exceptionalism virtually guarantees that our elected Republican officials learned not one lesson from the riots in France, and neither did Daniels, obviously.

If you, Mr. President, Congressmen and Senators, knuckle under on this and refuse to do something meaningful it means that you care nothing for the kind of country your children and grandchildren will inherit.

To a certain extent again, I agree with Daniels. Our immigration policy continues to get pushed off on successive generations because it's such a political hot potato. If our government officials would actually lead for a change, instead of trying to pander to majority bias and protect their own jobs, we could actually get an intelligent, workable immigration system enacted. The only advantage of waiting is that our children, having grown up more with Mexican friends and classmates, will be much more tolerant and empathetic towards the immigrant situation, unlike the wealthy, white business advocates currently running Washington (and getting support, no doubt, from conservatives like Daniels).

But I guess that doesn't matter as long as you get re-elected. Shame on you.

If you support Republicans in Washington, Charlie, then you have no room to complain when they can't produce. A political party whose main platform is anti-government is certainly not going to produce effective government policy. Just ask the survivors of hurricanes Andrew and Katrina which party they think administers federal programs more effectively. If you can find someone in NOLA with a working phone, that is.

One of the big problems in America today is that if you have the nerve to say anything derogatory about any group of people (except Christians) you are going to be screamed at by the media and called a racist, a bigot and anything else they can think of to call you.

Ooh, the wingnut trifecta. Be a racist that says derogatory things about minorities then blame it on the media when you get called out for your views. Imply that there is something noble about being openly racist, as opposed to a closet racist, I guess, and throw in an accusation of Christian-bashing to boot. Magnificent! I'll bite: Charlie Daniels, you, sir, are a racist and a bigot and, let's see, what else do I have, oh, and a nativist. Your real beef isn't about jobs or about immigrants violating federal civil statutes. It's about your, and other conservatives', fear that an influx of Mexicans will change American culture, and, being a conservative, you despise change above all else. It's the same tired argument that's been used towards immigrants since the country was founded. You and others like you are already here and you want America to yourselves, to luxuriate in the wealth of our nation and keep what you feel belongs to you by virtue of being born in the right place. It's a racist view, an anti-Christian view and a profoundly un-American view.

Well I've been pounded by the media before and I'm still rockin' and rollin' and when it comes to speaking the truth I fear not. And the truth is that the gutless, gonadless, milksop politicians are just about to sell out the United States of America because they don't have the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the face reality.

Shorter Charlie again: "I think I'm really cool because the Oldies station still plays "The Devil Went Down to Georgia".

And reality is that we would never allow any other group of people to have 12 million illegals in this country and turn around and say, "Oh it's ok, ya'll can stay here if you'll just allow us to slap your wrist."

Ah, some classic conservative projection. Since Daniels is racist against Latinos, everyone who disagrees with him must be racist against everyone but Latinos. This is essentially the same arsupremacist white supremecist groups use to justify their positions. White America for white Americans, right Charlie?

And I know that some of you who read this column are saying "Well what's wrong with that?"

Actually, I don't even think the slap on the wrist is necessary.

I'll tell you what's wrong with it. These people could be from Mars as far as we know. We don't know who they are, where they are or what they're up to and the way the Congress is going we're not going to.

(This just keeps getting better, doesn't it?) Yeah, we can't have those sneaky Mexicans just "hiding in the shadows" (favorite Fox News mantra of the moment) now can we? They could be doing something subversive with their Mexican culture and their Mexican language. It's possible that they're just working, raising their kids, going to church, etc., but that doesn't fit very well with our conservative bed-wetting xenophobia. I know: let's find a way to mark them somehow. Make them wear something like a Star of David or a pink triangle, so we always know the strangers among us...

Does this make sense? Labor force you say? We already subsidize corporate agriculture as it is, must we subsidize their labor as well?

Corporate welfare never makes any sense. However, it's ridiculously unfair to blame 30 years of Republican pandering to big business on impoverished immigrant workers. All too easy to scapegoat the minorities, eh Charlie?

If these people were from Haiti would we be so fast to turn a blind eye to them or if they were from Somalia or Afghanistan? I think not.

Again, Charlie, just because you are a xenophobic racist, doesn't mean the rest of America is as well. Most of us tend to believe in judging a person by the content of their character, not the color of their skin or nation of origin. A wise man said that once, not that you or others like you listened or understood.

All the media shows us are pictures of hard working Hispanics who have crossed the border just to try to better their life. They don't show you pictures of the Feds rounding up members of MS 13, the violent gang who came across the same way the decent folks did. They don't tell you about the living conditions of the Mexican illegals some fat cat hired to pick his crop.

All the media shows us are pictures of white Christian soccer moms picking up their kids from school. They don't show the Feds rounding up members of the Aryan Nation in West Virginia. See, Charlie, this is what happens when you stereotype an entire nationality with the characteristics of its worst members. Timothy McVeigh was a white Christian; does that mean that all white Christians want to bomb federal buildings? And, for the record, the Discovery Times channel did a great documentary about MS 13. So your personal ignorance, Charlie, is not the media's fault.
Again, blaming migrant workers for being taken advantage of by corporations is like blaming a rape victim for being too friendly with guys. Both are morally reprehensible examples of blaming the victim for being victimized.

I want to make two predictions. No. 1: This situation is going to grow and fester until it erupts in violence on our streets while the wimps in Washington drag their toes in the dirt and try to figure how many tons of political hay they can make to the acre.

Perhaps this will end in violence. I certainly hope not but many conservative politicians seem dead set on inflaming this situation as much as possible in order to placate racists like Charlie in their base. The Republicans have control of Washington; they can choose to make progress on immigration reform. However, it will cost them their racist "Southern Strategy" and likely their majority. The grossly misnamed "Party of Moral Values" can either do the right thing and support the immigrants that have always made our country stronger or they can do the politically expedient thing and cling to their racist redneck base. Either way, they're going to pay a heavy price for taking on this issue. Who knows, maybe if a Republican politician actually took a difficult principled stand on something like immigration, they might find they enjoy it and that the American people support them. In the words of George Carlin: "It just might work; it certainly hasn't been tried yet."

No 2: Somebody is going to cross that border with some kind of weapon of mass destruction and set it off in a major American city after which there will be a backlash such as this country has never experienced and the Capitol building in Washington will probably tilt as Congressmen and Senators rush to the other side of the issue.

A remote possibility, but a possibility none the less. That's the real cost of freedom, Charlie. Not sending other people's kids to die overseas, but recognizing that living in a free country means that occasionally that freedom gets exploited to tragic ends. The alternative is a police state, where everyone has the illusion of safety (it's really just the threat that changes) and no one has any freedom. We fought a very long Cold War against that ideology. It's rather frightening at how much Soviet policy conservatives seem to admire or clamor for these days.

I don't know about you but I would love to see just one major politician stand up and say, "I don't care who I make mad and I don't care how many votes I lose, this is a desperate situation and I'm going to lead the fight to get it straightened out."

First of all, I don't think this situation is really all that desperate. There is something intrinsic to the conservative mindset that seems to require that any and all challenges our country faces must be redefined as a life or death struggle for our nation's existence. 10 million undocumented immigrants in a nation of 300+ million is not an "invasion". Second, Charlie seems to be getting his arguments crossed here. If, as he claims, 80% of Americans feel as he does about immigrants, then every politician in the land should be jumping all over this issue. It's a sure-fire win! It's a play off of one of the Right's favorite logical fallacies: fallacy ad populum. Just because a lot of people think something is a good idea or the truth, does not make it so.

I don't blame anybody for wanting to come to America, but if you don't respect our immigration laws why should you respect any others.

When the choice is violating a United States civil statute or living in grinding, endless poverty, I think any rational person could sympathize with those willing to do the former to avoid the latter. It's empathy and compassion that are completely missing from the conservative view on immigration. It's all about petty legalism and money at the expense of human well-being. That's a perversion of the law, not a compelling support of it. Laws are nothing but a tool of society and, as such, need to be reworked or discarded when they are so obviously inadequate. I wonder if Charlie would feel the same way if it were he and his family living in poverty with jobs available in Mexico?

And by the way, this is America and our flag has stars and stripes. Please get that other one out of my face.

If Charlie only remembered the ideals for which our flag stands, then he wouldn't be too worried that immigrants wave the flag of their former nation as a show of solidarity in their community. Would Charlie expect an American living abroad to get rid of their Old Glory? I think not. Besides, plenty of folks still fly a flag synonymous with racism and sedition in the United States, even here in Wisconsin.

Pray for our troops

And bring them home safely.

Charlie's rant is a shameful display of racism and intolerance, and pretty succinctly lays out the entire conservative problem with Mexican immigrants. They're different. They speak a different language and they have different cultural values. Just like the Irish, Italians, Germans, Norwegians, Japanese, Indians, and so on, who have immigrated to the United States over the past two centuries. Conservatives like Daniels see the greatest strength of America, it's diversity, as one of its greatest faults. How historically blind can they be?

As a final note, I have to take a shot at the phony outrage over the Spanish language version of the National Anthem. I will leave it to Clytemnestra at The Polis to lay out just how stupid this whole issue is:

Think Progress did a fact check and found 4 different Spanish versions of the Star Spangled Banner the first has a 1919 copyright. And guess where they are; the United States of America State Department web site!

So 87 years ago during the Nadir of American Race Relations a specifically multicultural, inclusive project was commissioned by the U.S. Bureau of Education.

Just when I think the Republicans can't get any more obtuse and historically ignorant, Lamar Alexander steps up to show just how wrong I am. Here's a little clue to the symbolically challenged: Latinos wishing to record and sing our shared national anthem in Spanish is a sign of profound RESPECT for our shared home. Speaking Spanish is not a protest against America. Latino immigrants who come to the United States WANT to be here and WANT to lead a productive life, including speaking the native tongue. Given that our own President can't even speak English properly, it's a little bit ridiculous to expect 12 million Spanish speakers to pick it up overnight. And more to the point, if we become a bi-lingual nation, so be it. We were colonized by the English, so we speak English. It's not some mystical language gifted to us by The Almighty.

Anyway, this is my say on immigration. We need a quick and efficient system that allows those wishing to come here to get in, get settled, get working and get on with their lives. None of this "going to the back of the line" garbage when the line takes years to navigate and often changes where it's heading. Mexican immigrants are an asset to our nation, as all immigrants have always been. One of the beauties of our Constitution and Declaration of Independence is that the rights contained therein were never limited to American citizens. They were embraced as being common to all people. That's the idealism to which we need to return. Not this xenophobic, racist hatred that is permeating our national discourse.