Saturday, August 19, 2006

Strange Bedfellows in the Religion Wars

Just like the politics of terrorism, the politics of Christianity makes strange bedfellows. In the world of terrorism, the Bush administration and al-Qaeda feed off each other relentlessly. It is well known that the invasion of Iraq made turned George Bush into al-Qaeda's best recruiter. Likewise, the main effect of al-Qaida schemes is to increase support for the Bush administration in the U. S.

Maybe they're working together.

The same is the case with the religion wars in America. The cranky purists who sue over every religious symbol in a public place are actually helping evangelical activists by giving them a reason to portray American Christianity as "under attack." Every time someone who is super-senstive about the Ten Commandments, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny sues a school system, it inspires evangelical activists then push even harder to put up monuments to the Ten Commandments in every nook and cranny of public space. This, in turn, motivates the cranky purists to file more lawsuits.

Yesterday's Tulsa World reported on a case in Haskell County, Okahoma where a court upheld the construction of as monument to the Ten Commandments on the court house lawn. The idea and money for the monument came pastor Mike Bush who though that God had burdened him with the idea while the lawsuit was filed by Stigler residents with the support of the ACLU. Both the religious and anti-religious activists gained money and publicity from the lawsuit.

Maybe they're in it together.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Imploding Republicans

George Allen's racial comments may be the tip of a looming Republican meltdown. Kentucky Republicans have been falling apart publicly over the ineptitude of indicted Gov. Ernie Fletcher, Ohio's governor has been convicted of misdemeanors, and Tennessee Republicans still have not recovered from the bitter primary to nominate a candidate for Bill Frist's seat. Republicans could lose their grip in all three states.

Now, Texas Republicans are imploding over Tom DeLay's old district in the Houston burbs.

DeLay started the downhill plunge by quickly withdrawing after winning the Republican primary. It then turned out that Texas law prevented the Republicans from replacing him on the ballot while DeLay ruled himself out by declaring himself a resident of Virginia.

The Republicans still could have campaigned around a write-in candidate with a decent chance of winning in a heavily Republican district. However, Texas Republican precinct chairmen have endorsed Houston Councilwoman Dr. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs over Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace and the protests of at least one county delegation in the district. If both Republicans continue to campaign, Democrat Nick Lampson is a shoe-in.

The Republicans have been winning close elections because they've been more coherent, more self-confident, better organized, and better funded than the Democrats. If the Republicans continue to implode, they will lose all of those advantages except the money. The Democrats may very well sweep in November.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Jon Benet and Pedophilia Voyeurism

Let Jon Benet Ramsey Die: If John Mark Karr is guilty of killing JonBenet Ramsey, the rest of us might finally be free of JonBenet voyeurism. The endless stream of Jon Benet pictures in the tabloids and talk shows have kept viewers reliving the death of the child beauty queen. Whichever picture was being used, the nation was always presented with the same two-sided coin--JonBenet's beauty and JonBenet's death. She was always "just about to die" but never allowed actually to die. It was like the trash media was committed to maintaining a creepy form of cryogenics--keeping JonBenet's perfect little face frozen so that her death would always be with us. We should just let the kids go.

Republicans Look Tired: Susan Estrich has a decent piece on the Fox web site about the desperation of Republican candidates for Congress. The Democrats are far from a shoe-in, but the Republicans are looking weak and unfocused themselves. House Speaker Dennis Hastert looked terrible in a picture from a Colorado fund-raiser--face bloated from food and booze, lethargic-looking, stomach hanging mountainously over his belt. His words didn't inspire either.

"We have to find someone that isn't weak and someone who will come to Congress and doesn't cave in and say wave the white flag . . ."

Not exactly Gipper material there.

The Voyeurism Angle: According to John Aloysius Farrel of the Denver Post, the Republican strategy adds up to "bunkering down in their gerrymannered districts, whipping up the party faithful and taunting the Democrats as craven sissies . . . "

But if Bill O'Reilly has anything to do with it, the Republicans will also become the party of pedophilia. For months, O'Reilly has been campaigning to get a "Jessica's Law" (for Jessica Lunsford, a Florida girl who was kidnapped and killed by a convicted child sex offender) passed in all fifty states and coming down hard on judges who are lenient on sex offenders.

This is self-interest as well as politics for O'Reilly. He's identifying an issue that's sensational enough to be a sure ratings winner for his show as well as hoping that Republicans will adopt it as "their issue."

But the O'Reilly crusade against pedophilia does not look like a winner. There's only so much "feel good" politics that can be taken out of the issue. Sure, it's good to "do something" about pedophilia. But, by talking about sex predators, pedophiliacs, and the sexual murder of little girls so relentlessly, O' Reilly keeps his own audience in the same kind of killing moment that the tabloids maintain when they obsess about JonBenet Ramsey. Most people don't feel comfortable with that kind of voyeurism because they're not pedophiliacs themselves.

Maybe O'Reilly could have helped the Republicans by doing more segments on JonBenet Ramsey.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Drug War as Metaphor for Terror War

Today's capture of Javier Arellano-Felix, the head of a particularly vicious Tijuana marijuana and cocain cartel is a significant accomplishment for the DEA and Coast Guard.

It's also a good reason why the War on Drugs is a good metaphor for the War on Terror. Since the Tijuana Cartel is particularly aggressive and vicious, capturing Arellano-Felix is a signal accomplishment. However, it probably took months or years of patient work to pinpoint Arellano-Felix on a luxury fishing boat off of Baja and all that effort is still not going to reduce drug use in the U. S. because of the enormous, almost limitless appetite for pot and cocaine in this country.

The same thing is true of the War on Terror. The U. S. military and intelligence apparatus can work for months on killing a terrorist leader like Zarqawi like they did last June only to see the overall situation in Iraq continue to deteriorate. The permutations of setbacks like the Samarra bombing seem to mushroom through time, while our accomplishments seem to have little overall effect. It's like the Iraq occupation has become the Middle Eastern version of the drug war.

The key here is that the Saddam leftovers, global terrorists, Sunni insurgents, and Shiite militias are stronger forces than either the elected government or the large part of the civilian population that is sympathetic to the government. Unless, the U. S. can change the balance of power, our accomplishments will never have an effect.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration remains clueless.

Fifty Ways To Be a Racist

The debate rages over whether Sen. George Allen is a racist? For John Dickerson, Allen is more of a boob; according to Rich Lowry, he just has a mean streak. There's also an undercurrent that Allen isn't all that bright.

Generally, the mainstream media isn't sure whether you're a racist or not unless you're a Klan member, or are a white guy using the n-word all the time,

That's part of the reason why the media needs to get out of the Beltway more. Here in Kentucky, there are plenty of signs that someone is a racist--

There's always the threatening letter to the black people who just moved into your county, neighborhood, school or dorm threatening to kill, bomb, or burn them out;

Add Confederate flags on your bumper sticker, Confederate flag hats, Confederate flag shirts, and Confederate flags in the back yard. Guys get into Confederate flag paraphernalia as a way to announce that they "don't give a shit about what people think," are proud to be "rednecks," "hillbillies," or "crackers," or think it's a funny way to be an asshole. They do it as a way to stick it to their parents, their teachers, church, and town elite as well as city people and the North. Oh yeah, and black people too;

Thinking that every black male you see in a city is going to rob you or not going to the cities because there are too many blacks; not going to State U because there are too many blacks or because you might be assigned a black roommate;

Dismissing hip hop, rock, jazz, and other musical styles as "n--music," loving NASCAR because it's all-white, worshipping the screaming white coach of your State U basketball team and assuming that the players need to be screamed at; disparaging State U's opponents in racial terms; disparaging professional sports in general and the NBA in particular as too black;

Telling blacks to "get over it," that "everybody is oppressed" and that "stereotypes (about blacks) are real;"

Bragging about how Southerner whites know blacks better than anybody else or how well everybody in the South got along before the "outside agitators" or "activist judges" came in or the "turmoil" of the Civil Rights Movement got started.

Claiming that Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Denzel Washington, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, and other blacks you like aren't "really" black; really hating Spike Lee and other race conscious blacks because they're "so" black.

Arguing that anybody who complains about racism is a "racist" and that blacks who complain about racism are worst racists than the whites of the segregation era.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Wider War Meme

How are right-wingers responding to the American failure in Iraq and the Israeli failure in Lebanon? First, a lot of them are bellying up to the bar of reality and calling the outcome of these enterprises by their proper name--"failure."

But the right always moves back to the more familiar ground of delusion.

It turns out that they believe that the current wars weren't conducted on a large enough scale to win. On the Laura Ingraham radio talk show this afternoon, conservative columnist Ingraham and Michael Ladeen of the American Enterprise Institute were blaming the failure of the American and Israeli wars on a failure to widen the wars to include Syria and Iraq. They weren't particularly clear on whether the U. S. and Israel should bomb the two renegade nations, invade them, or nuke and firebomb them as suggested by Cal Thomas and Rush Limbaugh.

After 9-11, right-wingers and Democratic Party toadies like Joe Lieberman were insisting that we "give war a chance." Now that the wars have turned into disasters for us and setbacks for the Israelis, the right is starting to demand that we give "really big wars" a chance.

Somebody should start asking Republican candidates if they agree that bigger wars are needed.

George Allen--The Boob as Racist

Senator George Allen's "macaca" comment was a typical boob approach to racism. Instead of calling opposition photographer Sidarth by one of the standard racist epithets for dark-skinned people, Sen. Allen thought that he would use a fancy French term for blacks that "no one would recognize."

Like it was his little secret!

This is almost precisely what it means to be a boob, to think that you're the smartest person in the room while you're making an idiot of yourself. Sen. Allen thought he was demonstrating his racial superiority, thought he was entertaining his all-white audience, and thought he was scoring points while he was NOT noticing that Sidarth was holding a camera and recording the whole soliloguy.

In a Slate article, John Dickerson treats George Allen as comparable to President Bush. That's unfair to Bush. Whatever the failures that make Bush one of the worst presidents in Americn history, Pres. Bush has too much "message discipline" to be caught making that kind of racist comment on camera even if he feels that way in private (and I don't think he does).

Perhaps the worst thing you can say about George Allen is that he is a much bigger boob than George Bush.

Not that such a thing would stop the Republicans from nominating him.

Numbers Day in Kentucky

Kentucky Passes Texas in high school graduation rates: Like a lot of Southern states, Kentucky has long uttered the grateful prayer "thank god for Mississippi" because Mississipi is usually at the bottom of education, health, and income statistics. Today, we're celebrating that fact that we have also passed Texas. The Lexington, KY Herald-Leader released some numbers today on percentage of population with a high school education. With a 79% high school graduation rate, Kentucky has moved ahead of Texas but is still 49th in the country. Kentucky has made a big effort to increase high school graduation rates since the passing of education reform in 1990, but still suffers from previous generations of neglect. The situation is particularly bad in Eastern Kentucky where high school dropout rates are often over 20%.

Kentucky No. 2 in disabilities. Almost one-fith of the adult population in Kentucky is listed as disabled with only West Virginia having more people with disabilities. Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama--three other members in good standing of the Southern poverty belt--are right up there as well. In Kentucky, high levels of disability are driven primarily by the hazards of coal mining (probably logging as well), efforts to get around welfare reform, high levels of smoking, lousy diets, and the general effects of poor health. Some people become disabled because of poor health habits that are handed down through their families. That fits the Southern stereotype. At the same time, I know several women who are on the road to disability from strokes and diabetes from the super-human sacrifices they make in caring for and worrying about their families. Moderation is a tough sell in Kentucky and physical breakdowns are one of the results.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Bush: Impotence on Parade

In his remarks to the media today, President Bush stated that Hezbollah lost the recent war because they would no longer be a "state within a state" under the terms of the UN cease fire.

What are the chances that Hezbollah would actually disarm or lose their status as an independent militia? And what can the U. S. do to ensure that the terms of the cease-fire are fulfilled.

There's practically no chance of meeting the terms of the cease fire and American impotence is going to play a role in the failure.

According to press secretary Tony Snow, all of these groups would have to cooperate for the terms of the cease-fire to be fulfilled.

"The people also within Lebanon, the Lebanese government has a role to play, the governments of Syria and Iran have a role to play, Hezbollah has a role to play, the Israelis have a role to play. And we'll have to see how all those things work out in the hours, days and weeks ahead."

The only entity out of this group that U. S. has any leverage over is Israel. The Bush administration lost our leverage over Lebanon when we gave Israel blanket approval to destroy their country. The Lebanese government may be in no mood to cooperate anyway, but we have no ability to ensure that they will. They threw away our leverage over Syria when the neo-cons started talking about invading them as well as Iraq. No chance of influence them to help us fulfill our foreign policy objectives. The same with the Iranians given that we refuse to communicate with them. Of course, we have no influence over Hezbollah and won't have any because we don't want any discussions with Hezbollah either.

Under current conditions, Hezbollah is going to stay independent of the Lebanese government, rearm themselves, and go into their next battle with Israel with a lot of confidence.

The only way this disastrous outcome can be prevented is by setting up some sort of negotiations between the Israelis and Hezbollah. The Bush administration forgot their disgust with negotiations when they co-sponsored the ceasefire with France. They should swallow their pride again and sponsor some sort of secret contact over the issues between Hezbollah and Israel.

Who Was First On Top of Things?

The Washington Post claims today that Hezbollah came out ahead in the Lebanon War. The first post on Hezbollah's relative success on Red State Impressions came out on July 19, only six days after the Israeli air strikes began.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Reaching Out . . . And Getting Fired for it

Last June, Jeffrey Nielson wrote an op-ed column that disagreed with Mormon church leaders over gay marriage.

For which he was promptly fired by the philosophy department at Brigham Young University. In its faculty contracts, BYU has a clause forbidding anyone from disagreeing with church teachings. So, they were within their legal rights. However, the swiftness and vindictiveness with which BYU fired Nielsen is pretty typical of gay rights cases at Christian universities.

Last April, for example, the University of the Cumberlands here in Kentucky expelled Jason Johnson for saying that he was gay on his MySpace page. Like Nielson, the student broke the rules, but the university president betrayed the depth of his animosity over gay rights by sending officers to remove Johnson from campus without warning, a chance to appeal, or giving him an opportunity to leave voluntarily.

But after he was fired, something quite moving happened to Nielsen. Gay men and women began to contact him and then kept in touch with him and became friends. Gay couples invited Nielsen to their homes and showed him a loving atmosphere in their homes that belied the bigoted images of the Mormons or Latter-Day Saints (LDS).

In a column in today's Tribune, Nielsen writes:

"I have been able to personally witness the goodness in the homes of these couples and observe the nurturing environment where their children experience unsurpassed parental love and support. Committed gay and lesbian couples would add unimaginable strength to the institution of marriage. "

What Nielsen has done was move from the principles of his earlier article to developing personal relationships across the gay/straight divide that homophobic bigotry creates in American society. That's a big part of the work of creating a multi-cultural society. It's reaching out across the traditional divides of sexuality, race, and nationality, sharing the ups and downs of business, health, raising kids, maintaining houses, and commuting with them, and altogether living a common life. For Nielsen, there was a kind of moral excitement of discovering that the traditional taboos on gay people were just as irrational as he had thought. For his new gay friends, there was a satisfaction in demonstrating what they had always been even if the frustration and anger of being forced to live without the full breadth of social recognition remained.

But Nielsen doesn't seem to understand that the existence of loving gay families, effective gay teachers, respected gay scout leaders, and popular gay politicians (like state senator Ernesto Scorsone here in Kentucky) also serves to deepen the anger of those who are committed to the traditional taboos against the gay population. That's one of the reasons why BYU was so quick to fire him and why Cumberlands treated Jason Johnson with such animosity. It's also why organizations on the religious right are so eager to fight gay marriage, civil unions, partner benefits, and civil rights protections for gays. In their hearts, they know they're wrong and that sliver of self-knowledge makes them even more angry over gay rights issues than they would have been otherwise. It's the same with white racists, male supremacists, class snobs, and other people who are offended by the obvious facts of the equal worth of various groups.

That's why it is important to fight the right-wing on gay rights--to promote the legalization of gay marriage, answer the blizzard of specious arguments from the right wing media on homosexuality, and bear witness to the tremendous harm perpetrated in the name of the traditional taboos on homosexuality. Ultimately, defeating the right-wing is the only way that gay people will be able to share fully in the life of American society.