Truth and Democracy

Inviting those who live in the right-wing alternate universe to join the rest of us out here in reality.

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Location: Hackensack, New Jersey, United States

Thursday, March 31, 2005

America's Taliban

In the wake of the horrifying attacks of September 11th, our nation mobilized in union to eliminate a government many thousands of miles away which harbored and encouraged those who attacked us that awful day. Afghanistan's Taliban government stood squarely against American principles of democracy, freedom and equality (especially where the fairer sex was concerned). Very few anti-war activists took to the streets to protest war against the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda which they sheltered because most Americans understood that this was the place from which 9/11 was launched and that this was a dangerous enemy with which we had to deal immediately.

Islam has been a faith torn asunder for decades as radical fundamentalists have seized more and more power by preaching a twisted message of "Jihad", a word meant to depict internal personal struggle which, when twisted politically, instead describes war against "the enemies of God". For Americans, however, the most troubling developments in world religion should be just how eerily similar the troubles of Islam are to what is taking place in American Christianity over recent decades. Yes, America too has its own Taliban. Its own brand of religious fanaticism which threatens to undermine the very foundations on which this nation was built.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a column detailing the Terri Schiavo case and just exactly how the radical religious right wing would attempt to use it to their political advantage. I hate to say I told you so but....I told you so. In the process the US Congress attempted to subvert the constitution, the same President who slept soundly in his bed after receiving a PDB entitled "Bin Ladin determined to strike in the US" boarded a red-eye Air Force One flight from Crawford, Tx. straight to Washington, DC to sign an unconstitutional bill, which he could just as quickly have signed in Texas, his brother, the Governor of Florida attempted to send state officials to kidnap Schiavo from her hospice center (until local Sheriffs made it clear that they would not back down on enforcing their court order) and the right wing media spread blatant disinformation on the case for the better part of two weeks. All to no avail. The American people finally smelled the rat and most of them being decent, honest folks, they rejected this nonsense for the pure and disgusting politics it was.

That being said, I must note that the Schiavo case is crucially important for what it points out in this country. There are radical religious groups here in America that are bent on destroying our government and constitution and replacing them with their narrow brand of militant Christianity. For the last week, Randall Terry has been standing beside Schiavo's family and claiming to speak for them. Terry's political group advocates murdering doctors who perform abortions. People like Terry, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and James Dobson whip their supporters into a fighting frenzy by offering them crusades against abortion, homosexuals, "activist" judges or "anti-God" politicians. It is no accident if their rhetoric sometimes sounds an awful lot like that of the Islamic "Jihadists". It is an awful lot like it.

Ask yourself this question; is there any rational motivation for a mother to tape shut the mouth of her 7 year-old daughter while helping her draw signs calling a man they never met a "murderer"? No, of course not, but these people are the furthest thing from rational. Like the thousands who danced in the streets of the Middle East on 9/11, celebrating our tragedy, these people have been told that they are being horribly oppressed by people who represent nothing more than satan on earth. Never mind that they live in the freest nation in which to worship that has ever graced the earth. No, as long as our laws and our culture do not completely adhere to their strict (and fiercely paranoid) interpretation of Biblical law, they will never rest.

These people represent roughly 15-20% of Americans now. Politicians are using them (and vice-versa) while the news media are scared to death of them. The media now report on them as being representative of Christianity in America while ignoring many millions of more moderate voices. If anyone wondered about the power they hold within the Republican Party, the last two weeks have answered those questions for good. They dominate and own it, completely. Republican leaders and right wing media outlets, such as Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, took up their cause with incredible zeal, despite extensive polling which showed that 80% of Americans disagreed with their extra-constitutional agenda. Even loyal "small government" Reaganite Peggy Noonan weighed in on the "Culture of Life vs. Culture of Death" ridiculousness. Now that's what I call pandering with a capital P!

It is being said a lot lately that radical Islamists are beginning to lose their grip on the hearts and minds of the Muslim world. I rather think that the attacks of 9/11 showed most Muslims what the radicals were really all about and they are turning away from that brand of religion. Hopefully the Schiavo case will begin to turn the tide in the same direction in the Christian world. In the last two weeks we have seen those fanatics who claim to be Christians bear false witness against their neighbors, mistreat their own children and call into question the very constitutional protections which guarantee us all liberty and family privacy.

A Christian fundamentalist reading this column would surely point out that his or her religious sect is not nearly responsible for that same level of violence as the Islamists. This is true, so far. However, they are violent. They have killed doctors who perform abortions, they have bombed Planned Parenthood clinics, they have threatended the families of such doctors and they have beaten homosexuals to death on many occasions. Michael Schiavo has received a flood of threats on his life recently. All this while they live in complete religious freedom. Imagine for a moment that they really lived in the kind of squalor and oppression in which many Islamic fundamentalists thrive. How much worse would their violent tendancies become? Remember, once you have established that those who disagree with you are enemies of God, anything is possible. Killing in the name of God has been all to common throughout human history, haven't we had enough of it yet? Let us hope so and let American Christians reject politicized fundamentalism here and now, before it's too late.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A Sorry Current State of Affairs

In the age of "for profit" news media, Americans have become more poorly informed than a great deal of the rest of the world. Sixty percent of us will tell you that Saddam Hussein helped plot 9/11. Even more cannot tell you who is the Vice-President, their US Representative or Senator. Twenty four/seven cable news channels act almost as adjuncts to the Republican Party, "ditto" for nearly all of talk radio while the mainstream media (if that even exists anymore) buries stories which are negative for the right-wing and slants the stories they do report in agonized terror of that "liberal bias" label.

Equally as troubling is the tendency toward sensationalism, style over substance and poorly informed reporting. American news media, let's face it, has gone to hell in a handbasket. Now, however, a gleaming light seems to be breaking over the horizon. Yes, perhaps the tide has turned and at last we will see a new age in American journalism based on facts, honesty and objectivity rather than style, good looks, shock factor and fear tactics. What is this possible savior, you ask? This Island in a sea of darkness? What could this great white hope be? Why it'''s, A CURRENT AFFAIR!!! (A collective groan follows)

That's right, Rupert Murdoch's Fox Broadcasting has resurrected the little half-hour "news" show which gave birth to every single stylistic image you've ever seen on his Fox News Channel. It's enough to make any reasonable person go looking for a rope and a tree, an oven and a match, a bath and a hair dryer, etc. etc. Having watched tonight's episode, I can confidently announce that hard news finally has a new home. I don't know exactly where that new home is, maybe the BBC?

Tonight's installment featured a story about a pair of teenagers who apparently murdered one of their friends. This boy and girl, who only stand accused at the present time, were depicted as "freaks" by their classmates and the girl was labeled a "sexual deviant". The slain girl was, of course, depicted as being as innocent as Cinderella complete with video of her singing in a pageant as a young child. All of this took place in a quiet little "family values" kind of town. The message here, keep your wholesome children away from those weird kids who are "different" or they just might end up dead! Great reporting.

Another story featured that incredibly hot looking 24 year-old teacher who is accused of sleeping with a teenage student. The story described the young woman as "emotionally disturbed". Really? What a scoop! The feature also included a horribly chopped up interview with the teacher's soon to be ex-husband. He's concerned for her, you know. After all, she faces up to 30 years in prison for her offense. Now, while I would never endorse teachers sleeping with their students, I've got to say, as far as I'm concerned this was a victimless crime. That kid is now undoubtedly the most popular guy in school! All the boys want to know what it was like not to mention why they didn't hit the jackpot like him and all the girls are completely intrigued by what that woman might have seen in him. Heck, he's larger than life. He really did strike the mother load. Why wasn't I that lucky at that age? I mean, just look at her!

While "A Current Affair" is obviously not the sort of bald-faced Republican propaganda you see elsewhere in Murdoch's media empire, there is a much more subtle form of influence happening in the half-hour show. All of the swoops, swooshes, graphics, bad production values and sensationalist reporting aside, the consistent message weaved throughout the stories it presents is one of moral outrage. It's the kind of "I'm better than all those nasty deviants out there" scapegoating message which always wins over in those "Red" states or as radio host Randi Rhodes has taken to calling them, "the persistent vegetative states", good one Randi.

I'm not entirely sure but I do believe the bible lists the return of "A Current Affair" to television as one of the seven signs of impending apocalypse....or is it the rapture? I've gotten confused between the two lately. I'm pretty sure that the apocalypse was when the Republicans took over control of the Congress and the rapture, as we all know, is the only way the Democrats will ever get it back.

Anyway, if you're looking for real news these days, you'd better open up a newspaper. I think I'll go get one right now, USA Today maybe...or the New York Post? Nah, just kidding.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Column Schedule - As of 3/19/05

From now on I will be posting a new column every Monday, Wednesday and Friday along with an occasional weekend commentary. Today's comments can be read below.

The Sickness of the Republican Leadership

Nearly 15 years ago, a woman named Terri Schiavo fell into a vegetative state. She cannot live without artificial assistance. For many years, her husband and her parents have been fighting a legal battle over whether or not to let go of her. The legal matter involved has been settled several times but each time it has, opportunistic politicians have gotten in the way. They are capable of absolutely no shame whatsoever.

Here is what will happen if the final chapter in this battle is played out this week. When Terri Schiavo passes, the "religious" right wing will lash out violently at what they will call "liberal activist judges" who allowed Michael Schiavo to "murder" his wife. Wherever you turn your dial, you won't be able to escape this pathetic and purely political message. Being Easter week, the references to Jesus will be copious. Here's the problem, though; no one stuck any feeding tubes down Jesus' throat when he was lowered from the cross. If they did, I don't remember hearing about it.

The poor woman is gone, let her go! If there are any stupid, bleeding heart liberal do-gooders involved in this case, it is the religious fanatics who make vigil outside the Schiavo home on their knees in the sidewalk. Do they want what's best for Terri Schiavo? No. They refuse to listen to what the doctors say. Hasn't she suffered long enough for them? I thought they believed that God chose for us when it is our time to go, not man? Apparently not. Now they suddenly believe in science with great fervor.

As for the politicians, they are the lowest of the bottom feeding low lifes this country has ever seen. For several years one of the lowest of these, Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, the man who brought you his slow-witted brother as President, has been aligning himself against the courts, the doctors and apparently the personal wishes of Terri Schiavo herself. Bush has taken political advantage of the suffering of Schiavo's parents, who clearly and somewhat understandably refuse to let go of their daughter, in order to gain votes and position himself to run for President in a Party where you now need serious "Christian credentials" in order to win.

Florida legislators, "Christian" activists and even the US House of Representatives have since joined this ghoulish bandwagon. When right-wing politicians use the term "liberal activist judges", here's what they really mean, "judges who base their decisions on legality and constitutionality rather than the will of a few religious zealots". Now, when you hear this term bandied about on topics like abortion or gay marriage, you will be able to do the translation for yourself.

There's a special place in Hell for politicians who look at a private situation in which all involved are suffering terribly, see the narrow political gain they can reap and ride that gravy train as far as it will take them no matter what the consequences are for those at the heart of the matter. The above rule applies to "Christian" activists, Legislators, Governors, Congressmen and women and even Presidents! Let's hope they remember this and think first before opening their mouths in the coming week.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The future of Christianity in America

Will it move forward or backward?

Liberals today have many fears in the face of modern American Christianity. Some are very well founded. At a time when Christianity seems represented only by people such as Falwell, Robertson, Dobson and conservative Catholic Bishops, many Americans feel threatened that these voices of religious intolerance will ultimately break down the separation of church and state. The result could be a return to the kind of puritan fascism unseen in this land since the Salem witch trials.

The Republican Party has agressively pursued and actively helped shape the politics of the fundamentalist Christian movement for decades now. At the current time, these religious extremists claim to hold operative power in 44 of the 50 Republican State Committees. In State Legislatures all over America, Republicans are introducing and passing bills designed to eliminate separation of church and state, thus bypassing the judicial system and its mandate to interpret constitutional protections. Frightening indeed.

However, before non-Christians begin hiding in their basements in fear, worshipping by candlelight, I'd like to offer some reason to hope for the future of religious tolerance in America. The source of this hope? Young people. More and more young people today are confused by the messages they hear from so-called Christians. Most young people do not hate homosexuality or homosexuals for that matter, even if they don't approve of or agree with the lifestyle. They don't see a terrible conspiracy to destroy marriage or the family, they just see people asking for the right to have a relationship. When someone like Rev. Dobson steps forth and condemns a cartoon character, young people see it as the ridiculous joke it is and nothing more.

Thus, modern American Christianity is gradually losing any ability to communicate honestly with young people. Increasingly, young people list their political priorities as social justice, environmental protection and peace between nations. Ironically, all of these were once serious Christian priorities which now seem lost in a country where religion has been ever more politicized and seems to have become more about "what we are against" rather than "what we are for".

More good news stems from the recent trend of young people away from intolerant Christian institutions toward newer congregations which preach Christianity's hopeful message in a more pro-active and tolerant manner. By preaching the more optimistic message of Jesus' life and teachings, alternative Christian denominations have become very appealing to younger Americans who simply cannot relate to what they see in fundamentalism or the current Catholic church.

The United Church of Christ (UCC) began an advertising campaign last year, in preparation for their 50th anniversary in 2007, which plays exactly to their message of inclusive Christianity or as they call it "extravagant welcome". A recent television ad the UCC released hammers home not only their inclusive message but also what is so wrong with too much of modern Christianity.

Entitled "Bouncers" the ad depicts the entrance to a church surrounded with ropes, like a nightclub, while t-shirted "bouncers" decide who can and cannot enter. A caption which reads "Jesus didn't turn people away..neither do we" follows. The ad closes with a voice-over explaining that the UCC welcomes all people of all ages, colors, genders and sexual orientations by saying "whoever you are and wherever you are on life's journey, you are welcome". It is a powerful ad which can be viewed at Recently, the head of the church held a press conference while sitting across his desk from a stuffed doll of Spongbob Squarepants, ceremonially welcoming Spongebob to the church.

In today's Bergen Record newspaper, the second largest circulation daily in New Jersey, religion reporter John Chadwick reports on Liquid, a booming new congregation in Basking Ridge, NJ which targets young Christians and offers them a more positive, uplifting and introspective message and style of worship. The church relates to young people through music and a very different message from most of what's out there today in evangelical circles. In the article, pastor Tim Lucas comments, "In order to engender a sense of spiritual superiority....we pick an issue or a cause with which we have no personal experience." "That's one of the reasons why it's so easy for [straight] heterosexual church leaders to highlight the sexual brokeness of gay people". Lucas adds, "The divorce statistics show that we're not doing a good job on straight marriage, so why are we using all our resources to attack a lifestyle we know little about"? A very good question indeed. One which more self-proclaimed Christians should be asking themselves.

There is no question that there is still much intolerance to overcome in today's Christian circles. President Bush very successfully used the issue of a constitutional ammendment banning gay marriage to inspire statewide ballot initiatives and rally millions of Christians to his side. Worse yet, the Catholic church released a document titled, "A Voter Guide for Serious Catholics" which did nothing more than convey positions on only a few carefully selected political issues (abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia...) clearly to influence Catholics, who historically vote with Democrats due to social concerns, to vote Republican. Thus, the church itself says to Catholics, "ignore peace, brotherhood, social justice or our environment,which God created". In the end, Republicans claim that churchgoers decided Bush's victory, maybe so.

Ultimately, the great weakness in the Republican Political/Christian strategy lies in all those young people. The strategy relies heavily on prejudices, something most of the younger voters lack. Right-wing Christianity serves to twist the message of Jesus into something which, as Pastor Lucas observed, inspires feelings of spiritual superiority while galvanizing followers with something "evil" to be against. In this manner, it closely mirrors the method by which Islamic "Jihadists" twist the faith of Islam to engender hatred of outsiders. It is a seductive potion but it may eventually cave in on itself, just as we hope radical Islam will do.

In 2004, whatever their spiritual inclination, younger voters chose Kerry and Democrats by a sustantial margin. The theme of the UCC's campaign is "God is still speaking". Let us hope that they are right. Perhaps God is still speaking through the young people of America today. If so, it seems that God is saying that there is another way for Christians to honor the life and message of his only son, one which offers compassion and understanding rather than self-righteousness and damnation of others. Thy will be done.

Monday, March 14, 2005

End Government Run Media Now

First the Bush administration paid columnists hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote their agenda, a fact the “journalists” involved did not make public. Then we learned that a non-journalist, partisan Republican named J.D. Gukert, was provided daily press passes by the White House (normally very hard to get) for nearly 700 consecutive days, under the fake name Jeff Gannon. It was soon uncovered that “Gannon” was also a gay male prostitute.

More recently, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has ordered the Bush White House to end the practice of producing fake “news segments” supporting Bush’s policies and disseminating them to local TV stations where they are aired without the public’s knowledge of their source. The administration has refused to comply. So far, they have spent more than $250 Million in taxpayer money on propaganda.

If you haven’t heard these stories, relax, it’s not your fault. So-called “mainstream media” has been bullied into submission by the Republican Noise Machine, as author David Brock calls it. Fox News Channel, right wing cable pundits, radio talkers and hundreds of expressly right wing newspapers and periodicals put forth misleading and often downright false, partisan propaganda daily while lashing out in virulent outrage when one of the networks report something they don’t like!

You’ve heard about Dan Rather and those memos, no doubt; but have you heard that FDR’s grandson has called for the resignation of Brit Hume at Fox after Mr. Hume deliberately misquoted FDR in an effort to claim the former President supported Social Security “privatization”? I doubt it highly. Independent surveys have repeatedly shown that regular Fox viewers are the most poorly informed citizens of this country. Without reliable information, our Democracy will wither and die. I urge all Americans to tune out government run propaganda before this can happen.