Tuesday, August 31, 2004

PROTEST WORKS

From This Modern World, originally from Truthout (which has no permalinks):

"We're the GOP Jamboree, a singing group here to support George W. Bush," she said. I asked if I could get an interview, and she said yes.

Confession: I was planning on taking this young Republican apart at the seams, and all on camera. It didn't quite work out that way.


Once the interview was underway, I asked her what it was about Bush and the Republicans she supported. She hesitated, cast her eyes downward, and looked inexplicably sad.

"I don't know," she said.

She came all the way from California as part of an organized singing group whose whole purpose was to support Bush. An afternoon talking to the protesters, however, had filled her head with data that did not jibe with what she had been told.

Click here for the rest.

For the aforementioned video footage, click here for Windows Media broadband, or here for dialup.

The left, myself included, love to go on and on about how awful the conservatives are, how they’re ruining this country, how cold hearted or stupid they are. However, the conservatives are just one part of the population. Sadly, it seems that about half the country has only a vague idea about what’s going on in the realm of American power, both political and economic. This is no surprise: history, government, and economics are taught in public schools in such a way that most people are just plain bored by these subjects, never realizing how important they actually are. Whether that’s by design (I think it’s by design, myself) or coincidence, the effect is the same. Most Americans have no desire to understand or educate themselves about the topics that citizens must understand in order for democracy to function. We’re in big trouble, but the funny thing is that it’s been this way for a long time.

Haha.

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Insistent economic issues are reasserting
their primacy, even in wartime, with the
nation under constant threat of terrorist attack

From the Houston Chronicle editorial board:

U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that average wages have increased hardly at all over the last two decades. Medium household income has risen, but more people are working longer hours and multiple jobs. Eroding health insurance coverage has left many families worse off, even if their income rose.

U.S. economic prosperity depends upon consumers' sustained profligacy. As a consequence, the Federal Reserve Board reported in June, household debt has grown by 9 or 10 percent each year since the 2001 recession. President Bush is touting financial initiatives under the rubric of "ownership society." The typical household, however, would be better off gaining affordable health insurance and reducing its high-interest debt than acquiring new property.

Although middle-class Americans enjoyed some tax cuts under the Bush administration, the gains were often wiped out by rising property tax bills.

Click here for the rest.

The failed conservative policies on the economy, from both parties, but especially from the Republicans, have made the middle class but a shadow of its former self: even though the conventional economic wisdom is that “a rising tide raises all boats,” it turns out that these higher waters threaten to drown most Americans. When economic growth depends on people maxing out their credit cards and staying up to their ears in debt, it’s pretty clear that there’s something terribly wrong with the way that we understand economics. Why the hell don’t the stuffed shirts in Washington do something about this?

Obviously, it’s because the corporations and super-wealthy families who benefit from such a point of view donate by far the most money to political campaigns. Cesspool on the Potomac.

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Monday, August 30, 2004

BILL O'REILLY DEMANDS TO
GO TO A GAY BATHHOUSE

This has actually been known for nearly two years now (it's from Dan Savage's Savage Love column back in October of 2002), but it's quite new to me, so up it goes on my blog. From the Stranger.com courtesy of J. Orlin Grabbe:

I made the mistake of telling O'Reilly the truth: I hate gay bathhouses and I think they should be closed. This is not a new position. I've been an on-the-record gay-bathhouse basher for 10 years now. (And, guys, are gay bathhouses even necessary these days? Websites like Gay.com have basically turned every gay man's apartment into a virtual/potential gay bathhouse, so do we really need to go to the real thing anymore? Why eat out when you can order in?)

O'Reilly pounced. "I want to go to a gay bathhouse!" he barked. "I want to go to a gay bathhouse!" I was stunned. There I was, sitting across the table from the darling of the American right, and... and... he was shouting at me about wanting to go to a gay bathhouse. "If I want to pursue happiness in a gay bathhouse, shouldn't I be free to do that, Mr. Savage?" I didn't know what to say. If Bill O'Reilly wanted to go to a gay bathhouse, well, who was I to tell him he shouldn't?


Click here for the rest of the shocking truth about cable TV's favorite butthole.

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500,000 March Against Bush in Historic Antiwar Protest

From the Democracy Now radio show:

The march was a massive, slow-moving circle around central Manhattan going up New York's Seventh Avenue, past Madison Square Garden, and back to Union Square. The march was overwhelmingly a peaceful protest, though there were some 200 or so arrests made yesterday throughout Manhattan, most of them after the march had concluded. This weekend, more than 400 people were arrested at various demonstrations and direct actions and a small number of activists are facing serious felony charges. There have been multiple cases of significant police violence against demonstrators, and there have been police officers injured, at least one suffered third-degree burns. But the major story of the day was the sheer size and nonviolence of the march, which was entitled, "Say No to the Bush Agenda." At the front of the march, actor Danny Glover, filmmaker Michael Moore, families who lost loved ones in Iraq, several democratic congress members and the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Click here to listen to streaming audio or video of the broadcast.

Did you notice that after weeks of media and government alarmism about potentially violent protesters that the only violence was police busting heads? Figures.

Click here for protest pictures from the AP via the Houston Chronicle.

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Bush says terror war may be unwinnable

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

President Bush ignited a Democratic inferno of criticism today by suggesting the war on terrorism could not be won, forcing his aides to scramble to defend his remarks just as he had hoped to bask in convention accolades.

Bush sought to emphasize the economy -- New Hampshire's appears to be on a rebound -- but his comments on terrorism dominated national attention.

In an interview on NBC-TV's "Today" show, Bush vowed to stay the course in the war on terror, saying perseverance in the battle would make the world safer for future generations. But he suggested an all-out victory against terrorism might not be possible.


Asked "Can we win?" Bush said, "I don't think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that the -- those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world."


Uh...could he possibly mean what he says? Hmm, we need a little clarification and spin:

White House spokesman Scott McClellan sought to clarify the president's remarks, telling reporters, "He was talking about winning it in the conventional sense ... about how this is a different kind of war and we face an unconventional enemy."

Click here for the rest.

I think that, whatever Bush actually meant, he had it right the first time: we cannot win a war on terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic; trying to beat it in a war is like trying to beat karate or something. An old friend, Jim, who conincidentally introduced me to my wife, said a few months back that the only way to end the threat of terrorism is for the United States to stop "pissing people off." The way that the United States government, and the corporate and wealthy forces that control it, treat the less powerful nations and peoples of the world as resources and markets to be exploited is what causes terrorism and deep resentment toward America--this is what "pisses people off." Nothing short of changing these exploitative policies will end the threat of terrorism. Sadly, the US political establishment will not even consider such changes. Indeed, the Chronicle article goes on to quote Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's running mate, John Edwards, as saying, "This is no time to declare defeat...The war on terrorism is absolutely winnable."

We're stuck in an endless war, and everyone in power seems to like it that way.

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Sunday, August 29, 2004

ALL MATT DAY AT REAL ART

Longtime Real Art readers know that my old pal Matt periodically sends me cool links which I periodically slap onto my blog. This is such a time, and these are, indeed, some good links.

Here goes.

Retro vs. Metro

Matt's found a cool site who's mission is to try to get a handle on the ideological divide that seems to be plaguing America at the moment:

Understanding the uncivil war

The Uncivil War affects every American, whether raising kids on an hourly wage with no health insurance, or dodging bullets on the streets of Baghdad, or ingesting dirty air and water, or wondering if our votes will count in the coming election. This conflict is as old as the 13 Colonies and as new as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Until now, the two sides have never been precisely defined --- or named. We call them Retro and Metro America. On this website you can learn about these two Americas and how the escalating war between them affects each of our lives. You also can order the groundbreaking bestseller: The Great Divide: Retro vs. Metro America.

Click here for the main site, and here for an issue by issue breakdown of this Great Divide.

For Matt's next link, he bravely dredges Drudge and finds some good stuff:

BUCHANAN BOOK DECLARES:
'NO CONSERVATIVE PARTY
LEFT IN WASHINGTON'

After warning about the "Death of the West," bestselling author and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan now declares: "There is no conservative party left in Washington."

Buchanan is set to launch his new work WHERE THE RIGHT WENT WRONG: How Neoconservatives Subverted The Reagan Revolution And Hijacked the Bush Presidency -- a work ripe with cutting observation and opinion.

Some quotes from the book:

On the Bush Doctrine:

“[A] prescription for permanent war for permanent peace, though wars are the death of republics.” (6)

The Bush National Security Strategy “is the imperial edict of a superpower out to exploit its present supremacy to make itself permanent Lord Protector of the universe.” (26)

“This is democratic imperialism. This will bleed, bankrupt and isolate this republic. This overthrows the wisdom of the Founding Fathers about what America should be all about.” (35)

On the War in Iraq:

“[L]istening to the neoconservatives, Bush invaded Iraq, united the Arab world against us, isolated us from Europe, and fulfilled to the letter bin Laden’s prophecy as to what we were about. We won the war in three weeks -- and we may have lost the Islamic world for a generation. (84)

“[I]f Iraq collapses in chaos and civil war, there will be a ferocious fight in this country over who misled us and who may have lied us, into war....into the dock will go the neoconservatives whose class project this was...” (236)

On the War on Terrorism:

“Terrorism is the price of empire. If we do not wish to pay it, we must give up the empire.” (237)

“America’s enemy in the Islamic world is not a state we can crush with sanctions or an enemy we can defeat with force of arms. The enemy is a cause, a movement, an idea.” (87)

“[T]errorism is not a nation, a regime, or an army. Terrorism is a tactic, a technique, a weapon fanatics, dictators and warriors have resorted to through history. If...war is the continuation of politics by other means, terrorism is the continuation of war by other means.” (89)

“We are not hated for who we are. We are hated for what we do. It is not our principles that have spawned pandemic hatred of America in the Islamic world. It is our policies.” (80)

“U.S. dominance of the Middle East is not the corrective to terror. It is a cause of terror. Were we not over there, the 9/11 terrorists would not have been over here.” (236)

“Often, terrorism succeeded in the 20th century, and, when it did, the ex-terrorists achieved power, glory and immortality, with streets, towns and cities named for them....America today recognizes every regime to come out of these wars where terrorism was a common tactic.” (123)

Click here for more quotes.

I must admit that I've always had a grudging admiration for Patrick Buchanan. He's a likable character, despite his homophobia and mild racism, which I don't like at all. His rebel rousing in the GOP has made me smile numerous times, and I just have to love his pro-labor, anti-globalism rhetoric. I bet this is a fun book. I may steal a copy myself.

Finally, Matt comes across a cool Spike Lee interview speckled with political tinges from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (which is, I believe, Matt's local newspaper):

Spike Lee weighs in on Cosby, Moore and more

We cannot have a generation of young black kids growing up not being able to read or write. More importantly not wanting to know how to read and write. Because, somehow, in the twisted mentality we have today — which is really pumped out by gangsta rap — these kids equate getting an education with trying to be white. (Long pause.) Which is genocide.

"Intelligent kids dumb down because they don't want to be ostracized. They don't want to be called a white boy or a white girl. Or a sell-out. Or an Oreo. Somehow, they equate ignorance with being black and being real and being street. Being ghetto has become a badge of honor. And that's more than insane. That's bananas."

Click here for the rest, and you'll probably have to register, but at this point, it seems most papers are insisting on that, so...get used to it.

I don't think I've really said all that much about Spike Lee here at Real Art, so here's a quick statement. I didn't really get into his first film, She's Gotta Have It, because I don't really think I understood his aesthetic at the time--I was pretty young. Over the years, however, he's really won me over. Do the Right Thing is a fantastic treatise on race relations with a kickass soundtrack. Mo' Better Blues, starring Denzel Washington, is a bittersweet jazz pic. Bamboozled does more to explain racial stereotyping than anything this white guy has ever experienced, while poignantly asking what it means, exactly, to be black. Malcolm X, also starring Washington, is quite simply one of the best films I've ever seen: it is Lee's magnum opus. His new film, She Hate Me, is bound to be, at the very least, pretty darned good.

Thus ends this latest installment of All Matt Day at Real Art!

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Saturday, August 28, 2004

"WELFARE QUEENS"

My old friend Kevin responds in Real Art comments to a part of my last post:

I think his point about "rewarding bad behavior" was aimed at welfare mothers who, even though they are in dire financial straits, continue to have more and more children and whose monthly dole goes up each time a new child is born. When you can't afford your own life it is irresposible to keep creating more dependents, especially considering that planned parenthood as well as many other organizations provide free birth control. This goes beyond welfare though. Many people not on welfare continue to have 3rd 4th and fifth children because of some rosy nostalgic memory of life on the farm. Single people and couples without children or with only one child foot the bill (for education, social services etc) through taxes while the parents of the big families take a tax cut.

To be honest, I actually do understand the rationale behind this concept of “reward” and welfare. My point in saying that I don’t understand is to make obvious that there are some rather dubious assumptions on which this concept is based.

Some conservatives, in the Rush Limbaugh vein, have actually been ridiculous enough to suggest that many “welfare queens” have more babies for the express purpose of upping their welfare take. While I must admit that such a thing may very well have happened here and there, because in the wide weird world of human behavior anything is possible, as far as I know there is absolutely no evidence, no study, no academically reputable research that supports that this occurs in any significant numbers that makes discussion on this topic even worth it. In reality, people don’t get pregnant in order to get a bigger welfare check.

However, I don’t think that this is exactly what Chris is suggesting. He’s coming from a point of view that seems more reasonable. The assumption here is that the welfare state creates a safety net that, as Kevin says, allows women “in dire financial straits (to) continue to have more and more children;” the unstated part of this assumption is that, without this safety net, because they would bear the brunt of the financial costs, these women would behave more rationally, and be much more careful about getting pregnant.

The problem with this is the assumption that people behave rationally where sex and love are concerned—this is also compounded by the fact that a very large percentage of single mothers are under the age of 18, emotionally and intellectually immature. It’s probably safe to say that most people aren’t really thinking about how much it’s going to cost to raise a child while in the heat of passion. The welfare state just doesn’t enter into the equation at this level of the problem: welfare cannot be considered a “reward” because “bad behavior” is motivated by entirely different reasons than money, which Kevin touches on with his comment about “some rosy nostalgic memory of life on the farm.”

Indeed, this echoes the same problem that has beguiled economists for years with their assumption of the “rational consumer.” It sounds very reasonable to say that if X happens, then most people with half a brain are going to do Y: in reality, people make choices for all sorts of irrational reasons. Only now are some economists beginning to wake up to this fact, but it will probably take years for these ideas to filter down to the general public. Sadly, this concept of “rewarding bad behavior” will, no doubt, linger for decades.

The only real way to deal with this problem is to get REALLY SERIOUS about sex education, birth control, and abortion. Comprehensive sex ed must begin in kindergarten or earlier, and must be an ongoing school subject all the way through every child’s school career. Birth control needs to be available everywhere, and for free. I’m talking goldfish bowls full of condoms on every teacher’s desk, the pill available in the school nurse’s office. The social stigma against abortion must go—it’s that simple.


Talk of financial incentives or disincentives is just talk. It’s not going to do a damned thing one way or the other to end the problem of unwanted children.

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"WHAT WOULD JESUS LEGISLATE?" Part Two

For part one, click here.

To bring you up to date, an essay I wrote nearly two years ago was rerun by a former student on his blog, which elicited a response, which I responded to in the above linked part one, which elicited a second response from the guy who made the first response. Is that clear?

Anyway, here's the response to my response to his response to my essay:

I appreciate your response. I also understand the animosity felt towards Christians, not necessarily towards the religion itself but towards its followers who are often hypocrites (or any number of other unflattering terms). I also don't claim to be such a pious Christian such that I have the authority to speak for all of Christianity. I hope my original article did not imply such an attitude.

The reason for responding again is just a quick FYI since you requested more information about Jesus and the money changers in the temple, calling the argument squirrelly without explanation. I want to preface this by saying that I am not a biblical scholar, but this is my limited understanding of the subject. At the time the Jews were still living under the Levitical Law. Under the Levitical Law Gentiles were only authorized to pray to God at one place, the Jewish temple. (I believe that was the only main temple at the period.) The temple was divided into three sections: The front section was for the Jewish men, the middle for the Jewish women and children, and finally the rear for the Gentiles. When Jesus entered the temple he found that the merchants had taken over that rear space. I also believe that the Law required some sacrifices which meant people entering the people had to buy animals. If business operated then as it does now, it is reasonable to assume that these men were selling their animals at a very high rate. I believe those to be facts (I hope I am not conveying any untruths). From the situation one could still draw the conclusions which you stated, or that he was angered that these people had placed more importance on their business than making room for Gentiles to worship, or perhaps some combination of the two. I do know that the bible speaks to not making money by charging interest, or making a profit without producing anything, and I think that the fact that the credit industry has ruined the finances of so many people shows why this can be destructive. I also think an important point of this story appears in John's telling of the story where Jesus made a whip out of cords and drove everyone out. I think this shows that Jesus did not act out in uncontrollable rage, but rather when he was making the whip (I have no idea how long this would have taken) he had time to think about why this situation was wrong and what an appropriate action would be.

This obviously has very little to do with your first article which is why I did not include it. I just didn't want you to think I was making completely unfounded statements. This is already much more than I had intended to write, but there was one comment in your response I found a little slanted. My quote was "creating a system which rewards poverty level single mothers for continuing to have more children" but I was admonished in your response for "condemnation of welfare for single mothers". I feel that it was clear from my statement that what I don't agree with is rewarding bad behavior, not welfare for single mothers.

I don't know why I feel the need to respond to the Wal-Mart comment even though I don't think it related directly to anything I had said, but my position on that is that it is amoral to pay a man that works for you a wage which is not satisfactory to live on.

I hope this has quenched your thirst for "some right-wing outrage". But seriously, I know that we don't agree, but I did enjoy your original article and the response. It found both to be thought provoking.

Sincerely,
Chris


Now my response:

Thanks for your appreciation. This has been a fun discussion, and it's made me remember how I used to enjoy my Bible study classes when I was younger. For that, I thank you. Your comment about hypocritical Christians also makes me remember something that I used to hear back in my church-going days: everybody's a hypocrite. Indeed, it is extraordinarily difficult to live up to one's own principles; I've only really started to take this issue seriously in the last ten years or so, if only so that my arguments aren't undercut by my own behavior, which is self-serving, I must admit. But then, what's the point in having principles at all if you don't take them seriously? Hypocritical Christians do make me angry, but only because of the double standard that they set by the example of their own lives: how can they tell me how to live my life, if they're not willing to follow their own mandates? But, like I said, this criticism is not exclusive to Christians. This discussion, for my part, doesn't really deal with that, however. I'm trying to show that Jesus has been woefully misunderstood by the conservative fundamentalists.

Don't worry about me or anyone else thinking that you claim to speak for all of Christianity. I think your original email to me makes it clear that you are defending your faith as you understand it. Indeed, your open-minded writing reveals that you are not quite the fundamentalist that I initially imagined you to be; I don't feel preached to at all.

Now, on to the meat of this discussion.

I continue to stand by my assertion that Jesus had a problem with mixing business and spirituality. I must point out, as I did in part one, that I don't think that Jesus felt that business was sinful per se: rather, I think Jesus believed that the profit motive was very dangerous to one's soul, so dangerous, in fact, that business has no place in the house of God.

The background information about Gentiles being crowded out of their place of prayer by price-gouging merchants is quite interesting, but it is important to note that the men who recorded this moment of Jesus' life did not see fit to include this in their writing--remember that Matthew, Mark, and John supposedly wrote their accounts with God's divine inspiration. I realize that it's reasonable to assume that early Christians who were also Jews would understand this event in the terms you've explained; however, most Gentiles outside of Palestine, indeed most Christians, would not understand it that way: nonetheless, the writers of the Gospels did not feel compelled to provide this context; they quite consciously focused on business in the temple. I think it's safe to say that in order to understand Jesus' ire toward the merchants and money changers as something other than what it appears to be requires a great deal of information that didn't make it into the Bible.

In researching this post, I happened upon another interpretation of Jesus' "cleansing of the temple," written by a member of what seems to be a Christian animal rights organization. The writer hits on some of the same background information that you do, but comes to a startlingly different conclusion:

Several hundred years after prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Hosea had denounced the sacrificial slaughter of animals, Jesus carried out what is euphemistically called the Cleansing of the Temple. It was just before Passover and he disrupted the buying and selling of animals that were being purchased for slaughter. (See article "Slaughter of The Innocent" www.HumaneReligion.org). And because Christian scholars and religious leaders continue to ignore biblical denunciations of that bloody worship, they also try to obscure the reason for Christ's assault on the system.

They have done this by focusing on the moneychangers, although they were only minor players in the drama that took place. It was the cult of sacrifice that Jesus tried to dismantle, not the system of monetary exchange. In all three gospel accounts of the event, those who provided the animals for sacrifice are mentioned first: they were the primary focus of Christ's outrage.

Click here for the rest.

My point in referencing this article is the same that I made above: in order to change the plain, literal meaning of this event, one must focus on information that the Gospel writers didn't include. Matthew, Mark, and John didn't focus on animal sacrifice; they focused on Jesus' anger at the merchants and money changers--they pointed out that Jesus called them "thieves."

Let's take a look at what the Bible actually says. From Matthew 21: 12-13

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,

And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

From Mark 11: 15-17

And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves;

And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.

And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.

And from John 2: 13-16

And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:

And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables;

And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise.

Yes, Jesus does talk about prayer, and, yes, the verses talk about animals. But the one theme that strongly emerges from all three passages is that Jesus is angry about business in the temple. One must use rhetorical acrobatics in order to de-emphasize this theme and replace it with another. As I've said before, it's undeniable: Jesus had a problem with the mixture of business and spirituality--a problem that I consider to be a stern warning to those who deal with large amounts of money; beware the corruption that comes from greed.

Now, having said all that, I'd like to thank you for finding my conclusions to be reasonable, and to acknowledge your statements about the Bible and the carnage wreaked by the credit industry: clearly, you're no nut fundamentalist; perhaps that's why I'm enjoying this discussion so much. I'm sure I would have already gotten bored if you were all fire and brimstone. Also, I agree with your assessment of Jesus' emotional state: his "cleansing of the temple" was clearly premeditated; he was angry, not crazed.

As for "rewarding bad behavior," I'm not sure that I really understand what you mean. Welfare for single mothers is aimed at helping raise disadvantaged children: there is no "reward." Being on welfare sucks in any case. However, for numerous single mothers, welfare is the one thing that keeps them from living in the streets, the one thing that gives their kids any hope at all of not ending up dead, abused, or raped. Calling welfare a "reward" for "bad behavior" is something I just don't understand. If you're so offended by welfare in principle, perhaps you'd join with me in supporting abortion rights, comprehensive sex education in all public schools, and free and easy access to birth control for Americans who are physically mature enough to have sex: this is the only real way to make a significant dent in illegitimacy, the only real way to lessen the welfare rolls.

Sorry if I didn't connect the dots with my Wal-Mart comment. The phrase in your first email, "personal responsibility," carries so much baggage that it's difficult to know where to start responding to it. Suffice it to say, my understanding of "personal responsibility" is that it's a phrase conservatives use to rile up middle and working class Americans against some mythological class of people who collect welfare checks, smoke crack, and drive brand new Cadillacs. In short, "personal responsibility" is a device used to deceive most Americans into supporting conservative reforms which ultimately screw virtually everybody while serving the super rich. I hate societal leeches, too, but as far as I can see, the real leeches are already rolling in cash. Wal-Mart, a corporation that encourages it's workers to sign up for food stamps, is a poster perfect example of what I'm talking about. We all may get some slight, short term benefit from their low, low prices, but in the long run we're the ones who pay. That's not right. (For more info about Wal-Mart, search my blog archives for the phrase "Wal-Mart sucks.")

In closing, my thirst for "right-wing outrage" hasn't been quenched really--I have not been corresponding with Bill O'Reilly; that's for sure. However, this has been a fun exchange. Thanks.

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Friday, August 27, 2004

GOOD DAY FOR ABORTION RIGHTS

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Partial-birth abortion act ruled unconstitutional

A federal judge declared the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act unconstitutional today in the second such ruling in three months -- even though he called the procedure "gruesome, brutal, barbaric and uncivilized."

U.S. District Judge Richard C. Casey -- one of three federal judges across the country to hear simultaneous challenges to the law earlier this year -- faulted the ban for not containing an exception to protect a woman's health, something the Supreme Court has made clear is required in laws prohibiting particular types of abortion.


The law, signed last November, banned a procedure known to doctors as intact dilation and extraction and called partial-birth abortion by abortion foes. The fetus is partially removed from the womb, and the skull is punctured or crushed.


Louise Melling, director of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, said her group was thrilled by the ruling.


"We can only hope as we have decision after decision after decision striking these bans, saying they endanger women's health, that the legislatures will finally stop," she said.

Click here for the rest.

I wouldn't bet on Melling getting her wish, however. As Atrios over at Eschaton observed yesterday, the Republicans know these laws are going to be overturned: they keep passing them in order to keep abortion alive as one of the divisive political issues on which the GOP thrives.

And again from the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Anti-abortion protesters convicted in Waco

Nearly 20 people who protested in front of the Planned Parenthood of Central Texas were found guilty of violating a city ordinance.

The demonstrators were cited in March for refusing to disperse in front of the clinic, across the street from a school. A month earlier, the Waco City Council adopted an ordinance prohibiting street activity and parades, including demonstrations, during school zone hours.

City officials said the ordinance aims to reduce traffic hazards around schools, but anti-abortion activists say it tramples on free speech, religious liberty and the right to peaceably assemble.


Click here for the rest.

Of course, I'm a big supporter of the first amendment, all of it, including the religious part. However, you can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater. That is, the state must balance reasonable public safety concerns against first amendment freedoms. These people can still protest; they simply have to do it in a safe manner. Their rights are not being violated.

And, I must admit, I'm totally gloating about the fact that this means these zealots were busted for protesting women's abortion rights. Ha! In yer face!

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Thursday, August 26, 2004

Bush lawyer who advised veterans resigns

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Ginsberg's acknowledgment Tuesday evening that he was providing legal advice to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth marked the second time in days that an individual associated with the Bush-Cheney campaign had been connected to the group, which Kerry accuses of being a front for the Republican incumbent's re-election effort.

The Bush campaign and the veterans' group have said repeatedly that there is no coordination.


Lawyers on the Democratic side are also representing both the campaign or party and outside groups running ads in the presidential race. Ginsberg's dual role has drawn attention because of an ad the Swift Boat Veterans group ran accusing Kerry of exaggerating his Vietnam War record, an issue that has dominated the campaign since early August.


Kerry has fired back by accusing Bush of using the group as a front to run a smear campaign for him. Democrats have jumped on any tie, even if legal, to back up that claim.

Ginsberg said he never told the Bush campaign what he discussed with the group, or vice versa, and didn't advise the group on ad strategies.

Click here for the rest.

Actually, this excerpt is slightly misleading. As Nightline pointed out earlier this evening, none of the Democrat lawyers are currently working for the Kerry campaign. Benjamin Ginsberg was working for Bush, and he was pretty high up in the campaign heirarchy, at the same time he was working for the Swift Boat liars. I'm no lawyer, myself, but this is looking more and more like a violation of campaign finance law. I mean Ginsberg did resign, after all.

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A BRIEF HISTORY OF RECENT INSTANCES
OF AUTHORITIES JUSTIFYING HARASSMENT
OF PROTESTERS BY CALLING THEM VIOLENT

From the Nation:

To the frustration of high-level officials who were finding their meetings regularly ruined by acts of civil disobedience, the American public largely refused to see the global justice movement as a menace to society. True, the media tried to create hysteria over a few broken windows, but to surprisingly little effect. The question then became, What would it take to cast protesters in the role of the villain? The answer appears to have been a calculated campaign of symbolic warfare: Remove the images of colorful floats and puppets; replace them with images of bombs and hydrochloric acid. And if it has worked--which seems to be the case, considering the public's relative indifference to police destruction of protest art and banners in Philadelphia, or to the extraordinary pre-emptive violence in Miami--it is because on matters of public security, it rarely occurs to most Americans that so many of the officials charged with protecting them could be intentionally, systematically lying.

Click here for the rest.

That's right, lying. It's pretty wild to think that government officials who are charged with protecting the rights of Americans are going out of their way to violate them. But it's true, and it's been going on for the last four or five years.

God, sometimes I feel like American society is just one big metaphor for high school.

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AL FRANKEN SAYS:
At the precise moment Bush
accepts the nomination, stick
your head out the window and
yell "Fuggedaboudit!"

From CNN via Eschaton:

Al Franken wants you to get up out of your chairs, open your windows, stick your heads out and yell ... fuggedaboutdit?

Well, yes.

In the spirit of Paddy Chayefsky's classic movie monologue from "Network," the liberal comedian Wednesday urged New Yorkers -- and other Americans -- to simultaneously scream the all-purpose local wisecrack at the moment that President Bush accepts the nomination.

"This is a form of protest that is very non-disruptive," Franken said at a press conference in the Park Avenue office of Air America radio network, where he hosts a talk show.


Click here for the rest.

What a great idea!

Franken says that the phrase should be tailored to fit each region's own sense of colloquialism: I wonder what we should say here in Louisiana? Hell, I don't even know what an equivalent statement would be in Texas. Anyway, I sure I'll say something.

Here's a link to an mp3 of the original speech from Network. It's pretty cool. Here's a link that allows you to officially register your protest "so that your efforts won't go uncounted."

Thanks to American Rhetoric for the download.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2004

SMEARING KERRY'S
MILITARY RECORD
Two from Eschaton

First an enlightening essay from the Los Angeles Times editorial board that calls the heavily Bush-connected organization, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, straight up liars:

These Charges Are False ...

In both cases, the candidates are the reason the groups are in business. There is an important difference, though, between the side campaign being run for Kerry and the one for Bush. The pro-Kerry campaign is nasty and personal. The pro-Bush campaign is nasty, personal and false.

No informed person can seriously believe that Kerry fabricated evidence to win his military medals in Vietnam. His main accuser has been exposed as having said the opposite at the time, 35 years ago. Kerry is backed by almost all those who witnessed the events in question, as well as by documentation. His accusers have no evidence except their own dubious word.

Click here for the rest.

Switching coasts, Paul Krugman of the New York Times ponders how these liars are pulling off such brazen lies:

The Rambo Coalition

One of the wonders of recent American politics has been the ability of Mr. Bush and his supporters to wrap their partisanship in the flag. Through innuendo and direct attacks by surrogates, men who assiduously avoided service in Vietnam, like Dick Cheney (five deferments), John Ashcroft (seven deferments) and George Bush (a comfy spot in the National Guard, and a mysterious gap in his records), have questioned the patriotism of men who risked their lives and suffered for their country: John McCain, Max Cleland and now John Kerry.

How have they been able to get away with it? The answer is that we have been living in what Roger Ebert calls "an age of Rambo patriotism." As the carnage and moral ambiguities of Vietnam faded from memory, many started to believe in the comforting clich├ęs of action movies, in which the tough-talking hero is always virtuous and the hand-wringing types who see complexities and urge the hero to think before acting are always wrong, if not villains.

After 9/11, Mr. Bush had a choice: he could deal with real threats, or he could play Rambo.

Click here for the rest.

Have I mentioned that if the Kerry campaign is able to prove links between the Bush campaign and the Swift Boat liars, all hell could break loose? The Swift Boat Veterans are a 527 political organization, which can receive unlimited donations: under the new campaign finance laws, such groups can only advocate issues, but not candidates--that's why lots of money that can no longer be given to candidates is being given to 527s on both sides. The catch is that campaigns can't have anything to do with these organizations; that would violate the law. Only a couple of days ago, the Kerry campaign said they have proof that Bush and the Swift Boat liars are working together, and I certainly wouldn't be surprised if it was true. Here's hoping...

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RNC PROTESTERS REJECT VIOLENT PORTRAYAL

In yet another event of synchronicity, Democracy Now hits the same subject I hit in my last post. That is, the concerted effort on the part of the Republican Party to smear anti-GOP protesters as violent:

The reason we had the news conference was to address the really ridiculous and irresponsible behavior of the New York City media with regards to the protesters, and our feeling of their setting up an atmosphere of criminalization of dissent in the city. I was organizer with the Life after Capitalism Conference, and it really kind of started last week when The New York Post labeled our conference a “war council,” and has continued on throughout. So, the purpose of the press conference really was to address what is anarchism and really what is—what we really want to accomplish in the coming weeks during the protest.

Click here to read the rest of the transcript, or to watch or listen to the segment (for those not in the know, Democracy Now is a Pacifica radio show that is also simulcast via satellite as a television show).

Just so you know, the conservative New York Post is owned by billionaire tyrant Rupert Murdoch, a strong GOP supporter; it's kind of a Fox News print version.

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WHAT VIOLENT PROTESTS?
Two from J. Orlin Grabbe

Apparently the FBI and New York City's Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg are expecting violent, 1960's style, protests during the Republican National Convention. My question is why? The only real violence I've seen in the past few years, from the Seattle WTO protests to the anti-Iraq war rallies, has been in the form of some smashed windows courtesy of youthful masked anarchists. Oh yeah, there's also the violence that the police have used against peaceful protesters, but I guess that Bloomberg and the FBI don't count that. So, what the hell are they talking about?

Hmmm. Maybe this report from the London Guardian might shed some light:

FBI 'harassing' protesters

The FBI has questioned dozens of demonstrators planning to come to New York for the Republican convention later this month and encouraged agents to scour protest groups for evidence of any planned disruptions.

In a nationwide move that civil rights advocates called "chilling", the FBI has drawn up a list of people it intends to question because they may have information about possible violence.

In Missouri, three unnamed young men have been subpoenaed and informed that they are part of a domestic terrorism investigation, although their lawyer says the police have not told them on what grounds.

"It is part of a national effort to chill dissent in this country," said William Dobbs, the spokesman for United for Peace and Justice, which is planning to stage week-long demonstrations in New York during the convention. "And it is always a worry that this kind of intimidation will scare some people off."

And just to drive the point home, this sort of thing has actually been done before, and quite recently:

Last year Denver police agreed to restrict intelligence-gathering after it was revealed that they kept files on 3,000 people and 200 groups.

Click here for the rest.

Yeah, that's right. All this talk of "violence" may very well be simply a justification to bust some hippie heads. After all, the FBI is under Ashcroft's Department of Justice, and he's obviously no friend of civil rights or hippies, and Bloomberg is most certainly a party man. He and his people are laying on the violence meme pretty thickly.

From the London Independent:

New Yorkers braced for violent protests aimed
at Republican party convention next weekend

For Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican himself, the four-day gathering is an opportunity for his city to sell itself. But he is concerned that it could go horribly wrong. How nice will New Yorkers be to their guests? And how violent may the promised protests become?

With only a week to go, the city is in a stand-off with an activist group called United for Peace and Justice that expects as many as 250,000 people to turn out for an anti-Bush rally next Sunday. The group is suing for the right to hold the march in Central Park. The city is refusing, citing probable grass damage.

"I am afraid this Central Park thing is really going to blow up," said Gary Ferdman, director of a business consortium that persuaded Mr Bloomberg to announce last week a discount programme for protesters who behave. Any activist who promises to protest peacefully will be rewarded with a badge entitling them to discounts in restaurants, hotels and theatres.

Of course, the problem with this whole "violence" thing is that there's just no evidence of any protesters actually planning any:

Last week, a director of the FBI's anti-terrorism division acknowledged that the agency expects some of the protests to become violent. The FBI has sent out agents to infiltrate some of the political groups coming to New York to try to uncover their strategies. But no actual plot to cause violence has yet been found.

Click here for the rest.

Like I said, what violence? This is all a bunch of crap, and my bet is that there probably will be some violence, but it'll be the kind caused by cops, not protesters. And I'm sure they'll find a way to blame the people they're beating up. And I'm sure the corporate media will buy the whole thing hook, line, and sinker.

Man, the GOP sucks.

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Monday, August 23, 2004

CLASS WARFARE
(against the poor)

From ZNet, an article that provides two examples of how our "Christian" leaders make war on the poor, and one example of how a true follower of Jesus faces "Christian" opposition for simply trying to do what Jesus would do:

'People hate this kind of talk.
Raw truth is never popular.'

Last year, Susan Pace Hamill, a University of Alabama tax law professor, took a sabbatical to earn a Master of Theological Studies degree. She wrote her thesis on "An Argument for Tax Reform Based on Judeo-Christian Ethics." In it she applied "the moral principles of Judeo-Christian ethics" to Alabama's tax system, seeing reform as "a critically important step toward ensuring that Alabama's children, especially children from low-income families, enjoy an opportunity to build a positive future."

Those "moral principles" came into sharp focus in three news stories this summer. The first related directly to Alabama and its Republican governor's proposal to reform the state tax system. The other two showed the same principles on the national scale. One was about the exclusion of 7 million low-income working families--and their 12 million children--from the child tax credit that other families are receiving. The other was the latest IRS annual report, showing huge increases in the wealth of America's 400 richest taxpayers.

Click here for the rest.

And from the AP via the Houston Chronicle, a story that shows how the failed conservative policies of the Bush administration, which favor the rich over the poor, are continuing to destroy the economy:

Leading indicators decline as recovery weakens

A closely watched measure of future economic activity fell in July for the second consecutive month, reinforcing evidence that the nation's recovery is slackening.

The Conference Board said Thursday its Composite Index of Leading Economic Indicators dropped by 0.3 percent in July to 116.0, following a revised decline of 0.1 percent in June. Last month was the first time in more than a year that the index had lost ground.

"The latest decline in the Leading Index reflects a loss of forward momentum," said Ken Goldstein, economist for the Conference Board. "There are growing concerns about the high cost of gasoline and milk, as well as worries about where economic growth will come from now that tax refunds have been spent and short-term interest rates are rising."

Click here for the rest.

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TEN THOUSAND HITS FOR REAL ART

Click
here for mood music (a cheesy, but infectious, midi of Led Zeppelin's "Celebration Day").

Look:



That is, 10,000 hits since February 8, 2003. My blog actually started November 7, 2002, but only a very few people knew about it at that point, and I hadn't submitted it to the search engines yet, so February '03 is as good of a start point as any. I guess I'm doing okay; overall, I think I'm averaging around twenty hits or so a day, sometimes more, sometimes less. At this point, I still have no idea how to increase my numbers, but I'm certainly happy for the faithful true believers who regularly visit my site, especially those who like to comment. This little celebration is a thank you, Real Art readers, for your support.

Hooray!



Check out my recently updated links over to the left--I've removed a few that even I don't visit anymore (I mean "Jump the Shark," who cares?), and I've added a few that should have been there earlier, like for some cool Houston theater companies, or for the blog of a new friend,
Mike Switzer. You should also check out the new Blogger toolbar up top. At first, I didn't like or understand it because it was covering my title line and stuck out like a sore thumb, but after some html tweaking and a color change, I've gotten into it's groove: it has a feature that allows you to search this blog, and another feature that links to a random blog. Try that last one out; I've come across some pretty weird stuff.

Yea for Real Art!!!

I'll celebrate again at 25,000.

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Sunday, August 22, 2004

"WHAT WOULD JESUS LEGISLATE?"

First, a little background.

In the first few weeks of Real Art's existence, I posted an essay called "Jesus Was a Capricorn. No, wait, that's not it..." I was trying to show that, if one actually reads the Gospels instead of having them interpreted and read to him piecemeal by a fundamentalist preacher, it's pretty clear that Jesus advocated what we might call today a progressive political philosophy. Of course, I'm biased, but I think I did a pretty good job. After all, Jesus said "love your neighbor," and was compassionate toward the poor and marginalized. This wasn't a really difficult argument to make, and it's been made many times before by many others. However, given my own Southern Baptist upbringing, given my own disgust with the rise of American cutthroat conservatism, I really wanted to speak out, and that's what my blog is all about. "Jesus Was a Capricorn" was a defining moment for Real Art.

To be honest, even though I no longer consider myself to be a Christian, I pretty much do support the teachings of Jesus as I understand them, and I think the world would be a better place if everyone else did, too. It's a shame that so many Christians don't seem to actually read their Bibles.

Flash forward to a couple of weeks ago. My former student, Miles, posted a slightly abridged version of the essay over at his blog, My Left Shoe, under the title "What Would Jesus Legislate?" (You can read the essay on his blog here, or the uncut original version here.) Miles gets a lot of conservative Baytown traffic because he posted a link on his local newspaper's discussion boards, and I've had a bit of fun on his comment boards making inflammatory statements, playing like a liberal Bill O'Reilly. When he posted my essay, I was hoping for some right-wing outrage, but it never showed up. That is, until now.

This was waiting for me in my email inbox when I got home Friday:

I tried to post this in response to your article on My Left Shoe '04 but I was restricted to 1,000 characters. I wish I had known that beforehand. If you would like you can see that it gets posted, but I won't be expecting to see it up there. Since I went to the trouble of writing it, though, I figured I would send it to you.

Ron - I commend you for a well written article. Although I did not agree with your conclusion, I enjoyed reading it. It easy to understand why Christianity draws so much fire. The Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells represent a fraction of the Christian population, but they get the most press and are the most visible since sensationalism gets better ratings.

I realize this is a waste of time since you would "like to hear what lame comeback they have when confronted by their own damned Bible". I guess when you say "It is undeniable: according to Christ, individual wealth is so immoral that it will send a wealthy individual to the eternal torment of Hell." Let's forget the fact that Jesus was pointing out the man's greed and not his material wealth. As you say it is undeniable. And "Jesus seemed to have some sort of problem with the concept of making a profit without actually producing anything". Obviously, according to your story, making a profit is sinful. If we can neglect to study the context of the temple, a history lesson I know you have no interest in reading so I will omit for the sake of brevity, then we can clearly see that Jesus was in fact angry at people doing business, not the people taking advantage of the situation to line their own pockets, i.e. Jim Bakker.

But perhaps instead of debating the bible, pointless since neither side will ever be convinced that the other is right, we can pull one of your own quotes and comment on it.

"But when you think about the concept of ?render unto Caesar,? Jesus clearly shows that he believed that the state has an obligation to levy taxes in order to conduct the people?s business; this concept is mentioned in the same breath that he speaks of humanity?s obligation ?to render unto God.? That is to say, he seems to give equal importance to both ideas. Okay, I know it?s a stretch to call the business of the Roman Empire ?the people?s business,? but they did build damned fine roads."

Obviously Jesus was not against paying taxes. Conservatives aren't as well. Especially when those taxes are used in much the same way as the Roman Empire used their taxes, building roads and for building an army. The latter Jesus never seemed to have problem with but liberals always want to demonize. Armies can be used for evil purposes, but are not in themselves bad.

"Jesus owned nothing. Jesus slept in the homes of friends and followers. Jesus recruited his Apostles from the ranks of the working class. Jesus was loudly critical of his era?s institutions of power. Jesus championed the poor. Jesus healed the sick. Jesus fed the hungry. Jesus was imprisoned and executed because he challenged the powerful elite."

One thing is that to state that Jesus was killed because he challenged the powerful elite is grossly over-simplifying the state of affairs, but maybe gross over-simplification is required. Anyway this quote put with the rest of your article seems to imply that if Jesus were in charge of the government he would take everybody's money through taxes and redistribute it evenly. Although Jesus never marched into Rome to start up the first Communist government. Instead he challenged the individuals to take care of needs as they saw him. Relying on the government to do this for us is to shirk personal responsibility. I personally enjoy being able to help someone else in need when I have the ability. If Christian followed that teaching, including myself in that group because I know could do more, there would be no need for government interference. And I resent the government when they want to take my expendable income because they know how to spend it better than I do. Obviously creating a system which rewards poverty level single mothers for continuing to have more children is how Jesus would set up the world. Isn't that right my liberal brothers?

Chris


Chris went through a lot of trouble to respond to my essay, and it's only fair that he gets a response. So here it is.

Thanks for taking the time to write.

Yes, the haloscan 1,000 character limit thing has annoyed me, too, but you can get around it by breaking up your post into shorter parts. I've even done it, myself, here. I don't have the keys to Miles' blog, but he might post a link to this post if he's so inclined. However, you'll note that I am posting your email on Real Art. Like I said, it's only fair that you get a response.

Please understand that my beef is not with all Christiandom. While not a Christian, myself, I understand how utterly subjective spiritual views can be: every man is entitled to his own understanding of the universe. It's the Christians who I believe aggressively offer a harmful philosophy to the world that I condemn. Indeed, Robertson and Falwell are the poster children for this movement, and sadly, they are the most vocal of those who call themselves Christians--they get the most press because they try to get the most press; Robertson even has his own television network, and Falwell beams himself into numerous homes every week. I wish that those Christians who disagree with their dark view of God would speak more loudly.

Please forgive the comment I made on Miles' comment board about "lame comebacks" and "damned Bibles." As I said above, I was having a little inflammatory fun. In fact, I like the Bible, especially the Gospels, and much of the rest of it, too, but I also must be honest, and condemn the portions that I believe to be immoral, such as the genocidal behavior mandated by God in the Old Testament.

I take issue with your statement "that Jesus was pointing out the man's greed and not his material wealth." Jesus clearly states that the way for the rich man to gain entry into heaven was to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow Him. He doesn't speak about greed; He speaks about possessions. It is clear that greed is an underlying issue here, but to abstract the passage and make it only about greed is quite a stretch. You are interpreting His words to mean something other than what they actually say. Go check your Bible. I'm right about this.

And I didn't say that Jesus believed that profit is sinful: I said that Jesus seemed to believe that making a profit without producing anything is somehow unsavory, but not necessarily sinful--indeed, the Christian church for hundreds of years outlawed usury for exactly that reason. Actually, I am interested in that history lesson about the temple and business. Perhaps there's some angle there that I haven't considered, but for now it sounds like a pretty squirrely argument: it seems to me that Jesus believed that making a profit by skimming off the top doesn't mix well with spirituality, and just for argument's sake, Bakker would fall under the banner of false prophet, not money changer.

Taxes. Of course, conservatives aren't against taxes in concept, but the rhetoric really does belie that. The phrase "tax relief" clearly denotes that taxes are bad; one does not need relief unless one is under duress. C'mon. Conservatives have been blasting taxes for years now, and one rarely hears them say anything even coming close to "render unto Caesar." The reality, as you clearly state, is that conservatives don't want taxes to be spent on what Jesus advocated, that is, compassion toward the poor. For conservatives, taxes are for roads and armies, and that's about it: a society that only wants to build roads and raise armies is a stark society, indeed. A third world society, in fact, and that's exactly where the failed conservative policies of President Bush have us heading. I fear for our children.

I also take issue with your assertion that Jesus said nothing about armies. Jesus said to love your neighbor; he did not say to kill your neighbor. That's about as clear as it gets. Trying to get an approval of war out of that is a pretty wild interpretation. In fact, it's not even an interpretation; it's a straight up misrepresentation. "Love your neighbor as yourself." It's a simple statement. Why do conservatives try to make it mean the opposite?

Finally, it is not a simplification to say that Jesus died because he challenged the powerful elite: the high priests wanted him dead, and Pilate had him killed. I don't even know what you're talking about here. And, to be honest, I have no idea of what sort of government Jesus would advocate, but I'm sure that it would be somehow based on the principles that he espoused, such as compassion, love, and justice. But your brief lecture on "personal responsibility" complete with a condemnation of welfare for single mothers places you squarely in the middle of the audience to whom I originally addressed my essay. That is, conservatives who warp the teachings of Jesus, conservatives who preach the harsh discipline of the marketplace, conservatives who blame the poor for their poverty, conservatives who demand death for criminals. I'm all for "personal responsibility" myself; even Karl Marx believed that we all must work. However, when "personal responsibility" means providing for a family on a Wal-Mart income, with no health insurance, struggling on a month to month basis just to keep from drowning, I'm against it.

And if you really are a Christian, you should be, too.

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Saturday, August 21, 2004

SATURDAY MORNING REAL ART READING

First, a report from Reuters via the Houston Chronicle on, as Peter Jennings used to say, your money:

Iraqi funds can't be found

At least $8.8 billion that was given to Iraqi ministries by the former U.S.-led authority there cannot be accounted for, according to a draft U.S. audit set for release soon.

The audit by the Coalition Provisional Authority's own inspector general blasts the CPA for "not providing adequate stewardship" of at least $8.8 billion from the Development Fund for Iraq.


Click here for the rest.

This is either due to corruption or sheer incompetence. My bet's on corruption.

Keep in mind that this money comes from American tax payers--I think that pretty much speaks for itself.

Next, a report from the AP via the Houston Chronicle on the continuing saga of American hyper-patriotism:

Mexican flag causes a furor

Criticism over a Mexican flag hung in a classroom has led school officials to create a policy that says the display of foreign banners must be temporary and related to what is being taught in class.

Officials at North High School, where the student population is 84 percent Hispanic, said they received complaints over a photograph in the Rocky Mountain News taken Monday, the first day of school.

The photo showed a Mexican flag displayed in a classroom next to a U.S. flag.

Andrew Fox, who teaches English to Spanish-speaking students, said he wanted his Hispanic students to feel more welcome.

Click here for the rest.

I displayed a Mexican flag for years in my classroom at Sterling High School in Baytown for pretty much the same reason that Fox did. Anticipating such criticism, I made sure to place the Mexican flag far away from the US flag, and well beneath it. Fortunately, no one ever hassled me about it, and I think that, on some levels, it really did make Mexican-American kids feel more welcome in my class. It's a damned shame that the weird patriots in Colorado have essentially taken away Fox's ability to make a gesture of inclusion toward an entire ethnicity.

Next, from WorkingForChange, another entry in the never-ending "Wal-Mart Sucks" series:

Public pays the costs of Wal-Mart's low prices

According to a report issued by the University of California Labor Center, the reliance by Wal-Mart workers on public assistance programs in our state costs taxpayers an estimated $86 million annually. In other words, the same poor schmucks who toil to fund public assistance for individuals are indirectly providing the same courtesy to Wal-Mart.

Moreover, the study further estimates if other large retailers adopted Wal-Mart's wage and benefits standards, it would cost taxpayers an additional $410 million a year in public assistance. At this rate, Wal-Mart workers' utilization of public assistance nationally could cost the American taxpayer as much as $2 billion per year.

In addition, the Labor Center study suggests there is strong evidence that the jobs created by Wal-Mart tend to replace higher paying jobs, as existing retailers are forced to scale back or go out of business.


Click here for the rest.

I've been talking a lot recently about how neo-liberal economic philosophy is essentially bullshit propaganda, justifying conservative attitudes about stealing from the poor and giving to the rich. The ultra-successful Wal-Mart, with it's aggressive capitalization on both the rollback of longstanding labor protections and the federal government's unwillingness to enforce existing labor law, is arguably the most visible example of the ravages of neo-liberalism. When companies don't pay enough, somebody, somewhere, picks up the tab. In Wal-Mart's case it's both their employees and the American tax payer. Truly, Wal-Mart sucks.

And, again from WorkingForChange, a report on the numerous scandals involving both the White House and other highly placed Republicans:

Investigations are still brewing

* Who Outed CIA Agent Valerie Plume?
* Who in Halliburton Approved Bribing a Nigerian Official?
* Did Cheney approve Illegal Halliburton Operation in Iran?
* Was Representative Nick Smith Offered a Bribe?
* How Did Iran learn that the U.S. broke its Secret Code?

Click here for the rest.

There's a lot of serious chicanery going on with the Republicans these days, and much of it makes Watergate seem quaint in comparison. The fact that these scandals aren't headline news every damned day is testimony to the utter failure of the corporate news media to do it's job, which is no surprise, because they are the corporate news media, after all.

And Finally from CNN courtesy of Corrente, a report on...well, this is pretty amazing; just read the excerpt:

Kennedy has company on airline watch list

A second prominent lawmaker said Friday that he's been subjected to extra security at airports because his name appears on a list designed to prevent terrorists from boarding planes.

Rep. John Lewis, D - Georgia, a nine-term congressman famous for his civil rights work with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., has been stopped 35 to 40 times over the past year, his office said.

Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on border security Thursday that he's been stopped several times because his name appeared on an airline watch list.

Click here for the rest.

I think it's pretty obvious that Lewis and Kennedy, two Democrats who have been around forever, are not terrorists. This is harassment, plain and simple. Who says that the Bush administration isn't politicizing the war on terror? Hell, this isn't even politicizing; this is a rank abuse of presidential power, and probably needs to be placed in the scandal article, above. Outrageous.

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