This is an attempt at starting a dialogue, one started by Proximity1, about the fabric of what our human existence entails at present, and what it should strive to be.
Sometimes the universe is best examined through a microcosm. I am completely unconvinced that the way I will attempt this will be in any way better than the framing I vehemently objected to, but it will be my own attempt at a beginning. A stepping stone.
I am going to start small. I was 6 years old when my 18 year old sister was killed in a car accident. I remember how devastated my Mother was to lose her first born, and wishing it had been me instead. Not being morose at all, my 6 year old logic told me that it would be easier on my Mom, because she had not had as much time to get attached to me. Ok, leave that thought in the back of your mind and lets move forward.
We are genetically programmed, as a survival of the species instinct to protect our progeny. Procreation and care giving for those offspring is necessary to keep the species alive. Many religious types use this primal instinct in order to value fetuses over mothers.
At 8, I had such a fit, crying and arguing in a religion class, they called the Dreaded Parish Priest to talk to me. I looked him in the eye, and said "If a little girl is born a Buddhist, obeys her parents, prays and is good and never even heard of Jesus, you are telling me she can never go to heaven and see God? When its not her fault where she was born? If God's that mean, I don't want any part of him!!!" To his credit, this old staunch Polish priest softened, hugged me, and said "Truth be told, we just don't know, dear. I hope God thinks more like you."
I remember too, reading about Viet Nam, watching on TV when people became crazed about the killing of children in those villages, and thinking it odd. At 10-12, I heard "There were innocent children killed!" and saw the fuzzy images on our black and white Zenith of a village destroyed.
I wondered why the Moms and Dads weren't an atrocity too. Did humans devalue with age, because living took away their innocence? I got that kids didn't really have a choice in the making of a war, but I also already figured out that regular people didn't either. For most of my short life people were protesting Viet Nam, none of us wanted to be there, and there we still were. I already was cynical about people in power and government.
By 15, there was a rash of OD's by heroine in Detroit, and the slanted news seemed to use it more to scare the white people to stay out of Detroit rather than really care about the dying Black people. "Crazed addicts in the streets." they said, carefully omitting the word black, while showing pictures of young dead black people.
The school system was still making a half-hearted attempt to justify dropping the bombs in Japan, although somewhat admitting it was an atrocity. I argued with my asshat history teacher about that one. "Had we not made a strong crippling move to stop them, you would be speaking Japanese young lady, or German!" he screamed in my face. "So killing of innocents is wrong when our enemies do it but justified when we do it?" I countered.
My only "C" in my straight "A" High School career. I contested it to the Principal, having all my tests in hand, and got it changed to a "B". Having an opinion was not reason enough to have my permanent record fucked up for life, I thought. I also wanted them aware that this teacher was making value judgments about other nations, and then forcing them on us.
Back to my 6 year old self. I valued myself less then for being younger, as having less experience and attachments, yet found society valued young over old, white over black and "us" over "them."
By the time I was in my teens, I decided the whole set up was wrong.
By the time I was in my 20's, a study of many cultures, Native American in particular confirmed to me, that we are all related. Mitakye Oyasin.
Humanity needed to see that innocence was not the measure of worth. "Potential" is not the measure of worth. Conformity is not the measure of worth. The nation you are by chance born into is not the measure of worth. Race is not the measure of worth. Religion is mot the measure of worth. Wealth is not the measure of worth. Age is not the measure of worth.
I have been screaming this from rooftops all my life.
I wonder why no one else seems to really get what is obvious to me, has always been obvious to me.
The quips exist saying some get it. "War is late term abortion." No doubt, many value a fetus over a 20 year old man. No doubt many do not value illegal immigrants as much as a white suburbanite. Check the headlines when a white girl is kidnapped.
Some object when I anger over any abuse, tasering and such, when far more heinous things are happening.
The thing is, I don't value Iraqi suffering more than American, more than any other suffering.
All human suffering happens to me. No, I don't suffer their actual pain, but in my heart, they are all my own. They are all wrong. They are all acts of devaluation.
Still, it is hard to quell that flinch factor I as a mother get when I see a child abused. But I cannot see where any human dying should be "prioritized" by age. It doesn't add up for me.
This is one microcosmic snapshot of what humans should be thinking about in order to reach a more enlightened state. But I think it is truly the basis of all other leaps.
Why is any human life more valuable than any other?
How can we possibly become the types of beings that value each others' very lives equally?
Do we need to "lose" our self-identifying factors to find this, or is there any way to learn to value diversity and embrace it as equal without that loss?
Do we need to become homogenous, or can we still enjoy Mexican Food, French wines, Kielbasa, Fry Bread and Baklava while embracing the people not just the culture from whence they came?
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There is a war over Christmas. More accurately, there is a war over the place of religion in American life, and Christmas is a skirmish of that war. And if you believe in the separation of church and state, you won't be surprised to find that you're losing.
If you listen to the media, it was forty-seven years ago that John Kennedy gave a speech to reassure majority Protestants about his Catholic faith. That's completely untrue. Kennedy never made such a speech.
Instead, John Kennedy stepped in front of a suspicious, openly hostile audience of protestant religious leaders and delivered a speech in which he adamantly maintained that faith of any sort should not be in an issue. His speech was not an apology for being Catholic. It was a bold demand to hold fast to an "absolute separation of church and state."
In his speech Kennedy insists that he believes in an American in which "no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference." At no point does Kennedy coddle his audience by suggesting that he will allow a crack in the wall. Instead, he challenges them to put up or shut up.
And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test — even by indirection — for it. If they disagree with that safeguard, they should be out openly working to repeal it
Near the end of the speech, Kennedy makes a stirring call the removal of religious divisions in all facets of American life, for equality between those who believe and those who don't, and for church leaders to steer clear of tarring candidates over religious matters.
Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end; where all men and all churches are treated as equal; where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice; where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind; and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.
Kennedy's steadfast appeal to the Constitution drew a lot of grumbling from the men in that room -- some of whom surely came to see him prostate himself before their demands – and it also drew a prolonged standing ovation. Here was a man, and a party, not afraid to demand a separation of church and state so clear that it would cause any number of Fox News pundits to explode.
So what happened?
The right would have you believe that religion has been forced from the public square, citing -- usually in error -- cases of nativity scenes shuffled from court house lawns and greeting cards that dare to not have a glittery "Merry Christmas" across the front. By selectively defining the public square as some small town green and a vaguely located Wal-mart, conservatives sell the idea that religious matters are somehow under assault. That makes about as much sense as predicting the extinction of cows from their absence on Boston Commons.
The public square is the media. The public square is the debates. The public square is campaign literature, late night talk shows, daytime talk shows, Sunday talk shows. It's call in radio shows and even Bill O'Rielly. is the public square. So is every other blog. And the public square is awash in the discussion of religion. There is absolutely, definitively, more discussion of religion now than at any other time in the history of our nation.
In discussing the growing influence of religion in politics, many media pundits have been quick to point toward Jimmy Carter. Carter, an obscure candidate trying to reach a broader and younger audience, agreed to a famous interview with Playboy Magazine, a portion of which revolved around his faith. If it had been a cycle or two later, he might have been angling for a chance to guest host Saturday Night Live, or these days face off with Stephen Colbert. The difference is that rather than being pampered through a few minutes of laughs on television, Carter sat down and talked for five hours, during which he answered hundreds of questions.
Of course, only one of those answers is remembered, the one in which Carter confessed that he had "lusted in his heart" after women other than his wife. It's probably the most famous answer in the history of presidential interviews. But do you remember the question?
The question Carter was answering was not whether he'd been tempted to engage in the kind of activities imagined on Playboy's pages. The question was whether, as a professed evangelical Christian, Carter felt that he was better than anyone else. Carter's response was an adamant . The media sifted his lengthy answer for that "lusted in my heart" moment because they thought it both titillating and funny. Carter's complete answer was a lot more candid and earthy.
Christ says, don't consider yourself better than someone else because one guy screws a whole bunch of women while the other guy is loyal to his wife. The guy who's loyal to his wife ought not to be condescending or proud because of the relative degree of sinfulness.
And now you know why Carter's Sunday School class is so popular.
The interview also makes clear that Carter was just as adamant as John Kennedy in placing an absolute barrier between church and state. He cites Jesus' admonition to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's" as clear instruction that Christians should not insert their faith into political matters, saying that he considered the separation of church and state to be both a constitutional and a biblical mandate.
The current sad state of affairs can't be blamed on Jimmy Carter.
The fault lies in the same calculated cowardice that has dominated Democratic politics post-Carter, and especially in the last six years. John Kennedy went to stand before his opponents and refused to tell them what they wanted to hear, but since September 2001, Democrats have increasingly scrambled to find acceptance, even if that meant reversing themselves so quickly they tripped on their own tongues.
We've reached the sorry state where the Republican Party officially and vocally support everything that John Kennedy stood up against in his 1960 speech. The Democratic Party has adopted a strategy on this and many other issues, in which they either stand aside or lend half-hearted support to Republicans. They do this in the hopes that when Republicans push too far, Democrats can pick up the pieces without having offended anyone. That's the strategy of hyenas. The strategy of vultures.
It's a strategy that wins elections by not losing. But it's also a strategy that advances rarely any cause. After all, when the lions have had their fill, the vultures settle to eat, but the vultures never capture territory from the lions.
In between their efforts to bestow sainthood on bumbling liar, Ronald Reagan, Republicans have recently been trying to remove all evidence of Kennedy's progressive positions so they can claim him as their own. And maybe they deserve him. If George W. Bush can brush the Constitution aside to create his "faith-based initiative," and see it pass the Senate 95-5, how can there be any pretense that the party of John Kennedy still exists? It's worth noting that, previous to the 2002 election, Democrats blocked the passage of this bill in the Senate (even though it had passed the House with the help of 15 Democratic congressmen). If if you're looking for the moment when Democrats officially surrendered the idea of separation between church and state, 2002 is as good a date as any. Sent fluttering by their losses that November, the vultures settled down beside the lions to gnaw away the Constitution.
Forgotten in all this are the issues that Kennedy wanted to address in that long ago speech. The issues that Kennedy called the "real issues" of the campaign. Issues like poverty.
the hungry children I saw in West Virginia
the old people who cannot pay their doctor bills
Inequality and education.
an America with too many slums, with too few schools
And the loss of respect the nation was suffering in international affairs.
the humiliating treatment of our president and vice president by those who no longer respect our power
Any and all of those issues might have been the centerpiece of a Democratic speech today, because those issues remain unsolved. And oddly enough, many of these issues were also on the mind of the man who two thousand years ago stood up in his family church and announced that "I come bringing good news for the poor."
When you're too busy trying not to lose, you may win elections now and then, but you rarely advance those causes you're supposed to care about. We've reached the point where Republican voters can claim the philosophy of absolute greed.
"I make a great deal of money through my own hard work. I don't want to pay for someone else's child to eat breakfast at school anymore."
Get that? She makes not just enough money, but a "great deal of money." How dare anyone take it away for something so frivolous as feeding a poor child? And yet Republicans, through their actions in blurring the lines between church and state, have become the "party of faith." Because they say so. Because they are bold in their actions and snarling in their defense.
We need to be just as adamant. We need to not hide behind any abstraction or evasion. We need to be unafraid to address this voter and say "I am going to take some of your money, and give it to that poor kid, because it's more important -- both to the child and to society -- that he eat, rather than that you have an extra week in Cabo."
Note that we should not pretend that "a program will take your money." Or "the government will take your money." This is a democracy, and we the government. I will take your money. I will. Some of that money you worked hard for and want to keep. I will give it to a kid who is hungry. If your concern is that poverty should be addressed by individuals, then there's a simple solution: feed him. If there are no poor children needing food, I won't have to take anything for them. If your position is that people would be more generous if only the government would stay out of it, then sorry. I'm not willing to put this child at risk to as part of your experiment. Besides, if that were true, then why were their more hungry kids before we started these programs to give them a little breakfast? If your position is that your being able to keep all your money is more important than a child being fed, then I simply think you're wrong. And sick. You want to keep that money? You better beat me at the polls.
The strategy of vultures gives us both a party and a nation that would embarrass John Kennedy. The erosion of that barrier between the interest of the state and that of the church gives us a church that Jesus would not recognize. As an American and a Christian, I find both results terrifying.
Those ministers in 1960 might have hated what Kennedy had to say, but they applauded him for having the courage to say it. What candidate today will have the guts to step forward, in the face of a conservative onslaught, and take the steps needed to redeem both state and church?
Today in the Fox News Sunday roundtable, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol claimed that the reason Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in mid-2003 was because of the U.S. invasion of Iraq:
I believe we invaded a neighboring country in 2003 and removed their dictator and that sent shock waves through the region and at the time people were quite worried. Qaddafi gave up his program, he dismantled his. We took it out. Iran didn’t dismantle anything. That’s why they remain a threat. They halted it, maybe they’ve restarted it, maybe not. This is yet another feather in the cap for the invasion of Iraq.
NPR’s Juan Williams responded by calling Kristol the “iron glove,” asking, “So you want us to start invading everybody everywhere? That’ll stop all nuclear proliferation?” Kristol replied that if it works, it’s “a pretty good thing.” Watch it:
Libya did not give up its nuclear weapons program in 2003 because of the Iraq war. As Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Joseph Cirincione noted, negotiations with Libya stretched “over three administrations,” resulting in a deal that “cost little, caused no deaths, and was 100 percent effective.” At the time, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair called the news a “victory for diplomacy.”
Kristol has no proof for his claims. The unclassified key judgments of the NIE never once mention the Iraq invasion. If anything, Iran has been empowered by the Iraq war. As the LA Times noted in 2006:
In the 1980s, Iran spent eight years and thousands of lives waging a war to overthrow Hussein, whose regime buffered the Sunni Muslim-dominated Arab world from Iran. … Now Iraq’s fledgling democracy has placed power in the hands of the nation’s Shiite majority and its Kurdish allies, many of whom lived as exiles in Iran and maintain strong religious, cultural and linguistic ties to it.
Kristol’s remarks mirror those of former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who also said on Thursday that Iraq was the reason Iran gave up its program. “What big thing happened in 2003?” he asked. “We deposed Saddam Hussein. America showed massive military force in the country right next to Iran called Iraq.”
And even if you weren’t already, perhaps you might. If so, the General has a worthwhile suggestion for you. To me, this kind of thing is what this time of year is all about.
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The Washington Post has a disturbing revelation:
In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.
Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.
Who were they? [More...]
The lawmakers who held oversight roles during the period included Pelosi and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), as well as Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan).
Porter Goss says,
"Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing....And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement."
An Administration official says:
The attitude was, 'We don't care what you do to those guys as long as you get the information you need to protect the American people.' "
As to how these four were chosen,
U.S. law requires the CIA to inform Congress of covert activities and allows the briefings to be limited in certain highly sensitive cases to a "Gang of Eight," including the four top congressional leaders of both parties as well as the four senior intelligence committee members. In this case, most briefings about detainee programs were limited to the "Gang of Four," the top Republican and Democrat on the two committees. A few staff members were permitted to attend some of the briefings.
It wasn't until 2006 that the CIA briefed the full House and Senate Intelligence Committees on the enhanced interrogation program.
The CIA has now admitted using waterboarding on three detainees held in overseas prisons. The Post says one remains unidentifed and the other two are Khalid Sheik Mohammad and Zayn Abidin Muhammed Hussein Abu Zubaida. According to the New York Times yesterday, Abu Zubaydah is the third. (More analysis here.)
WaPo quotes Bob Graham as saying they were unaware of the use of waterboarding. As to Pelosi, who wouldn't comment directly,
[A] source said Pelosi recalls that techniques described by the CIA were still in the planning stage -- they had been designed and cleared with agency lawyers but not yet put in practice -- and acknowledged that Pelosi did not raise objections at the time.
Jane Harman says she did protest.
Harman, who replaced Pelosi as the committee's top Democrat in January 2003, disclosed Friday that she filed a classified letter to the CIA in February of that year as an official protest about the interrogation program. Harman said she had been prevented from publicly discussing the letter or the CIA's program because of strict rules of secrecy.
"When you serve on intelligence committee you sign a second oath -- one of secrecy," she said. "I was briefed, but the information was closely held to just the Gang of Four. I was not free to disclose anything."
A new McClatchy-MSNBC poll finds that “Democrats and Republicans in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have dramatically different views of the nation’s priorities.” While “national security or terrorism” ranks at the top of the list for Republicans, it ranks near the bottom for Democrats. On the other hand, Iraq and economy rank near the top for Democrats, while Republicans rank them much lower on their list of priorities.
If you’re not familiar with Frank Caliendo, he is a masterful impressionist (think Rich Little, not Claude Monet) who is perhaps best known for his impersonation of sports analyst John Madden. Caliendo also does one of the best George Bush impressions around, as you can see for yourself in the following video clip:
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In the WaPo article referred to throughout the blogosphere, Glenn Greenwald’s summary defines[...]
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Two are dead in Colorado after a pair of incidents only three days after Nebraska shootings horrified the nation. ABC reports:
A gunman killed two people at a training center dormitory for young Christian missionaries early Sunday after being told he couldn't spend the night, and hours later four people were shot outside a church in Colorado Springs.So this nutter (or possibly two nutters) is still walking around. I've friends in Denver and I hope they're staying inside tonight.
It was not immediately known whether the shootings, about 65 miles apart, were related. No arrests had been made in either attack by afternoon.
The conditions of the four people shot Sunday afternoon in Colorado Springs, in the parking lot of the New Life Church, was not immediately known, El Paso County Sheriff's Lt. Lari Sevene said.
The first shooting happened at about 12:30 a.m. at the Youth With a Mission center in Arvada, a Denver suburb, police spokeswoman Susan Medina said.
A man and a woman were killed and two men were wounded, Medina said. All four were staff members with the center, said Paul Filidis, a Colorado Springs-based spokesman with Youth With a Mission.
The gunman came to the door of the Arvada dormitory seeking shelter, asking if he could spend the night, said Peter Warren, director of Youth With a Mission Denver.
When told he couldn't stay, the man walked inside, opened fire, then left on foot, Warren said.
Warren said he didn't know if any of the students or staff knew the gunman. "We don't know why" he came to the dormitory, Warren said.
Witnesses told police that the gunman was a 20-year-old white male, wearing a dark jacket and skull cap, who left on foot. He may have glasses or a beard.
Ramona Cunningham's job was to help unemployed Iowans. Instead, she and other executives of the Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium (CIETC) are charged with stealing millions of taxpayer dollars targeted toward the effort. That may seem an egregious crime. But really, who better to teach wayward job seekers how to seize opportunity when it comes?
Cunningham was the chief executive officer at CIETC, a non-profit that used to be the primary state-funded job training organization in central Iowa. During its heyday, it ran on millions in federal, state, and local grants. But a state audit in the spring of 2006 revealed that between $1.3 and $1.8 million in taxpayer funds designated to train unemployed Central Iowans were instead used to inflate the salaries and bonuses of the three top CIETC executives. Cunningham's salary during the 30 months that public money was being pilfered was $795,384, three times that of Iowa's governor. Four CIETC officials were indicted and two have pleaded guilty.
Besides dipping into public funds, Cunningham went on trips to casinos across the state with favored CIETC employees who drank and gambled during business hours, time they claimed to be working. CIETC workers also skipped all or part of out-of-town training conferences to gamble in Las Vegas, Reno, St. Louis and Kansas City. All of those activities took place during times when government paperwork showed that the employees were working. One employee, who prosecutors characterized as Cunningham?s favorite, made more than 100 workday gambling trips between 2003 and early 2006 (if his co-workers who testified are to be believed). Victor Scaglione said he felt that the trips were kosher because he felt compelled by Cunningham to participate (and don't good employees always listen to management?). He will serve 16 months in a halfway house and home confinement for lying to the grand jury during its investigation of the misused funds.