Saturday, April 30, 2005

The oh so biased news

I'm offering you an article this morning that I frankly acknowledge is depressing. But I encourage you to read it anyway. In his article entitled "The psycho 'prime-time' news conference", Mike Whitney writes about the selectivity of the mainstream press in deciding what to report:

Thursday night's press conference gave us with a solid example of how elite interests dominate the news cycle.

Consider this; at the same time Bush was braying about fixing the Social Security system, the violence in Iraq was reaching a crescendo (13 bombs went off in Baghdad on Friday killing 50 civilians and 3 American servicemen), the convicted fraudster, Ahmad Chalabi, was assuming his new role in the Iraqi cabinet as oil minister in the new Iraqi government, and the journal "Science" was releasing a report confirming that "Climate scientists have found the heat exchange between earth and space is seriously out of balance -validating forecasts of global warming". (Adding that if carbon dioxide levels continue to grow things could "spin out of control")

None of these topics found their way into the presidential press conference. Instead, Bush was given an open platform on prime-time TV to assail the most successful government program ever initiated, which, by conservative estimates, will be solvent until 2051.

Does this sound a bit one-sided?

Here's what really troubles me:

In virtually every area, Iraq, energy, Social Security, the economy, foreign policy etc., Bush's numbers are on the downhill slide. Never the less, the "Big Brother" strategy of keeping him in the spotlight, championing the elitist agenda hasn't changed a bit. The palpable arrogance of the Washington cabal is so extreme that Bush's popularity could dither in the single-digit range and he'd still be featured prominantly on the daily news. He's simply "their guy" and all the bullhorns are in their stable.

Of course you know what I think. I think the press needs to hold the reality of global climate change before our faces until we get it. If a threat to the very survival of the human race isn't more important than giving a spoiled frat boy the constant attention he craves, then I don't know what is.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Health care and ideology

Paul Krugman of the New York Times has written an article on health care that is definitely worth reading. It is entitled, "A Private Obsession" and begins this way:

American health care is unique among advanced countries in its heavy reliance on the private sector. It's also uniquely inefficient. We spend far more per person on health care than any other country, yet many Americans lack health insurance and don't receive essential care.

This week yet another report emphasized just how bad a job the American system does at providing basic health care. A study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation estimates that 20 million working Americans are uninsured; in Texas, which has the worst record, more than 30 percent of the adults under 65 have no insurance.

And lack of insurance leads to inadequate medical attention. Over a 12-month period, 41 percent of the uninsured were unable to see a doctor when needed because of cost; 56 percent had no personal doctor or health care provider.

Our system is desperately in need of reform. Yet it will be very hard to get useful reform, for two reasons: vested interests and ideology.

I'll have a lot more to say about vested interests and health care in future columns, but let me emphasize one key point: a lot of big companies are essentially in the business of wasting health care resources.

Bush's answer to this is, needless to say, private accounts. But no one, except the extremely rich, can save up enough money to pay for catastrophic medical expenses. The only practical, not to mention moral, way to handle this is for the whole population to share the risk. Sadly, the conservatives just don't believe in it. They'd rather see people suffer and die for lack of medical care.

Friday Cat Blogging!

Here's Henry with attitude!
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Photo by Cynthia Burgess

A scientist with conscience

I'm sorry to say I had not heard of Philip Morrison until I read a Boston Globe article following his death entitled, "Last of the Outspoken Scientists". He was a pioneer in atomic weapons who then spoke out against their use. Jennet Conant writes:

He belonged to a generation of outspoken citizen scientists who came of age before the nuclear transformation of warfare, the repressive politics of the Cold War, and the reliance of university research laboratories on military funding. The chastening example of Los Alamos's controversial director, J. Robert Oppenheimer -- who was investigated by the FBI for more than a decade before his opposition to the hydrogen bomb led to a humiliating hearing and his security clearance being revoked -- has stood for five decades as a lesson to scientists to keep their heads down and their mouths shut. Today it would be regarded as foolhardy for any ambitious young physicist to be an outspoken critic of US nuclear policy. Not surprisingly, few dissenting voices are heard.
Morrison's death, along with that of the other Los Alamos veterans, leaves not only a void but a troubling silence. Scientists have become a quiet, docile lot, and it has been left to the Los Alamos dragons like Morrison to have the temerity to say again and again what they first warned of as far back as August 1945.
Morrison remained convinced that the idealistic goal of Oppenheimer and Niels Bohr was still the only viable course of action: a comprehensive international control pact for nuclear weapons. He was not naive about the diplomatic challenges involved in achieving such an agreement, and he resolutely continued to fight an against-the-tide battle for disarmament. ''The task is not simple," he wrote, ''but was any international goal more important than securing the future against nuclear war?"

I am troubled by what seems to be the death of conscience among those who have power and influence in our world.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Torture, USA

Bob Herbert of the New York Times has written an article entitled, "On Abu Ghraib, the Big Shots Walk". I share his concern about the fact that those high in command are largely not being held accountable for the abuses at Abu Ghraib:

When soldiers in war are not properly trained and supervised, atrocities are all but inevitable. This is one reason why the military command structure is so important. There was a time, not so long ago, when commanders were expected to be accountable for the behavior of their subordinates.

That's changed. Under Commander in Chief George W. Bush, the notion of command accountability has been discarded. In Mr. Bush's world of war, it's the grunts who take the heat. Punishment is reserved for the people at the bottom. The people who foul up at the top are promoted.


We learned last week that after a high-level investigation, the Army had cleared four of the five top officers who were responsible for prison policies and operations in Iraq. The fifth officer, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski of the Army Reserve, had already been relieved of her command of the military police unit at Abu Ghraib. (She has complained, and not without reason, that she was a scapegoat for the failures of higher-ranking officers.)


This is the way atrocities are dealt with in Mr. Bush's world of war. The higher-ups responsible for training, supervising and disciplining the troops - in other words, the big shots who presided over a system that ran shamefully amok - escaped virtually unscathed.

Herbert then quotes Michael Posner who makes an important point:

"In our contemporary world, torture is like the slave trade or piracy was to people in the 1790's," said Michael Posner, executive director of Human Rights First, which is suing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over the prisoner abuse issue. "Torture is a crime against mankind, against humanity. It's something that has to be absolutely prohibited."

I hope Posner's lawsuit is publicized. It will be truly critical for our national conscience to see how the issue plays out in court. But I'm not optimistic.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

About the filibuster

It's really annoying when Republicans change terminology that they coined in the first place and then accuse the press of liberal bias when the original language is used. This was famously the case when Bush decided to change the term "private account" to "personal account" because the latter expression played better in the polls. Now they're doing the same thing with the term "nuclear option" as a reference to eliminating the filibuster. The polls show that people react negatively to the word, "nuclear" so the new politically correct expression is "constitutional option". Molly Ivins is having none of it as she explains in her article entitled, "Christian right goes nuclear":

...I have to say this is a distinctly Orwellian development.

In fact, given the implicit threat that the Republican Party faithful will be encouraged to denounce all news outlets that do not conform to this new political correctness, I'd say it is not only ridiculous but also dangerous, quite a feat.

I shall, of course, continue to refer to the proposed change as the nuclear option out of a sense of obligation to freedom of speech. I would be shocked if anyone in the media did otherwise.

She goes on to discuss the issue:

Look, this is a system of government based on protecting the rights of the minority. It is also based on the premise that there are three separate branches of government, each of which forms a check and a balance on the others. It was carefully designed to prevent the dictatorship of the majority.

That is why the Founders assigned the Senate, not the House, to advise and consent on federal nominations. Sen. Robert Byrd, the resident scholar of all things senatorial, notes that while Rule 22 is only 86 years old, the tactic itself has been used since the first Congress. (Hearing Byrd hold forth on such matters is pure pleasure -- whether you agree with him or not, he is a magnificent speaker of the old school and a sad reminder how debased most political speech is today.)

How God got involved in all this is a bit of a mystery. Some Christian Dominionists decided the Almighty is in favor of changing Rule 22. Led by James Dobson, who runs Focus on the Family, they decided 22 is "a filibuster against the faithful," implying and in some cases stating that anyone who opposes them is anti-Christian and probably working for Satan.

God has become the reliable trump card. Or Satan. Sometimes it's hard to discern which the so-called Christian right values most.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


Have you ever wondered what we could do with the money we're spending on the war in Iraq? Robert Scheer gives us a hint in his article, "Fiddling While Crucial Programs Starve" and subtitled, "Has the U.S. become like ancient Rome, in love with costly conquest?" Here's an excerpt:

The emergency funding that the Senate passed 99 to 0 last week gives the military roughly $80 billion and pays for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan only through September. That is twice what President Bush insists he needs to cut from the federal support for Medicaid over the next decade.

Already the red state of Missouri is set to end its Medicaid program entirely within the next three years because of a lack of funds. As the Los Angeles Times reported, that will save the state $5 billion, but at the cost of ending healthcare for the more than 1 million Missourians enrolled in the program. That sum is less than half of what Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney's old company, alone has been paid for reconstruction efforts in Iraq, without much to show for it in terms of improving the Iraqis' quality of life.

Similarly, with roughly 10% of what we've spent in Iraq, we could make up the $27-billion federal funding shortfall in paying for Bush's controversial No Child Left Behind Act, which tells public schools that they will be all but scrapped if they don't improve — yet it doesn't provide the means to do so. This number comes from a lawsuit filed by school districts in Texas, Michigan and Vermont and the National Education Assn., the nation's largest teachers organization.

Sadly, these domestic failures provide a far greater long-term threat to our nation's security than the hyped-up claims surrounding our foreign adventures.

Just remember that Paul Wolfowitz told Congress before the war that Iraq would be able to finance its own reconstruction. Also that our troops would be welcomed with flowers.

Definition of fascism

The 1983 American Heritage Dictionary definition of fascism:

A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Our American Taliban

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies, The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

--- C.S. Lewis

One Man's Lone Stand

Stewart Nusbaumer has written an article entitled, "One Man's Lone Stand" and subtitled, "There is a man in Albuquerque who stands every day for a better America." It's about a man who stands by the road every day holding a sign that read (at the time of writing the article) "1,737 - How Many's Too Many?" Another sign is taped to a light pole that says, "Honk for peace." Do click through to see the picture.

Can you believe that someone stopped and asked him what the number meant? Can you imagine anybody in America driving by that sign and not knowing it refers to the number of American military deaths? Nusbaumer writes:

Jess Unrein, tall and trim with only a few grey hairs visible in the bright sun, began his one-man protest against the war on 9/11 last year. "It needs to be done. The media is not going to do it for us."

His speech is deliberate and serious, Jess is not a man that takes his thoughts actions lightly. I agree with him that the media will not cover the war in a way that would educate people.

In fact, I have been in a serious way lately, with the media engaging in its shameless orgy over the dead Pope, now a new Pope, while ignoring that our world is quickly going to crap. I understand the media focuses on the really important in life, such as Clinton's Zippergate, and if the world was really important, it would have a zillion investigative hounds relentlessly inspecting every spot of suspicion in the world. And our elected representatives would be screaming for more committees of inquiries and would probably impeach the world. But the world going to crap has no tiny white droppings, only huge rivers of red blood.

One of the few political buttons that I actually bought says, Nobody Died When Clinton Lied! I wish I could say so much in so few words.

I really can't fault him for lapsing into sarcasm there. Because the press has really let us down. The way I see it, we have an obligation to inform ourselves. If the mainstream news media is going to emphasize celebrities and the sensational then our job is to search out those sources that will keep us informed on what really matters.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The new Pope and science

In a speech delivered in Parma, Italy, March 15, 1990 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger stated:

At the time of Galileo the Church remained much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself. The process against Galileo was reasonable and just.

No comment.

Eloquent ---- or not

It's a short article. It's by David Rossie and is entitled, "Presidential rhetoric, then and now". What it does is contrast words of Abraham Lincoln with those of Geoge W. Bush on more or less the same subject. Okay. Maybe it's not fair. I mean, one can always pick noble words of Lincoln and pair them with particularly clumsy words of Bush. Still, the contrast is very telling. Here are a couple of samples:

"As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy." A. Lincoln, 1858.

"I had the opportunity to go out to Goree Island and talk about what slavery meant to America. It's very interesting when you think about it. The slaves who left here to go to America, because of their steadfast and their religion and their belief in freedom, helped change America." G.W. Bush. July 8, 2003.
"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise to the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country." A. Lincoln, second annual message to Congress.

"I wanna remind you all that I -- in order -- what in order to fight and win the war it requires a expenditure of money that is commiserate with keeping a promise to our troops to make sure that they're well-paid, well-trained, well-equipped." G.W. Bush, Dec. 15, 2003.

Their steadfast??? Commiserate??? Good grief.

Click through and read the whole article. Or not. Because it's pretty disgusting.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Think about it

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William Fulbright quote

The age of warrior kings and of warrior presidents has passed. The nuclear age calls for a different kind of leadership ... a leadership of intellect, judgment, tolerance and rationality, a leadership committed to human values, to world peace, and to the improvement of the human condition. The attributes upon which we must draw are the human attributes of compassion and common sense, of intellect and creative imagination, and of empathy and understanding between cultures.

FDR Anniversary

I found this on All Hat No Cattle:

Last week -- April 12, to be exact -- was the 60th anniversary of the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt…

That more wasn't made of this anniversary is not just a matter of time; it's a measure of the distance the U.S. has traveled from the egalitarian ideals championed by F.D.R. His goal was "to make a country in which no one is left out." That kind of thinking has long since been consigned to the political dumpster. We're now in the age of Bush, Cheney and DeLay, small men committed to the concentration of big bucks in the hands of the fortunate few…


I offer you this paragraph from a comment on Smirking Chimp:

I saw a "Courage - Pass It On" billboard recently, featuring Winston Churchill flashing a "V" for Victory sign, along with the caption, "Never, never, never give up!" I'm no student of history, and I know Churchill had his many faults, but I found his words, in their intense simplicity, to be most inspiring.

I find them to be inspiring too.

Big Brother

Margaret Kimberly has written an article entitled, "Fascism: Are we there yet?" She writes of the proposed requirement for US citizens to show their passports upon return from Mexico, Canada, Panama and Bermuda. Currently passports are not necessary for travel to and from these countries. She continues:

Not only will Americans require passports to travel everywhere, but beginning in 2007 our passports will have Radio Frequency Identity (RFID) chips embedded inside them. Any RFID reader, not just those used by customs officials, can be used to find all the information contained on a passport. That means our personal information is not secure from identity thieves, kidnappers, terrorists, or nosy individuals. Why would an administration that claims to make us more secure actually make us less so? "Unfortunately, there is only one possible reason: The administration wants surreptitious access themselves," wrote security technologist Bruce Schneier in the October 4, 2004 International Herald Tribune. "It wants to be able to identify people in crowds. It wants to surreptitiously pick out the Americans, and pick out the foreigners. It wants to do the very thing that it insists, despite demonstrations to the contrary, can't be done."

The story gets even worse. Tom Ridge, former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, recently became a board member of Savi Technology. Savi supplies RFID technology to the military. Will Savi and Tom Ridge make money from the imminent embedding of RFID chips in our passports? It is as likely as Dick Cheney and Halliburton making money in Iraq. The Bush doctrine of enriching cronies and keeping the population under control is alive and well.

After a discussion of the right wing's attack on the judiciary, she concludes this way:

This nation is on a runaway train with insane people at the controls. We will end up in Crazyland, forever in debt, without social security, with RFID chips embedded in our foreheads. At a certain point it will be too late to jump. We may not have reached that point yet, but the train is not slowing down.

Maybe she exaggerates. Maybe not.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Good for Spain

Well, I was hoping to go for a little longer period without blogging about the new pope but this news really needs attention. The BBC reports that Pope Benedict XVI is meddling in the affairs of a secular government by condemning Spain's new law allowing gay marriage and adoption. Robert Piggott writes the article entitled, "New Pope condemns Spain gay bill". Here's an excerpt:

Pope Benedict XVI has responded firmly to the first challenge of his papacy by condemning a Spanish government bill allowing marriage between homosexuals.

The bill, passed by parliament's Socialist-dominated lower house, also allows gay couples to adopt.

A senior Vatican official described the bill - which is likely to become law within a few months - as iniquitous.

He said Roman Catholic officials should be prepared to lose their jobs rather than co-operate with the law.

I really feel sorry for Roman Catholics who are being put in an untenable position. And I'm horrified at the bigotry this represents.

Earth Day

It's Earth Day today. The CNN website has an extensive report entitled, "Changing Earth". Do click through and vote on the "Quick Vote" option which asks, "How do you feel about the current state of the environment?" Answers to choose from are:

* No worries
* I'm a little worried
* I'm very concerned
* Total destruction is underway

Needless to say, I picked the fourth answer. So did 25% of participants at the time I voted.

One of the articles in the report focuses on what we can actually do. Here's an excerpt:

Technology with the greatest potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions already exists, say Princeton University scientists Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow in a 2004 study published in the journal Science.

Improving efficiency and conservation could slash billions of tons in atmospheric emissions of greenhouse gases each year. Improvements such as efficient engineering, better gas mileage and new fuel sources for vehicles and power plants have the potential to halt growth of emissions by around 2050, according to the study."

It is important not to become beguiled by the possibility of revolutionary technology," the Princeton authors write in Science. "Humanity can solve the carbon and climate problem in the first half of this century simply by scaling up what we already know how to do."

The scientists picked seven actions that they say could stabilize the climate by 2054. They focused on technology already in place that simply needs to be expanded -- a lot.

Cars are an easy target. Each gallon of gas burned releases about 20 pounds of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That's a lot of carbon for the 2 billion cars that may be on the road by 2054, nearly four times the number today, the authors report.

The Science article suggests that doubling the average fuel efficiency of cars from 30 miles per gallon today to 60, switching to wind-generated hydrogen fuels or halving the annual number of miles traveled per car to 5,000 could slash carbon dioxide emissions. The savings would provide one-seventh of the total cuts needed to stabilize U.S. emissions, the article states.

Let me say that one thing I've done fairly recently is to stop going home for lunch. It's something I really like to do in the middle of the day but it is actually unnecessary. I have now cut the amount of driving I do almost in half by that one decision. I urge everyone to examine his or her driving habits and see if it's possible to cut back just a little. If everyone did this it would really add up and truly make a difference.

Celebrate this day. Speak to the Earth and tell her you love her. Go outside with bare feet and make physical contact with the Earth. Then make as generous a contribution as you can to the environmental activist non-profit of your choice. It will make the day a truly memorable one for all of us.

Friday Cat Blogging!

Here's a little cat vase that somebody gave me many years ago. I love its face!
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Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The REAL agenda - part 2

I've just come across an article by Randolph T. Holhut that sums up what is happening in this county very succinctly and elegantly. It's entitled, "Fundamentalist fools and the conservatives who love them". Here's his main point:

While they try to hide behind Jesus and the Bible, remember that while outlawing gay marriage and abortion may motivate the conservative Christians who are the base of the modern Republican Party, that's not the real goal.

The real goal is to get rid of the minimum wage, the 40-hour work week, workplace safety rules, environmental protection laws, zoning laws, taxation, and Social Security - in short, virtually every law passed in the past 70 years.

It's not about Terry Schiavo. It's not about turning the nation into a theocracy, although that will be a pleasant side effect for conservatives. It's about repealing the New Deal. It's about again consolidating economic and political power in fewer and fewer hands.

In other words, it's the same old song the conservatives have been singing for decades, except now, they are using Christian fundamentalists as their shock troops to achieve the one-party state where the fundamentalists can control morality while the industrialists control the money.

How can you say it any clearer than that?

Michael Lerner on the new Pope

If you haven't discovered Tikkun magazine, let me recommend it now. A progressive Jewish publication, it is energized by the creativity and social conscience of editor Rabbi Michael Lerner. I've always respected Rabbi Lerner and so I paid attention when I came across a Tikkun article entitled, "The New Pope is a Disaster for the World and for the Jews". It is a short article and so I recommend that you click through and read the whole thing. But here's an excerpt that will give you a taste:

Since the days in which he served in the Nazi army in Germany to his role as the leader of the forces that suppressed the liberatory aspects of Vatican II and purged or silenced the Church of its most creative leadership (including German Catholic theologians Eugene Drewermann and Hans Kung, Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff, and several prominent American Catholic thinkers), to the present moment in which he is recognized as the leader most identified with the forces of reaction and suppression of dissent within the Church, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has distinguished himself as a man who can be counted on to side with the most anti-humane and repressive forces, in opposition to those who seek to give primacy to a world of peace and justice, " said Rabbi Lerner.

Although normally Jews would welcome any choice of leadership by our sister religion, we have particular reason to comment on this choice.

Rabbi Lerner then goes on to enumerate the particular reasons that he is dismayed by the elevation of Cardinal Ratzinger to the papacy. I was particularly stuck by this sentence:

Those of us in the Jewish world who have enormous respect for Christianity and for the wisdom and beauty of the Catholic tradition are in mourning today that the Church has confirmed for itself a destructive direction that will hurt not only Catholics but all those who seek peace and justice in the world.

I agree.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

"Christian" bigotry

Today I'm sharing an article about the rise of the coming theocracy. It's an article entitled, "God's army: Non-Christian Air Force cadets cite harassment by evangelicals" by David Kelly. Here's an excerpt:

The Air Force Academy, still recovering from rape and sexual harassment scandals, is facing charges that some Christian cadets have bullied and berated Jews and students of other religious backgrounds.

School officials said Tuesday they had received 55 complaints over the last few months and were requiring students — and eventually all employees — to attend a course on religious tolerance."

Some complaints had to do with people … saying bad things about persons of other religions or proselytizing in inappropriate places," said academy spokesman Johnny Whitaker. "There have been cases of maliciousness, mean-spiritedness and attacking or baiting someone over religion."

About 90% of the academy's 4,300 cadets identify themselves as Christians; the school's commandant, Brig. Gen. Johnny A. Weida, describes himself as a born-again Christian.

Mikey Weinstein, an academy graduate and a lawyer in Albuquerque, said that his son Curtis — a sophomore at the academy — had been called a "filthy Jew."

I doubt if this would be happening if there weren't a climate that supports this kind of behavior. The climate, sadly, is widespread.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

A caretaker reactionary

Well, the Roman Catholic cardinals have elected Ratzinger, now to be known as Benedict XVI. Sigh. Also known as "The Enforcer". Also known as "God's Rottweiler". Why does it matter to those of us who aren't Roman Catholic? Well, for one reason, this election is representative of the climate of fundamentalism that is widespread today in all the major religions in the world. Also, the R.C. Church is a political as well as a religious organization and so its choice of a leader has political consequences. The Roman church's position against condoms will have enormous continued impact on the fight against HIV/AIDS - especially in Africa. It's stance against birth control will likewise have an effect on world poverty.

The National Catholic Reporter published a profile of Ratzinger six years ago entitled, "The Vatican's enforcer". (This was published, of course, before the cardinal instructed American bishops to refuse communion to politicians who supported the laws that protect a woman's right to choose.) Here is a sample of his record at the time:

*Theologians disciplined, such as Fr. Charles Curran, an American moral theologian who advocates a right to public dissent from official church teaching; Fr. Matthew Fox, an American known for his work on creation spirituality; Sr. Ivone Gebara, a Brazilian whose thinking blends liberation theology with environmental concerns; and Fr. Tissa Balasuriya, a Sri Lankan interested in how Christianity can be expressed through Eastern concepts;

*Movements blocked, such as liberation theology and, more recently, religious pluralism (the drive to affirm other religions on their own terms);

*Progressive bishops hobbled, including Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle, reproached by Rome for his tolerance of ministry to homosexuals and his involvement in progressive political causes, and Bishop Dom Pedro Casaldáliga of Sao Félix, Brazil, criticized for his political engagement beyond the borders of his own diocese;

*Episcopal conferences brought to heel on issues such as inclusive language and their own teaching authority;

*The borders of infallibility expanded, to include such disparate points as the ban on women's ordination and the invalidity of ordinations in the Anglican church.

It's called electing a "caretaker pope" - choosing an elderly conservative, that is, with the idea that it will be a short reign. This pope is in good health, however, for all his 78 years. He could rule for a long time.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Please don't shop at Walmart's - part 2

You know they closed down a store in Canada because the workers voted to unionize. Now workers at every other store will be afraid to organize for fear of losing their jobs altogether. And you already know that they force prices down so low that manufacturers have to ship factory jobs overseas putting American laborers out of work. Now read about how they are subsidized in two ways by our tax dollars in an article by Susan Lundine and Christine Selvaggi Baumann entitled, "Reports blast 'double-dipping' by Wal-Mart". Here are two passages:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which has reaped millions of dollars in government subsidies to expand its operations in Florida, is potentially the state's biggest user of the Medicaid system.

The nation's largest employer and grocery retailer, which constantly battles allegations of substandard employee wages and benefits, has more Medicaid-eligible employees and/or dependents than any company in Florida, according to the state Department of Children & Families.
And accepting subsidies while having so many Medicaid-eligible employees is something "we look at as double-dipping," says Philip Mattera, research director of Good Jobs First, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that wrote the report. "They're hitting up taxpayers in two ways to finance their expansion.

"We're talking about a company that has about $288 billion in revenue and $10 billion in profits," Mattera says. "Why should state or local governments give handouts to this company?"

When you shop at Walmart's you are supporting unjust labor practices, the exporting of American jobs and poverty level wages. Isn't that, on a deep moral level, a kind of theft? Personally, I want to pay the kind of prices for goods that represents their true cost from a fair trade point of view. If that means I can't afford all the stuff I could possibly want, well, that's undoubtedly good for my character. Why, in our culture, do we feel so entitled to cheap goods - and more and more of them? Is outrageous materialism really worth the human cost involved?


Well, it's definitely time for me to cancel my subscription to Time Magazine. Ann Coulter is on the cover this week. David Sirota has written a short and succinct article about it entitled, "Ann Coulter, cover girl: Proof of the media's hard right bias". Here's part of it:

There's been a lot of debate over whether the media is "liberal" or "conservative." But as I saw this week's cover of Time Magazine, I realized just how ridiculous it is for there to even be a debate.

The cover trumpets right-wing crazy person Ann Coulter. This is a woman who advocating blowing up the New York Times offices and claimed Vietnam war hero/triple amputee Max Cleland didn't deserve to be honored for his losing his limbs on the battlefield.In a vacuum, you can certainly argue that its fine for a magazine to explore the ramifications of Coulter on America's culture.

But this isn't a vacuum. When was the last time you saw someone of equal (if not more) importance on the left promoted on the cover of America's mainstream magazines?

The rest of the article makes the point that you don't see somebody like Noam Chomsky equally celebrated in the media. No kidding.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Fiddling While Earth Burns

I'm going to offer you a second article today on the same theme as the first - that of the impending ecological disaster. This one is by Ron Forthofer and is entitled, "Fiddling While Earth Burns". Here's how it ends:

A March 3, 2004, Reuters article reported that Swiss Re, the world's second-largest reinsurer, said: "There is a danger that human intervention will accelerate and intensify natural climate changes to such a point that it will become impossible to adapt our socio-economic systems in time. ... The human race can lead itself into this climatic catastrophe — or it can avert it." Last year, even the Pentagon's commissioned report pointed out that global warming was a threat to our national security and economy. And, according to the report, many parts of the world face devastation due to global warming.

The common theme of these messages is that we are rapidly running out of time to avert or to lessen a looming disaster. Avoiding the worst is technically simple and economically cheap if we act now. Tomorrow will be too late.

A Planet on the Brink

For quite some time now I've been frustrated by a church so caught up in its own internal quarrels that it has not been speaking to the most serious issue of our age - that of the impending ecological disaster. But I was pleasantly surprised today to see that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has published an article in the UK Independent entitled, A Planet on the Brink. Here's an excerpt:

We need to start by recognising that social collapse is a real possibility. When we speak about environmental crisis, we are not to think only of spiralling poverty and mortality, but about brutal and uncontainable conflict. An economics that ignores environmental degradation invites social degradation - in plain terms, violence.

It is no news that access to water is likely to be a major cause of serious conflict in the century just beginning. But this is only one aspect of a steadily darkening situation. Needless to say, it will be the poorest countries that suffer first and most dramatically, but the "developed" world will not be able to escape: the failure to manage the resources we have, has the same consequences wherever we are. In the interim, we can imagine "fortress" strategies (with increasing levels of social control demanded) struggling to keep the growing instability and violence elsewhere at bay and so intensifying its energy.

And we are not talking about a remote future. There are arguments over the exact rates of global warming, certainly, and we cannot easily predict the full effects of some modifications in species balance. But we should not imagine that uncertainty in this or that particular seriously modifies the overall picture. On any account, we are failing.

Frankly, I think the right thing for the church to do is to drop all concern with lesser issues and harp on the ecological matters until the nations of the world (mainly the US) finally pay attention. I suppose that is too much to hope for but this article is a beginning.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

What I heard about Iraq

This is a long article. One to read slowly, reflectively. It's one snapshot after another of the war in Iraq - mostly quotes - filled with pathos and irony. One gets a sense of the sweep of war's reality and of the senselessness of this particular war. It's called What I Heard About Iraq by Eliot Weinberger. Here are some samples of what Mr. Weinberger heard:

I heard... a year after the first Gulf war, I heard Dick Cheney, then Secretary of Defense, say that the US had been wise not to invade Baghdad, since it would have meant getting "bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq." I heard him say: "The question in my mind is: How many additional American casualties is Saddam worth? And the answer is: Not very damned many."

In February 2001, I heard Colin Powell say that Saddam Hussein "has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors."

That same month, I heard that a CIA report stated: "We do not have any direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since Desert Fox to reconstitute its weapons of mass destruction programs."

Two months later, I heard Condoleezza Rice say: "We are able to keep his arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt."

On September 11, 2001, six hours after the attacks, I heard that Donald Rumsfeld said that it might be an opportunity to "hit" Iraq. I heard that he said: "Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not."

I heard that Condoleezza Rice asked: "How do you capitalize on these opportunities?"
I heard an American soldier say: "The worst thing is to shoot one of them, then go help him," as regulations require. "Shit, I didn't help any of them. I wouldn't help the fuckers. There were some you let die. And there were some you doubletapped. Once you'd reached the objective, and once you'd shot them and you're moving through, anything there, you shoot again. You didn't want any prisoners of war."

I heard Anmar Uday, the doctor who had cared for Private Jessica Lynch, say; "We heard the helicopters. We were surprised. Why do this? There was no military. There were no soldiers in the hospitals. It was like a Hollywood film. They cried 'Go, go, go,' with guns and flares and the sound of explosions. They made a show - an action movie like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan, with jumping and shouting, breaking down doors. All the time with cameras rolling."

I heard Private Jessica Lynch say: "They used me as a way to symbolize all this stuff. It hurt in a way that people would make up stories that they had no truth about." I heard her say, about the stories that she had bravely fought off her captors, and suffered bullet and stab wounds: "I'm not about to take credit for something I didn't do." I heard her say, about her dramatic "rescue": "I don't think it happened quite like that."

I heard the Red Cross say that casualties in Baghdad were so high, the hospitals had stopped counting.

We need to know these things. Really we do.

Something Bush said

Friends, take a look at this:

I don't know that atheists should be considered citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.

-- President George H. W. Bush

Now who decides what a "belief in God" looks like? If it's the fundamentalist theocrats then I'm sure they wouldn't think that I believe in God since my concept of a Higher Power isn't anything remotely like theirs. So Bush would like to consider that I'm not a citizen, huh? And that goes for almost every Buddhist I know. And humanist. And neo-pagan. And all sorts of people who don't identify with any particular religious or philosophical tradition. What's wrong with being an atheist anyway? It's an honest position on reality and nobody, that's right, nobody can prove it one way or the other. How dare he? Has the man ever read the first amendment?
What can I say but that this is profoundly disturbing.

The Psychology of Denial

All right. I'm giving you another article on election fraud, this one entitled, "Psychological resistance to facing election fraud" and I beg you to read it all the way through as it really cannot be summarized effectively. It helps me realize why this issue simply is not getting the attention it truly deserves. Here's a sample:

Denial and Psychic Numbing

We are comforted with the belief that our leaders are good people who are protecting us. Many decent, well-meaning people believe the best about our system of government and democracy and can't believe that corruption is going on. It is frightening, unsettling, and intolerable for many Americans to question these core beliefs about our leaders and to accept the reality of extensive fraud. Also, ignorance is bliss, but for the moment, and knowledge implies responsibility, which may be feared and avoided.

Denial and numbing--not knowing and not feeling--protect us from this painful awareness in the present, but they cannot protect us from the real effects of these hidden realities which render us vulnerable to increasing domination and danger in the long term. If one is in an impossible situation, these habits serve as survival mechanisms to avoid the pain of awareness. However, if one can do something to make a difference, then psychic numbing and denial are maladaptive.

Submission to Authority

The thought of challenging powerful, dominating authority with the prospect of losing is overwhelming. Increasing authoritarianism reinforces this dynamic in gradual, subtle ways. Some may also be afraid of challenging a president during a war and falsely believe it will harm national security.

Political Egocentrism

Many feel that there is no action that they can personally take on this level. It is too big for them, so they don't even seek out information or support or value the work that others are doing on their behalf.

There's much more in the article about the psychology of refusing to examine the issue of election fraud. My own position is that I do not want my mind to be taken over by corruption. Even if it's true that I can't do anything that will make a difference I want my mind to be my own and I want the contents of my mind to be based on solid evidence - not on manipulation by those in power who have bought and paid for the mainstream press. And if enough of us are aware, then we can make a difference. Being informed is the first step. At the end of the article are links that will give your the facts about election 2004. I recommend that you explore them all.

Why were hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians out for days in the freezing cold, refusing to accept fraud, while Americans are helplessly colluding with forces of domination?

This question is my question too.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging!

Here's Cynthia's cat, Simon, looking out the window at a statue of the Buddha.
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Photo by Cynthia Burgess

The Silent Scream of Numbers

Please read the article entitled, "The Silent Scream of Numbers" by Robert C. Koehler and subtitled, "The 2004 election was stolen — will someone please tell the media?" It troubles me that election irregularities that would be considered clear evidence of vote fraud in other countries are overlooked here. There seems to be a collusion among members of the media to choose not to see, not to know. Here's an excerpt from the article:

The media are not on our side. The politicians are not on our side. It’s just us, connecting the dots, fitting the fragments together, crunching the numbers, wanting to know why there were so many irregularities in the last election and why these glitches and dirty tricks and wacko numbers had not just an anti-Kerry but a racist tinge. This is not about partisan politics. It’s more like: “Oh no, this can’t be true.”
Let’s simply ask why the lines were so long and the voting machines so few in Columbus and Cleveland and inner-city and college precincts across the country, especially in the swing states, causing an estimated one-third of the voters in these precincts to drop out of line without casting a ballot; why so many otherwise Democratic ballots, thousands and thousands in Ohio alone, but by no means only in Ohio, recorded no vote for president (as though people with no opinion on the presidential race waited in line for three or six or eight hours out of a fervor to have their say in the race for county commissioner); and why virtually every voter complaint about electronic voting machine malfunction indicated an unauthorized vote switch from Kerry to Bush.

This, mind you, is just for starters. We might also ask why so many Ph.D.-level mathematicians and computer programmers and other numbers-savvy scientists are saying that the numbers don’t make sense (see, for instance,, the Web site of Dr. Richard Hayes Phillips, lead statistician in the Moss v. Bush lawsuit challenging the Ohio election results). Indeed, the movement to investigate the 2004 election is led by such people, because the numbers are screaming at them that something is wrong.

And we might, no, we must, ask — with more seriousness than the media have asked — about those exit polls, which in years past were extraordinarily accurate but last November went haywire, predicting Kerry by roughly the margin by which he ultimately lost to Bush. This swing is out of the realm of random chance, forcing chagrined pollsters to hypothesize a “shy Republican” factor as the explanation; and the media have bought this evidence-free absurdity because it spares them the need to think about the F-word: fraud.

We have no chance of winning back the country if the elections are rigged. And we have no chance of correcting this if the media won't even look at it.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Trashing the planet

I've blogged before about the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and I think it's time for another article on the realities of that report. Derrick Z. Jackson wrote an article on the subject entitled "US Takes the Lead in Trashing Planet" that was published in the Boston Globe. Here's how it gets started:

For more than four years, President Bush has told us he needs to see the ''sound science" on global warming before joining the rest of the world in combating it. In June 2001, he brushed off criticism of his pullout from the Kyoto Protocol, saying: ''It was not based upon science. The stated mandates in the Kyoto treaty would affect our economy in a negative way."

A year later, Bush's own Environmental Protection Agency put out a report that the burning of fossil fuels in the human activities of industry and automobiles are huge contributors to the greenhouse effect. He publicly trashed the report, embarrassing then-EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman, saying, ''I read the report put out by the bureaucracy."

Now comes a new study, by a bureaucracy representing just about the whole planet. It is the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, commissioned by the United Nations in 2000 at a cost of $24 million and compiled by 1,360 experts from 95 countries. It is the latest in dire reports as to how we are doing the planet in and, implicitly, how the United States puts its interests and pollution over the welfare of the rest of the planet.

Here's an interesting observation later in the article:

The study offered several scenarios of how humans can halt the degrading of the planet. The most obvious strategies involve a global economy where the sharing of education, skills, technology, and resources leads to a reduction in poverty and pressures on local environments. The worst possible scenario is one called ''Order from Strength," which results in ''a regionalized and fragmented world, concerned with security and protection, emphasizing primarily regional markets, paying little attention to public goods, and taking a reactive approach to ecosystem problems."

That precisely describes the United States. We consume a quarter of the world's energy, are the world's leading contributor to the greenhouse gases of global warming, and take advantage of agriculture in all parts of the world so we can have fresh peaches, peppers, and berries 365 days a year if we wish...

I also want to recommend another article on the same report, this one by Mark Morford entitled, "Earth To Humankind: Back Off" and it's subtitled, "Say good-bye to your car, computer, everything. We are burning up the planet too fast to hang on". Here's the beginning of that article:

The Earth is going down. Way, way down. To the mat, hard and painful and with a sad moaning broken-boned crunch.

We are chewing her up, spitting her out, stomping and gobbling and burning and gouging and drilling and sucking her dry and we are carelessly replicating ourselves so goddamn fast we can't even stop much less even try to slow the hell down, and all we want is more and faster and with less consequence and pretty soon the Earth is gonna go, well, there you are, I'm finished, sorry, and boom zing groan, done.

Don't take my world for it. Just read the headlines, the latest major, soul-stabbing report.

Please don't tune out this information because it's too painful to face. I have a feeling that a critical mass of informed people is required for a difference to be made. Let's all be part of that critical mass.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Stalin lives

You will forgive me, I hope, for blogging on the same subject as yesterday's entry - the conference entitled "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith". The Arkansas Democrat Gazette has published an article on the conference entitled, "A wake-up call for the Sane Majority". Here's how it gets started:

Does it strike you as odd that persons calling themselves Christians are furious that the U.S. Supreme Court found executing juveniles unconstitutional? Do you find even odder that such individuals describe themselves, straight-faced, as adherents of the "culture of life"? Are you surprised to learn that people called conservatives would quote Joseph Stalin? Yes, that Joseph Stalin, the former Soviet dictator and mass murderer.

And no, I am not making this up. It happened recently at a Washington conclave held by something called the Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration. If not household names, many in attendance were familiar controversialists, representing right-wing groups like the Family Research Council, the American Conservative Union, etc. Catholic anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly spoke, along with unsuccessful GOP Senate nominee Alan Keyes and Alabama's Judge Roy" Ten Commandments" Moore. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, having fled the jurisdiction--er, left town to attend the pope's funeral, addressed the group on TV. But the real headline-maker was Edwin Vieira, allegedly an expert in constitutional law.

Now the part that is really chilling to me is this:

Vieira said that his "bottom-line" solution for renegade judges was Stalin's: "He had a slogan, and it worked very well for him, whenever he ran into difficulty: ' No man, no problem. '"

The audience reportedly didn't gasp. They laughed. "' No man, no problem, '" he repeated for emphasis. "This is not a structural problem we have. This is a problem of personnel."

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank supplied the full Stalin quote, which is quite famous: "Death solves all problems: No man, no problem." He speculated that Vieira couldn't possibly be urging the killing of Supreme Court justices. But he put the remark in the context of recent threats by DeLay, who said that "the time will come for the men responsible for [Terri Schiavo's death] to answer for their behavior," and Texas Sen. John Cornyn, RTexas, who mused that unpopular judicial decisions could lead people to "engage in violence."

Think about it folks. The right-wingers are now quoting Stalin. In a positive sense. This is clearly an incitement to violence. Why these people aren't arrested and questioned regarding possible terrorist involvement is beyond me. Actually, no it's not beyond me. You all know the acronym: IOKIYAR - "It's okay if you're a Republican." Can you imagine Democrats getting away with saying something like that about conservative judges?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The war on judges

Oh. My. God. You must read the article in The Nation by Max Blumenthal entitled, "In Contempt of Courts". It is a report on the "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith" conference recently held in Washington D.C. The chief of staff of Oklahoma's senator Tom Coburn was quoted as saying, "I'm a radical! I'm a real extremist. I don't want to impeach judges. I want to impale them!" This kind of language is beyond outrageous. That it is tolerated and applauded in our society today indicates just how close we are to the establishment of a right-wing Christian Taliban in this country.

One speaker accused Michael Schiavo of strangling his wife thereby causing her neurological injuries and described her as aware and alert. He manipulated the audience into dissolving in tears over the "murder" of Terri Schiavo by the judiciary:

As members of the audience gasped, [David] Gibbs painted a vivid portrait of Schiavo in her hospital bed. "Terri Schiavo was as alive as anyone you see sitting here," he said. "She liked my voice. It was loud and deep and she would roll over and try to talk back." But after Judge Greer "literally ordered her barbaric death," everything changed.

Gibbs described his visit to Schiavo's hospital room after her feeding tube had been removed. Schiavo lay in bed "with her eyes sunken deep in her head...she was skeletal," Gibbs recounted. "Then she turned to her mother suddenly, like she wanted to speak, and she just started sobbing." By now, members of the audience were crying.

As soon as he left the stage, one of the event's planners asked all the men in the room to get down on the floor and pray. With no other choice, I moved my plastic-upholstered chair aside, took to my hands and knees and listened as plaintive voices arose all around me with prayers for Schiavo's parents and maledictions against judicial tyranny. A saccharine version of Pachelbel's Canon emanating from the player piano in the hotel lobby seeped through the banquet hall's open doors, suffusing the ceremony with a dreamlike atmosphere. When I finally dared to look up from the ground, I realized that my head was only inches from an enormous posterior belonging to William Dannemeyer, the former congressman who once issued a letter to his colleagues listing twenty-four people with some connection to Bill Clinton who died "under other than natural circumstances."

As the conference attendees filed out of the banquet hall and into the rain-flecked night, mostly silent except for the few who were still sobbing, they seemed prepared to do anything--absolutely anything--against judges...

I am very concerned about the reported tone of this conference. There truly does seem to be an incitement of violence against judges who are referred to as "evil". I really recommend that you read the entire article. It's an eye-opener.

A speech worth reading

Here is a speech by Cindy Sheehan entitled, "Our country has been overtaken by murderous thugs". Ms. Sheehan's son was killed in Iraq exactly a year before she delivered this speech at the famed Riverside Church in New York City. She is a part of a movement called, "Building the Beloved Community" which seeks to spread the peace and justice message throughout the country. This one paragraph speaks volumes:

Our country has been overtaken by murderous thugs....gangsters who lust after fortunes and power; never caring that their addictions are at the expense of our loved ones, and the blood of innocent people near and far. We've watched these thugs parade themselves before the whole world as if they are courageous advocates for Christian moral values....and for the spread of democracy. Yet we all know that they are now putting in place, all across this country, a system of voting that provides no way to validate the accuracy of the counting of the votes. Our loved ones have been buried in early graves even as these arrogant thugs parade themselves before the entire world, insisting that democracy is worth dying for, killing for, and destroying entire cities for, all the while they are busy here at home overseeing the emplacement of an electronic voting system that invites fraud at every turn, an electronic vote-counting system that provides no way to validate the votes cast, and that, by it's very design, prohibits recounting the votes.

Please click on the link and read the whole speech. It is moving. It is disturbing. It is truthful. May it be energizing to all who read it that we may take whatever action we can to help our country wake up.

Monday, April 11, 2005

What free press? - part 2

I really want to recommend an article by Mike Whitney entitled, "Pope TV and the new world media" if only for this paragraph:

Don't talk about a "free press". The American media showed their true colors in their handling of the decimation of Falluja. The entire media stood by with their hands over their mouths while a city of 250,000 was bombed to the ground in the greatest single war crime in the last decade. The story of Falluja is a tale of cluster bombs, napalm, depleted uranium, banned weapons, families crushed in their homes, dogs devouring dead citizens on the city streets, and masses of displaced people victimized by a vengeful and implacable enemy. It's a story of unspeakable crimes, of absolute impunity, and unfathomable cynicism.

The article is about how the press, in collusion with the administration, distracts us with mega-stories about celebrities while downplaying the news to which we really need to pay attention. Attention is definitely being steered "away from Bush's ruinous war."

Health Care and the coming crisis

Paul Krugman is starting a series on the health care crisis and on what can be done. Today was his first article entitled, "Ailing health care" and he's promised more to come. Here's an excerpt:

First, America's traditional private health insurance system, in which workers get coverage through their employers, is unraveling. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that in 2004 there were at least five million fewer jobs with health insurance than in 2001. And health care costs have become a major burden on those businesses that continue to provide insurance coverage: General Motors now spends about $1,500 on health care for every car it produces.

Second, rising Medicare spending may be a sign of progress, but it still must be paid for - and right now few politicians are willing to talk about the tax increases that will be needed if the program is to make medical advances available to all older Americans.

Finally, the U.S. health care system is wildly inefficient. Americans tend to believe that we have the best health care system in the world. (I've encountered members of the journalistic elite who flatly refuse to believe that France ranks much better on most measures of health care quality than the United States.) But it isn't true. We spend far more per person on health care than any other country - 75 percent more than Canada or France - yet rank near the bottom among industrial countries in indicators from life expectancy to infant mortality.

I look forward to the series and I recommend that your read today's whole article.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Responsible wealth

I just came across a really inspiring article published by Common Dreams about wealthy people who are donating their tax cut to fight the Bush administration. It's entitled, "Some of America's Richest Say 'No, Thanks' to Bush Tax Cuts" and it's by Abid Aslam. Here's an excerpt:

''It's obscene that Washington is handing out tax breaks to millionaires with one hand and shredding the safety net with the other,'' said Marta Drury, a member of Responsible Wealth, a national network of affluent Americans advocating what they term ''widespread prosperity'' and concerned that a deepening wealth divide in America is undermining the country's social and democratic fabric.

''So I'm calculating my 2004 tax cut and donating it to organizations fighting for responsible, fair, and adequate taxes. I don't believe that people like me with incomes over $200,000 need $69 billion in tax cuts,'' Drury added, referring to the total estimated value of 2004 tax cuts granted Americans in her income bracket.

Responsible Wealth, founded in 1997 and claiming 1,000-plus members, has stood at the forefront of what Time magazine termed the ''billionaire backlash'' against elite tax cuts and Bush's proposal to repeal the estate tax. On Wednesday, members urged others in the ranks of America's rich and famous to join the ''Responsible Tax Pledge'' initiative.

The tax pledge asked members to calculate their 2004 tax breaks and donate these to fair-tax campaigns. For wealthy individuals like Drury, the average estimated tax break in 2004 was $20,000. For several other pledge signatories, it amounted to more than $100,000.

''It's irresponsible to put America deeper into debt to give tax cuts to millionaires,'' the tax pledge stated.

It feels really good to blog a positive article. Go read the whole thing. It's good for what ails you!

The Christian right again

Well, it's an ongoing concern of mine. That's an understatement. It's an ongoing sense of appalled disbelief. Except that it is real. And that is the Christian right's desire to bring about the end of the world. Here is an excerpt from an Australian article by Terry Lane entitled, "The Christian Right's fundamental problem":

There are two consequences of having so many Christian fundamentalists near the levers of power in imperial America.

First, it is a precondition of the return of Jesus that all Jews return to Israel and that the territory of that country should coincide with that promised to Abraham by God. Until Israel retakes its promised land, expels all the Arabs and welcomes back all the Jews of the diaspora, Jesus can't come.

The so-called Christian Zionists are influential. According to The Christian Science Monitor they "have access to the White House and strong support within Congress, including the backing of the two most recent majority leaders in the House of Representatives". In Genesis, God promises Abraham all the land "from the river of Egypt to the great river Euphrates", an area which includes a part of Egypt, a large slice of Iraq and Syria, not to mention all the land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. There is no room for Arabs in this promised land.
As the peace of the world twists around the territorial war between Jews and Arabs, and as it is Australian Government policy to follow the US wherever it goes, we are certainly affected by American Middle East policy. And if that policy is based on ancient superstition we are entitled to be alarmed.

The second consequence is environmental. As the subtitled of the article states:

If you believe in Armageddon, you don't need to save the planet. That's a concern if you also influence the White House and US foreign policy.

I am indeed alarmed. I am alarmed when a major network - NBC - schedules a mini-series entitled Revelations about biblical prophecies of the end of days. (Here's a review but you'll have to register with the Washington Post to access it. And here's another one from Newsday.) It is imperative that those of us with a rational world view take action against the life-destroying superstition that has come to such prominence.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Republican divisions

I'm offering you two articles today about disagreements within the ranks of the Republican Party. One is from the Boston Globe; it is by Nina J. Easton and is entitled, "Rift emerges in GOP after Schiavo case". Here's how it gets started:

WASHINGTON -- Top conservative leaders gathered here a week after Terri Schiavo's death to plot a course of action against the nation's courts, but much of their anger was directed at leading Republicans, exposing an emerging crack between the party's leadership and core supporters on the right.

Conservative leaders criticized President Bush for failing to speak out strongly against removing the feeding tube from Schiavo, the 41-year-old incapacitated woman who died March 31. They blamed the president's brother, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, for failing to employ State Police powers to take control of Schiavo. They condemned comments by Senate majority leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Vice President Dick Cheney expressing support for the nation's judges.

And yesterday they issued an "action plan" to take their crusade for control of the nation's courts well beyond Senate debates over judicial nominees, pressing Congress to impeach judges and defund courts they consider "activist" and to limit the jurisdiction of federal courts over some sensitive social matters -- a strategy opposed by many leading Senate Republicans.

The second article is published in both BuzzFlash and Smirking Chimp. It is by Rep. John Conyers, Jr. and is entitled, "GOP heading over political cliff". Needless to say, my first thought after reading the title was, "We can certainly hope!" Here's an excerpt:

With the Schiavo case operating as a catalyst, most Americans are becoming increasingly aware that GOP inconsistencies go well beyond the misappropriation of the terms "pro-life" and "pro-family." The president can't claim to be "pro-democracy" when he ignores repressive regimes abroad, when his Administration tolerates and encourages torture, and ignores the need for voting reform in our own nation. He surely cannot claim to lead the party of "fiscal solvency" when we began the Bush presidency with a more than $200 billion/year surplus, and our deficit is now more than $420 billion per year and counting.

I recommend both articles. If we have room for hope, it is in the possibility that the extremist Republicans have enough rope to hang themselves.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging!

Here are Henry and Leroy up on their favorite ledge in my little cottage. Sadly they are going to lose that soon as I am moving next Friday. It will be a positive move for me as I will have a bit more space but the cats will lose their wonderful perch!
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Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Bush and the Roman Catholics

Sorry there was no update yesterday. The blogger program was having a problem and wouldn't let me post. So today I'm trying again! Today's update is below.

Sidney Blumenthal has written an article about the White House exploitation of the divisions in the Roman Catholic Church. The article is entitled, "Politics in red robes" and is published in the Guardian. Here's how he starts off:

President Bush, a militant evangelical Protestant, has lowered the American flag to half-staff for the first time at the death of a pope. Also for the first time, a US president will attend a papal funeral. Bush's political rhetoric is deliberately inflected with Catholic theological phrases, in particular "the culture of life", words he used to justify his interference in the case of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman, the removal of whose feeding tube was upheld 19 times by state and federal courts.

In the 2004 election, Bush's campaign helped organise the attack on John Kerry's Catholic authenticity by conservative bishops who threatened to deny him communion. Inside the White House, policy and personnel are coordinated in line with rightwing Catholicism. Not only are issues like international population control, reproductive health and women's rights vetted, but so are appointments.

Since the accession of Pope John Paul II, the conservative mobilisation within the American church has been a microcosmic version of the ascendancy of the conservative movement in the country generally. As the authority of the Vatican was marshalled on behalf of the conservatives, the Republican right adopted its position as its own in order to capture Catholic votes. Now the social agendas of conservative Catholics and Republicans are indistinguishable.

Do read the whole article. Blumenthal mentions the conservative undermining of the saintly and progressive Cardinal Bernadin shortly before his untimely death. I was a great admirer of Bernadin and he is sorely missed. Bernadin taught the concept of "the seamless garment" of life which sees capital punishment and war as evils equal to abortion and that the person who is truly pro-life will not participate in any of them. He worked to build consensus and was a supporter of openness and dialogue. He was not autocratic or authoritarian. We could well wish for more like Bernadin although I have little hope that prelates like him will be appointed given the current world-wide religious climate.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The decent Christians

There's so much to blog about today I hardly know where to begin. I could blog about ethically challenged Tom Delay. I could blog about the very troubling attack on the judiciary. I could blog about the very scary condition of our economy. I could blog about John Paul II. But what I have decided to share with you in part is an article by Mark Morford entitled, "Where are the good Christians?" because it speaks to a serious concern of mine: the fact that fundamentalists presume to speak for all Christians. Here's how he starts out:

I know they're out there.

I forget, often, too often, just how many there are but I know they exist in much larger numbers than you might be led to believe by current spiritually embarrassing headlines and I know they are just as, if not more, passionate and healthy and deeply felt in their beliefs than the overpublicized sects of angry and frothing "true believers" screeching into the megaphone of the culture, the ones yanking BushCo's chain and pounding their Bibles and hiding their warped porn fetishes and forcing their way into our lives and laws and bedrooms right now.

They are the decent Christians. They are the calm, morally progressive, compassionate, open-hearted Jesus-loving folk who don't really give a damn for archaic church dogma or pious noise or sanctimonious candlelight vigils, for repressing women or bashing gays or slamming Islam and. in fact, turned to Christianity precisely because they believe these things are abhorrent and wrong and, well, anti-Christian.

You know it grieves me somewhat to see Morford's sentence, "They are the decent Christians," because it implies (sadly correctly) that the raging fundamentalists who have such influence today are not decent. Later he observes:

They are, in short, those who understand the deep irony that, when it comes to religion, the ones who scream and stomp and whine the loudest are often the ones who understand their faith the least.

But there is a reason these calm and moderate and private Christians don't make the news, why, despite their enormous numbers, they are not setting the cultural agenda like some sort of sanctimonious meth-addled monkey (hi, Sen. Santorum!) right now.

It's because they are not organized. They are not a club. They do not have a unified attack agenda. They do not have pamphlets or advertising budgets or congressional lobbyists or the complaint line of every TV network and program except Fox News and "The 700 Club" on speed dial.

It is simply a disaster that the fundamentalists have somehow been allowed to set the cultural agenda. Progressive Christians and progressive people of other faiths do need to organize. Oh, there are organizations like The Interfaith Alliance and Americans United for Separation of Church and State but these groups are relatively small. Somehow we've got to get mobilized. Or the United States is going to turn into a very nasty theocracy indeed.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Liberal academics

Paul Krugman has written an article exploring the reasons that university professors tend to be liberal. It's entitled "An academic question" and is published in the New York Times but I'm linking to the Smirking Chimp reprint because the New York Times website requires registration. Here's an excerpt:

It's a fact, documented by two recent studies, that registered Republicans and self-proclaimed conservatives make up only a small minority of professors at elite universities. But what should we conclude from that?

Conservatives see it as compelling evidence of liberal bias in university hiring and promotion. And they say that new "academic freedom" laws will simply mitigate the effects of that bias, promoting a diversity of views. But a closer look both at the universities and at the motives of those who would police them suggests a quite different story.

Claims that liberal bias keeps conservatives off college faculties almost always focus on the humanities and social sciences, where judgments about what constitutes good scholarship can seem subjective to an outsider. But studies that find registered Republicans in the minority at elite universities show that Republicans are almost as rare in hard sciences like physics and in engineering departments as in softer fields. Why?

One answer is self-selection - the same sort of self-selection that leads Republicans to outnumber Democrats four to one in the military. The sort of person who prefers an academic career to the private sector is likely to be somewhat more liberal than average, even in engineering.

Krugman looks at other issues as well. Personally I've thought for some time that valuing facts over ideology brings one naturally to a liberal position. In other words, those who are members of the "reality based community" are liberal because liberalism is supported by the facts when they are honestly examined. Educated people tend to value the evidence over dogmatic assertions.

Monday, April 04, 2005

War as a game

I had no idea that it costs $18,000 to recruit one high school student into the military. I’m not easily shocked but that bit of information did the trick. The LA Times has published an article by Jason Felch entitled, Recruiting our high school students: From video war games to signing up for Army. Here’s an excerpt:

Tim Casper, a crew cut-sporting 15-year-old from Victorville, peered into the computer monitor and hunched slightly as he maneuvered the video game's soldier into a flanking position.

Using a keyboard, Casper ordered the soldier to lob a grenade, then slap a new magazine into his assault rifle. Creeping past the burned-out shell of a Humvee, the soldier fired a quick burst into the back of what looked like the enemy.

"That's me, dude," said Jeremy Donnelly, 15, looking up from a video screen across from Casper.

The classmates, both Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets at Victor Valley High School, were playing "America's Army," a realistic, multiplayer combat video game designed by the Army as a recruiting tool.

But this game does not show what real wounds look like. The very idea that real war can be compared to a video game is repulsive. But how can our young people know what it’s really like? We aren’t being shown what the military people look like who come back horribly maimed. We aren’t being shown the insanity of severe PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Lives are being ruined and our young people are seeing the unspeakable horror that is war presented as a game.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Democracy or Theocracy?

Not long ago a friend gave me a subscription to Church and State - the publication of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. As a religious person I have a keen interest in this issue because just as I don't want religion tampering with my government, I don't want government tampering with my religion. I think the founders knew what they were doing when they wrote a secular constitution and I'm deeply concerned that the wall of separation is now being so dangerously eroded.

So, I'm sharing an article with you today by Neal Heller entitled, "Democracy or Theocracy" that has been picked up by Smirking Chimp. Heller observes:

Religion is no longer just a sidelight in the American political scene; it has moved front and center. If those of us who consider ourselves mainstream and more toward the center don't wake up soon, the religious right will steamroll moderation and we will find ourselves no longer living in a democracy, but rather a theocracy.
.... The Republican Party has been home to the religious right for a very long time. Today, more than ever, this party has become beholden to those that would like to ignore our rules of law and let God - their God - decide the fate of our country.

Heller then discusses the Schiavo case and the weakening of the separation of powers due to the attacks on the judicial system by the right wing. He later says:

What's next? When will we see these religious fanatics rear their ugly heads again? Do we really want any one religion exercising that much power in this country? Look around the world, and you will see that wherever religion rules the day, so too does hypocrisy and trouble. This country has done very well, thank you, without being dictated to by the religious right. I have a great deal more respect today for the first President Bush, as he probably lost his bid for re-election because he refused to cave in to the religious right. His sons, apparently, better understand just how to cater to this powerful element of the Republican Party. Terri Schiavo should rest in peace as this horrible 15-year ordeal is finally over for her. How long the effects of this political debate lasts is another story.

Mainstream America better take their collective heads out of their rear ends before it is too late. We cannot stand on the sidelines anymore while religious fanatics hold our government hostage. It has been happening in Israel for a very long time. It is beginning to happen here as well. Our very system of government is at risk. I, for one, do not want to be here when we make the transition from democracy to theocracy.

I don't either. But I think I will be for it is already happening. What we are experiencing is the tyranny of the majority. I don't want to have to pander to Christian fundamentalism in order to get along in my country. I want to be Christian and Buddhist and interfaith as I am and to support people whether they're Hindu or Muslim or Wiccan or Humanist or Atheist when they turn to me and to St. John's Center for Spiritual Formation for companionship and support. Because if religion can tamper with government, then government can tamper with religion - and that's very, very scary indeed.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Something to ponder

What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security....

-- They Thought They Were Free, Milton Mayer, 1955
(about Nazi Germany)
As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight. And it is in such twilight that we all must be aware of change in the air -- however slight -- lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.
-- Justice William O. Douglas, US Supreme Court (1939-75)

A Canadian looks at America

America is going stark raving bananas. That's the point of view expressed by Michael Harris in an article entitled, "Changing from Republican to radical" which is published in the Ottowa Sun. Here's an excerpt:

The truth is America is bouncing off the walls at home in the name of a religious extremism that makes a mockery of true American and Christian values.

This week the Washington Post reported that a growing number of pharmacists are refusing to fill legal prescriptions for birth control or morning after pills in the United States. Several states have already passed so-called "conscience" legislation that permits doctors and health care workers to refuse various procedures to patients that conflict with their personal beliefs. And in a survey by the National Teachers Association, 31% of respondents felt obligated to present creationism as an equal "theory" to evolution in U.S. schools. Is it any wonder that Judge George Greer, the principal judge in the Schiavo case, now needs armed guards?

With the president chastened by a humiliating rejection of his Schiavo gambit, Americans may make a greater effort to inform themselves on other policies of this Administration abroad which are every bit as hypocritical as Terri's Law. Who in their right mind would sell 24 F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, a country that self-admittedly sold nuclear technology to rogue states, is run by a tyrant, remains a hotbed of terrorism and regularly threatens its nuclear neighbor, India?

There's nothing in the article we don't already know but it's quite a rant and gives us a good indication of how we look to our neighbors in the north.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging!

Here's Edgar sleeping away in his little house and Ethel looking in my house!
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Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Yup, the election was stolen.

Well, I wondered why exit polls were an indication of a corrupt vote count in Ukraine but not here. Now there's a statistical study that indicates that the likelihood of exit polling being wrong is incredibly tiny. The article reporting on this is by Steven Dyer and is entitled, "Exit poll analysis points to 2004 election corruption". Here's part of what it says:

There's a one-in-959,000 chance that exit polls could have been so wrong in predicting the outcome of the 2004 presidential election, according to a statistical analysis released Thursday.

Exit polls in the November election showed Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., winning by 3 percent, but President George W. Bush won the vote count by 2.5 percent.

The explanation for the discrepancy that was offered by the exit polling firm -- that Kerry voters were more likely to participate in the exit polling -- is an "implausible theory," according to the report issued Thursday by US Count Votes, a group that claims it's made up of about two dozen statisticians.

Twelve -- including a Case Western Reserve University mathematics instructor -- signed the report.

Instead, the data support the idea that "corruption of the vote count occurred more freely in districts that were overwhelmingly Bush strongholds.

"The report dismisses chance and inaccurate exit polling as the reasons for their discrepancy with the results.

I really don't know how to comment except to say it is disgusting beyond belief. But not surprising.