Monday, December 31, 2007

Should We Heart Huckabee?

What do we know about Mike Huckabee? The man is an enigma wrapped around a cross.

If you go to his website, you can learn a little bit there, He's got the usual selection of right-wing talking points: he says that Roe vs Wade should be repealed; he's strong on marriage; he's pro-gun, pro-veteran, pro-Israel, all the usual issues. He also wants to take the Bush tax cuts even farther, and help the rich get richer than they are now (even in an age where the top 1% of the population control one-third of the money, and 70% of the money is in the hands of the top 10%). And his thoughts on the subject?
I'd like you to join me at the best "Going Out of Business" sale I can imagine - one held by the Internal Revenue Service. Am I running for president to shut down the federal government? Not exactly. But I am running to completely eliminate all federal income and payroll taxes. And I do mean all - personal federal, corporate federal, gift, estate, capital gains, alternative minimum, Social Security, Medicare, self-employment.
He probably isn't going to come out in favor of women's rights any time soon, incidentally.
In August of 1998, Huckabee was one of 131 signatories to a full page USA Today Ad which declared: "I affirm the statement on the family issued by the 1998 Southern Baptist Convention." What was in the family statement from the SBC? "A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ."

The ad wasn't just a blanket, "we support the SBC statement," but rather highlighted details. The ad Huckabee signed specifically said of the SBC family statement: "You are right because you called wives to graciously submit to their husband's sacrificial leadership."
The man who claims that he wants to "bring this country back together" will more likely be an even more polarizing factor. David Corn dissected Huckabee's 1998 book, Kids who Kill: Confronting our Culture of Violence for Mother Jones and discovered his distaste for… well, for everybody who didn't hold exactly his views.
Abortion, environmentalism, AIDS, pornography, drug abuse, and homosexual activism have fragmented and polarized our communities.
Was it those ideas, or people like you who fought against them, that polarized… oh, never mind. That's kind of a circular argument anyway.

A few pages later, we find that he thinks that:
It is now difficult to keep track of the vast array of publicly endorsed and institutionally supported aberrations — from homosexuality and pedophilia to sadomasochism and necrophilia.
So, you're reading along on that one, and you get to homosexuality (OK, there's all kinds of gay support groups), pedophilia (well, we haven't heard much from NAMBLA lately, but we know that they exist, or at least existed at one point), and apparently most of his audience has dozed off by this point, since organized sadomasochism is hard, though not impossible, to imagine. But "publicly endorsed and institutionally supported necrophilia"? What the hell? How stupid does he think that his audience is?

OK, strike that last question. Among other things, we establish with that sentence that his audience has an attention span of no more than two, maybe two and a half talking points.

We do know that, while he apparently hunts once in a while, he can occasionally become the poster child for the people who believe that guns should be kept out of the hands of some people. It seems that he went hunting recently for the photographers, and then, after joking about Dick Cheney's habit of shooting people in the face, tracked a bird over the heads of some reporters and fired off a round or two. That's part of the reason that the NRA teaches gun safety courses, isn't it?

We also know that he's a Christian. There's that whole bit in the Constitution that says that religion shouldn't matter in a political race, but to some people it does. And for those people, he's constantly bringing up his religion: running ads that are overtly Christian in theme (in fact, coming out and saying that he's a "Christian leader" in one of them), referring to his theological degree during a debate, and even saying that his rise in polls is due to the prayers of the faithful (as opposed to a growing distaste for Rudy 9iu11ani, or Mitt Romney reminding people of a used car salesman).

However, that seems to be the extent of what we know about him. He was a pastor for twelve years at two different Baptist churches before he became a politician, but he refuses to disclose the contents of any of his sermons.

But despite the fact that he won't tell us what he was saying when he was behind the pulpit, he's using that preacher-cred to court some of the worst of the far-right theocrats in America, and they're happily coughing up large amounts of cash for him.

We also don't get to know much about what he did as governor, except for what had already made it into the public record. You see, when he left office, he didn't seem to think that wiping the hard drives of the computers would be enough.
Department of Information Systems Director Claire Bailey said hard drives for 83 computers and four servers were destroyed, or "crushed," after information was downloaded onto backup tapes. Underwood supervised it and delivered the backup tapes to Huckabee Chief of Staff Brenda Turner, who had ordered the hard drives crushed, Bailey said.

She said the computers were located in the state Capitol; the state's Washington, D. C., office; the state police airport hangar; the Governor's Mansion; and the Arkansas State Police drug office.
For some reason, Huck doesn't want us to know exactly what he's done in the course of his life. So what do we know?

We know that our boy Huck has a fairly limited grasp of what life is like in prison.
Asked about Guantanamo, Mike Huckabee said he had visited the facility and said it was "disappointing" that military personnel were eating meals that averaged $1.60 while the detainees were eating Halal meals that cost over $4 each.

"The inmates there were getting a whole lot better treatment than my prisoners in Arkansas. In fact, we left saying, 'I hope our guys don’t see this. They'll all want to be transferred to Guantanamo. If anything, it’s too nice."
Yeah, except for that whole psychological intimidation and occasional waterboarding thing, along with other fascinating examples of abuse. And a bunch of them were kidnapped (sorry, "extraordinarily rendered") instead of arrested. And many of them are kept in solitary confinement. Oh, and the fact that none of these prisoners can seem to get a trial. That's all OK. It's the cost of their meals that's important.

He also used that opportunity to boast about how tough he is, because he used his time as governor to execute 16 prisoners. Does bragging about how many people you had killed sound like any other presidential candidates you can think of? Maybe about seven years ago or so? (Actually, he mentioned the executions because he was fighting back against Mitt Romney's current position that he's soft on crime. I just like the comparison.)

OK, then, what doesn't Huckabee know about? That list seems pretty wide-ranging. He admits that he doesn't know much about global warming or current events: he had no idea that the American intelligence community had said that Iran didn't have a nuclear warhead, in direct opposition to what Bush had been saying about them for months, even after it had been a front-page story for two days.

He doesn't know much about illegal immigrants: he recently said that there were more Pakistani's in America illegally than any nationality "than all other nationalities except those immediately south of the border" (he was trying to beat the war drum, and tie the Pakistani unrest into the illegal immigrant "crisis"); he followed that up by saying that 660 Pakistanis have come into the country illegally because of insecure borders. Unfortunately, he got the numbers backward: Homeland security reports that around 600 Pakistani's were turned back or arrested before they entered the country - oh, and no, there aren't more Pakistani's than any other nationality, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

This lack of knowledge extends to geography, as well: "We have seen what happens in the Musharraf government," Huckabee said on MSNBC. "He has told us he does not have enough control of those eastern borders near Afghanistan to be able go after the terrorists." Yeah, Huck. That would be the western border with Afghanistan, right?

(And when former Prime Minister Bhutto was assassinated, he went up on stage in Orlando to express "our sincere concern and apologies for what has happened in Pakistan." The man was a minister for twelve years. Couldn't he channel some of that training and find the word "sympathies" somewhere in his vocabulary? Instead, he provided fodder for pundits and the tinfoil-hat crowd for the next year.)

But staying on the subject of illegal immigrants (well, the GOP does it, why shouldn't I?), he apparently doesn't know much about moving large numbers of people, since he thinks that we can get 11-12 million illegal immigrants to leave the country within 120 days. (And he also doesn't think that the forced expulsion of over 7% of America's workforce all at once would have any effect on the economy, apparently.)

So basically, we don't get to know about his past, and what we find out about in the present is not especially encouraging. He's extremely secretive; he supports the forced incarceration, without trial, of people just because they might be terrorists; and he hunts without regard to the safety of those around him. Does this sound like any Vice Presidents you might know?

Plus, he's a former governor, proud of his death-penalty record, who shows a remarkable lack of knowledge in key fields. It's possible that Mike Huckabee could embody the worst features of both halves of the current administration.

Friday, December 28, 2007

No, not THAT Steven King

OK, so I lied a little bit. I pretended to be somebody I wasn't.

I went into the White Pages, and looked up somebody with my last name, and sent a letter to a congresscritter using that address and my name. And my email address, if it matters. Because he wasn't my congresscritter, but he was so mind-meltingly stupid that I couldn't help myself.

See, Steve King of Idaho introduced a little bill in the House of Representatives called HR 847, “Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith.” That was bad enough (you know, that whole “separation of church and state” thing and all). But then he went on the Alan Colmes radio show, and made the following statement:
Colmes: Should they be taught Christianity, should every child learn Christianity?

King: I think they should learn it. If you’re going to learn American history, you cannot teach it without teaching Christianity.
That prompted me to send him the following email.
On the Alan Colmes show, you said that Christianity should be taught in schools, because the only way to teach American history is to teach Christianity. And I'm curious whether you failed both history and social studies in school.

The pilgrims might have been evangelical Christians, but our Founding Fathers were mostly Unitarians and, since this was just after the Enlightenment, many of them weren't Christian at all, simply Deists.

We even signed the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796 where we came out and said (in Article 11) that America is not a Christian nation.

America is a diverse nation of many faiths, and you can't discount any of them.

That's your History lesson. Now let's give you a little Social Studies. (This is actually something that you should already know, by the way. It should be required study for any Congressman.)

We have this little article called "the Constitution." It sets down the rules that the government runs by. And in the First Amendment of that document (which is part of what we call the "Bill of Rights," incidentally), it tells us that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…"

The schools are a state function, and so the government doesn't try to jam religion into the ears of the children. You leave that to the parents.

Here's a little more history, by the way: the phrase "building a wall of separation between church and state" was written by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802.

I would really appreciate it if you could learn little things like this if you're going to claim to represent the people of Idaho.
So anyway, I gave him time to answer. I sent it on December 14. Today is the twenty-eighth. Are you telling me that in two weeks, he couldn't come up with some kind of answer?

So my thought is that (1) he called the house where I pretended to live and determined that it was a fake (that's actually got a pretty low possibility, if you think about it), or (2) he checked the voter rolls and noted my absence (you’d think that he’d take into consideration the fact that I could be a new voter), or (3) he just refused to answer.

Me, I favor the third possibility.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

No Longer, Dan Fogelberg

Dan Fogelberg, the folk/soft rock singer/songwriter, died in his home on Sunday, December 16, after having been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2004.

Born Daniel Grayling Fogelberg in 1951, his first album, Home Free (1972), was only was not a huge success. But it can be said that it was his sophmore effort that launched his career, 1974's Souvenirs. With musical assistance from most of the Eagles (Joe Walsh - who also produced the album - Glenn Frey, Don Henley and Randy Meisner) and Graham Nash, the album reached number 17 on Billboard's pop albums, and the song Part Of The Plan reached number 31.

He had his weaknesses: he tended to write slightly higher than the actual range of his voice, and some of his songs (Longer or Leader of the Band) were overplayed to the point of pain. But his evocative lyrics and strong melodic talents brought his music to life.

Much of his most successful career was studded with overly-produced songs that receive far more airplay than they deserved. In his live shows (and I had the honor to attend one), he played beautiful, acoustic melodies with minimal orchestration. And he frequently sang in a lower key than what you heard on the album, too.

With 14 studio albums, he was an avid environmentalist, and performed at a number of "No Nukes" concerts for Musicians United for Safe Energy.

A video of one of his performances can be seen here.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I never knew John Kennedy, but Mitt, you're no John Kennedy

Mitt Romney decided to give a speech last week, as he does so often these days. In this case, he was trying to explain how his Mormonism would not affect his ability to lead the country. Forty-seven years ago (plus the odd month or two), John F. Kennedy made a speech with a very similar concept, in regards to his Roman Catholicism. The difference, however, is that Kennedy was much more honest about his agenda.
I would not look with favor upon a President working to subvert the first amendment's guarantees of religious liberty. Nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so--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.


And in fact this is the kind of America for which our forefathers died--when they fled here to escape religious test oaths that denied office to members of less favored churches--when they fought for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom--and when they fought at the shrine I visited today, the Alamo. For side by side with Bowie and Crockett died McCafferty and Bailey and Carey--but no one knows whether they were Catholic or not. For there was no religious test at the Alamo.
Let's compare that to some of the more interesting statements in Mr. Romney's speech.
Mr. President, your generation rose to the occasion, first to defeat Fascism and then to vanquish the Soviet Union . You left us, your children, a free and strong America . It is why we call yours the greatest generation. It is now my generation's turn.
To defeat the Soviet Union? (Hmm... quick definition of Fascism -- rights of the people stripped away, a government so paranoid it spies on its citizens, people imprisoned without a trial... I could go on, but if you were capable of getting my point, you would have already...)
America faces a new generation of challenges. Radical violent Islam seeks to destroy us.
Yeah, but we ignore the leaders, and concern ourselves with the foot soldiers. Osama bin Laden is still at large because we haven't been trying to catch him, and most of the money for these radical movements comes from Saudi Arabia. But do we do anything about that?

Well, yeah. We give them more money. That's always a good move.
An emerging China endeavors to surpass our economic leadership.
So you're saying WalMart is the problem? Wow, this is the first time you've said something that I agree with.
Today, I wish to address a topic which I believe is fundamental to America 's greatness: our religious liberty. I will also offer perspectives on how my own faith would inform my Presidency, if I were elected.
Finally, he's going to talk about being a Mormon. It's about time. I wonder if he'll mention their magic underwear thing? (No, really. Mormons have magic underwear! It's a onesie that they can't just throw away. Honest! Check it out for yourself.)
There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator. And further, they discovered the essential connection between the survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In John Adams' words: 'We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion... Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people.'
Say what? You started your explanation of how your Mormonism isn't a threat by bringing up that tired old "America is a Christian nation" thing?

By the way, do you want to know the best way to tell that the Forefathers didn't think that we were a Christian nation? Go to the Treaty of Tripoli, which we ratified in 1797 (that's about sixteen years after we wrote our Constitution, isn't it?). Article 11 of the treaty start with the words "As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion..."

That might be kind of a clue, don't you think?
Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.
What?!? What kind of disengenuous, meaning-free statement is that? "Freedom of religion" requires freedom, and different religions require a certain amount of freedom to survive, but in general, how do you mean that "freedom requires religion"?
Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.
Ah. Philosophy. Gotcha. So let's ask this question: What if all that freedom and window-opening has led someone to the feeling that they agreed with atheism? Or that an atheist is taking a negative position without any more evidence than the theist, and so our hypothetical person felt that agnosticism was the only reasonable faith? Are they ignored completely in Mitt Romney's world?
Given our grand tradition of religious tolerance and liberty, some wonder whether there are any questions regarding an aspiring candidate's religion that are appropriate. I believe there are. And I will answer them today.
OK, I've got an appropriate question, Mr Romney. Did Christ come to America?

Oh, right. You answered that already, sort of. Let's step away from Romney's speech for a moment, and consider what the real question here is. Why is Romney making this speech?
Christian conservatives often brand the Church of the Latter-Day Saints a cult because the 19th-century "revelations" of the Book of Mormon are given equal status with the New Testament. On Sunday Mr Huckabee, a Baptist minister, pointedly refused to say if his rival was a Christian. "Mitt Romney has to answer that," he said. "It's not for me to determine."
In an interview with The Times earlier this year Mr Romney was asked if he believed the Mormon doctrine that Jesus Christ came to America and will one day return to rule the world from Jackson County, Missouri. "I'm not going to separate myself from my faith,” he replied, "I accept the doctrines of my Church and do my best to live by them."
So there's the question in a nutshell. People think you're some kind of weird cultist. So how do you answer that charge?

In this case, you apparently answer the charge with a long, rambling speech on the importance of religion, and the statement "If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States."

In this whole speech, Romney only mentioned the word "Mormon" once. He usually referred to it as "my faith" or, in the more abstract statements, "religion." And he tried to calm the fears of the more moderate Christians by saying:
What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. My church's beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history.
Well, yeah. And yours makes you believe that Christ came to America, and thinks that Missouri is a wonderful place to build your base.

OK, two points here. One: I've been to Missouri, and I'd hate to disagree with the Son of God, but... no, not so much. And two: if, in fact, Jackson County, Missouri is God's chosen place, why is the big Mormon temple in Utah?

(Oh, right, after Joseph Smith got kicked out of Ohio and Missouri, he was shot in Illinois. The rest of the church, getting their butts kicked in Illinois, schismed, and the biggest group, led by Brigham Young, went to Utah.)

But let's ignore the whole "Which religion is best?" question, OK? I've known ministers who think that Mormonism is a cult and not a Christian religion. And I've got to admit, the whole story is kind of silly. "The angel Moroni came down to Joseph Smith and told him where to unearth some golden plates, which were inscribed with an ancient Egyptian translation of the Book of Mormon. And after he translated them, the angel took the golden plates away." Why does the angel have an italian name? And why does he (or she - I don't know) take away the only thing that can verify the truth of the Book?

But I mean, let's be real. Is that crazier than the Christian faith? "God made the earth in seven days, to include fossils of dinosaurs that didn't exist to test your faith. Unless the dinosaurs died out when Noah did the ark thing. Oh, and don't forget that whole 'Hell' thing -- God knows everything. Past, present and future. So He knows that you're going to end up going to Hell, and he still allows you to come into existance. Which means that God created a torture chamber in His basement, entirely for His own amusement."

It's odd. Romney spends this entire speech blowing in whatever direction the political winds take him. He's trying to set himself up as a pandering, all-but-evangelical Christian-lite, who believes "just like you do." He can't even agree with himself during this speech. Like where he said "Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree." That's really a nice sentiment, but stands in contrast to Romney's statements that he wouldn't be likely to appoint a Muslim to a cabinet position.

Our boy Mitt's feeble grasp of history kept showing up in his attempts to pander to the Religious Right.
But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America - the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

"The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust.
OK, Mitt, let's get real. "In God We Trust" was added to the money in 1864 (and only on a two-cent coin that year) because of increased religious sentiment after the Civil War. And "one nation under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 because of rampant fear of "those godless Commies." Trying to conflate these two acts with the Founding Fathers seems a little bit of a stretch, don't you think?

So, really, Mitt didn't bother to justify Mormonism. He just had his handlers write him a speech where he minimized the differences between Mormonism and mainstream Christianity, for a message of "any religion is a good religion" (ignoring anybody without a religion -- oh, yeah, and those Muslim extremists, they're bad, too). And he continued the Religious Right's noble tradition of rewriting history to fit their agenda.

Once again, this is just another example of Mitt Romney trying to please the most voters possible, and ignoring the truth when it's convenient. I think that Maureen Dowd saw the truth of it.
Mitt was right when he said that "Americans do not respect believers of convenience." Now if he would only admit he’s describing himself.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

If Only They'd Just Tased Him, Bro

According to physician Catherine Wilkerson, she made the mistake of attempting to save a man's life, and now might just go to jail for it.

(That link, by the way, is a particularly biased writeup of the story. You might be able to get a more even-handed version from Michigan Live or the Ann Arbor News, but those links tend to die pretty fast.)

The official description of the event is fairly straightforward. Blaine Coleman is a Michigan activist who regularly protests on behalf of the Palestinian cause and against Israel. He was attempting to disrupt a speech at the Michigan League by Georgetown University Prof. Raymond Tanter regarding the American policy in Israel. He was escorted outside to be arrested. While there, he complained he couldn't breathe and appeared to fall unconscious.

According to the report, Wilkerson was "verbally abusive" to the police and paramedics who treated Coleman, and that was why they arrested her. The building manager, Jeffrey Green, said that she was protesting, yelling at the police, and that her behavior was "more of an emotional reaction than a physician's reaction."

Dr Wilkerson's description, widely available on the internet under the title Scenes From A Cop Riot, seems to differ slightly from the official view of her actions.

She wrote that the cop, who was much larger than the protester to begin with, had the man pinned down and was crushing him against the floor with his knee backed by his full body weight. Dr Wilkerson felt that the protester would not be able to inflate his lungs in that position, and when the protester stated that he couldn't breath, she identified herself as a doctor, and instructed the cop to turn him over immediately.
The cop turned him onto his back. I saw that the victim had a wound on his forehead and blood in his nostrils. He was unconscious.

Reiterating numerous times that I was a doctor, I tried to move to where I could assess the victim for breathing and a pulse. The cop shoved me, until finally, after my imploring him to allow me to render medical care to the victim, he allowed me to determine that the victim was alive. But he refused to remove the cuffs despite my requests. A person lying with hands cuffed beneath his body risks nerve damage to the extremities and, moreover, cannot be resuscitated.
The protester remained unconscious, and the paramedics were called in. But Dr Wilkerson didn't feel that the paramedics were any better than the cops.
When the patient didn't respond to a sternal rub, one of the paramedics popped an ammonia inhalant and thrust it beneath the patient's nostrils. If you're interested in what's wrong with that, google Dr. Bryan Bledsoe… and read his article condemning this dangerous practice. That it's "just bad medicine" is sufficient to make the paramedic's actions unacceptable, but what happened next made my blood curdle. He popped a second inhalant and a third, then cupped his hands over the patient's nostrils to heighten the noxious effect. "You don't like that, do you?" he said.
Trying to google the article by Dr Bledsoe she mentions, This Procedure Stinks [Ammonia Inhalant Use], won't do you much good: although you can track it to the March 2003 issue of the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, it doesn't even seem to be available on Dr Bledsoe's own website. However, the basic conclusions are available here.

Although she was forcefully restrained by the police, she was neither handcuffed nor arrested. But two months after the protest, and one week after she filed a police brutality complaint (she claims to require physical therapy for the injury she suffered at the hands of Ann Arbor police officer Kevin Warner) she was charged by the Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie's office, at the request of the UM police, with two attempted felonies—one against Officer Warner and one against the EMS personnel.

Although her cause is gaining support on the internet, is this a case of an overly-officious doctor interfering with law enforcement? (After all, this isn't the first time she's had issues with authority.) Is this another example of law enforcement going over the top?

I suspect that the real truth lies somewhere in between.