Saturday, January 26, 2008

888? That's awefully close to 666, isn't it?

Our friends in the House of Representatives are trying to rewrite history again, to include their own personal Christian bias.

This time, they're doing through a non-binding Congressional document, HR 888, which starts with the following paragraph:
Affirming the rich spiritual and religious history of our Nation's founding and subsequent history and expressing support for designation of the first week in May as 'American Religious History Week' for the appreciation of and education on America's history of religious faith.
Well, that's really sweet. The rest of the bill is full of paragraphs that twist history to their own ends. I've talked about some of this nonsense before now, and don't feel like repeating myself too often. At the moment, anyway. These guys take a brief look at the document and point out a few problems with it, if you're interested.

What it boils down to, though, is that this document is full of lies and misrepresentations, and we probably don't want this stuff read into the Congressional Record, where somebody might mistake it for fact.

There are seventy-six clauses in the preamble. You get stuff like this:
Whereas the delegates to the Constitutional Convention concluded their work by in effect placing a religious punctuation mark at the end of the Constitution in the Attestation Clause, noting not only that they had completed the work with 'the unanimous consent of the States present' but they had done so 'in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven,'
If you want to look at it historically, "Year of Our Lord" was essentially the formal, legal way to refer to the Gregorian calendar. It wasn't Congress "placing a religious punctuation mark," it was them dating the freaking thing. If you want to pull it out of shape and claim that it was done to build a religious foundation for the work, you're deluding yourself. However, that isn't as much of a misrepresentation as the following:
Whereas beginning in 1904 and continuing for the next half-century, the Federal government printed and distributed The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth for the use of Members of Congress because of the important teachings it contained;
Well, that was relatively true. What they aren't saying is that this document was written by (or at least pieced together by) Thomas Jefferson, and was also known as the Jefferson Bible. Jefferson wasn't a Christian but a "dieist" (he believed in a god, but didn't necessarily see Him as the Judeo-Christian dieity – Jefferson was a product of a movement called the "Enlightenment"), and toward the end of his life, Jefferson took the Gospels, chopped them apart, put them back together in roughly chronological order, and then removed anything that referred to Jesus as the Son of God, or was in any way supernatural. By doing that, he told a story of an ordinary guy who was more of a philosopher than a religious figure. It's a very famous document. You should look it up sometime.

The writers of this bill are using the "Chariots of the Gods" strategy – if you pack enough lies into every inch of text, it takes more time to refute the document than it does to write it in the first place.

Here's my thought. We don't have to disprove this pseudo-history – if these congresscritters want this nonsense turned into law, they need to justify every one of their points. Bring in actual historians (and not the teaching staff from Liberty University, either) and prove every historical "fact" that they're claiming.

But that isn't enough, I think. See, it may surprise you, but I like the basic idea behind this document. I just don't think it goes far enough in "affirming the rich spiritual and religious history of our Nation." After we've chopped out the lies that they're trying to shoehorn in under the guise of "history," let's add a few.
Whereas less than half of the 102 passengers of the Mayflower were "Pilgrims" seeking religious freedom,

Whereas the Laws and Liberties of Massachusetts were written in 1648, wherein it stated that Anabaptists were "Incendiaries of Common-wealths & the Infectors of persons," and could be banished. Likewise, Quakers threatened to "undermine & ruine" the colonies, and could not only be banished, but killed if they returned. They also included a death sentence for any child who "will not obey the voice of his Father or the Voice of his Mother,"

Whereas in 1692, nineteen men and women were convicted of witchcraft and hanged, one man (over eighty years old) was pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to submit to a witch trial, and dozens languished in jail for months without trial,

Whereas a Virginia law from 1699 tried to eliminate "horrid and Atheisticall principles greatly tending to the dishonour of Almighty God, and...destructive to the peace and wellfaire of this...collony," by making it a crime to deny "the being of God or the holy Trinity...assert or maintaine there are more Gods then one...deny the truth of Christianity..." and more,

Whereas in 1797, the US Senate under John Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli, declaring that "the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,"

Whereas in 1851, Princeton's Charles Hodge defended the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 using Christian philosophy and Biblical scholarship, and in 1852, Charles Finney defended it yet again, in an article for the Oberlin Evangelist,

Whereas 1866 brought us the first incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist group with a strong Christian identity and a habit of murdering people based strictly on their skin color.

Whereas in 1935, America took up arms to fight the Nazi Party, who probably took some of their philosophy from the 1543 tract by Martin Luther, On the Jews and Their Lies,

Whereas, according to the 2004 John Jay Report, commissioned by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, 4,392 Catholic priests and deacons in the United States have been accused of sexual abuse of children,

Whereas in the 1990s, the Army of God, a Christian anti-abortion terrorist group was formed,

Whereas the theory in early America was that black skin was the "mark of Cain," slavery was therefore justified, the Southern Baptist church held that there were separate heavens for blacks and whites, and the Mormon church refused to allow blacks to join until 1978,

Whereas, since the First Amendment to the Constitution states explicitly "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," it seems silly to be considering any kind of legislation establishing anything called 'American Religious History Week,'
See? And those are just a few of the aspects of America's rich spiritual history that they seem to be ignoring. I ignored all kinds of current nonsense - Terri Schiavo, the Kansas school board, and numerous other interesting topics. Feel free to add your own.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Oy. Wasn't there some kind of revolution in Washington?

It seems to me that Glenn Greenwald explained the nonsense in the Senate best.
Harry Reid -- who has (a) done more than any other individual to ensure that Bush's demands for telecom immunity and warrantless eavesdropping powers will be met in full and (b) allowed the Republicans all year to block virtually every bill without having to bother to actually filibuster -- went to the Senate floor yesterday and, with the scripted assistance of Mitch McConnell and Pat Leahy, warned Chris Dodd, Russ Feingold and others that they would be selfishly wreaking havoc on the schedules of their fellow Senators (making them work over the weekend, ruining their planned "retreat," and even preventing them from going to Davos!) if they bothered everyone with their annoying, pointless little filibuster.

To do so, Reid announced that, unlike for the multiple filibusters from Republican colleagues, he would actually force Dodd and company to engage in a real filibuster. This is what Reid said:
[I]f people think they are going to talk this to death, we are going to be in here all night. This is not something we are going to have a silent filibuster on. If someone wants to filibuster this bill, they are going to do it in the openness of the Senate.
That is what Democrats have been urging Reid to do to the filibustering Republicans all year -- in order to dramatize their obstructionism -- but he has refused to make them actually filibuster anything, generously agreeing instead that every bill requires 60 votes. Instead, he reserves such punishment only for the members of his own caucus trying to take a stand for the rule of law and the Constitution, those who are trying finally to bring some accountability to this administration.
So, I looked up a guy in Nevada with my name, and sent an email to our Democratic (?) leader. I took the advice of Nicole Belle on Crooks & Liars, and went low-key and polite. Nonetheless, I somehow suspect that I'm going to be ignored again.
Mr Reid,

I'm curious. Why is it that you have consistently and generously allowed the Republicans to pretend to filibuster with a mere 60 votes? It seems to me that forcing them to actually stand up and perform a filibuster would highlight their obstructionism, at a time when they appear to be actively preventing the Democrats from doing anything.

But now, when Democratic Senators are attempting to prevent the White House from giving immunity to the telecom providers who broke the law (thereby forever extinguishing any hope of investigating and obtaining accountability for the President's illegal spying programs), you insist that they actually perform a filibuster, and you have a little skit with McConnell and Leahy about how terrible it would be to work a little longer, and maybe miss their all-important retreat?

These don't seem like the actions of a Democratic leadership interested in bringing long-neglected oversight to an over-stepping White House. Could you please explain to me why you decided that these would be the actions you'd take?

Monday, January 14, 2008

The earliest results are in

Well, the first two caucus results are in (possibly two and a half). In Iowa, a traditionally red state, over twice as many Democrats came out to caucus as Republicans (239,000 Democrats, 118,000 Republicans). And the end result was that, in a state where the population is 2.5% black (just under a fifth of the national average), Barack Obama came out ahead of every single candidate in both parties. And this, despite all the unmentioned "conventional wisdom" telling us that we could never get an African-American elected president.

But in New Hampshire, with a similar overwhelmingly Democratic turnout, the nod went to Hillary Clinton (despite both the rabid anti-Clinton crowd and a similarly unmentioned meme that we could never get a woman elected president).

The Wyoming Republican caucus also went by, relatively unnoticed. The Republican party from the state with less population than most average cities, desperate to look relevant, took a chance and pushed their caucus to Saturday, January 5 (and as a result, the state had its number of national convention delegates slashed by half from 28 to 14 - come on, when you claim to be a Republican, you aren't supposed to mess with tradition). We'll look at their results, too.

Admittedly, this is just the first couple of states, but let's take a look at the results. (All percentage rankings are by party, and are taken from the Des Moines Register, which seems like a reasonable source for news from Iowa. Similarly, the New Hampshire results were pulled from the Concord Monitor. Wyoming results were simply pulled from the AP release, because I'm too lazy to look harder and find something that gives complete votes. So all I've got from there is the number of delegates each candidate earned - but in the end, does it make a difference? It's just Wyoming. One of those square states in the middle that nobody cares about.

Oh, and by the way, the New Hampshire results are going to be recounted: Dennis Kucinich says he wants it because he wants to ensure that everybody's vote is counted. Robert Howard apparently can't believe that only 43 people in the whole state voted for him.
Mike Huckabee: In Iowa, the Baptist minister got 34% of the vote. Nothing from Wyoming, where they know that God has deserted them anyway. (I mean, does anybody think that Dick Cheney could come from anyplace that God has been keeping an eye on?) And in New Hampshire, he managed to gain 11% of the vote. This whole Huckabee mess is actually scaring the rank and file in the Republican party: after years of courting the religious right, a candidate finally came from there. It would be cool if he drove the moneychangers from the temple, wouldn't it?

Mitt Romney: Mitt only managed to pull out 25% of the vote from Iowa, but might feel a little better by the fact that he got eight of the twelve delegates from Wyoming. But against all expectations, in New Hampshire he found himself over 12,000 voters behind a revitalized John McCain, only gaining 32% of the Republican vote (which probably caused him to crap his magic underwear).

Fred Thompson: Fred could only muster 13% of the Republicans in Iowa, but he also gained three of the remaining four delegates in Wyoming, where they like old men who fall asleep a lot. (They also have a strong respect for ignorance there - trust me, I lived in Cheyenne for four years.) In New Hampshire, he only appealed to 1% of the GOP, earning almost exactly 2/3 as many votes as some guy named "Total Write-ins." Yes, you read that right. 2,886 people thought that Fred Thompson was a viable candidate, while 4,342 people literally voted for "Anybody except these guys!"

John McCain: While John earned slightly fewer votes in Iowa than Fred "Really, I'm 6 years younger than McCain!" Thompson, he was statistically even with him, at 13%. However, he seriously tore up New Hampshire, where 37% of the people voted for him. (On the other hand, does anybody remember that he won New Hampshire in 2000, too?)

Ron Paul: The contentious (if not batshit insane) no-longer-Libertarian contender managed to pull 10% of the vote in Iowa. He was also excluded from the Fox "News" New Hampshire debate, despite pulling in bigger Iowa numbers than 9iu11iani. (But that's OK. It gave him time to cross the picket lines and appear on The Tonight Show.) And interestingly enough, he then earned roughly two thousand votes less in New Hampshire than 9iu11iani, finding his message resonating with only 8% of the New Hampshire Republicans.

Rudy 9iu11iani: He may have only gained 3% of the vote, but he held to his usual strategy. He may have finished practically dead last among the Republican candidates (he beat out Duncan Hunter, but poor ol' Duncan brought in 0.0% of the vote, so I'm not sure he really counts). Rudy may have earned less than a third of the votes mustered by Ron Paul in Iowa and none of the delegates from Wyoming. But by God, he's going to tie this to 9/11 one way or another.
"None of this worries me - Sept. 11, there were times I was worried," Giuliani said.
Where do you go from there? The man is now officially his own stereotype. Oh, and only 9% of the New Hampshire voters liked him, for that matter.

Duncan Hunter: Like I said, 0% of the vote. He picked up a few votes here and there, but in Iowa, he was statistically irrelevant. On the other hand, he picked up the last remaining delegate in Wyoming and a big 1% of the vote in New Hampshire, so we probably shouldn't just write him off. (I’m going to, but that's just me.)

So, who does that leave? Oh, yeah, there's a whole other party, isn't there? You know, those guys that Fox News wants you to forget about?
Barack Obama: 38% of the Democrats went for Barack. And he didn't do it by the traditional method of courting the party favorites: he went after independents, college kids and other new voters. Most pundits are pointing at him as the direct cause of the outstanding voter turnout.

Personally, I think it's about time that America got a black president. Statistically, black men have been around 10-11% of the American population. Since we're on our way to electing our 44th president, we should have had at least four blacks so far. But all we've gotten is rich white men, which might be part of the problem. Perhaps it's time for somebody to notice that, of all of the people who wouldn't vote for a black man, none of them would vote for a Democrat anyway.

John Edwards: Somewhere along the line, people have been ignoring the conventional wisdom. Edwards, traditionally ignored by the mainstream media, pulled 30% of the Democratic vote. Of course, this was ignored in favor of coverage of McCain's triumphant emergence with 13% of the Republican vote (and only half as many Republicans as Democrats are going to the polls - remember?). But in New Hampshire, he was back to running a distant third, with 17% of the vote. Life sucks when you're a rich white guy, doesn't it?

Hillary Clinton: Although she's essentially tied with Edwards, at 30% of the Democratic vote, he's leading in actual votes gained. Also, if you followed my earlier logic regarding black presidents, we should have had 22 or 23 women presidents. However, I've never been a big fan of Hillary, so I'm not sure that it should be her. They didn't agree with me in New Hampshire, though, where 39% of the Democrats wanted her to drive the Big Chair.

Bill Richardson: Got a big 2% of the Iowa vote, and 5% in New Hampshire. Yes, he's my governor. Yes, I think he's actually the most qualified candidate. But Bill, I'm kind of glad you packed it in. There comes a time when you need to realize that you just aren’t going to win.

Joe Biden: With just under 1% of the Democrats voting for him (0.9%, if you really need the decimal places), Joe Biden has pulled out of the race. He seems to feel that his biggest problem is that the press was concentrating on the front three (Clinton, Edwards and Obama), and that might have been true: the only time he could get press was with his quote about Giuliani (that Rudy's message consisted of "a noun, a verb, and 9/11"). But at least he's got that highly-paid Senate job to go back to.

Chris Dodd: Managed to pull in only 0.02% of the Democratic vote. He came in with less than one-fifth of the vote that went to "I dunno." The man made a lot of sense, he talked a good race, but he really couldn't seem to fire up the voters. And you have to admit, it shows a certain amount of dedication to actually move your family to Iowa a couple of weeks back. And he's also got a Senate job to go back to, since he's also pulled out.

Dennis Kucinich: Didn't even score as high as Dodd. Sad. He had a hot wife, too. But he's still in there plugging away, despite the fact that he won't even be on the ballot in Texas.

Mike Gravel: In Iowa, he wasn't even on the radar. In New Hampshire, he did almost twice as well as Chris Dodd. But the difference between Gravel and Dodd is that Gravel doesn't have the good sense to back out gracefully. (His latest trick to woo young voters? He told them that pot was better than booze. I've got to say, it's an interesting strategy.)

There's more primaries coming up, and a lot of the voters aren't behaving like sheep this time around. So, overall, I think that the only conclusion we can draw is that it's going to be a long year.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

It's Sunday. Here's your sermon.

You know, it's strange. The Republican party has laid claim on Christianity for around 3 decades now, and nobody has called them on it. I'm definitely not a Biblical scholar, but I have a hard time seeing how they can justify starting a preemptive war, and still claim to follow the guy who said "Turn the other cheek."

(Well, he probably said it in Hebrew, if he said it at all; let's not go there, OK?)

Disclaimer: I'm actually something that our friends on the Far Right like to claim doesn't exist. I have a relatively strong moral code, and I have been an agnostic most of my life. I was actually an athieist for much of my youth, but realized somewhere along the line that absolute denial of the possibility of a higher power was just as much a belief system as Christianity. There's always the "unicorn argument" (prove it never existed), but that can be applied both ways to this question.

Let's look at the current fascination with immigration. Apparently, if you listen to the Republican debates (particularly back when Tancredo was still in the race), not only are the Mexicans going to come in and steal all of our high-paying jobs, but they're going to hold the door open so that the islamofascists can get in, too.

Now, let's look at Exodus 22:21: "Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt."

Or the New Testament. Hebrews 13:2: "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." (In case you're curious, the New American Standard translates this as " Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it." That's not an exhortation to pole dance for random passersby.)

For that matter, Matthew 25:44-45:
Then shall they also answer him, saying, "Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?"

Then shall he answer them, saying, "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.”

And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
You can also read that one when you're talking about Social Security, welfare, the national healthcare debate, or any of a number of hot-button topics for the Republicans.

The Bush tax cuts? Luke 20:25: "And he said unto them, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's."

The environment? At the same time that God gave Adam and Eve "dominion over… every living thing that moveth upon the earth," He told them to "replenish the Earth." (Genesis 1:28). In Leviticus 25:23, God says "The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine, for ye are strangers and sojourners with me." Sojourner is usually translated as "tenant," by the way. So do you think God's going to renew your lease?

For that matter, try to explain how you can claim to follow a guy who was crucified, and still support capital punishment?

Maybe it's time for the Republicans to decide which god they really want to follow. Because their philosophy is closer to a different philosopher: with their feelings about doing what they want and destroying their enemies, maybe they should look into the works of Anton LaVey.