Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Trolling for trolls?

Crossposted from Daily Kos 9/9/08

“No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”
HL Mencken

There’s been a lot of back and forth lately about allegedly nay-saying trolls posting diaries, which makes me wonder: Is anyone out there in blogville who is feeling more than a little antsy, whose sense of deja vu has their spider sense tingling, who can see Dukakis, Gore and Kerry clanking their chains like Marley’s ghost, and who has the temrerity to take their Cassandra-like angst public going to be automatically branded as a troll?

Regrettably the answer to that appears to be yes, and as a Democrat who’s been voting since ‘68, frankly I resent it. It’s one thing to have an honest difference of opinion with a fellow blogger, even to the point of a snarky reply, but to suggest that anyone who would deviate from the, dare I say it, party line is somehow in bed with the enemy makes us look and sound like, well, them.

So yes I’m worried. I’ve been through too many post-coital convention swoons only to wake up and find my wallet gone. Mike and Al and John were great dates, until we took ‘em home to meet the folks. And now, God help us, we’re bringing a really exotic specimen to the front door. All that’s left is to have “Society’s Child” as background music.

So yes, people, I worry that our fractious nation still believes in the quick fix. Like it or not, impulsive as McCain may have been, Palin is an inspired choice. It has enabled the bad guys to frame the agenda, once again sending the old and slow straight talk freight to a siding so the flashy streamliner can pass on through. That’s not troll-ish, that’s a fact.

The question is what can we do about it, and that’s what I think is driving the realists among us to wonder out loud if the illusoiry promise of quantum change will be enough this time around to trump the status quo. That’s not troll-ish, that’s a cry in the wilderness from those whose political diaspora has spanned many, many years, in my case decades. Keep reminding yourselves that Clinton, and Carter to a certain extent, were aberrations, not the norm. Also keep in mind that the last Republican who actually “won” an election outright was Reagan, and connect the dots from there.

I saw Barack with Keith last night, heard him calmly keepin’ on and trusting in his message. Hey I’m a believer. Hell he had me at hello way back when. But the belief is in Barack, which is not enough. To really make it work we have to believe not just in ourselves, which is to say the progressive core of the electorate, but in those folks for whom you’d think voting Democratic would be a no-brainer. Ay there’s the rub. If we can’t convince enough people that enlightened self-interest is preferable to indulgent self-interest we’ve had it. That’s not troll-ish, that’s reality.

Now part of my own particular angst stems from living in western Mass., the heart iof the People’s Republic of New England, where if we get any bluer we’ll need to add a new color band to the spectrum. So while the battle is joined elsewhere we sit in splendid isolation, like the Washington swells in 1861 who packed picnic lunches and watched from a comfortably safe distance as their boys got smashed at Bull Run. If I hadn’t spent three weeks in Oregon this summer visiting family I might never have known there was a real horse race out there beyond our blue horizon. This isolation only adds to the frustration, since out here we’re all registered and committed. About the only political battles we fight in this neck of the woods are with some of our over-the-top PC types, but come crunch time we’ll all vote the same.

So I watch and listen as this life-or-death struggle for the future of the American experiment plays out on a distant plain, secure in the knowledge that my region will show the flag and do the right thing. Meanwhile, out in the real world it’s some bad shit happenin’ and there ain’t a damn thing I can do about it except hope beyond all expectation that this time our guy will actually get the dust to settle in the rest of the country just long enough for his clarity of vision to penetrate the force field of denial and self-absorption and give us back our beloved country.

And if my reading of history and bitter past experience renders me less sanguine than blogville might wish, if my presumed lack of enthusiasm makes me a troll by default, so be it. Lord knows I’d love to bring my aging bones in from the cold and darkness of our political nuclear winter and find warmth at Barack’s fireside, but I’m not holding my breath. Big truth is castor oil. A big lie is cotton candy. So we better find some sugar to help that medicine go down, and do it damn quick, or else it’s just going to get darker and colder out there come November.

“This concludes our emotional weather report. Now back to the eleven o’clock blues.”
Tom Waits

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Scarier than you think

Sarah Palin, asked what she thought about the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance: "If it was good enough for the Founding Fathers it's good enough for me..."

As the house pessimist, or realist depending on your point of view, I see this observation as yet one more indicator of how we could very easily lose this election.

Put simply, the Republicans have mastered the black political art of validating ignorance. Tie this in with the insidious and pervasive Orwellian re-writing of American history going on in home and public schools across the land, and you have a political weapon that would make Josefs Goebbels and Stalin green with envy.

Remember, we inhabit a political universe in which truth and fact no longer matter. History is what the Republicans say it is, and the pervasive, unspoken subtext is that America is, was, and always will be a Christian nation.

What concerns me about this is that we progressives actually, if not naively, believe that through the simple expedient of truth-telling we can re-educate the True Believers and shame the Rs' campaign into sticking with the facts (got yer deed t'th' Brooklyn Bridge right heah if you buy that one).

But what's truly scary about all this is how the Rs' political jujitsu can turn a progressive response into a backlash in a New York minute. The moment we correctly tag Sarah Palin, or anyone else of importance in the campaign, as the profound ignoramus she is - or they are - the Rs fire back with the latest variation of the egghead smear that's been their weapon of choice since Stevenson.

Works every time, neighbors. No one likes to be shown up, especially by some elitist lefty (which is to say anyone who knows the score who's telling you you're wrong), and the Rs know it. Consider how many people we all know who can't won't or don't make the distinction between ignorance and intelligence. Mention the fact that someone might be ignorant of the situation at hand and what do you hear? "You calling me stupid?" Nuff said.

So I'd be careful with how we, and the Obama campaign, deal with this. Joe Biden could easily shred Palin and her credibility in their debate, but watch out for the Rs' response. I can hear it now. Biden's just another glib pointy-headed liberal. Do we really want someone that articulate, that smart, talking over our heads all the time? Bad enough we have to deal with this uppity colored guy, but two eggheads in the same administration? Why that's un-American.

Republicans love ignorance and fact-bending. They thrive on it, and have co-opted it as a political stratagem, which means we should attack it not frontally but obliquely. To go after Palin directly springs the Rovian trap, so we nibble at the edges.

Put some quick references into ads and stump speeches, maybe give Joe Biden a zinger or two like "Y'know I've recited the Pledge of Allegiance all my life, and I believe in it with all my heart. But I also paid attention in history class, so I know that the Pledge wasn't written until 1892, which means that if Sarah Palin is right about the Founding Fathers endorsing it they would have had to live another hundred years. Now for someone running for vice-president, maybe to be off by a few years wouldn't matter all that much, but to be off by that much makes me wonder what other serious misconceptions Gov. Palin might be laboring under."

And under no circumstances do we go directly after Palin's pregnant daughter. Instead, let Obama, or the right group of surrogates, offer up something like this: "Now we've heard a lot from the Republicans, and will hear a lot more I'm sure, about good old fashioned family values. So I suggest you now to take a good long, hard look at the respective tickets, Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin. You've heard our stories, read all about us, so now ask yourselves which of these sets of candidates really represents the kind of values you'd want to see in your own families."

And don't belabor the point. Get in and get out. Journalist George Seldes, whose remarkable career spanned nearly the entire 20th century, and of whom too many progressives are, yes, ignorant, lived by a very simple mantra: "Tell the truth and run." He didn't mean it in a cowardly way. Instead he was all about get in, get the facts, tell the story and move on to the next one before anyone can draw a bead on the messenger.

So it's all about guerrilla tactics. Hit and run, in and out. Strike quick, strike hard, and then get back on message. Will it work? Who knows. This election hinges on whether or not we the people actually think we've hit bottom. Problem is that the Republicans are the bottom-feeders in this race, and know how to stir up the muck to obscure the truth. Our job is to keep blupping up bubbles of truth and reason through the primordial ooze of ignorance and fear that has pandemically infected the American electoral mindset, in the hope of some of that message actually getting through.

And I wish us all luck, because as we all know the fate of the American experiment hangs in the balance. If we don't find a bigger choir to preach to we've had it...

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Questions for Palin

Okay, despite my overall lack of complete confidence in the Democrats finally getting their act together, and in the voters actually getting it this time around, I do think there’s a chance to neutralize Sarah Palin early on, and maybe gain a measure of redemption for letting Dan Quayle skate back in ‘88.
Of course this would depend on whether there are still working journalists out there with the wherewithal and the stones to ask the really tough and meaningful questions of the gentlelady from Alaska that would help fill in a significant number of blanks. So as a freelance with a few tough interviews under his belt, here are some questions I would put to Gov. Palin had I the opportunity:

You have embraced the religious right’s attempts to force the teaching of biblical creationism in public school science classes, under the rubric of “intelligent design” and the Discovery Insitute’s campaign to “teach the controversy.” That being the case, would you say that you were a creationist, and if so are you a young-earth or an old-earth creationist?

[Followup] In the Dover, Pa. case, a federal judge appointed by Bush II ruled that introducing a blatantly theological and theocratic agenda into the science curriculum was patently unconstitutional. Do you agree with that decision? Is Judge Jones your kind of Republican? And do you think that promoting a religious agenda in science or history classes is, or ought to be, considered constitutional, and would you favor changing the First Amendment to reflect that belief?

There’s been some confusion on where you stand regarding spousal benefits for committed gay couples. Do you believe in, at the very least, civil unions as an alternative to actual marriage, or is even that off the table?

You are on record as being opposed to abortion in all cases, including rape and incest. Back in ‘88 a twelve-year-old girl hypothetically asked Dan Quayle what he would do for her if she were made pregnant by incestutous rape. Quayle’s now-infamous reply was “I’ll pray for you.” So let’s put the same hypothetical in play now, and ask you tell us what your response would be to that young person if she were to put the same question to you today.

Even if Barack Obama were a Muslim, which he most assuredly is not, should that preclude or otherwise disqualify him from running for, or being, president? And in a related manner, do you believe, as many of your fellow Republicans do and is thus reflected in many state GOP platforms, that America is a Christian nation?

Two years ago you stated for the record that you were in favor of any and all public works projects that came your way, including the so-called bridge to nowhere, and now you’ve come out foursquare against that project. Would you describe the thought process that led to that decision?

Much has been made of the current problems with our military, the laundry list being very well known so we won’t get into it here. Do you believe that the new GI Bill was the right piece of legislation, or do you believe that John McCain’s defeated alternative would have been the preferred choice?

[Followup] Should our military continue to be led by a cadre of Christian fundamentalists, as it is now by all accounts, who believe that we should be fighting an apoalyptic holy war in the Middle East and Central Asia?
Do you believe it is proper and appropriate for our servicepeople to actively attempt to convert the Iraqi people to their particular brand of Christianity, or any other faith for that matter?
Do you believe that evangelicals in the military throughout the ranks have the right to aggressively evangelize or proselytize their fellow servicepeople while on active duty? Should the service academies and installation commanders be permitted to coerce cadets to attend sectarian activities in exchange for free time or lighter duty?

Which are the two largest Islamic factions in Iraq? Which holds the population majority, and what would you do to help promote stability between the two?

Should you somehow become president:
Under what circumstances do you believe we should go to war with Iran?
Under what circumstances would you consider the use of nuclear weapons?
Would you consider actively pursuing any constitutional amendments, and if so what would they be?
What sort of approach would you take towards Russia?

Do you truly believe that expanded oil drilling in Alaska or elsewhere, or enacting a gas tax holiday, will provide us with the short-term relief we so desperately need at the moment? Are there no unintended consequences to consider as a result of such actions?

Have you read Jerome Corsi’s book about Obama, and if so what did you think of it?

Define the following terms, as you understand them: fascism and appeasement, and how these two concepts figure into current domestic and world affairs.

Let me offer you a few observations made by various Americans throughout our history, presented anonymously, and ask in the best Republican tradition of black or white, yes or no, up or down, whether you agree with them. Names will be supplied after your replies:
1) “We should invade them all, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”
(Ann Coulter)
2) “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military/industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
3) "Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites."
4) “I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman.”
(Bush II)
5) "The same human activity that has brought freedom and opportunity to billions has also increased the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Increased atmospheric carbon has a warming effect on the earth."
(Republican platform, 2008)
6) “The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without a legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity.”
7) “Oh Lord! Do you think that a Protestant Popedom is annihilated in America? Do you recollect, or have you ever attended to the ecclesiastical Strifes in Maryland, Pennsilvania, New York, and every part of New England? What a mercy it is that these People cannot whip and crop, and pillory and roast, AS YET in the U.S.! If they could they would.”
(John Adams)

So if you had half an hour with Governor Palin, just you and her and a voice recorder, what would you want to know?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

PBS "Carrier": A Mixed Blessing

The PBS documentary “Carrier” was an eye-opener, especially for an old civilian such as me. As a retired high school teacher I was particularly interested in the kids as they told their stories, especially since, as any teacher watching the series would attest, we’ve known these kids, shared their lives and heard these same stories.
We’ve nurtured these kids, wheedled and cajoled them, laughed and cried with them, and when all the motivational tricks failed we’ve probably all thrown up our hands and sent ‘em down to the office. So it was a revelation to see that archetypal wiseass who was the bane of your existence for up to four years trying real life on for size, and for the most part finding it a pretty good fit.
From that perspective, then, the series was a truly rewarding experience. But certain aspects of the show were troubling, particularly segment on religion and faith. I approached the hour with a fair measure of misgiving, having been following, and covering, the heavy-handed attempt to Christianize the military that has reached crisis proportions and shows no signs of letting up.
Frankly, I expected this hour to reveal a bunch of wild-eyed Christian warriors piloting the USS Jesus, nee Nimitz, toward her inevitable rendezvous with her millennial destiny. Instead, we were shown what appeared to be a paradigm of religious tolerance and diversity, with any number of Protestant and Catholic observances taking place. There was even a small coven of practicing Wiccans aboard, a handful of Muslims and at least one token Jew who maintained he’d not been hassled at all.
Part of me wanted desperately to believe what I was seeing, since it seemed to fly in the face of all that I’d heard, read and reported. Perhaps, I thought, there may still be some reasonably enlightened religious folk, especially among the chaplain corps, who actually get it and were playing by the rules because they thought it was the right thing to do.
On the other hand, I told myself, this series was produced by Mel Gibson, whose own track record on religious tolerance is of course dubious at best. What also started bouncing around in my brain pan was the old adage that if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. So I got in touch with Mikey Weinstein of the MIlitary Religious Freedom Foundation, who has been the point man on this issue for some time now, to get his take on the series, particularly the religion segment.
Weinstein had indeed watched the show, and he too was concerned that art was not exactly imitating life where matters of shipboard faith were concerned. In fact, among the nearly 8,000 service people and their families who have contacted the MRFF with concerns, complaints and anguished cries for help are a dozen or so from the Nimitz. Because of sensitivity and security concerns, and that fact that these are open cases, Weinstein would not elaborate on the nature of the grievances, but he did characterize a couple of the incidents as “vicious.”
Regrettably, this appears to be consistent with the tone and substance of many of the cases that have been widely reported, from the Weinstein family’s own ordeals at the Air Force Academy to the story of Jeremy Hall, the atheist GI whose personal safety has been threatened by fellow soldiers after news of his lawsuit against the Army went public.
So, as much as I would like to believe what I saw in the faith segment, it appears that we may have been shown a Potemkin facade, at least as far as a truly balanced presentation is concerned. And that’s a shame, because a lot of what we did see appeared to portray the American religious experience at its freewheeling best. But just as much of a large ship’s activity takes place below the water line, and therefore remains largely unseen, so too, it seems, can a similar case be made for an unseen current of religious extremism flowing unchecked below the line, under the radar, out of sight, out of mind.
On balance, therefore, “Carrier” was a mixed blessing. It was well crafted, and at its best insightful and moving. It’s just too bad that there couldn’t have been a little more filmic and intellectual honesty devoted to an issue that remains, to our national detriment, the elephant in the room.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Short Hits

Is anyone else out there fed up with this “elite” nonsense? Yeah I know the far-right wingnuts have latched onto it like a junkyard dog on an alley cat, but surely we can begin to neutralize it as an issue by beginning to point out that there’s plenty of elitism to go around, especially over on the dark side. Can you say corporate elite? If the Republicans want a knife fight, let’s give ‘em one: Hollywood vs. Halliburton, last one standing gets to the White House.

Over on Americans United there’s a story about an Ohio science teacher who’s refused an order to remove his Bible from his desk. This came after the guy was told to remove the Ten Commandments from his classroom door, which he did. The teacher is one of those hard-core Christians who just can’t bring himself to check his theocratic views at the door, offhandedly dissing the wall of separation and pushing so-called intelligent design on his students.
The real kicker is that this guy wants to sue the school district by saying his rights have been violated. It’s a dead-cert loser, but the Republican “qaeda” has already broken out the torches and pitchforks and are ready to ride this broke-down jalopy right over the cliff.
As a retired HS social studies teacher it saddens me every time I run across a story like this. In my psychology, sociology and history classes I was all over religion as a uniquely human experience. My kids got a good look at everything from Cotton Mather to Amazon animism, always backstopped by the idea that when you boil it down you’ll find the same archetypal human dynamics at work, and that we’re a helluva lot more alike than we think.
Then you run into a bozo like this, who brings church sermons into science class and makes a mockery of everything the human race has managed to accomplish over the past two millennia. To my mind, while the man has committed no crime his actions in his classroom border on the criminal, nothing short of intellectual child abuse.
Ah well, such is life among the deluded who say the religious right is dead. Then again, Ben Stein’s movie tanked, so we takes our small victories as we finds ‘em.

Meanwhile this old cynic still thinks this election is McCain’s to lose. Once the fear and smear machine cranks up in the general it’ll be the same-old same-old. Republicans are masters of gut-think, and they have tapped so deeply into the American psyche that it’ll take the equivalent of a political nuke to finally get us off the schneid.
On the other hand, if McCain’s down by twenty points in the polls come October, feel free to serve up my words and I’ll eat ‘em stewed, boiled or fried. Mind you I ain’t holdin’ me breath on that one.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Real GI Bill of Rights

The new GI Bill currently wending its tortuous way through Congress is of course a damn good idea, and a long time coming. Word is that the measure will eventually pass, but could face a presidential veto because in the minds of George Bush and, among others as we go to press, John McCain, the bill is too good (take a deep breath now, we didn’t make this up).

As has been widely reported, both McCain and Bush have opined that by treating our kids with the respect and dignity they most certainly deserve we’re making it easier for these service people to bail out after their initial hitch is up, thereby significantly reducing reenlistment numbers. In their minds, apparently, maintaining the status quo is more important to them than doing the right thing, so they would seem to be be content with the current regime of malign neglect and draconian indifference that characterizes the current state of affairs in the defense establishment.

And while nothing is too good for any kid who signs up to serve his/her country, an examination of the particulars of the new GI Bill becomes notable not for what it contains but what it leaves out.

From their point of view, the authors of the bill seem to have touched all the bases, and that’s a good thing. Who would argue with assuring our service people and their families of good equipment, comprehensive health care in and out of the VA, better pay, humane deployment policies and better educational opportunities?

But there’s more to this. If we’re going to erect an umbrella of protection over our service people the authors of the bill might well consider their personal and civil liberties as well.
For some time now, as anyone who has been following the story already knows, there has been an ongoing litany of theocratic coercion perpetrated by a particularly fanatical cadre of Dominionist Christians currently holding sway throughout the ranks in all our service branches. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has to date documented nearly 8,000 instances of theocratic abuse, and those numbers are growing almost daily.

Knowing this, one can only wonder why there hasn’t been an effort to protect one of our most basic of human rights, even in the military: The right to believe - or not - in any religious or spiritual faith, free from interference or reprisal by superiors or peers.

Now you’d think something like this would be a no-brainer for anyone who purports to believe in the American way, but evidently this issue has somehow slipped through the cracks. For reasons that have managed to bypass this observer’s own logic filters, even the military reformers in Congress don’t see this as a major problem.

Ironic when you think of it, because it would seem to be counterintuitive to send our kids into harm’s way to defeat the toxic fundamentalism of well-organized religious extremists, while being led by an equally well-organized cadre of religious extremists whose own fundamentalist beliefs are all the more toxic because they’re homegrown and operating with at least the tacit approval of our current administration and their enablers in Congress.

Mind you there has been some progress, albeit fleeting. Back in ‘99 Bob Barr, then a Georgia Representative, decided to declare war on Wiccans in the military, even though the soldiers involved did their thing off-hours and off-post. Barr got pretty well smacked down on that one, but for years the Wiccan pentacle was not approved as a religious marker on military graves. That was finally resolved last year when the Department of Veterans Affairs finally gave in and add the pentacle to their approved list.

Would that this were the rule rather than the exception. Unfortunately every procedural victory such as the Wiccan thing requires a huge amount of sweat equity to make it happen. Even now there are similar cases percolating glacially through the courts, while the larger issue continues to be the elephant in the room.

What we’re talking about here is nothing less than a referendum on the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and whether the essential rights of citizens enumerated therein apply equally to our citizen-soldiers. Remember also that the tag line on the Fourteenth authorizes Congress to enforce the rules by “appropriate legislation.”

So, Congress, here’s your chance to do exactly that. And if any of your membership has actually studied US history lately, you’ll recall that it took just about a hundred years from the inception of the Fourteenth to finally enact federal civil rights legislation.

Well, people, you don’t have that kind of time any more. You might want to revisit Brown v. Board of Education and find the admonition to take care of business “with all deliberate speed.” So how about getting down to it and promulgate a GI Bill of Rights that actually includes the Bill of Rights. Anything less would be, well, un-American.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Wishful thinking

I'm one of those folks whom Keith Olbermann has characterized as voting for a tin can with a D after it come crunch time. That said, I've pretty much gotten behind Barak for both practical and ideological reasons.
As a charter member of the baby boom generation (July, '46), my political passion all but died off when Bobby Kennedy was killed, and it has yet to return. But while Barak's no Bobby, and I expect no one ever will be, he's got something that's connecting with the kids, and that's enough for me.
And for this beat-down old progressive, it's pretty obvious that Hillary has pretty much bottomed out and it's time to move on.
So as a public service, Bughouse Square offers up to the Clinton campaign my idea of a neat concession speech, to be delivered as soon after the Pennsylvania primary as possible:

Y’know, politics isn’t pretty. It’s not a game for anyone with a thin skin, and I think both Senator Obama and I have shown the nation just how tough a couple of capable and dedicated Democrats can be when the national stakes are so high and both players are all-in.
Well, we took this play right down to the river card, and it turned for my opponent, so by all that’s fair in love, war, and especially politics, it’s time for us to leave the game and help stake Senator Obama at the final table against John McCain.

Now I’d be less than honest if I said I was thrilled with the result. I know in my heart that I would have been a good president, and that I truly feel I was the best-qualified candidate in the field. Heck if I didn’t feel that way I had no business in the campaign in the first place.

But now it’s time to move on to the next phase in the campaign, the one where Democrats of all stripes rally ‘round Barak Obama and the Democratic message and do what we have to do, need to do, and simply must do to take our country back.

Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that there were no second acts in American lives. Well, Fitzgerald obviously never took part in a high-stakes presidential campaign, where every day is Groundhog Day until all the parts finally fall into place. And this time around, the resolution came in favor of my opponent.

So I say to all my friends and supporters, especially the ones who’ve been with us from the jump, that we gave it our best shot but we fell a little short. And I know that many of you are upset, and that you might even be feeling, dare I say, bitter about the result. But I urge you to look past your anger and frustration and take a long look at the big picture.

Do you really want the next four years to be little more than Bush Light?
Do you really want an economic policy based on tax breaks for the wealthy and sweetheart deals for the corporate elite?
Do you really want us to remain mired in Iraq while our national stature takes hit after hit around the world?
Do you really want a president who thinks a new GI Bill is too good for our men and women in uniform?

I didn’t think so. And making sure that doesn’t happen is now Priority One for every Democrat and Independent who understands that the time for change is now, and that a united Democratic party can truly deliver the goods come November.

So once again I thank you for your support and for all you’ve done for me in this campaign. But let me tell you that losing the way we did in 2000 and 2004 leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and even though it won’t be me at the top of the ticket this time around I say let’s get to it and finally put the brakes on this runaway Republican train once and for all!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

My latest windmill

As a dyed-in-the-wool civil libertarian, the attempts by people in government or government service to Christianize the country, particularly the military, frightens me profoundly. The previous post and the one following are all of a piece, with similar content but a different approach. Feel free to make of each what you will...

The Enemy Within
We all know what can happen when a heavily armed group of dedicated religious fanatics embraces a sectarian cause. Throughout history we have borne witness to the violence and carnage perpetrated by the willing minions of kings, popes, sheikhs, caliphs, sultans, imams, mullahs, tinpot dictators and born again presidents, all bound by the singular delusion that they are doing God’s work.
This is, of course, what we’re looking at today as well. The West, that is to say America with the Brits nipping at our heels, has for several years now been locked in mortal combat with the toxic fundamentalism of Islamist Wahibism, the sect that spawned bin Laden and his gang. By all accounts, at least from our perspective, we have gone to war to defend and uphold the sterling virtues of a secular, pluralistic and democratic society we the people have spent nearly three centuries trying to perfect.
So it would seem at first glance that we’re on the side of the angels in this particular conflict. After all, aren’t we the ones defending the right to think as we wish, worship - or not - as we wish, and to be safe in our homes and workplaces from those who would impose their own narrow-minded world view on the rest of us? At the same time, aren’t we also the ones who would lay down our lives to protect the rights of an individual to say or think something we might find personally or politically repulsive?
You’d think so, wouldn’t you. But what if in our own country we had a large and heavily armed group of political and religious extremists, our own Christian al Qaeda if you will, that is itself seeking to impose their own theocratic will on the rest of us? And what if, instead of these radicals operating on the fringe of society, out there on cable or cyberspace or in isolated Idaho redoubts, they were firmly entrenched within our governmental infrastructure with a virtual blank check to pursue their nefarious ends?
Wake up call, neighbors. It’s happening now, and if we’re not careful we could easily reap the whirlwind. You see, the particular bit of government infrastructure previously referred to is the United States military, and by conservative reckoning about thirty percent of it, from the highest echelons of the Pentagon to the most basic ground units, has been all but co-opted by a particularly toxic cadre of Christian fundamentalists identified as Dominionists, who are fanatically pro-Jesus and just about anti-everything else.
Now in and of itself the presence of any non-mainstream ideologues in our military shouldn’t be a concern. After all, we’re the nation of the big tent, with room for any number of faiths and philosophies, even in the service, but once the balloon goes up everyone’s on the same side. It’s an idea that worked well during the various struggles of the last century, but for some reason in this post-bin Laden age we now find ourselves being told by many of our military leaders that we’re not just fighting for the American way but we are now the spearhead of the apocalyptic holy war these brass-hat wingnuts so desperately crave.
Space precludes laying out the whole case, but consider the following, and remember that this stuff’s been well documented. We couldn’t have made this up if we tried:
Begin with the uproar over the verbal and physical harassment of Air Force Academy cadets considered “unchurched” by the over-the-top Dominionists in charge of the place. Even after the Air Force was shamed into investigating, and they were forced to admit that this was going on and that it was antithetical to everything we purport to stand for, they then turned around and issued a convoluted set of guidelines that all but endorsed the status quo.
To date the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog group formed by former Air Force Academy honors graduate Mikey Weinstein, has heard from nearly eight thousand aggrieved service people who have been subjected to theocratic abuse, and that number is increasing almost literally as we speak.
There have been several lawsuits filed in federal court on behalf of some of the aforementioned grievants, but one case in particular puts the whole thing in microcosm. A young GI, a two-tour Iraq vet with an exemplary record but who is also a confirmed atheist, ran afoul of one of his superior officers when he convened an off-hours discussion group consisting of himself and fellow atheists. The officer belligerently broke up the meeting and threatened the soldier by saying he’d block is re-enlistment and bring charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), whereupon the young man filed suit.
The case is pending, and the young soldier, now back on post in the US, is living under the dark cloud of army-initiated threats of retribution and retaliation for daring to confront this issue head-on. This follows a number of death threats the soldier received while still deployed in Iraq, where the original incident took place.
So if any of this troubles you, and shame on you if it doesn’t, the face staring back at you in the mirror, the one that says I’m an American and this isn’t right, should be all the incentive you need to do what you need to do as a participant in our democracy to help take our country back.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

By Way of Introduction

Welcome to Bughouse Square. The name of the site is taken from a speakers park on the near north side of Chicago which, for more than a century, has hosted anyone with the wherewithal and the lung power to mount the rostrum and hold forth on just about anything they feel like.
For a dozen years, beginning in 1993, I had the opportunity to hold similarly forth in a regular column in my local weekly, The Ware River News. Everything was fair game, from politics to life with my kid as a single parent. During the course of this run, the column received a couple of awards from the New England Press Association.
Lately, however, I've been looking for a way to get the word out beyond the handful of western Mass. towns our paper serves, so I resisted my luddite ways and opened up shop in the blogosphere. From here, who knows. But if you happen to run into this space in your cyber-travels I hope you find the stuff herein worth the visit.
Peace, y'all...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mikey's War

Mikey’s War
Most of you probably haven’t heard of Mikey Weinstein, and in these perilous times such an oversight begs remediation.
Weinstein, a 1977 graduate of the Air Force Academy and old school Republican, served his country as an Air Force JAG attorney, not to mention the Reagan administration, with distinction and honor. His family, past and present, is military to the bone, and has been for generations. It’s the kind of family a nation like ours has relied on since its inception to watch our backs in troubled times.
Yet if one were to mention Weinstein’s name in certain quarters of the defense establishment and the Bush administration, their reaction might not be as magnanimous as one might think.
You see, Mikey Weinstein has gone to war against the very institution he and his family have freely and solemnly sworn to uphold and defend since anyone can remember. Yet this particular war is not being waged with weapons but ideas, most especially the idea that religious liberty ought not be surrendered when an individual joins the military or enters a service academy.
Weinstein’s war began in 2004, when he began hearing from simpatico officials at the Air Force Academy that the brass had all but ordered the corps of cadets to see Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ." Then it got personal the following year when his son Curtis, an Air Force Academy cadet, told his father that he had been verbally and physically harassed by officers and fellow cadets for no other reason that he was Jewish and had no desire to be evangelized or proselytized by a large and vociferous cadre of heavy-duty Christians at the Academy.
Regrettably, it turns out, this was not an isolated incident. Several other cadets and even a couple of Academy chaplains who actually get it also came forward, causing the Air Force to investigate and eventually confirm young Weinstein’s and others assertions of mistreatment and rampant and pervasive fundamentalism reigning unchecked at the Academy.
Up to now, though, the Air Force has pretty much blown the whole thing off, their tepid response to date being that it’s okay to evangelize but not proselytize and if we spin around and click our heels three times it will all just go away.
Meanwhile, as Weinstein kept on looking into the matter, he began to see a pattern of similar abuses throughout the military, causing him to form the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which has become the spearhead of a rapidly expanding national watchdog movement dedicated to aiding aggrieved service people and identifying individuals and groups in the Pentagon and the ranks whose over-the-top fundamentalism continues to make a mockery of the First Amendment.
Over the past few years, Weinstein has heard from thousands of military folk, most of them Christians, expressing their concerns ranging from excessive proselytizing to outright intimidation in their respective units or within the Pentagon.
Most recently, Weinstein filed an amended lawsuit in federal court on behalf of a young GI, a two-tour Iraq vet and confirmed atheist who ran afoul of his commanding officer when the soldier tried to convene an after-hours discussion group consisting of himself and fellow atheists. The kid was verbally harassed and even told that the officer would block the kid’s re-enlistment if he insisted in expressing his seemingly heretical views.
For you civil libertarians out there such lawsuits are old news in the continuing struggle to rescue the country from our own homegrown Christian Taliban, but in this case the ante was dramatically raised when news of the lawsuit went public and the kid suddenly and without exaggeration found himself in fear of his life. In the United States of America. On a US military post. And you wonder why Mikey Weinstein has chosen this particular windmill with which to do battle.
Weinstein himself has not been immune from the tender ministrations of these Christian soldiers and their fellow travelers. His house has been vandalized any number of times, and the line forms around the block for all the death threats he and his family have received. But Weinstein is first and foremost a soldier and a patriot, one who, befitting his legal background, chooses his battles wisely and judiciously. And from this one he will most assuredly not back down.
So just who are these military people Weinstein has chosen to confront? They are a particularly dedicated group of Christians he has identified as Dominionists, fanatically pro-Jesus and just about anti-everything else. Conservative estimates have placed their number at right around thirty percent in the military and twelve percent nationally, and their numbers are growing. One can easily liken them to the Islamist Wahabi sect that spawned bin Laden and his gang. About the only difference between them is their respective choice of deity, and the chilling reality that the Dominionists have chosen the military as their staging area for the apocalyptic holy war they so desperately crave.
And one of the ways they’re making it work is by exploiting an acute shortage of military chaplains. It has been reported for some time that evangelical pastors are being actively courted by the services with the implicit promise that they’d be all but written a blank check to proselytize in the ranks.
Despite all this, Weinstein’s issue isn’t with religion per se. He firmly believes in the importance of the chaplaincy in the military, and the free and open exchange of religious ideas and philosophies within the ranks. But Weinstein persuasively argues that the particular strain of malignant fundamentalism currently infecting the military subverts and undermines the true position of moral and philosophical rectitude all that we as Americans have worked so hard throughout our history to achieve.
Now, with such a volatile and contentious issue as this spreading virus-like through our military culture you’d think the mainstream media would at least be making an effort to cover the story. Not so, says Weinstein, and extensive web searches seem to bear this out.
Not only that, Weinstein maintains that most progressive vet groups are too preoccupied with their own parochial concerns and fundraising to even consider coalescing and speaking with one voice on their wide-ranging panoply of concerns. But Mikey being Mikey, he has accepted this self-defeating balkanization of concerned vets, marshaled what resources he can and is prepared to soldier on.
In a brief interview, Weinstein laid out his case, his gatling-gun delivery compressing a wealth of information into just a few minutes. He closed with what has become his mantra, one he has frequently invoked in any number of forums: “The United States military is actively engaged in a pernicious and pervasive pattern and practice of unconstitutional rape of of the precious religious freedoms of our honorable [service people] and veterans. This evil is a noxious, institutional force-feeding of of fundamentalist Christianity by our nation’s military command in complete defiance of the United States Constitution.”
And while you’re letting that sink in, bear in mind that, despite the growing anti-war movement, the reality is that we will continue to have a large force of young people under arms for some time to come. The least we can do as citizens is to send these kids into harm’s way secure in the knowledge that the institution to which they’ve pledged their loyalty and their lives reflects all the best of what it means to be American.
For Mikey Weinstein, that has become his life’s work, and once again, as it has been for generations, the Weinstein family is watching our collective back. Mikey's militarist ways may be off-putting to some, but his message is so compelling that we, all of us, might take to heart the observation from “Death Of a Salesman:” Attention must be paid.