Friday, October 30, 2009

A Creepy Trick, No Treats, for Halloween

"For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble."
MacBeth, act IV scene 1, 1623
William Shakespeare

Kimberly Daniels wrote about Halloween Candy for Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network web site where it drew the attention and ridicule from sources across the Internet, including the Huffington Post and MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann.

Daniels personifies that brand of religion that amounts to Christian superstition. It links to the crazy that is epitomized by extreme fundamentalists. It holds little similarity to what most people think of as conventional religious faith or spirituality, and holds more in common with Grimm's Fairy Tales, seances by adolescents at slumber parties, and ghost stories told at camp in the dark in the woods around a camp fire before going to sleep in a tent, (shining a flashlight up your nose, optional).

Daniels' version of Halloween is as different from real Wicca and modern Paganism as the fictional highly commercialized figure of a red-suited, white bearded fat old man with flying reindeer we think of as Santa Clause differs from the Biblical account of the birth of Christ at Christmas.

Daniels has made a career out preaching a religion of fear at seminars. She prattles on about sex with Demons, time released curses oozing malice like cold tablets release medicine, and trick or treat candy prayed over by witches to curse it. When I was a child I toured a local Pearson's candy factory on an elementary school field trip, a place where they make salted nut rolls, nut goodies, mint patties. I sure don't remember any witches on the tour.

I feel qualified to address Ms. Daniels stupidity passing as faith, because I am a Minnesotan. I live in the fly-over land that is home to crazy fundamentalist Christian zealots like Michele Bachmann. Bachmann during her earliest forays into politics, served on a charter school board of directors position, where she tried to prevent the showing of the Disney movie Aladdin because it promoted magic and paganism, while trying to insert teaching Creationism and Christianity into the curriculum. Bachmann when she first ventured into state politics, is alleged to have brought in a group of other crazies to the chamber of the state legislature while her fellow legislators were away from their seats, to pray over the desks of those legislators who did not agree with her extreme views, in order to change their minds. Apparently that made more sense to her than using reason and critical thinking for persuasion.

Bachmann and her co-religionists represents that view of religion that sees prayer as manipulating God to take their side, viewing prayer as if it were equivalent of the witches scene from Shakespeare's play Mac Beth. "Double double, toil and trouble, Fire burn and Cauldron bubble," right through the Eye of Newt, and other creepy recipe ingredients.

It is one thing for Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in his poem Kubla Khan, to create with his words the mental image "A savage place! as holy and enchanted /As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted/By woman wailing for her demon-lover!" but quite another to believe it is real. Religion peddlers like Ms. Daniels assert that having a jack-o-lantern at Halloween is a means of access for demons into your life. She asserts that Dracula and presumably other vampires, mummies and werewolves, and witches on brooms are real, that people on Halloween can be tricked into having sex with Demons instead of people, and that there is sacrificing of babies, followed by drinking their blood. I've actually attended a few pagan Samhain events; people drank Coke and Diet Coke, Mountain Dew and other soft drinks, a few drank beer. No one sacrificed babies or any other living thing, and no one drank blood. (And in case you are wondering, NO, it was not something done as research for this.)

When I read the article Ms. Daniels wrote, which is all over the Internet despite being taken down by the Robertson web site, I couldn't avoid the thought that the best explanation for this nonsense was that Daniels had wandered around a Hallmark store or maybe a costume shop while high out of her mind on some kind of hallucinogenic, like a bad trip on LSD, and this was the result. If so, she must trip a lot, because this is not a purely seasonal message from Daniels. She's bat crazy year round, and even crazier people pay good money to listen to her. It is perhaps not so surprising that Daniels embraced an extreme form of religion, as she came to her ideas about religion after having been a prostitute and a drug addict. What is surprising is that Daniels appears to have degrees in Criminal Justice studies, and more recently in Christian education. So apparently her ideas have been given validation by others; she is not unique in her odd notions, which explains how she came to have her words on Robertson's CBN web site.

I like to read things that are too obscure to interest other people. I read Congressional Bills, Court filings, Orders, and decisions, science papers, obscure literature and poetry, philosophy, and historic documents. I'm one of the few people I know who has actually read the Malleus Malificarum, more commonly known as the Hammer of Witches, the 15th century witch hunting manual. Daniels really should be looking to the classics; she just has no sense of the richness of tradition. Daniels is a light weight; you won't find any silliness about haunted candy corn in the classic old texts.

I can't help but wonder if Daniels gets her ideas from watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the spin off series, Angel, that are still showing in syndication; or maybe the Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi marathons on the movie channels; or perhaps from the panels at science fiction conventions. I'd bet some serious coin that someone with a wicked sense of mischief and a decent familiarity with H. P. Lovecraft could persuade Daniels to preach a sermon or two at one of her seminars against the evils of Cthulu. Fiction and fact are so nebulous to crazies like Daniels, the troublesome notion that Cthulu is fictional would likely be completely unimportant.

Of course, the serious side to this silliness is that people like Daniels and the right wing extremists to whom she appeals like to pander to fear and ignorance. They want to create paranoia about people who might find their spirituality in pagan nature worship, or ethnicity based practices, or alternative traditions by equating it to the the most hateful ideas possible.

You know what is really scary? That people like Daniels, and those who pay to listen to her, and those who feature her on their web sites --------they take her and people like her absolutely seriously. They are convinced that they, and only they, have the right idea, and that they have to either persuade us or force the rest of us to do and to see things their way. They have to save the rest of the world from being different from them and the one true, right way.

The RIGHT way, not in the sense of right that means correct; RIGHT in the sense of the political and religious spectrum. Now THAT'S SCARY!

Happy Halloween, Samhain, All Hallow's, Feast of the Departed, whatever name you give to the date.

the Text that Daniels' briefly had posted on CBN:

During Halloween, time-released curses are always loosed. A time-released curse is a period that has been set aside to release demonic activity and to ensnare souls in great measure ... During this period demons are assigned against those who participate in the rituals and festivities. These demons are automatically drawn to the fetishes that open doors for them to come into the lives of human beings. For example, most of the candy sold during this season has been dedicated and prayed over by witches.

I do not buy candy during the Halloween season. Curses are sent through the tricks and treats of the innocent whether they get it by going door to door or by purchasing it from the local grocery store.The demons cannot tell the difference.

Even the colors of Halloween (orange, brown and dark red) are dedicated. These colors are connected to the fall equinox, which is around the 20th or 21st of September each year and is sometimes called"Mabon." During this season witches are celebrating the changing of the seasons from summer to fall. They give praise to the gods for the demonic harvest. They pray to the gods of the elements (air, fire, water and earth).

Mother earth is highly celebrated during the fall demonic harvest. Witches praise mother earth by bringing her fruits, nuts and herbs. Demons are loosed during these acts of worship. When nice church folk lay out their pumpkins on the church lawn, fill their baskets with nuts and herbs, and fire up their bonfires, the demons get busy. They have no respect for the church grounds. They respect only the sacrifice and do not care if it comes from believers or non-believers.

Halloween is much more than a holiday filled with fun and tricks or treats. It is a time for the gathering of evil that masquerades behind the fictitious characters of Dracula, werewolves, mummies and witches on brooms. The truth is that these demons that have been presented as scary cartoons actually exist. I have prayed for witches who are addicted to drinking blood and howling at the moon.

While the lukewarm and ignorant think of these customs as "just harmless fun," the vortexes of hell are releasing new assignments against souls. Witches take pride in laughing at the ignorance of natural men (those who ignore the spirit realm).

Decorating buildings with Halloween scenes, dressing up for parties, going door-to-door for candy, standing around bonfires and highlighting pumpkin patches are all acts rooted in entertaining familiar spirits. All these activities are demonic and have occult roots.

The word "occult" means "secret." The danger of Halloween is not in the scary things we see but in the secret, wicked, cruel activities that go on behind the scenes.

These activities include:

Sex with demons
Orgies between animals and humans
Animal and human sacrifices
Sacrificing babies to shed innocent blood
Rape and molestation of adults, children and babies
Revel nights
Conjuring of demons and casting of spells
Release of "time-released" curses against the innocent and the ignorant.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

the "Franken Anti-Rape Amendment"

On page 245, between lines 8 and 9, insert the following:

Sec. 8104. (a) Beginning 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any existing or new Federal contract if the contractor or a subcontractor at any tier requires that an employee or independent contractor, as a condition of employment, sign a contract that mandates that the employee or independent contractor performing work under the contract or subcontract resolve through arbitration any claim under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or any tort related to or arising out of sexual assault or harassment, including assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, or negligent hiring, supervision, or retention.

(b) The prohibition in subsection (a) does not apply with respect to employment contracts that may not be enforced in a court of the United States.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Franken Ammendment

“America's state religion, [is] patriotism, a phenomenon which has convinced many of the citizenry that "treason" is morally worse than murder or rape.”
William Blum

Rape is a part of war; but it may be more accurate to say that the capacity for dehumanizing another which so corrodes male sexuality is carried over from sex into war.

Adrienne Rich
U.S. poet

The appalling power with which metaphors of sexual lust illuminate the nature of war, and vice versa, proves that they are based on millennia of human experience. The poets of all time have used these figures. To conquer and loot a country is to rape it: to violate a woman is to conquer her by force and plunder her of her treasure. The violence that attends sex when it is unmitigated by love, and the sexual excesses that have attended war and been its aftermath, are the psychological and historical demonstrations of the consanguinity of the two.
Harold C. Goddard

U.S. educator, critic

"Without tenderness, a man is uninteresting."
Marlene Dietrich

On October 7, 2009, Jamie Leigh Jones testified before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, relating to Minnesota's Senator Al Franken's Amendment to the FY2010 Defense Appropriations Bill. Senator Franken's Ammendment, which passed 68 - 30, withholds defense contracts from companies like KBR, "if they restrict employees from taking sexual assault, battery, and discrimination cases to court".

Franken's Amendment, more correctly identified as Senate Amendment 2588, to House Bill HR 3326, passed 68 to 30. All 30 nay votes were from Republican senators (in alphabetical order) : Alexander (R-TN) Barrasso (R-WY) Bond (R-MO) Brownback (R-KS) Bunning (R-KY) Burr (R-NC) Chambliss (R-GA) Coburn (R-OK) Cochran (R-MS) Corker (R-TN) Cornyn (R-TX) Crapo (R-ID) DeMint (R-SC) Ensign (R-NV) Enzi (R-WY) Graham (R-SC) Gregg (R-NH) Inhofe (R-OK) Isakson (R-GA) Johanns (R-NE) Kyl (R-AZ) McCain (R-AZ) McConnell (R-KY) Risch (R-ID) Roberts (R-KS) Sessions (R-AL) Shelby (R-AL) Thune (R-SD) Vitter (R-LA) Wicker (R-MS).

If you read to the conclusion of this post, you will perhaps better understand just why I am paying such close attention to those senators who voted against Amendment 2588. I intend not only to remember their names, but to observe their respective next senate races, even though I am a Minnesota voter. I intend to bring this specific vote to the attention of their opposition, in the hopes that it becomes the basis for political advertising against their re-election. As a usual thing, I oppose strongly the intervention, more precisely the interference, of people outside a state in another state's politics. But this vote was so egregious, that it has moved me to make the exception.

It is worth noting that a vote of 68 Senators in favor of the Amendment indicates some bi-partisan support, although clearly a majority of the Republican Senators voted against the Amendment, so those Republican Senators who voted for it are relatively few. The two Senators who abstained were Democrats Byrd of WV, and Spector of PA. Those Republican Senators who voted for the Amendment were Bennett (UT), Collins (ME), Grassley(IA), Hatch (UT), Hutchison(TX), LeMieux (FL), Lugar(IN), Murkowski(AK), Snowe(ME), and Voinovich(OH), along with Independent Senators Lieberman(CT) and Sanders (VT) . I will be following any re-election campaigns of those Senators as well, but more suportively. It is a justifiable speculation that had former Senator Coleman won the seat for Minnesota, we would not as a nation enjoy the benefit of this Amendment. I felt strongly enough to contact Senator Franken :

Excerpted from the Amendment (because, yes, I read these things as part of doing research for my articles), also known colloquially as the 'Anti-rape Amendment':

"AMENDMENT PURPOSE:To prohibit the use of funds for any Federal contract with Halliburton Company, KBR, Inc., any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, or any other contracting party if such contractor or a subcontractor at any tier under such contract requires that employees or independent contractors sign mandatory arbitration clauses regarding certain claims. "

It was sometimes reported that both the White House and the Department of Defense opposed this legislation. What was not as often reported was the reason; the DoD specifically wanted the purpose EXPANDED to include all contracts and contractors, and that the DoD worked with the sponsors to make the Amendment as enforceable as possible. I feel that the widespread use of contractors, especially no-bid contractors like Halliburton, by the Bush Administration, which is continuing under the Obama Administration (at least with better oversight), has been one of the worst decisions ever made in the history of our government, and second only to the decision to employ torture, is the worst decision in pursuit of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.

So, who is Jamie Leigh Jones, and why should anyone care?

At 19, Jamie Leigh Jones started working for Halliburton subsidiary KBR in 2004 as an administrative assistant in Houston TX. In July of 2005 she went to Iraq to work in their Overseas Administrative Services. A week after her arrival in Iraq, she was allegedly drugged and gang raped by seven men who were also apparently KBR employees.

The rape involved unprotected anal and vaginal sex while she was unconscious from the drug, leaving her bruised and lacerated and bloody. Jones was so viciously abused that her breast implants were ruptured, and her pectoral muscles had been ripped off of her chest wall. For anyone lacking sufficient imagination, it takes an amazing amount of force to rip a woman's breasts off of her chest; breast implants while designed to imitate fairly delicate tissue, are designed NOT to rupture easily. Jones required extensive reconstructive surgery, including the reattachment of her pectoral muscles. Suffice it to say that without more graphic detail, her lower torso was treated just as viciously as her upper body. This being national breast cancer awareness month, I cannot help but remember that breast tissue trauma is a predisposition to cancer, making this rape a horror that will keep on haunting Ms. Jones in yet one more way.

Even allowing for the differences in sexual response between men and women, and understanding that the act of rape is profoundly about dominance and violence more than it is about sex, I cannot fully wrap my mind around how these men (allegedly) could find gratification in sex with an unconscious woman, much less find pleasure in such violence. One of the men has come forward, making an apology to Ms. Jones, but only because he was confronted in her bedroom, still there from the crime, when she regained consciousness; the other six are still unidentified.

They are likely to remain unidentified, and none of the seven will be facing trial or jail for their actions. Jurisdiction would reside with the Department of Justice, which at least under the Bush administration, did not pursue the matter for criminal prosecution, in part because of the actions of KBR.

What happened to Ms. Jones after the rape was, in some respects, as bad as the rape itself. She regained consciousness, naked and injured. She fell unconscious again when she tried to make it to a bathroom. Jones was eventually examined by U.S. Army physician Jodi Shulz, who completed a rape kit in addition to providing care. The rape kit was given to KBR, and conveniently lost for two years; when it was recovered, key items were missing.

In addition, KBR on discovery of Ms. Jones did NOT provide her with medical care. They (allegedly) locked her up in a shipping container secured by armed guards, without food, water, medical care, or access to help. After some 24 hours, Jones was able to beg the use of a cell phone from one the armed guards imprisoning her, and called her father back in the U.S. Her father contacted his congressman, Republican Ted Poe. Poe in turn contacted the State Department, which then contacted the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The embassy sent someone to rescue Jones from the custody of KBR and arranged for her medical care.

CPA Order 17 provides immunity to U.S. contractors from the Iraqi government; this matter falls within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Justice for prosecution. Except that they haven't. I have not as yet been able to determine properly what the statute of limitations is on this crime, but so far it does not appear that the Obama administration's DoJ is pursuing it either. Congressman Poe, who is a former judge, and others before whom Jones testified in hearings in 2007 made the observation that the Department of Justice had appeared unwilling to pursue prosecution of contractors except when embarrassed into action beyond any excuse to avoid it, yet another instance of the apparent politicization of the Bush Administration DoJ.

So........why this Amendment? Halliburton and KBR had kept Ms. Jones from proceeding with a civil suit by demanding arbitration under her contract until a Court decision in mid September 2009. It is in response to the arbitration clause in the Halliburton, KBR and other contractors' contracts, in conjunction with the inaction by the Department of Justice, that this Amendment was deemed necessary by its supporters.

It is unfathomable to me that these corporations, responsible through the actions of its employees for not only this rape, but other crimes and tragedies such as the electrocution deaths of armed forces personnel, blatant fraud and overcharging, continue to receive lucrative contracts from our government. It is implausible to me that the individuals who (allegedly) raped Ms. Jones committed only this one act of violence. It seems to me far more likely that there were other incidents, possibly against Iraqi women, who would have had no legal recourse. This is not idle speculation; there have been allegations of such crimes and other crimes throughout the duration of the tenure of Halliburton and other contractors.

My friend Mitch Berg, on his blog Shot in the Dark, writing on another topic entirely, included a reference I will paraphrase to an unspecified and unattributed quotation,that an innocent man in jail for rape was a deterrent to those who were rapists. In the midst of researching this article when I read that, I couldn't help but think that while certainly any innocent man should never ever be incarcerated or executed for a crime he did not commit. I could appreciate how a sense of helpless rage and despair could provoke that kind of comment. I thought about those men who had not been strictly guilty of any crime, like the Republican Senators who voted against this Amendment, men whose actions contributed to the rapists going unpunished. While legally innocent they seem to me to be morally complicit.

I applaud Senator Franken for this, his second piece of legislation. I applaud Ms. Jones, for her strength in getting on with her life, including her education and marriage, for her strength in repeatedly appearing before our legislative branch of government to testify about her experiences despite their intimacy and the horror of them. Perhaps most of all, I applaud Jamie Leigh Jones for responding to her experience by creating a foundation to help others.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Leaving Afghanistan

I would like to take this opportunity to welcome a new contributing author to Penigma, one that you may recognize from his regular comments - "ttucker".
Here is the first of what I hope will be many posts to come. Ttucker - welcome!

"There is only one tactical principle which is not subject to change. It is to use the means at hand to inflict the maximum amount of wound, death, and destruction on the enemy in the minimum amount of time."
- General George Patton Jr

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”

- George Santayana

When the US sent our military into Afghanistan most of the country supported it wholeheartedly. The Taliban ran the country and had helped and motivated the people who attacked us on Sept 11, 2001. They gave them sanctuary and a place to train and celebrated with them when the twin towers fell in New York. We went over there with a clear mission, remove the Taliban from power, kill as many members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda as possible, destroy their training camps, and deny them a safe haven in Afghanistan.

For the most part we accomplished a large part of this within a couple of years and were busy hunting down small groups of them and capturing or killing them. After 4-5 yrs of focusing on Iraq and sustaining little to no casualties in Afghanistan the mission creep started. Now we needed to rebuild their government, train their troops, and win over the hearts and minds of the people. The last war we tried to win over the "hearts and minds" of the people was Vietnam and we all know how that turned out. I am now fairly certain that this war will turn out no better. I have not ever been in the military but I read a lot of military history and have friends and family who have served or are currently serving. Reading some of the military blogs and seeing news of Afghanistan it seems to me that we are no longer fighting to win.

When we pulled our ground troops out of Vietnam the South Vietnamese were still winning battles with the help of US air and naval support, as soon as the funding for that was cut the entire South fell in less than a month. When the Russians invaded Afghanistan in the 80's they were winning until we supplied the Taliban with stinger missiles to take away the Russian air support. The key to beating a guerrilla force that knows the area is air and artillery. We have now almost neutralized our own air and artillery support in Afghanistan. The new rules of engagement have caused us to be so cautious of civilians that our troops are required to retreat if it is possible that engaging the enemy could endanger civilians. Some have said the rules are not that strict and are being misinterpreted but either way the rules of engagement are putting US soldiers in more danger than they were in before.

Another problem occurs when the US conducts joint operations with the Afghan forces. There are a higher percentage of ambushes in joint operations than there is when US forces go on missions with only US forces. Maybe the Afghan troops are just not as alert about spotting an ambush, maybe someone in the Afghan HQ is still loyal to the Taliban, who knows, but US soldiers are dying because of it.

One of the military blogs I read spoke of a discussion with a former marine who was commandant of “The Corps” when LBJ took office. LBJ called him in and asked what to do about Vietnam. The commandant told him that Vietnam was like a snake in the grass and your first and best option was to leave it the hell alone. If you just cannot live with a snake in the grass then you get the biggest stick you can find and you beat it to a bloody pulp. The one thing you do not want to do is go in the grass with a small stick and play with the snake. Of course LBJ chose the last option and it looks like we have again in Afghanistan. It is time to get out of the grass and leave the snake alone.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Why Say Yes to Comprehensive Sex Ed?

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. "
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Victorian Era Poet

"Does it really matter what these affectionate people do-- so long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses!"
Mrs. Patrick Campbell
British Stage Actress
1865 - 1940

While the Republican party has become the party of 'Nope', serious harm has been done to our country by the right wing saying 'yes' to abstinence only education. Decisions made promoting the mandate and funding of abstinence only sexual education have a serious impact not only on the educational goals of producing literate, knowledgeable and informed students graduating from our public and private educational system. The resulting ignorance that is associated with abstinence only sex ed has an equally serious impact on our public health policies and expenditures.

I reviewed the research on abstinence only sex ed, and also reviewed the arguments for any kind of sexuality education to be included as an appropriate and desirable subject matter. There were a lot of arguments in support of sex as a legitimate subject of study, and very few arguments against it; most of the against arguments boiled down to a few people who are still too embarrassed to deal with the subject in any objective manner.

The overwhelming statistics indicate that the teaching of comprehensive sex ed in schools is supported by parents, teachers, and the students themselves. According to SIECUS in 2005, more than 90% of high school and middle school parents support funding sexual education in schools, with majorities supporting that sexual education be comprehensive, include accurate information on contraceptives and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.

The majority of objections to teaching sex ed at all, and the majority of support for abstinence only sex ed seem to have a close correlation to promoting a specific religious view that the minority objectors would like to impose on the larger majority. For example, a report in 2004 by Congressman Waxman's special investigation committee reviewing the abstinence only sex education programs supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that over 80% of them used curricula containing false, misleading, or distorted information about the effectiveness of contraceptives and the risks of abortion. According to this paper, ,
Waxman's committee also "found gender stereotypes and religious beliefs treated as fact, as well as deliberate scientific errors." I think it is a fair statement that religion should be personal, and that the religious beliefs of a single segment of society should not be presented as fact; and I would hope even more strongly that we should insist on accuracy, including scientific accuracy, in our educational system.

The next best reason for discarding any further funding for abstinence only sex ed is that it doesn't work. A 2006 study by McKeon found that despite the existence of abstinence only until marriage sex ed existing for more than two decades, no peer-review study found abstinence only sex ed effective in either delaying the first sexual experience, or in any other impact either long or short term. But it makes neo-puritans happy, so for far too many years, it continued to be funded, one more terrible waste of tax payers money trying to force religion and religious belief into more and more areas of politics and government improperly.

As part of my research for the preceding post Just Say No to Abstinence Only Sex Ed, I researched a variety of documents that included statistically reviewing a comparison of the rates of teen pregnancies in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries in the world, reflecting varying degrees of development and industrialization, with the results cross referenced to the types of sexual education provided in the schools of each country. This reflects the issues that correlate sexual education with public health policy (I almost made the typo pubic health policy). One of the most liberal countries in openly teaching comprehensive sexual education is the Netherlands, which had the lowest rate of pregnancies in young women between the ages of 15 to 19, at 8 per 1000. The US and the UK, with a preponderance of abstinence only sex ed were among the worst, at 93 per 1000 women in the same age range; while England and Wales had a rate for the same age group of 63 per 1000. There are compelling numbers available from the study of sex ed as it is practiced world wide; this is not unique to a few countries.

These statistics represent real people, not just abstract numbers. They represent real costs as well, to the individuals involved, to their families, to their communities, all the way up to the national level. This makes how and IF we teach Sex Ed a valid interest of our government and of our educational system. It is sufficiently important to us as a nation to deserve a fair and objective approach, rather than to be dominated by the religious beliefs of anyone over fact.

Comprehensive Sex Ed is endorsed by the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, the Society for Adolescent Medicine, and the American College Health Association, among MANY others. Some scientific studies suggest that far from achieving the desired goal of abstinence until marriage, abstinence only sex ed actually correlated to an INCREASE in teen pregnancy. At approximately the same time, a study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teenage Pregnancy showed that sex ed that includes discussion of contraception does NOT increase sexual activity, the great fear of those who oppose comprehensive sex ed.

Someone I know, outside of this blog, wanted to know what business it is of government to be involved in sex ed. THIS is why it is the business of government, and of us all, to be involved in seeing there is objective not belief-based sexual education in our schools.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Just Say NO -- to Abstinence Only Sex Ed

"There is no end. There is no beginning.
There is only the infinite passion of life"
Frederico Fellini

On Tuesday evening, September 29, 2009 Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican senator from Utah, succeeded in getting passed in the Senate Finance Committee a new measure to re-fund the disastrous Abstinence Only Sex Education that clearly was so ineffective under the eight years of the Bush Administration. The measure would restore funding to the tune of $50 million dollars, in order to promote teaching children in schools to refrain from sex until marriage, while excluding teaching children age appropriate information about a variety of topics, including prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and contraception. I hope we can all succeed in getting our congressional representatives and senators to remove this funding from the final health care reform proposal.

Let me be clear; I am all in favor of not having a nation of pregnant teenage girls, or a nation of boys and girls that are suffering from sexually transmitted diseases. I am concerned that the ages of beginning sexual activity, not just sexual intercourse, are getting younger and younger. I am concerned that the sexualization and maturity of our nation's girls is getting younger and younger, including concerns about the increasingly earlier onset of menstruation. With physical changes, comes behavioral changes, including changes in libido.

An excellent paper from Pacific Lutheran University, "Sex Education in Schools", by Boyle, Ely, Karanasos, Long, Pena, Shook, and Waggoner published in late August 2009, lists some alarming statistics ( By age 17, 50% of high school teens have engaged in oral sex; between 5% and 30% of 13 year olds have engaged in actual intercourse, and 9 MILLION new cases of STDs have occurred in people between the ages of 15 and 24 EVERY YEAR. As of 2006, 31% of our teens in this country had experienced a pregnancy, and this country had the highest teenage pregnancy rate of similarly developed countries.

Abstinence only sex education programs have been the ONLY kind of sex ed federally funded for the past eight years. Abstinence only sex education teaches one thing; to abstain from sex until marriage. Abstinence only sex ed drastically limits what questions may be answered by teachers, including limiting the ONLY information they may provide about condoms, for example, to the failure rate. Abstinence only programs were developed around the idea that if students are taught about preventing pregnancy or protection from Sexually Transmitted Diseases like HIV/AIDS, it is the same thing as promoting pre-marital sex, a bad assumption. Ignorance may be bliss for parents, but stupid is never better than smart, and ignorant is never better than informed.

In contrast, a comprehensive approach to sex education teaches not only about abstinence, but also provides age appropriate medically accurate information about contraception, as well as age appropriate information about relationships, decision making, assertiveness, resisting peer pressure, STDs and about unintended pregnancies. And comprehensive sex ed includes parents or caretakers as partners with teachers.

The final sentences of the "Sex Education in Schools" says it well. "Teens are going to do what they want to do despite what we teach them. Hopefully, having more knowledge will lead them to make smarter choices whether they chose to remain abstinent until marriage or become sexually active before."

The famous actress, Marlene Dietrich said it well too, "In America sex is an obsession, in other parts of the world it is a fact."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Salute

Court Order by Judge Clay Land
regarding the $20,000 sanctions against Orly Taitz
footnote 11
page 42 of 43

"The Court wishes to explore the possibility of directing the financial penalty to the National Infantry Foundation at Ft. Benning, Georgia, which has as part of its mission the recognition of our brave soldiers who do their duty regardless of the personal sacrifice required and their own personal political beliefs. The Assistant U. S. Attorney shall file within thirty days of today's Order a short brief outlining the position of the United States as to whether such a monetary sanction can be used for this intended purpose. The Court emphasizes that the Court is ordering the penalty to be paid to the United States as required under Rule 11 and not to a third party, but the Court seeks to determine whether the Court is authorized to subsequently order that the proceeds be paid by the United States to the Foundation."

page 43 of 43

IT IS SO ORDERED, this 13th day of October, 2009

Judge Clay D. Land
United States District Judge

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the legal decisions of Judge Land in response to the various antics of Orly Taitz. Reading this order, in its entirety, was no exception. While I am not an attorney, Land is understandable even to the non-professional reader. He writes with clarity, and with a certain eloquence and even hints of humor. I delight in his use of quotations in his other Orders; we share an appreciation for using the words of others to augment and focus our written thoughts.

Judge Land was appointed to his position by former President George W. Bush, who I have been known to criticize from time to time. Let me in fairness not only applaud him for his choice of Land, but give him an enthusiastic standing ovation for this choice. While I am not familiar with the other (than Taitz) decisions of Judge Land, I can only hope that this is an example of our judiciary.

I hope all of the readers of Penigma will join me in an even more joyous ovation for Judge Land. His words in the above quoted footnote are a better tribute to the mind of the man than anything I can write to laud him. Judge Land, I salute you, your mind and your heart, for your administration of justice, and your thoughtful concern for those members of our armed forces that may benefit from this footnote in your Court Order.

A reading of the various legal actions to further the 'birther' movement filed by Taitz, the resulting Court Orders and Decisions, and the complaints filed against her with the California Bar, all strongly suggest that Taitz has been exploiting gullible, trusting, tragically misled members of the United States armed forces solely to promote her own notoriety and political agenda to the detriment of their military careers. Rather than serve the interests of her clients, Taitz acted primarily to serve her own agenda; her intent to continue to do so was one of the reasons for the size of the sanction. This is what makes the effort outlined in the footnote so poignant.

Well done, your honor. Well done.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Noble Nobel - No.

A couple of days ago, I awoke to find out that Barack Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons."

While I understand the potential good the course Obama has charted may well lead to - this award was wrong. I think 9 out of 10 people I talk to agree with me that it is simply much too soon to give him this kind of award. He did not bring about Middle-East peace like Jimmy Carter, he did not end the war in Northern Ireland.

So, I thought about it and asked myself, "Why would the Nobel Committee do this?" Are they, as the right likes to claim, some sort of leftist, America hating group? I decided, "Probably not, if they were, Americans wouldn't receive hardly any awards, yet we do."

No, I decided it was probably that for eight years we had such an abject failure of an administration, course, and President in the area of foreign policy, a course which scared the crap out of the world, and a course which in fact made nuclear proliferation MORE likely, not less - they (the committee) probably just breathed a sigh of relief, and wanted to make a political statement that the world couldn't easily afford a repeat like George Bush and Dick Cheney. Even the supposed abandonment of WMD by Muammar Qaddafi, was mere show, and an attempt to blame North Korea (another abject failure) for proliferation during the Bush years, back-fired when it was found that in fact it was Pakistan which was transhipping Uranium Hexaflouride through DUBAI PORTS WOLRD to Libya. Qaddafi recently repayed our new 'friendliness' (under Bush) by speaking for an hour at the U.N. condemning the US and the West as evil. Apparently lessens about Hussein not being redeemable didn't manage to penetrate the psyche of Bush about Qadaffi when the opportunity for an aggrandized photo-op arose.

I think that is probably the root of the award, a fear and sigh of relief - and if so - I hope of course they are right. Obama is clearly FAR more skilled in the area of understanding the world - but that doesn't make the Nobel Committee right - this award cheapens the awards provided to MANY more worthwhile recipients. Simple talk and good speeches about wanting to do good, even his profoundly insightful speech in Cairo, do not equate to truly putting yourself on the line, risking all for the sake of understanding, and through understanding, achieving peace. Blessed are the Peace-makers, and making peace is a noble endeavor, but let's wait for that peace before we bless them overmuch.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Affinity Scam, part 4 - the Victims

"I always want to give the victim a voice. "
Ann Rule, author
b. 1935

"I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. "
Elie Wiesel, author, Nobel Laureate, 1986
b. 1928

"Justice for the major perpetrators cannot be separated from the vindication of the rights of the individual victim. "
Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq (2005 - present)
b. 1933

In the interest of full disclosure, let me disclose a bias of mine. I have been motivated to try to find out factual information about the alleged Ponzi / affinity scheme I've written about, in large part because of my communication with some of the alleged victims. That communication has affected profoundly how I feel about this subject.

Let me tell you about one of these people, T. A. from Florida, the man in the photo above. In his 60s, he retired from a 36 year career in the United States Army, dating back to his enlistment in 1967, as a Command Master Sargent. He served in Viet Nam, in the Middle East in both Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, as well as a variety of our covert anti-drug actions in Central America. He is a family man, a devout Christian, his youngest son is entering the ministry. He had accumulated a nice nest egg for his retirement as a self-directed investor, using bonus pay, 40 years of savings, and a modest family inheritance to fund his careful investments. Those investments had been successful until the past few years, at which point he began looking for better ways to safeguard those funds, intended for helping his sons with their education, to pay for those medical costs not covered by the VA, and to be able to pay for his own funeral when the time comes without leaving his family in debt.

The (alleged) victims in this situation, as well as those in many other similar scams are often re-victimized by those who read or hear about them, by claims they were foolish or stupid or gullible, that they had unreasonable expectations, and that they didn't properly do their homework. These comments, written or oral, make what happened the victims' fault, not the fault of those individuals who perpetrate the scams.

Regardless of the checking by the victims, extensive or minimal, at the time they invested, the deck was stacked against them, with a combination of legitimate credentials and false claims, supported by what seem pretty clearly now to be fake documents mixed with more credible bona fides. These include earlier items in the same Star Tribune news paper representing them as credible financial experts; that is the same paper that has recently run the series exposing the alleged Ponzi scheme: An example of the documents which now appear questionable appear in the most recent Star Tribune article by Dan Browning:, and

In the words of one of the smartest women I know, who works with finance and crime, if someone is determined to deceive you, they can. In the earliest days of the alleged Ponzi scheme, some of the named defendants had valid credentials. The defendants' credentials at the time T.A. invested were valid, depending on whose credentials one looked up. I don't know of anyone who checks out every person in a company before assuming the company is legitimate (not even me).

I decided to do my own checking. I duplicated the kind of 'homework' that people talk about victims doing, a brief synopsis of which I will share with readers in a future installment of my writing about Affinity Scams generally, and the Minnesota-Mini-Madoff alleged scam specifically.

Part of T.A. trusting these men had to do with their affiliation with Christian leaders, and espousing Christian values. This is often part of the standard programming of right wing radio stations, including those of Salem Communications which hosted the defendants in their various radio programs. Salem has stations here in St. Paul / Minneapolis as well as in Florida where T.A. lives which carried these radio programs.

Let me tell you a little more about T.A. He has described to me what this experience feels like for him, as understanding how a rape victim feels, violated. He wants not only his money back, as much of it as he can get; his expectations in that respect are quite realistic. He wants more than just the money. He also feels a need to do something, for himself and others, as part of getting his honor and his sense of self-worth back.

What was his response to these events? To not only do what he could for his own situation, going back to work to provide for his wife and other family members. He became one of the key people who has sought to help and organize the other victims. He has felt especially protective towards those who are very elderly, or who have become so impoverished by their investments in what appears to be a swindle that they cannot afford legal representation. There are a lot of these people who have been left floundering and destitute. Despite his own feelings, his first and foremost thought was to follow his military training to lead, to protect, to care for those more injured or vulnerable by their loss than himself.

It is a characteristic of affinity scams that unfortunately because the victims are ashamed and embarrassed, it often goes unreported unless the losses are so devastating the victim has no alternative. Sometimes, as had been the case with some of the victims of the alleged Minnesota Affinity Scam, they don't know who has jurisdiction, who to tell.

That is not going to happen here. Not if I can help it.

I cannot adequately put into words how humbled I am by T.A., how small my best efforts to help seem next to his. I never realized that a compliment could be so painful, but that is how I feel when T.A. tells me, and tells others, that Pen and I are smart people, that we have provided useful information and helpful ideas. I feel anything but smart or helpful. I feel inadequate for not having made more of a difference on their behalf.

Perhaps most of all, I have been humbled by how T.A.'s religious convictions are rock steady; I find his faith inspiring. He believes that God sends people into our lives for a reason, and that is how Pen and I came into his life, offering to help, and by caring about what happened to him. If that isn't a motivation for me to accomplish something, I don't know what is.

By every standard I know, this man is heroic, yet he sees himself in the most modest terms. I hope in this series, I am able to present the substance without the illusions created by the charm that is an essential facet of that kind of crime. Several people have asked me what I want to be the result of writing this series. I want people to be more proactive, not to look away, to understand and care, to do more than they would otherwise have done.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sanctimonious Silliness, Staid Sexism

My good friend Mitch Berg claims to routinely "fisk" one of our local columnists, Nick Coleman, of the StarTribune. Coleman is an unabashed liberal, and while his radio persona was uncompelling, his writing usually is more interesting. Whether Berg or Coleman writes the better analysis, and which offers more snark than critique in the balance, I leave to the individual reader of their words.

Berg routinely claims that Katherine Kersten, the puritanical voice of the local right-wing media, is not fairly criticized for her content, but merely insulted by her detractors. Berg leaves the reason for the failure to focus on content unstated, but it may be inferred it is because Berg believes Kersten is rarely in error. To Berg, the left is essentially incapable of validly criticizing a conservative. Because Berg doesn't directly defend her writing, it creates the impression he believes she is correct, and that all that is 'left' for the left is insult her rather than to fairly fault her writing.

I'd like to address both Kersten and Berg's sophistry. In the Saturday October 3rd, 2009 edition of the StarTribune, Jeremy Powers skillfully takes Kersten to 'school' about her repudiation of classical literature such as "The Grapes of Wrath" and especially "The Scarlet Letter." Kersten advocated that there are meaningful, modern equivalents which should replace many of these historic classics.

Powers artfully shreds Kersten's assertion, and exposes Kersten at the same time. First of course, there is good reason such books are classics. To be a classic, the moral of the book is timeless, and the writing is significant on a multiple levels. If it were so easily replaced, it would not be a classic. It allows us to understand the historical contrast of that society to our own; and to read the views of the individuals living in that time, instead of our information about the world past and present being filtered only through our own modern bias.

In fact it is one of our common mistakes to think our solution, our problems are restricted only to our date and time. It makes clear to the student that 'new' issues of today, are in fact, not so new. In the case of the Scarlet Letter, the moral was, as Powers points out, that society's morals often are hypocritical, built up to ensure the powerful are excused, protected, and even offered justification for their indiscretions - while the penniless and powerless receive the heaviest penalties.

In the Scarlet Letter, the character of Hester Prynne has an affair with a powerful, influential man, a member of the clergy which gave him both social and political influence at that time, in addition to his financial status. The man is able to avoid any penalties and responsibilities for his actions by remaining anonymous, while Prynne bears the burden of the consequences for their action alone. Her treatment by the colony, and her conduct during her adversity, strongly indicts the enormous inequities inherent in Puritanical New England. Ironically, given Kersten's puritanical approach on sex and child-rearing, it exposes the unbridled hypocrisy of Puritanism, which sneeringly condemned adultery while tolerating the uncharitable nature of the town, in stark contrast to the commitment, simple dignity and hard work of Prynne.

In what may have been a planned irony against the backdrop of her column today,where she discusses the unhappiness brought about by the women's liberation movement of the 1970's, Powers rightly points out such books instruct us that the 'past' is often not glorious or fair. Classics also often teach us why we have changed society in the ways which we have, and remind us that our forefathers and foremothers fought battles which we no longer have to fight, because of their sacrifices. While I suspect Kersten didn't mean to say so, her objection to "The Scarlet Letter," and offering up of more current example, also conveniently and blithely glosses over the realities of those supposedly more moralistic days - and so we fail to learn from the history between the covers of those classics. In probably the funniest element of it all, it points out very clearly that a 'lack of commitment' to marriage and family, both by the Clergyman and Prynne's actual husband is hardly anything new.

In stark contrast to Power's erudite criticism of Kersten's narrow, and poorly reasoned understanding of the study of literature, was Kersten's repudiation of feminism on the opposite page of the same Editorial section.

In her column, Kersten made three basic claims:

1. In what was probably her most meaningful point, Ms. Kersten notes that the Wharton study shows that women aren’t really any happier, perhaps less so, with the new ‘freedoms’ offered by the liberation movement. She says the Wharton study shows that despite not really appreciably working more hours due to now having both job and family to juggle, women aren’t finding that golden pot at the end of the ‘liberty’ rainbow. This fatigue factor is something called ‘second shift’ effect which was the claim of feminists as the cause of unhappiness and which the Wharton study apparently disputes.

2. That sexual liberty caused women to begin to be objectified by men - and men consequently became less interested in commitment. Thus, the objectification was heightened by, not lessened by, the liberty discovered in the 1970's and later.

3. That economic and professional opportunity has shown women that, essentially, they now know what men already knew, namely that the professional world is rough and tumble, full of stress and bad bosses, situations which lead to shorter life expectancy for men.

She summarized by stating that, "Maybe we women got the whole happiness thing backward...we assured ourselves of a golden road ahead if we could throw off.. those ties themselves - those 'prisons' of family, marriage and other fundamental obligations." In short, that women were naive', they simply didn't know how rough the real world was, in what certainly seems like condescension, that women didn't really understand what they were biting off. Moreover, that they were failing to see how their obligations and bonds brought them closer to their 'true goal.' (Unnamed goal, but fill in your own blanks - I suspect she means happiness achieved through motherhood and maternal responsibility).

The sneering contempt which seems to drip from Ms. Kersten's words is so shot through with fallacy it is almost beyond my feeble capacity to fully reply, but I will try, in hopes that while perhaps I should't "worry my pretty little head" about such things, maybe if I do, something meaningful will result.

In a big-picture reply first - as for Ms. Kersten's underlying premise, namely that the reason for the feminist movement was mostly about sexual liberty and economic achievement. Certainly it could not possibly have been about women seeking to, as men have done for millenia, leave their mark on this world in an enduring way, and in a way beyond raising children for and washing the coats of their husbands.

I suspect if we challenged most Americans to name 25 women from history who weren't the relatives of the very powerful or authors, they could not do so. Perhaps there were and are women like Louisa May Alcott, or Jane Austin or Jane Eyre, who were not the wives of powerful men, but desired to be artists, or architects, or scientists, or theologians. Indeed it really is only as authors, and to a far lesser extent painters, where women were allowed to pursue without recrimination, so long as their works didn't stray into the heady areas of science or theology. Perhaps there were women who sought to stake out their own claims to thought, reason, and charity which stood apart from their husbands or fathers. Sometimes the truth is simple, sometimes, perhaps it is not their naivete' speaking, but rather their desire to be seen as something deeper than the object wrapped around the arm of their spouse.

As for Ms. Kersten's second premise, namely that men began in 1970 to objectify women and became less inclined to remain married. I would refer her to read please oh, "The Scarlet Letter" - where in the late 1600's, a women was the object of a man's affection - used and eventually cast aside. HE certainly didn't objectify her did he? Oh, certainly not, that never happened prior to the sexual revolution - nor did we have belly/go-go dancers dancing in the Alabama State Courthouse in the middle 60's with the pious, Christian white, male 70 year-olds shakin' 'their grove thang' along with them. In fact of course, objectification of women was the NORM prior to the 1900's.

While Kersten COULD have made a reasonable argument that women (young women) of today take a more cavalier attitude about sex because pregnancy is so much less likely an outcome, and could have argued reasonably that such an attitude is in the long rung morally self-defeating, teaching the BOYS and the girls with them that our bodies are simply there for pleasure rather than affection - she instead presented a fallacy, namely that commitment just started dying in 1970, and that objectification is a new phenomenon. Had she availed herself of a myriad of books, from the Illiad to the story of Lady Godiva - she might have understood the historical bedrock screaming out against the rape and tyranny visited upon women throughout the ages by these highly committed men, such as those of the 2nd Crusade who, upon reaching Constantinople and hearing of their poor prospects in Palestine, instead decided to sack the city, killing all the males, raping and slaughtering their wives and daughters, and taking the riches of this Christian city for themselves. I think rather than smirk so self-satisfiedly at her peers, perhaps Ms. Kersten would do well to pick up a history book and understand the lesson of classics is timeless because it survives the cultural variance to remind us of our greatest hopes and most commonplace of failures and frailties.

Regardless, Kersten profoundly misses the reason for the women’s liberation movement. She presents her column as a “they didn’t know how good they had it” kind of commentary. In what is nothing short of striking irony, Kersten pretends to suggest that the sexual objectification and slackening of commitments was somehow CAUSED by the liberation movement opposite an editorial about a book EXACTLY detailing a story of sexual objectification and lack of commitment from the 1600’s! And worse, a book Kersten says we don’t need to learn from because modern stories serve just fine to teach us all the lessons we need – well apparently, Ms. Kersten, not quite all the lessons.

The truth is the liberation movement effectively began in reaction to effective birth control pills. Women could, with the advent of ‘the pill’, chose the time and place of their pregnancies. They were not bound to cycles of pregnancy and recovery, nor were they reliant upon men using prophylactic protection, a reliance which was dicey at best. With that independence they could, should they so choose, ‘be with’ men as they desired, in much the same way as some men were, and still are, often sexually active with whomever they can get into bed. It’s not perhaps wise or even ethical, but any of us who have been or knew teenage boys or men in their early 20’s, the fact is commitment wasn’t the first word out of their mouth.

This independence helped pave the way for the ‘free love’ movement of the 1960’s, and along with it many of the long-standing social mores of the day were brought into question. Among those was the idea that women weren’t bright enough, or serious enough, or strong enough to co-exist in a business world. In truth, it was also that employers feared hiring a young woman who was both likely to get married and likely to leave permanently when she had children. The attitudes changed in the 1960’s, both in that women weren’t necessarily interested in marriage and family first, and second in that employers truly had less to fear.

But the key element, the thing which drove the ‘liberation’ movement, and in counterpoint to her third fallacious argument, was that women were finally in a position to live independently. Ms. Kersten rightly identifies that divorce has skyrocketed, but since WHEN?? The simple answer is, since World War II, not since or certainly not just since 1970. Women were finally free to leave abusive relationships without fear that their children or they would starve. They were no longer required to put up with husbands who would beat them, perhaps rape them – since no law really would bring a husband to justice for assaulting his wife. Women, due to the 1930’s welfare state and the liberation impacts of many women in the work force in World War II – didn’t have to STAY married no matter what.

Perhaps Kersten thinks that’s bad, I doubt it, but I don’t. She has here causal effects wrongly placed – women’s liberation didn’t bring down marriage and commitment – men and a society which silently tolerated impossible relationships deserve the lion’s share of credit. Women no longer have to stay in those relationships and they don’t. Now if we want to talk about a change in commitment attitudes, I’m all for it, but then let’s talk about the me/greed generation of the 1980’s and what effect it had on commitment, on responsibility, etc… in the same breath.
So, in the end, perhaps women aren’t happier, but that was hardly the point.

Seeking joy (happiness) in life is a laudable, even penultimate goal, but it is hardly the only goal. Women’s liberation was about the liberty to stand on one’s own two feet, out of the shadow of another, to see and experience life as it came, proving to herself that she was strong, and to see her accomplishments given the credit they deserved. With it has come the realization that things aren’t always greener on the other side, to be sure, but it is also the case that with it we see FAR less sexism in the workplace, far less objectification there as well, and spousal abuse, in-marriage rape, child abuse, etc.. have ALL been brought into the public eye in ways that never happened before about 1970. Issues long unaddressed now are treated with the seriousness they deserve. Not everything in life is about happiness, sometimes it is about justice and simply doing what is right.

Women are brilliant, equally so as men certainly, and they are plenty smart enough to have been able to decide whether they wanted equality in the workplace and in the bedroom – and anyone with the audacity to say ‘See, you don’t know how good you had it” I suggest is the more ignorant one – and needs to go read Louisa May Alcott to gain some perspective of what life WAS like, or perhaps The Scarlet Letter, or perhaps maybe just go tell a black man how much better he had it when his race were slaves – for while it’s not the same thing (slavery vs. subordination) – the comment is equally reflective of the sneering ignorance of the speaker. Liberty is rarely about ‘ease’ in life, and everything about self-determination.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Discourse or Off-Course

Much of the American public has been turned off of political discourse. Certainly a great deal of it is simply because in our daily lives, we don't have time to delve deeply into the issues at hand, but as the 2008 election showed beyond any doubt, they are also 'tuning out' because the discussion has become so strident, so insulting, ugly and vulgar, that the average person simply has no interest in becoming embroiled in such ugliness. They have, probably rightly, determined that both parties are acting in their craven self-interest, and the truth is of little or no concern.

I would say that personal experience suggests to me that the Democrats are more willing to be self-critical than Republicans, but that's faint praise. Witness the Democratic uprising over Healthcare and the prosecution of those who tortured, Democrats are better known for being interested policy than simply toeing a company line, yet, they have aggrandized issues unnecessarily - such as the meaningless fight to expose George Bush's flight status during the Vietnam War. While perhaps it was 'of interest' as a point of Bush's lack of honesty, much/most of the public simply didn't care enough to make an issue of it.

Now, however, a new and uglier side is emerging - or maybe the right word is re-emerging. As Patrick Kennedy noted last weekend, this speech is turning increasingly toward suggesting or even openly advocating for violence against those with whom the right-wing doesn't agree.
google_protectAndRun("render_ads.js::google_render_ad", google_handleError, google_render_ad);

Conspiracy theorists who think Obama is going to take away their guns, going to enact communism, isn't lawfully President, wants to enact panels to kill people, are not only voicing their displeasure, but worse, they are openly advocating for drowning out any disagreement with ugly and abusive conduct which is wholly un-American and moreover, in some cases, threatening real violence. At a recent public forum in Virginia for a Republican Representative, a female commenter said that they (her political view/party), "either had to win at the ballot box, or they would start reaching for the bullet box." I personally have been told that a commenter would prefer to stop mincing words with me and let the shooting start.

While nothing stops this quite so well as shedding the light of day on the ugly attitudes of such people, it seems increasingly that outlets like Fox News would prefer to sugar-coat this conduct (including ignoring the conduct of head cheerleader Glenn Beck) - and instead refer to this as simply 'angry citizens' protesting the President's plans. Others claim these are simply a radical few.

I challenge both - protest is fine - protest is fair, but (as Kennedy points out) advocating the assassination of the President (as Limbaugh AND Beck have alluded to), advocating 'Burying Obamacare with Kennedy" is something which can easily be misconstrued by those who, say, might shoot Family Planning Doctors, to instead seek to shoot politicians (like Obama).
It's not protest at that point, it's the same sort of 'call to arms because we lost the argument' that lead to the Civil War. As well, it's hardly a tiny minority - 52% of Republicans are unsure or convinced that the President isn't lawfully the President.

The echo-chamber of right wing politics is so insular that MANY legitimately believe we "others" (i.e. not ultra-conservatives) would truly abide killing our grandparents simply because it was economical - and they are ready to start killing people to prove they are right and serious.
We saw such cavalier attitudes about the treatment of people in Iraq, and we are now beginning to see the same here at home. I don't think it's a mistake, I think the extremists feel safe to come out of the closet, and the question is not only why, but what can be done to finally cause organizations like Fox News to finally expose these people as both ignorant, and dangerous?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Least of These

34Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

- Gospel according to St. Matthew: 25:34-46.

A good friend pointed out this scripture passage to me the other day, and after reading and meditating about it, not only is its beauty and simplicity the essence of Christian teachings, its also an excellent answer to the question of "What would Jesus do?" if He were participating in the health care debate.

Many of the most strident voices against health care reform have also been spreading a series of lies which are clearly intended to scare Americans into opposing health care reform. While nominally the health insurance industry has accepted the idea of reform, in reality, they haven't. Look deep enough behind the focus groups and the people who are being bussed in to disrupt town hall meetings and I think one would find funding from the health care insurance lobby.

The health insurance industry in the US is one of the largest and best funded of any of the insurance businesses. They're also a fairly unique creature. No other western economy uses health insurance to pay for their medical care to the extent that does the United States. Yet, many of the suggestions for health care reform would threaten this sacred cow. For instance, all of the suggestions for reform would do away with "pre-existing conditions". They would also usually prohibit insurance companies from canceling insurance because people got sick. It seems like a no-brainer, but the purpose of health insurance is to pay for treatment when one is sick.

Many of those who are most opposed to health care reform are Republicans. Republicans have been engaged in some of the most egregious lies about the various proposals, including Sarah Palin and her repeated claims about "death panels". Ms. Palin bills herself as a Christian, yet she spreads lies about a bill before Congress. We have heard virtually nothing from Republicans about how to work on the problem facing our nation on health care and to guarantee health care for all.

The same Republicans who claim that they stand for family values and Christian ideals spent a great deal of time recently making sure that it was very clear that those who don't have proper documentation of citizenship would be denied government benefits, including any inclusion in any government funding for health care. Christ didn't care about citizenship, He cared about people. I have written elsewhere that denying basic health care to anyone on the basis of immigration or citizenship status makes little fiscal sense, but when dealing with immigration issues, it appears fiscal realities and Republicans have diverged. However, that's not the point of this article. The point of this article is the difference between word and actions on the part of many who are opposed to health care reform.

It is time for the Republican party to "walk the walk" as well as mouth the words of Christian values. It is not enough to be a Christian on Sundays, when an election is looming, or when there are sound bites and photo ops to be had. Christianity is not an amusement nor is it part-time gig. Its a way of life which means caring for the sick, among other things. Often this is inconvenient. Very often its uncomfortable and decidedly unpleasant. Yet, by caring for God's children, and indeed, all of them, we live the way that Christ intended for us to live.

Those who oppose health care reform simply because its being pushed by democrats are wrong to do so. There are legitimate reasons to be opposed to many of the plans out there, including how to pay for them. However, to oppose them because they threaten the sacred cows of the insurance industry that has worked long and hard to make insurance payments unaffordable for many Americans, is just plain wrong. The way to oppose such plans is to present better plans that can be shown that they will work better at accomplishing what should be a common goal: making sure all have access to affordable, quality health care in the US.