Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Monkey Goes Ape

I couldn't resist. I have always yearned to write a cheesy tabloid headline. On Sunday a gorilla at a Boston zoo escaped for the second time in two months. He attacked a teenage zoo employee and a toddler. The gorilla, Little Joe, was subdued with tranquilizer darts. Little Joe is lucky not to be a black male human. They are brought down with live ammo.

I love this story because there are so many good quotes. "He's not a criminal of any sort. He's a gorilla." How about this one? "He was too strong for me and I'm a big person. I weigh nearly 300 pounds."

Crimson Tide

I know what it is like to live with a college football fan. My father is from Ohio and suffers the joys and agonies of watching Ohio State every Saturday in the fall. I have many memories of him yelling and screaming at the television in an effort to will OSU to victory. He was and is fun to watch as he watches football.

Despite my dad's love for his team I don't think he would have shot at any of his children because the Buckeyes lost. But one young man in Alabama found out the hard way that a heart breaking over time loss is the worst time to ask dad for a new car. The money quote in this story, "I know we take football serious in the South, but that's crossing the line."

Sunday, September 28, 2003

"In this country, whoever is in power will bring his relatives in from the village and give them important positions. That is what Saddam did, and now those relatives are fulfilling their obligation to protect him from the Americans."
Sheik Yousif Sayel, Iraqi clan leader

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! I don't know how to convey an evil "I told you so" laugh, but that is the best I can do. Today the New York Times printed an article about the importance of family and kinship ties in Iraq . It turns out that know-it-all, smarty pants, ivory tower, Ivy League, Pulitzer Prize winning pundits, and arrogant neo-cons didn't know jack when they insisted that Iraqis would love us for ridding them of Saddam Hussein.

I hasten to add, as those of use opposed to the war always do, that I am not apologizing for the awful human rights abuses of the Hussein regime. But if the quotes in this article are accurate, many with family and personal ties to Saddam have let him off the hook because their culture demands it. An Iraqi sociologist says, "If one person in the clan does something wrong, you favor him anyway, and you expect others to treat their relatives the same way."

The last part of that quote is key, because apparently some Iraqis don't even believe that Americans will pay the $30 million reward for Saddam's capture. Saddam is at a relative's house secure in the knowledge that he won't be betrayed. All because he hooked up a cousin with a great gig in Baghdad.

Joking aside, it is quite disgraceful that our nation has caused the deaths of thousands, alienated allies, and ruined chances of Middle East peace to help people so distrustful of outsiders that they only consider marriage to first cousins. I am sure it doesn't help matters any that we are raiding Iraqi homes in the dead of night and can't keep the electricity flowing.

Some of those who supported the war insisted that it was an opportunity to bring liberal democracy to an Arab country. It didn't cross these do-gooding minds that Arabs may not want liberal democracy, at least not in the way we understand it. I am sure they want more open governments and greater prosperity, but it may look a little different in that part of the world and it certainly has to evolve from within. It would also help if we didn't support dictators like Saddam Hussein and the Saudi royals when it suited the interests of powerful individuals and institutions in this country.

What is the moral of this story? Don't invade a country until you know a little about it.

Friday, September 26, 2003

"They don't know what they're doing and that's not just the lack of pre-war planning. It's the lack of any kind of empathy with human beings outside of their class."
Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia University professor

If you have a media player you can watch and listen to Dr. Sachs and other panelists at today's Congressional Black Caucus forum on U.S. Policy in Iraq shown on the C-Span network. Caucus members Charles Rangel and Barbara Lee, Senator Ted Kennedy, Al Sharpton and others spoke eloquently on the topic.

"They Misunderestimated Me"
George W. Bush

For a long time I have been telling my fellow progressives that George W. Bush is the smartest man in America. It is difficult to believe that assessment when listening to him mispronounce the word "nuclear," his twisted syntax, and the "ums" and "uhs" that too often come from his mouth.

But this allegedly stupid man has succeeded in making Iraq safe for American corporations, the true cause for American intervention, through companies such as New Bridge Strategies. The CEO of New Bridge Strategies is Joe Allbaugh, Chief of Staff to George Bush when he was Governor of Texas, and also former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the Bush administration.

The appearance of New Bridge Strategies is not the first step in turning Iraq over to American corporations with connections in high places. When Vice President Cheney's former employer, Halliburton, was handed a contract to rebuild Iraq I was stunned by the lack of concern for even the appearance of impropriety. Even with my lack of trust in this administration I could not believe that there was no bid, not even a sham bidding process with Halliburton as the surprise winner.

Now we have a plethora of well placed republicans getting and/or helping others get a piece of the $87 billion that Bush has requested from congress to rebuild Iraq. How stupid is Bush? He lied about the reason for war, convinced most Americans that he was in fact telling the truth, destroyed the nation we didn't have to fight, and then made sure his friends made money in rebuilding the country that shouldn't have been attacked in the first place.

If Bush is stupid I pray that God makes me stupid too.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Indians and Swedes

According to a Gallup poll measuring degrees of religious devotion around the world Indians were ranked most religious and Swedes the least. Upon reading the survey results sociologist Peter Berger reached this conclusion. "America is a nation of Indians ruled by an elite of Swedes."

This quote has been repeated so often and with such conviction by religious and not so religious conservatives that it has taken on the ring of truth. The dangerous premise of this statement is that most Americans are devoutly religious but prevented from practicing their faith by elites (liberals) in the courts, media and academia.

David Limbaugh, Rush's brother, has written a book entitled, Persecution: How Liberals are Waging War Against Christianity. If there were an award for most inflammatory and misleading title of the year Limbaugh would be the winner. If the award doesn't exist it should be created just for him.

As a Christian who is also politically liberal I am dismayed and angered by the constant assertion that religious devotion is a hallmark of those with conservative political view points. Conservatives have cast themselves as the guardians of Christian belief and liberals as the minions of atheism.

Limbaugh's book consists of a litany of stories ranging from the denial of the right to pray at graduation ceremonies to restrictions on prayer groups in the work place. Just as broken clocks are right twice a day, there is a grain of truth to what Limbaugh says. In 2002 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 2,572 complaints charging religious discrimination in the workplace, but not only from Christians. Unfortunately there is bigotry against Christians and followers of other faiths, but more often there is confusion about what constitutes reasonable accommodation (scroll down), the meaning of separation of church and state, and the appropriate way to allow religious expression in the public sphere.

But these points are too nuanced for doctrinaire conservatives. It wouldn't suit their purposes of increasing right wing political power by taking on the mantle of Christian devotion. The most recent example of conservative "faith baiting" occurred in the U.S. Senate.

"It has been written that patriotism is the refuge of scoundrels. As of last week, we learned that religion is now the refuge of extremists," said Senator Richard Durbin, democrat from Illinois. Senator Durbin was referring to charges that he and other democratic members of the Judiciary Committee were "anti-Catholic" because of their opposition to the nomination of a Catholic Bush judicial nominee, Alabama judge William Pryor. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont was leaving mass when he learned that he had been declared anti-Catholic. Andrea Sheldon Lafferty, spokesperson for the conservative Traditional Values Coalition put it even more bluntly in a C-Span interview. "Senator Leahy never met a Christian he likes."

There you have faith baiting in a nutshell. You may call yourself a Christian, you may even worship in church, but if you disagree with conservative politics any claims of Christianity are worthless. Conversely, those who agree with conservatives never have their spiritual credentials questioned. It is true that Pryor's opposition to abortion is in keeping with his Catholic faith. But it is also true that Mr. Pryor supports the death penalty, which the Catholic Church opposes. Perhaps Catholic senators Leahy and Durbin should have labeled him an anti-Catholic bigot and rejected his nomination on that basis.

Conservatives succeed at the faith baiting game in the same way they succeed in election theft, recall campaigns and rereredistricting efforts in Texas. They are unafraid to be audacious. They say whatever suits them while liberals weigh how best to be in defense mode.

It is time for liberals to point out when conservative political belief is inconsistent with Christian belief. Advocating for public prayer, whether at high school football games, classrooms or the workplace is a mainstay of conservative advocacy efforts. But what did Jesus say about praying in public?

When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees (what is done) in secret will reward you.
Matthew 6:5-6

Public prayer is not the only issue that gives conservatives spiritual amnesia. They have a very narrow focus of concern: abortion, homosexuality, and public prayer. However, they are curiously immune from other issues impacting on the lives of the American people. The Bush administration recently attempted to change federal rules governing eligibility for overtime pay. Had they succeeded, up to 8 million Americans would have been deprived of their right to overtime. Don't Christians need over time too? Conservative Christians have never spoken up on behalf of those wrongly convicted of murder and sent to death row, many of whom are incarcerated in the Bible Belt.

I am not sure if their allegiance to republicans compromises their integrity and keeps them silent on these and other issues or if they truly do not care when the government makes decisions that are harmful to millions of people. Or is it even worse, does their Christianity find good in injustice? I have long felt that conservative Christians were more concerned about "don'ts" than about "dos." There is little talk of a positive, uplifting message of Christ's love. They are so concerned about feeling thwarted by liberals at every that they seem unable to take advantage of the great religious freedoms that America has to offer.

In a landmark 2000 Supreme Court ruling, student led prayers at public high school football games were ruled unconstitutional. Of course, that liberal, secular, Christian hating ACLU brought the suit. But a closer look reveals a little reported foot note. The ACLU acted on behalf of families who were Catholic and Mormon, not atheists. Children in the Santa Fe, Texas school district who were not Southern Baptists were being discriminated against. A teacher informed a Mormon student told that she was going to hell and that her religion was a cult.

There was persecution of Christians in Santa Fe, Texas, but it didn't come from liberals. It came from other Christians who apparently skipped over Matthew 6:5-6 in bible study class. Those of us who have a different view of what our faith means must speak out. If we don't then Christianity will be synonymous with conservative.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

But You Knew I Was a Snake All Along
Punch line of fable

There are various versions of an old fable about snakes, namely that they aren't to be trusted. In one version a bird is enticed to give a ride to a snake. The bird at first refuses, fearing that he will be bitten. But the snake assures him. After all, he could neve bite the bird because then both would die. Of course, the bird agrees to give the snake a lift and the snake promptly bites him, causing both to fall to their deaths.

I was reminded of this story while reading salon.com yesterday. Some liberals were swayed into backing the war in Iraq, mostly because of Saddam Hussein's dismal human rights record. I and many other anti-war protesters were equally concerned about human rights abuses in Iraq and elsewhere around the world.

But I never believed that human rights concerns were the true motive for the war. When Saddam Hussein was using poison gas in the early 80s he was our friend. He was gassing Iranians, who were our enemies at the time, so the Reagan administration dispatched Donald Rumsfeld to go to Baghdad and make nice with the evil dictator.

Now of course the chickens have come home to roost. We have no intention of handing over power to the Iraqis who we said should live in a democracy of their own making. We are selling off Iraq's assets to the highest bidder. We have taken a country that posed no terror threat and turned it into a magnet for jihadists. We kill Iraqi police in "friendly" fire incidents and can't even keep the lights on.

What is a pro-war liberal to do? Whine, for one thing. One shocked would be do-gooder said, "I never imagined that it would be such a screwed-up situation." Well, I did. I never trusted this administration when it was reported that their hand picked leader from the Iraqi exile community, Ahmad Chalabi, was a crook. He was forced to flee from Jordan in the trunk of a car after perpetrating a fraud totaling millions of dollars. I couldn't believe that Iraqis, even if they hated Saddam, wanted a country ruled by foreigners who were pro-Israeli infidels.

I also knew they were snakes all along.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

"Be More Cynical"
Bill Maher quote

I told you so. It is not the most eloquent expression in the English language but it can be very powerful. It sums up my feelings about the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Today it was announced that the American controlled governing council will allow Iraqi industries to be sold to the highest bidder, under the guise of reform of course. Read the bad news here. The proposal even includes some right wing dogma on taxation. No corporation or individual will pay more than 15% of income in taxes. That is a very favorable rate indeed for a multinational corporation. The Republican party platform will be realized in Iraq.

I must give grudging credit to the Bush administration. They very shrewdly cultivated congressional and public support for the war by doing two things. They kept Americans in a state of panic about future terror attacks ( color coded alerts disappeared once fighting started in Iraq) and they emphasized the heinous nature of the Hussein regime.

I never thought for one moment that they actually cared about human rights abuses, but they fooled a great many people by claiming that getting rid of the "evil dictator" was the rationale for going to war. If they had told the truth, that Iraq was seen as a cash cow for those connected with Bush Inc., it would have been a tougher sell, to say the least.

We know the arguments for war, but what were the motivations for supporting it? Some believed that Saddam Hussein was behind the terror attacks of September 11th, recent administration denials not withstanding. Others were motivated by ignorance. We had to get back at them, the Arabs. Apparently any Arabs would do. Others believed the lies told about weapons of mass destruction.

We can't forget that most Americans want to give their president the benefit of the doubt. They don't want to think he is a lying, fanatical, extremist bent on world domination. Then of course, there is stupidity. There are a lot of very stupid people in our country. If they hear something more than a few times they believe it must be true. If the president says month after month that we need regime change then by golly we must have regime change.

At times like these I wonder about the old adage, "Ignorance is bliss." I could be watching the red carpet entrance of celebrities at the Emmy awards like everyone else in the country. But instead I am sitting at my computer typing away in a white hot fury.

I always thought that Bush represented the very worst aspects of American culture, i.e. ignorance and callousness about the rest of the world and a belief that the Untied States is superior to every other nation. As he said in one of his deceptively simple statements, "You are either with us or against us." The French are our enemies and the Dixie Chicks have to shut up. I shouldn't be over wrought. Bush has done me a favor. He has made the case for me.

From the start of this ill fated effort I was convinced that the Arab and Muslim world would hate us even more if we invaded Iraq. We don't even pretend to care about their opinions or concerns. The right wing have been very smug because there have been no terror attacks since 9/11 two years ago. I think we all need to remember that eight years went by between attacks on the World Trade Center. We shouldn't be too sure of ourselves because of a two year lull. I get the feeling that Osama is along range planning sort of guy.

We have now lived up to the very worst expectations that the world has of us and there is going to be hell to pay. Sadly, the neocon geniuses who got us into this mess will not be the ones to pay the price. Working class sons and daughters are risking life and limb in Iraq. And to add insult to injury, the military even charges them for food when they are wounded.

Let us all make a pact to speak against this theft of Iraqi wealth. Write or call your congressional representatives, write a letter to the editor of your local paper. I marched against this war to let the world know that all Americans are not unfeeling or stupid. Remember, silence is consent.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Is Silvio Berlusconi Good for the Jews?

Anti-Defamation League: 90 Years of Fighting Anti-Semitism, Bigotry and Extremism
ADL home page

On Tuesday, September 23, 2003 the ADL will honor Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi with its Distinguished Statesman Award. This honor is being bestowed upon Berlusconi because of his strong support for Israel, that is to say for the policies advocated by the Israeli government. When he visited Israel last year he met with Prime Minister Sharon but unlike other world leaders not with Yasser Arafat. Berlusconi has also been unique among leaders of "old" European countries in supporting the war in Iraq. He sent Italian troops to serve among the "coalition of the willing."

Tuesday marks the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. Heads of state and other dignitaries will doubtlessly be honored by a variety of organizations as they are every year when the UN session begins. Berlusconi's award from the ADL would not have been noted were it not for his latest gaffe.

In an interview with two British reporters Berlusconi said, "Mussolini didn't kill anyone. Mussolini sent people on vacation abroad." Click here for full text. Unfortunately for the Prime Minister the rest of the world is not letting his statement pass without comment. In fact Mussolini was responsible for the deaths of approximately one million Libyans, Ethiopians, Yugoslavians, Italian Jews and other Italian civilians killed because of Italian involvement in World War II. Read more here and here.

ADL national director Abraham Foxman has said that Berlusconi is a "flawed friend" who will still receive the award click here. If the ADL has spent 90 years fighting anti-Semitism, bigotry and extremism why is it honoring a world leader who minimizes fascist atrocities? We don't need to look very far for the answer. Foxman told us. Berlusconi supports the actions of the Israeli government.

It is interesting that the ADL, whose stated mission is to fight anti-Semitism, is ignoring requests from some in the Italian Jewish community to cancel the ceremony. Tullia Zevi, a former leader of Italy's Union of Jewish Communities asked Foxman not to honor Berlusconi. In an interview with the New York Times she made the following statement.

"He said Fascism was a very mild dictatorship!" Ms. Zevi said in a telephone interview from Rome. "It was so `mild' there were many political murders from the very beginning, and also for the Jews."

She said Mr. Foxman told her he wanted to pay homage to a man who was supporting an increasingly isolated American president.

"The feelings of a community that has been established here for 2,000 years have the right to be respected," said Ms. Zevi, whose family fled Italy when anti-Jewish laws were imposed in 1938.

Berlusconi has said that his remarks were misunderstood, the translation was bad, he only meant to say that Saddam Hussein killed more people than Mussolini did. He even gave an apology, of sorts, click here, in an Italian synagogue. But the Prime Minister has a history of making offensive remarks. He likened a German politician to a Nazi concentration camp guard, and said that Germany and France should "shut up" about their opposition to the war in Iraq.

Perhaps this level of arrogance, bad taste and offensiveness comes from being the richest man in Italy. Berlusconi is a media mogul who passed a law exempting himself from prosecution while he is in office. He had been accused of bribing judges and now the accusations will remain just that.

It is sad that the ADL has sunk to such a point. Why can't they tell Berlusconi that the event has been cancelled? I think that a short, simple letter would do the job nicely.

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

We are an organization dedicated to fighting extremism. That means we fight fascism. That means we can't honor someone who apologizes for fascism. Sorry.



But this brouhaha is bigger than Mr. Berlusconi. The problem is that the ADL has cast its lot so completely with Israeli government policy that its ability to speak out on a variety of issues has been compromised.

In my previous post I discussed the controversy surrounding the yet to be completed film The Passion amid charges made by the ADL and others that it is anti-Semitic. Unfortunately conservative Christians, who don't like being questioned, made it clear that their support of Israel was subject to the degree of support that Jews gave their issues. See here. In the case of The Passion it means pipe down about "our" movie or we and our congressional allies may not be such strong supporters of Israel. What did Mr. Foxman say about this effort at blackmail? He said nothing. He couldn't do otherwise. He has already toadied to the Tom DeLays of the world, people who do not equivocate when proclaiming their belief in the supremacy of Christianity, all because of a stated support of Israel.

Unfortunately these instances of questionable behavior are not Foxman's biggest contribution to the history of poor decision making. Abraham Foxman played a role in sticking Bill Clinton with the Marc Rich debacle.

In January 2001 Bill Clinton pardoned Marc Rich, the fugitive financier. There were howls of protest when the pardon was made public. Right wingers in Congress, who were not content to have successfully stolen a presidential election, even made noises about impeaching a former president. The pardon tainted the Clinton administration and even his strongest advocates found it difficult to come to his defense.

Clinton wanted a Middle East peace plan in place before he left office. Ehud Barak, then Israeli Prime Minister, requested the Rich pardon. Barak could have gotten anything he wanted from the desperate soon to be former president. But how did the issue come to Barak?

Marc Rich used money, and connections with his foundation in Israel, to pressure Barak into asking for the pardon. Not wanting to leave any stones unturned, he also asked Foxman for help. New York Times columnist William Safire reported this story on March 21, 2001. Because you will not be able to link without paying for the story I have copied the relevant portions of the column. There is also fascinating if minutely detailed story from salon.com here.

It had just been revealed that Foxman -- whose organization had received $250,000 over the years from Marc Rich -- had not only written to President Bill Clinton urging forgiveness for the fugitive billionaire but was present at the creation of the pardon plot.

Thirteen months ago, according to Foxman, he met in Paris with a former Mossad agent now on the Rich Foundation payroll who had the month before pledged $100,000 to A.D.L. Foxman came up with the idea of asking Denise Rich, the divorced wife of the man on the lam for 17 years, to intercede with Clinton for a pardon.
He knew her only from ''reading the columns,'' Foxman told reporters last weekend. However, he sat across the aisle from Mrs. Rich on Air Force Two when Clinton invited both of them to accompany the presidential party to Yitzhak Rabin's funeral. It was logical for him to presume that Rich's former wife was on the government plane because she had some connection to the president.
That bright idea of Foxman's led to e-mail from Rich's top man in Israel to Rich lawyers in the U.S. Ultimately, a former Clinton White House counsel, Jack Quinn, used Denise Rich to circumvent expected Justice Department resistance to pardoning a defiant fugitive accused of the biggest tax rip-off in U.S. history.

Let me stipulate here that it is no sin to recommend mercy or point out good deeds done by unpopular targets of prosecutors. I regularly signed parole petitions for Nixon colleagues jailed after Watergate. And when prosecutor Charles Hynes led a New York Bar Association campaign to disbar a near-comatose Roy M. Cohn just before he died of AIDS, I denounced the vengeful lawyers as a pack of ghouls. I don't knock loyalty.
But at issue here is the ease with which an unpatriotic wheeler-dealer can manipulate fine organizations and hungry politicians here and abroad into expunging all unanswered charges from his record.

Would we have known about the A.D.L. advice to Rich and intercession on his behalf if Congress had not begun an investigation? Unlikely; though he reported fully to some 40 members of the A.D.L. national executive committee on Feb. 3, for six weeks after the pardon fire storm Foxman said nothing publicly.

Not until March 9, when the Burton committee contacted him, did A.D.L. release its official letter to Clinton whining about ''Marc Rich's suffering.'' Only after cooperating with House investigators did Foxman admit publicly that it was his suggestion in Paris that led to the well-heeled Denise's exploitation of her access to ''Number One.''
In a March 19 letter to national commission members, he explained that his pardon request was partly ''predicated on the fifteen years I knew of Marc Rich's generous philanthropy and good deeds,'' but lately ''I began to question whether a person's good deeds should overshadow other aspects of his behavior. In hindsight this case probably should not have had my involvement as it was not directly in ADL's clear-cut mission. . . .''

That mission is to fight bigotry. The last time Foxman muddled it was to write Clinton asking for Jonathan Pollard's release; commission members privately slapped him down because that prosecution had nothing to do with anti-Semitism, either.

The time is ripe for the A.D.L. -- and other do-good and advocacy groups, too -- to take a hard look at the ulterior motives of their money sources. It's time to set out written policies to resist manipulation by rich sleazebags and to reprimand or fire staff members who do not get with the ethical program.

Abraham Foxman's actions perpetuated some of the worst negative stereotypes about Jews. Namely that they are wealthy and powerful and use that wealth and power to aid Israel even if by doing so they hurt the United States.

I will keep this in mind during the next controversy, and there will be one, surrounding anti-Semitic remarks. If Amiri Baraka can be pilloried for repeating an internet urban legend about Jews staying home on 9/11 then a major Jewish organization should be pilloried when it accepts behavior from supporters of Israel that it wouldn't accept from anyone else.

There is more to this story than Silvio Berlusconi carrying home a plaque. Because Jewish organizations like ADL have made unquestioned support of Israel their reason for being they have made alliances with people and causes who ultimately may not work in their interests.

It is interesting to note that the ADL and others equate support for war in Iraq with support for Israel. I am still not clear how Saddam Hussein threatened Israel. Of course, Saddam Hussein hadn't threatend anybody since the first Gulf War in 1991. That small detail was one of the reasons I opposed this war. But the neoconservatives and other war cheer leaders made the case that an invasion of Iraq was good for Israel. Does the ADL and its membership now equate the fight against anti-Semitism with support of conservative politics? Do other Jewish organizations agree with that assessment?

If anti-Semitism is now defined as opposing Israeli government policy the ADL needs to change its mission statement. It should now read, "We support Israeli government policy and anyone else who agrees with us. We aren't picky about who these supporters may be. We'll take anybody."

Now that would be truth in advertising.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Passion Play

The Holy Ghost was working through me on this film, and I was just directing traffic. I hope the film has the power to evangelize.
Mel Gibson

There has been much discussion of late about Mel Gibson's yet to be released film, The Passion, a depiction of the last twelve hours of the life of Jesus. After a draft script was leaked to the media, Gibson was accused of reiterating the centuries old charge that Jews are to blame for the death of Christ. Unfortunately, it is all too common for sensational and inflammatory headlines to obscure deeper issues. The debate surrounding this film is no exception.

A rough cut version of The Passion is being shown to various audiences around the country before its scheduled release date of Easter 2004. Mel Gibson added fuel to the fire when he invited a group including evangelicals and conservative pundits Linda Chavez, Kate O'Beirne, Peggy Noonan and Matt Drudge to a Washington D.C. screening. Their like minded colleague Laura Ingraham lamented missing the screening. "I wanted to see any movie that drives the anti-Christian entertainment elite crazy." Ms. Ingraham’s gushing reaction is far more telling than has been noted. The problem with The Passion is not just that it may be anti-Semitic, but that it symbolizes the way in which the right wing have used Christianity as a tool to promote their larger political agenda.

Mel Gibson tipped his hand when he invited conservative opinion makers but not liberals to his Washington screening. Gibson can see the writing on the wall and it says that with conservative Christians in power only the right wing carry weight in religious debates.

I have no idea if The Passion is anti-Semitic or not. We should remember that because Jesus chose death to pardon human sins, the issue of whether Romans or Jews should be held responsible is immaterial. If there were no crucifixion there would be no Christianity. But Gibson seems to agree that Jesus Christ is the personal property of conservatives. It is also clear that unless liberal Christians speak up he will have been proven correct. There is no better way to stave off criticism of The Passion than with the "real" Christian seal of approval.

Archbishop John P. Foley of the Vatican social-communications office made the case even more bluntly after seeing a trailer for the film. He said that The Passion was "excellent" and dismissed completely the validity of any and all criticism. "I don't think they would be well-founded criticisms because all the material in the film comes directly from the Gospel accounts. There's nothing in the film that doesn't come from the Gospel accounts. So, if they're critical of the film, they would be critical of the Gospel."

Unfortunately Laura Ingraham may have correctly predicted the tone for discussion surrounding The Passion. Any criticism of the film will be dismissed as elite, anti-Christian bias or even more divisively as Jewish, anti-Christian bias.

In the near future I will write about conservative attempts to do more than steal elections, but to steal Christianity and make it their personal property.

Your Government at Work

Are there any X-Files fans out there? It is one of my all time favorite television shows. The X-Files was appealing because it validated our fear that the government was full of crazy people planning creepy things for the rest of us. Every now and again the government does something that makes the paranoid among us look prescient.

One of my favorite episodes told the story of a government experiment on soldiers fighting in Vietnam. They performed surgery that made them unable to sleep. No sleeping, more fighting. Of course years later they still hadn't slept a wink and one had developed an ability to invade the others' dreams and kill them.

Well, Hollywood has nothing on the U.S. government. You have probably never head of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or its latest bright idea, the Brain Interface Program. Let's call it BIP.

BIP would " . . .'integrate' soldiers into machines -literally-by wiring them (remotely or directly) to their planes, tanks, or computers." Click here for the scary details.

On that light hearted note I bid you all a fun and safe weekend. Keep checking in with Freedom Rider.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003


I've obviously been lied to a lot by campaign operatives, but the striking thing about the way she lied was she knew I knew she was lying, and she did it anyway. There is no word in English that captures that. It almost crosses over from bravado into mental illness.

Tucker Carlson, conservative pundit, on Karen Hughes, a former Bush spokesperson

Have you ever had the experience of talking to an unstable person and come away thinking that you in fact were the insane one? Crazy people do have a knack for making you doubt your own sanity. They will say or do something and then deny saying or doing it. Of course if you are accustomed to logic you can't believe that anyone would be so unstable and you begin to doubt yourself. Welcome to America under the Bush regime.

In the past few days the Bush administration has hit the mental illness motherlode. Am I the only one who remembers that they tried to link Saddam Hussein to 9/11? I ask because they are now saying they never said it. You have to click here and here to feel the full flavor.

Weren't we told by the Bushies that 9/11 mastermind Mohammed Atta met with Iraqi operatives in Prague? Didn't they insist that it happened even when it was proven that Atta was never in Prague? Didn't Dick Cheney repeat this canard as late as Sunday, just three days ago? I beg someone, anyone to tell me that I was not dreaming.

But you must hurry. They're coming to take me away.

Don't Know Much About History

You can always tell when this administration is in trouble in the polls. Top officials fan out to Sunday morning talk shows like circuit preachers to church. The top rated Meet the Press is an obligatory stop on the whirlwind tour.

Tim Russert, host of the program, is the eminence grise of television interrogators. He is well known for his relentless questioning. Actually it depends on who is being questioned. Democratic presidential hopefuls get the third degree. The Bush teams gets a softer touch. Secretary of State Colin Powell made his appearance on September 7th and Vice President Dick Cheney left his bunker for the September 14th show.

Before I go one I should give a little background. Did you know that Osama Bin Laden had relatives in the United States on 9/11? Did you know that they and other Saudis were allowed to leave the United States on special flights when the rest of us were still stuck on the ground?

Passengers on these flights were not questioned by the FBI until they were on board and ready to take off. It is interesting that a drug dealer's mother will be asked about his whereabouts while the kin of a wanted terrorist are allowed to leave the country without being asked "just the facts ma'am."

This event has been known ever since that time but the mainstream media have chosen to discuss it only recently. Russert asked about the story, but ever so gingerly.

MR. RUSSERT: The cover of Time magazine tomorrow, headlined, The Saudis: Whose Side Are They On in the War on Terror? — in this release from Vanity Fair magazine, “Former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke tells Vanity Fair that the Bush administration decided to allow a group of Saudis to fly out of the U.S. just after September 11 — at a time when access to U.S. airspace was still restricted and required special government approval. According to other sources at least four flights with about 140 Saudis, including roughly two dozen members of the bin Laden family, flew to Saudi Arabia that week — without even being interviewed or interrogated by the F.B.I.”
Why was that allowed?
SEC’Y POWELL: Well, I don’t know that that’s accurate. I don’t know the details of what happened. But my understanding is that there was no sneaking out of the country; that the flights were well-known, and it was coordinated within the government. But I don’t have the details about what the FBI’s role in it might or might not have been.

Is it possible that the Secretary of State couldn't know that Osama's relatives had literally flown the coop? I can't even think it with a straight face. Powell is either a liar or an incompetent. I don't believe he is incompetent.

Cheney did not do any better.

MR. RUSSERT: Vanity Fair magazine reports that about 140 Saudis were allowed to leave the United States the day after the 11th, allowed to leave our airspace and were never investigated by the FBI and that departure was approved by high-level administration figures. Do you know anything about that?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I don’t, but a lot of folks from that part of the world left in the aftermath of 9/11 because they were worried about public reaction here in the United States or that somehow they might be discriminated against.

Did the tough talking Mr. Russert ask follow up questions? No he did not. You can check for yourself. Powell's interview is here and Cheney's is here

I could say a lot but I will keep it simple. The Bush administration is made up of liars from top to bottom. They get away with lying because the media allow it.

So much for liberal bias in the press.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Arnold, Oprah and Dark Fantasies

It is difficult to write about the California recall election because there is so much to say about so many things. Do I talk about the right wing plot to undo yet another election? Perhaps I should delve into the court ruling announced yesterday which may postpone the recall? Maybe confirmation of my suspicion that Schwarzenegger is a scheming social climber is the way to go. There are so many issues but not enough time to investigate them all.

I know what to do. I will leave all those pesky questions aside and go straight for the salacious jugular. Let's talk about race and sex.

If you depend on the mainstream media to get the news you are in serious trouble. The media get our attention by covering sensational and irrelevant information that has no impact on our lives. There is no other way to describe over the top coverage of Kobe Bryant, the Laci Peterson murder or the state of J. Lo and B. Aff's relationship.

On Friday I watched ABC news with Peter Jennings. What was the first story? The Iraq quagmire? No. Bin Laden still missing? No. Saddam Hussein still missing? No. Weapons of Mass Destruction still missing? No, no, no and no. The first story was coverage of the deaths of Johnny Cash and John Ritter.

Now I may seem to contradict myself but bear with me. I am going to reveal the sensational, but I don't think it is irrelevant. I think it is very telling and deserves more scrutiny if Californians are going to throw out a duly elected governor in favor of an actor who only participates in debates if he knows the questions in advance.

In 1977 Arnold Schwarzenegger gave an interview to Oui magazine. Among other things it included an admission of group sex that seems to be a description of a rape. This is the quote that caught my attention. "Bodybuilders party a lot, and once, in Gold's--the gym in Venice, California, where all the top guys train--there was a black girl who came out naked. Everybody jumped on her and took her upstairs, where we all got together." Asked by Manso if he was talking about a "gang bang," Schwarzenegger answered, "Yes, but not everybody, just the guys who can fuck in front of other guys. Not everybody can do that. Some think that they don't have a big-enough cock, so they can't get a hard-on. Having chicks around is the kind of thing that breaks up the intense training. It gives you relief, and then afterward you go back to the serious stuff." Read the full story by clicking here.

These days Arnie seems to be saying that it was all made up, although his explanation differs depending on the day of the week and who asks the question. I don't know whether to believe the story or not. I am trying to imagine a woman in an all male gym walking around naked and it doesn't seem plausible. The story could be made up out of whole cloth, somewhat true, or completely true. The important thing to remember is that the same people who trashed Clinton during the Monica drama are working very hard to get Schwarzenegger elected.

There is also the thorny problem of Arnold's groping women against their will, sometimes in front of other people, including his own wife. Read all about it. At least two women journalists have said that he grabbed their breasts. Click here too. Oh yes, and we have more about Arnold and black women. While partying during carnival in Rio Arnold discovered that "baby's got back." I will say this for the governor to be, he knows how to give a great quote. "After watching mulattas shake it, I can totally understand why Brasil is devoted to my favorite body part, the ass," he opined.Yes, there is more here.

These stories should be enough to sink anyone's candidacy but did I mention that Arnold is a racist too. According to two black body builders he repeatedly used the word nigger in their presence and one says that he defended apartheid. Click here. But we can't forget that ABC, the same network under the impression that John Ritter's death was the most important news in the world, can't decide when or whether to air the interview. As I said, there is way too much material here.

So, what do we know about Arnold? We know that he fantasizes about sex with black women but can't talk to black men without calling them nigger. He also seems to find it amusing to grab women who don't want to be grabbed. Is it just me or do these problems disqualify him from public office?

Where does Oprah fit in to our story? Well, today Arnold and his wife, Maria Shriver, were guests on her show. Read all about it and try not to gag. When I read about the interview I was more than a little annoyed with Ms. Winfrey. For starters, Schwarzenegger is running for public office. Is she going to interview Governor Gray Davis and the other candidates? If not, why would she in effect give Arnold an endorsement? Does Oprah know about the groping, grabbing and racial epithets? It is unclear from media accunts whether she asked the hard questions or not, but I certainly hope that she did. I find it hard to believe that I discovered these stories and the Queen of All Media couldn't. Had I been an Oprah fan before today I wouldn't be one now.

By the way, despite reading the New York Times every day and watching a plethora of cable news shows I have this information only because I am an internet addict. I find it amusing when the right wing go on and on about a supposed liberal bias at the Times. I wish it were true.

I am almost finished with this long tale but I can't bid my readers adieu without quoting Maria, Stepford Wife, Shriver. Her husband would consider her "damaged goods" is she were raped. Read it here. Fortunately, some Californians are on to her and gave her the bum's rush at a campaign event .

I think that is quite enough for now. I will deal with the issue of the recall itself later.

Oh no! I forgot. His father was a Nazi and he was friends with Waldheim and oh, never mind. It is getting late. I'll tell you the rest later.

Monday, September 15, 2003

"The Dumbest Thing"

These are the profounds words of one Charles McKinley, describing his feelings about shipping himself in a cargo box from New York to his hometown, Dallas, Texas on September 4, 2003.
Click here.

McKinley did indeed make it to his parents home but he was of course arrested when the startled delivery man realized he had been carrying human cargo. My favorite line of this story comes from his father, who asked, "Man, what are you doing in this crate?"

I was immediately reminded of Henry "Box" Brown. Henry Brown mailed himself from slavery in Virginia to a free state. Of course, Mr. Brown's odyssey was born of necessity, but what would make someone ship himself in the age of airlines, trains and greyhound buses?

It was fitting that this story made the news around the time of the 9/11 anniversary. I was pleased that Osama hadn't thought of this before. I was reminded that we have been living on luck since 9/11 two years ago. We have been lucky that homesick nitwits ship themselves and terrorists haven't shipped God knows what.

The understatement of the day came from our inept Homeland Security Department. “It certainly shows that we have more work to do on cargo security,” said Asa Hutchinson, the Homeland Security Department’s undersecretary for transportation security.


Sunday, September 14, 2003

The Bizarro World of Condoleezza Rice

In August 2003 Condoleezza Rice spoke at the National Association of Black Journalists convention and compared the opposition to the war in Iraq with segregationists in Alabama in the sixties. She didn't mention any old garden variety segregationists, but the ones who killed little girls.

But she has outdone herself more recently. In another foolish attempt at comparison she and Donald Rumsfeld repeated a specious account of Nazis who continued to fight after World War II had ended. This past week the entertainment value provided by this administration only increased. We were told tht we didn't know enough about Iraq before we invaded. I can agree on this point but I do not recall the president or anyone else on his team lacking in certainty about the need for war.

As if I didn't distrust the Bushies enough already, they are now beginning to make me doubt my sanity. Is it just me or does anyone else remember being told about the terrible evils perpetrated by Saddam Hussein? Now Condi tells us that they underestimated the brutality of his regime. (scroll down).

There are so many things that could be said about all this but I will keep it simple. Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, Rice, the neocons and everyone else who frightened the American people into wanting this war would have been better off if they had just talked to my mother first.

You see my mom always says something very simple but very profound. "When you tell one lie you end up telling one hundred." Rice is forced to make ever more insane remarks because she, her boss and her colleagues are all liars. There were no WMDs, and they knew it. There were no dangerous drones bearing down on an unsuspecting populace and they knew it. Iraq's nuclear capability had been destroyed by Israel in the 1980s, was never resurrected and they knew it. Saddam had nothing to do with September 11th and they knew that too. These people who were going to restore honor and dignity to the White House have taken a country that was not a terror threat and turned it into one.

I suppose it is a good thing that they are sharing their insanity with the public. I don't have to make the case any longer because they are doing it for me. But I think the president should give Condi a break. Cheney should get the assignment of making nonsensical statements. I think Condi has had enough for a while.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Welcome to Freedom Rider

This is my very first post as a blogger. I have chosen the name Freedom Rider because I want to evoke that revolutionary period in history when millions of Americans rose up to fight oppression that was accepted and legal. Anniston, Alabama, where the first freedom riders were brutally attacked, was my maternal grandmother's home town. I urge you to learn about these events if you are not familiar with them. If you aren't don't be embarrassed. Our country doesn't value its history enough. Of course, we are paying a very high price in Iraq and elsewhere because of that ignorance, so I hope you take this and any other opportunities to learn something new.

Americans have taken their freedom for granted and are on the verge of losing it without so much as a whimper. Our Attorney General is crisscrossing the nation telling us that freedom is slavery. Our Secretary of Defense says that if we disagree with the President we are helping our enemies. I think that the idea of a Freedom Ride is all too apropos at this moment.

Today we commemorate the second anniversary of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. It would be difficult to find a more dedicated news junkie than yours truly. But on September 11th I avoid the news so much that I was relieved to read about an overexposed celebrity couple and their postponed wedding. It certainly beats bagpipes, singing children and politicians giving maudlin speeches.

I am still angry about September 11th. I am angry because the events of that day were used by evil people to manipulate and cow the nation into accepting lies. I am angry that no one was held responsible. In America we have a system of employment at will, a fancy way of saying that we can be fired for just about any reason. But the people at the top, whose incompetence, arrogance, callousness, collusion, or all of the above caused the deaths of 3,000 people, were allowed to keep their jobs.

I am angry because two years of flagwaving, candle lighting and political pronouncements have resulted in a nation that is unprepared for another terror attack.

I am angry because American soldiers are dying in a country that was not a terror threat until our leaders turned it into one.

Welcome to Freedom Rider. Stay tuned.