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An Exchange on Causes of the US/Iraq War

Posted by libhom Tuesday, July 29, 2008 6 comments

This appears in the comments section on a post in Ten Percent:

Me: Oil is a major cause. So is war profiteering. Bush’s militant, Christian fundamentalism plays a role too.

RickB: Yep all those, and I’d add imperialism. They all came together in a perfect storm, starting with a right wing judicial coup aided by a sibling’s state control and a father who used to be leader & headed the secret police and army for the empire. That’s how it would have been reported if it had happened in a developing nation!

Comments from people abroad often give us a perspective on things here that we really need.

The fog we live in because our media is propaganda oriented rather than news oriented needs to be lifted in as many ways as possible.

 



Dusty has a great blog, It's My Right to Be Left of Center. I recently discovered that she also has a YouTube Channel. I know its from a while back, the time of the Blogswarm Against the Iraq War, but this slideshow makes a lot of points that are worth thinking about, a couple of which I would like to emphasize here.

One item she nails is the role of war profiteers in getting us into Iraq and keeping us there. One area of failed analysis is that many on the left see our presence there almost exclusively in terms of neocon foreign policy objectives. The neocons certainly have been the propagandists, but the people with the power, Bush and Cheney, were at least as motivated by personal greed and political corruption as by policy considerations. Many on the left like giving political opponents the benefit of the doubt when it comes to personal integrity. That is an admirable impulse, but when it is taken too far, it becomes an obstacle to accurate analysis.

The slideshow also points out that violence roughly doubled in Iraq between January and March of 2008, despite the alleged success of the escalation in Iraq. There are a lot of reasons to be skeptical of the claims of the corporate media and rightists in the GOP and the Democratic Party on the supposed success of the "surge" (or perhaps "splurge"). This is yet another.

Another point of concern is the growing number of troop suicides. At home, veteran suicides are going up too. This is another cost of the Iraqtastrophe that the corporate war party hides or ignores. The video gives a personal look at the human costs of this war on American troops. I also would recommend the blog Faces of Grief to see vivid photographs of the suffering of the Iraqi people, something we as Americans are morally obligated to face and acknowledge.

As an aside, I can not help but note the irony in Kennedy's comments on secrecy, given that his administration's greatest failures, the Bay of Pigs and getting us further into the Vietnam war, were policies developed and acted on in secret.

 

Lou Dobbs Attacks the Middle Class

Posted by libhom Sunday, July 27, 2008 7 comments

Universal healthcare is one of the most important issues for middle class Americans. It would provide healthcare for middle class people whose jobs have been shipped abroad by Lou Dobbs' corporate sponsors and a safety net for middle class people who face similar job losses in the future.

Helping the uninsured get beyond their absolute dependence on emergency rooms for medical care would make everyone safer who really needs emergency care.

Lou Dobbs doesn't care.

I would have stopped watching that racist corporate panderer entirely if my gym didn't have CNN on all the time. The propaganda fest Dobbs plays out while I'm working out is amazing.

Dobbs is attacking universal healthcare with a truly reprehensible tactic, demonizing people who support including illegal aliens. This is a classic bait and switch. Dobbs wants to gets people so worked up over illegal immigration that they won't listen to people who want to get healthcare for the uninsured.

Universal healthcare is literally a life and death issue. More than 18,000 people in this country die each year because they don't have access to health coverage. Playing these kinds of games with the lives of middle class Americans who are getting screwed by Dobbs' corporate sponsors shows Dobbs' hypocrisy in claiming that he cares about the middle class.

Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) recently sent me an email defending their organization from an attack on that organization designed to distract Dobbs' viewers from his real, anti-middle class agenda.

Tim Carpenter, PDA's National Director, said:

On CNN last night, Lou Dobbs was in the anti-immigrant zone. Nothing new about that--except this time he went after PDA.

“Tonight,” he intoned, “a political action committee called Progressive Democrats of America, PDA, is pushing a major new plank for the Democratic Party. PDA wants what it calls health care for all, including illegal aliens. One leading member of Congress has already signed on.”

A report from a CNN correspondent was briefly matter-of-fact: “Progressive Democrats of America wants to end the Iraq war and plow the war funding into setting up a system of universal health care.”

And I got a few seconds on camera, explaining: “We believe in health care for all.... Our goal fundamentally is to make sure that all of us have health care, all of us within the U.S. borders have health care.”

That concept made host Lou Dobbs nearly apoplectic, as he soon let viewers know. “I mean this is utterly and completely outrageous,” he said.

The idea that “illegal aliens” should have health care as a human right made Dobbs go ballistic. “I'll just speak for myself,” he said, “I mean, it is unbelievable that any elected representative of the people would provide that level of benefit to citizens--to people who are not even citizens of this country.”

What set off Dobbs’ eruption? Apparently it was his correspondent reporting that PDA “is urging the Democratic Party to adopt a plank at the party's convention in Denver, guaranteeing accessible health care for all.”

I think it is great that PDA is fighting back against Dobbs' garbage. I also think it is high time that middle class Americans unite to fight back against Lou Dobbs, who is a tool of the superrich who does everything in his power to distract and divert us from our real enemies.

Sadly, Dobbs' attack on PDA is part of a broader campaign by Dobbs' to deny healthcare to middle class and poor Americans. He loves ranting against universal healthcare on a regular basis these days.

I remember when CNN stood for Cable News Network, not Corporate Nuzzling Network.

Pathetic.

 

Cindy Sheehan on Impeachment

Posted by libhom Friday, July 25, 2008 2 comments

Hat tip to Dandelion Salad:



Great quote from Ms. Sheehan:

Nancy Pelosi is not afraid. She is an accomplice to Bush's crimes.

The positions Sheehan is taking on the issues are worth listening to. They are supposed to be what every Democrat stands for, but she is having to run as an independent to push them.

Sigh.

Please Visit Ms. Sheehan's Campaign Website

 

Fascist Pandering to Nancy Pelosi at Netroots Nation

Posted by libhom Thursday, July 24, 2008 3 comments

Here are two scary reports from Netroots Nation (an affair started by the conservative Democratic blogger behind the DailyKos). The blogs reporting on the incident have very different political perspectives, which lends credence to the story.

After Downing Street:

Before Pelosi speaks, an announcement is made from the podium that disruptions will not be tolerated--if any of us express our frustrations too passionately with Pelosi and the sell-out Democratic Party leadership we will be arrested.


Stephen Keating:
Before Speaker Pelosi hits the stage, moderator Gina Cooper makes an announcement that any organized protests will result in the program being stopped and the protesters escorted out. She does give the crowd ten seconds to make their feelings known, which results in one shout: "Where's our &%#$@ impeachment?"


You would think that this was a Bush campaign event run by Karl Rove.

The notion that a supposedly progressive or liberal political conference would threaten to arrest people for protesting against a racist, corrupt, heterosexist, rightist, Republican war criminal like Nancy Pelosi is just plain disturbing.

I have previously blogged about conservative ideology, misogyny, and pro-war posturing at the DailyKos. I can't say I'm surprised by a conference run by the same people pandering to a right-wing wacko like Pelosi.

But, I am surprised at the fascist tactics used to do it.

 

GDAEman edited some Democracy Now video with an interesting twist on the visual imagery of "credits" at the end.



Here's the full transcript of Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez's interview with Vincent Bugliosi. His brief bio follows:

JUAN GONZALEZ: We now turn to a man considered to be one of the best prosecutors in this country. In his career at the LA County District Attorney’s office, he successfully prosecuted 105 of 106 felony jury trials, including twenty-one murder convictions without a single loss. Alan Dershowitz calls him “as good a prosecutor as there ever was,” and the legendary F. Lee Bailey calls him “the quintessential prosecutor.” His most famous trial, the Charles Manson case, became the basis of his classic book, Helter Skelter, the biggest selling true-crime book in publishing history. Two of his other books, And the Sea Will Tell and Outrage, also reached number one on the New York Times bestseller list.

Bugliosi has a strong sense of mission.
VINCENT BUGLIOSI: Well, in my book, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, I set forth an airtight legal case against George Bush that proves beyond all reasonable doubt that George Bush took this nation to war under false pretenses, on a lie, in Iraq, and therefore, under the law, he is guilty of murder for the deaths of over 4,000 young American soldiers in Iraq fighting his war, not your war or my war or America’s war, but his war.

Interestingly enough, there have been billions of very harsh critical words written and said about George Bush, none of which he could possibly care less about. So the words are absolutely meaningless. But up until now, other than words, no one has done anything at all to George Bush. No impeachment, no investigation of him.

But this book here, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, in it, I put together a case against George Bush that could result—it absolutely could result in his being prosecuted for first-degree murder in an American courtroom. I set forth the legal architecture against him, the overwhelming evidence of his guilt and the jurisdiction to prosecute him. And I say that if justice means anything at all in America, and if we’re not going to forget about these 4,000 young American soldiers who are in their cold graves right now as I am talking to you and who came back from George Bush’s war in a box or a jar of ashes, I say we have no choice but to bring murder charges against the son of privilege from Crawford, Texas.

I may be sounding presumptuous to you right now, Amy and Juan, but I’m telling you this: I am going after George Bush. I may not succeed, but I’m not going to be satisfied until I see him in an American courtroom being prosecuted for first-degree murder.

The criminality of the Bush regime is something that seldom is even whispered about in the corporate media. That's one of many examples of why we need honest, independent media like Democracy Now.

 

Here's the story from the New York Times 7/21/08 (Note the pro-fundamentalist bias.)

It has taken a man of God, perhaps, to do what nobody else has been able to do since the general election season began: Get Barack Obama and John McCain together on the same stage before their party conventions later this summer.

The Rev. Rick Warren has persuaded the candidates to attend a forum at his Saddleback Church, in Lake Forest, Calif., on Aug. 16. In an interview, Mr. Warren said over the weekend that the presidential candidates would appear together for a moment but that he would interview them in succession at his megachurch.

It is bad enough that the forum is at any church, which violates state/church separation and discriminates against atheists. But, it's worse given the militant fundamentalism of the Saddleback Church.

The article then does a softball description of the church's sheepherder, Rick Warren.
Mr. Warren, the author of the best-selling book “The Purpose-Driven Life,” said he had called each man personally to invite him to his event, which will focus on how they make decisions and on some of Mr. Warren’s main areas of focus, like AIDS, poverty and the environment.

Talk about giving a misleading view of one of the most prominent figures in the Christian Taliban. Here's a more realistic view of Rick Warren.

Warren's heterosexism was exposed by the Gay News Blog in 2006. Warren's heterosexism and misogyny also was exposed by Jewish Women Watching.
Warren has called gays “unnatural” and part of a “hierarchy of evil.” During the last Presidential election, he urged his congregants to vote against a woman’s right to choose. He advises that gays and lesbians, as well as women who have had abortions should seek forgiveness.

Queers don't need forgiveness from the Rick Warrens of the world. The Rick Warrens of the world need forgiveness from us.

Also, Warren's focus on poverty is dubious. He opposes more government programs that actually fight poverty while encouraging his followers to give more money to charities run by churches. That might have more of a feel good sensibility for Christian extremists, but private charity has been proven for centuries to be inadequate to pull people out of poverty. The only thing that ever has worked is government intervention.

Warren's interest in AIDS is mixed. He supports funding to help heterosexuals with HIV/AIDS, especially in Africa, but opposes HIV prevention efforts. Warren is perfectly aware of the fact that "abstinence only" programs are HIV promotion programs, not HIV prevention programs.

As for the environment, Warren's good words don't match his egregious deeds. No one who genuinely cares about the planet opposes birth control and abortion rights. There is no such thing as a serious effort to stop global warming (or any other global environmental problem) without making population reduction a major priority. Sadly, Warren and the rest of the Christian extremists would rather destroy the planet than accept a living planet where women have a right to control their own bodies. The kind of hatred and bigotry of the Rick Warrens of the world is boundless and immune to reason.

Obama's previous speech at that fundamentalist hate-church raised some doubts about him on my part. However, Hillary Clinton actually is a militant Christian fundamentalist, rather than someone like Obama or McCain who merely panders to these anti-American extremists. Sadly, McCain and Obama are displaying bipartisan heterosexism and misogyny by speaking at the Saddleback Church. The Green Party looks better every day.

I remember what the mililtant, Christian fundamentalists in Orange County were like when I lived in Southern California. Corporate media propaganda cannot fool me. It shouldn't be allowed to fool anyone else either.

More on Warren's homohatred

The American Prospect 6/30/08
Akinola has been essential to the break. He defied the requests of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Episcopal presiding bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and installed the Virginian Martyn Minns as a bishop of the Nigerian church, after Minns broke from the Episcopal one. Just as critically, he has been a mouthpiece for the most homophobic tendencies within the church, telling the New York Times that he jumped back in horror the first time he met a gay couple, comparing homosexuality to everything from pedophilia to zoophilia, and pushing for Nigeria to enact a five-year mandatory sentence for homosexual acts or "associations", a bill so broad that it could lead to the imprisonment of AIDS caregivers. While there would surely be conservatives fighting against Robinson and the liberalization he represents without Akinola, he has increased their power and influence tremendously.

In no small part because of these retrograde social views, Akinola has wide support among American conservatives. After Minns' installation, the Washington Post published a mash note to Akinola by Michael Gerson, calling his Christianity "undeniably alive" and denouncing Williams and Schori's "condescension". Rick Warren even compared him to Nelson Mandela. Warren would do better to head the words of Mandela's ally, and Akinola's fellow Anglican Archbishop, Desmond Tutu: "If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn't worship that God."


 

From Indybay 6/25/08 - hat tip to Nancy Pelosi's Table:

Cynthia McKinney Remarks in support of Cindy Sheehan's 4th Amendment Burial March

June 24, 2008

Last week, Nancy Pelosi helped deal a double blow to Democratic Party grassroots supporters and to the U.S. Constitution itself. On Thursday, June 19, George Bush got another $162 billion from the Congress for war and occupation. On Friday, June 20, Nancy helped Bush give immunity to telecommunications companies that helped him spy on us!

Fannie Lou Hamer of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party remarked that she was sick and tired of being sick and tired. And she did something about it by standing up at the Democratic Party Convention that routinely had accepted all-white, non-representative state delegations from the South.

Well, I'm sick and tired and outraged, too. And I'm doing something about it.

Cindy Sheehan is my choice for Congress.

Nancy thinks that by November you will have forgotten about all of this.
Don't forget! Remember--in November!

Vote Cindy! Vote Cynthia!

Nancy Pelosi's Table is a wonderful example of using blogs to challenge political corruption and betrayal. I encourage you to check it out.

 

Olbermann Condemns Dole

Posted by libhom Saturday, July 19, 2008 5 comments

Hat Tip to Atomic Gay Wonk:



I previously expressed my disgust at Ms. Dole's attempt to name a HIV/AIDS bill after Jesse Helms, that's right, Jesse Helms.

 

I found this linked on the United for Peace and Justice website, which is a good example of peace groups with different viewpoints cooperating to promote common goals.

StopWarOnIran.org is the coordinating site for a collection of actions in over 20 states so far. The efforts are on or around August 2.

Find an Action Close to You!

Here is a description of the New York action and a call for similar efforts around the world.

MASS MARCH IN NYC

SATURDAY, AUGUST 2
Assemble 12 p.m. at Times Square

43rd St. & Broadway

AN APPEAL TO ORGANIZERS AND ACTIVISTS
ACROSS THE COUNTRY AND AROUND THE WORLD:

Consider as soon as possible if you can organize a STOP WAR ON IRAN protest in your locality during the weekend of August 2 – 3. Let us know so that your protest can be listed.

YET ANOTHER U.S. WAR?

The U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan is hated by the people there. These wars have no support at home and are ruining the domestic economy. Instead of pulling out, the Bush administration is preparing for still another war—this time against Iran . This must be stopped!

AGRESSION TOWARDS IRAN IS ESCALATING

On June 4, George Bush, with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at his side, called Iran a “threat to peace.” Two days before, acting as a proxy for the Pentagon, Israel used advanced U.S. fighter planes to conduct massive air maneuvers, which the media called a “dress rehearsal” for an attack on Iran ’s nuclear facility. Under pressure from the U.S. , the European Union announced sanctions against Iran on June 23; a bill is before Congress for further U.S. sanctions on Iran and even a blockade of Iran .

IRAN “THREATS” A HOAX

Iran as a “nuclear threat” is as much a hoax as Bush’s claim of “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq used to justify the war there. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which inspects Iran ’s nuclear facilities, says it has no weapons program and is developing nuclear power for the days when its oil runs out. Even Washington ’s 16 top spy agencies issued a joint statement that said Iran does not have nuclear weapons technology!

U.S. and Israel are the real nuclear danger. The Pentagon has a huge, nuclear-capable naval armada in the Persian/Arabian Gulf, with guns aimed at Iran . Israel , the Pentagon’s proxy force in the Middle East , has up to 200 nuclear warheads and has never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran did sign it.

WAR HURTS U.S. ECONOMY

While billions of dollars go to war, at home the unemployment rate had the biggest spike in 23 years. Home foreclosures and evictions are increasing; fuel and food prices are through the roof. While the situation is growing dire for many, Washington ’s cuts to domestic programs continue. A new U.S. war will bring only more suffering.

WHAT WE DO RIGHT NOW CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE

While the summer is a difficult time to call protests, the August recess of Congress gives the White House an opportunity for unopposed aggression against Iran . We must not let this happen! From the anti-war movement and all movements for social change, to religious and grassroots organizations, unions and schools, let us join forces to demand “No war on Iran, U.S. out of Iraq, Money for human needs not war! “

This call to action is issued by StopWarOnIran.org, a network of thousands of concerned activists and organizations fighting to stop a new war against Iran since March 2006.


 

Anti-atheist bigotry is becoming a bipartisan pastime in this presidential election. Obama has called for an expansion of Bush's hate-based initiatives to divert federal funding away from inclusive charities and towards religious ones.

John McCain is not willing to be outdone in pushing for discrimination against people like myself. (Baltimore Sun 7/17/08)

CINCINNATI - Appearing before some of his presidential rival's most ardent supporters, Sen. John McCain urged delegates to the NAACP convention yesterday to support school vouchers as a way to improve education in largely black, underperforming school systems.

McCain acknowledged that he will have difficulty making inroads among black voters. But he used his speech to the Baltimore-based civil rights organization to criticize the education views of his Democratic opponent, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, and to argue that the country needs to move away from "conventional thinking" with regard to public schools.

"Senator Obama dismissed public support for private school vouchers for low-income Americans as 'tired rhetoric about vouchers and school choice,'" said McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. "All of that went over well with the teachers union, but where does it leave families and their children who are stuck in failing schools?"

As far back as 2001, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) did an excellent job a few years back of debunking claims by the corporate media and militant Christian fundamentalists that vouchers improve educational achievement.

Of course, the main agenda behind vouchers is attacking atheists' civil rights and church/state separation. Sleazebag politicians love using us freethinkers as whipping boys and girls.

In McCain's push, corruption also plays a role (surprise, surprise). John McCain clearly sees vouchers as a way to use tax money to buy support from preachers and religious school administrators. "Keating Five" McCain is one of the most corrupt politicians in the history of the Senate, and the vouchers patronage scheme is no different.

It should also be noted that "Keating Five" McCain's anti-union crack is further evidence of how he is bought and paid for by wealthy and corporate interests. I guess a kept man like him doesn't want to upset the gravy train.

 

Hillary Clinton still has some truly nutty supporters. If you don't believe me, go to the following website.

www.justsaynodeal.com

The level of unthinking hatred on this site is absolutely stunning. It goes beyond the usual disappointment that happens when peoples' preferred candidate loses a party's nomination. It's downright obsessed. Just the ire directed at Jesse Jackson and the pretense that all black people are interchangeable should really set off alarm bells.

Obama is better on women's issues than a militant, fundamentalist Christian like Hillary Clinton, who has been working to move the Democratic Party away from supporting abortion rights. Yet, many of these these rabid Clintonites would rather vote for a fanatical misogynist like "Keating Five" McCain than for a non-misogynist like Obama. Hatred and bigotry are the most effective tools in obscuring people from their interests. That's why the wealthy and the corporations employ those visceral weapons so readily.

I'm not certain whether I will vote for Obama or McKinney, but I'm absolutely certain that I did the necessary thing in opposing Hillary Clinton's nomination. Her campaign's decision to make white supremacy their main theme stirred much of this madness up.

One other thing that I've noticed is that the luny fringe of the Hillbots are thinking of voting for "Keating Five" McCain (anti-choice), Bob Barr (anti-choice), and Ralph Nader (vaguely pro-choice), but none of them whose writings I've seen have shown any interest in supporting Cynthia McKinney. So much for feminism having anything to do with this.

It should also be noted that these Hillhadists are still trying to steal the Democratic nomination via a superdelegate scam. They just can't stand democracy when someone who isn't 100% white wins.

The Clintons and the Bushes truly are political cancers on our society, as I've complained before. It is critical to never, ever vote for any member of those corrupt, bigoted, rightist political dynasties under any circumstances. Clinton's silence in the face of this behavior by her supporters shows that we shouldn't see Clinton's dual stances on FISA (oppose filibuster/vote against the bill) as a political opening for liberal Democrats. The Clintons will never change.

 

Bigotry Against Atheists We Can Believe In?

Posted by libhom Wednesday, July 16, 2008 5 comments

poster with Obama image with heading: Bigotry Against Atheists We Can Believe In

Hat tips to From the Left and Living in Small Places for pointing me in the direction of WeCanBelieveIn.com which I used to make this.

I have previously blogged on Obama's call to expand Bush's hate-based initiatives.

 

Is Elizabeth Dole Out of Her Mind?

Posted by libhom Tuesday, July 15, 2008 3 comments

From Atomic Gay Wonk 7/15/08:

Obscene: Dole tries to name AIDS bill after Helms

Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) yesterday introduced an amendment that would have added the name of Jesse Helms to the title of the HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria bill that is before the Senate. Helms, who died eleven days ago, was the nation's most vociferous foe of federal funding for HIV/AIDS programs from the epidemic's beginning until he left the Senate.

The name of the Act proposed in S. 2731 is "Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2008". The Act would be named after former Reps. Tom Lantos (D-CA-12) and Henry Hyde (R-IL-06), who worked together in their last years in Congress to achieve bipartisan support for federal funding for the fight against these diseases. Sen. Dole apparently thought the title was missing something. From the Congressional Record:

There really is typical of the off the charts nastiness of Republicans. They really like being hateful and obnoxious for the sake of being hateful and obnoxious.

Jesse Helms did everything in his power to promote the spread of HIV through his heterosexist and sexphobic attacks on HIV prevention programs. You would almost think Ms. Dole is trying to give Helms credit for doing so much to make the problem worse.

 

The ACLU's Lawsuit Against the FISA Betrayal

Posted by libhom Monday, July 14, 2008 2 comments

The ACLU's decision to fight the FISA law which attempts to legalize government spying of political dissidents is important on its merits. This attack on the Fourth Amendment must be resisted in the courts of law and the courts of public opinion.

There also is a broader significance. The unconstitutional FISA law must be resisted as part of a broader campaign to resist all of the post 911 attacks on our constitution by rightists and enablers who kept saying it was the terrorists "who hate us for our freedoms."

Here is the text of the ACLU's 7/10/08 press release. It is important for lovers of freedom not to shut up about this.

ACLU Sues Over Unconstitutional Dragnet Wiretapping Law

Group Also Asks Secret Intelligence Court Not To Exclude Public From Any Proceedings On New Law’s Constitutionality

NEW YORK - July 10 - The American Civil Liberties Union filed a landmark lawsuit today to stop the government from conducting surveillance under a new wiretapping law that gives the Bush administration virtually unchecked power to intercept Americans’ international e-mails and telephone calls. The case was filed on behalf of a broad coalition of attorneys and human rights, labor, legal and media organizations whose ability to perform their work – which relies on confidential communications – will be greatly compromised by the new law.

The FISA Amendments Act of 2008, passed by Congress on Wednesday and signed by President Bush today, not only legalizes the secret warrantless surveillance program the president approved in late 2001, it gives the government new spying powers, including the power to conduct dragnet surveillance of Americans’ international communications.

“Spying on Americans without warrants or judicial approval is an abuse of government power – and that’s exactly what this law allows. The ACLU will not sit by and let this evisceration of the Fourth Amendment go unchallenged,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “Electronic surveillance must be conducted in a constitutional manner that affords the greatest possible protection for individual privacy and free speech rights. The new wiretapping law fails to provide fundamental safeguards that the Constitution unambiguously requires.”

In today’s legal challenge, the ACLU argues that the new spying law violates Americans’ rights to free speech and privacy under the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution. The new law permits the government to conduct intrusive surveillance without ever telling a court who it intends to spy on, what phone lines and email addresses it intends to monitor, where its surveillance targets are located, why it’s conducting the surveillance or whether it suspects any party to the communication of wrongdoing.

Plaintiffs in today’s case are:

• The Nation and its contributing journalists Naomi Klein and Chris Hedges
• Amnesty International USA, Global Rights, Global Fund for Women, Human Rights Watch, PEN American Center, Service Employees International Union, Washington Office on Latin America, and the International Criminal Defence Attorneys Association
• Defense attorneys Dan Arshack, David Nevin, Scott McKay and Sylvia Royce

“As a journalist, my job requires communication with people in all parts of the world – from Iraq to Argentina. If the U.S. government is given unchecked surveillance power to monitor reporters’ confidential sources, my ability to do this work will be seriously compromised,” said Naomi Klein, an award-winning columnist and best-selling author who is a plaintiff in today’s lawsuit. “I cannot in good conscience accept that my conversations with people who live outside the U.S. will put them in harm’s way as a result of overzealous government spying. Privacy in my communications is not simply an expectation, it’s a right.”

The ACLU’s legal challenge, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York today, seeks a court order declaring that the new law is unconstitutional and ordering its immediate and permanent halt.

In a separate filing, the ACLU asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to ensure that any proceedings relating to the scope, meaning or constitutionality of the new law be open to the public to the extent possible. The ACLU also asked the secret court to allow it to file a brief and participate in oral arguments, to order the government to file a public version of its briefs addressing the law’s constitutionality, and to publish any judicial decision that is ultimately issued.

“The new law allows the mass acquisition of Americans’ international e-mails and telephone calls,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “The administration has argued that the law is necessary to address the threat of terrorism, but the truth is that the law sweeps much more broadly and implicates all kinds of communications that have nothing to do with terrorism or criminal activity of any kind.”

In 2006, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the National Security Agency (NSA) to stop its illegal, warrantless spying program. A federal district court sided with the ACLU, ruling that warrantless wiretapping by the NSA violated Americans’ rights to free speech and privacy under the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, ran counter to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and violated the principle of separation of powers. The Bush administration appealed the ruling, and an appeals court panel dismissed the case. However, the court did not uphold the legality of the government's warrantless surveillance activity and the only judge to discuss the merits of the case clearly and unequivocally declared that the warrantless spying was unlawful. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case earlier this year.

“A democratic system depends on the rule of law, and not even the president or Congress can authorize a law that violates core constitutional principles,” said Christopher Dunn, Associate Legal Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The only thing compromised in this so-called ‘compromise’ law is the Constitution.”

Attorneys on the lawsuit Amnesty v. McConnell are Jaffer, Melissa Goodman and L. Danielle Tully of the ACLU National Security Project and Dunn and Arthur Eisenberg of the NYCLU. Attorneys on the motion filed with the FISC are Jaffer, Goodman, Tully, as well as Arthur Spitzer of the ACLU of the National Capital Area.

More information, including today’s complaint, a video discussing the ACLU’s legal challenge, plaintiff statements in support of the lawsuit and the FISC motion, is available at: www.aclu.org/faa

Barbara Ehrenreich is one of the most important social analysts and economic critics of our time. A 7/9/08 Time interview includes an important observation of hers on a similarity between fundie Christian megachurches here in the US and Hamas.

What struck me when I have visited mega-churches from time to time is that they are really great big social service centers. You won't see references to Jesus in a mega-church. I mean the trappings I associate [with church]are gone, the crosses and everything. What you will see is over here we have our battered women's support group, over here we have our after-school activities. We have our group for the unemployed professionals and so on. They have really filled in where maybe there would have been public services or secular services at some other time. In the same way that Hamas, and I understand Hizballah also, gain a base by providing social services that people aren't getting otherwise.

Of course, we can all think of some other similarities:

- Superstitious world views

- Hatred of people who don't share their religious views

- Heterosexism

- Misogyny

One important aspect of this issue is a danger posed by the hate-based initiatives of Bush, and now Obama, to shift government funding from inclusive non-profits to religious ones. Government funds will be used to lure people into cultish compounds of Christian fundamentalism.

 

This New York Times article ( "U.S. Weighs Takeover of Two Mortgage Giants" - 7/10/08) is typical of how the corporate media omit underlying causes in reporting on current economic difficulties.

You can see how the Iraqtastrophe is impacting events, but you have to think very carefully while you read. Here's one example, a sentence starting the second paragraph:

The companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, have been hit hard by the mortgage foreclosure crisis.

Let's review three of the ways that the war on Iraq has contributed to this foreclosure crisis.

- The resulting increase in oil prices has pushed some people who were near default on their mortgages over the edge.

- The rising oil prices and increased budget deficits have slowed the overall US economy down. Newly unemployed people are much more likely to lose their homes to foreclosure.

- Higher oil prices have increased trade deficits. Those deficits, along with growing budget deficits, have resulted in a falling dollar. A weak dollar is unattractive to foreign investors, including risk tolerant ones that otherwise might be interested in buying heavily discounted US mortgage paper.

Now, let's review a paragraph later in the article (bolding mine).
The companies are by far the biggest providers of financing for domestic home loans. If they are unable to borrow, they will not be able to buy mortgages from commercial lenders. In turn, that would make it more expensive and difficult, if not impossible, for home buyers to obtain credit, freezing the United States housing market. Even healthy banks are reluctant to tie up scarce capital by offering mortgages to low-risk home buyers without Fannie and Freddie taking the loans off their books.

One of the reasons capital is so scare is that the Bush regime is borrowing so much money to pay for their colonial occupation of Iraq. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been borrowed to feed this fiscally voracious war, money which is unavailable for home and commercial credit.

Obviously, Iraq isn't the only cause of our economic difficulties. Financial market deregulation, tax cuts for the rich, and other policies which shift wealth from the middle class and the poor to the super rich all are important as well. Yet, how can we have an informed political debate if so much of what is ailing us is kept off of the metaphorical table?

Some opponents of the war say that the vast majority of Americans are not sacrificing anything to the war in Iraq. It certainly is true that military members and their families make much larger sacrifices than everyone else. However, all of us are sacrificing for this unpopular war. We are just being lied to about it.

Iraq is a proverbial "elephant in the living room" of American economic discussion. Our nation better start talking about it.

 

The passage of the unconstitutional FISA legislation to expand federal wiretapping powers to political opponents and dissidents did not happen in a vacuum. There is a context that needs to be examined.

At a National Gay and Lesbian Task Force conference over a decade ago, Urvashi Vaid warned the audience of a "creeping fascism" and gave a series of examples and arguments to build her case. At the time, the idea seemed novel, but it merely registered in my mind as something to pay attention to in the future.

In 2008, the creep has gone quite far. Here are some examples:

- Restrictions of domestic political activity at the state and federal level under NAFTA and the GATT agreement that started the World Trade Organization. The unconstitutional nature of the agreements and their enforcement was a bad sign as well. (They function as treaties yet did not get the required 2/3 Senate vote treaties need.)

- Unconstitutional Warrantless wiretapping

- Roundups based on religious beliefs

- Illegal detentions without charges at Guantanamo Bay

- The Unpatriotic Act

- Kidnapping of uncharged, alleged terrorists and sending them to foreign countries to be tortured. ("extraordinary rendition")

- Routine use of torture

- Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without the constitutionally mandated Declarations of War

- Executive branch "signing statements" which attempt to nullify laws they don't like (expanded dramatically under Bush)

- Hate based religious patronage systems which violate state/church separation, discriminate against atheists, and amount to incumbent administrations bribing preachers for political support

- Concentration of television and radio station license holders of frequencies owned by the American people, not the corporations that license them

- Supreme Court decisions falsely claiming that campaign contributions are "speech," undermining democracy and ceding greater powers to the wealthy and to corporations over the government.

- Restricting freedom of assembly through "free speech zones" and other means

I'm sure you can come up with more. The point is that when people don't raise enough hell over one attack on our freedoms as Americans, more follow. Things are moving in a terrible direction, and we should be less willing to accept it.

During the 18th - 20th centuries, the US was transitioning to a more representative democracy where constitutionally mandated civil liberties were gaining more respect. The nation went from a situation where only landowning white males had suffrage and the Bill of Rights was largely theoretical to a place where every adult had the right to vote and courts, legislators, the media, and the public were strongly defending our freedoms.

That is all being unraveled by money, power, and religious extremism.

 

As you probably know by now, the US Senate voted 69-28 to pass a FISA bill which gives immunity to Telecoms who illegally spied on Americans at the request of the Bush regime and which gives an attempted legal license to the unconstitutional spying of political opponents and dissidents.

Three votes are of particular interest to followers of Presidential politics. Obama voted in favor of this attack on the Constitution and on basic political freedoms; John "Keating Five" McCain didn't bother to vote; and Hillary Clinton actually voted against it, despite her earlier vote against a filibuster of the reprehensible legislation.

Much has been written on Obama's betrayal on this issue, despite previous promises to filibuster any bill with Telecom immunity. It raises serious questions not only about his commitment to constitutional rights, but also to his credibility and trustworthiness.

The lack of a vote by John McCain is interesting. Did age and frailty make it too difficult for "Keating Five" McCain to carry on his Senate duties while campaigning for the White House? Was he afraid that voting for the bill would alienate anti-government conservatives who might vote for Bob Barr?

Hillary Clinton's No vote was a rare break from the rightist wingnuttery which has typified her time in the Senate and her presidential campaign. Was she trying to take both sides of an issue to triangulate? Was she trying to move to the left to stay politically viable in New York? Her vote suggests that those of us in New York should see if this represents an opportunity to try to pull her away from her generally Republican behavior, admittedly an enormous task.

What about the rest of our not so esteemed Senate? There wasn't even one Republican honest enough to vote against the legislation, demonstrating how completely corrupt and unAmerican that party has become. The votes of 20 "Democrats" for the bill shows that corruption has made enormous inroads in that party. Webb's vote for the bill, along with his pro-war record (as opposed to anti-war rhetoric) shows the folly of trusting a former Reagan administration official.

Here is the vote tally from the US Senate Website:

Yes ---69
Alexander (R-TN)
Allard (R-CO)
Barrasso (R-WY)
Baucus (D-MT)
Bayh (D-IN)
Bennett (R-UT)
Bond (R-MO)
Brownback (R-KS)
Bunning (R-KY)
Burr (R-NC)
Carper (D-DE)
Casey (D-PA)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Coleman (R-MN)
Collins (R-ME)
Conrad (D-ND)
Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Craig (R-ID)
Crapo (R-ID)
DeMint (R-SC)
Dole (R-NC)
Domenici (R-NM)
Ensign (R-NV)
Enzi (R-WY)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Graham (R-SC)
Grassley (R-IA)
Gregg (R-NH)
Hagel (R-NE)
Hatch (R-UT)
Hutchison (R-TX)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Inouye (D-HI)
Isakson (R-GA)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kohl (D-WI)
Kyl (R-AZ)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lieberman (ID-CT)
Lincoln (D-AR)
Lugar (R-IN)
Martinez (R-FL)
McCaskill (D-MO)
McConnell (R-KY)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Murkowski (R-AK)
Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)
Obama (D-IL)
Pryor (D-AR)
Roberts (R-KS)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Salazar (D-CO)
Shelby (R-AL)
Smith (R-OR)
Snowe (R-ME)
Specter (R-PA)
Stevens (R-AK)
Sununu (R-NH)
Thune (R-SD)
Vitter (R-LA)
Voinovich (R-OH)
Warner (R-VA)
Webb (D-VA)
Whitehouse (D-RI)
Wicker (R-MS)
No ---28
Akaka (D-HI)
Biden (D-DE)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Boxer (D-CA)
Brown (D-OH)
Byrd (D-WV)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Cardin (D-MD)
Clinton (D-NY)
Dodd (D-CT)
Dorgan (D-ND)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feingold (D-WI)
Harkin (D-IA)
Kerry (D-MA)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Murray (D-WA)
Reed (D-RI)
Reid (D-NV)
Sanders (I-VT)
Schumer (D-NY)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Tester (D-MT)
Wyden (D-OR)
Not Voting - 3
Kennedy (D-MA)
McCain (R-AZ)
Sessions (R-AL)


 

Slaughter in Sadr City

Posted by libhom Tuesday, July 08, 2008 1 comments

Here's a report from the Real News Network from back in May. You probably didn't hear or read this in the corporate media.

Air strikes against Iraqi civilians have been going up during the "surge," an important story that is being censored by corporate news outlets.



Anyone who says that the violence is going down in Iraq is either ill informed or isn't counting the escalating violence by US troops acting under orders of the Bush regime.

Here is another Real News Network story (June 23, 2008) that covers the minimal network news coverage of Iraq, about 2 minutes per week. The lack of information on Iraqi casualties also is discussed. The lack of bad news we are getting from Iraq is primarily due to the lack of total news we are getting from Iraq.



 

Is Obama Popping a Pro-War Trial Balloon?

Posted by libhom Saturday, July 05, 2008 6 comments

Reuters 7/5/08:

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said on Saturday his plan to end the Iraq war was unchanged and he was puzzled by the sharp reaction to his statement this week that he might "refine" his timetable for withdrawing U.S. combat troops.

Of course, if you have followed past Democratic betrayals, you know that "refine" almost always means "capitulate" when it is uttered by most centrist and conservative Democrats. Obama's quote may or may not be reassuring.
"For me to say that I'm going to refine my policies I don't think in any way is inconsistent with prior statements and doesn't change my strategic view that this war has to end and that I'm going to end it as president," Obama told reporters on his campaign plane.

One key question is:

When?

Obama's prior 16 month timetable is absurdly long. It only took weeks for the Bush regime to get our troops into Iraq, the notion that it could possibly take more than 6 months for a full withdrawal insults the intelligence of anyone with an IQ over 50.

The possibility that such an outlandishly long timeline might be extended is sickening. One deadline does present itself to congressional Democrats. If we are still in Iraq in November 2010, the Democrats will face enormous losses in the midterm elections.

Maybe Obama's prior comments were a trial balloon. If so, we need to fight like heck to pop it.

Will he try to filibuster the war to the end of his first term? To the end of a second term? After Obama betrayed people concerned with the Constitution and civil liberties on FISA and hate-based initiatives, we need to push as hard as we can for a full and immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Democrats tend to follow social movements rather than lead them.

We better be one of those social movements.

 

The claims by the fascist government in Columbia, the Bush regime, the "Keating Five" McCain campaign, and the corporate media that the FARC hostages were released through trickery and this all just happened to take place in time for McCain's visit to that country were fishy from the start. Any decent bullshit detector should have been going off the charts.

It turns out the whole story was a bunch of bullshit.

FARC was paid millions of dollars to release the hostages. (The Australian 7/4/08)

LEADERS of the Colombian FARC rebel movement were paid millions of dollars to free Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other hostages, Swiss radio has said, quoting "a reliable source".
The 15 hostages released Wednesday by the Colombian army "were in reality ransomed for a high price, and the whole operation afterwards was a set-up," the radio's French-language channel said.

Saying the US, which had three of its citizens among those freed, was behind the deal, it put the price of the ransom at some 20 million dollars.

The radio said its source was "close to the events, reliable and tested many times in recent years.'

The Bush regime and its corrupt cronies in Columbia staged the whole thing to help McCain's campaign, and it sounds like they used our taxdollars to pay off FARC.

 

Yes, I know I'm harping on this, but most people in the corporate media are downplaying the main reason why gas prices are so high while stirring up anger over high gas prices. The independent media, including you and me, need to counter this propaganda.

Many people in the peace movement have neglected to connect the dots between the Iraq War, its resulting reduction in Iraqi oil production, its destabilization of the Middle East, and rising prices at the pump. That critique doesn't apply to all peace groups, though. The West Virginia Citizens Action Group is calling for a "separation of oil and state."

"I think really people are smarter than the politicians let on. I think people really know that the unrest in the mideast is really causing a large part of the gas problem in this country," Gary Zuckett of Citizen Action Group said.

Leaders of Citizen Action Group point to a recent study that tracks how gas prices have risen dramatically since the start of the war.

Be sure to watch the video included with the WSAZ news story where the grassroots activist makes some excellent points.

The problems caused by the war on Iraq are hardly limited to present and potential petroleum supply disruptions. Sen. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) brought up another way that the Iraq War is increasing gas prices: devaluing the dollar. (The Hill's Blog Briefing Room 7/1/08)
"We cannot economically afford to keep borrowing two to three billion dollars a week from China," McCaskill said on MSNBC. "That's why gas prices are so high. People are speculating in commodities because nobody wants to go near our dollar. We cannot–it is unsustainable to continue to prop up, in the middle of a civil war, an Iraqi government that will not step up and do what they need to do."

Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead

Posted by libhom Friday, July 04, 2008 5 comments

Let's face it. Jesse Helms was an incredibly evil man. He was an uncompromisingly racist, sexist, and heterosexist bigot who did everything in his power to promote the spread of HIV in the queer community. Helms had absolutely no personal or public integrity whatsoever, being as much of a liar as he was a bigot. He also was a bought politician, doing whatever he could to please the tobacco companies and other corporate interests.

Now, Jesse Helms is dead.

If you want sympathy or false praise for that piece of garbage, you will have to go elsewhere. Helms deserved to die a lot younger than 86.

If you want to get an idea of how evil and bigoted the so-called "Heritage Foundation" is, read the quote from the article from their president on Helms.

Ed Feulner, president of conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, hailed Helms as "one of the most consequential figures of the 20th century."

"Along with Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, he helped establish the conservative movement and became a powerful voice for free markets and free people," Feulner wrote.

Free people, my ass.

 

The YouTube page has a description that makes an important point.

The Bush Administration's mindless threats to use nuclear bunker busters against Iranian nuclear research facilities could, if implemented, wipe out 2.6 million people in Iran, Pakistan, and India, and expose another 10.5 million to nuclear fallout.



If you think there are too many terrorists now, think of how many terrorists such an attack would recruit.

Why is it that there are so few politicians in either the GOP or the Democratic Party that actually show any common sense or common decency? Kucinich should not be the rare exception to the dismal rule of politicians. The rest of Congress should be following his lead, not trying to marginalize him because corporate and wealthy donors don't like what he has to say.

 

From their Action Alert:

No Compromise on Liberty

As we’re celebrating independence and freedom this Independence Day, many senators are getting ready to come back to Washington and sell out some of our most fundamental freedoms.

This July 8, senators will make a crucial decision: whether or not to eviscerate our treasured right to privacy in our own homes and let lawbreaking telecom companies off the hook for handing over private information without a warrant.

Email your senators today. Demand they protect your privacy and the rule of law.

The default text for the email also makes an important point:
Please also reject any bill that lets the president keep spying on the personal phone calls and emails of Americans without getting a warrant. Checks and balances are critical in our democracy.

You have to ask what the point is in electing Democrats if they are going to act like Republicans on issues like stopping FISA expansion which are vital to our freedoms as Americans.

 

Here's a description of the Green Party presidential candidate questionnaire from the McKinney campaign website.

Many state Parties formulate their state ballots from a list of Presidential candidates recognized by the Presidential Campaigns Support Committee of the Green Party of the United States. Besides access to the Green Party's nominating process, the list is also used to govern access to Party resources and support.

Part of the process involved responding to a questionnaire which included many questions on issues of public policy.

Ms. McKinney has a lot to say in her answers to the questions from the Green Party. Cynthia McKinney's description of her campaign's goals shows a tremendous grasp of long-term thinking that is treated as heresy by most pundits and politicians these days.
I am entering this process because I believe a successful Green Party campaign can do the following:

--Institutionalize the Green Party as a meaningful, effective, and permanent part of the United States' political landscape;

--Popularize and grow the Green Party as an electoral/social vehicle to unite people across socio-economic lines that are often used to divide;

--Recognize and publicize the internationalization of problems facing average households across our nation;

--Inject radical common sense solutions into our national political debate;

and

--Positively affect public policy to improve our quality of life with justice for all.

Building a real alternative party to the Republicans and Democrats is a critically important political project. Ralph Nader's candidacy represents a protest against the status quo, but a Green candidacy builds for the future while speaking out against how terribly fucked up things are in the present.

McKinney's answers to the public policy questions represent what liberal values and politics are all about. Even if you don't plan on voting for her, it still is worthwhile to familiarize yourself with what she has to say. I'll end with a really great quote from her.
My service in the Congress gave me a clear understanding of how our system works -- or doesn't work -- for average, ordinary Americans whose values our policies purport to represent.

Read Ms. McKinney's Answers to the Green Party Questionnaire.

 

Some Wisdom from Proudprogressive

Posted by libhom Tuesday, July 01, 2008 1 comments

Some Notes on Living is a wonderful blog. Proudprogressive is my favorite writer there, though the others have quite a lot to say too. I just read a posting on Trans Pride in SF with a couple of sentences which say something of critical importance.

Remember if Gender ID and Expression is not protected - seriously no lesbians or gays are truly protected either. No matter how well you are assimilated. To society at large - we are all gay , all queer. The Ts are the canaries in our coal mine - don’t kid yourselves.

The same is true of the leather community, the sexually liberated (sometimes referred to as "promiscuous"), and the polyamorous. Until someone accepts as an equal every butch dyke, leatherperson, drag queen, and every other person whose very being makes it impossible to forget they are queer, they don't accept the most assimilated lgbt person either.

 

I never thought I would be devoting so much text to a rapid right-wing shift by Barack Obama. He already was a centrist, so the media is being deceptive when they say he is shifting towards, rather than away from the center. He keeps acting more and more like Hillary Clinton and John "Keating Five" McCain.

However, one encouraging point is that Obama's rightward shift did not seem to help him in the latest CNN poll.

The latest disturbing Obama position was his pronouncement that he would expand Bush's hate-based initiative to shift public funding from inclusive charities to religious ones. This is doubly discriminatory against atheists. It forces atheist taxpayers to pay for religious indoctrination, and it puts atheists in hostile environments when they want to participate equally in government funded services.

Also, the very premise of these hate-based initiatives is bigoted against atheists. The shifting of funds provides no tangible benefits for the poor. (The corruption in so many churches means that they almost certainly are resulting in less federal money actually reaching the poor.) The claim behind this garbage is that religious faith somehow makes someone more responsible and morally superior. The lack of even questioning, much less challenging, of such absolute nonsense shows how prejudice against freethinkers permeates our society and the corporate media that help to shape it. (Note: I refer to these initiatives as "hate-based" rather than "faith-based" because the former more accurately reflects the programs' true intent.)

The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) has a great 7/1/08 press release that focuses on the state/church separation aspect of the issue. The text follows:

FFRF Protests Pious One-Upmanship by Political Candidates

Faith-Based Initiative Should Be Abolished, Not Renamed

July 1, 2008

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics), today condemned Barack Obama's "gratuitous" pandering and his pledge to expand and rename George Bush's faith-based initiative. The Foundation is a nonpartisan educational organization working to keep church and state separate, which has taken the lead in legal challenges against the faith-based initiative.

Statement by Foundation co-presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor:

Just as seven years ago the Foundation condemned Pres. George W. Bush's creation of his misguided "faith-based initiative," today the Foundation protests the shortsightedness of candidate Barack Obama in endorsing its continuation.

This is the wrong direction for our country. The next president should have the integrity and courage to back off from Bush's fiasco and abolish the so-called faith-based initiative. It has been a waste of taxpayers' money, has injected religion into politics, deprived needy clients of the best help, and has punched a huge hole in America's vaunted "wall of separation between church and state."

It's lovely to say, as Obama does, that "I believe deeply in the separation of church and state." But actions speak louder than words. There is negligible difference between Obama's and Bush's stated provisos on the faith-based initiative. Like Obama, Bush claimed the faith-based initiative would not allow religious groups to use public grants to proselytize or discriminate against clients, and that public money going to places of worship was only to be used for secular programs. But there is no accountability and no monitoring provisions, as the GAO audit of 2006 documented.

It's also fine for Obama to say the government and its recipients are going to follow the law. But every day at the Freedom From Religion Foundation, we field complaints about violations of the separation between church and state even over established law, such as school prayer. Obama offers no plan for monitoring the constitutional pitfall of a "partnership" between religion and government.

The Foundation has taken and won many court challenges against the faith-based initiative. For instance, a federal judge in our Faith Works case in Milwaukee ruled in 2002 that $800,000 in direct federal subsidy to a ministry that existed to "bring homeless addicts directly to Christ" was unconstitutional. The funds were spent (and wasted) by the time we won the case. In 2005, we halted the final federal grant to MentorKids USA, in which volunteer mentors had to sign a statement that they believed literally in the creation story before they could go on to openly proselytize children of prisoners. We stopped a "parish nursing program" in Montana in 2003, and in 2007 a "chaplaincy" in Indiana set up to minister to state employees. Important and pioneering as our legal cases have been, they are a mere drop in the bucket in terms of the public financing of proselytization under the faith-based scheme.

Obama praises Take Youth Education for Tomorrow, a program run by churches and church schools to teach reading after school and during the summer, largely in church settings. Churches and the offices of religious organizations are innately coercive environments. What about parents who don't want their children to have to go to church in order to get reading help? When taxpayers are footing the bill, such programs should be held in a neutral setting--there is, after all, no shortage of public schools, already tax-supported!

It is not only the 16% of the population who is nonreligious who is offended. Many Muslims are forbidden to enter Christian churches. Jewish children may not feel comfortable entering a Christian church. Even many Christian sects are uneasy about adherents entering churches run by competing denominations. The idea is fraught with practical and constitutional peril.

Weirdly, Obama criticizes Bush for failing to reach out to faith-based groups about how to apply for federal dollars. Yet this was a cornerstone of Bush's faith-based initiative. At countless regional and federal faith-based conferences, hands-on technical support at public expense (including "free lunches") is exactly what the Bush Administration has offered churches and religious agencies for seven expensive years!

Obama says "we all have to work together--Christian and Jew, Hindu and Muslim; believer and nonbeliever alike--to meet the challenges of the 21st century." True, even laudable. But that does not mean "we" should all be taxed to support churches or religious agencies. Many Americans proudly are descended from immigrants who came here to escape mandatory tithes and taxation in support of churches against their consent.

Obama's tone is more balanced than Bush's. But he spoils the effect by criticizing those "who bristle at the notion that faith has a place in the public square." Secularists have never said faith can't be displayed in public. We do insist that faith should not be part of government, subsidized by government or promoted by government. The genius of the founders of our secular republic was to recognize that keeping religion and government separate is the way to prevent religious corruption and coercion.

Obama's reference to needing "people of faith on Capitol Hill"--as if Capitol Hill weren't at the moment dominated by "people of faith"--is both a naive platitude and exclusionary. How would religionists feel if Obama had said: "We need people without faith on Capitol Hill"?

Let's abolish the faith-based initiative and go back to the days before John Ashcroft first proposed so-called "charitable choice." Religious social services have always been free to bid for social service grants, but they were expected to create a secular arm, keep separate books and take their crosses down. A return to the status quo is the simple answer to the mess created by Bush's faith-based initiative.

Obama's Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is merely a renaming of Bush's Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Ironically, nearly everything Obama criticizes Bush's initiative for ("it was used to promote partisan interests," "it has to be a real partnership--not a photo-op") can be said of Obama's plan and his "photo-op" speech today. Same taxi, different driver. Where's that vaunted "change" that Obama's campaign has been promising?

On a related topic, we are appalled at the arrogant, presumptuous hubris of politicians who claim to know "God's will." Obama joins an unfortunately long line of political candidates and public officials (which includes more than its fair share of despots), who talk about "fulfilling God's will" and "doing the Lord's work." Why are these politicians so special that they possess a direct pipeline to a divinity? The presidential candidates have crossed the line between acknowledging sincere personal faith to wearing faith on their sleeves and unapologetic political pandering. Both John McCain and Obama have been burned by their past close associations with pastors. Why can't they see that religion mixed with politics is always a combustible mixture?

Our country desperately needs a second political party.

 

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