Tuesday, August 24, 2004

The Religion Problem

Religion is starting to get slightly weird. Did I say “starting”? Well, let’s just say it’s getting out of control. But let’s be clear. It’s not the mainstream religions that are causing the problem. In fact, polls show a majority of religious folk still favor the wall between church and state, which they see as essential to protecting their right to worship as they please, free of any state-mandated or “policed” religious dogma. Many mainstream people of faith are angry with the Bush Administration for seeming to cater to religious extremists. They may not consider themselves as progressives, but a clear majority “are unequivocal in their support for most just policies for the neediest, for peacemaking, for protecting the environment, for enhancing the common good.” (See Eyal Press, "Closing The Religion Gap," The Nation, August 30, '04.)

As usual, the real problem is the religious zealots. And though they are assuredly in the minority, they are the most organized and strident. They never rest. They are on the job 24/7. And I have no problem with people running around espousing beliefs in fairies or demons or taking off their clothes and barking at the moon. I just don’t think they should be allowed access to our law making and governing apparatus. I’m especially uncomfortable when I think that some of them might actually be put in positions of authority over vast armies and navies and their itchy ideological fingers allowed to hover anywhere near the red button on the little black box.

But of course, that’s exactly what’s happened here. It’s why we’re in Iraq today. And why there’s a whole new arsenal of “battlefield nukes”—so-called “bunker busters” being readied for deployment as I write. Because we have allowed a fringe of the most loony elements among us to become enmeshed in our government—True Believers who consult no one but each other before changing or making law, because God is on their side and speaks only to them. (As recently as July 9, Bush, speaking to the Amish, claimed that God speaks through him.) Operating in this kind of perpetual delusion, any action, any lie is justifiable, even necessary, since it is seen as carrying out the will of divine authority.

There’s something almost eerie and a bit frightening about these folks. I’m reminded of the old movie of the 1950’s, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, where gradually more and more “normal” people are taken over by the invaders from outer space. Yes, I know it was meant to be an anti-Communist movie, but I think it works perfectly well as an attack against any form of mindless ideology. The only way you could discern that something was wrong with the people in the movie was by the glazed look in their eyes, and how they went about their ordinary business like spooks or zombies, with no reflection or thought. For me, watching that movie, there was something more monstrous and sinister in those mindless automatons than if there had been a recognizable “creature” with the usual hideous attributes. Forget Godzilla, forget the Mummy, forget the Creature From The Black Lagoon. The idea that quite ordinary looking people are walking around whose brains have simply been sucked out of their heads by their own weird superstitions and beliefs, now that’s frightening!

Like those people who say, “The Bible says it, I believe it and that’s the end of it.” Apart from the appalling closed mindedness of this strange mantra, which appears to dismiss out of hand all other religions, philosophies, and, indeed, virtually the sum-total of revealed wisdom through the ages, but the insistence on a strictly literal interpretation of the Bible is no less a bizarre and rather sad notion. To take a book as wondrous as the Bible--even taking into account the heavy-handed editing of the King James version, yet still, a book of high literature, replete with poetry, history, metaphor and fable--and reduce it almost to the level of some rigid legal code, in which the entire contents must be taken literally, word for word, thus draining it of all its vitality and mystery. . . . may as well try balancing the world on the head of a pin. I can’t imagine anything more stupid or illogical. Or frightening.

And they’re walking among us. They have Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft, they have congressmen, judges, school board members, city councilmen, commissioners, lawyers, teachers, and on and on. They reject evolution, stem-cell research, global warming, sex education, the findings of eminent environmentalists, philosophers and historians; in fact they seem to reject most science and history, in general. It’s a full-scale retreat to the Dark Ages.

They even have their own editorial columnists in major newspapers across the country, including the New York Times and the Washington Post. One of them, writing in my local paper, actually defended Bush’s crazy war by arguing—with numerous quotes from scripture—that Jesus believed in self-defense, and therefore would have done the same as Bush. In other words, Jesus would launch a pre-emptive attack on a sovereign country, blasting cities, killing and maiming innocent civilians by the thousands. Not exactly the Messiah I remember from my Sunday school class. The columnist didn’t say, but I suppose Jesus would also nickname his attack, “Shock and Awe.”

And these are bonafide columnists! They get paid for this stuff! Many of them are in syndication. It’s as if somehow everyone has agreed that these proselytizers’ cockamamie beliefs have such gravitas that they should be disseminated throughout the land. I’m beginning to wonder at what point we’ll start to see space on the editorial pages given over to purveyors of witchcraft or self-flagellation or the idea that masturbation causes acne.

I really don’t know how we reached this point, other than we just sat around and let it happen. I do believe there was a time when somewhat responsible people were running things. There were good men and women—Republicans and Democrats alike—in positions of power who would never have gone for this deal, no, not in their wildest dreams. Because underneath their own selfish motivations, most of them, I think, still possessed some sense of civic duty, some allegiance to the most fundamental principles of our country.

So Lyndon Johnson stole his first election. But later, as President, he still had his War On Poverty, and passed more civil rights legislation than almost any other president.

But imagine asking the likes of F.D.R. or Eisenhower how they would feel if certain Christian Fundamentalists were to get control of our government, from the White House to the Justice Department. Imagine their reaction. Surely, it would begin with peals of laughter. But then, wouldn’t they screw up their faces a little and say, “Are you serious?” “Are you crazy?” I can just see the look of mirth in Lyndon Johnson’s eyes at such a question.

Well, as usual, I have no answers.

Except perhaps in the words of Frederick Douglass, who when asked by a young activist what he should do, responded thusly: “Just three words of advice for you, my friend: Agitate. Agitate. Agitate.”

And, oh yes. Vote, by God!


Lately, I’ve been reading from the journals of Edward Abbey (Confessions Of A Barbarian), author of The Monkey Wrench Gang, Desert Solitaire, and other fine books, a man who had opinions about everything. Here he is actually talking about love and his own failings of the heart in that regard, but it leads him into a brief, but quite serious, discussion concerning religion, worth quoting, I think:

“. . .but I am aware that I may, semi-consciously, caught in a flush of general excitement and independence, have said or written things which could affect the one I love and who loves me just as painfully as if it had been an act of calculated malice. Of such sinful recklessness I may well be guilty, and the possibility troubles me greatly. To play with, to twist and stretch and rack the grave emotions of another human being—that is an awful thing. And I’m not so sure as I was a paragraph ago that love, even great and joyous love, can wash away such a sin.

“In fact, I don’t believe sins can be washed away by anything, not by the Blood of the Lamb, not by Christ on or off the Cross, not by love of God or God’s love, not by a billion Hail Marys or a Milky Way of candles or a thousand ages of penance or a million miles of contrition on broken glass and burning coals and leprous bodies.

“In fact, I indignantly reject, with horror and with loathing, the dark, ancient, vile and filthy lie that another man or God-Man can redeem us of our sins by his own suffering, or that we can purify ourselves and start over again by compounding our sins with more suffering, more ugliness, more filth and gibbering faith.

“What an utterly horrible doctrine! What a contemptible and nightmarish horror-story to preach to grave, thoughtful children. It’s time we stood up like men and faced our responsibilities, admitted and lived with our past sins, and cleared our hearts, in so far as we can, not by atonement or by condemning someone else to die for us, but by refusing to cooperate with evil and insisting upon doing good.”

Pray it may be so.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

copeland morris A DREAM

Wrap-around sunglasses
Ear to ear you wore
In mourning at the sermon;
Addressed me as "sir"
As curtly as you could,

Embraced me once more.

You were still like a willow;
What was I doing.
"For me it's normal", I said,
"Dividing balance...
What will break, what mend."

I dreamed I was living in
My car, when you
Discovered my embarrassment.
I'm rolling the window down,
Pulling on socks and shoes.

Thursday, August 12, 2004


by Grayson

After the torture scandal broke, I was left in a state of numbed dismay. I didn’t think I could write anything about it. Maybe I still can’t. More words thrown at Bush and his gang of hooligans seems almost like a bad joke. Like throwing gobs of sand at a cement wall fifty feet high by twenty feet thick. Looking around, I see lots of people scribbling, typing away, till their eyes are bloodshot and their hands fall off. I see them lined up behind each other for as far the eye can see, as one after another scoops up yet another pitiful handful of sand and hurls it at this bulwark that—let’s face it—We, the People—created, out of our indifference, our neglect, lack of guts, after years and years caving in to mediocrity in our choices of leaders, settling for second best (or worst), “the lesser of two evils,” till that became the norm, and finally the elections themselves degenerated into mere exercises in sham theatre, in which it was no longer possible to go to the polls to vote for real change, but only to vote for the same, the same, and more of the same, no matter which candidate we picked, no matter what party he represented.

Which, of course, once again, is precisely the predicament we are now in with Candidate Kerry.

And none of it, probably, would have happened if We, the People, hadn’t sat back on our haunches and allowed our government, our democracy, to be systematically taken over from within and flayed alive by all the special interests, the corporations, the greedy rich and powerful, who seemingly can never get their hands on enough dough and who literally end up hijacking their own employees, fleecing them of their life savings, till finally, their companies implode into bankruptcy and oblivion.

Money has undermined the very works of our government, like termites eating away at the joists and sub flooring, till the whole joint seems virtually on the brink of collapsing in on itself. In fact, it has already collapsed. It is no longer upright. It no longer functions. Decisions are made behind closed doors in the middle of the night, out of sight of We, the People, and the press. It is government of, by, and for, the Corporations. And why do I still bother to group “The Press” with “We, the People,” since they hardly represent us anymore, since so much of the press seems to think of its roll as cheerleaders for “Them—the Government.”?

John Kerry, with his millionaire wife, is the logical outgrowth of this wreckage, another sad reminder of our failings as a people; someone who is just as beholden to the corporate interests as any of the fat cats on the other side, to such a degree, that he is barely recognizable as the man he once was—the warrior who had the guts to renounce a needless war; who is now so weak that Bush and his cohorts can dare stand around and tell whoppers about Kerry’s esteemed war record, confident their opponent will not fight back, even though there is irrefutable evidence that Bush never spent one hour in Vietnam, and was, in fact, AWOL from his service in the National Guard. Yes, I understand, and agree with, Kerry’s decision not to get down into mud-slinging with G.W. But on this point, it seems to me that not answering these ludicrous charges that can’t possibly stick with a counter-charge that can, is tantamount to standing there with your arms slack while the other guy bloodies your face.

On the other hand, what a sad commentary it is that the biggest plank in Kerry’s platform is not health care or education or arms control or campaign finance reform, or reining in corporate greed, but it is his war record which he feels obliged to constantly trumpet, and it seems he can hardly go anywhere without his entourage of fellow swift-boat vets to vouch for his manliness. Thus, with Bush campaigning as the “War President,” the whole affair has sunk to nothing more than a contest to determine which candidate has the most machismo: who is the meanest s.o.b. on the block? Both men, I suspect, will wink at each other across the thin divide that separates them as they parry and thrust in mock swordplay to a so-called election in November, and, as usual, society’s ills will go begging.

The war will go on, regardless of who wins. And, as usual, the people will be the losers, both here and in Iraq, where fresh young Americans will go on being killed or maimed needlessly, as well as civilians on the other side—men, women and children. Guantanamo will be in place. I wouldn’t be surprised if torture is still on the menu—somewhere, tucked safely out of the sight of pesky digital cameras; after all, it is commonplace throughout our prison system right here at home, and hardly anyone troubles themselves about that.

And let’s not forget the ever-expanding list of people outraged at our arrogance, determined more than ever to inflict greater horrors on our own shores, perhaps unimaginable. No longer a question of if it will happen, but simply where and when. And once more, the great boondoggle of Missile Defense will be revealed in all its colossal impotency.

And yet, in the face of all this—dare I say it without laughing at my own words?—John Kerry, is still our best hope. Even with his flimsy, murky platform, with his questionable moral stands on the issues of NAFTA and pre-emptive war, he is still a thousand times better than the goons who are in charge.

Again, words fail to convey what has happened here, what has come to pass with our fragile democracy.

It is up to the people to realize it, for it appears that not even Congress has the spine to uphold our laws. Watching John Ashcroft refuse to answer questions and refuse to hand over documents relating to torture to the recent Senate Judiciary Committee, was just one of so many awful moments in recent memory. But let it stand for the rest. Let his smile say it all. Yes, he sat there smiling as he did it. And, yes, the good members, Senators Joseph Biden, Richard Durbin, Patrick Leahy and others, showed, I suppose, the proper level of umbrage, if not quite outrage; they huffed and harrumphed, they fluttered their tail feathers and shifted uncomfortably in their chairs. And when it was all said and done, the Attorney General walked out of there, as he apparently knew he would.

At that moment, I couldn’t help but think back to an earlier Senate Investigating Committee, the one that looked into the Watergate crimes, headed by the great and fearless Senator Sam Ervin. Sam Ervin, whose eyebrows would jump and his jowls tremble instinctively when lies were being told, who liberally quoted Biblical scripture and Shakespeare as he peered out over dark horned-rimmed glasses at his nervous witnesses. Sam Ervin, who said of the Watergate scandal, that its perpetrators showed “the same mentality as the Gestapo.” And I thought, what would Sam do, now? What would be his response to the present level of arrogance put on open display by Bush and his cohorts? What would he have made of Ashcroft’s smile? I wonder if he wouldn’t have ordered him to “Wipe that smirk off your face!” I have no doubt, the documents in question would have been surrendered, or there would have been hell to pay.

Sadly, the days of Ervin are long gone. The halls of our Congress echo like a hollow shell, bereft of giants. The recent Senate Committee answered Ashcroft with bluster and threats. And still he defied. In that moment, it was not the Congress—not We, the People—who had the power.

And that's where we are, now.

What would Sam Ervin say about Ashcroft? We need only look at what he did say about another attorney general, John Mitchell, and a White House aide, John Ehrlichman; referring to their roles in the Watergate scandal, Sam said this: “I don’t think either one of them would have recognized the Bill of Rights if they met it on the street in broad daylight under a cloudless sky.”

Wednesday, August 11, 2004


Photograph: Cesar / / The Protest of Bush's Inaugural, Washington DC, 2001

What if it were possible to interrupt history and rewrite it? This is not farfetched. A nation in the grips of repression is especially susceptible to this kind of re-scripting. And repression is a process which aims for several goals at once. It de-legitimizes the past. It disqualifies selected voters; it diminishes political alternatives by rigging the public agenda; and it depresses or skews citizen participation by manipulating and encouraging a climate of fear.

With the notable exception of Florida's vote-tampering in 2000, this has not been especially conspiratorial. Repression under George W. Bush has been a frontal assault, using the timely instruments of propaganda, divide-and-conquer, economic attrition against the politically vulnerable class, and an especially vulgar manipulation of America's mainstream press.

There has been ineptitude in reporting, particularly television, to match the ineptitude of the Bush Administration. Seasoned and well-informed internet commentators, like Bob Somerby, have challenged the laziness and awkward corruption of some familiar news people.

Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times, identifies "trivialization and bias" in TV news;..."but they're related" he adds.

"...everyone knows that Teresa Heinz Kerry told someone to "shove it,", writes Krugman, "though even there, the context was missing. Except for a brief reference on MSNBC, none of the transcripts I've read mention that the target of her ire works for Richard Mellon Scaife, a billionaire who financed smear campaigns against the Clintons - including accusations of murder. (CNN did mention Mr. Scaife on its Web site, but described him only as a donor to "conservative causes.") And viewers learned nothing about Mr. Scaife's long vendetta against Mrs. Heinz Kerry herself." (NYT, 07/30/04)

"A Columbia Journalism Review Web site called, says its analysis "reveals a press prone to needlessly introduce Senators Kerry and Edwards and Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, as millionaires or billionaires, without similar labels for President Bush or Vice President Cheney." (ibid)

"Somewhere along the line, TV news stopped reporting on candidates' policies, and turned instead to trivia that supposedly reveal their personalities. We hear about Mr. Kerry's haircuts, not his health care proposals. We hear about George Bush's brush-cutting, not his environmental policies." (ibid)

"In short, the triumph of the trivial is not a trivial matter. The failure of TV news to inform the public about the policy proposals of this year's presidential candidates is, in its own way, as serious a journalistic betrayal as the failure to raise questions about the rush to invade Iraq." (ibid)

A beautiful film tribute to John Kerry's heroism under fire, produced by Steven Spielberg, fades into a blur of pixels over the anchorman's shoulder; while the condescending reporter calls it "formulaic", unworthy of a thinking person's attention. What good does it do to change channels? On Fox, CNN and the other cable slots there is the same information without context, the usual bickering and pointless exchanges, and pervasive cynicism.

The cynicism of journalists is corrosive, as it continues to paint all political participants with the same dingy brush. George Bush, Dick Cheney, John Kerry, John Edwards: we're expected to treat them like characters in a soap opera. We scan them as we would the lines of a gossip column.

An academic, a friend of this writer, has said that repression seeks to unstring history. Contemporary repression validates this insight, as it purges voters from the rolls. And George W. Bush, with his cockeyed version of Republicanism, plays marionettes with a television news media that is either acquiescent and doting, lazy, or intimidated.

The media has news blackouts. A police riot in Miami (against anti-WTO protesters) in November, last year, was covered by Jeremy Scahill of Democracy Now! and by the British press; but on corporate television in the US there was nothing. The mayhem was covered by local, embedded reporters; and the punishment was inflicted by police cadres, dressed out like Robocop, and funded with federal anti-terror money. Freelance reporters with press badges and credentialed legal observers were arrested or treated roughly by the paramilitary force, as police unleashed a barrage of swinging truncheons, tear gas and rubber bullets.

Movie audiences have reacted with astonishment at screenings of Fahrenheit 9/11, watching scenes of mass protest at Bush's Inaugural. Sitting in darkened theatres, the crowd has absorbed a tide of recognition, a recovered history that seems to wash over them.

In these years after 9/11, there has been a profound, historical failure of America's television news media, and to a lesser extent, its mainstream print media. This corruption, deficiency, lack of attention, and cowering in the face of White House pressure is nothing less than a scandal. These journalists did not want this repression; on the contrary, there are signs that they are beginning to react to the inroads it has made. The tragedy is, that it has happened on their watch.

We will be able to breathe easier when Kerry takes office in January, and begins to serve as President. But we will be a long time dealing with the recklessness of this Bush Administration: the legacy of war and disaster, the pernicious ideology, the political divisiveness, the ineptitude. We should reflect on the long shadow cast by its repression; not merely the outbursts of street protest, of police and swinging batons, but the onslaught of repression that really degraded our democracy, and would have unstrung our history. This has been the work of a destructive Republican faction, and their figurehead, George W. Bush.

There are remedies available, to insure that the corruption of political life which we have lived through will never happen again. Serving political diversity and fairness in broadcasting is a crucial step to these reforms. A corporate consolidation of media must be stopped in its tracks and held in check by law. This solution is clearly available to the people. Conservatives, liberals, and libertarians are largely in agreement on this point. A reconstruction of the policies of the FCC is also in order: a return of the "Fairness Doctrine" to provide equal time to candidates of competing parties in Congressional and Presidential elections. Repression can be set in motion by a powerful or ascendant Party, when there is an institutional narrowing of public interests in the media, where some voices are being amplified and others excluded, or where public debate is being defined in a way that reduces political alternatives to a minimum.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Another Job--Outsourced

Just one of many breaking stories making the rounds in cyberspace. Tholos didn't break this story, but we are not too proud to pass it on.

In a message dated 8/2/2004 9:08:34 PM Central Daylight Time, writes:

Washington DC - Congress today announced that the Office of President of the United States will be outsourced to overseas interests as of June 30th, the end of this fiscal year. The move is being made to save $400K a year in salary, a record $521 Billion in deficit expenditures and related overhead. "The cost savings will be quite significant" says Congressman Adam Smith (D-Wash) who, with the aid of the GAO (the General Accounting Office) has studied outsourcing of American jobs extensively. "We simply can no longer afford this level of outlay and remain competitive in the world stage," Congressman Smith said.

Mr. Bush was informed by email this morning of the termination of his position. He will receive health coverage, expenses and salary until his final day of employment. After that, with a two week waiting period, he will then be eligible for $240 dollars a week from unemployment insurance for 13 weeks. Unfortunately he will not be able to receive state Medicaid health insurance coverage as his unemployment benefits are over the required limit. Preparations have been underway for some time for the job move.

Sanji Gurvinder Singh of Indus Teleservices, Mumbai, India will be assuming the Office of President of the United States as of July 1. Mr. Singh was born in the United States while his parents were here on student visas, thus making him eligible for the position. He will receive a salary of $320 (USD) a month but with no health coverage or other benefits. Due to the time difference between the US and India, Mr. Singh will be working primarily at night, when offices of the US Government will be open.

"I am excited to serve in this position," Mr. Singh stated in an exclusive interview. "Working nights will let me keep my day job at the American Express call center. I always knew I could be President someday."

Congress stressed patience when calling Mr. Singh as he may not be fully aware of all the issues involved with his new position. A Congressional Spokesperson noted that Mr. Singh has been given a script tree to follow which will allow him to respond to most topics of concern. The Spokesperson further noted that "additional savings will be realized as these scripting tools have been successfully used by Mr. Bush and will enable Mr. Singh to provide an answer without having to fully understand the issue itself."

Mr. Bush has been offered the use of a Congressional Page to help him write a resume and prepare for his upcoming job transition. According to Manpower, Inc., the placement firm, Mr. Bush may have difficulties in securing a new position as job prospects in the Sports Franchise Ownership arena remain limited. A recently released report from the Pentagon suggests a good prospect for him as a newly unemployed person may be in the Army National Guard. There he would be called up with his unit and stationed in Iraq, a country he has visited briefly before. "I've been there, I know all about Iraq and the conditions there," stated Mr. Bush. He gained invaluable knowledge of the country in his first visit at the Baghdad Airport non-smoking terminal and gift shop.

Meanwhile in Baghdad and Falluja, Iraq, sources report that local Iraqis say Mr. Bush would receive an especially warm reception from them. Such sources stated the Iraqis only request would be to be informed of which convoy he would be riding in order to give him the welcome he deserves. Congress continues to explore other outsourcing possibilities including that of Vice-president and most Cabinet positions.

copeland morris ENTWINED SONNET

Her shaded eyes, her necklace black velvet, onyx. Anguish she spoke; and he carried on, obsessed As only a young man could. An odd harm...