Saturday, December 29, 2007

Did Bush View the Missing CIA Tapes?

Harpers Magazine has published a story by Scott Horton entitled "Did Bush Watch the Torture Tapes?" that indicates President Bush may have personally viewed the missing tapes of CIA interrogations. If true, the allegation that their illegal destruction was ordered by the White House gains credibility. Here's a quote:

In this regards, the sequence of statements out of the White House is extremely revealing. It started with firm denials, then went silent and then pulled back rather sharply to a "President Bush has no present recollection of having seen the tapes." This is a formulation frequently used to avoid perjury charges, a sort of way of saying "no" without really saying "no." In between these statements, two more things unfolded that have a bearing on the question.

The New York Times squarely placed four White House lawyers in the middle of the decision about whether to destroy the tapes—Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, John Bellinger and Harriet Miers. It also reported that at least one of them was strongly advocating destruction. Suspicion immediately fell on the principle mover in support of torture, David Addington.

Second, John Kiriakou clarified his statements about the purpose for which the tapes were made. It was to brief higher ups about the process of the interrogation. Reports persist that one "higher-up" in particular had a special strong interest in knowing the details of the Abu Zubaydah case. His name is George W. Bush.

Are Bush's denials that he has seen the torture tapes really credible? I don't think so. And having seen them, the interest in their destruction would be equally fierce, which helps account for the involvement of the White House's four most senior lawyers in the process. No doubt about it. The White House desperately wants to scapegoat some CIA people over this.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Richardson Stands Out

Presidential candidate Bill Richardson, formerly the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, stands out in his response to the tragic and predictable assassination of Benazir Bhutto. He called for Musharraf to step down:

"Ms. Bhutto knew the dangers to her safety. But she would not be intimidated. We also must not be intimidated.

A leader has died, but democracy must live. The United States government cannot stand by and allow Pakistan's return to democracy to be derailed or delayed by violence.

We must use our diplomatic leverage and force the enemies of democracy to yield: President Bush should press Musharraf to step aside, and a broad-based coalition government, consisting of all the democratic parties, should be formed immediately. Until this happens, we should suspend military aid to the Pakistani government. Free and fair elections must also be held as soon as possible.

It is in the interests of the US that there be a democratic Pakistan that relentlessly hunts down terrorists. Musharraf has failed, and his attempts to cling to power are destabilizing his country. He must go."
By implication, the Bush administration and all the other candidates have been intimidated by an unpopular double-dealing Pakistani dictator.

Anyone who watched the early covereage of the assassination on CNN -- before they began spinning the news to coincide with the Bush administration's response -- could grasp the wisdom of Richardson's response.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Solar Power Now Cheaper than Coal Power

The New York Times has posted a report that indicates that solar power is about to be produced at a cost cheaper than power produced by coal. Here's a quote:

Nanosolar's founder and chief executive, Martin Roscheisen, claims to be the first solar panel manufacturer to be able to profitably sell solar panels for less than $1 a watt. That is the price at which solar energy becomes less expensive than coal.

"With a $1-per-watt panel," he said, "it is possible to build $2-per-watt systems."

According to the Energy Department, building a new coal plant costs about $2.1 a watt, plus the cost of fuel and emissions, he said.

Gothard, Huckabee and the SBC

Ethics Daily has posted an insightful update on the relationship of Bill Gothard and the fundamentalists within the Southern Baptist Convention. Gothard recently attended a private fundraiser for Mike Huckabee with Paul Pressler, Rick Scarborough, and Christian Reconstructionist political organizer Steven Hotze.

Gothard's "chain-of-command" theology has been enshrined in the family statement of the Baptist Faith and Message adopted in 1998 and creedalized in 2000. Huckabee has publicly endorsed the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.

Why the "War on Christmas" Should Stop

Donna Halper, a media historian and educator, has posted a helpful essay about the deep roots of the yearly "war on Christmas" campaign. Entitled "Why the 'War on Christmas' Won't Stop . . . and Why it Should" and posted at Op-Ed News, Halper traces the efforts of Christian Nationalists back to the 1790's. Here's her conclusion:

In this season of miracles, I am praying for some courageous politicians who will say "Enough" and refuse to let religion be a wedge issue. The Founders said we shouldn’t have a religion test, yet there are so many Republicans (and even a few Democrats) feeling they must prove to the voters how they love Jesus more than their opponents do. If politicians want to show me how much they love Jesus, they might begin by feeding the poor. Or ending homelessness. Or making sure people have medicines they can afford. Or better still... how about defending separation of church and state? It really doesn't deprive anyone of their rights, and somehow, I don't think Jesus would mind.

And as for my friends on the right, I really get the point that you believe you are being persecuted for your faith. But despite what the right wing talk hosts keep insisting, there's no proof of it, other than a few cherry-picked and anecdotal stories. So, I think it's time for all the lies and exaggeration and outrage to stop. A strategy that hasn't really succeeded since 1790 ought to be discarded, replaced by a willingness to work with even your political opponents. And who knows? If we put our energies into creating a more humane society, we might be able to achieve it. Imagine an end to the War on Christmas -- now, THAT would be be a genuine holiday miracle.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Shurden Discusses Hopes for the Future

Retiring Walter Shurden discusses his hopes for the Baptist future in the October issue of the Baptist Studies Bulletin. Here's a quote:

I hope for the spirit, not necessarily the structures, of ecumenism to prevail among Baptists. I hope that Baptist groups, where it is possible, will draw closer to each other, and I think that the best hope for that unity can be found in the Baptist World Alliance, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, and the New Baptist Covenant Celebration. I also fervently hope that Baptists will draw much closer to our sisters and brothers in other Christian denominations. I have come to believe that so much that divides us, including baptism by immersion, is sheer shortsightedness, if not downright sinfulness.

In addition to an ecumenical spirit, I hope for Baptists an intense commitment to Baptist voluntarism and all that Baptist voluntarism entails: an experiential faith that sets the individual soul afire, a regenerate church pulsating with life and love and vitality, a conversion baptism that is hard, not easy, to walk away from, freedom of conscience for ALL people who heroically defy state and church intrusion, and an utter disdain for a theocracy that favors one religious group over another.

The Disaster Capital of America

In 2007 Oklahoma set the record for the number of Presidential disaster declarations for one state in a single year.

Since it is one of the most religiously and politically conservative states in the union, you can be sure that it will be overlooked whenever televangelists like Pat Robertson discuss disastrous acts-of-nature as signs of divine wrath.

Hedges on the Evangelical Rebellion

Chris Hedges, author of American Fascists, has written the most astute and foreboding essay on the significance of Mike Huckabee's presidential candidacy to date. Here's a quote:

The Christian right is the most potent and dangerous mass movement in American history. It has been controlled and led, until now, by those who submit to the demands of the corporate state. But the grass roots are tired of being taken for rubes. They are tired of candidates, like Bush or Bill Clinton, who roll out the same clich├ęs about working men and women every four years and then spend their terms enriching their corporate backers. The majority of American citizens have spent the last two decades watching their government services and benefits vanish. They have seen their jobs go overseas and are watching as their communities crumble and their houses are foreclosed. It is their kids who are in Iraq and Afghanistan. The old guard in the Christian right, the Pat Robertsons, who used their pulpits to deliver the votes of naive followers to the corporatists, is a spent force. Huckabee’s Christian populism represents the maturation of the movement. It signals the rise of a truly radical, even revolutionary force in American politics, of which Huckabee may be one of the tamer and less frightening examples.

Is the World on the Brink of Financial Disaster?

The UK Daily Telegraph has published a story that says, "Crisis may make 1929 look 'a walk in the park'." The article reveals how America's sub-prime mortgage crisis is poised to push economies around the world into depression. Here's a quote:

As the credit paralysis stretches through its fifth month, a chorus of economists has begun to warn that the world's central banks are fighting the wrong war, and perhaps risk a policy error of epochal proportions.

"Liquidity doesn't do anything in this situation," says Anna Schwartz, the doyenne of US monetarism and life-time student (with Milton Friedman) of the Great Depression.

"It cannot deal with the underlying fear that lots of firms are going bankrupt. The banks and the hedge funds have not fully acknowledged who is in trouble. That is the critical issue," she adds.

Lenders are hoarding the cash, shunning peers as if all were sub-prime lepers. Spreads on three-month Euribor and Libor - the interbank rates used to price contracts and Club Med mortgages - are stuck at 80 basis points even after the latest blitz. The monetary screw has tightened by default.

York professor Peter Spencer, chief economist for the ITEM Club, says the global authorities have just weeks to get this right, or trigger disaster.

"The central banks are rapidly losing control. By not cutting interest rates nearly far enough or fast enough, they are allowing the money markets to dictate policy. We are long past worrying about moral hazard," he says.

"They still have another couple of months before this starts imploding. Things are very unstable and can move incredibly fast. I don't think the central banks are going to make a major policy error, but if they do, this could make 1929 look like a walk in the park," he adds.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

What Christmas is Not

Christmas is not an opportunity to flaunt your faith in the face of unbelievers.

Some American Christians have seized this day to bully people with in-your-face religiosity. Most simply condone it.

I'm convinced Jesus would oppose it because it is antithetical to the spirit of the gospel. American Christians are making the "good news" bad news.

Who can read Sally Quinn's editorial on "Congress's Bullying Pulpit" and not be ashamed? Here's a quote:

Among those voting for the resolution was a Jewish member of Congress who has asked me not to print his name. He was outraged and appalled by the bill, he told me. But he was also afraid. He thought it would hurt him with his mostly Christian constituency if he voted against it. He told some of his colleagues about his anguish. They advised him not to be stupid. It would be better for him politically if he voted for it.
Congressional Resolutions like H.R. 847 can neither defend nor advance the Christian faith. All they do is make hypocrites of us all.

Shame on all the Congressional leaders who voted for it. Shame on all the voters who condone Congress's bullying pulpit.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Vision of Next Year's Car

Popular Mechanics has published a story about the Aptera Electric Car which goes into production next year. The gas-electric hybrid will get 300 miles per gallon.

Unfortunately, it will only be for sale in California. If they were available, I know some Okie's that would be interested in them.

Coultergeist Haunts Huckabee

The discontented apparition animating the persona of Ann Coulter has been busy hurling invectives against Mike Huckabee.

Her essay, "There's a Huckabee born every minute" is filled with the kind of brickbats that she usually reserves for liberals.

On Huckabee, Hotze and Hagee

Mike Huckabee has been demonstrating his distance from the mainstream lately. Last week, he attended a fundraiser for him at the home of Christian Reconstructionist Steven Hotze. Sunday, he preached at Christian Zionist John Hagee's church.

Hotze thinks Christians have to takeover civil government, set up a Christian theocracy and exercise dominion over all the world for a millenium before Jesus can come again.

Hagee has been encouraging President Bush to bomb Iran in order to usher in the battle of Armageddon and begin a train of events that will permit the imminent return of Jesus.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Subprime Mortgage Standards Loosened in 2004

The New York Times has published an article about the Federal Reserve's responsibility, particularly that of Chairman Alan Greenspan, for encouraging the sub-prime mortgage lending bubble that is bringing our economy to the brink of disaster.

Am I the only one who finds it more than coincidental that the worst offenses began in the midst of a national presidential election? Here's a quote:

The drop in lending standards became unmistakable in 2004, as lenders approved a flood of shaky new products: "stated-income" loans, which do not require borrowers to document their incomes; "piggyback" loans, which allow people to buy a home without making a down payment; and "option ARMs," which allowed people to make less than the minimum payment but added the unpaid amount to their total mortgage.

Fed officials noticed the drop in standards as well. The Fed's survey of bank lenders showed a steep plunge in standards that began in 2004 and continued until the housing boom fizzled in 2006.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Evidence for Impeachment Abounds says Former CIA Analyst

Ray McGovern, who once provided daily intelligence briefings to former presidents Reagan and Bush, told an audience in Portsmouth, New Hampshire that the evidence for impeachment of the president and vice president is overwhelming. Here's a quote:

Charges in the impeachment bill sponsored by Dennis Kucinich, are very detailed and "as good as any," McGovern said, and referenced the illegal eavesdropping of American citizens. He added that the President has "admitted" to this "demonstrably impeachable offense."

Daehnert to Lead BGCT in Interim

The Baptist Standard and the Fort Worth Star Telegram are reporting that William Daehnert, a retired employee at the Baptist Building in Dallas, has been appointed Interim Director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Goldberg on the GOP's Newfound Fear of Religion

Michelle Goldberg has published an enlightening essay about the fear being expressed by many GOP pundits that the emphasis on religion in their party is getting out of hand. Apparently, Huckabee's religiosity frightens them. Here's a quote:

Over the years Republicans worked hard to organise Christian conservatives, sending consultants and cash to help turn churches into thousands of little political machines. They embraced figures like home-schooling guru Michael Farris, whose tiny, fundamentalist Patrick Henry College has been a top source of White House interns and GOP congressional aids. Farris started a group called Generation Joshua, directed by former Bush speechwriter Ned Ryun, which pays for home-schooled kids to work on Republican campaigns.

Now he's in Huckabee's corner. "It was the endorsement by prominent national home-school advocate Michael Farris that helped propel Huckabee to a surprising second-place finish in the Iowa straw poll in August," wrote the Washington Post on Monday. Home-schoolers, it said, "could also prove to be a powerful force on caucus night".

As mainstream conservatives recoil from what they've created, their cynicism is revealed - to us, but also, perhaps, to themselves. Obviously, some right-wing leaders always saw the pious masses as dupes who would vote against their economic interests if they could be convinced they were protecting marriage and Christmas.

But there there's also a certain species of urbane Republican who live in liberal bastions and, feeling terribly oppressed by the mild contempt they face at cocktail parties, imagine a profound sympathy with the simple folk of the heartland. They're like alienated suburban kids in Che Guevara t-shirts who fantasize kinship with the authentic revolutionary souls in Chiapas or Cuba or Venezuela. Confronted with the actual individuals onto whom they've projected their political hallucinations, disillusionment is inevitable. Whatever their nostalgie de la boue, the privileged classes never really want to be ruled by the rabble. They want the rabble to help them rule.

The Hoax About Conservatives Being Persecuted

Conservatives love to present themselves as the victims of persecution. So much so that some will fabricate evidence to receive attention.

Max Blumenthal does a thorough job of reporting the pathetic tale about the hoax of conservatives being persecuted at Princeton University.

Video of Hollyn Hollman on Dan Rather Reports

Hollyn Hollman, General Counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, appeared as a guest last week in a panel discussion on Dan Rather Reports.

Here's a link to the video.

Great job, Holly!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Thistlethwaite Crosses Off Huckabee

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, President of Chicago Theological Seminary, has written a stinging critique of Mike Huckabee's "plausibly deniable" faith-based politics. Here's a quote:

Huckabee is trying to ride two horses, he wants to be seen by the Christian conservative "base" as the only Christian in the race for the President and he wants to be able to do so in a way that allows him to have a way to escape the criticism that running as "the Christian" violates the American value of separation of church and state.

Huckabee is managing to offend me both as a Christian and also as a citizen who thinks that separation of church and state protects the church as much as it does the secular sphere.

In the Christian faith perspective, Peter discovered to his shame what happens to you when you are asked a direct question about what you believe about Jesus and you deny him. In the political perspective, this is a page from the Nixon playbook. What we are seeing in Huckabee is "plausible deniability" applied to faith-based politics.

The "Christian deniability" of Mike Huckabee is becoming more and more obvious as his campaign strategy. It's just awful.

College Students Grow More Spiritual

For decades religious fundamentalists have complained that young people lose their faith when they go to college.

Now a UCLA study has shown that the fundamentalists are half right. The study shows that students become both increasingly spiritual and increasingly liberal as they go to college.

So, students don't lose their faith, just their fundamentalism.

How Conservatives are Ruling Congress by Filibuster

The Campaign for America's Future has just released a report entitled "Block and Blame: The Conservative Strategy of Obstruction in the 110th Congress."

The report reveals how conservative threats of filibuster have prevented legislation from being passed by the current congress. Filibuster threats are more than double that of previous sessions of Congress.

Who Benefitted from Sub-Prime Mortgages?

The American Prospect has posted a story about "The Conservative Origins of the Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis" that identifies those who benefitted most from the deregulation of the financial industry. It explains how some of the conservative advocates of "free market" ideology made their fortunes. Here's a quote:

Mortgage brokers, who occupy an unregulated niche of the lending world, made a commission for every borrower they handed over to a mortgage lender. These brokers are like the drug dealers on the street corner. They are the smallest link in a lending chain that includes some of the largest and most respectable Wall Street firms.

Large mortgage finance companies and banks made big bucks on sub-prime loans. Last year, 10 lenders -- Countywide, New Century, Option One, Fremont, Washington Mutual, First Franklin, RFC, Lehman Brothers, WMC Mortgage, and Ameriquest -- accounted for 59 percent of all sub-prime loans, totaling $284 billion.

Wall Street investment firms set up special investment units, bought the sub-prime mortgages from the lenders, bundled them into "mortgage-backed securities," and for a fat fee sold them to wealthy investors around the world. According to The New York Times, China's second-largest bank, Bank of China Ltd, held almost $9.7 billion of securities backed by U.S. sub-prime loans. These investors, who bought the collateralized securities, were happy as long as they got paid their higher interest on the bonds or other investments.

With the bottom falling out of the sub-prime market, more than 80 mortgage companies went under in the past six months. Major Wall Street firms took billion-dollar losses as the crisis ripped into foreign money markets, from London to Shanghai. Lehman Brothers underwrote $51.8 billion in securities backed by sub-prime loans in 2006 alone; as of September, 20 percent of those loans were in default, the Times reported. Similarly, about one-fifth of the sub-prime loans packaged by Morgan Stanley, Barclays, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, RBS, Countrywide, JP Morgan, and Citigroup are 60 or more days delinquent, in foreclosure, or involve homes that have already been repossessed.

The executives and officers of some mortgage finance companies cashed out before the market crashed. The poster boy is Angelo Mozilo, the CEO of Countrywide Financial, the largest sub-prime lender. He made more than $270 million in profits selling stocks and options from 2004 to the beginning of 2007. And the three founders of New Century Financial, the second largest sub-prime lender, together realized $40 million in stock-sale profits between 2004 and 2006. Paul Krugman reported in The New York Times that last year the chief executives of Merrill-Lynch and Citigroup were paid $48 million and $25.6 million, respectively.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

On Teaching Democracy

Wendy Rochman, a public school teacher in Boulder, Colorado, has published an Op-Ed describing the dilemma of civics education under the current regime. Here's a quote:

No teacher wants to tell her students that their president is a liar and a criminal. And yet, our president is a liar and a criminal. As a teacher, should I tell children the truth, and act to uphold our Constitution and Bill of Rights?

I am charged to do just that through the legally binding state and local professional educator standard, requiring me to model the democratic ideal. My failure to do so could be grounds for my dismissal. But here's the catch: doing so could also be grounds for my dismissal! What's a conscientious teacher to do? Seize the teachable moment! Model the democratic ideal of participatory democracy by writing a guest opinion, a right all citizens have, thanks to the First Amendment. Kids, listen up. Here's the truth.

This president has led us into a disastrous war through lies and deceit. It is a "high crime and misdemeanor" to lead a country into war through lies and deceit. Everyone agrees that students should have consequences when caught lying or cheating on tests. Teachers would get fired if caught lying or cheating on professional documents. Should we let the president get away with lying and cheating the American people?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Catchy Title

I'm divided on my opinion of Frank Rich's editorializing. Sometimes I like what he has to say. Sometimes I don't.

Nevertheless, the title of his latest essay is the catchiest I've seen in a long time. "Latter-Day Republicans vs. the Church of Oprah" is an apt description of the current state of politics in the U.S.

On the Influence of John Tanton

Heidi Beirich has published a helpful article about the influence of John Tanton, the chief architect of the modern nativist movement in the U.S. Here's a quote:

At the center of the Tanton web is the nonprofit Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the most important organization fueling the backlash against immigration. Founded by Tanton in 1979, FAIR has long been marked by anti-Latino and anti-Catholic attitudes. It has mixed this bigotry with a fondness for eugenics, the idea of breeding better humans discredited by its Nazi associations. It has accepted $1.2 million from an infamous, racist eugenics foundation. It has employed officials in key positions who are also members of white supremacist groups. Recently, it has promoted racist conspiracy theories about Mexico's secret designs on the American Southwest and an alternative theory alleging secret plans to merge the United States, Mexico and Canada. Just last February, FAIR President Dan Stein sought "advice" from the leaders of a racist Belgian political party.

. . .

None of this -- or any other material evidencing the bigotry and racism that courses through the group -- seems to have affected FAIR's media standing. In just the first 10 months of 2007, the group was quoted in mainstream media outlets nearly 500 times with virtually no mention of its more unsavory aspects. Stein was featured on CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight" at least 12 times in the same period, along with countless appearances on other television news shows. And, perhaps most remarkably of all, FAIR has been taken seriously by Congress, which has called upon its officials to testify on immigration more than 30 times since 2000.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

On the Intolerance of Intelligent Design

The advocates of Intelligent Design often present themselves as advocates for open inquiry and free debate. "Just teach the controversy . . . present both sides of the debate over evolution," they say.

Christine Comer's forced resignation from the Texas Education Agency, however, clearly reveals the intolerant mindset that lurks under a thin veneer of civility in the hearts of many IDers.

Barbara Forrest's discussion on the Oxford University Press weblog provides some insightful responses regarding Comer's dismissal for forwarding an e-mail with information about a speech Forrest was giving in Austin. Here's a quote:

According to the TEA, "Ms. Comer's [FYI] e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker's position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral." My first reaction to this statement is that forwarding an e-mail with an "FYI" is not equivalent to an endorsement of either my appearance or my presentation topic, "Inside Creationism's Trojan Horse: A Closer Look at Intelligent Design." My next reaction is this question: even if Ms. Comer's forwarding the announcement were tantamount to endorsement, why should one of the largest departments of education in the country, whose responsibility is to ensure that children receive a twenty-first-century -- not a nineteenth-century -- education, decline to publicly support evolutionary theory, one of the soundest scientific theories ever constructed, plainly out of fear of irritating creationists and their political supporters?

I find it difficult to avoid concluding that Ms. Comer has become a casualty of the pro-ID political agenda.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

McSwain Explains Implications of Grassley Investigation

Ethics Daily has published an essay by McAfee School of Theology ethicist Larry McSwain that underscores the significance and explains some of the implications of Charles Grassley's investigation into the finances of megachurch ministries. Here's a quote:

Grassley could influence the Finance committee to consider legislation requiring 990 reporting from churches and should he do so advocates of church-state separation should scream "NO!" It is none of the government's business to collect such information on houses of worship.

But the issue is different when you look at the industrialization of the church in post-modern America. Why should a non-profit ministry set up for the purpose of publishing books, tapes, educational materials or televising the preaching of a church pastor be exempt from such reporting? Many of the kinds of abuses Sen. Grassley is reviewing would be avoided if such were the case.

It would also eliminate the deception of the tap dance done by Baptist denominational leaders to avoid making public the levels of compensation of leaders of their ministries and agencies that are not specifically houses of worship. Shareholders of Coca-Cola can read the salary of its CEO. So should members of denominations.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Neo-Conservative Values and the Death of Democracy

Until I read James Mann's Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet, I never gave much thought to political philosophy. Naively, I thought that most Americans believed in democracy. The only threat to democracy that I perceived was that posed by the increasing influence of Christian Dominionism within the Religious Right (-- a movement that seeks to return to the Christian theocratic politics of the first settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony). I assumed that disdain for democracy represented but a small segment within the American political spectrum. It never occurred to me that a large segment of America's self-proclaimed intelligentsia held democracy in contempt as well.

I was awakened from my dogmatic democratic slumbers by James Mann's book. I read it with a desire to understand the thinking of the men who were led us in the so-called "war against terrorism" and into war in Iraq. Contrary to what the mainstream media would like you to believe, before we invaded Iraq, there was ample evidence that the rationale for going to war was being fabricated. Anyone who looked for information on the internet could find incessant, insistent, and credible objections to the administration's interpretation of evidence like that of the Nigerian "yellow cake." Many of the most incessant objectors were people like Scott Ritter who had been presented by the media as an expert in the field of WMD's and intelligence during the first Gulf War. Suddenly, as the administration was promoting the second Gulf War, he and every other dissenting voice from Hans Blix to Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson were being smeared and discredited. I read Mann's book in an attempt to understand the mindset of the masterminds of George W. Bush's foreign policy.

From Mann I learned that Leo Strauss was the chief icon of the modern neo-conservative movement. I also learned the names and resumes of the major players within the movement and the positions of leadership that they then held within George W. Bush's administration. Today, as they have become involved in scandal after scandal, most of those names have become household words. Names like Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, Richard Armitage, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, Stephen Hadley, John Negroponte and Michael Hayden.

All it takes to realize that this administration is engage in a cover up is to learn the name and political ideology of the person being assigned to investigate a scandal or clean it up. If they are a neo-conservative, it is bound to be a cover-up. Most of these neo-conservatives have been working together since the Nixon-Ford administrations and the chief lesson they learned from Watergate was that they have to do a better job of covering up their illegal activities. That's why it is not a surprise to me to read that the CIA destroyed tapes of interrogations of suspected terrorists. Look who's in charge -- Michael Hayden. Another neo-con, another cover-up.

Anyone who thinks I'm overly cynical about this needs to do some research into the esoteric philosophy of Leo Strauss. Shadia Drury's Leo Strauss and the American Right would be a good place to start. Here's a brief synopsis of Strauss' thought:

Strauss was contemptuous of secular democracy. He blamed it for the rise of Adolf Hitler. He felt Nazism was a nihilistic reaction to the liberalism and separation of church and state that was imposed on Germany in the Weimar Republic. Strauss was a "secular" Jew who was forced to flee Nazi Germany after Hitler came to power. He came to the U.S. and taught the history of political philosophy at Columbia University and the Univerity of Chicago. He taught nearly all of the key intellectuals and leaders of the American political right and most of the rest have been deeply influenced by him.

Strauss felt secular democracy was the worst possible form of government because he said it led to individualism, liberalism and relativism. These are traits that promote dissent and dangerously weaken society's ability to cope with external threats.

Here are the basic principles that Strauss suggests should guide the governance of America's political elites:

1. Deception is necessary to lead the masses.
2. Religion is necessary to control the masses.
3. Conflict is necessary to unite the masses.

Holly Hollman to Apear on Dan Rather Reports

Holyn Hollman, General Counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, will be a guest on Dan Rather Reports tomorrow.

Here's a link to the BJC weblog with additional information.

On Turning Point Elections

Steve Faser has published an essay that briefly compares the 2008 presidential election to the turning point presidential election of 1932. He predicts a dramatic political shift in 2008. Here's a quote:

This perfect storm will be upon us just as the election season heats up. It will inevitably hasten the already well-advanced implosion of the Republican Party, which is the definitive reason 2008 will indeed qualify as a turning-point election. Reports of defections from the conservative ascendancy have been emerging from all points on the political compass. The Congressional elections of 2006 registered the first seismic shock of this change. Since then, independents and moderate Republicans continue to indicate, in growing numbers in the polls, that they are leaving the Grand Old Party. The Wall Street Journal reports on a growing loss of faith among important circles of business and finance. Hard core religious right-wingers are airing their doubts in public. Libertarians delight in the apostate candidacy of Ron Paul. Conservative populist resentment of immigration runs head on into corporate elite determination to enlarge a sizeable pool of cheap labor, while Hispanics head back to the Democratic Party in droves. Even the Republican Party’s own elected officials are engaged in a mass movement to retire.

All signs are ominous. The credibility and legitimacy of the old order operate now at a steep discount. Most telling and fatal perhaps is the paralysis spreading into the inner councils at the top. Faced with dire predicaments both at home and abroad, they essentially do nothing except rattle those sabers, captives of their own now-bankrupt ideology. Anything, many will decide, is better than this.

Or will they? What if the opposition is vacillating, incoherent, and weak-willed — labels critics have reasonably pinned on the Democrats? Bad as that undoubtedly is, I don’t think it will matter, not in the short run at least.

Take the presidential campaign of 1932 as an instructive example. The crisis of the Great Depression was systemic, but the response of the Democratic Party and its candidate Franklin Delano Roosevelt — though few remember this now — was hardly daring. In many ways, it was not very different from that of Republican President Herbert Hoover; nor was there a great deal of militant opposition in the streets, not in 1932 anyway, hardly more than the woeful degree of organized mass resistance we see today despite all the Bush administration’s provocations.

Yet the New Deal followed. And not only the New Deal, but an era of social protest, including labor, racial, and farmer insurgencies, without which there would have been no New Deal or Great Society. May something analogous happen in the years ahead? No one can know. But a door is about to open.

Clueless Columnist Praises Romney's Religion Speech

Kathleen Parker, a columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group, has written an Op-Ed lavishing high praise on Romney's pathetic speech on religion. Here's a quote:

Though nitpickers, atheists and unbudging evangelicals have found fodder for dissent, the speech generally set a tone not recently enjoyed in the public square and hit several notes not often sounded by Republicans. Romney appealed to our better angels and reminded Americans why they historically have had occasion to claim exceptionalism.

Was it perfect? Almost.
Yeah, Romeny's speech was perfect -- a perfect example of the cynical duplicity of political speech writing.

The most astute analysis of his speech was penned by Damon Linker, former editor of the Theocon journal First Things and author of the book The Theocons, who contends the speech reveals "Romney's Theoconservatism." Here's a quote:
Romney spoke as a theocon when he asserted, without evidence or argument, that "freedom requires religion" and that "freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone." He spoke as a theocon when he claimed that the constitution (which makes no reference to God) rests on a "foundation of faith." He spoke as a theocon when he referred ominously to a conspiracy to establish "a new religion in America - a religion of secularism." And, finally, he spoke as a theocon when he praised America's "symphony of faith" while failing to utter a single word about the millions of American citizens who do not kneel "in prayer to the Almighty." This was no oversight, as some commentators have speculated; it was an expression of ideology. Mitt Romney's America - the America of the religious right -- is a country defined by its conservative Christian moralism and belief. It will tolerate non-believers, but at a price: the price of exclusion from the nation's fundamentally theological identity.
Here's a link to a podcast (19 MB MP3) of my 12-9-07 "Religious Talk" radio program where I discuss Romney's speech more fully.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Jonah Kule -- Courage and Compassion

ABC News is reporting the death of Dr. Jonah Kule who was treating the recent victims of the Ebola virus in Uganda. Here's a quote from this tragic story:

Kule, who grew up in Bundibugyo, had recently returned to this deprived rural district after completing medical school in the capital city of Kampala.

Kule passed up lucrative career opportunities in Kampala and other large Ugandan cities to work among his tribesmen in a place where few Ugandan doctors venture, and even then, venture only when assigned as part of government service.

Kule was one of the few from Bundibugyo to ever attend medical school.

"He refused to charge patients extra fees for his services, even though that is widely practiced in government hospitals," writes Jennifer Myhre. "He was completely trustworthy with his responsibilities and resources.

Thomas Fingar -- Intelligence and Integrity

The Guardian has posted a story about the "Intelligence expert who rewrote the book on Iran." More than anyone else, intelligence specialist Thomas Fingar appears to be the man who derailed the Neo-conservatives attempts to railroad the US into war with Iran. Here's a quote from a very important story:

But pivotal to the US investigation into Iran's suspect nuclear weapons programme was the work of a little-known intelligence specialist, Thomas Fingar. He was the principal author of an intelligence report published on Monday that concluded Iran, contrary to previous US claims, had halted its covert programme four years ago and had not restarted it. Almost single-handedly he has stopped - or, at the very least, postponed - any US military action against Iran.

On Being Subversive (Revised)

I was surprised to find my name linked with subversion on my good friend Dr. Randy Ridenour's weblog a few days ago.

Yesterday, Randy wrote an outstanding and succinct blog "In Defense of Subversiveness." Here's a quote:

If I remember correctly the word comes from the Latin subvertere, meaning literally “to turn from below.” In that sense, democracy is pure subversiveness.

All revolutionary social changes have had a subversive component. The Protestant Reformation, labor movements, the Civil Rights movement, and the fight against slavery are just a few. All of these were radical movements that, in the end, were good (I’ll have to beg forgiveness from my Roman Catholic colleagues in the chaplaincy about the first one…) So, this is not subversiveness as in attempting to overthrow, but rather to change. Those in power are not always right. (Ironically, I’m listening to The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” right now.)

Of course, the ultimate example of subversion is the Gospel: An almighty God who chooses to change the world not by compulsion, but by sacrifice. What could be more subversive than praying for one’s enemies?

Pray for peace…

Friday, December 07, 2007

Student Voters Being Disenfranchised (Revised Title)

The American Prospect has posted a story about Hilary Clinton's attempts to disenfranchise student voters in Iowa.

I'm really weary of politicians in both parties working to make it difficult for people to vote. These same politicians are accruing enormous public debts that these same college students will be paying for the rest of their lives. Students have a vested interest in the issues and outcome of the current elections.

Politicans should be making it easy, not hard, for students to cast their vote.

(Title revised from "Hilary Disenfranchising Student Voters" to the above title on 12/8/07 -- see comments below)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Melissa Rogers to Appear on Bill Moyers' Journal

Melissa Rogers, visiting professor on Religion and Public Policy at Wake Forest University, will be a guest on Bill Moyers' Journal tomorrow evening. She will be discussing the similarities and differences between Mitt Romney's speech on religion and JFK's speech on religion.

Nobody could do it better.

Brent Walker Critiques Romney's Speech

Brent Walker, Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, has posted an essay contending "Romney Too Quick to Debunk Church-State Separation." Here's a quote:

Church-state separation actually ensures our vibrant religious landscape and in no way strips the public square of talk about religion and matters of faith. Church-state separation simply requires that official government action have a secular purpose and have the primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion.

Governor Romney should also understand that “secular” is not a bad word. While our culture need not be secular, our government must be – not in the sense of being hostile to religion, but being religiously neutral. Government must not be allowed to meddle in religion, for or against, or take sides in religious disputes, favoring one religion over another. As soon as it does, it denies someone’s religious liberty.

On JFK's Speech About Religion

Melissa Rogers has posted a link to video of John Kennedy's 1960 speech on religion before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. She's also found a link to the Q&A session that followed.

JFK's speech and answers could provide a useful point of comparison with Mitt Romney as he delivers his religion speech today.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Why the Collapse of the Dollar Matters

Germany's Der Spiegel has posted a story about "Why America's Currency is the World's Problem" that explains the problems the dollar's decline is causing around the world. Here's a quote:

And yet every dollar increase in the price of oil and, especially, every cent the dollar loses in value heightens fears of the seemingly inevitable consequences, and fears that global growth could slow and, in an extreme scenario, even come to a grinding halt.

The world depends on the dollar. It is the most important currency in global trade. Aircraft, oil, steel and most natural resources are priced in the US currency. Central banks around the world invest a substantial share of their currency reserves in dollars. The competitiveness of entire continents depends on changes in the value of the world's reserve currency. For these reasons, the dollar's decline has the potential to send the world economy into a crisis.

Innovating a Financial Crisis

Panic at high levels of the world banking system is starting to set in. Paul Krugman removes the veil of secrecy in a recent essay:

"What we are witnessing," says Bill Gross of the bond manager Pimco, "is essentially the breakdown of our modern-day banking system, a complex of leveraged lending so hard to understand that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke required a face-to-face refresher course from hedge fund managers in mid-August."

The freezing up of the financial markets will, if it goes on much longer, lead to a severe reduction in overall lending, causing business investment to go the way of home construction - and that will mean a recession, possibly a nasty one.

Behind the disappearance of liquidity lies a collapse of trust: market players don’t want to lend to each other, because they're not sure they'll be repaid.
He also tells us why:

Why was this allowed to happen? At a deep level, I believe that the problem was ideological: policy makers, committed to the view that the market is always right, simply ignored the warning signs. We know, in particular, that Alan Greenspan brushed aside warnings from Edward Gramlich, who was a member of the Federal Reserve Board, about a potential subprime crisis.

And free-market orthodoxy dies hard. Just a few weeks ago Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary, admitted to Fortune magazine that financial innovation got ahead of regulation - but added, "I don't think we'd want it the other way around." Is that your final answer, Mr. Secretary?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Religious Indoctrination in Prisons Ruled Unlawful

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a Federal Court ruling that Iowa's faith-based prison wing is unconstitutional.

Here'a a quote from an AU Press Release:

"This is an extremely important decision," said Lynn. "Government officials have no business paying for religious indoctrination and awarding special treatment and benefits to those willing to embrace one religious perspective.

"Government should not single out a particular religion for special treatment," Lynn continued. "You simply cannot give government funds to a religious group for its evangelism program."

Added AU Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J. Luchenitser, "This ruling is a major setback for the White House’s 'Faith-Based Initiative.' It reaffirms that the government must ensure that public funds are not used for religious instruction, and that the government must not aid programs that discriminate based on religion.”

Chimps Beat Humans on Numeric Memory Test

An experiment right out of Ripley's "Believe it or not" has proven that young chimps outperform college students on a test of short-term numeric memory.

Here's a quote from a story about an experiment testing the ability to remember numeric sequences briefly flashed onto squares on a computer screen at Kyoto University in Japan:

"I just watched the video of that and I can tell you right now, there's no way I can do it," she said. "It's unbelievable. I can't even get the first two (squares)."

What's going on here? Even with six months of training, three students failed to catch up to the three young chimps, Matsuzawa said in an e-mail.

Bill Underwood Interview

Dr. Bruce Prescott's 12-2-07 "Religious Talk" radio interview (27MB MP3) with Bill Underwood, President of Mercer University. We talk about Mercer University, McAfee School of Theology, the Center for Baptist Studies, and the Celebration for a New Baptist Covenant.