Showing posts with label Racism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Racism. Show all posts

Monday, January 21, 2013

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr



















Today, we celebrate the life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta Georgia on January 15, 1929, the son and grandson of Baptist ministers. In spite of school segregation, he was a good student, graduated from Morehouse College like his father and grandfather before him and went on to study for the ministry at Crozer Theological Seminary, where he distinguished himself as a leader (winning election as president of the predominantly white class). After receiving his Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer, he was awarded a fellowship and continued on to complete a doctoral program at Boston University, where he earned the title of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in 1955. In Boston, Dr. King met his wife, the accomplished and intelligent Coretta Scott King with whom he had a family of four children.

The Kings moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where Dr. King became pastor of the Dexter Street Baptist Church and became active in the NAACP. When Rosa Parks defied the segregationist Jim Crow laws by refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, Dr. King led the year-long bus boycott which led to the eventual Supreme Court ruling that the laws requiring segregation on buses were unconstitutional. The Civil Rights Movement had arrived at its moment in history at last and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr had emerged as its leader.

In spite of his determination to lead a peaceful revolution for civil rights, Dr. King was the target of unceasing attacks during his years in the public eye. He was arrested more than twenty times, was assaulted numerous times and was under constant threats of violence and verbal attacks. During the bus boycott, his house was bombed as those who resisted equal rights for people of color demonstrated their utter lack of respect for the lives of Dr. King and his wife and children. In spite of these terrible dangers, Dr. King persisted in the march toward justice, with the blessing and support of his wife and family.

Dr. King was the right leader for the right time as a movement that had been simmering - a yearning for the true liberty and dignity of full equality - finally came to a boil. Marrying his interpretation of Christian theology with the peaceful protest methods of Mahatma Ghandi, Dr. King's ideal truly represented a revolutionary new way of bringing about peaceful social change which he believed could strengthen, not unravel, the fabric of society. In 1964, at only age 35, he was recognized for his courageous and enlightened leadership with the Nobel Peace Prize. He donated the more than $50,000 prize award to the Civil Rights cause.

In early April, 1968, Dr. King was in Memphis to lend moral support to black workers who were striking to protest the egregious inequities of their treatment and compensation compared to white workers. King's arrival in Memphis had been delayed because of a bomb threat to his plane but he managed to get there, march with the sanitation workers and speak at rallies.  On the last night of his life, at a rally at the Mason Temple in Memphis, he referred to the intimidation and threats of violence that had dogged him for years. In what became known as his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech, King had this to say to his listeners:

"And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

Martin Luther King, Jr. was brutally taken from this world on April 4, 1968, in Memphis Tennessee. He was shot to death by a white supremacist sniper as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel.

You can find an excellent, brief (4 minutes) biography of Dr. King here.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'


I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.


I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.


I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.


I have a dream today. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. August 28, 1963. (full text)

Recommended reading: Good and Evil in Birmingham, Diane McWhorter,The New York Times, January 20, 2013. McWhorter argues, rightly I think, that the battle of the Civil Rights movement was not between "good" and "evil", but between "good" and "normal".

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Voter Suppression Kicks Into Overdrive



Voter intimidation methods that were dusted off in 2008 have been buffed to a blinding sheen in 2012 by groups connected to the Republican party or by actual elected Republicans.

The FBI is Investigating Florida Voter Intimidation, Emily Deruy, abc news, October 25, 2012.

The New York Times notes that the Republican Party came under fire after suspicious voter-registration applications were submitted in ten Florida counties by a company run by Nathan Sproul, a Republican who has been dogged by allegations of voter fraud.
Florida law enforcement officials have been investigating multiple claims that registrations used false addresses or dead people's names.
As the Times reports, Sproul's companies have collected more than $17.6 million from Republican committees, candidates and the Super PAC "American Crossroads." And the Republican Party paid Sproul about $3 million this year to work in five states before severing ties with him following allegations of voter-registration fraud.
Sproul did not respond to a request for comment.

How GOP Voter Supression Could Win Florida for Romney, Tova Andrea Wang, Salon, October 25, 2012.

Florida Republicans launched their plan to make voting harder in 2011 when they effectively shut down community-based voter registration drives, responsible for registering hundreds of thousands of new voters every year. The Legislature and governor pushed through a law imposing onerous requirements and procedures on organizations seeking to conduct voter registration drives and steep fines for noncompliance. Nefarious outfits such as the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote were forced to completely shut down their registration activities.  At the same time, a teacher who brought registration forms into class for her seniors turning 18 was charged with violating the law.

What made the change in the voter registration law so particularly suspicious is that community groups focus most often on youth and minority and low-income communities, whose opportunities to register are more limited. In 2008, for example, while only 6.3 percent of white Floridians registered to vote through registration drives,  12.1 percent of Latinos and 12.7 percent of African-Americans did.
A judge recently put a halt to the new requirements, ruling them “burdensome” and “harsh and impractical,” not to mention unconstitutional. But the damage has been done – mostly to Democratic voters. The number of Democrats in the state who were registered to vote increased by only 11,365 voters from July 1, 2011, to August 1, 2012. In 2004, nearly 159,000 new Democrats were registered in that period. In 2008, the number was nearly 260,000. Remember: 537 votes.


True the Vote has said it is mobilizing one million poll watchers to go to voting places across the country. The problem, critics said, is that those watchers are mostly white and many of the polling places they target serve mostly black or minority voters.
In 2010, people in Texas complained that poll watchers who were affiliated with True the Vote were being overly aggressive and intimidating. According to Douglas Ray, the senior assistant county attorney for Harris County, Texas, the county where Engelbrecht lives, there were several complaints of True the Vote volunteers being disruptive to voters.
Ray said he went to the True the Vote offices and saw push pins on a map that he interpreted as the group's intention to target specific minority areas. This year, he said, his office has already received complaint calls about True the Vote volunteers at early voting locations.
The county attorney's office directed "Nightline" to an early voting location in Houston where there were Caucasian poll watchers in a predominantly African-American neighborhood, where citizens have already begun to complain.
Despite all the controversy the group has kicked up, study after study -- by the U.S. Department of Justice, investigative journalists and a bipartisan commission -- has found voter fraud to be virtually non-existent.

Bullies At the Ballot Box:Protecting the Freedom to Vote Against Wrongful Challenges and IntimidationLiz Kennedy, Tova Wang, Anthony Kammer, Stephen Spaulding, Jenny Flanagan,September 10, 2012.

Now active in 30 states, True the Vote has made it clear that it intends to ratchet up its activities in 2012.13 The group is coordinating efforts throughout the country to purge the voter rolls, issue citizen challenges to registrations based on its own criteria and recruit poll watchers for Election Day. At its annual 2012 conference, leadership of the group announced that it “anticipates training 1 million poll watchers around the country for this year’s election.”14 In itself the training of poll watchers might not be worrisome, but the inflammatory language used to inspire this group of volunteer activists makes it so.
For instance, True the Vote’s founder, Catherine Engelbrecht, has said “we see again with this administration . . . it’s just stunning the assault on our elections that we’re watching gain steam with every passing day, so we found ourselves to be unwittingly on the front lines of an issue that I think will be the inflection point for this election.”15 A reporter attending True the Vote’s Colorado State Summit described how one speaker told the crowd that “they should enjoy bullying liberals because they were doing God’s work. ‘Your opposition are cartoon characters. They are. They are fun to beat up. They are fun to humiliate,’ he intoned. ‘You are on the side of the angels. And these people are just frauds, charlatans and liars.’”

Eleventh Hour Voter Suppression Could Swing Ohio, Ari Berman, The Nation, November 4, 2012.

“Our secretary of state has created a situation, here in Ohio, where he will invalidate thousands and thousands of people’s votes,” Brian Rothenberg, executive director of ProgessOhio, said during a press conference at the board of elections in Cuyahoga County yesterday in downtown Cleveland. Added State Senator Nina Turner: “‘SoS’ used to stand for ‘secretary of state.’ But under the leadership of Jon Husted, ‘SoS’ stands for ‘secretary of suppression.’ ”

GOP's push to suppress vote threatens the democracy, Ilyse Hogue, CNN, November 4, 2012.

This election year is the culmination of years of Republican efforts to foment confusion and fear to keep certain Americans from voting. That is a subplot of this election, but one that will have massive consequences. In close and bitterly fought elections, there's far more at stake than who occupies the White House: Americans' belief in the integrity of our democracy hangs in the balance.
These efforts are pernicious, pervasive and professionalized. In a recent New Yorker article, Jane Mayer profiled Hans von Spakowsky, a legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation who has been hyping the myth of voter impersonation fraud since 1998, despite mountains of evidence refuting his claim. (The Brennan Center for Justice has concluded that many more people are struck by lightning than commit in-person voter fraud.) Rep. John Lewis -- a civil rights hero who bled to get all Americans the right to vote -- describes von Spakowsky as waking up every morning thinking "What can I do today to make it more difficult for people to vote?"
Spakowsky is a close adviser to True the Vote, a Houston-based organization funded by wealthy conservative donors that has led challenges against the registration of minority voters across the country.

Voter Intimidation Fears Renewed As Election Nears, Jack Feeley and Kristofer Rios, abc news, October 19, 2012.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law has monitored the progress of state bills that could limit or restrict citizens from voting and found a sharp increase in the last two years. In some instances, the Brennan Center partnered with civil-rights groups to challenge these laws. Many of the state bills that were passed have since been blocked by court injunctions or overturned, because states have failed to prove that the laws would not have a discriminatory effect on voters.
But restrictive laws are not the only hurdle some voters have to get over. Several conservative grassroots organizations like True the Vote, a Tea Party group, used voter fraud concerns as a reason to challenge students' and minorities' voting rights throughout the country. For example, in June, True the Vote volunteers harassed students during Wisconsin's recall election by citing concerns that students were violating a state photo ID bill that was already blocked by two judges.
In recent months True the Vote has also challenged thousands of voting registrations, and held rallies across the country to train and recruit so-called poll watchers.

It is not just imperative that Americans "get out the vote" this year, but it is now necessary to ensure that citizens' legal right to vote is protected from a campaign to disenfranchise even longtime voters with no reason to think their voter registration would be problematic. Seniors, disabled citizens who do not and cannot have a driver's license, and millions of poor working Americans - for whom acquiring the notarized documentation, filling out the legal paperwork, paying fees and taking time away from their jobs to file for government IDs present insurmountable hurdles - all face potential disenfranchisement in the upcoming election.

Republicans continue to argue disingenuously that they are protecting voter rights by placing more and more roadblocks in the way of the poor, the elderly and the disabled because, they claim, they are protecting us all from potential voter fraud. Repeated studies and investigations into voter fraud have proven that it isexceedingly rare, and that the threat that potential voter fraud poses to the electoral process is minimal. Conversely, the potential for harm to the democratic process resulting from voter suppression practices is very high. In third world countries, American observers stand by to ensure that evidence of voter intimidation and suppression can be recorded and publicized. Who is watching out for the same thing in the USA?

This is a democratic Republic and it is the right and the duty of citizens to protect our own rights and freedoms. Knowledge is power, but action is even more powerful. Let's start paying attention, spreading the word, and mobilizing our fellow citizens to hold our government representatives accountable when they overstep the bounds and try to impede our right to vote.

ACLU on voter suppression:
"During the 2011 legislative sessions, states across the country passed measures to make it harder for Americans – particularly African-Americans, the elderly, students and people with disabilities – to exercise their fundamental right to cast a ballot. Over thirty states considered laws that would require voters to present government-issued photo ID in order to vote. Studies suggest that up to 11 percent of American citizens lack such ID, and would be required to navigate the administrative burdens to obtain it or forego the right to vote entirely."

Rolling Stone   Ari Berman's excellent article on Florida's purge of voter rolls to suppress Democratic vote:
"Imagine this: a Republican governor in a crucial battleground state instructs his secretary of state to purge the voting rolls of hundreds of thousands of allegedly ineligible voters. The move disenfranchises thousands of legally registered voters, who happen to be overwhelmingly black and Hispanic Democrats. The number of voters prevented from casting a ballot exceeds the margin of victory in the razor-thin election, which ends up determining the next President of the United States.
If this scenario sounds familiar, that’s because it happened in Florida in 2000. And twelve years later, just months before another presidential election, history is repeating itself."

CBS  Lucy Madison reports of mass mailings and robo-calls falsely telling voters that they should not or could not vote in the June 5 Wisconsin recall election.
"(CBS News) As voters head to the polls Tuesday to decide the fate of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, reports out of the state suggest that robocalls are being placed informing voters, falsely, they don't have to vote if they signed the recall petition.
There have also been reports of mailings going out to voters telling them they can't vote unless they did so in 2010, and of people going door-to-door telling voters they don't have to go to the polls if they signed the recall petition, both of which are also untrue."

Raw Story offers a disturbing national roundup of stories from numerous states whose Republican governments are pulling out all the stops to disenfranchise voters. One excerpt (from LAWeekly):
"In a brazen attempt to steal this fall's election, Florida's Republican lawmakers have outlawed voting on Sunday, an African-American tradition. Indeed, across the United States, from Montana to Maine and Texas to Tennessee, 41 states have recently passed or introduced laws to restrict voter registration and early voting, and generally limit suffrage.
It's the greatest show of racially fueled political chicanery since turn-of-the-century laws banned scores of African-Americans from casting ballots. More than 5 million voters — largely nonwhite — could be kept from the polls, according to New York University's Brennan Center for Justice:
'State governments across the country enacted an array of new laws that could make it significantly harder for as many as 5 million eligible Americans to vote. Some states require voters to show government-issued photo identification, often of a type that as many as one in ten voters do not have. Other states have cut back on early voting, a hugely popular innovation used by millions of Americans. Still others made it much more difficult for citizens to register to vote, a prerequisite for voting'. "

Don't be caught off guard by voter suppression tactics. Go online and be sure that your voter registration is secure and that you will not be disenfranchised this November.  Here are some handy links to information and resources:

FAQs About Voting, Smart Voter (League of Women Voters).

USA Gov. page on voting information, including a link to voter registration deadlines by state and easy-to-navigate information links to answers for frequently asked questions about voting, registration, voting from overseas, working on elections and trouble-shooting.

USA Gov Resources for voters

Brennan Center of Justice Election 2012, information for voters and resources for assistance with barriers to your right to vote.

It is time to recognise  the danger of ideologically-driven "news" and talk radio; people listen to the lies, the fear-mongering and the demonization of "others" and they believe it.  The Republican base believes that they are under attack by dark forces from the "other side". Not just an other side with whom they do not agree, but literally an evil, foreign OTHER side bent on destroying "their" beloved America. Throw in a Bible-based "great commission" to bring the whole country to Christianity by any means, and we see that lying and intimidation to serve that "higher purpose" is easy for true believers to do.

Will Americans allow their religious and political ideology to destroy democracy?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

What? It's Just An Innocent Billboard!
























(I am reposting this essay in light of this week's dust-up in - once again - Texas. It seems that a Texas judge's ruling in April (that threatening people through "prayer" is A-OK) has further emboldened some right-wingers to move beyond small trinkets like t-shirts and mugs.  Milton Neitsch decided to move the hate into the bigtime by plastering the disingenuous "psalm 109" message onto an advertising billboard. Many right wing Christians think the "Pray for Obama" Psalm 109 references are a clever joke, and many assume that nobody outside their in-group knows the Bible well enough to get it. Some of those people ought to learn to keep up.
Inciting violence against the President - even from a non-existent deity - is no laughing matter to the Secret Service and the FBI. Neitsch is under investigation since his clever "joke" could very well be interpreted by some faithful individual as a call to do "God's work".  Although religious extremism is rarely confronted by more moderate Christians, in this case discomfort over the billboard's implied threat won out over the usual silent complicity. It was actually a petition circulated in the town by a Christian pastor - Rev. Amy Danchik - which convinced Neitsch to take down the billboard.)


Last spring, a Texas judge ruled that publicly praying for harm to be done to another person is perfectly okay.  In the time-honored tradition of giving religion a free pass for behavior ( inciting violence) which could be prosecutable as a felony in any other context - especially, say, if people use their freedom of speech to demand justice when a brown person is murdered in cold blood - District Court Judge Martin Hoffman  made a summary judgement against Mikey Weinstein in favor of the former navy chaplain who had publicly posted an imprecatory prayer - Psalm 109, to be precise - for Weinstein's annihilation.

Non-Christians poised to gobble up Christians! 
Wait...
In its crowing report about the lawsuit, the religious website WNDfaith defined "imprecatory prayer" thusly:

 "An imprecatory prayer is a prayer asking God to protect the weak and faithful from the strong and wicked."

It is hard to believe that any Christians in the USA could possibly not know that they comprise nearly 80% of the population, while other religious groups account for another 5-6%.  People who do not subscribe to any official religion but still believe in a god make up a further few percentage points. So, the claim that the "faithful" in the military - who are even more numerous relative to the non-religious than those in the general population of the USA - are "weak" is incredibly disingenuous.

Gordon Klingenshmitt was one of the nearly 2000 evangelical Christian chaplains who aggressively proselytize to American soldiers using public funds and with virtually no oversight. These chaplains, with the backing of COs, charge soldiers with a mission to proselytize everywhere they are deployed. Weinstein started the MRFF (Military Religious Freedom Foundation) several years ago in an effort to represent the small constituency of soldiers who suffered personal and even professional discrimination - some might even call it officially-sanctioned persecution - as a result of this unconstitutional establishment of the Christian religion within the United States military.

"surrounded by wicked men"
The judge ruled in favor of Klingenschmitt who claimed in his widely published prayer that he was "surrounded by wicked men" who were the "enemies of religious liberty".  In a military overwhelmingly staffed with Christians, where non-Christians are estimated to be outnumbered by nearly 90 to 1, it is difficult to imagine how this former navy chaplain concluded that he was "surrounded" by people who did not share his beliefs, much less how he could believe that he and his fellow Christians were the "weak" victims of the "strong and wicked" MRFF - the group whose raison d'être is to advocate for freedom from religious coercion, don't forget - and whom the Christians greatly outnumbered. It was like Goliath whining that David was looking at him during forced religious worship of Goliath's god.

Though they vastly outnumber their critics, and although they have used pressure and suppression, both through official channels and off the radar, to punish soldiers who protest the suffocating Christian crusading in the American military, people like Klingenschmitt claim to be persecuted for their beliefs. Klingenschmitt denied any ulterior motive, but by invoking Psalm 109 - notorious verses in the Old Testament inciting violence against "enemies" - he sent a message to the fringe elements among his co-religionists that the MRFF, and Weinstein and his family in particular, were legitimate targets for Christian vengeance. Then, he pretended to be the injured party, innocent of any wrongdoing.

What? This is just an
innocent coffee mug!

How do Christians justify such shockingly blatant lies?

As outrageous as it is that the courts have failed to protect a private citizen from the brazen call for his destruction by a powerful religious leader, this is not the first nor even the most shocking example of how religious privilege in the USA allows the elite leadership of the powerful Christian majority to threaten its enemies with impunity. A recent, and chilling, example of this type of perniciously subversive incitement of violence came to light shortly after the 2008 election of President Barack Obama.

Psalm 109 has been passed around the internet and referenced on bumper stickers, hats and t-shirts ever since shortly after the election of Barack Obama in November 2008.  Christians who sported the hats, t-shirts and bumper stickers disingenuously claimed no harm, no foul. Some columnists - once again in the time-honored tradition of giving religion a free pass on egregiously bad behavior - speculated that the people behind the imprecatory prayer (including pastors and devout bible-studying Christians) may not have been familiar with the full text of the psalm. Considering the emphasis on Bible study in fundamentalist Christianity, this assertion beggars belief.

Pretending that they are not using coded language or political dog whistles is yet another example of the stealth conservative strategy of the religious right, backed by powerful corporate interests in the unholy alliance formed during the Reagan era. Creating social tension to win political power has been the stock in trade of the Christian Coalition for two decades. Establishing plausible deniability in the event of an outbreak of the very violence incited by the coded language is the purpose of using secrecy and coded language. In the words of Ralph Reed, Christian Coalition leader:

What? This is just an
innocent teddy bear!
"But that's just good strategy. It's like guerrilla warfare. If you reveal your location, all it does is allow your opponent to improve his artillery bearings. It's better to move quietly, with stealth, under cover of night." Continuing, "I want to be invisible. I do guerrilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag. You don't know until election night." Ralph Reed, 1992

Feigning innocence of having any wish that actual, physical harm might come to progressives, including the President - and under the protection of the privilege which religion enjoys in this culture - right-wing conservative elites were able to send a message - essentially to put out a de facto contract - to the most radical members of its much-vaunted "base". Psalm 109  was a coded reminder of all the Sunday morning exhortations that good Christians were under attack by a wicked, powerful enemy and that if anything should happen to these "enemies", it would be a righteous judgement from God.

Bible-believing Christians are proudly familiar with their Bible verses.  There is little doubt that most Evangelicals were "in on the joke" even as they were protesting that it was just a bit of post-election "fun". Just to be clear, however, here is a fuller passage from Psalm 109 from the Book of David, in the Bible:

What? This is just an
innocent prayer for our president!
8 Let his days be few; and let another take his office. 
9 Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. 
10 Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places. 
11 Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; and let the strangers spoil his labour. 
12 Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children. 
13 Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out. 

Having sent up the alarm, brazenly and in plain sight, while professing innocence of any subtextual motive, the right-wing conservative powerhouses and their political arm - the Republican party - continue to spout patriotic platitudes while they work tirelessly to undermine the foundations of the Republic for their own political and financial gain. If the strategy is successful, they will need only to sit back and let paranoia and delusions of Christian persecution - well-stoked for over two decades in the nation's megachurches and home-schooling movement - take their natural course as the fabric of society unravels in the face of the constant onslaught of religious and social strife.

What? This is just an
 innocent cell phone case!

The deployment of a Bible verse to commit or incite retaliatory action against one's perceived enemies is the one way that a person in a Christian- dominated culture might be able to get away - sometimes literally - with murder.  That a federal judge threw out the Mikey Weinstein case - and punished him for seeking a legal remedy by making him pay court costs and damages - is an indication that this situation may get worse before it gets better.

One small, significant irony in the situation should not be missed, however.
In declaring that there was no real harm - or potential for harm - suffered by Weinstein as a direct result of the imprecatory prayer for his destruction, the judge was ruling that prayer is ineffectual and Klingenschmitt's god does not exist.  If the court believed that the god actually existed - the Biblical god capable of smiting Weinstein - then the prayer would have been as dangerous as a mob contract, and Klingenschmitt would be facing trial for a felony offense.

By ruling that the prayer was irrelevant and caused no harm, the judge threw the weight of a U.S. federal court behind a ruling that God does not exist. Classic.

Digital Cuttlefish at FreeThoughtBlogs wrote an excellent poem summing this up far better, and far more succinctly, than I have done here:


Suppose you ask a hired gun
To wipe somebody out—
Could you be held responsible?
Of that there’s little doubt.
What? This is just an innocent t-shirt!
Protect yourself from legal woes
Behind this false façade—
When issuing a mortal threat,
Pretend you’re asking God!
So long as God is impotent
And cannot have His way—
You want your God to smite my ass?
Then go ahead and pray.
If someone overhears you, and
Decides to be God’s sword—
You’re innocent, cos you were only
Talking to the Lord.
Your prayer was posted publicly,
Where anyone could see—
The claim is still “It’s just a talk
Between the Lord and me.”
It’s funny… if there was a God                                                   
You’d ask, your soul to spare—
And if you tried out this defense…
You wouldn’t have a prayer.



What? These are just innocent bumper stickers!


Update:  Chris Rodda at This Week in Christian Nationalism blogged about the kind of ridiculously offensive mail that Mikey Weinstein regularly receives.  For a sickening glimpse into the mind of the true believer,  check out Chris's birthday post for Mikey Weinstein here.  And a belated Happy Birthday to you, Mikey Weinstein.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Defend Your Right To Vote!

Republican voter suppression tactics are working.  (via maddowblog (msnbc)



























Wait!  Don't skip this post because you've been registered to vote forever and are pretty sure it doesn't apply to you. Even if you think you are registered to vote. Even if you have been voting for decades, please take a moment to ensure that you are, in fact, still registered to vote, and that you are sure of where your polling place will be. Many polling places have been changed this year, and the communication with the public has been spotty at best and deliberately bad at worst.

Recent news about Republican attempts to suppress the vote highlights just how important it is for citizens to pay attention to what those in power are doing.  Voter suppression has become the most egregious of the tactics in a campaign pockmarked with slimy pits of lies, disinformation and outright intimidation.

It is not just imperative that Americans "get out the vote" this year, but it is now necessary to ensure that citizens' legal right to vote is protected from a campaign to disenfranchise even longtime voters with no reason to think their voter registration would be problematic. Seniors, disabled citizens who do not and cannot have a driver's license, and millions of poor working Americans - for whom acquiring the notarized documentation, filling out the legal paperwork, paying fees and taking time away from their jobs to file for government IDs present insurmountable hurdles - all face potential disenfranchisement in the upcoming election.

Republicans continue to argue disingenuously that they are protecting voter rights by placing more and more roadblocks in the way of the poor, the elderly and the disabled because, they claim, they are protecting us all from potential voter fraud. Repeated studies and investigations into voter fraud have proven that it is exceedingly rare, and that the threat that potential voter fraud poses to the electoral process is minimal. Conversely, the potential for harm to the democratic process resulting from voter suppression practices is very high. In third world countries, American observers stand by to ensure that evidence of voter intimidation and suppression can be recorded and publicized. Who is watching out for the same thing in the USA?



This is a democratic Republic and it is the right and the duty of citizens to protect our own rights and freedoms. Knowledge is power, but action is even more powerful. Let's start paying attention, spreading the word, and mobilizing our fellow citizens to hold our government representatives accountable when they overstep the bounds and try to impede our right to vote.

First stop: knowledge.  To wit:

ACLU on voter suppression:

"During the 2011 legislative sessions, states across the country passed measures to make it harder for Americans – particularly African-Americans, the elderly, students and people with disabilities – to exercise their fundamental right to cast a ballot. Over thirty states considered laws that would require voters to present government-issued photo ID in order to vote. Studies suggest that up to 11 percent of American citizens lack such ID, and would be required to navigate the administrative burdens to obtain it or forego the right to vote entirely."

Rolling Stone   Ari Berman's excellent article on Florida's purge of voter rolls to suppress Democratic vote:

"Imagine this: a Republican governor in a crucial battleground state instructs his secretary of state to purge the voting rolls of hundreds of thousands of allegedly ineligible voters. The move disenfranchises thousands of legally registered voters, who happen to be overwhelmingly black and Hispanic Democrats. The number of voters prevented from casting a ballot exceeds the margin of victory in the razor-thin election, which ends up determining the next President of the United States.

If this scenario sounds familiar, that’s because it happened in Florida in 2000. And twelve years later, just months before another presidential election, history is repeating itself."

CBS  Lucy Madison reports of mass mailings and robo-calls falsely telling voters that they should not or could not vote in the June 5 Wisconsin recall election.

"(CBS News) As voters head to the polls Tuesday to decide the fate of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, reports out of the state suggest that robocalls are being placed informing voters, falsely, they don't have to vote if they signed the recall petition.

There have also been reports of mailings going out to voters telling them they can't vote unless they did so in 2010, and of people going door-to-door telling voters they don't have to go to the polls if they signed the recall petition, both of which are also untrue."

Raw Story offers a disturbing national roundup of stories from numerous states whose Republican governments are pulling out all the stops to disenfranchise voters. One excerpt (from LAWeekly):

"In a brazen attempt to steal this fall's election, Florida's Republican lawmakers have outlawed voting on Sunday, an African-American tradition. Indeed, across the United States, from Montana to Maine and Texas to Tennessee, 41 states have recently passed or introduced laws to restrict voter registration and early voting, and generally limit suffrage.

It's the greatest show of racially fueled political chicanery since turn-of-the-century laws banned scores of African-Americans from casting ballots. More than 5 million voters — largely nonwhite — could be kept from the polls, according to New York University's Brennan Center for Justice:

'State governments across the country enacted an array of new laws that could make it significantly harder for as many as 5 million eligible Americans to vote. Some states require voters to show government-issued photo identification, often of a type that as many as one in ten voters do not have. Other states have cut back on early voting, a hugely popular innovation used by millions of Americans. Still others made it much more difficult for citizens to register to vote, a prerequisite for voting'. "

Don't be caught off guard by voter suppression tactics. Go online and be sure that your voter registration is secure and that you will not be disenfranchised this November.  Here are some handy links to information and resources:

FAQs About Voting, Smart Voter (League of Women Voters).

USA Gov. page on voting information, including a link to voter registration deadlines by state and easy-to-navigate information links to answers for frequently asked questions about voting, registration, voting from overseas, working on elections and trouble-shooting.

USA Gov Resources for voters

Brennan Center of Justice Election 2012, information for voters and resources for assistance with barriers to your right to vote.

Resources for Eligible Voters:

NEW!  Polling Place Finder

Can I vote?  Need help with voting? You've come to the right place. This nonpartisan web site was created by state election officials to help eligible voters figure out how and where to go vote. Choose a category below to get started.

Rock the Vote   Rock the Vote is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization in the United States whose mission is to engage and build the political power of young people.

Our Time.org   Declare Yourself is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit campaign to empower and encourage every eligible 18-29 year-old in America to register and vote in local and national elections.

League of Women Voters  The League is proud to be nonpartisan, neither supporting nor opposing candidates or political parties at any level of government, but always working on vital issues of concern to members and the public.

Register To Vote. org  In the United States, voter registration is the responsibility of the people, and only 70 percent of Americans who are eligible to vote have registered. RegistertoVote.org is a nonpartisan organization committed to reaching the remaining 30 percent. We simplify the voter registration process, making it faster and easier for you to get involved and become an active voice in our democracy.

Here is a 2008 video about voter suppression tactics which is depressingly prescient - it is a brief but thorough overview of the methods and traps used to suppress the legitimate right of American citizens to vote. Please watch and share:


Friday, July 20, 2012

But It Was Not Terrorism!


























Horrific news from Colorado. Last night, a heavily-armed, masked gunman entered a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, threw a smoke bomb into the crowd and began shooting. By the time the murderer was apprehended in the parking lot behind the theatre, there were 12 people dead and more than 50 wounded.

"Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said there was no evidence of a second gunman, and FBI spokesman Jason Pack said it did not appear the incident was related to terrorism."

This appalling eruption of violence was visited upon a crowd of excited, happy and innocent movie-goers enjoying the thrill of opening night at the movies. The killer had carefully planned and carried out a cold-blooded execution designed to inflict maximum casualties among innocent people. He targeted unsuspecting people who knew nothing of his personal grievances and intentions. People who felt safe enjoying a simple pleasure in life; who were in an ordinary place doing an ordinary thing.

The dictionary definition of "terrorism" is "the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion". We usually associate terrorism with a political or ideological agenda; terrorists coerce people to submit to their demands using violence. When a killer turns out to be a white American, his ideological beliefs are never assumed until proven to be whatever they are, and everybody runs from the word terrorist. Even if a political/ideological agenda is proven beyond question - and with far more evidence than that with which instant assumptions of terrorism are made about people of color and non-Christians - it may still be denied.

We don't know yet what the murderer's motive was, but I think what happened in that theatre was terrorism. Call it what it is CNN, even if the officials did not.

Update:

As I feared and expected, the Christian right has swooped in with accusations that this tragedy was caused by non-Christians and non-believers.  Call me cynical, but I see a pattern in the constant drumbeat of fear-mongering, lying about and demonizing atheists and non-Christians, encouraging paranoia and violent rhetoric from the right.  One might almost call it "the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion".

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) "Aurora shootings result of "ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs". Huffington Post.

"You know what really gets me, as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs, and then some senseless crazy act of terror like this takes place," Gohmert said.

Conveniently, "chaplains" were on hand to be "deployed" within hours of the shooting, ensuring a righteous and ideologically correct spin on the tragedy will be immediately reinforced within the shocked and vulnerable community, no matter what the truth actually turns out to be.

Gunman Kills 12 at Batman movie premiere, USA Today.

"Chaplains from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, already in Colorado and New Mexico ministering to victims of the ravaging wildfires, redeployed to Aurora within hours of the shooting. The group's web site was uploaded with evangelical advice on "spiritual survival" in tragedy."



Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Is This Art?


The photo above has been making the rounds today and people are talking about it. Apparently there is controversy! Apparently, reasonable fair-minded people must weigh up these obviously equivalent* viewpoints:

It is art!   

vs.   

It is a ghastly racist, misogynistic exploitation of the horrific experiences of women of color in societies which practice FGM for the benefit of a callously opportunistic "artist".

As you can see from all the laughter and smiling faces in the photo, the "art" cake was well-recieved in Sweden, at least amongst the delighted throng of white people who attended the event at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

According to this story, the "performance art" was part of an installation purporting to be highlighting the issue of female genital mutilation.  I don't doubt that the museum was trying to highlight the issue of FGM, but I think it would be mistake to assume that the museum's - or the artist's - motivation for highlighting this "issue" was to support the women whose lives are impacted by the practice. An alternative motivation, given the repugnant and culturally tone-deaf centerpiece of the opening party, could be that "highlighting the issue of FGM" has been identified as a hot topic likely to generate a great deal of interest and revenue for the artist and/or the museum.

The "art" consisted of a grotesquely caricatured, naked "African" woman's torso with the "head" being that of the artist who was sitting under the display table with his head poking out through a hole in the table placed above the neck of the cake sculpture.  The artist had painted his face in a ghastly "black face" mask, with a wide-mouthed exaggerated grimace complete with cartoonish wide-spaced teeth.

The "performance" element consisted of the "head" of the "woman" screaming in feigned agony as the Swedish Culture Minister - by previously arranged request - picked up a knife and cut the "genitals" on the cake, mimicking ritual female genital mutilation.  Riotous laughter apparently ensued. The Minister enthusiastically ate her piece of cake and even fed the artist a bit of cake, to the delighted amusement of all parties.

What could possibly be wrong with that?

Melissa McEwan had a few suggestions, as did Feministe and these news outlets:  BBC ,  New StatesmanMSNBC.  (Here is the Sarah Baartman story, which some of these articles reference).

Were these people sincerely trying to "highlight" the issue of female genital mutilation in support of the women whose lives are impacted by this horrible practice?  Perhaps they were.  But, if financial and promotional gain were not the real goals behind this mind-bogglingly offensive display, it is hard to think of a worse way to have "failed".

I'm no expert, but it seems to me that instead of a jovial celebration - complete with cannibalistic cake and re-enactments of terrible mutilations - why not simply take a more direct approach?  I don't know, maybe something like this:



* By "obviously equivalent", I mean: not. remotely. equivalent. Obviously.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Is There A Christian Word For Fatwa?




Last week, a Texas judge ruled that publicly praying for harm to be done to another person is perfectly okay.  In the time-honored tradition of giving religion a free pass for behavior - inciting violence - which could be prosecutable as a felony in any other context - especially, say, if people use their freedom of speech to demand justice when a brown person is murdered in cold blood - District Court Judge Martin Hoffman  made a summary judgement against Mikey Weinstein in favor of the former navy chaplain who had publicly posted an imprecatory prayer - Psalm 109, to be precise - for Weinstein's annihilation.

Non-Christians poised to gobble up Christians! Wait...
In its crowing report about the lawsuit, the religious website WNDfaith defined "imprecatory prayer" thusly:

 "An imprecatory prayer is a prayer asking God to protect the weak and faithful from the strong and wicked."

It is hard to believe that any Christians in the USA could possibly not know that they comprise nearly 80% of the population, while other religious groups account for another 5-6%.  People who do not subscribe to any official religion but still believe in a god make up a further few percentage points. So, the claim that the "faithful" in the military - who are even more numerous relative to the non-religious than those in the general population of the USA - are "weak" is incredibly disingenuous.

Gordon Klingenshmitt was one of nearly 2000 evangelical Christian chaplains who aggressively proselytize to American soldiers using public funds and with virtually no oversight. These chaplains, with the backing of COs, charge soldiers with a mission to proselytize everywhere they are deployed. Weinstein started the MRFF (Military Religious Freedom Foundation) several years ago in an effort to represent the small constituency of soldiers who suffered personal and even professional discrimination - some might even call it officially- sanctioned persecution - as a result of this unconstitutional establishment of the Christian religion within the United States military.

The judge ruled in favor of Klingenschmitt who claimed in his widely published prayer that he was "surrounded by wicked men" who were the "enemies of religious liberty".  In a military overwhelmingly staffed with Christians, where non-Christians are estimated to be outnumbered by nearly 90 to 1, it is difficult to imagine how this former navy chaplain concluded that he was "surrounded" by people who did not share his beliefs, much less how he could believe that he and his fellow Christians were the "weak" victims of the "strong and wicked" MRFF - the group whose raison d'être is to advocate for freedom from religious coercion, don't forget - and whom the Christians greatly outnumbered. It was like Goliath whining that David was looking at him during forced religious worship of Goliath's god.

Though they vastly outnumber their critics, and although they have used pressure and suppression, both through official channels and off the radar, to punish soldiers who protest the suffocating Christian crusading in the American military, people like Klingenschmitt claim to be persecuted for their beliefs. Klingenschmitt denied any ulterior motive, but by invoking Psalm 109 - notorious verses in the Old Testament inciting violence against "enemies" - he sent a message to the fringe elements among his co-religionists that the MRFF, and Weinstein and his family in particular, were legitimate targets for Christian vengeance. Then, he pretended to be the injured party, innocent of any wrongdoing.

What? This is just an
innocent coffee mug!

How do Christians justify such shockingly blatant lies?

As outrageous as it is that the courts have failed to protect a private citizen from the brazen call for his destruction by a powerful religious leader, this is not the first nor even the most shocking example of how religious privilege in the USA allows the elite leadership of the powerful Christian majority to threaten its enemies with impunity. A recent, and chilling, example of this type of perniciously subversive incitement of violence came to light shortly after the 2008 election of President Barack Obama.

Psalm 109 has been passed around the internet and referenced on bumper stickers, hats and t-shirts ever since shortly after the election of Barack Obama in November 2008.  Christians who sported the hats, t-shirts and bumper stickers disingenuously claimed no harm, no foul. Some columnists - once again in the time-honored tradition of giving religion a free pass on egregiously bad behavior - speculated that the people behind the imprecatory prayer (including pastors and devout bible-studying Christians) may not have been familiar with the full text of the psalm. Considering the emphasis on Bible study in fundamentalist Christianity, this assertion beggars belief.

Pretending that they are not using coded language or political dog whistles is yet another example of the stealth conservative strategy of the religious right, backed by powerful corporate interests in the unholy alliance formed during the Reagan era. Creating social tension to win political power has been the stock in trade of the Christian Coalition for two decades. Establishing plausible deniability in the event of an outbreak of the very violence incited by the coded language is the purpose of using secrecy and coded language. In the words of Ralph Reed, Christian Coalition leader:

What? This is just an
innocent teddy bear!
"But that's just good strategy. It's like guerrilla warfare. If you reveal your location, all it does is allow your opponent to improve his artillery bearings. It's better to move quietly, with stealth, under cover of night." Continuing, "I want to be invisible. I do guerrilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag. You don't know until election night." Ralph Reed, 1992

Feigning innocence of having any wish that actual, physical harm might come to progressives, including the President - and under the protection of the privilege which religion enjoys in this culture - right-wing conservative elites were able to send a message - put out a de facto contract - to the most radical members of its much-vaunted "base". Psalm 109  was a coded reminder of all the Sunday morning exhortations that good Christians were under attack by a wicked, powerful enemy and that if anything should happen to these "enemies", it would be a righteous judgement from God.

Bible-believing Christians are proudly familiar with their Bible verses.  There is little doubt that most Evangelicals were "in on the joke" even as they were protesting that it was just a bit of post-election "fun". Just to be clear, however, here is a fuller passage from Psalm 109 from the Book of David, in the Bible:

What? This is just an
innocent prayer for our president!
8 Let his days be few; and let another take his office. 
9 Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. 
10 Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places. 
11 Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; and let the strangers spoil his labour. 
12 Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children. 
13 Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out. 

Having sent up the alarm, brazenly and in plain sight, while professing innocence of any subtextual motive, the right-wing conservative powerhouses and their political arm - the Republican party - continued to spout patriotic platitudes while they worked tirelessly to undermine the foundations of the Republic for their own political and financial gain. If the strategy is successful, they will need only to sit back and let paranoia and delusions of Christian persecution - well-stoked for over two decades in the nation's megachurches and home-schooling movement - take their natural course as the fabric of society unravels in the face of the constant onslaught of religious and social strife.

What? This is just an
 innocent cell phone case!

The deployment of a Bible verse to commit or incite retaliatory action against one's perceived enemies is the one way that a person in a Christian- dominated culture might be able to get away - sometimes literally - with murder.  That a federal judge threw out the Mikey Weinstein case - and punished him for seeking a legal remedy by making him pay court costs and damages - is an indication that this situation may get worse before it gets better.

One small, significant irony in the situation should not be missed, however.
In declaring that there was no real harm - or potential for harm - suffered by Weinstein as a direct result of the imprecatory prayer for his destruction, the judge was ruling that Klingenschmitt's god does not exist.  If the court believed that the god actually existed - the Biblical god capable of smiting Weinstein - then the prayer would have been as dangerous as a mob contract, and Klingenschmitt would be facing trial for a felony offense.

By ruling that the prayer was irrelevant and caused no harm, the judge threw the weight of a U.S. federal court behind a ruling that God does not exist. Classic.

Digital Cuttlefish at FreeThoughtBlogs wrote an excellent poem summing this up far better, and far more succinctly, than I have done here:


Suppose you ask a hired gun
To wipe somebody out—
Could you be held responsible?
Of that there’s little doubt.
Protect yourself from legal woes
What? This is just an innocent t-shirt!
Behind this false façade—
When issuing a mortal threat,
Pretend you’re asking God!
So long as God is impotent
And cannot have His way—
You want your God to smite my ass?
Then go ahead and pray.
If someone overhears you, and
Decides to be God’s sword—
You’re innocent, cos you were only
Talking to the Lord.
Your prayer was posted publicly,
Where anyone could see—
The claim is still “It’s just a talk
Between the Lord and me.”
It’s funny… if there was a God
You’d ask, your soul to spare—
And if you tried out this defense…
You wouldn’t have a prayer.
What? These are just innocent bumper stickers!


Update:  Chris Rodda at This Week in Christian Nationalism blogged about the kind of ridiculously offensive mail that Mikey Weinstein regularly receives.  For a sickening glimpse into the mind of the true believer,  check out Chris's birthday post for Mikey Weinstein here.  And a belated Happy Birthday to you, Mikey Weinstein.