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This is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

Monday, May 8, 2006

Fear of Religion

So, what I don't get is why people like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, President Bush, John Ashcroft and all of the other "Holier-than-thou" Bible Thumpers and Religious pretenders feel as if it is their job to save my soul. When did my Freedom to believe what, and how, I wish to believe begin to interfere with their agenda. When did my freedom to choose my religion turn into their freedom to force their religion upon me? I do realize that they take credit for the "G"reed "O"ver "P"eople party victories over the sane in the last few national elections, but does that really give them the right to tell me that I worship the wrong

I wonder if that really is the case. Sure, I believe that the people at the top of these religious right Ivory Towers have more of their own self-interests at heart than that of
God, the only one and true God, I might add. I believe that somewhere along the line some of these self-serving, fanatical religious leaders started to begin their own press clippings. Some, like Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart have taken advantage of their position and betrayed their flocks. But I'm sure if you asked them today they would both say that they are closer to God than either you or I.

I think that I am more comfortable in my faith than the likes of Falwell, Robertson or Bush. In fact, I think that these screaming from the top of the mountain worshipers have no faith at all. Sure they know select verses from the Bible, especially the ones that put others down, but that doesn't make them holy.

My Rabbi, the late Jack Tauber of the Avenue Z Jewish Center in Brooklyn, NY once told me that being religious is not the most important thing about being a Jew. He advised me that to be a righteous man and a charitable man in deed, more than in money, was the most important thing about being a Jew and a man. Treat others as you would want to be treated yourself and try to see the other side of the argument. (By the way, Rabbi Tauber was also a lawyer.)

It was my father, Abraham Greenberg, (he died in 1975, a couple of months before my fifteenth birthday) who told me that it was important to think before I spoke. At one point he said that I should let it roll around my head before spurting it out.

I believe in
God. I have faith, it's my faith and it's personal. There are things I believe and things I don't. There are values I try to teach my children that can only come from me and no one else. Part of what I pray for is that my advice to my children will be true and help them, even after I'm gone.

In the minds of the likes of Falwell and Robertson, you can be a Christian, but if you aren't reborn you're not saved. And being saved is the only way to avoid hell. So, using this logic, I could be walking down the street, minding my own business when a mugger comes up to me, demands my wallet, and shoots me dead. After he is caught, and is sent to prison, he finds Christ and is reborn. Even though I might have ked an exemplary life (which I make no claims toward) and I might have been the tenth person that mugger / killer has killed, am I to believe that I am destined to an afterlife in hell while "mugger-man" is drinking mai-tai's with Timothy McVeigh in Heaven?

Is controlling by fear and intimidation, threats and bullying all that these charlatans like Robertson and Falwell can do? Is their influence going to be the one we allow to take over our United States? We really just can't let that happen.

-Noah Greenberg

Sorry, No Common Ground Here

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the most liberal branch of Judaism in America, journeyed to Lynchburg, Va., recently to speak at the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.

I admire Yoffie's gumption, and I salute much of what he said. For example, he told the students that government-sponsored school prayer is not a quick fix for all that ails society.

But I must take issue with the underlying idea, which Yoffie seems to embrace, that we can reason with the religious right. As reported by Religion News Service and the Associated Press, Yoffie told the crowd:

"We need less anger and more thoughtful reflection, less shouting and more listening. Even when we disagree, let's do so without demonizing each other. I can discuss these issues and believe what I believe without calling you a homophobic bigot, and you can do the same without calling me an uncaring baby killer. Let's promote respect for each other's religious tradition, and let's work for civility in public debate."
-Morbo (www.thecarpetbaggerreport.com/)

Yes, it sounds nice in theory, but there's one big drawback: Our side is willing to do these things, but Falwell's is not. Falwell's side believes its interpretation of ancient holy books gives it the right to run our lives from the moment of conception until "natural death" — with Falwell and his ilk determining when that will be. We have a duty and obligation to resist this form of spiritual fascism.
I simply do not share any common ground with some of these folks. Consider that the Rev. Rick Scarborough's latest book is called Liberalism Kills Kids. Kind of puts a damper on a friendly sit down over a cup of coffee, no?

The fact is, as James Carville once noted, we're right and they're wrong. The differences between the two sides are stark:

Our side believes in religious and philosophical freedom — you can believe or disbelieve what you want about god, and it's no one else's business. Falwell's side believes there is one way to approach god and if you don't go about it that way, your rights can be taken away.

Our side respects the rule of law and the constitutional separation of powers. Falwell's side sees federal judges as "activists" and "black-robed tyrants" and seeks to find ways to take away courts' ability to strike down obviously unconstitutional laws put into place by nutcase lawmakers who don't give a fig about our Bill of Rights.

Our side values the separation of church and state, seeing it as the platform upon which religious liberty rests. Falwell's side says separation is a "myth" and a force that strips Christians of their rights.
Our side believes in science and wants modern biology taught in public schools. Falwell's side wants to replace that with Bible stories.

Our side values the moral decision-making of women and promotes reproductive freedom. Falwell's side wants a police state where women who seek abortions and the doctors who provide them are charged with murder and thrown in prison.

Our side says an adult's sex life is his or her own business and promotes equal rights for all, straight, gay and bisexual. Falwell's side trades in crude homophobia and seeks to take away the rights of gay Americans.

Our side opposes censorship. Falwell's side embraces it.

I could go on, but you get the idea. For anyone who needs a refresher course in how the religious right is determined to run our lives, I recommend a book I just finished: Terri: The Truth by Michael Schiavo. Read it and then tell me we can dialogue with the religious right.

Nope. The only common ground the religious right is interested in is the ground we are willing to give them. I say, don't give them any. I don't want to dialogue with Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, D. James Kennedy, Rick Scarborough and so on. I want to engage them politically and defeat them — utterly.

-Victoria Brownworth

You're Fired!

103 down and 170 to go. That's the official United Nations scoreboard for court marshals relating to torture abuses which occurred during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars by the US military. Out of the 103 court marshals, 89 have been convicted. That's a conviction rate of 86 percent. One wonders how many of those "service members" were high level officers and how manywere the "boots on the ground".

Is the discipline of our armed forces such that service men and women don't know how to follow orders? Is it possible that they're just ignoring orders, wanting to put their own brand of justice into action? Or maybe they're actually following orders.

With a "wink-wink" and a "nod-nod" the military is blaming the regular enlisted man and woman for the abuses at such places like Abu Ghraib (Iraq), Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After all, <S---> runs downhill.

"I am not trying to minimize their significance in any way at all, but to emphasize that without question our record has improved. We now have more rigorous laws, more rigorous procedures, more rigorous training and more rigorous monitoring mechanisms."
-US State Department legal counsel John Bellinger to the United Nations ten member legal panel

Isn't it too bad the the "no-rank - no-luck" prison guards, who answer to both their military commanders and "private contractors", (who have carte blanche to do as they please without fear of reprisal) are left out in the rain when the "umbrellas of immunity" were passed out.

Remember, it was the memos from then White House Counsel and present Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that gave the go-ahead for torture because, in his mind, detainees were "outside of the Geneva Convention" and thus, could be treated with "outrages upon personal dignity", as the Convention states.

And it was Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who "personally approved a secret 'special-access program' for incarceration, humiliation and violent interrogation, expanding the program from a narrow group of presumed Al Qaeda prisoners in Afghanistan to the insurgency in Iraq," according to The Nation magazine and Seymour Hersch of the New Yorker.

But we all know by now that the "buck" never even makes it across the Potomac these days. And in this case, it probably never gets to the lower 48!

The war on terror "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners"
-Gonzales in his memo of January 25, 2002 (according to
The Nation)

It must be nice to run the free world as a monarch would run it; to change or interpret wars any way you see fit; and to fit your own agenda; and to use illegal signing statements as a way to excuse yourself from obeying and enforcing those same laws that you, yourself have signed. It must be satisfying to ignore the most important and celebrated document of the last 200 plus years, the US Constitution, and the spirit with which it was created.

I guess it is good to be the king, right "Georgie-Boy?

"failures of character"
-GW Bush, referring to the "handful" of soldiers who were involved in the Abu Ghraib scandal

130 plus 170 sounds like more than just "failures of character" to me, President Bush. It sounds like a torture plan. Let me ask this rhetorical question: Whose "failure of character" said it was okay to use "renditioning" as a means of interrogation? "Rendition", some of you might remember, is the Bush administration way of getting around the law so that we can get the "info" we need in this "war on terror". It's the process of taking "suspects" to our "ally nations", whether they are true allies or not, for the purpose of interrogation that we cannot perform here on US soil or with the use of US troops.

By now we're all familiar with the German man with a Muslim name who was vacationing in Macedonia. Kalid al-Masri, a 42-year-old car salesman was kidnapped by a group of silent, masked men and "rendered" to one of our "sorta-allies" in the middle east.

"They took me to this room, and they hit me all over and they slashed my clothes with sharp objects,"

"It's very convenient. It's finding someone else to do your dirty work."
-former CIA officer Michael Scheuer, the founder of the Rendition project

I wonder if the "boots on the ground" soldiers are responsible for this as well. Maybe we could blame the pilots of the "Rendition" flights for flying Mr. al-Masri to Jordan or Egypt or any of the other nations with more "lax" restrictions on interrogation. As long as the Bushies don't get the blame themselves, everything will be just fine.

The policies of Rendition and torture that have been okayed by the Bush administration are certainly criminal, but we are trying the "wrong" criminals. When you put young men and women in difficult positions, order them to disobey your orders, then act against them when they actually do what they are told is just a coward's way of not taking responsibility for your own actions. Just like when these chicken-hawks ran from their military service during the last such conflict, these cowards will hide behind those who really have done the heavy lifting.

-Noah Greenberg

Wiretapping Shot Down By Circuit Judge

AP - A U.S. appeals panel sharply challenged the Bush administration Friday over new rules making it easier for police and the FBI to wiretap Internet phone calls. A judge said the government's courtroom arguments were "gobbledygook."

"Your argument makes no sense," U.S. Circuit Judge Harry T. Edwards told the lawyer for the Federal Communications Commission, Jacob Lewis. "When you go back to the office, have a big chuckle. I'm not missing this. This is ridiculous. Counsel!"

The article explains that the case in question revolves around an FCC requirement that web-based phone and broadband services ensure their equipment can "accommodate" police wiretaps. The FCC is arguing that when Congress passed a 1994 law that dealt with wiretapping capabilities for cell phones, lawmakers "intended to cover services that were functionally equivalent" to land lines - and thus broadband services.

To which the judge replied: "There's nothing to suggest that in the statute.
Stating that doesn't make it so."

-Forwarded and commented by Robert Scardapane

Smelling Fishy

By now, we all know that President "G"lobal "W"arming Bush stated "I've had a lot of great moments," and cited as his greatest moment, since taking office in 2001, was a fish he caught.

"I would say the best moment was when I caught a 7 1/2-pound largemouth bass on my lake,"

It may have been said in jest, but it certainly was in bad taste.

Remember this is the same guy who said this:

"There are a few killers who want to stop the peace process that we have started, and we must not let them. I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you. Now watch this drive."
-GW, after reading the prepared text, getting back to his frat-boy days and frat-boy ways

Too bad it wasn't a putt. The headline could have read "And the Putz Putts."

However, as concerning to me was his "most awful moment" and how he addressed it:

"The most awful moment was September the 11th, 2001. I would say the toughest moment of all was after the whole reality sunk in and I was trying to help the nation understand what was going on, and at the same time, be empathetic for those who had lost lives."


Examining this statement one has to realize that President Bush, himself, didn't understand the moment or what was going on. After the 9/11 terror attacks, Bush, like he was during the Vietnam war , went AWOL. After his Chief of Staff, Andrew Card told him of the attacks, President Bush waited seven minutes while listening to elementary school children read "My Pet Goat".


That was incomprehensible!

But his statement reveals even more about the president. I guess that in his rush to show us all his new "word of the day", GW used the word "empathetic" strangely. The president wanted to show his "empathy" for those who died. Sure, one can show "sympathy" for those who died just as one could show "empathy" for those who are left behind by the death of a loved one. In fact, one could even attempt "empathy" for one who is about to die. But how can one experience "empathy" for the deceased? Is GW a "Medium" now?

Empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner
-Miriam Webster Dictionary

Empathy: understanding of another's feelings: the ability to identify with and understand somebody else's feelings or difficulties

Empathetic: showing empathy or ready comprehension of others' states

When President Bush ad libs, the true GW shows through with statements like "watch this drive" and "empathy for those who lost their lives."

President Bush ought to just stick to the script.

-Noah Greenberg

More Fish Tales

A 7.5 lb perch??? Was it on steroids??? All this man knows how to do is lie! I`ve heard of fisherman's tales but this is waaay to hard to swallow! I have to admit catching a fish is about the only thing this president has accomplished. That is if he didn`t have someone else do it for him!

-Sean (Mr. Blue-Sky)

More Signs that Bush Deregulation of Mines Contributed to Miners' Death

The Republicans said that if they came to power they would get the government out of the way of big business. And they did. They stopped a number of Clinton administration initiatives to provide for more safety at mines. And look what happened.

Trapped deep below ground by poisonous gases, the Sago miners realized at least four of their air packs did not work and were forced to share the devices as they desperately pounded away with a sledgehammer in hopes of letting rescuers know where to find them, the sole survivor says.

Then, resigned to their fate, the men recited a "sinner's prayer," scrawled farewell notes to their loved ones, and succumbed, one after another, some as if drifting off to sleep.

"As my trapped co-workers lost consciousness one by one, the room grew still and I continued to sit and wait, unable to do much else," Randal McCloy Jr. wrote to his co-workers' families in a letter dated Wednesday and obtained by The Associated Press....

The Bush administration is reviewing air packs and other safety equipment used in the nation's mines after previously scrapping similar initiatives started by the Clinton administration.

You vote for Republicans and they give you the smaller government they promised. And it kills people. Any questions?

-A posting by John in DC, contributed and commented by Victoria Brownworth

Stuff from Casey

For anyone who has not heard of Eva Lowry, she is a 15 year old from Alabama who became very interested in the Iraq war last year. She decided to take a stand and do something and she created a site called www.peacetakescourage.com where she has created and posted 70+ short clips about different thoughts she has on the war. The one called WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) is particularly moving in showing what war brings down on children. Another called The 32% reveals attitudes in the U.S. and Impeach The Decider juxtaposes words of bush and the song Glory, Glory, Halleluiah against pictures.

What an amazing young woman to be so clear, motivated, and courageous at a young age (sadly, it was reported during an interview with Alan Colmes that she has received many threats from supposedly religious people). She is a strong Christian and her belief that Jesus and God would not approve of the war inspires her.

This piece on 5/5/06 in the Washington Post “In The Loop” column by Al Kamen was tooooo good not to share.

“Michael Scanlon , the former Rehoboth Beach lifeguard who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bribe a congressman and other public officials in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, is waiting for Johns Hopkins University's Krieger School of Arts and Sciences to mail him his master's degree based on his thesis on -- what else? -- the history of the House ethics process.

Scanlon, Roll Call reported Wednesday, was at the university's Washington campus Monday night to defend his advanced government thesis before four faculty members and nine students in the room.

A dysfunctional House ethics committee is nothing new, he said because that's the way things have been since the panel was created. No one in the room, other than Roll Call's source, seemed to recognize Scanlon, who's out on $5 million bond. At least no one asked about current corruption cases, but they discussed instead the 1960s case of former representative Adam Clayton Powell (D-N.Y.), who was expelled for ethics violations.

Scanlon, who also served as spokesman for then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), is facing as much as five years in the slammer. He told the newspaper he finished classes at Hopkins six years ago but never got around to completing his degree requirements. The Hopkins Arts and Sciences faculty code of conduct notes that the "Hopkins community" relies on "the principles of truth and honesty."

Well, lots of inmates work on getting their GED. Maybe Scanlon will be working on his PhD?”

From the same “In The Loop” column by Al Kamen, WPost, 5/5/06. Does it shed some light on how the CIA can get things wrong?

“The CIA's World Factbook provides an extraordinary range of data -- from annual rainfall to birthrates to economic, social and political facts -- about every country on the planet. It is one of the must-have reference books (or computer bookmarks) for foreign policy wonks.

What with gasoline prices becoming an increasingly contentious political issue, we thought we would check which countries are gobbling up the world's oil production. The United States, of course, ranks first, with 20 million barrels of crude oil a day. The European Union -- which the agency includes as a single entity -- is second, at 14.6 million barrels, followed by China (6.4 million) and Japan (5.6 million). No surprises there.

But the fifth biggest consumer is Bermuda, the small British colony (pop. roughly 60,000) that consumes an extraordinary 4.7 million barrels of oil a day. That's more than 78 barrels a day per resident. This can't be personal consumption. What else could Bermuda need that much oil for? Wait a minute -- certain weapons of mass destruction use significant amounts of oil. Nah, not Bermuda.

Or maybe the agency was thinking 4,700 barrels and just added a few zeros? Close enough for agency work.”

-Casey Sweet

Responding to Open Borders

I want to thank Mr. Scardapane for asking for a discussion on open borders.

It may have slipped through the public consciousness, but in the height of the Cold War, we adopted something called the Helsinki protocols calling for the free movement of people over borders. I guess when that refers to Russian dissidents and is an issue we can use to embarrass the Soviets, we can support it, but when it is something that may apply to us it is not so good.

1) Are open borders practical from a security perspective?

Are our present borders keeping out drugs? Do they protect us from environmental pollutants? With mumps being spread all around Iowa by a vacationer coming home from the Caribbean can we ever think of border security again?

2) What would open borders do to our economy?

Capital can move at will, jobs can be outsourced, but poor Mexicans doing menial labor could damage our economy?

3) Can our cities and towns manage the growth that would result from open borders?

As I noted in my previous comments on this issue, the travail (also French for work, you know) of undocumented workers here makes no sense unless they can return to a lower level and cheaper economy, there is no sense in them staying here. They will occupy the most undesirable real estate and keep slumlords rolling in dough just as they do now.

There is an implication here that American cities are in good shape now. That is not the case. We are choking on our pollution, we experience daily gridlock and the urban schools are a source of serious national concern. I cannot understand Mr. Scardapane's concern when the cities are ignored, except as a haven for illegal aliens.

4) Can our nation's infrastructure support unlimited population growth?

Obviously our nation's infrastructure cannot stand unlimited population growth, with $3 per gallon and rising gas prices it is becoming increasingly clear that out infrastructure is obsolete and will become an increasing handicap in the future as India, China and Europe exert increasing pressure with the advantages of their less energy intensive economies.

But as far as immigration is concerned, I wrote earlier and will repeat as many times as it takes, the root cause of our problem with illegals is our unwillingness to enforce our own labor and immigration laws and treat the people who employ illegals as the exploitative economic criminals they are.

I appreciate Mr. Scardapane's concerns, but enforcing the federal statute against hiring illegals and if necessary repealing the due diligence provision that allows companies to get away with hiring illegals will make this problem go away.

-Robert Chapman

In response to "And the idea of nuking anybody is simply unthinkable, let alone nuking somebody else's nuke!!! Any of these things detonated is going to cause a lot more death and destruction than anybody bargained for," Rhian writes:

The absolute idiotic irony is, that the technology of the military (Navy) is neutralize capable.

Meaning, with existing technology, the sequence for the aiming and firing of a nuke, especially one in the hands of a third world country like Iran, can be neutralized by our own defense systems, before it leaves the ground, with the right intel, and definitely in mid-air.without intel.

The squawking and flapping of most of our politicians, the disinformation, the lies, the posturing, resembles more and more a pen of chickens, some of them with their heads cut off.

Anyone who even thinks about firing a nuclear weapon should be immediately put in restraints and given massive doses of medication. I'm beginning to think all world leaders should be put in restraints and given massive doses of sedatives. They all sound nuts.

And yes Bush/Cheney/Rice/Rumsfeld I include you.

Don't even think about handing over control of nine facilities who provide for our military to the UAE, and then wring your hands and saddle me with your so called 'patriot act' in the name of security.

Don't even think about visiting your whorehouses, while you peddle yourselves on the Christian Family Radio show.

Don't even think about causing the death of another single American in our military, while Bin Laden runs around free, wreaking havoc on civilians in every nation in the world.

Special note to the tax funded voyeurs, the NSA. Are you getting this or should I make my type size bigger? Best thing you boys could do is get out of the muck of the Bush administration and develop some sort of real life.

In response to my views on the death penalty and "Do you still believe that there is no need for a death penalty?". Victoria Brownworth writes:

Now that the jury has delivered the absolutely correct verdict in the Moussaoui case I can state unequivocally in response to your comments last month that no, we neither need nor want the death penalty. First of all, Moussaoui was undeniably schizophrenic as determined by more than one psychiatrist (his mother and both siblings are also schizophrenic). Secondly, the law is there to protect the despicable as well as the cute little kittens of the world. Thankfully the jury in the Moussaoui case did its job, as so many juries do not. It took time, measured evidence and responded appropriately to that evidence.

Is Moussaoui monstrous? Undeniably. Which makes it all the harder to do the right thing as opposed to the knee-jerk thing in sentencing. For me, the Moussaoui jury restored my faith in the American system of justice as well as in the America I knew prior to Bush commandeering the office.

The death penalty is ALWAYS wrong. Just because the U.S. is the only Western nation that executes people and those people are wholly poor and disproportionately people of color. That's just one reason to stop it. But a moral nation--which I pray the U.S. still is--does not put people to death. That is for terrorists and lunatics, dictators and mercenaries. It is not for a nation like America. Nor for her people.

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-Noah Greenberg