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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Thanksgiving Madman

December 10, 2007


Responding to "Seven Years Later...", I received the following:

"Your comments on the economy fail to mention how the number of people in unions has declined and how that impacts on the ability of working people to share in the wealth of the additional productivity they helped create. The National Labor Relations Board and the Department of Labor are anti-union and anti-worker. This administration together with their corporate friends has facilitated the export of unionized jobs. Unfortunately so did Al Gore and the DLC, which is why he lost the rust belt states and needed Florida."

Arthur Cheliotes, President
Local 1180-Communications Workers of America

Buying America

If you can't beat them, buy them. That seems to be the back-story for the oil-rich nations of the middle east who have been trying to purchase the US and as many of its assets for quite some time now. All one has to do is try and remember back not that long ago when we Americans stood up as a nation in disbelief as the Bush administration, their NeoCon cohorts and organizations such as Fox News, The American Enterprise Institute, The US Chamber of Commerce and anyone else in the pockets of the Gobalists, tried to sell our ports of entry and commerce to those in the mid-east with terrorist ties. It was an outcry by the rest of us - those whose opinion usually don't matter, the middle class - that stopped our nation from doing just that.

Not that our attention, however brief it may have been, makes a difference in the long run.

Today, in the wake of the profits-for-all-who-invest-even-if-things-go-awry government of the Bush administration, we see some backdoor playing by those companies who own those ill-fated and ill-advised loans made to those which never should have been made in the first place. As banks and lending institutions, who are used to making record profits under the Bush administration's guidance, are now realizing losses (as in real operating losses) due to the sub-prime mortgage fiasco, foreign interests, mainly in the middle east are buying up shares of stock in those companies.

UBS, that Swiss banking giant money-making machine, has had to drop its forecasts of yet more profits due to their own part in the sub-prime mortgage race for greed. As a matter of fact, they're going to have to "write down" about $10 billion for the fourth quarter alone. UBS AG is going to cope with this loss by selling parts of itself off to Singapore' GIC and "an unnamed investor in the Middle East". Scary, huh?

"Conditions in the US mortgage and housing markets have continued to deteriorate, and we have updated our loss assumptions to the levels implied by the current distressed market for mortgage securities,
"In our judgment these write-downs will create maximum clarity on this issue and will have the effect of substantially eliminating speculation,
"UBS revises its outlook for its fourth quarter 2007 from an overall Group profit, as anticipated in its announcement of 30 October 2007, to a loss. It is now possible that UBS will record a net loss attributable to shareholders for the full year 2007."
-UBS Chief Executive Marcel Rohner

Personally, I'd like to know the name of that "unnamed middle eastern investor." Wouldn't you?

And what better way to gain a foothold in America than to purchase it? It was just last month that the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, those same individuals who tried to purchase our ports, spent $7.5 billion to acquire almost five percent of Citigroup, Inc. And it appears that there's nothing we can do about it.

And as our dollar shrinks, these middle eastern bank bandits are able to use their European holdings to purchase American banks at a fraction of what they would have been worth just a couple of years ago. Remember, $7.5 billion today doesn't buy what it used to.

Some might consider the selling off of our banking and mortgage lending institutions to those who support terrorism in the middle east, and here in the US, a good thing. After all, it is bringing much wanted capital into our nation and will help those companies caught in the crunch of some bad business decisions, like lending ridiculous amounts of money to people who can't afford the "vig". But the bottom line is this: Our nation is being bought up by many of those who favor its destruction. And if they can't do it with bombs, then what better way to do it than with money.

And don't expect the Bushies to do anything about it. Soon, as in other cases where corporations were given the same rights as American Citizens, these middle eastern owned "American" companies will also be given those same rights. And when they start controlling their companies in their own best, self interests, what will we be able to do? If you're looking for stiffer banking and lending regulations, forget it. This "Yo-Yo" administration (You're-on-Your-Own) will do anything for a buck as they have shown time and time again. Allowing companies - yes, even foreign companies - to sell themselves and still hold US interests is simply not in the US interest.

What can we do? Probably nothing. They bought us and we sold us.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2007 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

When I was a child, the common rule of politeness taught to me by my mother was “don’t discuss politics or religion in public.” Public meant outside the immediate family.

My mother’s reasoning was that people’s emotions ran high on both topics. I was attending Catholic school, but many of my parents’ friends were Jewish. When I broke my mother’s rule, I discovered that my classmates thought having Jewish friends meant I was hanging out with “Christ killers.” Nor did my parent’s socialism go over well with my largely Republican classmates.

Times have changed, however. Now, there’s no avoiding discussions of politics or religion. What’s worse, politics *and* religion have become a central topic on the national landscape. My mother’s dictate to keep one’s religious and political beliefs private seems quaint. Except Mother had the right idea. Religion and politics are a bad mix, as the current presidential race is proving.

A disclaimer here: I am a Catholic. My Christian beliefs influence everything I do. However, I also know that my religion is but one of many in the U.S. and the world and regardless of how steadfast my beliefs are, I don’t think I should be imposing them on others. But then I am a journalist, not a politician.

Last week Gillian Gibbons, a British elementary school teacher in Sudan, who has devoted her life to educating poor children throughout the world, was arrested and charged with crimes against Islam. During a class project on animals and their habitats, Gibbons allowed her students to name the bear they were studying and the stuffed animal representing it. The class of 23 seven- year-olds chose three names: Abdullah, Hassan and Muhammed. The majority—20 children–chose Muhammed for the teddy bear’s name. Three days later Gibbons was in jail. Apparently naming a child Muhammed–the most popular name in the world for a male child–is acceptable (several children in the class were named Muhammed), but naming an animal after the Islamic prophet is blasphemy. Within hours of Gibbons’ arrest, mobs in the streets of Khartoum were calling for her beheading, not just the 40 lashes and year in prison usually delivered for such a “crime.” The British government orchestrated Gibbons’ release and she was deported.

Last month, a 19-year-old Saudi woman was found guilty of violating Islamic law because she was sitting in a car with a man who was not a relative. She was pulled from the car by six men, kidnapped and raped 14 times. She was then sentenced to prison for six months and given 90 lashes. When her attorney went to the media about the gang rape, she was sentenced to six more months in prison and 200 lashes.

In the West there was much gnashing of teeth over these events–as there should have been. Theocracies are dangerous. The government of Sudan is one of the most disgraceful in the world, as the state-sanctioned genocide of non-Islamic Darfurians continues to prove. And although Saudi Arabia is considered one of America’s allies in the so-called war on terror, the war on women and girls in that nation has kept it listed as one of the most repressive by human rights agencies worldwide.

While these dangerous and repugnant scenes of theocratic repression played out abroad, in America, the Republican candidates for president were in a heated debate over which among them is closest to God. The Iowa primary is three weeks away and Republicans believe that religion will play a powerful role in the vote there. Mike Huckabee leads in the polls, edging out former front-runner Mitt Romney in the past few weeks. Huckabee is a self-professed evangelical Christian and his political ads in Iowa begin by announcing that he is a “Christian leader.” Mitt Romney is Mormon and polls show most Americans neither understand what Mormonism is, or don’t think it’s “real” Christianity. Romney decided on December 6th–against the urging of his staff to wait–to talk about his religion with the media.

Sort of.

Romney mentioned his faith over ten times, but only mentioned Mormonism once. The point was to state that he’s a Christian, but clearly to also downplay the Mormon element. The idea, apparently, is to be able to address the press when they ask about his Mormonism and say “I already talked about that. Check the transcript.”

But what about the voters?

In recent years, religion has become the proxy for morality when it comes to politicians. Candidates insert their religious beliefs as a way of telling voters they are upstanding. Of course, most Americans know that religious affiliations are little protection against perfidiousness when it comes to elected office. In the past few months Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) was caught patronizing brothels and Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) was caught in a sex sting in a men’s bathroom. Both men profess to be devout Christians.

The hierarchy of the Bush Administration, including the President, Vice President and Secretary of State all profess to be Christians–President Bush has actually said God speaks to him; Condoleezza Rice is an evangelical. Yet all three have been caught repeatedly in horrendous lies. Most recently both Bush and Rice were alleging nuclear weapons were being built in Iran, even after they had been informed that Iran had ceased working toward nuclear weapons in 2003.

Religion is *not* a stand-in for morality. What’s more, the blatant infiltration of religion into American politics is a relatively new development and, I think, a dangerous one.

While the left will be quick to blame this development on the right, the first president to bring religion to the forefront of political discourse was actually a Democrat–Jimmy Carter–with his declarations of being “born again.”

Religion has always been mentioned in American politics, but predominately it has been discussed in the context of *separation* of Church and State, specifically because the Founding Fathers–Deists, Masons, Protestants, Quakers, Catholics and a few atheists–were concerned about how the divine right of kings had created oppression and repression in their native countries. Benjamin Franklin actually abjured Thomas Jefferson as he was writing the Declaration of Independence to change Jefferson’s original line “we hold these truths to be sacred” to “we hold these truths to be *self-evident*”–removing even the notion of God from the defining document of the colonies.

In his speech about his faith when he was running for president in 1960, John F. Kennedy felt compelled to explain his Catholicism as there had been questions about his relationship with the Vatican. But Kennedy was succinct:" I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end, where all men and all churches will be treated as equal, where every man has the same right to attend or not to attend the church of his choice.”

Kennedy was reminding people that religion is indeed private and that the Founding Fathers predicated their fledgling democracy on the concept of religious freedom, which means freedom *from* religion as well as freedom *of* religion. In other words, we are free to practice any religion we want–no being sentenced to death for not adhering to a state religion, as was the case in Niger last year when a man converted from Islam to Christianity. Thus Huckabee can be an evangelical Southern Baptist, Romney a Mormon, Hillary Clinton a Methodist, Barack Obama a member of the United Church of Christ and myself a Catholic. But it also means that my friend David McReynolds, who ran for president on the Socialist Party ticket in 2000, can be an atheist.

When Mitt Romney spoke about his religion on December 6th, he made this somewhat convoluted statement: “Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”

Well, no. This is actually wholly wrong. There is no demand in America that freedom and religion be inextricable from each other. One can have freedom to worship as one chooses–that’s protected by the First Amendment–or to *not* believe in God, *also* protected by the First Amendment.

Personally, as a Catholic, as someone who identifies as pro-life, as someone against the wars, against the death penalty and for gun control, I think my faith is very much a part of my politics: I want poverty and violence to end, just as Jesus did when he gave his Sermon on the Mount. But I am not a politician. My beliefs do not influence public policy. I have concerns about candidates whose religious beliefs interfere with their conducting the business of government. Religious predilections can influence one’s attitudes as we have seen time and again. Barack Obama, who professes to be an all-inclusive candidate, recently sidled up to an anti-gay gospel singer in an effort to court conservative black voters. When called to account for the repugnant move, Obama said he was just being inclusive. But he did not invite members of the KKK or other hate groups to campaign with him–just a vociferously anti-gay “former homosexual” pastor. So Obama’s inclusivity is quite self-serving.

But while Obama merely embraces a hatemonger as part of his campaign, other candidates present yet more frightening possibilities. Mike Huckabee, for example, is an evangelical who believes in the Rapture. As president he would also have control over a vast nuclear arsenal. At a recent stump speech, Huckabee pretended to speak to God on his cell phone. What if God told Huckabee that the Rapture was near and he should be the agent of that event?

We have already learned that Bush said God told him to invade Iraq. Nearly 4,000 Americans have been killed there and another 40,000 severely maimed. Bush also has used God as his excuse for vetoing stem cell research which could save the lives of millions. Huckabee and Romney also oppose stem cell research, predicated on their religious beliefs.

Romney’s speech was a demonization of secularism. But secularism is what our democracy is predicated on, it’s what the Founding Fathers–regardless of their religion or lack of same–wanted. Separation of Church and State. It’s what the devoutly religious Kennedy reaffirmed in his speech in 1960.

It’s a slippery slope between the protestation that God *must* be in politics and the recent incidents in Sudan and Saudi Arabia. I am a devoutly religious person, but I do not want to live in a theocracy. I want the freedom I was born into as an American citizen: to embrace or renounce religious teachings as I so choose. That freedom is something we must all consider as we contemplate our votes in the coming months.

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-Noah Greenberg