Chuck Grassley and Sharron Angle were both in excellent form today – each supplying their own special moment of WTF?! to stun the masses.
The first truth bomb was dropped by Chuck during the Elena Kagan confirmation hearings when he informed the unwashed mouth-breathers in the audience that God — not the Constitution — gives Americans the right to bear arms.
If anyone can tell me why this doesn’t violate the separation of church and state, I’ll give you a shiny new nickel — or bullet — or however our creator likes to settle bartering exchanges.
Then, there’s crazy, crazy Sharron Angle. Sometimes I imagine the lone, sane Republican standing somewhere in a wheat field, holding a gently swaying leash as he stares off into the distance vacantly, wondering if he’s made a hasty decision in allowing the Reno neophyte to scamper into the world on her own.
Unlike Rand Paul, Sharron just can’t hide the crazy, and she’s not savvy enough to pass off the delusional stuff spewing from her mouth as “being mavericky.” She’s been unable to shed her extremist past, and continues to promote debunked conspiracy theories about the abortion-breast cancer non-connection. Now, she’s dropped another turd.
Here is Sharron talking to Bill Manders on his radio show.
MANDERS: Is there any reason at all for an abortion?
ANGLE: Not in my book.
MANDERS: So, in other words, rape and incest would not be something?
ANGLE: You know, I’m a Christian, and I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives and that he can intercede in all kinds of situations and we need to have a little faith in many things.
You see, rape is just part of God’s majestic plan, ya’ll. Along with genocide and famine.
Citizen Radio recently interviewed professor Noam Chomsky about the War on Drugs, religion, and what makes him happy. A transcription of the interview is available below.
Listen to the entire episode here.
Called “arguably the most important intellectual alive” by the New York Times, Noam Chomsky is also known as a political activist.
In the 1966 essay, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” Chomsky challenged intellectuals “to speak the truth and expose lies,” and he carried his protests beyond the printed page: he became a tax resister and he was arrested in 1967 at the Pentagon while protesting military involvement in Southeast Asia.
Chomsky’s criticism of U.S. governmental policies has continued unabated since that time. In Deterring Democracy and in other books he has focused on trade and economic issues and accuses the Government of being a “rogue superpower.”
“I’m a citizen of the United States,” says Chomsky, “and I have a share of responsibility for what it does.”
Citizen Radio is on BTR every Wednesday. Episodes air 24/7.
Allison Kilkenny: In an unpublished article for the Washington Post, you wrote that the NAFTA protests during the 90s in Mexico gave, quote: “only a bare glimpse of time bombs waiting to explode. Do you thinks the drug cartels in Mexico are a byproduct of the trade inequalities you explained in that Post article? Also, if you could talk about the roles international banks and corporations play in the War on Drugs.
Noam Chomsky: I can’t really talk about it because there isn’t any war on drugs. If there was a war on drugs, the government would take measures which it knows could control the use of drugs.
This week on Citizen Radio…
Allison and Jamie discuss Atheism, Desmond Tutu, and play the second half of their interview with Princeton professor and author, Melissa Harris-Lacewell.
There are Atheism groups popping up all over the country, but they have yet to rival the church with social welfare projects. Jamie proposes a solution for this.
In part two of her interview, Melissa Harris-Lacewell discusses New Orleans, James Perry, America being post-racial (it’s not,) hip-hop and the notion of “Ride or Die,” and what makes her happy.
Citizen Radio airs every Wednesday (and replays throughout the week) over on BTR.
SOMEDAY we’ll learn the whole story of why George W. Bush brushed off that intelligence briefing of Aug. 6, 2001, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” But surely a big distraction was the major speech he was readying for delivery on Aug. 9, his first prime-time address to the nation. The subject — which Bush hyped as “one of the most profound of our time” — was stem cells. For a presidency in thrall to a thriving religious right (and a presidency incapable of multi-tasking), nothing, not even terrorism, could be more urgent.
When Barack Obama ended the Bush stem-cell policy last week, there were no such overheated theatrics. No oversold prime-time address. No hysteria from politicians, the news media or the public. The family-values dinosaurs that once stalked the earth — Falwell,Robertson, Dobson and Reed — are now either dead, retired or disgraced. Their less-famous successors pumped out their pro forma e-mail blasts, but to little avail. The Republican National Committee said nothing whatsoever about Obama’s reversal of Bush stem-cell policy. That’s quite a contrast to 2006, when the party’s wild and crazy (and perhaps transitory) new chairman, Michael Steele, likened embryonic stem-cell research to Nazi medical experiments during his failed Senate campaign.
What has happened between 2001 and 2009 to so radically change the cultural climate? Here, at last, is one piece of good news in our global economic meltdown: Americans have less and less patience for the intrusive and divisive moral scolds who thrived in the bubbles of the Clinton and Bush years. Culture wars are a luxury the country — the G.O.P. included — can no longer afford.
Not only was Obama’s stem-cell decree an anticlimactic blip in the news, but so was his earlier reversal of Bush restrictions on the use of federal money by organizations offering abortions overseas. When the administration tardily ends “don’t ask, don’t tell,” you can bet that this action, too, will be greeted by more yawns than howls.
Once again, both the president and the country are following New Deal-era precedent. In the 1920s boom, the reigning moral crusade was Prohibition, and it packed so much political muscle that F.D.R. didn’t oppose it. The Anti-Saloon League was the Moral Majority of its day, the vanguard of a powerful fundamentalist movement that pushed anti-evolution legislation as vehemently as it did its war on booze. (The Scopes “monkey trial” was in 1925.) But the political standing of this crowd crashed along with the stock market. Roosevelt shrewdly came down on the side of “the wets” in his presidential campaign, leaving Hoover to drown with “the dries.”
Much as Obama repealed the Bush restrictions on abortion and stem-cell research shortly after pushing through his stimulus package, so F.D.R. jump-started the repeal of Prohibition by asking Congress to legalize beer and wine just days after his March 1933 inauguration and declaration of a bank holiday. As Michael A. Lerner writes in his fascinating 2007 book “Dry Manhattan,” Roosevelt’s stance reassured many Americans that they would have a president “who not only cared about their economic well-being” but who also understood their desire to be liberated from “the intrusion of the state into their private lives.” Having lost plenty in the Depression, the public did not want to surrender any more freedoms to the noisy minority that had shut down the nation’s saloons.
In our own hard times, the former moral “majority” has been downsized to more of a minority than ever. Polling shows that nearly 60 percent of Americans agree with ending Bush restrictions on stem-cell research (a Washington Post/ABC News survey in January); that 55 percent endorse either gay civil unions or same-sex marriage (Newsweek, December 2008); and that 75 percent believe openly gay Americans should serve in the military (Post/ABC, July 2008). Even the old indecency wars have subsided. When a federal court last year struck down the F.C.C. fine against CBS for Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2004 Super Bowl, few Americans either noticed or cared about the latest twist in what had once been a national cause célèbre.
It’s not hard to see why Eric Cantor, the conservative House firebrand who is vehemently opposed to stem-cell research, was disinclined to linger on the subject when asked about it on CNN last Sunday. He instead accused the White House of acting on stem cells as a ploy to distract from the economy. “Let’s take care of business first,” he said. “People are out of jobs.” (On this, he’s joining us late, but better late than never.)
Even were the public still in the mood for fiery invective about family values, the G.O.P. has long since lost any authority to lead the charge. The current Democratic president and his family are exemplars of precisely the Eisenhower-era squareness — albeit refurbished by feminism — that the Republicans often preached but rarely practiced. Obama actually walks the walk. As the former Bush speechwriter David Frum recently wrote, the new president is an “apparently devoted husband and father” whose worst vice is “an occasional cigarette.”
Frum was contrasting Obama to his own party’s star attraction, Rush Limbaugh, whose “history of drug dependency” and “tangled marital history” make him “a walking stereotype of self-indulgence.” Indeed, the two top candidates for leader of the post-Bush G.O.P, Rush and Newt, have six marriages between them. The party that once declared war on unmarried welfare moms, homosexual “recruiters” and Bill Clinton’s private life has been rebranded by Mark Foley, Larry Craig, David Vitter and the irrepressible Palins. Even before the economy tanked, Americans had more faith in medical researchers using discarded embryos to battle Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s than in Washington politicians making ad hoc medical decisions for Terri Schiavo.
What’s been revealing about watching conservatives debate their fate since their Election Day Waterloo is how, the occasional Frum excepted, so many of them don’t want to confront the obsolescence of culture wars as a political crutch. They’d rather, like Cantor, just change the subject — much as they avoid talking about Bush and avoid reckoning with the doomed demographics of the G.O.P.’s old white male base. To recognize all these failings would be to confront why a once-national party can now be tucked into the Bible Belt.
The religious right is even more in denial than the Republicans. When Obama nominated Kathleen Sebelius, the Roman Catholic Kansas governor who supports abortion rights, as his secretary of health and human services, Tony Perkins, the leader of the Family Research Council, became nearly as apoplectic as the other Tony Perkins playing Norman Bates. “If Republicans won’t take a stand now, when will they?” the godly Perkins thundered online. But Congressional Republicans ignored him, sending out (at most) tepid press releases of complaint, much as they did in response to Obama’s stem-cell order. The two antiabortion Kansas Republicans in the Senate, Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, both endorsed Sebelius.
Perkins is now praying that economic failure will be a stimulus for his family-values business. “As the economy goes downward,” he has theorized, “I think people are going to be driven to religion.” Wrong again. The latest American Religious Identification Survey, published last week, found that most faiths have lost ground since 1990 and that the fastest-growing religious choice is “None,” up from 8 percent to 15 percent (which makes it larger than all denominations except Roman Catholics and Baptists). Another highly regarded poll, the General Social Survey, had an even more startling finding in its preliminary 2008 data released this month: Twice as many Americans have a “great deal” of confidence in the scientific community as do in organized religion. How the almighty has fallen: organized religion is in a dead heat with banks and financial institutions on the confidence scale.
This, too, is a replay of the Great Depression. “One might have expected that in such a crisis great numbers of these people would have turned to the consolations of and inspirations of religion,” wrote Frederick Lewis Allen in “Since Yesterday,” his history of the 1930s published in 1940. But that did not happen: “The long slow retreat of the churches into less and less significance in the life of the country, and even in the lives of the majority of their members, continued almost unabated.”
The new American faith, Allen wrote, was the “secular religion of social consciousness.” It took the form of campaigns for economic and social justice — as exemplified by the New Deal and those movements that challenged it from both the left and the right. It’s too early in our crisis and too early in the new administration to know whether this decade will so closely replicate the 1930s, but so far Obama has far more moral authority than any religious leader in America with the possible exception of his sometime ally, the Rev. Rick Warren.
History is cyclical, and it would be foolhardy to assume that the culture wars will never return. But after the humiliations of the Scopes trial and the repeal of Prohibition, it did take a good four decades for the religious right to begin its comeback in the 1970s. In our tough times, when any happy news can be counted as a miracle, a 40-year exodus for these ayatollahs can pass for an answer to America’s prayers.
NEARLY everyone now takes for granted the wisdom, constitutionality and inevitability of some form of federal financing for community social services run by religious groups. Who anymore can imagine that the United States managed to exist for over 200 years without the government providing any direct aid to faith and its works?
It is truly dismaying that amid all the discussion about President Obama’s version of faith-based community initiatives, there has been such a widespread reluctance to question the basic assumption that government can spend money on religiously based enterprises without violating the First Amendment. The debate has instead focused on whether proselytizing or religious hiring discrimination should be permitted when church groups take public money. This shows how easy it is to institutionalize a bad idea based on unexamined assumptions about service to a greater good.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton started down the slippery slope toward a constitutionally questionable form of faith-based aid when he signed a welfare reform bill that included a “charitable choice” provision allowing religious groups to compete for grants. Under President George W. Bush, a separate White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives was established — a significant expansion of “charitable choice.” Mr. Bush, who instituted his faith-based program through executive orders rather than trying to get a bill establishing the office through Congress, quickly put the money to political use.
The administration provided large grants for projects favored by the Christian right, like Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries and Teen Challenge, a drug rehabilitation program that openly pushed religious conversion (even using the phrase “completed Jews” to describe teenage converts from Judaism) as a way of overcoming addiction. John J. DiIulio Jr., the first director of Mr. Bush’s faith-based office, resigned after only eight months and later complained about the politicization of the program.
Throughout Mr. Bush’s second term, the Democratic Party’s “religious left” maintained that the party needed to shed its secular image to attract more religious voters. As far as these Democrats were concerned, the only problem with faith-based programs was that most of the money was going to religious and political conservatives.
Enter Barack Obama, who spoke the language of both faith and secularism — and who promised during the campaign to expand faith-based aid while, at the same time, prohibiting proselytizing and religious hiring discrimination in federally financed programs. Yet earlier this month when the president announced his new faith-based team, headed by a Pentecostal minister, Josh DuBois, Mr. Obama left the Bush orders in place and Mr. DuBois later announced that hiring practices would be vetted by the Justice Department “case by case.”
Some have tried to justify direct, White House-administered faith-based aid by pointing to long-established practices allowing programs like Medicare and Medicaid to pay for services provided to patients in religiously affiliated hospitals. But for these hospitals, nondiscrimination in both hiring and patient admissions was always a condition of eligibility for any federal money.
It is also worth noting that Mr. Obama’s compromise has drawn criticism not only from secularists and civil libertarians but from religious conservatives like R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who maintains that the unlimited right to proselytize and to hire members of their own faith is essential if churches are not to compromise their mission. As a thoroughgoing secularist, I consider Mr. Mohler much clearer-minded than Democratic faith-based advocates, who wish to believe that devout proselytizers are somehow going to stifle themselves while providing “secular” social services.
The fact is that many people served by these projects — including children with absent fathers, addicts and prisoners — form a captive audience. It cannot be easy to say no to a proselytizer if saying yes means a warm bed in a homeless shelter, extra help for a child or more privileges while serving jail time. Embrace Jesus as your savior and, who knows, you may get early parole.
Furthermore, as Mr. Mohler points out, there is also a peril to religious independence from government in these programs. What government gives, government can take away. What happens if hard-pressed African-American churches serving poor communities — where enthusiasm for faith-based initiatives has always been high and has only intensified during the current economic crisis — come to rely on government money and the rug is pulled out from under them by a future administration?
Those who argue in favor of more religious involvement in government, and vice versa, always claim that the First Amendment does not mandate separation of church and state but simply prohibits state preference for any church. But even by that religion-infused standard, faith-based aid cannot help but favor some religions over others. For instance, nearly all non-Orthodox Jewish groups and liberal ecumenical religious organizations are opposed to government subsidy. How can it not violate the First Amendment to set up a program that even by default favors those groups eager to jump on the federal gravy train?
The other canker at the heart of faith-based initiatives is the assumption that religiously based programs work better than secular and government efforts. For the faithful, though, the efficacy of these programs is an article of faith, not a conclusion supported by objective evidence.
Back in 2003, there was a flurry of excitement surrounding a study that at first glance seemed to suggest that participants in Mr. Colson’s prison programs in Texas had been rearrested at much lower rates than other released prisoners. There was just one problem: the study excluded everyone who quit the program in prison — two-thirds of the starting group. It is as if the Department of Education were to measure the success of public schools by not counting dropouts. This ought to give pause to Mr. Obama, who has spoken so often about restoring evidence and science to public policy-making.
President Obama might also take a moment to reread the religious freedom act passed by the Virginia General Assembly in 1786, with strong support from both Baptists and freethinkers. That law, which prohibited tax support for religious teaching in public schools, became the template for the establishment clause of the First Amendment and also helped establish our American tradition of government freedom from religious interference and religious freedom from government interference.
Yet we are moving blindly ahead with faith-based federal spending as if it were not a radical break with our past. If faith-based initiatives, first institutionalized by the executive fiat of a conservative Republican president, become even more entrenched under a liberal Democratic administration, there will be no going back. In place of the First Amendment, we will have a sacred cash cow.
Note from Allison: Someone tell Sanford poor people can’t eat prayers.
Following the lead of a number of his fellow Republican governors, Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) has given some indication that he will not accept some of the money slated for South Carolina in the $787 billion economic recovery bill President Obama signed into law last week. “At times it sounds like the Soviet grain quotas of Stalin’s time,” Sanford said yesterday on Fox News.
On C-SPAN’s Washington Journal this morning, Sanford received a call from a Charleston resident who said he lost his job because he has been taking care of mother and sister, both of whom have serious illnesses. The caller told Sanford he is “wrong” to decline the money. “A lot of people in South Carolina are hurting. And if this money can come and help us out we need it.” In response, Sanford could offer him only his prayers:
CALLER: I hope you all are not playing politics with this. People in South Carolina are hurting. You know how unemployment rates are high right now and going up higher. We are running out of money in the unemployment bank — we need money for that, the people that need help. And I’m one of them, I can’t get no help. […]
SANFORD: Well I’d say hello to Charleston because its home and I’d say hello to this fellow this morning and say that my prayers are going to be with him and his family because it sounds like he is in an awfully tough spot.
Sanford offered no other alternative solution for his constituent and instead argued that the state could not accept money to extend unemployment benefits because “increasing the tax on unemployment insurance” would negatively “impact the caller’s family” (although he didn’t say how).
Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) — who sponsored an amendment to the stimulus bill that would allow state legislatures to “accept stimulus funding over the objections of conservative governors” — chastised Sanford on MSNBC this morning. “This program is an opportunity for Governor Sanford to target” the “chronically unemployed” and “chronically sick” communities in South Carolina. “I have got to believe that he is willing…to help these communities,” Clyburn said, asking,”Why won’t he?”
It’s an ugly little open secret that Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas have constitutions that explicitly forbid atheists from holding state office. These laws are archaic and unenforceable in principle — they were all ruled unconstitutional in 1961 — but of course they’re still in effect across all 50 states in practice, since public opinion makes it almost impossible for an atheist to get elected to high office.
Now, though, a representative in Arkansas has submitted a bill to amend the Arkansas constitution and remove the prohibition of atheists. This could get very interesting, or it might not. If the Arkansas legislature does the sensible thing and simply and efficiently removes an old law that can’t be enforced anyway, I will be pleased, but there won’t be much drama.
Since when are legislatures sensible, however? I can imagine indignant Christians defending an unconstitutional law and insisting that it be kept on the books as a token of their contempt. It is an awkward situation for the Christianist yahoos, because their constituencies might get inflamed, but on other hand, do they really want to go on record defending the indefensible?
I’m looking forward to it, and kudos to Rep. Richard Carroll of North Little Rock for poking a stick into this nest of snakes and stirring it up.
Listen here: http://www. breakthruradio. com/index. php?show=6151
Drunken Politics sits down with the indie rock band, The Thermals. The band weaves a political message into their lyrics, and is famous for turning down a $50,000 offer from Hummer to include one of their songs in a commercial.
President Obama fulfilled one campaign promise and violated another recently with an executive order revamping the White House office for religion-based and neighborhood programs.
On the campaign trail, Mr. Obama made clear that he would extend the faith-based initiative started by former President George Bush to help social service programs run by religious and other charitable groups obtain federal grants and contracts. But he also pledged that unlike Mr. Bush, he would provide meaningful safeguards to avoid the blurring of church-state boundaries, including a firm rule barring discrimination on the basis of religion. The rule is notably missing from his new decree.
Speaking last July in Ohio, Mr. Obama set forth his “basic principles” for assuring constitutional balance. “First, if you get a federal grant, you can’t use the grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them — or against the people you hire — on the basis of religion,” he said. “Second, federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples and mosques can only be used on secular programs.”
He said taxpayer dollars should not be used to advance partisan interests, and there was reassuring language about maintaining the separation of church and state in Mr. Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast preceding the issuance of his order, and in the order itself. But it would have been a lot more reassuring if the directive had actually revoked Mr. Bush’s 2002 executive order authorizing religious-oriented recipients of federal funding to hire and fire on religious grounds.
We suspect that Mr. Obama was not particularly proud of this omission. He chose to sign his order away from the view of television cameras or an audience. Joshua DuBois, the Pentecostal minister selected by Mr. Obama to lead his initiative, says the president is “committed to nondiscrimination,” and that the executive order “provides a process” for case-by-case review to decide if grants to faith-based organizations are “consistent with law.”
What process? The executive order says only that White House officials “may” seek Justice Department guidance if questions arise about particular grants. Discrimination by faith-based grantees should be barred.
The case-by-case review seems destined to confuse as much as enlighten. And it is hardly the clear commitment to proper employment practices Mr. Obama voiced as a candidate, and the Constitution requires.