Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Today is a reprint of a reprint, so to speak. Molly Ivins reprinted a speech by a Texas state legislator, and I'm reprinting Ivins's column.
'Today is one of the all-time low points'
By Molly Ivins
Creators Syndicate

AUSTIN - Rarely are the words of one state legislator worth national attention, but when Senfronia Thompson, a black representative from Houston, stalks to the back mike with a certain "get-out-of-my-way" look in her eye, it's Katie, bar the door.
Here is Thompson speaking against the Legislature's recent folly of sending a superfluous anti-gay-marriage amendment for the Texas Constitution out to the voters:
"I have been a member of this august body for three decades, and today is one of the all-time low points. We are going in the wrong direction, in the direction of hate and fear and discrimination. Members, we all know what this is about; this is the politics of divisiveness at its worst, a wedge issue that is meant to divide.
"Members, this is a distraction from the real things we need to be working on. At the end of this session, this Legislature, this leadership will not be able to deliver the people of Texas fundamental and fair answers to the pressing issues of our day.
"Let's look at what this amendment does not do: It does not give one Texas citizen meaningful tax relief. It does not reform or fully fund our education system. It does not restore one child to CHIP who was cut from health insurance last session. It does not put one dime into raising Texas' Third World access to health care. It does not do one thing to care for or protect one elderly person or one child in this state. In fact, it does not even do anything to protect one marriage.
"Members, this bill is about hate and fear and discrimination. When I was a small girl, white folks used to talk about 'protecting the institution of marriage' as well. What they meant was if people of my color tried to marry people of Mr. [Warren] Chisum's color, you'd often find the people of my color hanging from a tree. Fifty years ago, white folks thought interracial marriages were 'a threat to the institution of marriage.'
"Members, I'm a Christian and a proud Christian. I read the good book and do my best to live by it. I have never read the verse where it says, 'Gay people can't marry.' I have never read the verse where it says, 'Thou shalt discriminate against those not like me.' I have never read the verse where it says, 'Let's base our public policy on hate and fear and discrimination.' Christianity to me is love and hope and faith and forgiveness ....
"You want to pass this ridiculous amendment so you can go home and brag -- brag about what? Declare that you saved the people of Texas from what?
"Persons of the same sex cannot get married in this state now. Texas law does not now recognize same-sex marriages, civil unions, religious unions, domestic partnerships, contractual arrangements or Christian blessings entered into in this state -- or anywhere else on this planet Earth.
"If you want to make your hateful political statements, then that is one thing -- but the Chisum amendment does real harm. It repeals the contracts that many single people have paid thousands of dollars to purchase to obtain medical powers of attorney, powers of attorney, hospital visitation, joint ownership and support agreements. You have lost your way. This is obscene.
"I thought we would be debating economic development, property tax relief, protecting seniors' pensions and stem cell research to save lives of Texans who are waiting for a more abundant life. Instead we are wasting this body's time with this political stunt that is nothing more than constitutionalizing discrimination. The prejudices exhibited by members of this body disgust me.
"I have listened to all the arguments. I have listened to all of the crap. I want you to know that this amendment [is] blowing smoke to fuel the hell-fire flames of bigotry."
Then they passed the amendment.

Monday, May 30, 2005

I'm a little surprised that the Post-Dispatch printed, albeit on the back page, an article headlined: "Forces in bloody Uzbek crackdown were U.S.-trained". As Bill Moyers pointed out in his speech at the Media Reform conference, news is whatever the powers that be want to keep hidden, and the Post doesn't print a lot of that kind of news. The AP article didn't connect any dots, though. It didn't mention that teaching foreign soldiers how to control upstart rebels is a service we've been providing countless dictators for decades.
When the Spanish empire fell apart at the turn of the twentieth century, we had a national debate about the morality of stepping into the vacuum as empire builders. Those opposed lost the battle of ideas, and we fought a bloody war to suppress Phillippine independence. Since then, however, we've opted as much as possible for more covert tactics for controlling small countries with resources we covet. The 1973 coup in Chile is a textbook example. There are still those who will argue we weren't behind Pinochet's ruthless ouster of socialist president Salvador Allende.
In any case, the right argues that such propping up of dictators (or bringing down of socialist governments) stabilizes the world. And in the present world climate, that argument is easier to make than it was in 1954, for example, when we got rid of Guatemala's president, Jacobo Arbenz, because he was standing up to United Fruit, allowing banana pickers to unionize. Today, the right can point to the growing Muslim extremist movement and justify supporting a dictator who boils people in oil, on the grounds that the rebels want to install yet another Muslim government.
The Left argues that propping up unpopular governments just helps Muslim extremists recruit suicide bombers and that we landed ourselves in our present pickle in the Middle East, in large part, because we've consistently supported corrupt governments in that region.
Anyway, the question of whether to support dictators or not has little to do, really, with stability, and more to do with empire. I did not say "our" empire because much of the looting of the goods of third world countries is done by multinationals with the aid of the IMF and the World Bank. We're a key player, but not the only one. In the case of Uzbekistan, though, we do seem to be the principal player. We're the nation President Karimov favors to help his country develop its oil resources. Since the money that flows into Uzbekistan as the oil flows out will go to whoever controls the government, Karimov will kill as many dissidents as necessary to maintain control. The failure to mention these motives is another unconnected dot in the AP article.
Our government doesn't give a rat's patootie how many rebels are killed or tortured, but it has to pretend to be offended, so our man there, General Abizaid, vowed to scale back military operations at a base in the southern part of the country. "But officers at the base told a visiting Associated Press reporter that they hadn't noticed any reduction in movement there."
Abizaid's promise is a harmless little lie, just a tactic to stonewall nosy people who ought to butt out. After all, as Abizaid's superiors proved in the last election, at least half the country prefers being lied to and spared unpleasant truths. Thus we continue down the path of supporting the bad guys, forfeiting the moral high ground that we like to claim but seldom attain.

Friday, May 27, 2005

FINALLY. AT LAST. IT'S ABOUT TIME.
Someone (otherwise known as Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.) is raising a large public stink about the Downing Street memo of 2002, an important piece of news which the corporate media in America has been busily ignoring.
The Downing Street Memo
May 27, 2005
Dear Friend:
As many of you are aware, a classified memo was recently disclosed in Great Britain that I believe has serious ramifications for the integrity of the United States Government. Dubbed the “Downing Street Memo,” but actually comprising the minutes of a meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair and other top British government officials, the memo casts serious doubt on many of the contentions of the Bush Administration in the lead up to the Iraq war. With over 1,600 U.S. servicemen and servicewomen killed in Iraq, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and over $200 billion in taxpayer funds going to this war effort, we cannot afford to stand by any longer.
Along with 88 of my colleagues, I wrote to the President requesting answers about this grave matter. Thus far, our search for the truth has been stonewalled and I need your help. I believe the American people deserve answers about this matter and should demand directly that the President tell the truth about the memo. To that end, I am asking you to sign on to a letter to the President requesting he answer the questions posed to him by 89 Members of Congress.
I will personally insure that this letter is delivered to the White House.
You can read the letter here and sign on to it below. You and I know the White House is just hoping that this matter will fade away, but in a few short weeks, with our steadfastness, the memo has found its way into leading newspapers and White House press briefings. With your help, we can hold this Administration accountable.
I hope you will sign the letter and I hope you will forward it tout de suite to everyone else you know who'd like to.

There is something to be said for disapproving of the filibuster deal seven Democrats made with GOP senators and AlterNet says it well:
The Democrats chose to make the fight on Bush's judicial nominees about saving the filibuster rather than stopping right-wing extremists from being given lifetime appointments to the federal bench. Indeed, in the last two weeks we heard nary a word about the deficiencies and the dangers of the nomination of the Gang of Three: Janice Rogers Brown, William Pryor and Priscilla Owen.
At stake, the Democratic Party encouraged us to believe, was not the future of the federal judiciary but the future of the Senate. ...
Given this reticence by the Democratic Party to educate people about the dangers to our Republic if individuals like Priscilla Owen get to interpret the law of the land, one can't blame the Americans for thinking that the Democrats' threat to filibuster is simply much ado about nothing.

Harry Reid said the Dems had 49 votes. Perhaps if they had held firm, they'd have swayed two more moderate Republicans, but even if not, they weren't without weapons:
With unity comes power. They had threatened, vaguely, to "shut down the Senate" if the filibuster were eliminated. That was clearly within their capacity. Each Democratic Senator has at least an hour to speak on any amendment, any bill, any procedural call. That means 44 hours of every week could be spent on just a single motion.
But to shut down the Senate and gain the nation's support, the Democrats first must educate Americans that what they are fighting against are evil ends, not unfair means. The filibuster fight did not serve that educational purpose.
Only when the Democratic Party exhibits real backbone, only when it demonstrates that it is willing to take large individual and collective political risks, only when it is willing to do everything within its power to stop evil, only then will it rally the country to the task of stopping the nationwide lurch toward fanaticism.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

William Rivers Pitt, who writes for the online magazine Truthout, describes how the overweening tactics of movement conservatives (read, fundamentalist activist Christian base of the GOP) is splitting the Republican Party on half a dozen fronts simultaneously. The neocons have been using movement conservatives as "useful idiot" shock troops, but now, acting on the belief that they alone delivered the election to Bush, evangelicals are overstepping their bounds, determined to reap payback. Their two point men, DeLay and Frist, started the evangelical campaign to seize control of our government with the Schiavo debacle and handed Democrats a public relations coup. Many old line conservatives, otherwise known as moderates, were embarrassed and angry at being lumped in with the fundies over that fiasco and also over being pressured to support--count 'em--the filibuster, the federal ban on stem cell research funds, the Bolton nomination, and Social Security "reform". They've been breaking ranks on all these issues. And there's one more major issue where they might be persuaded to desert the fold: Iraq. They're aware that our invasion there has been a blood-bath catastrophe.
Pitt suggests that "those who have watched the White House and Congress run roughshod over the best traditions and ideals of this nation can do two things while this fight unfolds: Sit back and enjoy the rift, or exploit it." Pitt votes for Option B, specifically for exploiting the rift over Iraq:
The time has come to mount a bull-throated charge to get American troops out of Iraq. Eleven U.S. troops have died in the last 48 hours, bringing the total to 1,647. Billions and billions of taxpayer dollars have been poured into the sand to no avail. The public dialogue on Iraq is paralyzed, locked between those who believe we have to stay and those who think slogans like 'Out Now!" with no plans to augment the sentiment are the only proper response. It is Vietnam all over again.
Rather than leave the dialogue stuck in this rut, the time has come to develop an intelligent, effective plan for the removal of troops from Iraq and the delivery of that nation back into the hands of the people who live there. Democratic leaders Reid, Pelosi and Dean must be made to see this as the only intelligent choice. More to the point, Republican old-schoolers who are disgusted with the neo-cons and their 'useful idiot' movementarian shock troops can be brought on board as a part of their insurgency against their rotten leaders.

Sounds good to me, and to further Pitt's suggestion that we think constructively about how to leave Iraq, two postings next week will be summaries of opposing articles on that question from The Progressive Magazine, one of which recommends staying and the other leaving quickly. Both articles have arguments that merit attention and that could contribute to a reasonable plan for our exit.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Blogger Jack O'Toole thinks Howard Dean hit the nail on the head in his Sunday interview with Tim Russert. Dean would like to see Dems strike the words "abortion" and "choice" from the way they frame the debate:
When I campaigned for this job [as DNC Chair], I talked to lots of Democrats. And there are significant numbers of pro-life Democrats in the South. And one lady said to me, you know, “I’m pro-life. I don’t like abortion. I would never have one. I would hope my daughter would never have one. But, you know, if the lady next door got herself in a fix, I’m not sure I should be the one to tell her what to do.” Now, we call that woman pro-choice, but she thinks of herself as pro-life. The minute we start with the “pro-choice, pro- choice, pro-choice,” she says, “Well, that’s not me.”
But when you talk about framing this debate the way it ought to be framed, which is “Do you want Tom DeLay and the boys to make up your mind about this, or does a woman have a right to make up her own mind about what kind of health care she gets,” then that pro-life woman says “Well, now, you know, I’ve had people try to make up my mind for me and I don’t think that’s right.” This is an issue about who gets to make up their minds: the politicians or the individual. Democrats are for the individual. We believe in individual rights. We believe in personal freedom and personal responsibility. And that debate is one that we didn’t win, because we kept being forced into the idea of defending the idea of abortion.

O'Toole praises Dean's take on the issue and expands on his theme:
Dean’s right. There’s a huge difference between taking the principled position that this difficult, often painful choice should ultimately rest with the woman involved, and trying to make the utterly fatuous argument that giving birth and getting an abortion are, in the main, morally equivalent actions that demand equal respect from the public at large. They aren’t and they don’t. And the only way that we Dems are going to be able to successfully defend the first proposition — the Constitutional Option, if you will — is by explicitly rejecting the second.
That’s going to be an unpleasant rhetorical shift for some of our most committed supporters, particularly those who somehow, somewhere got it into their heads that we have a duty as Americans to celebrate people’s choices rather than simply to tolerate them. But shift we must. And Dean deserves a great deal of credit for looking the base of our party in the eye and saying so.

Here's my two cents. Dean framed the issue artfully: “Do you want Tom DeLay and the boys to make up your mind about this, or does a woman have a right to make up her own mind about what kind of health care she gets?" I always appreciated the use of "boys" from him as in "Ken Lay and the boys", in other words the good old boys who think they deserve to rule the rest of us. "Make up her own mind" appeals to the individualist in everyone. And finally, he uses "health care" instead of the hot button word "abortion."
Dean has, I think, a commonsensical knack for framing ideas.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

>Daily Kos has a thorough, succinct analysis of the filibuster compromise, the best I've seen:
There are those who think any compromise is a sign of weakness, and there's little that can be said to change their mind.
But here are the plain, unspun facts:

--Democrats hold 44 seats in the 100 seat Senate. One independent sides with the Democrats, giving Dems a 10-seat deficit.
--Reid had 49 votes. He needed 51 to defeat Frist's nuclear option.
--Reid needed at least two of four undecided Republicans.
--Had Reid come up short, the filibuster would be dead in judicial matters.
--If the filibuster was dead, Bush would've been able to put anyone on the Supreme Court. Anyone.
--Radical Christian Rightist James Dobson is demanding the right to choose the next Supreme Court nominee.
--Dobson's biggest enemy is the filibuster. Hence, he forced Frist to engage in the nuclear option.
--Because of the deal, Dobson can't choose the next Supreme Court justice. Bush's choice, if too extreme, faces the prospect of a filibuster.

In order to save face, Republicans have gotten up or down votes on most of the handful of judges who are currently being filibustered. It's a price, but a relatively small one to pay to protect the filibuster during the next Supreme Court battle.
Given that we have a 10-seat deficit in the Senate, that's no small feat.

And if you still think we got a raw deal, you might feel better if you check out how livid James Dobson is:
This Senate agreement represents a complete bailout and betrayal by a cabal of Republicans and a great victory for united Democrats. Only three of President Bush's nominees will be given the courtesy of an up-or-down vote, and it's business as usual for all the rest. The rules that blocked conservative nominees remain in effect, and nothing of significance has changed. Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Antonin Scalia, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist would never have served on the U. S. Supreme Court if this agreement had been in place during their confirmations. The unconstitutional filibuster survives in the arsenal of Senate liberals.

Monday, May 23, 2005

This Republican administration and its minions are well beyond Alice in Wonderland surrealism. They've hopscotched over Alice and landed in 1984. One of their G.O.P. forebears, Dwight Eisenhower, would be appalled. Among his presidential papers (Eisenhower Presidential Papers, Document 1147) is this quotation:
Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil
millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

Admittedly, Eisenhower is not the kind of Republican today's G.O.P. would admire, anyway. After all, as he departed the White House, he warned that "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence" by the military-industrial complex. Indeed, I don't think Ike could be a Republican in today's U.S.A. He would be shocked and saddened by the attack on working people, by a useless, counterproductive war, and by erosion of civil liberties that McCarthy and J. Edgar would admire.
The latest on the civil liberties front is a bill designed to make Americans into footsoldiers in the war on drugs:
A senior congressman, James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), is working quietly but efficiently to turn the entire United States population into informants--by force.
Sensenbrenner, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman, has introduced legislation that would essentially draft every American into the war on drugs. H.R. 1528, cynically named "Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act," would compel people to spy on their family members and neighbors, and even go undercover and wear a wire if needed. If a person resisted, he or she would face mandatory incarceration.
Here's how the "spy" section of the legislation works: If you "witness" certain drug offenses taking place or "learn" about them, you must report the offenses to law enforcement within 24 hours and provide "full assistance in the investigation, apprehension and prosecution" of the people involved. Failure to do so would be a crime punishable by a mandatory minimum two-year prison sentence, and a maximum sentence of 10 years.
Here are some examples of offenses you would have to report to police within 24 hours:
--You find out that your brother, who has children, recently bought a small amount of marijuana to share with his wife;
--You discover that your son gave his college roommate a marijuana joint;
--You learn that your daughter asked her boyfriend to find her some drugs, even though they're both in treatment.
In each of these cases you would have to report the relative to the police within 24 hours. Taking time to talk to your relative about treatment instead of calling the police immediately could land you in jail.

Check out the AlterNet article to learn about the other provisions.
Surely nothing as draconian as this bill could pass, but it's disturbing that such misbegotten nonsense is even being crafted.
Ike, I hate to tell you this, but the party of your choice has become the Gog and Magog of my universe.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

When my stepson, Nate, was three, he had no interest in watching t.v.--except for the ads. Those were short and had lots of action, so he'd stand still long enough for ads and then run off to play.
At the Media Reform conference, Christy Glaubke of Children Now, accused commercial t.v. of marinating the brains of our children in advertising: 40,000 ads a year are directed to children under eight. It's an insidious form of child abuse and about to become even more pernicious with the advent of interactive advertising. This latest development, already on the internet, will soon be coming to a t.v. set near you.
It disguises itself as a game, but with a given product, say Lifesavers, displayed at every turn of the game. If, for example, the player makes a mistake, he is directed to go back a screen and read an explanation, which will be conveniently printed inside a Lifesaver. Some of these games also enable advertisers to collect personal information on the kids that play.
The FCC recently unanimously passed rules aimed at protecting children as t.v. networks change from analog to digital formats. What the specifics of those rules are, Glaubke did not say, but she did mention that children's advocacy groups are lobbying the FCC to mandate more information to help parents locate better quality programs and to ban interactive ads.
Since young children are too naive to recognize the persuasive intent of ads or even to distinguish ads from programs, they need and deserve protection. For example, most ads aimed at children are for junk food. It doesn't seem coincidental that child obesity is up 300 percent in the last thirty years. Naturally, though, advertisers won't back off unless they're forced to. After all, children influence $500 billion in purchases in this country every year. They may not have much cash in their pockets, but they have something almost as useful as currency--the nag factor.
As the change from analog to digital communications picks up steam in the near future, progressives need to oppose these cunning interactive ads. We'll need to lobby the FCC to ban these branded environments for children, write op-ed pieces, and create policy briefs to be presented to policymakers and media industry leaders.
In other words, we'll need to make a lot of noise. And here's a fight where conservative parents may well want to join us. That's good. When three million people, including many conservatives, lobbied the FCC last year to protest new rules allowing more conglomeration, we stopped it. The board members didn't think there were three million people in this country who even knew the FCC existed. Who would have believed that such a geeky topic as FCC rules changes would attract such widespread attention? Internet communications drove that protest, and they can do so again.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

There's an upside to blogging, which is that whenever I write a letter to the Post--which they mostly don't print--at least it isn't wasted effort. I can always post it here. Which is what I'm doing today.

Considering Governor Blunt's usual pro-business agenda, it's odd that he and the legislature have decided to screw Missouri's energy consumers--i.e. everyone in the state--just to make the energy lobbyists happy. Even Anheuser-Busch, Boeing, and Monsanto, among others, are protesting. But there's no denying that Republicans passed two bills that will make energy rate hikes easier to obtain. Unwilling to leave any loose ends, now they've fired John Coffman, an attorney highly respected nationally among consumer advocates. His fifteen years of working for Missourians seems to have been a liability.
Having infuriated their religious base by failing to come through with a stem cell research ban and anti-abortion bills, Blunt et. al. are now rankling another major part of their base, businessmen--not to mention all the rest of us. If nothing else, they're a confident bunch.
Asked to justify an unmerited firing that is bound to have deleterious consequences for most Missourians, Blunt's spokesmen pretended they "couldn't recall who had brought up the need to replace Coffman" and blithely asserted that Coffman's fate wouldn't intimidate his replacement. That latter part, at least, is probably true since his replacement isn't likely to represent anybody but the utilities.
I have a question for Michael Sorkind, who wrote the Thursday Post-Dispatch story about Coffman: Did Blunt's spokesman perhaps raise a digit as he was (mostly not) explaining the governor's action? And were you just too polite to mention it?
P.S. Corey Dillon wrote me to explain Blunt's actions. Oh, duh. I had forgotten he had a brother who's a lobbyist--for, guess who. Yes, utility companies. Corey sees it as an early Christmas present for Andy Blunt.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Time out. I'll get back to media reform info later, but right now you want to hear about The Nation's May 30 cover article.
You may remember the outrage from liberal groups during the fall of 2002 when Bush proposed appointing Dr. David Hager as chairman of the FDA's advisory group on women's health. They felt Hager was an inappropriate appointee because he had been part of an effort to halt distribution of the abortion pill, RU-486. Bush skirted the controversy by appointing Hager to the eleven-member panel (a position that does not require Congressional approval) rather than seeking approval for him as chairman.
It turns out that Hager's own sexual behavior is as much a cause to object to his official position as his public stands on abortion-related issues.The Nation avoids exposes of the private behavior of political figures unless that behavior is relevant to their public role. In Hager's case, his treatment of his wife of 32 years is relevant, involving as it does repeated, forcible sodomy.
During divorce proceedings, his ex-wife, Linda Davis, had not, out of respect for her three grown sons, exposed the behavior of their father. She probably never would have if she hadn't been in the congregation last October when he publicly blamed the breakup of his marriage on his frequent travel in the Lord's work. Having fumed over his syrupy hypocrisy and his sin of omission, she was receptive when Ayelish McGarvey of The Nation asked for an interview. Davis and various people who knew at the time about the ongoing problems in that marriage gave credible evidence of the charges. If the accusations were proven in court, his actions would be felonies.
Having until now been spared his wife's revelations, though, Hager appears to have been disproportionately influential at the FDA. That agency recently considered whether or not to approve over-the-counter sale of a drug called Plan B, which, if taken within 72 hours of intercourse, prevents fertilization and implantation of eggs. Easier access to the drug would probably lower the nation's abortion rate. Although the advisory board voted overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing over-the-counter sale of Plan B, Hager strenuously opposed it on the grounds that it would increase sexual promiscuity in young girls. The FDA has refused to legalize the drug, and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has called the decision a "dark stain on the reputation of an evidence-based agency like the FDA."
On June 30, Hager is up for reappointment to his post on the advisory board. Considering the firestorm of indignation over Bill Clinton's sexual peccadilloes, surely the right-wing won't let Hager's more heinous behavior pass. ... Surely. .. Don't bet on it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

You know, we do have excellent left wing radio and television in St. Louis--just not much of it. What we have is Amy Goodman's radio and tv show, Democracy Now. I get her tv show on my Dish Satellite, but if you don't have satellite, there's always trusty KDHX, 88.1 FM at 6:00 p.m. Pacifica network, which produces Goodman's programs is grassroots funded, so she calls her work "trickle-up journalism".
Moyers pointed out Sunday that there are still journalists doing thoughtful, high caliber work in mainstream media, though not many. Goodman's remarks at the opening plenary of the National Conference on Media Reform were less gracious. She looks upon beltway journalism as having "nothing to tell and everything to sell." For example, a research study showed that before the Iraq war, only three out of almost 400 interviews about the coming conflict were with anti-war leaders. That makes us, in her phrase, the silenceD majority. She feels that the Pentagon has "deployed" the U.S. media in this war. (Another speaker described embedded reporters as "in bed" reporters.)
The media's habit of glossing over inconvenient, unpleasant truths has gotten worse, she believes, since Viet Nam. The picture of a naked girl burning from napalm that galvanized this nation back then would simply not appear in print today. Goodman pointed out that gap in modern reporting to one of her guests, Aaron Brown, who replied that censoring those kinds of photos is "a matter of taste," but isn't it war that is tasteless? If American citizens saw in their media, for even just one week, what citizens of other countries routinely see from Iraq, they would be staggered.
Despite the increasingly murky picture of reality our media gives us, Goodman doesn't assume our press was ever particularly honest. After the U.S. bombed Hiroshima, one American reporter went there and documented the horrors of radiation sickness among the population. Lest a realization of what we had done take hold here, the Pentagon secretly commissioned William Lawrence of the New York Times to write a series denying that the people of Hiroshima were suffering. Lawrence received a Pulitzer prize for that series.
If you want the skinny on what's happening worldwide, you need alternative media. On Goodman's show today, she interviews a man who spent years as what he calls an "economic hit man." Working for our government, his job was to lure third world countries who had some commodity we wanted--say, oil or a canal--to accept huge loans they couldn't possibly repay. He gave Ecuador as an example: we wanted their oil, and now fifty percent of their GDP is owed to the World Bank. Ninety percent of the loans given to such countries would come back to Halliburton or Bechtel in the form of contracts to build large infrastructure projects (ports, highways, dams) that benefitted only the wealthy. These loans, usually from the World Bank, were accepted by corrupt heads of state in return for bribes. The rare honest heads of state who resisted taking these bribes tended to be assassinated. Once it became obvious that the loans could not be repayed, our government would offer to forgive some or all of the debt in exchange, for example, for cheap oil. Extracting that oil often meant destroying rainforests and indigenous populations.
That brand of truth telling made some good ole boys in Texas angry when Pacifica first went on the air in 1985, so the KKK there blew up the network's tower three times in one year. After that, they gave up and trusted to public indifference. Although it's true that Pacifica isn't giving CNN or CBS a run for their money, still it is growing. Now is the time when liberal media is poised to grab more and more attention. We need to appreciate the superb work Goodman does and spread the word.

Monday, May 16, 2005

The National Conference on Media Reform ended with a bang. The best speaker of the three day conference--and that's saying a lot--was Bill Moyers. His beautifully crafted speech skillfully skewered two groups.
First, Moyers pointed out that mainstream journalism uses a format that turns it into a group of mere stenographers. The conventional rules of beltway journalism "divide the world into Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and allow journalists to pretend they've done their job if - instead of reporting the truth behind the news - they merely give each side the opportunity to spin the news."
A major problem with such journalism is that it does not report on anything unless it is pegged to something a government official says first. Jim Lehrer has pointed out that news reporters before the start of the war never mentioned the occupation to come because government spokesmen never used that term. Because they spoke only of "liberation", the question of the coming occupation wasn't discussed. Nor will most newsmen pay attention even to hard facts if those are outside what the government wants discussed. Charles Hadley wrote a 2003 story about prison abuse in Iraq. That was a year before Abu Ghraib, but he was ignored by major American newspapers. Thus government officials control the news.
Second, Moyers lambasted right wingers for their attempts to control the information Americans receive. They loathe anyone who dissents: "They want your reporting to validate their belief system, and when it doesn't, God forbid." They need to squelch dissent lest it inform the ordinary people whom they daily manipulate and hornswoggle: "They encourage the pious to look heavenward and pray so they won't see the long arm of privilege and power picking their pockets."
Moyers built an argument defending his PBS series NOW and outlining the growing Republican fury with his truth telling that culminated in a rift between himself and the board. PBS is actually, according to two studies, very establishment. Guests on its political shows are usually elected officials, Wall Streets types, or other elitist insiders. The rare alternative speakers like labor organizers or community activists are drowned out by government and corporate voices. Troubled by those studies, Moyers jumped at a 2001 offer to do what he considered real news. He said that "news is what people want to keep hidden, and everything else is publicity." His fair and balanced reporting made "princes and priests uncomfortable", though. The watershed moment came on February 28, 2003, when he did a commentary piece about
lapel flags. It's short, so he read it to us. Do yourself a favor and read it. Anyway, after that night, the right wing went after Moyers in earnest.
Kenneth Tomlinson, a Rove hatchet man, was appointed chairman of the CPB board. He denies carrying out a mandate from the White House, but the evidence says otherwise. The board was originally created to be a "firewall between political influence and program content", but the wall has been breached by ideologues. In fact, the board refused three requests from Moyers himself to meet with them.
This blog is inadequate to convey what Moyers said, but you can get some more information about it from .today's Post Dispatch. Better yet, listen to his speech in its entirety on KWMU. Hearing it will make you proud to have this articulate spokesman for liberal values.
Although he retired six months ago, right wing attacks on him have not abated. They might do well to rein in some of their venom because, as Moyers says, "They might just compel me out of the rocking chair and back into the anchor chair."

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Even as I was rooting for Air America to fly, I kept hearing last summer that it had trouble finding advertisers because many people considered liberal talk radio just a pre-election fluke that would wither after Nov. 2. Well that was hogwash. The market is there.
Now the question occasionally asked about that network is whether its most grating, sometimes lewd voices will be more of a burden than a boost to Democrats. Jerry Springer has joined the lineup; it remains to be seen what tone he'll take. And nobody would call Janeane Garofalo prissy. Recently, for example, she discoursed on "ass babies."
Ass babies are infants conceived by buttfucking young women who will do anything of a sexual nature except have their hymens broken by a marauding penis before marriage to, presumably, a person of another gender.

No doubt plenty of listeners appreciate Garofalo for exposing hypocrisy, but
with Springer's reputation and Garofalo's mouth, is there a danger that Air America may be a hit among a white-boy, 14-to-24 demographic and Smut America to political fence sitters in Ohio, Washington and New Mexico? Air America could be a commercial success and a political zero.

Even with that question yet to be settled, though, liberal talk radio is here to stay. Whatever course Air America takes--and it may turn out to be a great contributor to the national discourse--Democracy Radio avoids any smuttiness. It will be around, as will Amy Goodman. Progressive radio will grow.
Not that such growth alone will solve our problems. It will help, but we must also concentrate, as Dean so presciently planned more than a year ago, on getting progressives elected. No amount of liberal talk radio could cure the kind of dumb Democratic behavior Molly Ivins recently declaimed against:
I can guarantee you where [the Dems] are going wrong for the next election: 73 Democratic House members and 18 Democratic senators voted for that hideous bankruptcy "reform" bill that absolutely screws regular people. And it's not just consumers who were screwed by the lobbyist-written bill. The Wall Street Journal shows small businesses are also getting the shaft, as the finance industry charges them higher and higher transaction fees. If Democrats aren't going to stand up for regular people, to hell with them.

That's a thorny problem all right, and we'll have to solve it. But right now, I'm getting ready to attend the National Conference on Media Reform at the Millenium Hotel in downtown St. Louis Friday through Sunday. I expect to learn a lot, and even before attending, I know that optimism about media reform is warranted.
Hey, Rush, we're coming.
P.S. No more blogs till next week.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

According to Garrison Keillor, Rush Limbaugh and his ilk are, "evil, lying, cynical bastards who are out to destroy the country I love and turn it into a banana republic, but hey, nobody's perfect." Unfortunately, these less than perfect windbags are spewing about 40,000 hours of misinformation and hate on air every week to our 3,000 hours of liberal talk. A forty to three ratio? Ouch.
But the times, they are a-changin'. The May 23 issue of The Nation is devoted to progressive talk radio. "Calling Air America" describes the two major progressive competitors: Air America and Democracy Radio. They were originally one group in the fall of 2002, but they split in a disagreement about two organizational issues.
The first is whether it makes more sense to be a network like Air America or a syndicator like Democracy Radio. Both are alike in that they supply "the programming in return for which a station allots [them] a certain amount of air time for broadcasting whatever ads it can sell." The difference is that a network sells a whole package. That might include lots of top-notch programming, but it has a downside: it's a lot easier to sell a station one or two programs than nineteen straight hours of programs.
The other major difference between them is that Air America counted on making a big splash with celebrities like Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo. Democracy Radio prefers to go with experienced broadcasters. For example, D.R. recently brought Nancy Skinner back from her radio show in Chicago to her native Detroit for a morning drive-time show. She'll be expected to develop a fiercely loyal following there. A score of other experienced, local A.M. talkers are slated to be dropped into slots in major cities.
Vying for the lead in liberal talk radio are two men who are a study in contrasts:
Democracy Radio's Ed Schultz, a side o' beef radio personality out of Fargo, North Dakota, and Air America's Franken. Schultz [on ninety stations] is a boomer, a fast-talking, ham-fisted, quick-paced table banger with years of radio experience and a perfected technique. Franken [on fifty stations] is an accomplished comedian, a famous writer and liberal headliner who puts on a friendly, slow, NPR-paced radio performance that stamps him as someone who has either not yet learned to be an AM talker or has decided to succeed by being a different kind of talker. ... It remains to be seen if the cerebral Franken, with his cerebral guests ambling cerebrally up the high road, will make it in the long run.

Not that Air America doesn't have its share of high-decibel, pot-banging personalities. Randi Rhodes drove Ralph Nader right out of the studio with a verbal barrage against his candidacy. Mark Maron is wont to rant about the Christo-fascists and Janeane Garofalo behaves "like a confused avenging liberal angel or venomous pixie, depending on your tastes and politics."
I'm more of an NPR, Al Franken cerebral type myself, but I'm grateful for Randi Rhodes and Ed Schultz for reaching out with a rawer, less well-bred message. And by the way, I don't mean to slight Amy Goodman,who's been producing top-notch on-air journalism for twenty years. She has an article in this issue all to herself. We need every talent we can muster to reach the whole population.

Monday, May 09, 2005

What I just want to know is, howcome Hawaii gets three Air America stations, even Portland, Maine has one, but Missouri? Zippo. Three of our St. Louis Change for Missouri members are working to bring liberal talk radio to this hinterland. They've researched the best way to go about it, and here's what they learned.
First, do a survey to prove to station owners that there's a market. You would think that, given the voting record of St. Louis, that proposition would be self evident, but these three women are doing the job correctly. They've put up a website where you can quickly sign the petition (survey) for liberal talk radio in Eastern Missouri.
Next, they'll talk to businesses to get some to sign letters of interest. These won't be contracts. They'll merely express the businesses' interest in advertising during progressive programming. (Do you know of any businesses they might want to contact?)
Finally, having done the legwork for our local stations, these women will present the petitions and letters of interest, and voila: anti-Rush ideas will start streaming out. We hope.
Please complete the two minute survey and get as many of your acquaintances as possible to sign it as well.
One of these three women, Wendy Foster Dickson, has her own website, by the way, and I think I'll just give it a plug. I have two car magnets on my trunk lid that I bought from her:
The national debt is a BIRTH tax
STOP BLUNT TRAUMA
Governor Blunt is hurting MO

She has plenty more to choose from at commonsensemom@commonsensemom.com. She also has a diary there that's posted on Daily Kos as well, where I just learned that I had gotten mistaken info about Lacy Clay. I had read he voted to repeal the estate tax. Not so. He voted against repealing it.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

As committed Christians, I'm sure Matt Blunt and Cynthia Davis don't utter any coarse expletives in front of Jack Cardetti's name, not even in private--but they'd like to. How frustrating for them.
Jack has earned their ire. In fact, that's his full-time job. As one of the two people in charge of the Missouri State Democratic Party, he spends much of his day on the phone with reporters and editorial writers around the state, giving them the lowdown on the latest Republican scummy scam, and newspapers from Springfield, Hannibal, Columbia, Kansas City, and St. Louis have been printing stories off his tips. Dyan Ortbal-Avalos googled negative news stories about the state G.O.P. and found that between April 29-May 3, there were 43.
What a miserable four days that must have been.
I googled news stories in which Jack Cardetti is quoted and found 24. For sheer "caught-in-the-act" deliciousness, my favorite is the asbestos story. When the papers gave Blunt grief for spending $43,000 to redecorate his offices in a time of Medicaid budget cuts, Blunt repeatedly claimed that mold and asbestos made it necessary. But someone tipped Cardetti that there was basically no asbestos problem, and he in turn sicced a reporter on the governor. Turns out that a plank over a radiator had some asbestos on it, and a workman carried it away. Blunt must have been squirming when the brouhaha made it into an AP wire story. He told the reporter, "I'm not an expert in asbestos removal and handling, so I don't know at what point asbestos really begins to create additional costs involved in a normal renovation." The same reporter quoted Cardetti: "This is yet another example of our new governor being factually challenged."
Less well known than Blunt but more "out there" is Cynthia Davis, the O'Fallon representative who introduced a bill requiring that a chapter on alternatives to evolution be presented in Missouri biology textbooks (Blog St. Louis commented: "In scientific terms, that would be several blank pages.") Ms. Davis hit the news as a result of an ethics violation filed by "the state Democratic party" (aka Corey Dillon), alleging that Davis had paid a thousand dollars in real estate taxes out of her campaign fund and used campaign funds to buy a $2800 truck that wasn't used for campaign purposes. "Campaign-finance rules are extremely complex, and I will work to see that any inaccuracies are immediately remedied." Actually, the rule is simple: Campaign money "shall not be converted to any personal use." So the Post-Dispatch wasn't buying her tepid apology. An editorial snickered that she feels qualified to judge the merits of evolutionary theory but can't master the basics of campaign finance law.
Corey Dillon says the state party has filed so many ethics violation complaints recently that the clerks in that office call her Corey and know all her basic information.
Our august state party in Jeff City (all both of them) deserves our support. I just joined online ($25 a year). You might wanna do the same.
And I reserve the right to utter any coarse expletive that suits me when I see Blunt or Bush on the tube.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Like probably every other progressive in the country, I've made scathing comments about the Democratic Party from time to time. So I wondered how I'd react to hearing the executive director of the Missouri party at Wednesday night's meetup.
Corey Dillon is a slim, thirtyish woman with short, dark hair. Her youth and earnest, unaffected manner would get her booted out of smoke filled back rooms. Which is fine with her. She and her colleagues are not interested in being deal makers. They are interested in getting the grassroots of Missouri organized as quickly as possible.
They have a lot of ground to make up. The "State Party" sounds impressive, but it's basically been pretty pitiful. In fact, before 1992 it wasn't even staffed year round. After Mel Carnahan was elected, at least there was staff even in nonelection years, but they were just an extension of the gubernatorial office holder or candidate. Over time the focus of the state party was to get democratic governors either elected or re-elected, with little attention paid to other races or democratic causes.
After Matt Blunt defeated McCaskill, Corey and Jack Cardetti--the only two people in the Jeff City office--took stock of the situation and made some crucial decisions. The first was that as of January, they went into "Attack the Republicans" mode. (Details tomorrow!) The second was that they began contacting every Democratic group they could find in the state to begin talks about what those groups needed and wanted to accomplish in their part of the state. The third was tracking down Howard Dean soon after he was elected DNC chair. Corey and Claire McCaskill drove to Kansas, where Dean was speaking, and wangled a private interview. They explained that the party would either have to close its doors in a couple of months or it would start building, and money would be the deciding factor. Missouri's state party was the FIRST to submit a plan to Dean, and it was among the first four targeted by the DNC. With the money they received from the national party, Corey and Jack were able to begin hiring staff.
They inherited a large data base of people who volunteered to help Democrats in the last election. However, most of those people consider some place other than the party to be their political home base, having correctly concluded that the state party was weak or irrelevant. Change for Missouri, ACT, MoveOn, Progressive Dems, and various other groups have been sticking many fingers in the dike, trying to hold back the Republican flood. These groups would be more effective if they weren't duplicating efforts and tripping over each other. The state party is offering to coordinate.
What they are not offering to do is direct the various groups. Corey says the state office can crunch numbers for local groups, but only local people have a feel for how to make the most productive use of the information. For example, in a given county during the previous two elections, Democrats might expect to garner 63 percent of the vote, but in the last election, they only won 50 percent. Local folks are best equipped to make sense of the discrepancy. Do they need to register more Democrats, or do they first need to go door to door and ID exactly where the Dems are? Jefferson Township, for example, is IDing Democrats and creating a pyramidal communication structure, with one communicator for every thiry Democratic households. Most other areas in the state are not, unfortunately, so well organized--at least not yet.
Coming up with a plan for the state is uncharted territory, and Corey will be the first to tell you that nobody knows exactly what the organizational map will look like six months from now. The staff in Jeff City is feeling its way, contacting local people, looking for liaisons, and offering to coordinate local efforts.
I just assumed the state party, like the national one, was headed by bureacratic insiders, mostly indifferent to my opinions. Turns out, they're more like the Wizard of Oz, desiring to empower us so we can take our state back.

Like probably every other progressive in the country, I've made scathing comments about the Democratic Party from time to time, so I wondered how I'd react to hearing the executive director of the Missouri party at Wednesday night's meetup.
Corey Dillon is a slim, thirtyish woman with short, dark hair. Her youth and earnest, unaffected manner would get her booted out of smoke filled back rooms. Which is fine with her. She and her colleagues are not interested in being deal makers. They are interested in getting the grassroots of Missouri organized as quickly as possible.
They have a lot of ground to make up. The "State Party" sounds impressive, but it's basically been pretty pitiful. In fact, before 1992 it wasn't even staffed year round. After Mel Carnahan was elected, at least there was staff even in nonelection years, but they were just an extension of the gubernatorial office holder or candidate. Over time the focus of the state party was to get democratic governors either elected or re-elected, with little attention paid to other races or democratic causes.
After Matt Blunt defeated McCaskill, Corey and Jack Cardetti--the only two people in the Jeff City office--took stock of the situation and made some crucial decisions. The first was that as of January, they went into "Attack the Republicans" mode. (Details tomorrow!) The second was that they began contacting every Democratic group they could find in the state to begin talks about what those groups needed and wanted to accomplish in their part of the state. The third was tracking down Howard Dean soon after he was elected DNC chair. Corey and Claire McCaskill drove to Kansas, where Dean was speaking, and wangled a private interview. They explained that the party would either have to close its doors in a couple of months or it would start building, and money would be the deciding factor. Missouri's state party was the FIRST to submit a plan to Dean, and it was among the first four targeted by the DNC. With the money they received from the national party, Corey and Jack have begun to hire staffers.
They inherited a large data base of people who had volunteered to help Democrats in the last election. However, most of those people consider some place other than the party to be their political home base, having correctly concluded that the state party was weak or irrelevant. Change for Missouri, ACT, MoveOn, Progressive Dems, and various other groups have been sticking many fingers in the dike, trying to hold back the Republican flood. These groups would be more effective if they weren't duplicating efforts and tripping over each other. The state party is offering to coordinate.
What they are not offering to do is direct the various groups. Corey says the state office can crunch numbers for local groups, but only local people have a feel for how to make the most productive use of the information. For example, in a given county during the previous two elections, Democrats might have averaged, say, 63 percent of the vote, but in the last election, they only won 50 percent. Local folks are best equipped to make sense of the discrepancy. Do they need to register more Democrats, or do they first need to go door to door and ID exactly where the Dems are? Jefferson Township, for example, is IDing Democrats and creating a pyramidal communication structure, with one communicator for every thiry Democratic households. Most other areas in the state are not, unfortunately, so well organized--at least not yet.
Coming up with a plan for the state is uncharted territory, and Corey will be the first to tell you that nobody knows exactly what the organizational map will look like six months from now. The staff in Jeff City is feeling its way, contacting local people, looking for liaisons, and offering to coordinate local efforts.
I just assumed the state party, like the national one, was headed by bureacratic insiders, mostly indifferent to my opinions. Turns out, they're more like the Wizard of Oz, desiring to empower us so that we can take our state back.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Quagmire is the word the administration strives to avoid vis-a-vis Iraq. So I'll substitute other terms--Morass, Quicksand, Slough of Despond. The soldiers know it. Bob Herbert's Monday New York Times column quotes an army guardsman named Delgado who's stationed there:
"Guys in my unit, particularly the younger guys, would drive by in their Humvee and shatter bottles over the heads of Iraqi civilians passing by. They'd keep a bunch of empty Coke bottles in the Humvee to break over people's heads."
He said he had confronted guys who were his friends about this practice. "I said to them: 'What the hell are you doing? Like, what does this accomplish?' And they responded just completely openly. They said: 'Look, I hate being in Iraq. I hate being stuck here. And I hate being surrounded by hajis.' "
"Haji" is the troops' term of choice for an Iraqi. It's used the way "gook" or "Charlie" was used in Vietnam.
Mr. Delgado said he had witnessed incidents in which an Army sergeant lashed a group of children with a steel Humvee antenna, and a Marine corporal planted a vicious kick in the chest of a kid about 6 years old. There were many occasions, he said, when soldiers or marines would yell and curse and point their guns at Iraqis who had done nothing wrong.

Such random cruelty is the mark of frustrated losers.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

From a letter in last Thursday's Post-Dispatch:
I can only hope that [a veteran spitting in Hanoi Jane Fonda's face] is the forerunner of similar activity against a few of my other favorites: Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, George Clooney, Alec Baldwin, Jessica Lange and all the other slime epitomized by the bottom of the barrel Ramsey Clark.

Whew! Now that's some serious disapproval. And yet, as Frank Rich points out in his Sunday Times column:
Conservatives can't stop whining about Hollywood, but the embarrassing reality is that they want to be hip, too. It's not easy. In the showbiz wrangling sweepstakes of 2004, liberals had Leonardo DiCaprio, the Dixie Chicks and the Boss. The right had Bo Derek, Pat Boone and Jessica Simpson, who, upon meeting the secretary of the interior, Gale Norton, congratulated her for doing "a nice job decorating the White House."

What to do? One solution is a book praising "South Park" for its lampooning of left wing political correctness. Despite the fact that one episode of "South Park" holds the record for the most bleeped out (162) repetitions of a single four-letter word in a half hour show, the book's right wing authors admire, for example, a parody that presents an anti-smoking campaign as fascistic and another satire of anti-war celebrities as dim-witted.
Since "South Park" outdraws even "The Daily Show", finally right-wingers can be hip--so they thought. "But a funny thing happened on the way to the publication of 'South Park Conservatives'": the Schiavo debacle broke, and
the same TV show celebrated by Mr. Anderson and his cohort as the leading edge of a potential conservative victory in the culture wars now looks like a harbinger of an anti-conservative backlash instead.
In the March 30 episode, Kenny, a kid whose periodic death is a "South Park" ritual, lands in a hospital in a "persistent vegetative state" and is fed through a tube. The last page of his living will is missing. Demonstrators and media hordes descend. Though heavenly angels decree that "God intended Kenny to die" rather than be "kept alive artificially," they are thwarted by Satan, whose demonic aide advises him to "do what we always do - use the Republicans." Soon demagogic Republican politicians are spewing sound bites ("Removing the feeding tube is murder") scripted in Hell. But as in the Schiavo case, they don't prevail. Kenny is allowed to die in peace once his missing final wish is found: "If I should ever be in a vegetative state and kept alive on life support, please for the love of God don't ever show me in that condition on national television." ...
The same arrogance that sent Republicans into Terri Schiavo's hospice room has also led them to try to police the culture of sex more rabidly than the left did the culture of sexism. No wonder another recent poll, from the Pew Research Center, finds that for all the real American displeasure with coarse entertainment, a plurality of 48 percent believes that "the government's imposing undue restrictions" on pop culture is "a greater danger" to the country than the entertainment industry itself. Who could have imagined that the public would fear Focus on the Family's James Dobson more than 50 Cent?

Rich's column details some proposed censorship of the airwaves that I was unaware of, including this satisfying irony:
"South Park" is also on this hit list: the Parents Television Council, the take-no-prisoners e-mail mill leading the anti-indecency charge, has condemned the show on its Web site as a "curdled, malodorous black hole of Comedy Central vomit."

That's some more serious disapproval, but I have to ask: Does it make sense for a left-winger to ask whether the right hand and the left hand of the right wing each know what the other's doing?

Monday, May 02, 2005

When John Kennedy was running for president and passions were running high about whether a Catholic could serve both the American citizenry and Rome, a joke made the rounds about a priest and a minister whose friendship nearly came to blows. Finally the priest phoned his old friend. ''What a pity," he said. ''Here we are, both men of the cloth, fighting over politics." ''It's true," said the minister. ''We're both Christians. We both worship the same God -- you in your way, and I in His."

That rift between Protestant and Catholic is never firmly bridged, yet the most conservative members of these two groups have become tentative allies. It's a shaky coalition since each group really considers the other hellbound. (Rush Limbaugh recently said that "the religious left in this country hates and despises the God of Christianity and Catholicism"--what? he thinks these are two separate groups?) And Pope Leopold XVI, in his Ratzinger incarnation, made it plain that anyone who strays from the true Church is damned. Nevertheless, despite each sect's tacit assumption of the other's fate in the next life, their common enemy unites them. Rush again: "Liberals consider themselves more powerful than God."
So they are marching together into battle, and their foe is nothing less than the enlightenment. So says Robert Kuttner in an American Prospect column titled "Whose Nation under God?"
I never thought I'd live to see a time when the Enlightenment -- the Enlightenment! -- was politically controversial. Democracy, like science, depends on debate, tolerance, and evidence. And in a democracy, nothing is scarier than a political force convinced it is getting irrefutable truth directly from God.
Mercifully, religious extremists do not represent anything like a majority. We still have a proudly independent judiciary -- in the Schiavo case, Governor Jeb Bush could not find a single Florida judge willing to overturn the testimony of countless doctors. And mainstream denominations like the Presbyterians have begun speaking out vigorously on behalf of religious tolerance and pluralism.
But let's be clear: Our very democracy is under assault. History is filled with cases where a small minority was able to overturn democratic institutions.
Zeal on behalf of tolerance seems almost a contradiction. But the large American majority that believes in freedom of conscience and inquiry had better get organized with the same enlightened passion that drove America's Founders.

I won't be introducing myself as Jo Etta the Zealot, but that doesn't mean the spirit of democracy isn't moving within me and all of us.