Joplin Globe Endorses Big Government

The editorial in today’s Joplin Globe surprisingly—given the paper’s frequent public displays of affection for right-wing ideology—took the position that when it comes to the environment, more, not less, government regulation is needed.

Specifically criticizing past nonfeasance under outgoing director of Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Mark Templeton,  and claiming the director  “failed to ever engage in the job,” the Globe followed with this:

Admittedly, the DNR has become a weak player because it’s hamstrung by the lack of laws with any real teeth.

And the paper ended with this:

Whoever becomes the state’s new DNR director must push legislators to strengthen state laws protecting our rivers and streams.

We need a loud voice in that office.

Now, I wonder why the state of Missouri would need to strengthen state laws in order to protect our rivers and streams?  Surely, under the laissez-faire logic of conservatives—fully embraced now by the Republican Party—no one, including none of the corporate agriculture interests in Missouri, would pollute our environment, right?  

We don’t need silly laws that violate private property rights and give government the power to keep our rivers and lakes clean, to keep the air we breathe breathable, to keep our food safe.  That’s how government gets so big, passing silly laws like that. 

And those laws tend to get in the way of business, of “jobs,” and scare off potential employers to safer places like, say, Iowa, where good people like Jack DeCoster, the owner of Wright County Egg and Quality Egg, do their best to take care of the environment and our food supply, don’t they?

Well, let’s just check:

FDA inspectors at farms owned by two big Iowa egg producers documented what can only be called disgusting conditions that they say are responsible for up to 1,500 cases of Salmonella poisoning.

At Wright Egg and Quality Egg, part of the same complex, FDA inspectors found live mice inside the egg-laying houses, live and dead flies “too numerous to count,” as well as live and dead maggots “too numerous to count,” according to their report.

Well, maybe that was just a recent development.  Perhaps Mr. DeCoster was out of the country the last month or two and his overwhelming concern for food safety and public health and the environment was ignored by those left in charge. 

Well, let’s just check:

DeCoster is no stranger to controversy in his food and farm operations:

—In 1994, the state of Iowa assessed at least four separate penalties against DeCoster Farms for environmental violations, many of them involving hog waste.

—In 1997, DeCoster Egg Farms agreed to pay $2 million in fines to settle citations brought in 1996 for health and safety violations at DeCoster’s farm in Turner, Maine. The nation’s labor secretary at the time, Robert Reich, said conditions were “as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop.” Reich’s successor, Alexis Herman, called the state of the farms “simply atrocious,” citing unguarded machinery, electrical hazards, exposure to harmful bacteria and other unsanitary conditions.

—In 2000, Iowa designated DeCoster a “habitual violator” of environmental regulations for problems that included hog manure runoff into waterways. The label made him subject to increased penalties and prohibited him from building new farms.

—In 2002, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced a more than $1.5 million settlement of an employment discrimination lawsuit against DeCoster Farms on behalf of Mexican women who reported they were subjected to sexual harassment, including rape, abuse and retaliation by some supervisory workers at DeCoster’s Wright County plants.

—In 2007, 51 workers were arrested during an immigration raid at six DeCoster egg farms. His farms had been the subject of at least three previous raids.

—In June 2010, Maine Contract Farming, the successor company to DeCoster Egg Farms, agreed in state court to pay $25,000 in penalties and to make a one-time payment of $100,000 to the Maine Department of Agriculture over animal cruelty allegations that were spurred by a hidden-camera investigation by an animal welfare organization.

Whoops! Maybe the Globe is right.  Maybe we do need government to get bigger and help protect our environment and our food supply.

A good place to start would be the Food Safety Modernization Act, which, according to the New York Times, as been “languishing, stuck in some legislative limbo” in the U. S. Senate.

And that bill has the good fortune of being opposed by laissez-faire Tea Party types, who say, in the words of one such group, that the bill is a theat to our liberties:

Passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act would represent a massive expansion of government regulation of the food industry, even though there is no authorization in the Constitution for this. Our right to produce, distribute, and consume the foods of our choice is part of our rights to life and liberty. But in this era of expansive government regulation and takeovers, our representatives in Congress are poised to take even this very basic right from us by creating an extensive and all-controlling, regulatory, food bureaucracy.

My guess is that Jack DeCoster, whose egg producing operations in Iowa is responsible for poisoning 1500 Americans so far, would agree with that.

After all, he doesn’t need government to make his operations responsible corporate citizens.  Just look at his record.

Amniotic Republicans Win Again

An interestingly reported story in today’s edition of the Joplin Globe highlighted a point about the Missouri legislature’s latest modifications to our state’s already hyper-restrictive abortion laws that needs to be made over and over again:

“The life of each human being begins at conception,” according to Senate Bill 793, which adds new regulations to the state’s 24-hour informed consent law for abortions. “Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”

Those words will be displayed “prominently” on brochures that abortion providers will be required to hand out to every woman seeking the procedure — even if they don’t happen to believe the Christian theology the words represent.

The point is that the philosophy behind the new law’s definitional language, which providers much put in the hands of Missouri women seeking to exercise their constitutional rights, is really Christian theology codified into law.

But what may be the most important, and saddest, point the story suggests is that this example of fundamentalist religion dominating Missouri politics was possible only because Democrats allowed, once again, the forces of reaction, the forces that demand our society turn back the clock and live in the 1950s, to have their way. 

And without putting up much of a fight.

Oh, sure.  A threatened filibuster by Democrats in the Missouri Senate kept the last-hour legislation from being worse. But why not filibuster all the way to the end, until this offensive legislation died on the vine, a vine in a veritable garden of wishes tended by religious zealots, whose theology on abortion doesn’t even have the benefit of being supported by the history of theological thinking?

And why didn’t Governor Nixon—who the last time I checked said he supported reproductive rights—veto the damn thing? 

Well, the truth is that Democrats, especially in purple states like Missouri, but in other states as well, are on the defensive.  They’re afraid to stand up for the things that presumably make them Democrats, for the things that make us a more civilized society, a better place to live. 

And if they don’t grow some metaphorical testicles of courage soon, they will certainly send the messages to voters that their ideas aren’t worth fighting for, and thus give voters no reason to vote for them.

Our elected Missouri Democrats let people like Jim Lembke, a Republican senator who was one of the sponsors of the assault on reason that is the new abortion law, get most of what they want. 

But surely, you say, Senator Lembke is a man of compassion, a man who is merely looking after those who can’t look after themselves. Isn’t that right?

No. No. No. Like most conservative Republicans in the state, his concern for the “life of a separate, unique, living human being” begins and ends in the world of the amniotic sac.

Read here about what Lembke, bursting with love for the little ones among us, would do for folks unfortunate enough to live in Missouri without health insurance or citizenship.  Lembke said he would favor repealing the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, which,

…requires hospitals and ambulance services to provide care to anyone needing emergency healthcare treatment regardless of citizenship, legal status or ability to pay.

As Sean Nicholson at FiredUp! wrote:

…it’s one of those horrible mandates that keeps poor people from dying or remaining very ill because greedy (but still Marxist) health care companies might be more concerned about their profits and executive bonus packages.

Lembke is the kind of amniotic Republican that Missouri Democrats have essentially surrendered to, at least when it comes to allowing them to make their Iron Age theology part of Missouri law.

Is it any wonder why many Missouri Democratic voters lack enthusiasm for candidates on our side?

For Sale: Albert Pujols Bobbleheads. Cheap. Owner Motivated To Sell.

I had to take a long walk this morning, after seeing a brief glimpse of Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa at Glenn Beck’s memorial to monochrome malcontents.  

Perhaps one can excuse Pujols, who ostensibly was being “honored” for his charitable work, for attending the rally.  Maybe with his busy baseball schedule, he doesn’t know Glenn Beck or what he stands for—but wait.  What’s that?  Pujols met Beck and Bill O’Reilly this past June and autographed a bat for Beck?  Huh?

Okay, so maybe there is no excuse for Pujols’ endorsement of Beck and Beckanoia.  Maybe there is no excuse for him to give even a hint of legitimacy to a man who called the President of the United States a racist, and who said Obama “has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.”

And there certainly is no excuse for Tony La Russa’s role in what will at least cost the St. Louis Cardinal’s a couple of bucks due to my decision to never purchase another ticket or another Cardinal-related product, as long as La Russa is around.  And I haven’t made up my mind about Pujols.

La Russa said on Thursday that he was assured the rally wasn’t going to be political in nature.

“I don’t know who’s going to be there, who’s going to accept it. But the gist of the day is not political. I think it’s a really good concept, actually.”

Let’s see.  La Russa doesn’t know Glenn Beck was going to be there?  That Sarah Palin was going to be there?  And he doesn’t know what those two do for a lucrative living? He doesn’t read a damn newspaper or watch a news program?  He had no idea that everything Glenn Beck has done since joining the Republican “News” Channel is political?

That’s complete bullshit.

La Russa has previously shown sympathy for the Tea Party movement and Arizona’s SB 1070 (which, to Pujols’ credit, he has said he opposes), and for him to act like he doesn’t know what it means for him and the biggest star in baseball to attend the Beck rally—under any circumstances—is as disingenuous as it can be. 

Even the name given to the rally, “Re$toring Honor,” reeks with political implications. Whose honor needs restored?  And why?  Oh, I know: America’s honor needs restored because Barack Obama and the Democrats have stolen it! Why, that’s not political at all!

Phony bastards.

Not to mention how sickening it was to see one of the game’s greatest active players, a man of color, stand before a crowd of pale-faced populists on the very day and close to the very spot that Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

And for anyone to compare, as Beck has done, what those pale-faced people think they are going through—because of the election of a black “racist,” Barack Obama—to the injustices that Dr. King was speaking of when he made his 1963 speech is beyond chutzpah, beyond presumptuousness, beyond even decency.

It’s sick.

Dr. King began his speech with a reference to the Emancipation Proclamation, which he said,

…came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves, who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.

Does that sound like anything happening to the thousands of disgruntled whites who gathered, metaphorically prostrate, in front of their demagogue, Glenn Beck?

Or maybe this does:

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free.

One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.

One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.

One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.

So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

Of course, none of the problems Dr. King elegantly outlined can be, even in the wildest hallucinations of Glenn Beck or his sycophantic followers, compared to the kind of problems that allegedly plague the attendees today at the “Re$toring Honor” rally.

And it’s too bad for the St. Louis Cardinals, it’s too bad for Major League Baseball, that Albert Pujols allowed himself to be used as a prop to legitimate such a travesty.

Anyone want to buy a couple of Albert Pujols bobbleheads?

Eleven Drunk Democrats

A KY3/Missouri State University Poll released yesterday, conducted from just after the primary through August 22nd, brings good news for Robin Carnahan and bad news for Scott Eckersley.

The poll of 785 likely Missouri voters shows a too-close-to-call race between Carnahan (48.4%) and Roy Blunt (48.8%), and not surprisingly, it shows Billy Long with a large lead over Scott Eckersley, 50.8% to 23.4%.

But I found an odd result in the numbers. Here is the table for the Senate Race survey question:

Now, if you look at those results, you find that of those likely voters identified as “Strong Democrats,” a whopping 8.6% of them said they preferred Roy Blunt over Robin Carnahan.  Huh?  Aint no way.

If you look at those identified as “Strong Republicans,” a measly, but likely quite accurate, .8% said they would vote for Carnahan. That’s POINT 8, less than 1%.  And that’s more like it.

But how does one explain the obvious discrepancy?*  Since the category “Strong Democrat” represented 16.2% of the entire sample, that’s 127 folks. And since 8.6% of those 127 strong Democratic folks said they would be voting for Roy Blunt, that’ s either 11 liars or 11 drunk Democrats who participated in the poll.

There’s no way I’m believing that 11 people courageous enough to admit they are strong Democrats in the state of Missouri would also admit they prefer Roy Blunt over anyone, much less Robin Carnahan. They’re either lying about being strong Democrats or, as I said, they answered the telephone during a beer binge.

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*The opposite result can be found in the 7th District House race.  There, “Strong Democrat” registered exactly ZERO votes for Billy Long—no amount of intoxication could, apparently, make a Democrat say he or she would vote for Billy Long.

Additonally, 8.3% of “Strong Republicans” said they would vote for Scott Eckersley, which makes perfect sense.  In fact, given who Eckersley is—a not-so-former Republican—and given what Billy Long is, it’s a wonder that more strong Republicans aren’t voting for Eckersley.  But there’s still time for Billy to change all that.  Better keep him quiet, boys!

Remarks And Asides

Terry Jones, pastor of the ironically-named Dove World Outreach Center, has decided that a Godly message to Muslims everywhere is in order. So, he has thoughtfully organized an “International Burn a Quran Day,” slated for September 11.

But…what if the Quran is not combustible?

In any case, my sources in the hereafter have informed me that Pastor Jones himself is scheduled to be barbecued sometime soon, possibly sooner than he might imagine.

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In case you missed it, Ken Mehlman, former chairman of the Republican National Committee—the Michael Steele of his day—and former campaign manager for Bush’s 2004 campaign, has finally decided to tell the world he is a sodomite gay.

It’s taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life,” Mehlman said.

Okay, fine.  Now, when will Michael Steele admit to the world that he is really white?

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By the way, Bill Maher outed Mehlman four years ago on Larry King’s show, to which King responded:

King: I never heard that. I’m walking around in a fog. I never…Ken Mehlman? I never heard that. But the question is…

Mayer: Maybe you don’t go to the same bathhouse I do, Larry.

Now, the thought of a naked Larry King in a bathhouse is enough to make most any man a heterosexual, I would think.

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I heard Karl Rove say—while being gingerly massaged skillfully interviewed by the refurbished Greta Van Susteren on Wednesday—that Democratic economic policies have clearly been a “spending orgy.”  

Certainly, we can agree that Rove—part of an administration that screwed seven or eight million Americans so long and hard that they lost their jobs—would know an orgy when he sees one.

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For those of you attending Glenn Beck’s “I Have A Meme” rally this Saturday, just a word of caution: No firearms, ammunition, or explosives are allowed.  And there will absolutely be no alcoholic beverages.  But my impeachable sources tell me that Sarah Palin will be going commando. Have fun everyone!

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And speaking of Glenn Beck’s egofest this Saturday–the one in which he claims God will manifest his power in ways folks have likely never before seen in public (so much for parting the Red Sea)–none other than Erick Erickson is questioning the motives of the guy who is destined to sit on the left hand of God:

“The conservative movement is still split on Glenn and whether he’s doing it for himself or doing it for the movement,” said Erick Erickson, founder of the influential conservative blog Red State.

Now, when an intellectual slob like Erickson is questioning your motives, can a Noah-like flood be far behind?  I’d buy a big boat before Saturday, if I were you, Erick.

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Sarah Palin’s counterfactual son-in-law, Levi Johnston—a self described “f***in’ redneck“—is undertaking a campaign for either mayor or councilman of Wasilla—apparently his choice—and has been seen gun-shopping.  Even Sarah Palin doesn’t deserve this guy. 

Okay.  Maybe she does.

Levi has recently renounced his apology for “lying” about Palin.  “The only thing I wish I wouldn’t have done is put out that apology ’cause it kind of makes me sound like a liar,” he said.  

That kid is learnin’.

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Roy Blunt’s partner-in-legislative-malfeasance, Tom DeLay, failed to talk a Texas judge into moving his trial on money laundering to a, well, more hospitable venue.  The bug-killing star-dancer will be tried in Austin, virtually the only place left in Texas where a conservative ideologue has a snowball’s chance of getting what he deserves.

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The Obama Justice Department has appealed a court ruling striking down a Bush administration policy that fined broadcasters for saying naughty words on live telly.

So, even though the evil Obama is bent on destroying America, he doesn’t want people like Bono saying “f**k” in front of the children while he is doing so.

Can’t Get A Tee Time? Blame It On The Muslims

I couldn’t let this pass without saying something.

Wednesday’s Joplin Globe “featured” a column by Byron York, who blamed President Obama himself for people’s (mostly Republican people’s) “confusion” over Obama’s religious identity.  

This is the kind of stuff that local conservatives are fed day after day on local talk radio and, sadly, frequently in our local paper.

Managing to mention—all in one column—Obama’s connection to Jeremiah Wright, his Muslim grandfather, his Muslim-raised father-who-turned atheist, his Muslim step-father, his Muslim half sister, his “two years in a Muslim school in Indonesia,” his fondness for the “Arabic call to prayer“—York helpfully added, “the beginning of which is recited by heart“—our efficient conservative columnist summed up the situation with,

Given all that, it is entirely accurate and fair to describe Obama as having Muslim roots.

But he wasn’t done.  He mentioned Obama’s “speech to the Muslim world,” which was “laced with references to the Quran and his Muslim roots,” quoting USA Today.  He then, of course, tossed in a reference to Obama’s “White House Ramadan iftar dinner.”

Now, that’s quite a day’s work for a columnist. But the glittering jewel of hokum was yet to come:

Pew asked respondents how they learned about Obama’s religion. Most who believe Obama is a Muslim say they learned it through the media. But 11 percent say they learned it through Obama’s “own words and behavior.” Perhaps they read the White House press pool reports, which often describe Obama heading out Sunday morning to play basketball or golf.

Forget for a moment that “most” people said they “learned” that Obama was a Muslim “through the media.”  I wonder what media?  MSNBC? Forget that salient fact and just focus on the whopping 11% who said Obama taught them through his “own words and behavior” that he was a Muslim.

Yes, forget everything else and focus on that last sentence:

Perhaps they read the White House press pool reports, which often describe Obama heading out Sunday morning to play basketball or golf.

Famously, Ronald Reagan didn’t spend too many of his valuable Sundays attending church. Neither did W. Bush. And neither do many faith-professing Americans.

But Obama’s penchant for playing basketball and golf, instead of listening to a droning preacher—the non-droning ones like Reverend Wright are off-limits these days—somehow betrays his Muslim faith, according to York. 

Maybe he’s right.  I know I get pissed on Sundays when I try to get a tee time and the guy at the golf course says, “All the damn Muslims have us backed up until 1:30.”

Oh, well. I can always spend my Sundays reading insightful White House press pool reports.  A guy can a learn a lot from those things.

Talibanic Believers Win Federal District Court Battle Over Stem Cell Research

I am sometimes criticized for making too much of conservatives’ religious views, especially the views associated with Christian fundamentalism in its various forms, many of which views I used to hold.  And I realize I piss off perturb a lot of folks who would otherwise be sympathetic to my political opinions.

But today’s Joplin Globe (page 5C) carried a story that demonstrates why it is important to make people armed with Iron Age theology uncomfortable, and why it is important to understand if someone, especially a candidate for political office, holds views like, say, the earth is only 6000 years old:

The government will quickly appeal a court ruling that undercut federally funded embryonic stem cell research, the Obama administration declared Tuesday, but dozens of experiments aimed at fighting spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease and other ailments probably will stop in the meantime.

That court ruling, made on Monday by Federal District Court Judge Royce Lamberth—a Reagan nominee who originally dismissed the suit but was reversed by the Court of Appeals—resulted from nothing less than a religious assault on science and progress by Christian zealots, intent on not just keeping America safe for disseminating the Gospel, but on forcing public policy to conform to their extremist religious worldview.

According to the New York Times, the primary assault came from the Alliance Defense Fund, “which sued to stop the Obama administration rules” for providing research grants to scientists working with embryonic stem cells.  Those rules had been carefully and thoughtfully changed* to allow for an expansion of stem cell lines from Bush’s 21 to Obama’s 75-and-counting. 

The Alliance Defense Fund is a relatively radical group of Christian lawyers—excuse me, according to its own description, it is “a servant organization that provides the resources that will keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel through the legal defense of religious freedom, the sanctity of life, marriage  and the family.”

In other words, it is sort of a Christian Taliban, without the turbans, guns, and roadside bombs.  

Okay, maybe that’s a little strong, but when you think about the real Taliban’s imposition of a strict form of Sharia, the sacred law of Islam, it’s not that farfetched to compare it to an organization that capitalizes the “T” in truth, as in the following (the red, unlike the words of Jesus in the New Testament, is in the original):

“The Alliance Defense Fund is a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation.”

Now, that may sound harmless enough.  Christians simply want to maintain shelf space in the marketplace of ideas—hopefully some distance from the kosher cream cheese—and want to maintain the right to “hear and speak” whatever (T)ruth they subscribe to.  Who would argue against that?

But let’s go back to their own description I quoted above:

…a servant organization that provides the resources that will keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel through the legal defense of religious freedom, the sanctity of life, marriage  and the family.”

The “Gospel” presumably puts the capital “T” in Truth.  There’s no arguing with someone who possesses the truth with a capital “T,” as anyone knows who has attempted to reason with a Jehovah’s Witness worker for more than, say, five minutes.  So, that seems to be a fair comparison with the Taliban’s allegiance to Sharia, whose devotees certainly not only consider their Islamic law sacred, but Truth as well.

Then there is the idea of providing “the legal defense of …the sanctity of life, marriage and the family.”  Just what does that mean?  The “legal defense of turns out to be “the imposition of in practice.

When conservative Christians are “defending” marriage, they are really imposing their own version of Sharia on American society.  The defense of marriage turns out to be the denial of equal protection under the law to biblically-condemned sodomites homosexuals.

And, as in the court ruling referenced above, the defense of the sanctity of life turns out to be an imposition (hopefully only temporary) of an extremist pro-life view that maintains the donated, days-old frozen embryos used—”destroyed”—in culling stem cells are equivalent to full-grown, sentient, God-made human beings.

Now, I admit that’s not quite the same as comprehensively imposing Sharia, but it’s in the same ballpark, again, hopefully far from the Hebrew National hot dog kiosk.  Groups like the Alliance Defense Fund are essentially part of a larger faith-based political movement designed to achieve certain political and legal goals—sort of like a demilitarized version of the Taliban, which is defined as, “a Wahhabi Islamist political movement.”

Before I rest my case, I want to be fair to more sensible Christian believers, like Francis Collins, former director of the Human Genome Project, and a rare evangelical who believes in God, Jesus, and evolution.  He also happens to be the head of the National Institutes of Health, and is quoted in the story appearing in the Globe:

But 22 projects that were due to get yearly checks in September, $54 million worth, “will be stopped in their tracks,” said NIH Director Francis Collins — meaning a waste of the millions those scientists already have spent unless they can find private dollars to keep the stem cells alive. Dozens more proposals won’t get a hearing pending the court case’s conclusion.

“This decision has just poured sand into the engine of discovery,” Collins said.

Exactly.  And what led to that decision is a Taliban-like allegiance to false certainty—to Truth—an allegiance expressed not with IED’s and AK47 Kalashnikovs, weapons favored by extremist Muslim warriors on battlefields in Afghanistan, but with lawsuits and propaganda, the weapons thankfully preferred by extremist Christian soldiers in courtrooms in America.

[photo of embryo found here]

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*From the news story appearing in the Globe:  

 Obama expanded…the number that could be used but with additional caveats: that the original embryo was left over from fertility treatment and the woman or couple who donated it did so voluntarily and was told of other options, such as donating the embryo to another infertile woman.

Roy Blunt’s Unforgivable Role In The Life and Death of Terri Schiavo

More than five years have passed since the death of Terri Schiavo, the reportedly quiet and shy Pennsylvania girl, who those five years ago was the center of worldwide attention, as her husband Michael—the first man Terri ever kissed—finally succeeded in allowing her to pass away with not much dignity to spare.

Terri Schiavo was 26 years old when she suffered extensive brain damage, after collapsing at her home in St. Petersburg, Florida, the victim of cardiac arrest.  That was in 1990. After a couple of months in a coma, doctors diagnosed her as being in a persistent vegetative state, a diagnosis that would be challenged again and again over the next 15 years.

After a long trial of experimental therapy, and with hope gone, in 1998 Michael finally asked the Pinellas County Florida Sixth Circuit Court for permission to remove the feeding tube that had kept Terri alive for eight years.  Terri’s parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, understandably not wanting to let go of their daughter, fought Michael’s attempt to let his wife pass in peace.

Thus, a lengthy fight in the courts began, and it would not end until just before Terri’s death in 2005, closing with one of the most unseemly and disgusting political episodes in our nation’s history, certainly in the history of the Republican Party.

And near the center of that unseemly and disgusting political fiasco was our own Roy Blunt.

Blunt, who as Republican Majority Whip in 2005, was the right hand man of Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who while the Republicans controlled the House—and before he was forced to resign amid accusations of money laundering and violating campaign finance laws—was nicknamed “The Hammer” because of his fierce enforcement of ideological and party discipline and his tendency to punish his political enemies.

But before I get to Blunt’s role in the Terri Schiavo case, it’s important to understand the dynamics of what was happening back in 2005 regarding the case.

Tom DeLay, along with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, led the Republican charge to use the federal government to essentially ignore the years of state court litigation in Florida over whether the feeding tube keeping Terri Schiavo alive should be removed and whether Terri would have wanted it removed. 

DeLay favored congressional action that would essentially usurp state jurisdiction in such matters in order to satisfy his Christian, “pro-life” sensibilities.  “Terri Schiavo doesn’t want to die,” DeLay confidently said at a press conference on March 18, 2005—with Roy Blunt at his side.

But others quickly concluded at the time that the Schiavo case was more about politics than compassion, Christian or otherwise. A memo written by a lawyer working for Florida Republican Senator Mel Martinez surfaced, which declared the Schiavo case would be “a great political issue” that would “excite” the party’s pro-life base.

And of course it did.

But The Hammer, not content to merely play politics or argue the niceties of moral philosophy, actually attacked the Florida judge who heard the original Schiavo case and who had consistently ruled that Michael Schiavo’s request to administer mercy to his wife should be granted.  

That judge, George W. Greer, was a Southern Baptist Republican.  Here’s what Tom DeLay—again with Roy Blunt at his side—said about Judge Greer during the March 18, 2005, press conference, on the very day and at the very hour that Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was to be removed:

What this is about, is we have a state court with a judge that has been trying to kill Terri Schiavo for four and a half years…

Such was the venom pouring from the lips of The Exterminator, Mr. DeLay, in those days.  He also called removal of the feeding tube “an act of barbarism,” and accused three Democratic Senators, who failed to see things his way, of, well, I’ll just let him say it:

Those Senators responsible for blocking our bill yesterday afternoon—Senator Boxer, Senator Wyden, and Senator Levin—have put Mrs. Schiavo’s life at risk to prove a point, an unprecedented profile of cowardice.

Cowardice, he said. Unprecedented cowardice.

About a week later, The San Francisco Chronicle revealed that the DeLay family had faced a similar Schiavo-like situation back in 1988, when the family decided to allow the congressman’s father to die because, after a freak accident at home, he would “basically be a vegetable“:

“There was no point to even really talking about it,” Maxine DeLay, the congressman’s 81-year-old mother, recalled last week. “There was no way he (Charles) wanted to live like that. Tom knew, we all knew, his father wouldn’t have wanted to live that way.”*

Now, it turns out that Roy Blunt, who currently is laboring to become our U.S. Senator and thus a colleague of Senators Boxer, Wyden, and Levin, was in agreement with Delay’s “cowardice” assessment.  He said, moments after DeLay’s comment about the Senators:

I share the leader’s disappointment with less than a handful of individuals who stood in the way of that bill being sent to the president yesterday and this being resolved at that time.

So, Blunt essentially concurred with the “cowardice” characterization and continued with this:

It’s really hard to imagine a death a lot more hideous than simply deciding that you’re no longer going to allow someone to have food and water, and as you watch them dehydrate, and starve to death. It’s clear from watching the tapes of Terri Schiavo that she interacts with people, she’s aware of her surroundings, she attempts to communicate.

Fortunately, there were real journalists at this 2005 press conference.  One of them had this exchange with Dr. Blunt over his video diagnosis of Schiavo’s brain state:

Questioner: Mr. Blunt, you expressed a, kind of a medical opinion about Ms. Schiavo’s condition based on what you’ve seen on TV, and many, many doctors have pronounced her to be in a vegetative state. How is it that you think you’ve got a better handle on what condition she’s in than they do?

Blunt: You know her mother who sees her, I think every day, has a different opinion than they do, too.  And she appears to recognize her mother, to make attempts to communicate. And beyond that, if you want to get into the medical position here, I think the medical view is that she’s not being kept alive by any artificial means. She’s only being given food and water.  The medical care here is at a minimum to sustain life. It’s not like she’s on some huge life support system.  She’s very much alive, and the only way that she won’t be alive is if the people responsible for her care stop feeding her and stop giving her liquids.  I think that’s the medical line that needs to be drawn here.  But when you look at the films of her, her change—the way she appears to change when her mother comes into the room, there is a recognition there. 

Now, perhaps it never occurred to Roy Blunt, or any of the Republicans involved in the Schiavo legislative travesty, that Judge Greer—who had presided over the case from the beginning—had considered all the evidence, including the video and extensive medical testimony provided by real experts, not just the observations of a Republican legislator from Springfield, Mo., watching from afar.

At the first Schiavo trial in March of 2000, 18 witnesses testified about her medical condition and whether she preferred heroic care at the end of her life.  Judge Greer found that Terri was indeed in a persistent vegetative state and that her husband Michael’s claim that she would not want to be kept alive artificially was credible.  An appeals court affirmed that decision.

In April of 2001, Terri’s feeding tube was removed for the first but not the last time.  Further court action by the Schindlers resulted in the reinsertion of the tube within two days.  In 2002, an evidentiary hearing was held, involving CAT scan results, EEG data, and the testimony of five doctors—two of which were chosen by Terri’s parents.

Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia, which relates to Roy Blunt’s video diagnosis:

The five doctors examined Terri’s medical records, brain scans, the videos, and Terri herself. Drs. Cranford, Greer, and Bambakidis testified that Terri was in a persistent vegetative state. Drs. Maxfield and Hammesfahr testified that she was in a minimally conscious state. As part of the court-ordered medical exam, six hours of video of Terri were taped and filed at the Pinellas County courthouse. The tape included Terri with her mother and neurologist William Hammesfahr. The entire tape was viewed by Judge Greer, who wrote, Terri “clearly does not consistently respond to her mother.”  From that six hours of video, the Schindlers and their supporters produced six clips totaling almost six minutes and released those clips to public websites.

It’s hard to believe that Roy Blunt sat down and watched the entire six hours of video of Terri Schiavo.  Perhaps if he had done so, he would not have sat beside Tom DeLay at that press conference in March of 2005 and made an utter fool of himself.

In any case, he was at that press conference, which can be viewed here.  He was also on the Today show debating the issue, which can be found here. And there are other places one can find even more information, for those still unconvinced of Roy Blunt’s shameful role as co-pilot, while the Republican Party flew itself into legislative lunacy.

There is much more to the Schiavo case, and it makes for sad reading.  But eventually, DeLay, Frist, and Blunt got a version of their federal legislation—termed by DeLay as the Palm Sunday Compromise—passed by questionable means.

But to no avail.  Federal courts, including the Supreme Court, refused to bite. 

After seven years of court battles, Michael Schiavo finally prevailed.  Judge Greer’s last order to remove the feeding tube—the day Blunt and DeLay held their press conference—was upheld.

Terri Schiavo died at Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida, not quite two weeks later.

Needless to say, the comprehensive post-mortem examination revealed that Judge Greer had made the correct decision.  Terri Schiavo’s brain was extensively and irreversibly damaged.  Her vegetative state was very real.

Although there is much to be learned from what Republicans attempted to do during the fight over the fate of Terri Schiavo, for voters in Missouri, one fact stands out.

The man who wants to be our representative in the U. S. Senate, who seeks entrance to “the world’s greatest deliberative body,” is, by virtue of his role in the Schiavo case, unworthy to represent us.  His judgment is flawed.

Scott Schiavo, Michael’s brother, said this to Jennifer Frey of The Washington Post just before Terri’s protracted death:

“It’s so sad that they’ve turned this wonderful person into a sideshow,” Scott says, his voice shaking. “Into a media circus. It’s such a shame. It really is. The one that’s hurt the most here is Terri. Her memory. They’re taking away whatever dignity she had left. They’re taking it away. And it really stinks.”

During the Republican Party’s relatively recent and disgraceful battle to use the power of the federal government to impose conservative pro-life doctrine on first a family, then a state judicial system, Roy Blunt was right there on the front line, fighting beside his conservative comrade, Tom DeLay.

And if only to give some measure of posthumous dignity back to Terri Schiavo, Missourians ought to end Roy Blunt’s legislative career this November.

______________________________________

*Related to DeLay’s own family decision about his father is the following exchange, which occurred at the March 18, 2005, DeLay-Blunt press conference:

Questioner:  The husband in this case—Terri Schiavo’s husband—has said that she expressed a verbal desire that she not continue in this sort of state.  How does the, sort of, the issue of sanctity between spouses in marriage fit into what the Congress is doing now?

DeLay: In my opinion, the sanctity of life overshadows the sanctity of marriage.  I don’t know what transpired between Terri and her husband.  All I know is Terri is alive, and this judge in Florida wants to pull her feeding tube and let her starve for two weeks. That is barbaric, and unless she had specifically written instructions in her own hand and with her signature, I don’t care what her husband says.

DeLay’s father did not leave any written instructions before his accident.

Globe Confirms Blunt’s Bacon-Bringing Bona Fides

Now, get this: in its Sunday editorial about Billy Long and Scott Eckersley, the Globe, inadvertently I’m sure, made Robin Carnahan’s point about Roy Blunt’s insider’s ability to bring home the federal bacon to supposedly bacon-hating Republican voters in Southwest Missouri:

But part of the reason Southwest Missouri received federal funding is because Rep. Roy Blunt was an experienced politician. We pay federal taxes, so it’s only fair that we get some of those back.

Notwithstanding the Joplin Globe‘s relentless focus on government spending since President Obama’s election, the paper nevertheless praises Blunt’s “experience” in getting our “fair” share of federal dollars.

Well, I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. But here is another, in the form of Carnahan’s latest ad on Blunt’s role as the point man on the Bush administration’s federal bailout of Wall Street banks:

One More Use For Duct Tape Or “How To Run The Billy Long Campaign”

The Joplin Globe‘s Sunday editorial claims that representatives of Billy Long and Scott Eckersley “pointed fingers at each other while talking to a Globe reporter ” over their disagreement on whether to or how to or how not to have real debates before voters select one of these two conservatives* to represent them in Washington, D.C.   

Just as a mild rebuke, instead of seeming to assign blame equally, how about some real reporting from the Joplin Globe on just who is to blame for the failure to reach an agreement on debates?  It seems like an important issue—if integrity means much anymore—because Eckersley claims that Long backed out of a debate proposal that he “had previously agreed to.” 

Even Long’s conservative enemies are claiming Long is afraid not only to debate, but essentially afraid to open his auctioneer-trained mouth and remove all doubt that he is not worthy of the voters’ support.  Someone—meaning an objective journalist—at least needs to ferret out all the facts and let voters know why Billy Long backed out of the promised debates. 

To its credit, though, it does appear that the Joplin Globe intends to find out if there are any “clear differences” between the two candidates, and we shall see in the upcoming weeks both if the Globe presses for more information and if the candidates, particularly Long, are willing to open up and give it.  

We do know that Eckersley has publicly and forcefully stated that he is willing to debate openly, and if Long is not willing to do so, the Globe and every area newspaper and media outlet should aggressively and frequently point that out.  Good journalism is our only way of ascertaining the truth—to the extent it can be ascertained—about the candidates, and employing a campaign strategy of duct-taping the mouth of the leading candidate should be exposed forcefully and frequently. 

 ______________________________ 

*Look, I know they aren’t the only candidates in the race and I know that one of these two candidates has a “D” by his name, but as the Globe points out, “Long and Eckersley have more in common than they may realize,” and Eckersley was endorsed by former Republican primary candidate, Michael Wardell.  So, there is little doubt that in terms of Eckersley’s and Long’s votes on future legislation, the results will be much the same.  Eckersley will just be able to explain better why he voted the way he did and Long will either babble or recite his party’s talking points.  

And I also know that some folks, like conservative Clay Bowler, who runs a quite informative anti-Long website, don’t see Billy Long as much of a conservative.  But in terms of results, is there any doubt that there won’t be a farthing’s worth of difference between them? 

What Is A Moderate Muslim?

Frank Rich, the New York Times columnist, has written an excellent piece on the Ground Zero-mosque (Park 51) issue titled, “How Fox Betrayed Petraeus.” Rich essentially blames The Republican “News” Channel for first ignoring the issue, then in the person of O’Reilly-substitute and god-awful Laura Ingraham, actually supporting the effort to build the mosque, before coming to its corporate senses and using the issue to attack Obama and the Democrats.

But Rich makes a point that I confess I have missed throughout the entire nasty affair. First, a little background on Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the plan to build the “Islamic cultural center containing a prayer room“:

Rauf is no terrorist. He has been repeatedly sent on speaking tours by the Bush and Obama State Departments alike to promote tolerance in Arab and Muslim nations. As Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic reported last week, Rauf gave a moving eulogy at a memorial service for Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter murdered by Islamist terrorists in Pakistan, at the Manhattan synagogue B’nai Jeshurun. Pearl’s father was in attendance. The Park51 board is chock-full of Christians and Jews. Perhaps the most threatening thing about this fledgling multi-use community center, an unabashed imitator of the venerable (and Jewish) 92nd Street Y uptown, is its potential to spawn yet another coveted, impossible-to-get-into Manhattan private preschool.

Now that we know a little something about Rauf and his plans, here is the point Rich makes that I somehow missed:

An America at war with Islam plays right into Al Qaeda’s recruitment spiel. This month’s incessant and indiscriminate orgy of Muslim-bashing is a national security disaster for that reason — Osama bin Laden’s “next video script has just written itself,” as the former F.B.I. terrorist interrogator Ali Soufan put it — but not just for that reason. America’s Muslim partners, those our troops are fighting and dying for, are collateral damage. If the cleric behind Park51 — a man who has participated in events with Condoleezza Rice and Karen Hughes, for heaven’s sake — is labeled a closet terrorist sympathizer and a Nazi by some of the loudest and most powerful conservative voices in America, which Muslims are not?

Like Sam Harris and others, I have been dismayed that moderate Muslims have not been vocal enough in their opposition to radical extremists bent on ruining civilization in the name of Islam.

But do the Rauf’s of the Western world have to imitate Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh before we consider them moderates?  It’s a fair question, given what has happened over the mosque issue in New York.

Rich ends with another important point about General Petraeus’ recent high-profile attempt to “pitch the war he’s inherited“:

…have you heard any buzz about what he had to say? Any debate? Any anything? No one was listening and no one cared. Everyone was too busy yelling about the mosque.

It’s poignant, really. Even as America’s most venerable soldier returned from the front to valiantly assume the role of Willy Loman, the product he was selling was being discredited and discontinued by his own self-proclaimed allies at home.

Here is the segment from the O’Reilly Factor, from December of 2009, in which Laura Ingraham interviews Daisy Khan, co-founder of Park 51 and wife of Imam Rauf.  Keep in mind while watching this interview that earlier this month, the same Laura Ingraham had changed her mind about the project and said on Good Morning America that it is a “finger in the eye” of New York and questioned the motives of the Muslims involved, including Daisy Khan:

Billy Won’t Be A Hero After All

Billy Long, who squeaked his way through the Republican primary for our 7th District House seat, said right after his unimpressive primary win that he would agree to debate Scott Eckersley, who won the Democratic primary.

But apparently his political handlers, realizing that Billy Long is the Sarah Palin of Southwest Missouri—that is, his curiosity about and understanding of the issues are a millimeter wide and a nanometer deep—have found a pretext to avoid debating Eckersley: By gosh, Billy’s done did 17 of dem dare debate thingys.

Referring to the series of pre-primary candidate “forums” as debates is like referring to Billy Long, a former auctioneer, as a Grand Ole Opry star.  The forums were just vehicles for the candidates to demonstrate to voters that they could recite a few Tea Party talking points, like abolishing the Department of Education, for instance.

A real debate would involve being challenged on something you assert, which would require a spontaneous and sometimes unrehearsable defense. Which, of course, is why Long and his astute advisers have opted out of any debate with Eckersley, who happens to be a lawyer.

I don’t blame Billy Long one bit.  And I don’t blame his handlers.  If I were advising a candidate who didn’t have the slightest idea what he was talking about, I would definitely advise him not to talk. About anything. 

And certainly, Long’s campaign believes Billy can coast to victory on the unfailing allegiances Southwest Missouri voters bizarrely and self-destructively pledge to the Republican Party.  Billy can gamble (I hear he likes to do that once in a while) that if he just sits around until November without making much of a splash, he can cash in on the misplaced loyalty that gullible, fact-challenged area voters always give to the most conservative candidate in any race.

And despite Scott Eckersley’s former life as a Republican, and despite his very conservative views, Billy Long remains the perfect representative of the average resident of Southwest Missouri.

Carnahan Triangulates On Bush Tax Cuts

Now that it’s been confirmed that Robin Carnahan, the Democratic candidate to replace Kit Bond in the U.S. Senate, supports extending the Bush tax cuts—including those for the wealthiest Americans—I suppose the onus is on those of us who call ourselves liberals or progressives to determine just how hard we will fight to elect Ms. Carnahan.

Beyond question, she would be far superior to Roy Blunt, who just this morning had to pull down an offensive web video that attempted to exploit Carnahan’s support for New Yorker’s right to choose on the issue of the quasi-mosque near Ground Zero.  Blunt, the ultimate insider who is trying to sell himself as some kind of reformer, would always vote in lockstep with obstructionist Republicans, so there is no doubt that those of us on my side of the political divide have little choice but to continue supporting Carnahan.

Which, of course, is why she thinks she can afford to piss off those of us who are her natural allies. Dick Morris, the repulsive conservative advisor to Bill Clinton, used to call this stuff “triangulation.”  And I suppose there is a certain logic to it here in the politically schizophrenic land of Missouri.

But there is something unseemly about supporting a continuation of tax cuts for wealthy Americans who will not contribute much of it to the economy—since they don’t need it to live on—and at the same time asking working folks for their votes.

As I said, no doubt I and other liberals will vote for Ms. Carnahan in November.  But much of the enthusiasm for her campaign—supplied in large part by people like me—is waning.  Already, the damage is apparent.  On DailyKos today, posted by TomP:

I’ve been pushing Robin Carnahan as a fighting Democrat, but she just lost my support and contributions.  I’ll vote for her in Missouri as better than Blunt, but my pocketbook is closed.  There is a real progressive across the river and I’ll donate to him instead.

It’s sad and sobering that from Scott Eckersley to Robin Carnahan, local liberals have to go to the polls holding their collective noses, just to keep right-wing extremists from really waging a Waterloo-like war against President Obama and his agenda to restore the strength of middle class America.

Here is the web ad posted, and then removed, by the Blunt campaign:

The Fleeceable Dianne Slater

I believe with everything in me that George W. Bush did more to harm the interests, foreign and domestic, of the United States than did any president in my lifetime.

His Iraq war, which is winding down even as I write this, has caused much turmoil in the Middle East, particularly in strengthening Iran, and his neglect of the war in Afghanistan has made anything resembling victory there nearly impossible to conceive.

Here at home, millions of Americans are suffering economically, both because of the things the Bush administration did—its economic policies—and the things it didn’t do—its failure to adequately regulate the financial and oil industries, for instance.

But notwithstanding that admittedly biased analysis, I would never in ten thousand years write something like the following about George Bush:

And one would hope that our president would have, if for no other reason than love for his country, said: “Not here, not now.” Maybe the Constitution needs another amendment requiring the president to at least love the country that elected him.

That piece of tripe was written by a regular and often crude contributor to the Joplin Globe, Dianne Slater.  She was obviously commenting on President Obama’s reiteration of our Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion as it relates to the Ground Zero-mosque issue.

By now, implying or outright claiming that Obama does not love America and wants to destroy it passes for conventional commentary not just by local and inelegant Obama-haters like Dianne Slater, but for a majority of loud-mouthed professional Obama-haters on radio and television, most of them appearing on what we all know now is the Republican “News” Network, formerly known as Fox “News” Channel.

As I said, despite my criticisms of George W. Bush, I am as confident about his love for our country as I am about my own.  It would never pass through my mind that, as misguided as his policies were, he pursued them out of a lack of love or disdain for America, or that his motivation was the destruction of all we stood for as a nation.

Yet, because of a perfect storm of extraordinary facts related to our current president—most too difficult for people like Dianne Slater to appreciate—we have a thousand fantasies circulating about President Obama, from his Kenyan birth to his secret Islamic allegiance to his affection for Marxist dogma. 

But besides those smaller untruths, there has, almost from the beginning of Obama’s emergence, been a giant Obama-hates-America fable created and disseminated by high-profile radio and television conservative spokesmen. Their profitable brand of conservatism is essentially a bigoted, hateful, paranoia-powered philosophy tied to a brilliant and exploitative marketing campaign, the target of which is a hopefully small contingent of fleeceable, fact-challenged folks like our own Ms. Slater.

Unfortunately for regular readers of the Globe‘s Voices section, Dianne Slater is not content to bask in her formidable ignorance and gullibility in obscurity. 

She shamelessly and routinely exposes both to the world.

“Fat Cats Flipping Out” About Paying Taxes

If you think I rant too much about tax cuts, the wealthy, and Republican economics, here is a short segment from Dylan Ratigan’s show featuring the increasingly popular Cenk Uygur, a liberal talk show host (The Young Turks), who should be broadcast on our local stations just to piss off—and otherwise stimulate—the local Beckerheads, Dittoheads, and Hannitized residents of Southwest Missouri.

Beneath all the theatrics are some basic points that cannot be ignored:

Muslims Beware! America Is A Christian Nation

My friend and fellow blogger, Juan Don, made a comment about the mosque-Ground Zero issue that started me thinking: Just exactly what do people mean by the term “hallowed ground,” particularly in reference to what happened on 9/11?

In one sense, I suppose every square inch of America could be considered hallowed, if one believes America was founded through divine inspiration, the Founders being instruments of the Almighty.  I know some do believe that, so it is a wonder any of us who fall short of God’s glory are allowed to call this place home.  But here we are.

When one begins to think about what the phrase really means, though, and why anyone would consider a specific spot of ground hallowed, one is hard-pressed to come up with an answer, outside of a religious context.

Suppose for a minute that 9/11 had been the start of an even greater assault on America by terrorists, and suppose that eventually they conquered us.  Would that same spot where the Twin Towers stood be hallowed ground to them?  Do only the winners get to determine what is hallowed and what is not?

Don’t get me wrong.  I understand why the place where the towers stood should be a national memorial, but only in the sense that the place should be one in which we demonstrate the fact that we emerged the winner after that terrible day.  Sort of like giving the national finger to those, both here and abroad, that would do us harm: Bleep you bastards! We’re still here and thriving like never before!

Which is why the right-wing’s demagoguery–essentially suggesting that Islam is our enemy and Muslims don’t belong on or near “our” hallowed ground–is such nonsense.

To his great credit, George W. Bush firmly established early on after the terrorist attacks that our quarrel was not with Islam.  In a real sense, he helped hallow the Trade Center ground by declaring victory over demagoguery, over prejudice and bigotry, when he affirmed our tradition of freedom of religion and refused to let what happened compromise our national values.

Now, I stand second to none in my criticism of fundamentalist religion, whether it be Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.  In a perfectly designed world (God, are you listening?), those who believe such nonsense would be banished to a rather large island somewhere where they could pound each other with their holy books.

But that analysis overlooks just what one of our national values, “freedom of religion,” really means.  Essentially, religious liberty is intellectual liberty, the freedom to pursue ideas, even dumb ones. 

The crazy folks who picket the funerals of fallen soldiers with anti-homosexual placards are free to do so not because we respect their bullshit religious views, but because we value freedom of thought and expression, so long as violence is not a component of that expression.

To argue that it is inappropriate to build a mosque (actually, it’s mostly a community center) two blocks from the “hallowed ground” in Manhattan misses the point.  It may be inappropriate to some–even as bad as shouting homosexual slurs at those who come to mourn dead soldiers–but what sets apart–hallows–America is the fact that such inappropriateness is legally protected.

And the truth is that most of the folks–largely conservative Christians–who argue against the building of the quasi-mosque know all that. What many of them are really doing is sending a not-so-subtle message: America is a Christian nation, and, by God, you Muslims had better understand that.

“Honest Reasoning” On The Mosque Issue

In light of President Obama’s recent attempt to be the voice of reason regarding the “to build or not to build” controversy involving construction of a mosque near Ground Zero, Sam Harris, a best-selling, non-believing author and philosopher (The End of Faith), has offered some criticism of the President in, “What Obama Got Wrong About the Mosque,” at The Daily Beast:

And honest reasoning declares that there is much that is objectionable—and, frankly, terrifying—about the religion of Islam and about the state of discourse among Muslims living in the West, and it is decidedly inconvenient that discussing these facts publicly is considered a sign of “intolerance” by well-intentioned liberals, in part because such criticism resonates with the actual bigotry of not-so-well-intentioned conservatives.

In the context of liberals’ affection for tolerance, Harris neatly summarizes the problem:

It goes without saying that tolerance is a value to which we should all be deeply committed. Nor can we ignore the fact that many who oppose the construction of this mosque embody all that is terrifyingly askew in conservative America—“birthers,” those sincerely awaiting the Rapture, opportunistic Republican politicians, and utter lunatics who yearn to see Sarah Palin become the next president of the United States (note that Palin herself probably falls into several of these categories). These people are wrong about almost everything under the sun. The problem, however, is that they are not quite wrong about Islam.

Harris suggests that extremist Muslim terrorists have not merely misconstrued the Koran and distorted its message:

When one reads the Koran and the hadith, and consults the opinions of Muslim jurists over the centuries, one discovers that killing apostates, treating women like livestock, and waging jihad—not merely as an inner, spiritual struggle but as holy war against infidels—are practices that are central to the faith.

Rejecting the rejoinder that the Christianity of old—the Crusades—or Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians or even the Oklahoma City bombing are morally equivalent to today’s Islamic terrorism, Harris claims that anyone who argues for such equivalence is “not thinking honestly about the problem of Islam.”

Western Muslims, he says, do not adequate address “serious concerns raised over Islamic doctrines related to jihad, martyrdom, apostasy, and blasphemy—along with their incontrovertible link to terrorism, threats of violence, cartoon “controversies, and the like.”  Instead, Harris argues:

…one generally meets with petulance, feigned confusion, half-truths, and non sequiturs. Apologists for Islam have even sought to defend their faith from criticism by inventing a psychological disorder known as “Islamophobia.” My friend Ayaan Hirsi Ali is said to be suffering from it. Though she was circumcised as a girl by religious barbarians (as 98 percent of Somali girls still are) has been in constant flight from theocrats ever since, and must retain a bodyguard everywhere she goes, even her criticism of Islam is viewed as a form of “bigotry” and “racism” by many “moderate” Muslims.

There is no such thing as Islamophobia,” Harris continues, “And it is not a form of bigotry or racism to observe that the specific tenets of the faith pose a special threat to civil society.”

Harris has long been a critic of so-called “moderate” Muslims and their reluctance to criticize Islamic extremists, and his admittedly “paradoxical conclusion” about what to do relative to the controversy over the building of the mosque comports with that skepticism:

Muslims should be absolutely free to build a mosque two blocks from ground zero; but the ones who should do it probably wouldn’t want to.

Joplin’s Economy: Nothing To Brag About

I’m back from Anaheim, California, where it was quite hard to discern any problems with the economy.  Perhaps the wealthy Orange County Republicans are putting fewer miles on their BMW’s these days, but there were plenty of beemers on the roads for all to see and enjoy.

In any case, our local economy is not so fortunate.  Among the things I missed while in California, was an article in last Thursday’s Joplin Globe, optimistically headlined in the print edition, “Signs of Stability.” 

The article was sub headed: “Joplin’s per capita income stays nearly flat; cost-of-living index continues upward trend, which was actually a better, if less optimistic, summary of the facts of the story.

It seems our local per capita income dropped “only” 0.3%, which, I suppose, is “basically good news,” as Charles Fischer, an economics professor at Pitt State, declared, and Rob O’Brian, Joplin’s representative of business interests, also known as the president of the Chamber of Commerce, affirmed.

The Joplin metro area (Jasper and Newton counties) per capita personal income is $29,586, which ranks us 327th out of 366 Metropolitan Statistical Areas, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Hmmm.  That’s 72.5% of the national average of $40,757. Now, since there’s no reason to brag about that achievement, the article’s focus naturally turned to “stability” rather than, say, “prosperity,” which is certainly lacking around these parts.

There was a mention, though, of one local company’s “above average” wages for production workers.  EaglePicher Technologies, which makes batteries for the aerospace and defense industries, pays its production workers between $30,000 and $35,000, according to its human resources vice president, Creed Jones:

“We feel competitive” on wages, Jones said. “We feel good that we pay well. We have a lot of people who want to work here. We have good benefits, good wages, good working condi­tions.”

I won’t loudly disagree with Mr. Jones. Those aren’t bad wages for this economically-challenged area, but EaglePicher isn’t paying those production workers’ wages out of the goodness of its corporate heart.

Not mentioned in the Globe article is the fact that some hourly workers at EaglePicher are represented by a union, United Steelworkers Local 812.  In a perfect journalistic world, the article in our newspaper would have mentioned that salient fact, but then this is Southwest Missouri, a union-haters paradise. So, why make folks uncomfortable, especially the president of the local Chamber of Commerce?

I will compliment the writer, Roger McKinney, on one thing, however. He pointed out the sad fact that not only is Joplin 327th out of 366 in terms of per capita income, but it has a relatively high cost-of-living index.  At 92—including a stunning 116.5 for utilities—our composite cost-of-living index is higher than that of St. Louis (90.1).  And since McKinney didn’t mention what St. Louis’ per capita income was, I looked it up for comparison: $40,342.

Now, I want that to soak in.  It costs more to live in the Joplin metro area (index: 92) than it does in the St. Louis metro area (index: 90.1), yet the average personal per capita income in St. Louis is $10,756 more than Joplin’s. That’s 10,756 smackers, almost 900 buckaroos more a month. Heck, a person might even afford to live in Snob Hill making that kind of dough.

I will submit that there is a locally unpopular reason for at least part of that disparity: unions.  St. Louis is considered a “union town,” at least by today’s pitifully low standards. According to Unionstats.com., nearly 15% of the labor force in the St. Louis metro area is covered by a collective bargaining agreement—a union contract. In Joplin, less than 6% are so covered.*

So, since our local Republican leaders—politicians and businessmen and Chamber of Commerce types—have done an outstanding job in brainwashing the locals into believing unions are bad for them, I suppose a big THANK YOU is in order for all those conservatives who keep wages low while touting as “good news” the fact that income growth is “pretty flat.

I mean what’s an extra $900 a month when you can have “stability?

 ____________________________ 

*Nationwide, about 13.6% of workers are covered by union contracts and in Missouri the number is 10.6%.

 

The Real Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne, had something significant to say in the Esquire profile of the Baptist-turned-Catholic Gingrich, who is thinking of running for president. The following excerpt from the article needs no commentary from me on the depth of Gingrich’s hypocrisy or his phony populism, rooted in a kind of arrogance that all of us, no matter our political leanings, should abhor and not reward:

But Marianne was having problems of her own. After going to the doctor for a mysterious tingling in her hand, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Early in May, she went out to Ohio for her mother’s birthday. A day and a half went by and Newt didn’t return her calls, which was strange. They always talked every day, often ten times a day, so she was frantic by the time he called to say he needed to talk to her.

“About what?”

He wanted to talk in person, he said.

“I said, ‘No, we need to talk now.’ “

He went quiet.

“There’s somebody else, isn’t there?”

She kind of guessed it, of course. Women usually do. But did she know the woman was in her apartment, eating off her plates, sleeping in her bed?

She called a minister they both trusted. He came over to the house the next day and worked with them the whole weekend, but Gingrich just kept saying she was a Jaguar and all he wanted was a Chevrolet. ” ‘I can’t handle a Jaguar right now.’ He said that many times. ‘All I want is a Chevrolet.’ “

He asked her to just tolerate the affair, an offer she refused.

He’d just returned from Erie, Pennsylvania, where he’d given a speech full of high sentiments about compassion and family values.

The next night, they sat talking out on their back patio in Georgia. She said, “How do you give that speech and do what you’re doing?”

“It doesn’t matter what I do,” he answered. “People need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live.”

Child Abuse?

I’m spending the week in California attending a union convention.  Hoping for a couple of hours of pure enjoyment, I went to Angel Stadium in Anaheim to watch the hapless Kansas City Royals lose yet another game.

At the entrance to the stadium, were several folks holding signs like this: 

While I don’t understand why the Angels allow these people to stand in front of their business and visually assault their customers, I do understand something about the people who are willing to spend their time in front of a big league ballpark and imply that without Jesus we are all going straight to hell.

Such people are poisoned with fundamentalism and frequently it is an intellectually fatal condition.

But my biggest problem with such folks is what they do to their children. 

As my friend and I walked toward the entrance, we saw a little girl, probably about ten years old:

That’s child abuse,” my friend said. “It’s one thing for an adult to stand out here and do this, but to force your kid to do it is a form of abuse.”

Well, is it?

As Richard Dawkins wrote:

The threat of eternal hell is an extreme example of mental abuse, just as violent sodomy is an extreme example of physical abuse.

While the comparison between violent sodomy and teaching children that they or their friends or their loved ones may one day be tormented forever and ever is at first a little startling, there is merit in Dawkins’ position.

He quoted part of a letter he received from a Catholic woman who claimed she had been victimized by her priest and her Church in more ways than one:

Being fondled by the priest simply left the impression (from the mind of a 7 year old) as ‘yuchy’ while the memory of my friend going to hell was one of cold, immeasurable fear. I never lost sleep because of the priest, but I spent many a night being terrified that the people I loved would go to Hell. It gave me nightmares.

And in the case of the little girl in front of Angel Stadium, she, no doubt, has been taught that people who don’t believe “Jesus Saves” will spend eternity suffering in hell. 

And whether she was “forced” to stand there holding that sign, or whether she does so out of a genuine fear that if she doesn’t do something, a lot of people will suffer eternally, there is no other description I can think of that fits: mental abuse.

The Middle Class: Victims of Conservatism

One of my strongest criticisms of the Republican Party—sometimes enabled by conservative Democrats— is related to what their conservative economic philosophy has done to the middle class in America. HuffPo posted today, “8 Surprising Facts About The Shrinking Middle Class.” Here are five of them:

  • According to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, at least twenty-nine states have made cuts to public health programs, twenty-four states have cut programs for the elderly and disabled, twenty-nine states have cut aid to K–12 education, and thirty-nine states have cut assistance to public colleges and universities…
  • According to the White House, in 2004, the last year data on this was compiled, U.S. multinational corporations paid roughly $16 billion in taxes on $700 billion in foreign active earnings— putting their tax rate at around 2.3 percent. Know many middle-class Americans getting off that easy at tax time?” […] 
  • Barry Bosworth and Rosanna Smart of the Brookings Institution found that the catastrophic collapse of the 2008 sub-prime mortgage market resulted in the disappearance of $13 trillion in American household wealth between mid-2007 and March 2009… on average, U.S. households lost one quarter of their wealth in that period,” cites Huffington. She continues, “We are facing nothing less than a national emergency: 2.8 million homes faced foreclosure in 2009, and an estimated 3 million more are expected to be foreclosed on in 2010. If there was ever a middle-class Katrina, this is it… 
  • As MIT professor Simon Johnson recounted in the Atlantic, between 1973 and 1985, the financial industry’s share of domestic corporate profits topped out at 16 percent. In the 1990s, it spanned between 21 percent and 30 percent. Just before the financial crisis hit, it stood at 41 percent. The share of our economy devoted to making things of value is shrinking, while the share devoted to valuing made-up things (credit-swap derivatives, anyone?) is expanding. It’s the financialization of our economy… 
  • The vast majority of people who file for bankruptcy are middle-class folks who can’t pay their bills because they’ve lost their jobs or been hit with high medical bills. In fact, a 2009 study by researchers at Harvard and Ohio University showed that health-care problems were the root cause of 62 percent of all personal bankruptcies in America in 2007. When the same researchers did this study across five states in 2001, health-care problems caused only 50 percent of bankruptcy filings. According to the American Bankruptcy Institute, America had 1.4 million personal bankruptcies in 2009, a 32 percent increase over the previous year. Put another way: Every thirty seconds, someone in this country files for bankruptcy in the wake of a serious illness…

Once again I ask:  How can anyone vote to put Republicans back in charge?

Once A “Dream” City, Neosho Now A Nightmare

It’s something like poetic justice that a Republican-dominated, small-government lovin’ place like Neosho, Mo., is among the first in our Southwest Missouri enclave of ultra-conservatives to experience what all of America would be like, should the Tea Party movement become dominant across the land.

Rejecting a property tax increase last Tuesday, 60% of Neosho voters said, “Go ahead, make our day,” to Mayor Richard Davidson and others in positions of responsibility, as they warned of even more drastic budget cuts coming, if voters refused to pay for city services.

According to news reports in the Joplin Globe and in today’s editorial, it’s possible that Neosho could lose up to half its police and fire contingent, and fee increases will likely place some activities previously subsidized by the city out of reach for a lot of folks.

The editorial mentioned something I had forgotten:

Several years ago, under the administration of [Republican] Gov. Matt Blunt, Neosho was tabbed as one of Missouri’s “Dream” cities. It was a program aimed at supplying selected towns with the tools to help improve quality of life and infrastructure.

Dream, indeed.

It’s time that people around these parts stop dreaming extremist conservative Republican dreams and join the world of the responsible.

Government is not evil; the people who run government are not thieves trying to steal every last penny from taxpayers. Policemen, firemen, teachers, food inspectors, air-traffic controllers, and so on, are part of what makes modern life relatively safe and stable.

Public golf courses, airports, museums, municipal sports leagues, libraries, and other trappings of civilization, are part of what makes modern life more enriching and enjoyable.

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and access to health insurance make modern life a little less scary.

Civilization has a price.  Neosho residents will get as much of it as they are willing to pay for. Right now, that isn’t much.

 

Free Trade Isn’t Free

Tucked away on page 7A of today’s Joplin Globe was this short article:

Garment workers protest wage plan

Workers and labor rights groups have pressed for a monthly minimum wage of 5,000 takas ($73). The new pay structure starts in November and has seven grades, with the highest pay fixed at 9,300 takas ($140).

Thousands of workers from the garment industry demonstrated this past week in Bangladesh over a new minimum-wage they call too low.

Many of the companies involved supply international chains including Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney and Kohl’s.

About a dozen factories closed earlier this week to avoid damage, police said.

The demonstrations were in response to the government’s new minimum wages for the nation’s 2 million garment workers, most of them women. Workers and labor leaders say the wages still are too low and do not match the high cost of living.

In the first increase since 2006, the official minimum wage has been set at 3,000 takas ($45) a month, up from 1,662 takas ($25).

According to English Al Jazeera and the Guardian, the workers did more than “demonstrate”:

Thousands of Bangladeshi garment workers have rioted in the streets of capital Dhaka while protesting against a wage increase that fell far short of their demands. (Al Jazeera)

Thousands of garment workers rioted in central Dhaka today after protests against low pay turned violent. (Guardian)

And the Guardian claims Gap and Levi Strauss also “import clothes in bulk from Bangladesh.”

So, what is all the fuss—excuse me, rioting—about? And why Bangladesh?

From the New York Times:

…many Western retailers and clothing brands have been buying more from Bangladesh — which has the world’s lowest garment wages — as costs have risen in China, the largest producer.

Al Jazeera quotes the head of the Garment Workers Unity Forum:

“The government has just done what the garment factory owners want. This offer is not acceptable to workers,” Mishu said.

“They are frustrated, they feel let down by the government. They thought they would get a good salary and then are just offered nothing,” she added.

Mishu warned that unless a better offer was forthcoming, workers would strike and organise “a militant movement” over poor pay and working conditions.

Now, here is the classic free trade dilemma. 

Supporters of free trade, in addition to technical arguments about “specialization” and “economies of scale” and “production-possibility frontier,” say that Americans and Europeans—the biggest importers of Bangladeshi garments—demand “bargains,” and companies like Wal-Mart are only seeking to give consumers what they demand. And they say that money saved on cheap garments can be spent on other goods, perhaps goods that are made in America.

They also claim that places like Bangladesh—nearly 80% of its export income reportedly comes from the garment industry—actually benefit from their association with Wal-Mart and other companies.  That claim is part of a larger moral argument that insists free trade ultimately raises the living standard of the world’s poor.

But the dilemma arises partly because clearly there is something wrong with our preference for cheap khakis over the immediate well-being of folks half-way around the world. Surely, we would be willing to pay a buck or two more, if we knew that Bangladeshi workers weren’t working in miserable conditions and had money left over at the end of their work month to pursue their own happiness?

And, surely, Wal-Mart’s Walton family could find a way to live on a few billion dollars less than they are accustomed to?

David Stockman’s article in the New York Times, from which I quoted extensively the other day, also had something to say about the effect free trade has had on the American economy, which constitutes the other part of the free trade dilemma:

…we have steadily sent jobs and production offshore. In the past decade, the number of high-value jobs in goods production and in service categories like trade, transportation, information technology and the professions has shrunk by 12 percent, to 68 million from 77 million. The only reason we have not experienced a severe reduction in nonfarm payrolls since 2000 is that there has been a gain in low-paying, often part-time positions in places like bars, hotels and nursing homes.

I suppose that one could argue that folks who work in bars, hotels, and nursing homes need clothes, too. And I suppose the first place such low-paid folks would look for such bargains would be at Wal-Mart. 

So, there is a bit of a devious circularity to the free trade argument: Americans demand cheap clothes because they have lost their better-paying jobs to low-paid workers overseas who are making cheap clothes for Americans who demand them.

The free trade dilemma is one I confess I struggle with. Once I had no qualms about the benefits of free trade.

Now, I’m not so sure.

Numbers In The News

Some numbers in the news lately:

41% of Republicans in a CNN/Opinion Research Poll timed for release near the President’s birthday, said Barack Obama was “probably” or “definitely born in another country.”  I don’t think I can say much about that result suitable for a family newspaper, except the number is likely higher here in Southwest Missouri.

29,000 black viewers tune in to Fox “News” Channel during prime time.  That represents 1.38% of Fox’s 2.1 million primetime audience.  I’m just guessing, but perhaps black folks don’t see Fox’s fixation on what Howard Dean called a “theme of black racism” or its confusion of black people all that appealing.

45% is the latest Obama Job Approval number from Gallup Daily.  Given what the country has been through, and given the vitriol directed at him from Republicans all over the country, aided and abetted by Fox “News,” that number is remarkable.

+4 is the spread Harry Reid has over the very strange Sharron Angle in a Reuters-Ipsos poll in Nevada.  Angle enjoyed an 11-point lead at one time, but that was before the extent of her ignorance was fully known. For some Republicans, though, the extent of her ignorance is the extent of their ignorance, which is why she still polls at 44%.

637,789 is the number of times 7th District Republican candidate Billy Long uttered the words, “fed up” or a variation since January, 2010.  [Numbers compiled by The Erstwhile Conservative research staff.]

1,238,000 is the estimated number [TEC staffers worked overtime] of times Billy Long will refer to himself between now and November, either directly or indirectly, as a “citizen legislator.”  Of course, lost on Billy is the fact that hopefully all our legislators are citizens, although there does seem to be some doubt, as noted above, as to whether we have a citizen President in the White House.

“Hope” For Depressed Voters In The 7th District

I received these comments on my Billy Long post this morning:

Purely as a public service to help some people with their depression over the results of the race for Southwest Missouri’s seat in the U.S. Congress, here is my reply:

Anson and Clay (Bungalow Bill):

It is beyond comprehension why the Republican voters of the 7th District bought Billy Long’s shtick, but, then again, I don’t expect too much from voters who continually send Republican representatives to Washington who vote against the economic interests of those same voters.  Perhaps in this case, it was the presence on the ballot of Proposition C that brought The Ignorant to the polls in droves, and, if so, then they deserve Billy Long.

I know both of you disagree with those sentiments, but from my perspective, 7th District voting behavior is disturbing every election, not just this one. The difference this time is that Scott Eckersley—who everyone knows is really a Republican who avoided joining the crowded field of Republicans in his real party’s primary—may have a chance to stop the Billy Long Ignorance Express to Washington.   

Ironically, Democratic voters rejected Tim Davis, who for all of his conservative positions, was still the most thoughtful, reasonable candidate in the entire field, and noticeably (though not dramatically) closer to being a real Democrat than Scott Eckersley appeared to be.  So, in my opinion, Democratic voters in our district made a mistake, too.  But as a prominent area Democrat told me a while back, “We’re just tired of losing,” and anyone who can beat a Republican is a worthy candidate.

Needless to say, it doesn’t make much difference if you send a guy to Washington with a “D” by his name, if he votes exactly the same way Billy Long Is Wrong will vote.

In any case, just to give both of you hope, my guess is that the general election for the 7th District seat will essentially be another Republican primary, and if enough folks here in blisteringly red Southwest Missouri can see beyond the phony “D” next to Eckersley’s name, and if Eckersley continues to espouse conservatism as his motivating political philosophy (I’m confident he will), then there is a good chance that Billy Long could lose in November.

So, there.  That is about as positive as I can get over this election.

Duane 

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