Christian Dominionists and Islamists: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Sep 20 2010 Published by under Featured News, Republican Party

Racing to see who will destroy our country

Christian and Islamic extremists drink from the same wellspring of authoritarianism – the desire to impose authority, to force submission to dogma, and to compel obedience. Choice is not an option. As conservative Christianity long ago ruled, choice is heresy.

Don’t ask questions; Just believe, third century critic Celsus was told. This is a dangerous enough equation in religion; in politics the consequences are catastrophic.

You can’t dictate reality; but that reality is what it is whatever we might wish it to be, seems beside the point. Reality – and facts – must be made to adhere to a preset ideological framework.

As though science had never begun to explain the universe they chant, “Our holy book, the [insert sacred text of choice] gives you all the answers you will ever need. Feel free to express any opinion you wish so long as it is among those found in this book.” Indeed, the more science explains, the less people express a need for revealed religions and ultimate truths, the shriller and more desperate their rhetoric becomes.

And secularism is on the rise: from 8% of the U.S. population in 1990 to 15% in 2008. By the late ’70s some 20% of Americans described themselves as nonbelievers.

Nonbelievers don’t obey religious dictates and don’t care about dogma. And the numbers above do not include the growing numbers of adherents attracted to alternative or “non-mainstream” religions. These are the people most comfortable in a modern liberal democracy, which has as its lifeblood the toleration that religious extremists reject.

A pluralistic liberal democracy is the antithesis of black and white thinking, the enemy of either/or propositions, and pushes a new paradigm of compromise and tolerance over the old good versus evil model.

Christian extremists (we can call them dominionists) hate this. Islamists hate this. In them both the old fashioned crusader/jihadist mentality still flourishes. In truth, these extremists fell out of the same tree and they have more in common than they would like to admit.

Some of America’s right-wing politicians, those most fervently attacking Islam today, those most vociferous in their denunciation of Sharia Law, are the most alike in their thinking: submit to God and turn the clock back to the Middle Ages.

This era was for both a Golden Age, an age in which scripture could be legislated into law; when a holy book could be misinterpreted not only as a code of law but as a textbook on political theory.

One group champions Sharia Law, the other Mosaic Law, all the while denying they’re the same thing, and denying that the same god, the God of Abraham, wrote or inspired them both.

Reality as a Shakespearean tragedy; or is it a comedy?

But while fear of Islam is unreasonable, just as is fear of Christianity (unless one wants to fear all revealed religions as threats to liberal democracy), fear of Islamism is not unreasonable, as (in Timothy Ferris’ words) it “resuscitates the totalitarian enthusiasm that nearly wrecked Europe.”

Historian Bernard Lewis sees Christianity and Islam as two forces that have been at loggerheads since the sixth century. He observed in 1954 – at the height of the Cold War – that there are “certain uncomfortable resemblances” between communism and Islamism – both offer “complete and final answers to all questions on heaven and earth…both groups offer to their members and followers their agreeable sensation of belonging to a community of believers, who are always right, as against an outer world of nonbelievers, who are always wrong.”

Of course, Bernard Lewis was writing before the dawn of Christian dominionism, and his words are equally applicable to America’s Religious Right, which takes its cue (and inspiration) from the apocalyptic, persecution-complex-ridden Christian communities of the second century, fervently hoping – and waiting for – the end times.

Apocalypse now. To hell with waiting until 2012. Let’s get it on! A sordid, terrifying specter of the past.

And if Islamism and communism shared Christianity as an enemy, and Hitler co-opted it, America’s conservative Christians name not only Islam the enemy, but secularism, atheism, feminism, Paganism, liberalism, and most disturbing of all – science.

Yet another alarming thing the Religious Right and Islamism have in common: a hatred and distrust of science.

As if the rest isn’t alarming enough.

Ironically, (and to expand on another of Timothy Ferris’ thoughts) Islamists and the Religious Right both view the west as a “decaying shell” and agree that the only way people can support liberal democracy is if they are deluded and wicked.

And dominionists will shout to be heard above the Islamists in their claims that Western liberals are deluded and wicked.

Islamic scholar Gulam Sarwar says that “Religious and politics are one and the same in Islam.” How any times have we heard Republicans make the same argument for Christianity? We have written about them here quite often. Start keeping a list: look at it every time one of them mutters something about Islamism.

Islamists want to restore the Caliphate, the Great Universal Muslim Empire that Never Was. The Religious Right wants to resurrect the Holy Roman Empire, the Great Universal Christian Empire that Never Was. If they succeed, they can (and probably will) re-enact that favorite historical drama, the Crusades. Both will desire a better outcome for their ideology.

The rest of us will, lamentably, and tragically, be caught in the middle. And this time it will not be spears and swords and arrows that decide the issue, but nuclear weapons.

We came close to a Dominionist Bliss-out in 2003 when President Bush declared a crusade against Iraq and one of his generals announced it was not a nation but Satan who was the enemy.

Bush was one thing. Sarah Palin is another. Meditate for a moment on the image of a Mama Grizzly, witch-hunting pastor at her side, with the nuclear football in her hands. If that image is no more wholesome than that of a Osama bin Laden with a nuclear warhead beneath his robes, then you are properly grasping the gravity of the situation and the threat we face.

Just because you occupy the White House doesn’t mean you can’t be a terrorist.

Both want to make an offering to their god of the Enlightenment’s most sublime attainment: the American Constitution.

Christian Dominionism and Islamism: Drinking from the same source, it is no wonder they want the same thing – and liberal democracy stands squarely in their path.

You do the math. And vote appropriately.

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In the USA it is Irrelevant Whose Side God is On

Sep 05 2010 Published by under Featured News, Republican Party

Michael Medved

Conservative columnist Michael Medved, addressing his audience at wants to know whose side god is on in American politics.

The context of Medved’s argument is important for two reasons. First, because it represents the further encroachment of religion into the political sphere, exactly the sort of thing the Founding Fathers hoped to discourage. Second, he is an Orthodox Jew addressing a largely conservative Christian audience by way of an appeal to divine writ while ignoring the input of the New Testament.

At the heart of his argument is Scripture. No doubt Mr. Medved is quite familiar with what the Bible demands. He seems less aware of the Constitution and what it demands.  As anyone who has actually read the Constitution knows, Mr. Medved’s is a meaningless question. God doesn’t enter into it. God does not get a vote.

But let’s entertain his concerns for a moment.

What worries Mr. Medved seems to worry most conservatives these days, namely, that the rich are being unfairly treated by American society in general and by liberals in particular. He says God doesn’t like that. Conservatives seem pretty concerned by the poor lately, not for them, you understand, but because of them. And to hear Mr. Medved’s side of things, God agrees.

Mr. Medved reveals that he has an extensive knowledge of the Hebrew Bible, what Christians call the Old Testament. Being Jewish, he understandably ignores the message of Jesus and the New Testament. But if the argument is that the Old Testament has relevant to our political debates, then it’s only reasonable to consider the New Testament message as well, concerning the poor.

Jesus, a poor Galilean peasant, after all, makes his opinion known. Jesus, who despised the rich priestly caste, threatened the Temple and the power structure of his native Israel, seemed pretty clear what his opinion of the rich vs. the poor was. One thing you don’t see is Jesus identifying with the rich.

Conservative Christians don’t like this. They jump on tables at even the mention of liberation theology. Their Anglo-Saxon Jesus would never threaten the rich! Glenn Beck was in hysterics discussing liberation theology and to hear him tell it, Jesus didn’t give a damn about social justice. After all, the poor threaten the status quo and the status quo demands that the rich shall not be touched.

Mr. Medved claims that the American political landscape comes down to two opposing definitions of justice. As he puts it, liberals=just outcomes, conservatives=just procedures. Naturally, the liberal method of offering justice is through class warfare.

“Liberals accept unequal, potentially unfair treatment by government in order to achieve fair results; conservatives accept unequal, potentially unfair results so long as every citizen receives fair and comparable treatment by government.”

But this isn’t true. Conservatives embrace not only unfair treatment but unfair results. It is inarguable that a different set of rules exist for rich and poor in this country, and these rules are underwritten and supported by Republican Party’s anti-union politics and its corporate sponsors. The game is rigged; different laws, different penalties, different loopholes. Mr. Medved’s “fair and comparable treatment by government” is a myth.

But Mr. Medved believes he has found a tie-breaker: the Bible, and this is where his already flawed argument falls to the ground. We live in a country with constitutionally guaranteed separation of Church and State, where the federal government is legally bound to favor no one religion over another. The Bible, therefore, has no place in the political debate. Appealing to God is as relevant as calling your opponent “unrighteous,” another recent Republican tactic.

Religion has no place in politics, even if all parties accept the relevancy of the Bible, and this obviously does not obtain in a very pluralistic and diverse American religious landscape.

Yet Mr. Medved insists that “key Biblical passages provide a strong indication that conservative concepts of economic justice comport far more closely to the religious and philosophical foundations of western civilization.” He goes on to add that “If the Bible is indeed the word of God (as a big majority of Americans say they believe it is), then it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that the Almighty would cast his all-important ballot for Republicans.”

Here is another flaw in Mr. Medved’s argument:  the mythic America meme. Neither Judaism nor Christianity provides the foundations of western civilization, and have even less to do with American government.

A glaring problem is the inconvenient fact of the European Enlightenment, which overturned the old status quo, and the American Revolution, which threw off the last vestiges of State-sponsored religion on these shores. I know conservatives like Medved hate being reminded of this, but liberal values are not founded on the Bible, but on ideas of liberty (absent from the Bible) and individual human rights (also glaringly absent from the Bible).

Medved, flailing in the dark and unable to find his copy of the Constitution, pulls out the Torah. Leviticus 19:15: “You shall not commit a perversion of justice; you shall not favor the poor and you shall not honor the great; with righteousness (Tzedek) shall you judge your fellow.”

I could quote Matthew right back at him but the problem for Medved here isn’t really Matthew but that neither Leviticus nor Matthew is in the Constitution. American law is not based on Biblical law and Biblical passages cannot be legislated into American law. What Leviticus or Matthew may or may not be saying is irrelevant to the debate, as is the question of whose side God might be on.

In a different age, Mr. Medved’s assertion might carry weight. But the Enlightenment changed all that; the Founders framed a secular nation composed of largely protestant Christians with also a few Jews, Catholics, Deists and others and in the process freed us not only from the Bible but from the Qur’an, the Avesta or any other holy text you might care to name. Believe what you want, but in terms of national policy all religions are irrelevant. They have to be.

The Constitution says so.

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The GOP’s Revolution is Guillotining the Constitution

Madame Roland

Against stupidity the gods themselves struggle in vain.” – Friedrich Schiller

The military has an interesting acronym, BFI: Brute Force and Ignorance. The rule of thumb is that BFI does not get the job done. War is no longer two opposing groups coming to grips and bashing away at each other until one gives up.

Shock and Awe, like Blitzkrieg, was more than the application of brute force. It takes finesse and nuance to conduct a successful lightning campaign.

Politics is similar. The Founding Fathers set up an intricate system of government which abounds with nuance, a complex system of checks and balances to sustain it through trials and time. They could have come up with something simpler had they wished, but their labors have served us well for over two centuries.

Unfortunately, any structure, however strong, will give way to repeated battering. You cannot win a lightning campaign through BFI but as George W. Bush realized, if you have overwhelming strength you can dispense with finesse and just pummel your enemy into submission. He did exactly that for eight years.

And the system so lovingly constructed by Madison, Jefferson and others, fell under assault. Cracks are starting to appear.

Congress surrendered it’s authority to the Bush Administration, voluntarily emasculating itself. Only the judicial branch held up its end of the bargain and continued to function anything like intended, and the Bush administration signaled its intention to ignore the courts and to ignore the constitution whenever it wished. Suddenly, there were no brakes on the executive.

After eight years of running amok, conservatives seem suddenly beside themselves with the loss power. They are so eager to “take their government back” that they are willing to destroy it in the process through the application of brute force and ignorance.

George W. Bush was the proverbial bull in the china shop. He did not have any idea at all what diplomacy meant. Where Teddy Roosevelt advised speaking softly and carrying a big stick, Bush just carried a big stick, and he wanted a bigger stick than everyone else.

Cave-man style, speaking wasn’t an important part of the equation. Pummeling was. And his pummeling took place domestically as well as oversees. Across the ocean, the Old World recoiled in horror at his approach and at times, his behavior. Brute force toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein; it did not win America any friends.

To put it another way, the kings of the Bronze Age, without any oversight by way of public opinion, local or otherwise, indeed, without even a word for or concept of, “diplomacy,” behaved in a more responsible manner towards their neighbors than did President Bush towards ours.

President Obama, who understands diplomacy in the same way the Bronze Age Kings did — that the country is part of a larger community of nations — is accused of apologizing for America simply because he does not continue to beat everyone with the big stick.

Bush’s application of brute force tactics at home operated on the well greased machinery of fear. Fear was the currency of politics from 2001-2008. With control of Congress he steamrollered the cowed opposition when it was offered and proclaimed that the Constitution was “just a goddamned piece of paper.” The Constitution established our government, its powers and limitations. You cannot simply treat it like a set of “guidelines” or “suggestions,” and expect there to be no damage.

And he got away with it. Brute force and ignorance.

Bush is out of office now, his misrule terminated by time, but his politics remain. The Constitution remains a “goddamned piece of paper” to be ignored, to have parts removed or revised or reinterpreted according to ideological needs. The conservatives are still loose in the china shop, destroying it; America is the china shop.

Once upon a time, American politics operated with a level of subtlety that today is glaringly absent. Was an eight-year sustained attack on the Republic enough to destroy our system of government? It’s true that Bush wasn’t the first; it didn’t begin with him. There have been violations of the Constitution by the Executive before, including by no less a hero than Abraham Lincoln, who illegally suspended habeas corpus.

But the eight years of the Bush administration, followed by nearly two years of obstructionism, rejection, and the establishment of a virtual “government in exile” has been without precedent. Think about it: a government in exile implies a legitimate and an illegitimate government. The implication of conservative politics is that only their governance is legitimate and that the Democrats are usurpers. That paradigm does not allow for compromise, for compromise is now something dirty: collaboration.

The idea that only the Republican Party legitimately has American interests at heart is a dangerous one, and America is being beat to death with it.

The American political system assumes that all parties will behave responsibly and continue to try to govern the nation even through disagreement. For one party to completely withdraw from the process and insist on their status as “a government in exile during a time of political usurpation” is something the Founders never foresaw. They proceeded on an assumption of enlightened governance, but enlightenment, for today’s conservatives, is a liberal plot.

When President Obama entered office, his approach to politics was in accordance with the old paradigm. He assumed that the opposition would behave responsibly and reasonably. There would be rancor, but government would continue to function. Instead, the Republicans, despite their complete failure on Election Day ’08, decided to emulate George W. Bush. Lacking any but imagined power, they still proceeded on the assumption that they dictated policy.

They seemed completely ignorant of their loss of public support, of both the executive and representative branches, and operated on the assumption that they could still dictate policy despite their minority position. None of that mattered once they convinced themselves they were the legitimate government. And so they refused to compromise. They refused to talk unless it was to issue their diktat or to say “no.” And they said “no” to literally everything.

When they are not obstructing the functions of government, they simply make things up and bombard the American voter with lies. Tell a big lie and tell it often.

If confronted with undeniable, irrefutable facts simply ignore them and repeat the lie.

It didn’t win them the White House – or Congress in 2008, and it seems unlikely to reward them at the Midterms in 2010.

BFI may not get them back into power, but it can destroy the country.

Is it possible that Republicans believe their own propaganda, or knowing the truth that they do not represent the majority view of the country, they persist in the lie in order not to demoralize their base?

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “’I did that,’ says my memory. ‘I could not have done that,’ says my pride and remains inexorable. Eventually – the memory yields.”

Is this what happens to conservative thinking? Is the need for fact to fit to system so strong that even memory must give way? Something simply has to be true, and therefore is?

I wonder if, one day, a former Tea Party member will stand up, astonished at the destruction they have wrought, and like Madame Roland before the guillotine will cry, “Oh Liberty! Liberty! What crimes are committed in your name!”

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Almost Half of Town Hall Protesters Can’t Find Iraq on a Map

Aug 28 2009 Published by under Featured News

The Omaha City Weekly recently went to Sen. Ben Nelson’s town hall meeting and conducted an interesting experiment. They asked 40 attendees who were pro-healthcare reform, and 40 who were anti-reform to find Iraq on a map. While 75% of those who favor reform could locate Iraq, 52.2% of those who are anti could not.

Here is how the City Weekly described their quiz, “Presented a blank map of the Middle East and surrounding area – one with county names removed – those attending the town hall were asked to point out Iraq, a country where we have waged war for over six years. The idea was that those who consider themselves to be well informed on the state of America today should at least be able to identify a place where we have shed blood in a conflict that has lasted longer than our involvement in World War II.”

The results were not surprising, “A full 75%, 30 of 40 pro-reform attendees, could identify Iraq in its rather eye-catching, dead center position on the map. Only 52.5 %, 21 of 40 anti-reformers could do so.” What is more interesting is that the pro-reformers were more lighthearted and agreeable to taking the quiz. The anti-reform group sneered, glowered, and four people accused the quiz of being biased.

This quiz while completely unscientific does illustrate a large point about how well informed each side of this debate is. The anti-reform side, for the most part, has bought into the misinformation campaign of the GOP and right wing talk radio. The pro side tends to be more fact based. The antis are uninformed to the point where I am convinced that they do not know what they are protesting against.

When people show up at town halls and make statements like don’t let socialism take away my Social Security and Medicare, they are showing how misguided they are, but I am not calling this people dumb or stupid.

They have been misled by the places where they get their information. Their fear is being manipulated and exploited to maintain the status quo. Instead of being a shining example of democracy, they illustrate the power of fear.

(H/T: Think Progress)

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Howard Dean on Ted Kennedy and the Future of Heathcare Reform

Aug 26 2009 Published by under Featured News

Former DNC chairman Howard Dean talked today about healthcare reform and the death of Ted Kennedy. Dean wrote, “When President Obama signs a Health Care Reform bill late this year, Ted Kennedy’s may not be standing there next to him, but his presence will be deeply apparent in the Oval Office as the President’s pen moves across the page.”

Dean wrote on his blog that, “We will miss Senator Ted Kennedy as a nation, and I will miss him as a human being. Over the next few months, as we debate his life’s passion, which was Universal Health Care, we will feel his presence everywhere. He will be in the Senate Chamber, in the committee rooms, in the White House, and in the minds of most of the reporters old enough to have witnessed the trajectory of this extraordinary generation of America’s First Family from its beginning. Much has been written about Ted Kennedy already. He was indeed extraordinary.”

He added a personal story, “My mother, who was a solid Upper East Side Republican until 2004, once happened to sit next to him at a wedding of a mutual friend. She had never met him before. I’m sure the exchange was lively, and being a Dean, I doubt my mother gave him much quarter. A week later, a beautiful, kind, and very personal handwritten letter arrived from Ted Kennedy. My mother, like so many other Americans, was hooked by the Kennedy charm and grace.”

Dean maintained his belief that a healthcare bill will be passed and signed, “Ted Kennedy was a man with a long career of determination as well as charm. When President Obama signs a Health Care Reform bill late this year, Ted Kennedy’s may not be standing there next to him, but his presence will be deeply apparent in the Oval Office as the President’s pen moves across the page.”

Gov. Dean made an important point. With the passing of Ted Kennedy, it is almost certain that a healthcare bill will be passed. There really wasn’t much doubt about the passage of healthcare reform before the senator passed away, but now, I think it is a lock that it will get done. Healthcare was one of the big causes of Kennedy’s career, and I think that passing and then having a bill which contains a pubic option for President Obama to sign would be the most fitting tribute of all.

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Former Presidents Carter, Bush, and Clinton React to the Death of Ted Kennedy

Aug 26 2009 Published by under Featured News

Reaction is still coming in from all over the political world to the news that Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) lost his battle with brain cancer and passed away last night. Former Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter have all released statements remembering Kennedy.

President George H.W. Bush said, “While we didn’t see eye to eye on many political issues through the years, I always respected his steadfast public service — so much so, in fact, that I invited him to my library in 2003 to receive the Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service. Ted Kennedy was a seminal figure in the United States Senate — a leader who answered the call to duty for some 47 years, and whose death closes a remarkable chapter in that body’s history.”

President Bill Clinton said, “Senator Ted Kennedy was one of the most influential leaders of our time, and one of the greatest senators in American history. His big heart, sharp mind, and boundless energy were gifts he gave to make our democracy a more perfect union.”

He continued, “As President, I was thankful for his fierce advocacy for universal health care and his leadership in providing health coverage to millions of children. His tireless efforts have brought us to the threshold of real health care reform. I was also grateful for his efforts, often in partnership with Republicans as well as Democrats, to advance civil rights, promote religious freedom, make college more affordable, and give young Americans the opportunity to serve at home in Americorp. I am glad the bill President Obama signed to expand Americorp and other youth service opportunities is named the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. Through it, his commitment to public service will live on in millions of young people across our nation.”

Clinton concluded, “Hillary and I will always be grateful for the many gestures of kindness and generosity he extended to us, for the concern he showed for all the children and grandchildren of the Kennedy clan, and for his devotion to all those in need whose lives were better because he stood up for them. Our thoughts and prayers are with Vicki, his children and grandchildren, and the people of Massachusetts he served so well.”

President Jimmy Carter said, “Rosalynn and I extend our condolences to the Kennedy family. Senator Kennedy was a passionate voice for the citizens of Massachusetts and an unwavering advocate for the millions of less fortunate in our country. The courage and dignity he exhibited in his fight with cancer was surpassed only by his lifelong commitment and service to his country.”

Here is video of Carter expanding on his statement:

Whether you agreed or disagreed with him, few non-presidents have ever had the kind of impact on legislation and policy that Ted Kennedy had. He was the sort of political giant that our history books highlight, but it is likely that we won’t see anyone else that will have the impact that he did. The combination of the Kennedy legacy and his love of the Senate made him a unique figure in American political history.

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Joe the Plumber: Capitalism is an American Right Under the Constitution

Jul 20 2009 Published by under Featured News

Joe the Plumber spoke yesterday at a tea party in Wisconsin where he called himself a dumb plumber who understands the Constitution. He demonstrated his understanding by saying, “Capitalism is evil, at least that’s what they’d have us believe. It’s not evil. It’s our right as Americans.”Capitalism is an economic system, not a right.

The non-plumber said, “Capitalism is evil — at least that’s what they’d have us believe. It’s not evil. It’s our right as Americans. They want to shove health care down our throats right now. That’s just not the right way to go, people. Talk about the kind of money they want to spend on health care, which hasn’t worked in any other country that has socialized health care. American people are going to have to stand up and say no.”

Voter registration numbers be damned because Joe the Plumber claims that Republicans are the majority in this country, “We’re the majority, but we’re so disenchanted with politics as usual that we don’t get out and vote.” No, the problem is that the GOP is the minority, and they have alienated the Independent voters that they need support from in order to win elections.

For good measure, Sam/Joe also said that he has no problem with torturing someone to save American lives. In fact, “I’ll do it myself. I will make no apologies.” I don’t understand the logic behind calling a healthcare plan socialism, when it leaves the existing market in place, and only wishes to encourage competition. In my view, this is not socialism.

People will not have to give up their doctors, or change anything if they like their current healthcare situation. The fact is the health insurance industry is trying to discourage competition by spreading fear about a public option. Only in the minds of Republicans can a bill that encourages competition be labeled socialism.

One last point, Joe the Plumber seems to be confusing capitalism with democracy. Capitalism is not constitutionally protected, democracy is. It can be argued that capitalistic system flourish best in democracies, but China’s economic success, makes this a debatable point too. As a general rule though, democratic freedoms help a capitalistic economy. The point is that democracy is a system of government and capitalism is an economic system. They aren’t the same thing.

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Liberty, Justice, and Assisted Suicide

Jul 18 2009 Published by under Featured News

“Justice is the convergence of Law, Truth and Good,” well, or so I’ve believed for a while now. This is hardly a complete definition – but I would like to think it serves as reasonable summary of the thought that these virtues have flowered in a progression toward a common goal over time.

For longer than recorded history undoubtedly there have been laws. The earliest might have been something like, “Don’t leave meat out in the cave, don’t draw pictures defiling ‘god,’ etc.. In the time of recorded history, we have seen societies a few societies reflect some very advanced thinking of fair treatment of all citizens, such as ancient Athens exemplify nearly pure democracy, granting everyone reasonably equal standing before the law, but more commonly ancient societies were brutal, with harsh punishments for the merest of crimes.

We have also seen societies like Imperial Rome, or even the Papacy, which twisted the law to allow for abuse, usurpation of rights, and the enslavement of entire nations. Even ancient religious/biblical laws, such as those in Leviticus, called for the stoning of those who wear clothing of two fabrics, or sew fields with two crops.

Over time, it seems to me, laws have usually become fairer, more respectful of complex rights. They recognized rights to dissent such as rights of free speech, and also recognized the presumption of innocence, due process protections and the need for fair legal representation. These obviously were outgrowths of realizations that older laws were unjust when they failed to protect the innocent.

So, mankind has improved things to achieve fair treatment under the law and to and provide the defendant and equal chance as the state has for the truth to come out. In essence, the truth, the betterment of mankind’s treatment by government, has been the root of what we desired in law. We have sought to punish only the wicked, restrain the wrong, and prevent harm to the innocent.

We have also sought to temper the law, to have it treat even the guilty with a measure of compassion. Where past punishments provided for death or the severing of a limb or keel-hauling or quartering, we have decided some crimes are far lower in harm than the punishments which we meted out, and we drew back from that practice. We sought to marry compassion to truth, and to make law from it. I am mindful of this as I watch “Victim’s Rights advocates decry Sonya Sotomayor as wrong for daring to actually have some regard for the fairness of the law, the proportion of the punishment to the crime, when deciding that punishment.

So, if compassion is a reflection of what we feel is fair, and good is doing the least necessary harm meaning ensuring we do not improperly harm the innocent as we protect society from the guilty, it seems we have thus sought over time to marry both fairness and goodness to the law – this convergence of two paths, one of truth, the other of the ability of the people to set forth codes of conduct -it is this convergence, it seems to me, which is what justice is.

Last Friday my neighbor down the street apparently took his own life. He was dying of cancer – he was 59. We don’t know for certain what happened exactly. I am speculating a bit, but the police said there was no threat to the public – which usually means either suicide or domestic dispute. His wife was in her late 50’s, and there doesn’t seem to be any history of difficulty between them – so, it is at least conceivable that he preferred death to the ravages of palliative chemotherapy.

As a child, I watched my grandfather and grandmother both waste away from cancer. They died four days apart; my grandmother in the end could only acknowledge her wants and needs by tapping her foot – once for yes, twice for no. She was an extraordinarily warm, kind, compassionate and cheerful person, watching her degrade into quadriplegia and then mute agony was heartbreakingly difficult as 9 year old. For my grandfather, who was himself dying of Hodgkin’s disease, I imagine it was 10 times worse.

I also recently watched my father-in-law waste away and die to kidney cancer – he fought like hell, lost 110 of his 220 pounds. He was determined to live, but succumbed in the end. His wife (my mother in law), cared for him up until the last few weeks in her house, cleaning up after him, bathing him, fetching him from wandering aimlessly down the street. When my children went to see him three months after having last seen him (and a few weeks before his death) they walked right by him as he sat in his wheel-chair. They didn’t even recognize him.

It was excruciating for my wife and my mother-in-law. In the end, the woman who had been married to him for 50 years felt that, “It was harder to have him here than to have him gone.” She was relieved I’d guess, though she undoubtedly felt guilty for feeling it.

I say all this because, when someone has family and friends they want to live for, as the father of two of my children’s closest friends had (Wayne died three years ago, when his kids were 11 and 7) – I think they should do everything they can, fight with every breath, to be there as long as they can – it is more than just about them at that point. However, when they have fought long enough, when the pain is too much, when the future is too bleak, I believe it is their right, and their right alone to decide when that time has come. Ready access to firearms makes death an easy companion, usually for all the worst reasons in the most horrid and sudden of ways. Yet, who are we to decide for those whom we have little idea the agony they suffer, that they are wrong to act to avoid the last few painful, empty, harrowing weeks?

In the United States, for example, only one state, Oregon, has assisted suicide laws – so the actions of my neighbor, and certainly of anyone who helped, will be deemed illegal. Even in England, a somewhat more liberal country regarding some of the social structures we argue about here – there is no allowance for these kinds of circumstances..and, as this story helps illustrate, it leads to people leaving the country to end their pain.

“The controversy over the ethical and legal issues surrounding assisted suicide for the terminally ill was thrown into stark relief on Tuesday with the announcement that one of Britain’s most distinguished orchestra conductors, Sir Edward Downes, had flown to Switzerland last week with his wife and joined her in drinking a lethal cocktail of barbiturates provided by an assisted-suicide clinic.”

This was a distinguished member of the nobility who sought to end his life in Switzerland rather than disobey British law. He was 84, his children were sad, but supportive of his choice to die with the woman he had spent 50 years with as a life partner. His son was quoted saying:

“Within a couple of minutes they were asleep, and died within 10 minutes,” Caractacus Downes, the couple’s 41-year-old son, said in the interview after his return to Britain. “They wanted to be next to each other when they died.” He added, “It is a very civilized way to end your life, and I don’t understand why the legal position in this country doesn’t allow it.”

If the law says such actions are wrong, why? Is there truly a need to require someone to keep living in agony? Is there truly a need to require the families of those who are terminal to watch them fall into oblivion of Alzheimer’s final days, of cancer’s final weeks of morphine induced stupors, of chemotherapy’s cadaverous preludes?

To me, the law to me seems to be written for the ignorant. Perhaps it was originally motivated by religiosity rather than compassion, but it certainly seems unaware of the heartbreaking impacts of requiring someone to be present, when the agony to them and their loved ones required for presence is worse than loneliness of no longer having them around.

If someone is taking 50 units of morphine per half hour (as my father in law was), if they have no control over bodily function as my grandmother lacked, what religion would say ending this pain is wrong? Is it compassionate to force them to live on? Perhaps the time has come for us to stop forcing people like my neighbor (assuming this is the case) to break the law to find justice and peace. Is it fair or right or truthful or good to require their presence in a life which is more painful to us to witness and to them to live, than to allow it to peacefully end?

It is lawful, I suppose, but is it Just?

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July 4th: Happy [Education] Day!

Jul 04 2009 Published by under Featured News

July 4th, Independence Day, the birthday of our nation. We celebrate it with flags and balloons, hot dogs and apple pie. We recall the Founding Fathers, applaud courageous colonists who stood for rights, and we regale those wonderfully cardinal tenets of our nation’s beginning: the self-evident truths; all [people] are created equal; the inalienable rights; and of course, most famously, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In this regard, no man is thought of, talked about, and appreciated more than Thomas Jefferson, our third president; but more importantly, the principal writer of our Declaration of Independence, a core architect of the Bill of Rights. And he deserves all of our praise and veneration.

However, we too often neglect that Jefferson had dual definitions for “independence;” Independence from England, and independence of the American mind.

We forget that Jefferson held closely the ideal of education for all as one of those primary inalienable rights. In 1786, just ten short years after the birth of our nation, Jefferson wrote, “I think by far the most important bill in our whole code, is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people… no other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness.”

He wanted a solid, rigorous and comprehensive public education for all American. He had the foresight to see, and connect, education to happiness and freedom. Jefferson believed an educated populace was the keystone to the survival of a vibrant democracy. Without an educated, and therefore informed citizenry, the growing pool of ignoramuses will allow the rich upper class to rule, essentially recreating the aristocracy of Dickensian England, which the colonists had just fought a war to throw off.

Additionally, for Jefferson, no one was more valuable in this populace than the least fortunate among us. In 1821, he wrote in his autobiography that with a proper education, “the less wealthy people…would be qualified to understand their rights, to maintain them, and to exercise with intelligence their parts in self-government.”

With an extensive education that teaches our children to think for themselves rather than to parrot factoids, Jefferson wished for all Americans the ultimate form of freedom…

…what he deemed “the illimitable freedom of the human mind.”

We would do well to praise and ovate Jefferson, the first (and original) “Education President.” And remember, July 4th: American [Education] Day!

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GOP Rep. Rohrabacher: Obama is a Cream Puff for not interfering in Iran

Jun 17 2009 Published by under Featured News

In an interview with Radio America’s Dateline Washington Rep. Dana Rohrabacher claimed that the Iranian people are protesting because they want a democracy and that President Obama is a cream puff for not interfering in Iran. Rohrabacher believes that the US is missing an opportunity in Iran that they need to be exploiting.

Rohrabacher said, “Well I think that Mr. Obama, if he continues to have these types of attitudes, we’re going to see things get very bad, very quickly. Already the North Koreans have challenged him and realized that he’s a cream puff, if that is what he is indeed going to be as a President, and there was no absolutely no response to their blatant nuclear weapons activity, and now if the Mullahs in Iran are permitted to just roll over opposition something like Tienanmen square, we will have missed a great opportunity, but it also means that we will pay a price for having radical Mullahs, they will be emboldened in the future.”

He continued, “The last thing you want to do is make is sound like these people are isolated that these people in the streets don’t have any backing. The strongest thing the President was able to say was the world is watching. Well, what the heck does that mean? That we are going to watch we’re and do nothing. What we need to do, is make sure, and I have already done this, I have had video taken that was sent all over Iran on the Internet that was distributed by some student organizations that basically I was telling the people of Iran that we’re with them. Be courageous. Don’t let this moment go by. Let’s seize the moment so that we can live in peace between the United States and Iran, and they can live in some kind of freedom instead of being terrorized by these cuckoo Mullahs.”

Rep. Rohrabacher demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding of why the Iranians are protesting. They are protesting what they view as election fraud. They aren’t protesting for a Western style democracy. He doesn’t seem to get the fact that even if Mousavi would become president, the leadership and political power players would remain the same.

With his call for action, Rohrabacher is playing into the hands of a regime that is already trying to use American meddling as an excuse to delegitimize and crack down on the protesters. It is a neo-con pipe dream that the US government could facilitate regime change in Iran by supporting the protests. US support of the protests might kill any organic domestic movement for reform in Iran.

Obama is not a cream puff for demonstrating an understanding of Iranian politics and perception. The president is following the correct course of action, because despite what Rohrabacher says the protesters aren’t looking to get rid of Mullahs.

They are protesting a rigged election, and it is possible that protests could grow into a more serious movement, but Rohrabacher’s heavy handed strategy would be the fastest way to kill it.

(H/T: Think Progress)

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