Thursday, June 30, 2005

The U.S. and Iran: Impending Disaster?

The Bush Administration has long identified Iran as a charter member of the "Axis of Evil", and stories have circulated that the U.S. is planning an attack on that country, either directly or through a surrogate. (Scott Ritter weighs in here.) In my opinion such an attack would be an unmitigated disaster. (In this judgment I am not alone.) With the election of a hardline Iranian president, I fear there are those in the United States who will beat the war drums even more loudly. Yes, Iran is gaining nuclear weapons capacity, and yes it has obtained missile technology from outside nations, such as China. What of it? The United States faced a nuclear armed USSR for many years and not only survived but prevailed in the long Cold War struggle. I am at a loss to understand why deterrence wouldn't work against the Iranians. I think the presence of one or two Trident submarines, each carrying 240 warheads, in the Indian Ocean would be a sobering reminder to Iran of what would happen should it unleash an attack against the U.S. or U.S. forces in the Middle East. There are other ways to deal with this situation, and it is in our interests to pursue them. (Note by the way the date on this publication.) An attack on Iran would have tragic consequences; diplomacy is the only sane course of action.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

What the Victims Thought

On Tuesday night our President repeatedly invoked September 11 as a rationale for the Iraq war, stretching both logic and credibility to the breaking point. I thought you'd be interested in seeing what the principal victims of 9/11 thought of the President's job performance when they got a chance to evaluate it last November. (Figures from Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections)

Kerry 1,828,015, 75.7%
Bush 587,534, 24.3%

NEW YORK COUNTY (Manhattan, scene of Twin Towers)
Kerry 526,765, 82.1%
Bush 107,405, 16.7%
Others 1.2%

Kerry 430,075 56.9%
Bush 325,679 43.1%

Maybe Bush should stop trying to exploit 9/11 for his own political benefit. It sure seems like the ones who saw it up close weren't terribly impressed by the way he handled it.

Send Me a Letter and Get Published!

If you have a letter for this Blog, I'll be happy to post it and give you a response. Write me at and you'll be in the world of Blogdom!

Despite What Scalia Thinks, I Am Not a Second Class Citizen

Antonin Scalia continues his remorseless effort to push America toward a position where the government gives sanction and endorsement to certain religious beliefs (his)in preference to others. Scalia argues that since all government (in his view) derives ultimately from the authority of a single, unitary God, it is both permissible and desirable for governments at all levels to reflect this view, which he contends is held by the vast majority of believers. Setting aside for the moment whether it is Antonin Scalia's right to speak on behalf of all America's religiously devout people, what he is insisting on as "fact" is in reality simply belief, and the two do not necessarily coincide. Scalia believes that government is divinely inspired; he proposes no empirical test by which this could determined. There are in fact, no objective criteria that can be applied to this assertion. Scalia ignores all non-religious explanations for the institutions of law and government, although anthropologists, historians, and biologists have provided such explanations. (Edward O. Wilson, for example, argues that morality and law have their roots in human evolution. From the standpoint of natural selection,he contends, it was reproductively advantageous for a tribe to have rules which fostered group solidarity and internal cohesion.) If Scalia argued that religion has been used to justify government and law, he would be on solid ground. But he is arguing something much different--that all government and law are ultimately derived from the God of Mount Sinai, and here his argument rests on nothing but thin air.

The implications of Scalia's philosophy are huge and ominous. He is, by extension, arguing that since atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Wiccans, Hindus (by some interpretations)and others do not believe in the "Judeo-Christian-Islamic" God, they are therefore in no position to object to the majority attempting to use the methods of government to promote and even impose their beliefs in the public square. It is almost as if he is saying that if you don't see the issue his way, you aren't really a truly first class American, and your views can be ignored.

I am not a Christian, but I believe in God. I think that all organized religions have profound flaws. I am attempting to work out my own relationship to that evolving universal intelligence that others personify with the word God. I think that government is a natural, humanly derived institution. And I think that despite Scalia's best efforts, I will not bend to the will of the "majority" (however that is defined) and simply keep silent when others try to use the law to push me to one side in my own country. I am just as much a true American as Scalia. Maybe even more so, because I have genuine respect for those with whom I disagree.

Some summaries and very cogent responses to Scalia can be found here, here, and here. (The last link is to a Buddhist site commenting on a March court decision involving the Ten Commandments.) They're all worth a read.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A Short History of Church-State Separation, Part Two

The nation coming under the rule of the Constitution was one that had been founded for a diversity of reasons. Central among these was the desire to live in a setting with one’s co-religionists. The motive was to protect one’s own religious practices, not necessarily those of the neighbors. The Puritan colonists in Massachusetts, for example, were fleeing persecution by the established Church of England, but they were most certainly not seeking to allow true freedom of conscience. They were establishing, as John Winthrop would put it, a shining city on a hill, an example to humanity. (This may be the root of the widespread sense of American exceptionalism, the idea that God has chosen the American people for a historic spiritual mission.) The intolerance of the Puritans drove Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson to found settlements in what would later be known as Rhode Island. Other colonies mirrored the religious issues of Europe. Maryland was established as a Catholic refuge; Pennsylvania to guarantee the tolerance of Quakers (who in turn extended this tolerance to others). For many decades, Virginia required adherence to the Church of England.

No one can doubt that the attitudes of the American colonists were deeply affected by religious conviction. Further, the colonists expressed their faith in both public and private ways. They saw their faith as an integral part of their own lives and the life of the larger society around them. (This is the crux of the conservative argument that the concept of separation of church and state is contrary to the reality of America’s early centuries). But there were those among the American founders who, while often professing profound religious faith themselves, understood the awful power of government to tilt the balance toward one faction or the other. In 1787, James Madison, in discussing the need for a new Constitution based on republican principles, wrote the following:

…A still more fatal if not more frequent cause [of injustice] lies among the people themselves. All civilized societies are divided into different interests and factions, as they happen to be creditors or debtors — Rich or poor — husbandmen, merchants or manufacturers — members of different religious sects — followers of different political leaders — inhabitants of different districts — owners of different kinds of property &c &c. In republican Government the majority however composed, ultimately give the law. Whenever therefore an apparent interest or common passion unites a majority what is to restrain them from unjust violations of the rights and interests of the minority, or of individuals?.... When indeed Religion is kindled into enthusiasm, its force like that of other passions, is increased by the sympathy of a multitude. But enthusiasm is only a temporary state of religion, and while it lasts will hardly be seen with pleasure at the helm of Government. Besides as religion in its coolest state, is not infallible, it may become a motive to oppression as well as a restraint from injustice. Place three individuals in a situation wherein the interest of each depends on the voice of the others, and give to two of them an interest opposed to the rights of the third? Will the latter be secure? The prudence of every man would shun the danger. The rules & forms of justice suppose & guard against it. Will two thousand in a like situation be less likely to encroach on the rights of one thousand? The contrary is witnessed by the notorious factions & oppressions which take place in corporate towns limited as the opportunities are, and in little republics when uncontrouled by apprehensions of external danger. If an enlargement of the sphere is found to lessen the insecurity of private rights, it is not because the impulse of a common interest or passion is less predominant in this case with the majority; but because a common interest or passion is less apt to be felt and the requisite combinations less easy to be formed by a great than by a small number. The Society becomes broken into a greater variety of interests, of pursuits, of passions, which check each other, whilst those who may feel a common sentiment have less opportunity of communication and concert. It may be inferred that the inconveniences of popular States contrary to the prevailing Theory, are in proportion not to the extent, but to the narrowness of their limits.

The great desideratum in Government is such a modification of the Sovereignty as will render it sufficiently neutral between the different interests and factions, to controul one part of the Society from invading the rights of another, and at the same time sufficiently controuled itself, from setting up an interest adverse to that of the whole Society. In absolute Monarchies, the prince is sufficiently, neutral towards his subjects, but frequently sacrifices their happiness to his ambition or his avarice. In small Republics, the sovereign will is sufficiently controuled from such a Sacrifice of the entire Society, but is not sufficiently neutral towards the parts composing it. As a limited Monarchy tempers the evils of an absolute one; so an extensive Republic meliorates the administration of a small Republic.
(Extracted from Selected Works of James Madison. Spelling is that of the original.)

It was this concept of the government's neutrality in the face of factionalism, especially religious factionalism, that Madison considered essential. Similar sentiments were echoed by Thomas Jefferson, who in the draft of a constitution for Virginia had written:

Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

In his "Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport", George Washington added his own thoughts to this general theme:

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support. (Reference).

So while it is true that religious sentiment in early America was pervasive, our wisest minds understood that it was this very fact that required government to be a referee in religious matters, not an enforcer of religious orthodoxy. True, there were those such as John Adams who professed Calvinism and said that American government was not intended for atheists, but such views were hardly universal. (Thomas Paine's work is a useful reminder of this.) This was the historical context in which the Constitution's statement that no religious test would be required for public office was made. It was also the basis of the First Amendment's carefully worded balancing act in regard to religion. But as we all know, the Constitution hardly resolved this matter. About the fights which followed, I'll have more to say.

Monday, June 27, 2005

A Short History of Church-State Separation, Part One

Since the inception of civilization there has been a strong human impulse to make sure everyone in a particular society conformed to the dominant belief system. Such thinking probably has extremely deep roots in the tribal prehistory of humanity, where group solidarity and adherence to the tribe's governing ethos were paramount. The earliest Mesopotamian city-states were ruled by a priestly class; ancient Egypt's pharaohs ultimately came to be seen as gods. The Chinese emperor was said to possess "The Mandate of Heaven", the east Asian version of the West's "Divine Right of Kings". Socrates was forced by the Athenians to kill himself for "impiety". In European history, the dominance of the Christian faith beginning in the Fourth Century CE became one of the great shaping influences of western civilization. No aspect of European life was unaffected by the intermingling of human political activity with human religious practices. For many centuries Christianity dominated the governance of Europe. The concept of individual religious choice was unknown. Those who fell outside of the Official Faith, such as Jews, were persecuted, exiled, discriminated against, even subjected to physical destruction. A society's members had to conform, for what was said to be the survival of the society itself. Such conformity also made it easier for the dominant classes of European society to exercise control over their populations.

Eventually, those people who ran the civil government clashed with the ecclesiastical authorities of the Roman Catholic Church over the exercise of temporal power. The long struggle between Church and State had commenced. With the onset of the Reformation, a savage era of religious war added a new dimension to such struggles. Political and religious motives were inextricably linked in the chaos of the period between 1517 and 1648. The culminating horror of the era was the Thirty Years' War, in which anywhere from 10% to 30% of Europe's German speaking population was wiped out. The butcheries and atrocities of this period were so terrible that many rational men and women were deeply shocked. Men such as Erasmus had earlier counseled moderation, in vain; now men such as Michel de Montaigne began to urge tolerance. It became clear that Europeans could not bring back the era of monolithic religious belief; they were going to have to live with each other. With the onset of what many have called the Scientific Revolution, voices began to be heard urging the adoption of empiricism as the standard of evaluating reality. Intellectual confidence spread, and from this confidence emerged the movement among Europe's thinkers called the Enlightenment.

The thinkers of the Enlightenment called into question a startling array of accepted beliefs, especially those associated with religious dogmatism. Such figures as Voltaire clashed directly with the Church hierarchy. Voltaire, a Deist, asserted that religious tolerance was one of society's most urgent necessities. His conviction was echoed by many others. David Hume called into doubt all certainty, religious or otherwise. Freedom of conscience began to be seen by many as the only way to prevent religious differences from erupting into civil violence.

From the milieu of the French and Scottish Enlightenments there developed the ideas of the American founders. It became apparent to most of them that in order to protect religious liberty, it would be necessary to remove the power of the government to coerce people into belief. It was in this context that the American Constitution was written, primarily by James Madison. The addition of the Bill of Rights in 1791, primarily to placate those who worried about excessive government power in the new republic, reflected this sensibility. The practice of religion would be protected, but no specific religious faith was to in any way have the official sanction of the government. It has been the implementation of this delicate balancing act between non-establishment and freedom of religious expression that has caused endless wrangling and hairsplitting in our history. This was reflected yet again in today's Supreme Court decisions concerning the public display of the Ten Commandments.

More to come.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Psychic Paranoia in the Heartland

I have a strange fascination with this site. It's the weirdest collection of religious prophesying, disaster prediction, and just plain fearmongering that I've ever seen. I love it. It's like having a window into the heart and mind of the Great American Fringe. Make sure you check the forums, too. Some really choice stuff ends up in there. I mean for crying out loud people, don't go off your meds!

9/11 Family Member Kristen Breitweiser Puts the Hurt on Rove

Kristen Breitweiser makes the best response to the vile Karl Rove here. You owe it to yourself to go take a look.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Great Blog! U.S. Military People Rip Into Rove!

The blog consists entirely of attacks on Bush henchman and Head Chickenhawk Karl Rove in response to Rove's latest slanderous filth. All the posts are from U.S. service men and women and their families. It just sprang and it's got over 3000 hits!You can find it here.

What We're Up Against

By far the most dangerous person in modern American politics is Karl Rove, advisor to and chief hitman for George W. Bush. Rove's despicable attacks on anyone who dares to disagree with Dear Leader come as no surprise to many of us. You can find an excellent summary of Rove's career here. If anyone could truly be said to be a cancer on our national political discourse, it's him.

Friday, June 24, 2005

What's At Stake

As anyone who knows me is aware, I am fiercely committed to the cause of bringing down the Presidency of George W. Bush, whom I sincerely believe to be the most dangerous and incompetent leader in American history. I say that in the full knowledge of such disastrous presidencies as those of James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson. What is at stake in the struggle to defeat Bush and the crooks, pathological liars, fanatics, and far-right lunatics who make up his government is nothing less than the future identity and survival of the United States of America. Our country is frighteningly in debt. We are embroiled in a war that we were deliberately misled into. The interests of the wealthy and powerful are riding higher than at any time since the 1920s. And perhaps most disquieting, we are being dragged toward a confrontation between those who would turn this nation into a theocracy and those who would resist this with their very lives. Will one more anti-Bush blog make a difference? Who knows. Does one vote make a difference? One life? One spirit.
I say let's see.

OK, Let's Try the Triumphant Return, Part 2!

It seems that using the old name of the freaking blog confuses the issue, so I've added an exclamation point to differentiate THIS blog from the previous incarnation.

Now my unelicited and unnoticed opinions can be seen by the world!