Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Crazy and....

I try to avoid sounding like a certain type of person, a type we all know. I'm speaking of the know-it-all old guy who takes delight in starting little speeches with " D'ja hear what crazy dang things those fools in the government are doing NOW?" Hearing stuff like that makes you check the room for exits. But having said so, I just can't help noting two rather crazy-sounding ideas from the duo right at the top of the whole thing.
My favorite target, Vice President Cheney, has almost outdone himself by finding a new explanation for ignoring a government edict from the President himself aimed at members of the Executive Branch with the purpose of gathering materials for the National Archives. The VEEP, who has ignored these annual requests for four years, now tells us why. The Vice President, according to the incumbent, is NOT actually a member of the Executive Branch because he is also the President of the Senate. Where does that put Mr. Cheney, who was not shy about claiming executive privilege on any number of other matters pertaining to secrecy? He doesn't say, except to say that he need not reply to the request for documents. In other words, "That's YOUR problem, chump. Not mine." Congress is now considering using this logic to defund the Office of the Vice President altogether if his position is some sort of Constitutional Neverland. Good luck to them, though respect for FUTURE VEEPs will probably keep them from carrying out the fiscal death penalty.
The President toured eastern Europe this month, and made a statement in Poland that no one was expecting. In order to stop a missile threat to Poland from Iran, the Poles get one of the first anti-missile defense systems from their American pals, us. Does this seem odd, considering that there has been no successful test of an anti-missile system despite over $100 billion in expenditures trying to make it work since the Reagan days? Iran has no nuclear weapons and no ICBMs capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to Poland. And since when are the Iranians determined to attack Poland for ANY reason? So Bush promised a non-existing system to guard against a non-existent threat for a country which not only hasn't asked for it, but in fact opposes by a 3-to-1 margin. The answer, I must conclude, is in the answer to the question: Who benefits from such a plan? No, not Christian conservatives or anti-Muslim Polish Catholics, but the large (or we could say "big") businesses involved in designing, building and deploying the system - the same ones who've collected the $100 billion plus. After all, we have to keep them going even if peace should break out.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

They Know Better

Maybe this is confessing too much, but ours is one of the few homes on earth that doesn't have cable TV. It's not that we're so high-minded about television content. If anything, we like it TOO much, but don't trust ourselves to get anything done at home with the lure of ESPN, The History Channel and the Tennis Channel tugging at us every day.
Among the fuzzy stations coming to us free is TBN, the Christian-based network that's been around for 30-some years. Around here it's Channel 47. Some of the fare is pretty light in nature, including programming for children. Even the minister-based shows have different approaches to teaching the Word to the TV audience.
No question TBS also has a politically-based section of programming aimed at adults, the faith-based voters you hear so much about. To me, these programs carry a hard to miss overtone that says "We know best. Get in line, brothers and sisters, and we'll tell you enough so that you'll know how to vote." Of course, they can't be too specific in order to keep their favored tax status, but you'd be hard pressed to find one of the TBN Brothers sounding like Barak Obama or Dennis Kucinic.
I was watching not long ago, and a suited guy whose name I didn't catch was talking about "hate crimes", the same term used here last week. Great, I thought, even THESE guys can't come out in favor of HATE. Maybe we have more in common than I had thought. Then I got a whole new slant on how the "Preacher Right" defines the term.
A "hate crime" as defined on TBN is a crime in which "hate" is expressed at someone else. High on the suspect list in this interpretation are ministers who "hate" homosexuality and speak forcefully against the always-dreaded "gay lifestyle". The "frame" thus sounded something like this: "We, your ministers, could go to jail if the evil federal gummint comes after us for hating the sin of homosexuality. It's your duty, therefore, to oppose all proposals that involve anything called a "Hate crime", so that we can be sure that the sunglasses-wearing guy in the suit occupying the back pew isn't a federal agent who's come to gather evidence against us".
I was pretty surprised, not only at this deliberate misinterpretation, but by the implication it would be swallowed whole by the audience. The show's producers must have known that their line wasn't truthful, but that it would be believed anyway just because of the source - Christian ministers. No wonder Americans have become more cynical these past few years, governed by those who don't care past the next election, and ministered to by people wanting to control the legislative agenda against the people they should be serving - the poor sinners who, after all, are the rest of us.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I Hate...

I suppose we could agree that hate is a bad thing. It leads us to do stupid things, some of them potentially harmful. But should it be illegal? There's the old line from the song that goes "You can't go to jail for what you're thinkin'", and to be honest, there is no way to enforce a law against hate until thoughts become actions - specifically illegal actions. Hating someone privately is one thing, but taking an ax to his car is quite another.
Hate speech is a related item. We look for ways to keep unpopular forms of speech (such as the signs which read "God hates Fags") away from funerals. We wish certain types of music with a message would just disappear. But speech is protected by the Constitution, and, as written in this space before, is allowed except in rare circumstances.
This leads us to hate crimes, which work like this: if it can be proven that crimes against a person were committed because of the hate of the victim by the criminal for reasons having to do with ethnicity, religion, etc., then the sentence may be lengthened upon conviction. Some states have such arrangements, others don't. The intent, naturally, is to make hate less "mainstream" - to make it seem less normal, even though hate has been with us since Cain and Abel.
Perhaps you can tell that I'm not entirely comfortable with the concept of hate crimes. Proving beyond a reasonable doubt that someone has done something against someone else can be done, because courts do it every day. But going into the criminal's mind to know why something was done is (and should be) harder. The victim's pain is about the same no matter why the crime occurred, and a good lawyer could generate plenty of doubt in a jury about a motive in order to, if not win a case, at least limit the sentence of his guilty client. And I understand that as part of a defense attorney's job. Adding to the sentence in order to deter future crimes - isn't that what the death penalty is supposed to be all about? And don't most faithful liberals think that capital punishment has no real deterrent effect? We shouldn't have it both ways.
Next time, I'll be looking at a bizarre twisting of the whole concept of "hate crimes" by.....our old friends in the Religious Right.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Church and State

When we mention the phrase "Church and State", we run the risk of misunderstanding. The "separation of" those two is referred to all the time, though the phrase is not found in the Constitution. My good friends on the Right feel their temps rise at just the mention of the phrase, because they feel it is something invented lately to keep children from any sort of religious influence in public schools or, even worse, that all laws originating from a religious or moral principle are unfairly banned by a cabal of secular jurists protected from public outcry by lifetime appointments to the bench. They wish, in some cases, that Billy Graham and Pat Robertson sat on the Supreme Court in order to give voice to the Constitution's framers, who, it's assumed, were also Right-Wing Christians.
When I hear this view in church (always coming from folks I consider to be moral people, often good friends), it makes me squirm. Here is what the Framers meant: no church was to be promoted by the state, and none would be prohibited unless it practiced beliefs clearly contrary to common law, such as human sacrifice or ritualized violence. The realm of religion was, in effect, to be treated the same as the realm of commerce. No sausage making company, for example, was to gain official government endorsement over any other such company as long as all parties kept the laws. So it was meant to operate among religious parties, though no one could have predicted the religious variety that has since arisen here and in various parts of the world.
To people of my religion, this should be especially significant, because said church originated in this country, about 40 years after the Revolutionary War. The church had considerable opposition, sometimes violent, from members of other established denominations, all of them supposedly Christian. The fledgling faith might have been strangled in its crib had the churches of the day been able to call upon the State to exercise law enforcement authority to promote one brand of Christianity while constricting another. Since there was no such special privilege, the "new" sect had some freedom to grow, even though at one point the bulk of the church's members were obliged to leave the country altogether in order to avoid persecution. I'm speaking of course of the Latter Day Saints, the "Mormons" of pioneering fame.
But what about today? Faithful people have used public spaces and buildings, not so much to promote as to celebrate religion, particularly at times of religious holidays. High school football games still begin with prayers in some places, and large monuments celebrating the Ten Commandments are common on public property. Does all this have to end in order to show fair treatment of all people of whatever religion? I don't think it's always in good taste to display one's religion, but perhaps our Buddhist/Hindu/Muslim neighbors can indulge us a bit, as long as we can show that we're not motivated by a spirit of meanness or a desire to "Christianize" them by force. Our nation's religious diversity today I believe shows, not that we're "backsliders", but that we've learned some tolerance over the generations.