Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Overheard on the train

On my trip home last night (the train's air conditioning was not working, btw) I chanced to eavesdrop on the conversation being held behind me by three young men with unkempt hair and chips on their shoulders. I can't reproduce it word for word because I wasn't really paying attention initially, plus I can't use the word "fuck" with nearly their alacrity, but the gist of it was that they were discussing how to acquire enough explosives to do something exciting. I do recall that one of them said that one would have to be a signator to the Geneva Convention (I'm actually making it more grammatically correct than he was) in order to get one kind and another had to be avoided because the government puts some kind of indestructible identification in it so they could find out who'd used it. Okay, I thought, either they're complete morons or they're trying to get someone to start a fight on the train. If that latter, no one bit. Someone joined them and asked what they'd been up to. "Blowing up fucking A-rabs," said one, followed by gutteral noises no doubt intended to make fun of the Arabic language. The three (or four, I really wasn't looking) howled with laughter. Another fellow got on the train. As he took his seat just ahead of me, one of the guys behind me called out to him by name. He recognized them and they started to chat, all talk of blowing things or people up left behind. I started to pay attention, I don't know why. And it gradually came out that all four had served together in the Army. Recently. One of the young men behind me kept saying, "Fuck you, man, I EARNED my freedom!" They discussed the skanky girls they'd ogled at some strip club outside of Fort Lewis. They discussed the weather in terms of how hot it was in Iraq. (Sorry, EYE-rack...) The last guy got off the train a few stops later, and one of the young men behind me spotted a girl he thought looked "fine, man." (She did, but that's beside the point and doesn't excuse the way they were talking about her.) They started gesturing wildly for the guy who'd gotten off the train to talk to her. One of the three remaining guys jumped off the train and I lost sight of him. The train doors closed, the train started to move, and the cell phone of one of the young men trilled. He repeated, for his friend's benefit, "She waited and caught the red line behind us." "Well, let's get to it!" said the other, and they hopped off the train at the next stop, presumably to get on the train the "fine" looking girl was on.

When they left, I realized that perhaps I am in serious error judging American soldiers by [info]arkham4269's standard. And if these men are a true example of the kind of men we have fighting to defend our freedom, I truly do fear for our nation. I acknowledge that just coming back from combat might have made them louder and less genteel and polite than most people riding Max at rush hour are accustomed to, but the way they seemed to take naturally to stalking the girl (she was maybe 19) they found attractive made me queasy and their loud, racist, violent conversation may have been intended for its shock value but it was said with enough conviction that I believed they were speaking their true beliefs (albeit most certainly not their true activities.)

Monday, June 19, 2006

I always like to share the surreal in the news

The Da Vinci Senator

By Bob Geiger, AlterNet
Posted on June 19, 2006, Printed on June 19, 2006

The United States Senate is often called "the greatest deliberative body in the world," which usually raises the bar on the tenor and intellectual content of speeches given on the floor, if not for the official record.

Not so for Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who took to the Senate floor last week to deliver a strident push for the bigoted "Marriage Protection Amendment." Alongside the typical massive distortions of the issue was an argument that was based almost solely on the opinion of a little-known conservative think tank affiliated with the Roman Catholic organization Opus Dei.

"The problem we have in front of us is the institution of marriage has been weakened, and the effort to redefine it on this vast social experiment that we have going on, redefining marriage differently than it has ever been defined before," the Kansas senator grimly intoned last week. "This effort of this vast social experiment, the early data that we see from other places, harms the institution of the family, the raising of the next generation. And it is harmful to the future of the republic."

Brownback then went on to give figures for how various states have shown their hatred of gay people with their own prohibitions on same-sex marriage and used that as his rationale for a similar amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

But Brownback really hit his stride when he described a paper called "Ten Principles on Marriage and the Public Good," published by a fairly new and extremely conservative group at Princeton University. According to Brownback, the paper is an "important statement of principles from top American scholars [to] be considered carefully by my colleagues." He then added that the sentiments expressed in the nonscientific treatise were so vital to our national dialog that they should "… help guide our debate on this issue."

The paper, sponsored by the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton, makes a case for banning same-sex marriage altogether. What's extraordinary is the idea of a United States senator attempting to sway opinion on an amendment that would have altered our Constitution (had it not been defeated last Wednesday) by using a paper from an organization linked to Opus Dei, a strict religious group that some former members have described as a cult.

Brownback spent a good part of his lengthy Senate speech last week citing the study and attributing it to "this Princeton group of scholars," while never mentioning that all of the findings were based on the ultraconservative Witherspoon Institute bolstered by the involvement -- directly or indirectly -- of a nonprofit, tax-exempt religious organization in Opus Dei.

So what exactly is the Witherspoon Institute, whose paper formed the foundation of Brownback's anti-gay argument?

The institute, which has only been around since 2003, has close ties to Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council, but is also tightly aligned with Opus Dei. Indeed, Luis Tellez, the president of the Witherspoon Institute is also the director and lead cleric of Opus Dei in Princeton.

Since its founding in 1928, Opus Dei has been known for its traditionalist values and right-wing political stances. And critics in academia -- which include former members who sometimes go through "deprogramming" upon exiting Opus Dei -- charge that organizations like the Witherspoon Institute are just veiled attempts by Opus Dei to spread its influence in top-tier academic circles.

So why then, is a U.S. senator offering to Congress "research" linked to Opus Dei on something as vital as amending the Constitution? It turns out that Brownback, who was formerly an evangelical Protestant, converted to Catholicism by way of Opus Dei in 2002 and was sponsored in that conversion by Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn., a vocal Opus Dei advocate.

Tellez, the leader of Opus Dei in Princeton, is a "numerary," considered the most conservative of the sect's members -- they are unmarried, celibate, devote every aspect of their lives to their spiritual beliefs and turn over their salaries from secular jobs to Opus Dei.

Again, it bears repeating that Tellez is also the head of the Witherspoon Institute, the group Brownback cited at great length as his primary argument against gay marriage.

And remember, it is Brownback, as an Opus Dei convert, who also leads the charge on Capitol Hill against abortion and stem cell research and who, along with Santorum, is seen by the Religious Right as a point man on "culture war" issues.

The other central figure in the Witherspoon orbit is Dr. Robert George, a Princeton professor and a board member in the institute who, not coincidentally, helped draft the federal gay-marriage ban that was just defeated in the Senate. George chaired a meeting of religious leaders in late 2005 that included Dr. James Dobson and other members of the extreme Religious Right. In fact, in addition to his pivotal role in the Witherspoon Institute, George is also a board member at Perkins' Family Research Council, a group known for its bigoted positions on the gay community.

And, via Brownback, all of this is ultimately finding its way into the halls of Congress.

While it may not be technically illegal for Brownback to be so clearly mixing hard-right religious ideology -- and faux-academic papers promoted by religious organizations like Opus Dei -- with debate on the Senate floor, it should certainly raise some eyebrows. In a country where strict separation of church and state is mandated, it seems Brownback is freely blending the two, attempting to use religious dogma to influence public policy -- all the while not disclosing to his Senate colleagues the background sources of the research he is citing.

But this should not be surprising coming from Brownback.

In a January 2006 Rolling Stone article, "God's Senator," Brownback is described as a religious zealot with a view for America's future that could almost be described as medieval.

"In his dream, America, the one he believes both the Bible and the Constitution promise, the state will simply wither away. In its place will be a country so suffused with God and the free market that the social fabric of the last hundred years -- schools, Social Security, welfare -- will be privatized or simply done away with," reads the article. "There will be no abortions; sex will be confined to heterosexual marriage. Men will lead families, mothers will tend children, and big business and the church will take care of all."

After all, it was Brownback, who came to Congress in 1994 and refused to sign Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America" because he felt it wasn't conservative enough. Even then, as a newcomer to the House of Representatives, Brownback believed that the vast majority of what he saw as Big Government should simply be eliminated, including the departments of education, energy and commerce.

And, yes, it was also Brownback who was so outraged at the split-second glimpse of Janet Jackson's nipple during the 2004 Super Bowl, that he introduced the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act, which substantially raised fines for such simple on-air displays of nudity.

Finally, in addition to being brought into Catholicism by the likes of Opus Dei and using laundered research by an affiliated group on the Senate floor, Brownback chairs a meeting every Tuesday night with the "Values Action Team," consisting of religious leaders like Dobson who help the senator formulate his thoughts on public policy issues.

According to Time magazine, Opus Dei has assets in the neighborhood of $2.8 billion and, with John McCain unlikely to significantly rouse the Religious Right in 2008, look for Brownback to be the guy that Opus Dei, Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council turn to as their presidential candidate.

And make no mistake about it: Brownback wants to run. So if you think his views for a new America, as viewed from the Senate floor, are scary, think of what he'll be like sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

In his mind, it may already be ordained.

© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/37668/

Friday, June 16, 2006

Where are the demonstrations?

I've been listening to the news almost compulsively for years now. And I'm awestruck...and not in a good way...by the lack of public protest against the war in Iraq. Has the anti-war movement really been castrated by the Internet? Yeah, there was a memorial vigil tonight. Yeah, there's a weekly peace vigil in Beaverton. But where are the protest rallies? Where are the people taking to the streets?

I have to quote Arlo Guthrie, and that scares me. "If you wanna end the war and stuff, you gotta sing loud."

(I feel better having typed that.)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

As the American death toll reaches 2,500 in Iraq

here is how our government is safeguarding the freedoms they say the terrorists and insurgents hate so much.

Alito Vote Loosens Limits on Evidence
The Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that police can use evidence collected with a warrant even if officers fail to knock before rushing into a home.

Flag-burning amendment heads to Senate floor

By Andy Sullivan
Thursday, June 15, 2006; 2:50 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A measure that would change the U.S. Constitution to let Congress ban burning the American flag was sent to the Senate floor on Thursday, setting up an election-year debate.

All this within a week of trying to pass the anti-gay marriage amendment.

I posted this on today's Marc Maron Show blog.

To protect our freedom, it appears the Shrub Pack are going to put it somewhere safe. Can't have just anybody exercise freedom. Might be a terrorist, you know. The little people might lose it. Better to lock it up in a vault somewhere and let the people who know what to do with it, like corporations and politicians, be the only ones allowed to have it.

Sadly, I'm afraid I might not be entirely wrong.