Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Time to ask: Why Does the GOP hate the democratic process?

The time has come to ask, in all sober seriousness, What do the Republicans have against democracy?   I mean they SAY they love Democracy with all their hearts. Indeed, You can hardly get the president to shut up about it.   He seems to believe that once people go to a ballot box  (and have are assigned a Color-Coded "revolution" brand (Orange, Purple Cedar, etc )all their problems disappear and the sky starts raining puppies and unicorns (neither of which are noted for their aerodynamic properties so even under the best of circumstances this is a messy proposition.).  

In practice however,  the GOP has been showing an increasing contempt for the democratic process both here and abroad, particularly when they don't like the results.  Consider the following  and see if maybe just maybe you don't see a trend there that's worth framing and getting people talking about:

1)Tom Delay's Texas two Step: Now any rational Observer of the saga I like to call "the Hammer gets nailed" knew that Tom Delay's chance of standing in the general election in November (or indeed not being under federal indictment by then) was  about the same as Mel Gibson's chance of joining B'nai Brith.  

Nonetheless Tom Delay ran in the Republican primary for his house seat and nary  a word  of protest was uttered by local party officials.  Why?  because apparently the Democratic process was entirely to messy for DeLay & Co.   Tom didn't approve of the people actually willing to RUN to replace him.  So he decided to win the election THEN resign and hand pick his successor on the ballot rather then letting the actual party faithful  have a say in the matter.

Even though his  plan was monkey-wrenched by a federal Circuit Courtpanel that had the Temerity to actually . Enforce Texas election law despite a furious lobbying campaign by his supporters (which will no doubt get them labeled "activist Judges"  by the GOP)   the Local party STILL can't be bothered to ask  their  member what they want.  Instead they hold a secret closed door meeting  to hand-pick who the write in candidate will be.

2) Bob "all Opposed Say" Ney:  Like his career, his electioneering is almost the mirror image of Tom Delay's only on a smaller,  more venial scale. As nearly any Washington observer with a pulse can tell you, when you are referred to as "Representative #1" both in the press and  in a federal indictment, your political career isn't long for this world.  Yet  Ney ran in the primary, with his local party's blessing, again depriving the GOP rank and file of making any meaningful choice in their primary election.   Worse yet, in Ney's case, There is a law that specifically requires a special primary  in such a case, to preserve the right of voter to chose who they have on their ballot.   However Ney is is carefully timing his withdrawal letter to try to circumvent the law and allow for a selection not another election.  

3) Senator "Santorum" (ewww) : So you are Sitting Senator that's getting beaten Like a rented Mule in every election poll taken what do you do?  Do you:

A) start seriously reconsidering your positions and try to re-connect with your constituents.

B) Start really appreciating all the little joys of being a Senator and the Beauty of Washington in the Summer as you spend your last days packing your office on capitol Hill OR

C) Call up your big-donor buddies and convince them to Create a third party Candidate from scratch to try to steal votes from your opponent?

This is a particularly egregious offense to Democracy for two reasons.  First it is a neat-handed way to let all of Santorum's richest friends ignore campaign contribution limits, and effectively double-dip,  More importantly however, but it also makes a complete mockery of the democratic process itself.   NO ONE giving money to, or organizing for, Carl Romanelli actually wants him to win and be the next Senator from Pennsylvania , or cares about the causes or ideas he espouses..  Instead, they are hoping that his candidacy will  ensure the victory of someone who stands for  the diametric opposite of every Romanelli professes care about.   In essence, they are using election rules to try to confuse and confound voters.

4) "Say it Ain't So" Joe Lieberman:  Again, we see  the Powers That Be,  dissing the local voters, and not making any secret of it.  Sure he has An apparent Gambling problem, and unfortunate penchant for Porn-star sounding  Pseudonyms but the Republican voters of Connecticut went into the booth on election day and said "Alan You're the guy to lead us to victory come November".  Unfortunately back in Washington he's been about as welcome as Jack Abramoff with  a digital camera.

Not only has Bush refused to endorse him he's actually had his chief campaign  strategist call Another party's candidate, and offer to help him (a Party of One , but a party nonetheless).  Once again the actual  voters are treated as sheep who will do and vote for whom they are told to, and  whose input is neither accepted or desired by Party elders.  

And of Course who could forget

5) Katherine "I'm not batshit Crazy, I just had Surgery to look that way" Harris:  Again, the National and state GOP is trying to knock the duly selected party Nominee out of the race.   Now granted Her campaign has become about as well run (and comically embrassing) as a Spinal Tap Tour and she is, personally speaking Joan Crawford level Crazy (yes that IS in the DSM-IV, thank you very much), I'll give them a pass on that one.

Worse yet, this is not Solely a domestic phenomenon  either .  In the last few years Bush and Company have not hesitated  to Criticize and punish countries that have had perfectly free and fair elections that have had results we don't like.   Bad as the Domestic shenannigans are, this is far far worse.  At a minimum it is extremely damaging to our international credibility and leadership on human rights, I think.

 But this diary is already a Monster so stay tuned for that in part II.

Yikes! Iraqi Army troops mutiny, attack, and loot British base.

You know Our President frequently acuses the Media of Under--reporting the "good news" from Iraq, so in a gesture  a bi-partisan goodwillI thought I'd Share   This Story From Today's Washington Post  about The British Army's handover of one of their bases in southern Iraq, to Iraqi Army.

So how'd that go?

Maj. Charlie Burbridge, said the last of 1,200 troops left Camp Abu Naji,...., after several days of heavy mortar and rocket fire by a local militia,... the Sadr-controlled Mahdi Army

"This is the first Iraqi city that has kicked out the occupier!" trumpeted a message ...that played on car-mounted ...."We have to celebrate this occasion!"...

The withdrawal sparked wide-scale looting at the base then intense clashes late Thursday between Iraqi army forces guarding the camp and unknown attackers... the situation worsened when the 2nd Battalion of the Iraqi army's 4th Brigade mutinied and attacked a local military outpost

Yep. We'll be out of there any day now, Cleary.  

Even worse for our prospects of wrapping this up quickly is the reason the British handed over the base in the first place:

 Sadr's Speaker vans weren't far off.  The British commanders are trying to put the best face on it, but it's clear they feel that holding the base was simply too costly in the face of Militia attacks:

Burbridge acknowledged that constant shelling of the base in Amarah by militia forces, including 17 mortar rounds fired in recent days that wounded three people, were part of the reason the camp closed.

"By no longer presenting a static target, we reduce the ability of the militias to strike us," he said. But he rejected Sadr's claim that the British had been defeated and pushed out of Amarah. "It's very difficult to claim a victory without causing significant casualties."

Perhaps but in the "hearts and minds" of the locals, it apparently damn sure felt that way.

The mood was quite different in Amarah, where jubilant residents flocked to Sadr's office to offer their congratulations. Drivers in the street honked their car horns in celebration. Some prepared to take to the streets to rejoice.

"Today is a holiday in our province," said Abu Mustaffa, an unemployed 45-year-old from the city's al-Hussein district. "Thanks be to God!"

Meanwhile what happens to the British forces?  Well this is where the story gets REALLY interesting.   Basically the British have made the tactical decision to abandon the trappings of a First world cavalry unit, and trade them for  for the tactics and equipment of a Somali warlord's militia:

Adopting tactics used by a British special forces unit in North Africa during World War II, 600 of the soldiers plan to slip soon into the marshlands and deserts of eastern Maysan in an attempt to secure the Iranian border.

The British soldiers, members of the Queen's Royal Hussars,{ and really who HASN'T wanted to be a Royal Hussar at some time in their life?-ed}  are preparing to trade their heavy Challenger 2 tanks and Warrior fighting vehicles for lightweight Land Rovers, Burbridge said. They expect to become a flexible, mobile force with no fixed base and receive supplies by airdrops.

This would be an adaptation the tactics of the Famous Long Range Desert Group or "Mosquito Army" of WWII, who disrupted operations of the  Italian Army all over North Africa.

However effective as those tactics were, in that war; the decision to use them now is an acknowledgement of a HUGE shift in the reality on the ground in Iraq.

The repositioning is the first public acknowledgment that forces from the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq have entered into guerrilla warfare to combat the insurgents and militias they have been fighting for more than three years.

re-Read the Bold text carefully.  This is really important, as it represents a positively seismic shift in tactics from what we've been doing up until now.  

Militarily speaking, Guerilla tactics are extremely effective at dislodging an occupying army,  making ground simply too expensive to hold.  You do  NOT use those tactics when you ARE the occupying army because guerillas, by their very nature, cannot take and hold territory effectively.  

In adopting this strategy we've admitted, militarily at least, that we no longer control the country, the militias do..  The British have lowered their goals " from Pacifying the countryside and restoring civil order" to "trying to loosen the Militia's hold over the region".   By any realistic measure that's a HUGE step backward.  In fact a fair observer might even say it's a sign we are losing this war militarily, a previously unthinkable statement.

And the Official US reaction to this huge tactical shift and embarrassing base handover Debacle?:

Here is the  featured soloist of the US Cemetary Whistling Choir   giving his  bravura rendition of Denial Ain't Just a river:

In Baghdad, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East said a new security plan was helping to curb violence in the capital. "I believe there is a danger of civil war in Iraq, but only a danger. I think Iraq's far from it," Gen. John P. Abizaid told the AP. "I think that there's been great progress in the security front here recently in Baghdad."

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Megachurch Pastor Throws the Repub party out of his Temple!: the New Awakening?

Without any context or clarification, the words of this sermon are both wise and heartening:

When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses," Mr. Boyd preached. "When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross."

But when you pull the camera back a bit and find out who, why, and when this story becomes stunning and even possibly seismic.

The speaker is the Rev. Gregory A. Boyd, the Pastor of a 5000-person Evangelical mega-church called Woodland Hills in St Paul Minn.  And the why is even more interesting :

Rev. Boyd was asked frequently to give his blessing -- and the church's -- to conservative political candidates and causes.

After refusing each time, Mr. Boyd finally became fed up, he said. Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called "The Cross and the Sword" in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a "Christian nation" and stop glorifying American military campaigns.

And it gets even better from there:

Now before we go any further, I think it's important to establish bona fides here.  The Rev. Boyd is not a Lefty-progressive Pastor, nor even a recent convert to our side, No he's a real-deal social and political conservative:

Mr. Boyd says he is no liberal. He is opposed to abortion and thinks homosexuality is not God's ideal.

Nor was his sermon an especially popular one with his flock and speaking cost him dearly:  

The response from his congregation at Woodland Hills Church here in suburban St. Paul -- packed mostly with politically and theologically conservative, middle-class evangelicals -- was passionate. Some members walked out of a sermon and never returned...By the time the dust had settled, Woodland Hills, which Mr. Boyd founded in 1992, had lost about 1,000 of its 5,000 members.Mr. Boyd gave his sermons while his church was in the midst of a $7 million fund-raising campaign. But only $4 million came in, and 7 of the more than 50 staff members were laid off, he said.

Mary Van Sickle, the family pastor at Woodland Hills, said she lost 20 volunteers who had been the backbone of the church's Sunday school.

And the reason these last gave for leaving is especially chilling given that they were the ones charged with teaching impressionable children:

"They said, `You're not doing what the church is supposed to be doing, which is supporting the Republican way,' " she said. "It was some of my best volunteers."

But the Right Rev. Boyd let fly anyway, and spoke some powerful truths:

In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek "power over" others -- by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have "power under" others -- "winning people's hearts" by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said.

Radical notion no?  Christians acting like Jesus did in the Bible?   It's just so crazy it Might work!  But wait, there's more: (you might just want to sit down before reading this next bit)

America wasn't founded as a theocracy," he said. "America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn't bloody and barbaric. That's why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state.

"I am sorry to tell you," he continued, "that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ."

If you are still with me and Haven't passed out from shock, share my amazement instead.  An Evangelical who has actually read his history  and is willing to be totally honest about the role of religion in government both in this country and historically!  

That's GOT to be some kind of Heresy right?   I mean the arguments of nearly every speaker at " Justice" Sunday were based on that very premise!  It just too truthy  to be wrong!  He's just damn lucky that Protestants can't make use of the Spanish Inquisition or I suspect there'd already be unexpected visitors in red robes knocking on his door.

Now, Now Steady on, mate or you'll never make it through this, especially the next part  Where Boyd unloads Both Barrels on Right-wing Scare- and outrage- mongers:

Mr. Boyd lambasted the "hypocrisy and pettiness" of Christians who focus on "sexual issues" like homosexuality, abortion or Janet Jackson's breast-revealing performance at the Super Bowl halftime show. He said Christians these days were constantly outraged about sex and perceived violations of their rights to display their faith in public.

""Those are the two buttons to push if you want to get Christians to act,"

 he said. And those are the two buttons Jesus never pushed."

OH yes. he Did.  I b'lieve he just called out The entire religious Right. everyone from Tommy "the hammer Slammer" DeLay  to Jimmy "the Creep" Dobson,   and called them sinning punks, who manipulate believers for their own nefarious and un-Christian ends.

Yes, I know,  WE already knew that,  but unlike us the Rev Boyd wasn't just preaching to the Choir and some of what he said came as news to his flock:

Some Woodland Hills members said they applauded the sermons because they had resolved their conflicted feelings. David Churchill, a truck driver for U.P.S. and a Teamster for 26 years, said he had been "raised in a religious-right home" but was torn between the Republican expectations of faith and family and the Democratic expectations of his union.

When Mr. Boyd preached his sermons, "it was liberating to me," Mr. Churchill said.


"Most of my friends are believers," said Shannon Staiger, a psychotherapist and church member, d they think if you're a believer, you'll vote for Bush. it's scary to go against that."

Now , let be clear  the Rev isn't signing himself up for a Move On memebership, or audtioning for a new version of Crossfire,:

Mr. Boyd said he never intended his sermons to be taken as merely a critique of the Republican Party or the religious right. He refuses to share his party affiliation, or whether he has one, for that reason. He said there were Christians on both the left and the right who had turned politics and patriotism into "idolatry."

But he's also honest enough to admit its more a sin of the right than left,  by a wide margin:

He said he first became alarmed while visiting another mega-church's worship service on a Fourth of July years ago. The service finished with the chorus singing "God Bless America" and a video of fighter jets flying over a hill silhouetted with crosses.

"I thought to myself, `What just happened? Fighter jets mixed up with the cross?' " he said in an interview.

Because nothing says "all praise be to the Prince of Peace" like a Video of the latest and most lethal military technology  (and apparently the display Mr. Boyd witnessed was subtle by Mega-church standards:)

Patriotic displays are still a mainstay in some evangelical churches. Across town from Mr. Boyd's church, the sanctuary of North Heights Lutheran Church was draped in bunting on the Sunday before the Fourth of July this year for a "freedom celebration." Military veterans and flag twirlers paraded into the sanctuary, an enormous American flag rose slowly behind the stage, and a Marine major who had served in Afghanistan preached that the military was spending "your hard-earned money" on good causes.

(wow. if reading that paragraph  didn't cause certain parts of your anatomy to shrivel and retract, you either don't got 'em, or weren't reading carefully. )

But if the Right-on Rev. Boyd were the only one preaching this message this would be nothing more than a case of "4,000 down 150 million to go".  However it appears that this Preacher is merely the tip of the spear, in a growing wave of discontent and revulsion at the extent that Republician Party has sought to entwine itself with Christian Churches.

But the upheaval at Woodland Hills is an example of the internal debates now going on in some evangelical colleges, magazines and churches. At least six books on this theme have been published recently, some by Christian publishing houses.

 Randall Balmer, a religion professor at Barnard College and an evangelical, has written "Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America -- an Evangelical's Lament."

 There is a lot of discontent brewing," said Brian D. McLaren, the founding pastor at Cedar Ridge Community Church in Gaithersburg, Md., and a leader in the evangelical movement known as the "emerging church," which is at the forefront of challenging the more politicized evangelical establishment.

In other words the emerging church would kinda rather like to be able to be More of a religious organization rather than a weekly political rally:

"More and more people are saying this has gone too far -- the dominance of the evangelical identity by the religious right," Mr. McLaren said. "You cannot say the word `Jesus' in 2006 without having an awful lot of baggage going along with it. You can't say the word `Christian,' and you certainly can't say the word `evangelical' without it now raising connotations and a certain cringe factor in people.

"Because people think, `Oh no, what is going to come next is homosexual bashing, or pro-war rhetoric, or complaining about `activist judges.' "

And you just want to grab their shoulder and give them a shake or a hug and say "yes! exactly! People like me who also consider themselves Christian aren't pissed at you personally, just about how too many of your brethren have allowed the term to become a registered trademark of the Republican party."

 So are we Seeing the emergence of a "great awakening" by Evangelicals? Have they Hard to tell Yet, but it's very clear something  big is happening.   A storm of discontent seems to be brewing  among the evangelical churches about their relationship with the Republican Party. It's possible that the disconnected between their aggressive lip-service to "Christian Values" while  voting for an agenda that was anything but, has created  too much cognitive dissonance, for even the most "faithful" to handle.  

And the Good news is  the Experience of "coming into the light" hasn't been all bad for pioneers like the Rev Boyd :

Mr. Boyd now says .. "I don't regret any aspect of it at all. It was a defining moment for us. We let go of something we were never called to be. We just didn't know the price we were going to pay for doing it."

In the end, those who left tended to be white, middle-class suburbanites, church staff members said. In their place, the church has added more members who live in the surrounding community -- African-Americans, Hispanics and Hmong immigrants from Laos.

This suits Mr. Boyd. His vision for his church is an ethnically and economically diverse congregation that exemplifies Jesus' teachings by its members' actions.

Okay maybe describing him a conservative might have been the wrong adjective earlier, perhaps we should give him the label "un-self-aware progressive" instead.

 Either way he's a wise man, so I'll close this as I opened it with a thought from the Rev.:

One woman asked: "So why NOT us? If we contain the wisdom and grace and love and creativity of Jesus, why shouldn't we be the ones involved in politics and setting laws?"

Mr. Boyd responded: "I don't think there's a particular angle we have on society that others lack. All good, decent people want good and order and justice. Just don't slap the label `Christian' on it."

Can I get an Amen?