Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Church and State - a constant struggle

Religion can be a comforting fiction. It’s much easier going through life with an imaginary friend, especially one who is powerful enough to have created the whole world, who answers your prayers and provides a home with many mansions for you to live in with all your loved ones after you die. Religion can also be a toxic waste dump. It frequently supplies the motivation and the justification for cutting off people’s heads, invading one’s neighbor's turf, subjugating women to male control and replacing a healthy appreciation for sexual pleasure with shame and disgust.

Fortunately, there are lots of people who don’t use religion to make believe or to justify an attack on people just too different from themselves for comfort, but to collect their ideas about moral behavior and the virtues of compassion, generosity, kindness, forgiveness and love. They associate it with lofty thought, uplifting music, great art and architecture, optimism about the future and a shared fate with one’s fellow human beings. Religion is not exclusively an excuse for uncritical thinking or domination. Religion is what you make it.

Unfortunately, American religion tends toward the toxic variety. Shoddy religion is on full display in the Trump administration. Despite our official endorsement of the separation of church and state, the Republican Party has managed to sucker the authoritarian religionists of the nation – the Evangelicals, the traditionalist Roman Catholics, the Mormons and a few others (but mainly these groups) – into thinking they have a friend in Trump. Vote for our side, these groups are told, and I’ll rid the nation of abortion, homosexuality, premarital sex and other evils. Just follow us. This is your time up at bat.

Those of us fed up with the daily dismantling of decency, fair play, truth and honesty in government, are told that we must not call Trump supporters stupid or uninformed or wrong-headed. We must try to see things through their eyes and find common ground.  I understand it’s not only practical, but both smart and high-minded to go easy on the criticism, that the best way to handle an enemy is to turn them into a friend, whenever possible. But there are times when one cannot give way. One does not suggest to a parent putting cigarettes out on on their child’s arm that they should spank the child instead; one gets the child out from the dysfunctional home into a safe space. One does not tell Jews that they have to be nice to neo-Nazis and “lead by example.” One joins forces with Jews against anti-semitism so they don’t have to fight this battle alone. One does not let white supremacists run school boards so they can bring in textbooks that teach kids black people in the Southern Confederacy were “mostly well cared for” and the Civil War was fought for the dignity of states’ rights. One makes sure the history of genocide of the American Indian and the slavery and segregation of the ancestors of modern-day African-Americans is recognized as a stain on American pride every bit as much as the holocaust is on Germany history.

And one recognizes that in this country no religious group can be allowed to speak for the rest of us. And that a terrible thing took place when the Trump Administration moved the U.S. Embassy to Israel to Jerusalem. It rode roughshod over the sensibilities of the Palestinian people who have as much claim to Jerusalem as Israelis do and is to the Mideast Peace Process what strangling a child in the crib is to educating the next generation. On top of this, the insult to both Palestinians and peace-seeking Israelis is compounded by a knife in the back. The opening prayer of the dedication ceremony was assigned to the likes of Pastor Robert Jeffress and the closing ceremony to Pastor John Hagee, two of America's best known Christian zealots. Hagee made a name for himself declaring Hurricane Katrina to be God’s punishment for New Orleans’ sinful ways. Jeffress once suggested that the Holocaust was God’s plan to return the Jews to Israel.

These are not momentary lapses in judgment, but clear indications these men are Christian supremacists who on many other occasions have preached to the masses that Jews, Mormons, Hindus and Muslims are going to hell. Hagee is known as America’s chief apologist for, and uncritical supporter of, Israel. Jeffress' and Hagee’s support is bible-based, they declare, because the Rapture and the Second Coming cannot take place without the conversion of the Jews and the damnation of those who fail to get on board. Israelis are only too happy to have them exercise their influence among American evangelicals. Most Israelis are secular and tend not to question support for their besieged country wherever they can find it, even if they know the support is based not on a dedication to Israel's right to exist but on a conviction that God will soon demolish the Jewish nation. They accepted help from apartheid South Africa; why not the likes of a wacko American evangelist?

These are American voices clearly selected not for their special power to persuade the Good Lord to rain down his blessings on Israel and the new embassy, but for reminding Him and the rest of the world that Trump is His chosen president. 

It’s one thing to tolerate religious differences, to allow anybody to claim God loves them and hates you. Free speech is free speech.

But it’s quite another to go about the government’s business of establishing embassies with foreign nations while granting semi-official status to religious bigots.

While all this adoration of the Liar-in-Chief was going on, by the way, while Jeffress was assuring the crowd that God is on Trump’s side, no mention was made of the fact that the Israelis had shot and killed 58 Palestinians, as of this writing, and injured another 2700 for protesting this very bad decision.

The Palestinians don’t stand a chance. How could they possibly participate as equals in negotiating a fair and balanced peace with the Israelis when Americans such as John Hagee represent the United States? Hagee believes Americans must support Israel because it’s part of biblical prophecy, conflating the Nethanyahu government with the nation of Israel and giving no thought to whether today’s Israel is in fact the Israel of biblical prophecy. If there is a better example of the toxicity of religion and the need for keeping religion out of politics, I can’t imagine what it might be.

I recognize that with Pruitt’s systematic dismantling of the EPA and the removal of oversight in all directions, having a couple of right-wing Christian zealots speak for America at the Jerusalem embassy is pretty small stuff.

But not if you’re a Palestinian. Or an Israeli with any pride in your country.

And if you’re an American, could you speak up, please?

Friday, May 4, 2018

No Sense of Decency

Diane, with younger politician to her right,
eight years her junior.
If you’re of my generation, you will remember taking civics in junior high school. Civics didn’t seem like a real course. Geography and History were real. English was a lot of work. But in Civics you got to meet the police chief, shake hands with firemen, take time off from school, go to the Town Hall and sit in the mayor’s chair. In our one-movie theater, one bowling-alley town there wasn’t a whole lot to do, so getting to go to the Town Hall was a treat.

I remember the discussions about how Congress worked, what the Electoral College was all about, and how much effort went into figuring out which laws it was up to the states to make, which to the federal government. And I remember how we were urged to read up on politicians running for office so that we could choose the one we liked best. And then stand back and say, “May the best man (sic) win.” Politicians were always men. I grew up in the 40s and 50s.

Fast forward to life in America today. Civics courses are a thing of the past, and nobody thinks it makes sense to look at all the candidates and pick out the best one. You already know going in that a) you pick the lesser evil, and b) some of them are really sinister. And who in his or her right mind picks individuals anymore? You vote your party. 

In my case, how could I possibly vote Republican? They are the folks that have allowed Donald Trump to speak for them, the folks that pushed through a tax cut for the super rich, that are pulling back regulations on banks, on oversight over our air and water, the folks who are allowing the corporations with big bucks to make even bigger bucks. Why on earth would I vote Republican?

Then there is the fact that I live and vote in Northern California. Here we think of Republicans in the same category as sex traffickers and drug kingpins. Here, the fact that the Republicans are in power in both the Congress and the White House is viewed positively only by those who see it may get more people out to vote democratic in November.

Now there is a new hitch in efforts to bring back a balanced two-party system, both California and nationally. On the democratic side ideological purists are down on our senior senator, Diane Feinstein because she too often crosses the line (they say) to vote with Republicans when she thinks it’s a way to get things done. She voted for the Iraq war, she opposed single-payer health insurance, and her smooching up to Chuck Grassley when he comes to Trump’s defense, is inexcusable. They're talking up Kevin de León. He’s younger, more energetic, and is putting his efforts into the causes I care most about – the environment, closing corporate loopholes, helping immigrants, especially the DACA kids, battling for Planned Parenthood and other women’s issues, gun control and much more. We Anglo progressives learned to write the accent on San José. We're fine with de León.

But Diane still has broad appeal. I used to argue with my soul-mate Harriet Buchanan back in the day when Diane was mayor of San Francisco. Harriet loved having a woman as mayor. I thought Diane was in bed with big money and I wasn’t moved by the feminist argument. Today, I have become not quite but almost a fan of this soon-to-be 85-year-old old lady off in Washington fighting for gun control and trying to get full disclosure on America’s policy of backroom torture practices.  I just got the primary ballot for June 5 in the mail and I see there are thirty-two people running for Senate. In an ideal world this would mean a healthy competition. But this is America, where real representative democracy is a train that left the station some time ago, and the only two who count are Kevin de León and Diane. More significantly, if you follow the polls, you see that Diane is so far in the lead it’s almost a joke, between 24 and 29 points ahead of de León.

So in November, the democrats' choice of “best man to win” will probably be Diane. And who are the Republicans putting up? Looks like they’re going for Patrick Little.

Now if you've got the time, you should go to Snopes.com and type in the question:

“Is a Neo-Nazi Running as a Republican for the U.S. Senate in California?

I'll save you the time.  Snopes says this is:


How ‘bout them apples!?  The guy’s from Albany, which is the town that borders Berkeley on the North. The little shit lives only a few miles from me.

Little, according to an article in this morning’s San Francisco Chronicle
...was backed by 46 percent of Republicans in the poll that SurveyUSA did for a number of California television stations, including KPIX in San Francisco.
Feinstein should have no trouble getting re-elected. She’s ahead of Little 39% to 18%, with de León running at 8%. We’ll see. Nobody’s comfortable with polls anymore.

But to have a serious candidate running for the Senate in California whose platform actually includes (again, quoting from this morning’s Chronicle):

 ...limiting representation of Jews in the government and making it U.S. policy that the Holocaust is a Jewish war atrocity propaganda hoax that never happened.

I know it’s not 1953 any more and I’m not in a 7th grade Civics Class reading about how one should be a good sport and hope the “best man” will win, but Jesus, Mary, can you believe this?

What’s the line from the McCarthy hearing that John Welch made famous, “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

Republicans, I know you sold your souls some time ago to keep the Cheeto-in-Chief in power.

But a Holocaust denier?


Photo credit: A Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images photo from an article in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency from last November 29th about Jewish American Senators protesting Israeli policy of destroying Palestinian villages.