Friday, May 14, 2004

It's the Christianity, Stupid.

Close readers of The Sideshow already know that I was raised on the Gospels and that, to a large extent, this is where my values come from, even though I've left all the churchifying behind. It's not something I normally think of as part of my core identity, but I was taught that certain things were right and certain things were wrong, and I've thought about those things a lot in my lifetime, and they still seem pretty solid to me, whether you believe in a Higher Being or not.

I think most Americans - whether today they call themselves Christians, or atheists, or something else - pretty much picked up the same values in the same way.

Consider the teachings of Jesus: He preached against public piety, against putting material wealth above the spiritual, against casting the first stone, against bigotry. He spoke up for the poor and told us to love our neighbors. He blessed the peacemakers and the merciful, and taught his followers to share. He preached love, hope, and charity. He was about forgiveness and redemption.

And so, as someone who, "was raised on the Good Book Jesus 'til I read between the lines," it's pretty much impossible for me to look at the modern GOP and the Christian right - and particularly at the Bush administration - and see any of Jesus' teachings there. I don't claim to know the mind of any god (which, after all, would be blasphemy), but it seems to me that Bush represents the kind of self-righteous, publicly pious, war-mongering rich men who Jesus warned us not to become.

We all want material comfort, but most of us would rather not see our neighbors starve. We can spare a bit if it prevents large sections of the populace from becoming miserable. And Jesus hung out with tax-collectors, and told us to render unto Ceaser what is Ceaser's. We can share.

We all have our prejudices, and many of us are uncomfortable with people who we see as too different from ourselves, but we don't want hateful discrimination written into our laws. And just as Jesus reminded us not to hate those of other religions just because they were of different tribes and faiths, we can learn to judge people by what they do, like the good Samaritan, rather than what they are - Muslims, gays, whatever.

Like most Americans, I do pick and choose which of the Ten Commandments I try to abide by, but some make sense to me not because they were decreed by a god, but because living by them just seems to make the world a better place. Killing and stealing seem like pretty bad ideas to me, for example, and bearing false witness makes things pretty nasty, too. So it's hard to put faith in leaders who steal our Social Security money, rob our treasury generally, and murder thousands of Iraqi civilians based on lies they made up about Saddam Hussein.

(They're not so good on the Seven Deadly Sins, either, now that I think of it.)

So there it is: We're liberals because no matter how far we've strayed from Sunday School, we still think like Christians - even those of us who never were.

And that's what it really means that America is a nation with Christian values. And by those values, we have to reject the leadership we are getting from Bush and the GOP.

[This article was originally published on 9 March 2004 at DailyNewsOnline.]
On the Radio

Last week I listened to the last broadcast of Mike Malloy's show on the union-supported I.E.America radio network. I say "broadcast" although, as far as I know, Malloy's show was available only on one or two local stations and on the Internet. Though Malloy has always been popular in whatever market he worked in, right-wing organizing to silence him has usually been effective enough to keep him from being heard anywhere for long. But in this case, the union just couldn't see trying to make a go of maintaining a liberal station on the Internet any longer, and that was the end of Malloy's current run.

Meanwhile, Clear Channel dropped Howard Stern's show from the six markets in which they carry it. They said it was because of indecency.

As Eric Boehlert points out in his recent Salon article on the subject, Clear Channel boss is shocked -- shocked -- to find indecency!, this appears to be another timely response by the network to Congressional interest in broadcast violations. FCC head Michael Powell, mysteriously uninterested in what otherwise serves the public interest, has had a sudden disturbance after the appearance of Janet Jackson's breast rippled the broadcast waters. Congress gets into the act, and next thing you know, Clear Channel notices that Howard Stern has not been squeaky clean for all these years.

Now, it's true that members of the public have complained of what they regard as Stern's vulgarity. But it's equally true that members of the public have complained about some far more serious breaches of the public trust on Clear Channel's part. For example, the continuous stream of falsehoods and hate-mongering by Rush Limbaugh, the neglect of local programming - including local news and vital information during emergencies - and the network's national lock-out of musical innovation and diversity. Many of us regard these things as far more obscene than any Howard Stern show.

Some form of liberal radio is now trying to emerge in the form of something that started off calling itself "Central Air" and is now calling itself Air America. (And, yes, having read the book, I'm a bit disturbed by that name.) There's been a rather high profile given to the fact that comedian Al Franken has been asked to do a show on the new network - they want a star. But if they are to succeed, they really need people with experience in radio. If they want to compete with the likes of Rush, they should pick up folks who know the business, as Malloy has said, and as Ed Schultz and others have proven can work.

One of them, I'm pleased to say, has indeed been tapped for the network - Randi Rhodes, popular South Florida radio personality, is slated to have her show syndicated on Air America. (Clear Channel apparently considered syndicating her show, but legend has it that Rush Limbaugh threatened to take his toys and go elsewhere if he had to share their national airwaves with her.) But one radio star - even a "ratings queen" like Rhodes - is not enough.

As I so often say, the airwaves belong to the people. One way or another, we need to take them back.

[This article was originally published on 2 March 2004 at DailyNewsOnline.]

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Should Bush Be Shot for Desertion?

All right, I'm not really going to argue for a firing squad for Bush, but I'm getting annoyed with the question of why we should care whether he was AWOL from his required service with the Texas Air National Guard.

I have seen someone say that we shouldn't care because the Vietnam war was a mistake and many of us were actively against it, so why should we mind that Bush couldn't be bothered to fight in it or even put up a good imitation of ANG service?

Well, this isn't a question of how well he executed the defense of his country during the Vietnam war, it's a question of how well he stood up for his convictions and took responsibility for his promises. He said he supported the war - and he "supported it" by making sure he didn't have to risk anything to be in it. And then he broke the deal that kept him out of the war, without any repercussions.

So we have a guy who offers nothing more than lip-service to something he says he believes in. We have a guy who makes deals (to serve in the ANG), and then doesn't fulfill his obligations - that is, he even breaks deals with his own country. And then tries to pretend this military record makes him some sort of hot-shot flying war hero.

I've seen some people try to compare Bush with Clinton, saying that each of them evaded service in Vietnam. But there is a rather significant difference, in that Vietnam was Bush's war, not Clinton's. Clinton's war was against the war, and he actively protested it. So only one of these two men showed the courage of their alleged convictions.

Did Bush actually believe in the Vietnam war? Who knows? Bush claims a lot of beliefs that his actions appear to betray. And that's a significant part of the problem: Bush never seems to be able to back up what he says he believes in. That's a pretty important character flaw.

This one little story actually tells us quite a good deal about Bush, and could be taken as a predictor of what was to come. Bush's Vietnam "service" looks an awful lot like his "presidency" - lip-service and astonishing laziness, moral laxity at levels most of us can't even imagine, and what looks like an allergy to behaving honorably.

When light-hearted blogger Skippy refers to Bush consistently as "awol" he doesn't just mean his ANG record, but his entire performance in government. It's not just that Bush was AWOL, it's that he is AWOL, and has been since his first day in office.

Consider Bush's 2000 campaign, in which we were simultaneously told that his vast experience as governor of Texas made him eminently qualified to lead the nation, while the disastrous results of his administration of Texas were none of his doing since the governorship in Texas confers little power. Every criticism of Bush's tenure as governor was answered with the information that it's really the lieutenant governor who has the authority in Texas. So nothing is ever Bush's fault.

Bush's occupancy of the White House has been one example after another of broken promises. He arrived in Washington and, having been warned of the dangers of terrorism, promptly overturned every protection his predecessor had put in place, and then told our intelligence services they could not investigate our most likely attacker, Al Qaeda, at all.

Allied intelligence warned that an attack was imminent. Osama bin Laden himself went on the radio and said he had something big planned for the US.

And then Bush went on vacation.

It's almost as if he was daring us to realize we had been insulted. In a country where a remarkably high number of people are unemployed solely because those who still have jobs are being forced to do the work of more than one person, afraid to take what little dwindling vacation time they purportedly are still entitled to because that might put their jobs at risk, Bush was publicly sneering at the idea of diligence and service. By September 10th of 2001, his habitual shirking was already being discussed everywhere.

Even when he was supposedly doing his job, he was expressing resentment at having to do it at all, sniping at reporters when visiting other nations, and insulting foreign dignitaries - with the excuse that he was being kept up past his bedtime. He had no excuse for doing the same from the White House itself, but he did it anyway, destabilizing the situation in Korea and with China within the first months of his tenure.

The rest of his "work" has involved photo-ops in which he pretended to care about important issues like education, each of which seemed to precede the promotion of a new order or bill that would gut whatever program he claimed to be supporting.

We have been told that what Andy Card whispered into Bush's ear as he read to school children on the morning of September 11th was that the nation was under attack. And Bush just sat there and kept reading. Then he got on Airforce One and took a little tour of midwestern airspace for a few hours.

As a leader of his country, Bush has been AWOL from his very first day. He may have quit drinking (or maybe not), but he is still the same arrogant layabout he always was. It's a shame America wasn't shown that true picture of George W. Bush in 2000. After all, what is past is prologue.

[This article was originally published on 23 February 2004 at DailyNewsOnline.]

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

The Sour Taste of Iraq

I don't read Jane's. I am not an airfix kid. And yet I knew instantly that Tony Blair's claim that Saddam could deploy WMD to strike at British interests within 45 minutes was false.

How did I know? I used this simple test:

Do I recall ever having read a front-page headline announcing that Iraq had tested a nuclear bomb?


So they can't be nuke-ready, because you can't hide that sort of thing; when it happens, everyone knows it.

And they had no delivery systems. And even if they'd never destroyed their stocks of biological and chemical weapons, they were past their sell-by date. And even if they hadn't been past their sell-by date, they had no way to use them against Britain or even Cyprus as a means of mass killing.

So it was obviously not true.

And here is my problem: How could Tony Blair not know this? He's the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, it's the sort of thing he really, really ought to know. Or he is way too stupid for the job.

On the other side of the water, opinion is divided on whether George W. Bush was out of the loop on this. No one really believes he has the sharps to put 1+1 together, and he says he doesn't read the papers, so maybe he actually didn't know.

But now even right-wing Fox personality Bill O'Reilly has admitted that there are no WMDs.

Two years ago I expressed bafflement at the sudden interest even sensible people seemed to have in "protecting" ourselves from Saddam Hussein. I was told Iraq had weapons of mass destruction ready to deploy against us - something that obviously wasn't true. I was told that we needed to liberate Iraqi women from a sexist society - a thought that sounds nice, but it seemed very odd given that women in Iraq were already a great deal more free than women in Saudi Arabia. I was told that Saddam was chummy with Osama bin Laden - an obvious lie, since the two of them hated each other. I was told it was part of our "war on terror" against Islamist extremists, even though Saddam was running a secular state (and Saudi Arabia is not).

And I warned that war could make life worse for the Iraqi people, that invasion risked their lives and their infrastructure, that tearing down the secular government actually endangered the rights of Iraqi women and made it more likely that strong-men, warlords, and religious extremists would take over the country.

I was right. Thousands of people are dead, women are afraid to go out and live their normal lives, and people are still having trouble getting water.

I want an apology from all of those people who called me a fruitcake. I want an apology from all of those people who think you need to "hate Bush" to have seen these things.

This was not a humanitarian war. It was insanity.

[This article was originally published on 18 February 2004 at DailyNewsOnline.]