Nel's New Day

June 15, 2014

Christians Control Republicans

Although the GOP incumbent candidate for Congress in Mississippi, Thad Cochran, didn’t know that the House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary election, most other people are aware of this historical first. Cantor’s loss also changes the religious demographics among GOP members of Congress. Cantor is the only Jewish member of Congress on the GOP side–in fact, the only non-Christian. With his disappearance, all GOP members of Congress (278 if the GOP opponent wins) will self-identify as Christians—no other Jews, no Muslims, no pagans, no other minority religions.

On the Democratic side (257) are 32 Jewish, three Buddhist, two Muslim, one Hindu, one affiliated, and 10 unspecified. That’s a total of 49, 19 percent of Democrats compared to 20.8 percent of people in the United States who do not classify themselves as Christians.

Christians running for legislative are becoming more and more conservative. For example, Scott Esk, a candidate running for the Oklahoma House, thinks that stoning LGBT people would be just fine.

“I think we would be totally in the right [to execute homosexuals by stoning]. That goes against some parts of Libertarianism, I realize, and I’m largely Libertarian, but ignoring as a nation things that are worthy of death is very remiss.”

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) is a little broader in his hatred. He used his time during a Congressional hearing to declare that all non-Christians are going to hell. He made his position clear to a Christian reverend about religious freedom in the United States. Gohmert interrupted the testimony of Rev. Barry Lynn, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, to argue with him about the journey to Hell.

Gohmert: “Okay so, you don’t believe somebody would go to Hell if they do not believe Jesus is the way, the truth, the life?”

Lynn: I personally do not believe people go to Hell because they don’t believe a specific set of ideas in Christianity.”

Gohmert: “No no no, not a set of ideas. Either you believe as a Christian that Jesus is the way, the truth, or life or you don’t. And there’s nothing wrong in our country with that—there’s no crime, there’s no shame.”

Lynn: “Congressman, what I believe, is not necessarily what I think ought to justify the creation of public policy for everybody, for the 2000 different religions that exist in this country, or the 25 million non-believers.”

Three members of the subcommittee were “non-Christians,” but that wasn’t a problem for Gohmert because they didn’t belong to his political party.

Gohmert is one of the Christians who have a Jesus far separate from the one in the Bible. Rev. Howard Bess believes that the Jesus in the Bible is a man of peace, non-violence, love, and kindness.  Living in a time of economic disparity, Jesus advocated redistribution of property and possessions among the tribes of Israel, by law to have taken place every 50 years but never accomplished. Jesus told a man to sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor; he also ridiculed the man who built bigger and bigger barns to hold his wealth. As the 278 Christian Republicans in Congress argue for another war in Iraq and oppose helping the poor, they can only talk about going to Hell if you don’t believe in Jesus’ existence.

The Bible is always used to show the evils of being LGBT. For example, one minister gave this advice to parents of adult LGBT offspring: “Alienate them. Separate them. Isolate them. Refuse to have a meal with them. Turn them over to Satan.” When some found his advice objectionable, a blog protested the responses:

“You need to follow ALL of Christ’s teachings not just a few….  One thing the believer needs to realize is that most scriptures do not come with escape clauses. They do not say ‘do good to everyone except…’  or ‘be just and merciful to everyone except…’.  You really need to examine all scripture on how to act and not cherry pick the few that justify your anger, humiliation or shame.”

According to the Bible, Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. All the objections come from the Old Testament. To help the protester avoid cherry-picking scripture, I’ve provided a few issues that Christians like Louie Gohmert need to deal with:

No foods from cattle or pigs: The Old Testament forbids any foods that have fat or blood, and any food taken from an animal that does not both chew their cud and have split hooves. There goes that bacon cheeseburger at McDonalds. Keep in mind as you compare this and other sins to homosexuality that the New Testament has declared all sins equal. Then it tacks on the order to not judge anyone because it’s the same as condemning yourself.

No genetically modified foods and blended fabrics: Mixing or cross-breeding animals and plants are sins as is wearing clothes made of two kinds of fabrics. If you negate this sin by the New Testament ruling that the law no longer has power, then there go all the laws—including discriminating against LGBT people. 

No tearing your clothes and uncovering your head: The New Testament doesn’t let you out of following this law. In fact, it adds praying or prophesying with an uncovered head is a sin. Someone needs to tell Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) that. Jesus doesn’t like praying in public.

No making idols: Most people would say that they don’t do this, but the mandate is that “you shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” Other no-nos are graven images, literally hieroglyphic paintings and drawings—any representative art, photographs, statues, sculptures, jewelry, etc. The Old Testament doesn’t let you off from that sin.

No fashion statements: These include styling hair, shaving beards, getting tattoos, and wearing jewelry and expensive clothing.

No mistreating foreigners: The scripture specifically orders you not to “vex” strangers. This law cannot be voided. According to Jesus, you have to be nice to everyone.

No marrying after a divorce: Remarrying after a divorce is adultery. Newt Gingrich missed this law.

I will give Pope Francis credit for trying to communicate Jesus’ message about wealth inequality. During last month’s meeting in the U.N., he said that a more equal form of economic progress can be achieved through “the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the state, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society.” Afterwards he was even more passionate about his beliefs:

“It’s madness. We discard a whole generation to maintain an economic system that no longer endures, a system that to survive has to make war, as the big empires have always done. But since we cannot wage the Third World War, we make regional wars. And what does that mean? That we make and sell arms. And with that the balance sheets of the idolatrous economies — the big world economies that sacrifice man at the feet of the idol of money—are obviously cleaned up.

“But we have placed money in the center, the god of money. We have fallen into the sin of idolatry, the idolatry of money. The economy moves by the desire to have more and paradoxically it feeds a disposable culture. By discarding children and the old, we discard the future of a people because the young will pull us strongly forward and the old will give us wisdom.”

Over 30 percent of congressional members are Catholic, many of them on the GOP side of the aisle. It’s time that they took the pope’s advice about alleviating poverty.

Update: The religious demographics of Democrats in Congress has been updated to include one Hindu and one unaffiliated. That raises the percentage of non-identified Christians to 19 percent of the Democrats.

April 20, 2013

GOP Politicians ‘Insensitivity’

A few days ago, my partner and I talked about how to describe Mark Sanford, candidate for the House of Representatives. She said “stupid,” and I thought perhaps “arrogant.” His words and actions are just another in the long line of  ignorant, clueless, naïve, self-serving, oblivious, dumb—the list goes on and on—statements from these people. For the sake of politeness, I’ll use the term “insensitive” to cover all these adjectives.

Back to Sanford. Most people in the country know him as the past governor of South Carolina who told people four years ago that he was hiking in the Appalachians to cover the fact that he had flown to Argentina for five days to visit his mistress. Public knowledge of his lies led to a rapid disintegration of his marriage and then a divorce. Nikki Haley became governor, and Sanford disappeared—for a while. This year, however, he is running for a House seat vacated by Tim Scott after Haley appointed him to Jim DeMint’s vacant seat.

Things looked pretty good for Sanford in his run against Elizabeth Colbert Busch. Until last week. The news that he had trespassed in his ex-wife’s house sent shock waves through his major donors from the NRCC to the Club for Growth, most of which dropped him like a hot potato. Yet the NRCC had no criticism for his illegal activities in entering a house without permission. They just said, “Mark Sanford has proven he knows what it takes to win elections. At this time the NRCC will not be engaged in the special election.”

What was Sanford’s excuse?

“I did indeed watch the second half of the Super Bowl at the beach house with our 14-year-old son because as a father I didn’t think he should watch it alone. Given she was out of town I tried to reach her beforehand to tell her of the situation that had arisen and met her at the back steps under the light of my cell phone when she returned and told her what had happened.”

So Sanford was worried about just the second half the game, he referred to his ex-wife’s place as “the” beach house, and she was in town because she caught him sneaking out the back door.

Even conservative columnist Kathleen Parker has thrown Sanford under the bus, attributing Sanford’s behavior to “hubris.” Skipping the fact that she blamed his problems on the fact that his wife didn’t stand by him, Parker’s conclusion is right on target:

“Sanford’s lack of empathy for his family, not to mention his impeachable judgment, should disqualify him from further public service, an opinion apparently shared by the Republican National Committee, which recently withdrew support for his candidacy.”

On May 7, the nation will find out if the voters of South Carolina prefer a stalking, law-breaking candidate rather to a Democrat

Sanford isn’t alone, however, in his “insensitivity.” The bombing in Boston brought out the worst in several high-profile lawmakers.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is a lawyer, Air Force Reserve colonel, and member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps who led the impeachment of President Clinton because he believes in the “rule of the law.” Now he wants the perpetrator of the Boston bombing to be “held as an enemy combatant.” Graham wants a U.S. citizen captured in the U.S. to be deprived of his basic constitutional rights. This is the same man who considers those who massacre large numbers of people with high-powered weapons to have mental issues.

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) took Sean Hannity’s Fox show as fact when Steve Emerson reported that unnamed “sources” told him that the U.S. government was secretly deporting the Saudi national suspect in the bombing. Presenting this conspiracy theory as fact, he criticized Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at a House hearing for doing this. When Napolitano said this wasn’t true, Duncan said, “He is being deported.” Duncan follows the conservatives of the United States when he gets all his information from the least reliable news network.

Even Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), usually a reasonable person, joined the insanity. She said, “Whenever we have an attack like this it’s difficult not to think that it’s somehow involved in Islamic extremism. I don’t have evidence to back that up. That’s just based on previous attacks.” Although it turned out that the two young men who allegedly set off the bombs are Muslims, there has been no “evidence” to show that it was connected to “Islamic extremism” any more than the mass murders by “Christians” were connected to “Christian extremism.”

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) argued, “We have people that are trained to act Hispanic when they are radical Islamists.” Rep. Steve King (R-IA) followed that up with trying the persuade people to drop the immigration bill that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented people. For him, one act of violence eliminates the possibility for anyone to again become a citizen in the United States except by birth.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told a national television audience on Tuesday that a “person of interest” in the Boston bombings “is in custody.” Law enforcement officials spent time explaining that he was wrong. McCaul also announced at a press conference that “we’ve been quite fortunate that this type of attack has not happened before in the U.S.” At the age of 51, McCaul could possibly be forgiven about the anarchist bombings in 1919 and 1920, including the wagon bomb that killed 38 people on Wall Street.

But where was he during the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, the Unabomber in 1994, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the 1996 pipe bombs at the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, the 1998 bomb at an Alabama abortion clinic in 1998, the 2000 arson attack at a Syracuse temple in 2000, the 18 pipe bombs planted in mailboxes in five states in 2002, the 2008 bomb at a military recruiting center in Times Square, the 2008 bomb at a San Diego courthouse, the 2008 fire bombs targeting researchers at UC Santa Cruz, and the 2011 attempted bombing of an MLK parade in Spokane. The last four happened since he became representative in 2005.

This last week was tragic in many ways, one of them the rejection by a minority of senators who managed to quell an amendment to require background checks for some people before purchasing weapons. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), who voted against requiring background checks has a solution “to do more to curb the senseless acts of violence that continue to occur in this country.” His answer:

“One of the things we need are parents, parents to be more careful and more repetitive at telling their kids that it is not right to kill people. It’s not even right to bully them. And it’s definitely not right for them to kill themselves. Until we can get that message across to our kids, I hope that we don’t rely on a few votes by this body to make everybody feel comfortable that all the problem is taken care of.”

If Enzi is right, we don’t need him or any other lawmakers; we just teach kids to do the right thing. Wouldn’t that be grand!

July 20, 2012

Time for Rational Gun Control

Over one million people have died of gun violence in the United States since 1968. Every hour three people in the United States die from gun shots. The Violence Policy Center’s (VPC) state-by-state report of 2009 data shows that gun-related deaths have outpaced motor vehicle deaths in 10 states: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.

The “Stand Your Ground” laws proliferating across the nation that allow people to go attack others if they wish are causing an increase in deaths, particularly white males and many times bystanders, according to a study at Georgia State University. The study also finds, “[Stand Your Ground] states have a higher percentage of black population and are more likely to have a Republican governor, higher incarceration rates, and more police officers. These states also tend to be more urban, and have a higher poverty rate.” Thanks to the far-right conservative organization ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), these stand-your-ground laws have been passed in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia.

In the past three years, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has achieved the following:

— In 2009, Obama enacted legislation permitting firearms in national parks.

— In 2009, Arizona and Tennessee passed laws letting people carry guns in bars.

— In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to extend federal gun-rights protections to states.

— In 2010, Louisiana approved a bill letting people carry firearms in houses of worship.

— In 2010, Arizona passed a law letting people carry concealed weapons without a permit. In 2011, Wyoming enacted the same law.

— In 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives passed, with considerable bipartisan support, a bill that makes a firearm-carry permit in one state valid in every other state.

— In 2011, Mississippi enacted legislation allowing people to carry firearms on college campuses, and in bars and churches. Later that year, the measure was expanded to include sporting events, polling places, airports, courthouses, and other government localities.

— In 2011, North Dakota and Texas passed legislation to ensure that employees may bring a gun to work, as long as it’s locked in a vehicle.

— In 2011, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire put into effect versions of Florida’s “stand your ground” law, granting people broad latitude to use lethal force when they perceive a threat to their safety.

–In 2011, Wisconsin Senate approved rules allowing members to carry firearms on the floor.

Now the NRA is donating massive amounts of money to the far-far-right state legislator candidates in Tennessee after the GOP in the state refused to pass a bill to prevent businesses from banning guns on their property after recent successes in Virginia, Ohio (where people can carried concealed weapons in bars), and North Carolina.

Sixty percent of persons jailed for gun crimes in the thirteen U.S. states with the most lax standards for legal firearm ownership could legally own firearms when they committed the crime that led to their incarceration, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; 29 percent of these people had criminal records. And that study covered 2004 when gun laws were not as lax as now. Most of the other people who could not legally buy guns purchased them from suppliers that were not required to do a criminal background check under federal or state law.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence showed that over 16,000 guns disappeared from manufacturers’ inventory during 2007-2008. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) cannot require these manufacturers to track their inventory, thanks to a 2004 amendment sponsored by then-Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS). More than 16,000 guns were “lost” from gun manufacturers’ inventories over the last two years, according to a report by a gun control advocacy group. The ATF has been without a Senate-confirmed director for the past six years, mostly because the NRA is such a strong lobbyist.

For a short time, people will be horrified about the shooting of 71 people in a Colorado movie theater early this morning, leaving 12 of them dead as of this evening. Just 30 minutes away from Columbine High School, where two students killed 12 other students and a teacher before killing themselves 13 years ago, a 24-year-old man shot these people used an assault rifle, a shotgun and a handgun with 6000 rounds—all legally purchased and owned–to shoot these people. Colorado is one of 41 “shall issue” states where the state must give a person a concealed weapons permit unless they have serious issues such as a felony conviction, mental illness, or protective orders. That makes the purchase of lethal weapons very easy in these states.

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have briefly put off their campaigns in respect for the victims. Many people disagree with this approach. “This is the only time you have the opportunity that people will listen to you,” said Representative Carolyn McCarthy, who has spent her entire legislative career fruitlessly attempting to do something about assault weapons that allow  people to easily mow down a flock of victims in a few minutes.

The right-wing blogs are having a feeding frenzy on anyone brave enough to tackle the lack of gun control in this country. Wait until after the funeral, said one person on a talk show. This is just politicizing the situation, said another. But it is—and will continue to be—a political issue. When a person is killed, the police don’t wait for a week in order to show the victim a time of respect.

Every year the NRA gains more and more control over the law-making process if guns have even a tangential connection to an issue. Tennessee’s House Majority Leader said, “[The NRA] are our allies as long as it’s in their self-interest.” He added, “They’re a fundraising organization, and their business plan is not to make politicians look good. It’s to have someone to criticize so they can generate more money.”

Politicians are terrified of the NRA lobby. In recent years, Congress has refused to consider laws that would ban the sale of assault weapons capable of firing 100 bullets without reloading and refused to allow the attorney general to restrict people on the terrorist watch list from purchasing weapons. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said it was “act of cowardice by the Congress” not to renew the ban, which expired in 2004. About the assault rifle, Rendell said,  “No hunter needs it, no citizen needs it to protect their home.” The NRA has gone so far overboard that it is now lobbying for gun carrying in airports.

In lieu of preventing guns, several private theaters as well as the AMC chain are preventing patrons to the theaters from wearing costumes, including masks. The Republicans, however, want guns in the theaters. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said, “It does make me wonder, you know, with all those people in the theater, was there nobody that was carrying? That could have stopped this guy more quickly?”

Gohmert went further in his claim that the tragedy came from a weakening of Judeo-Christian beliefs: “Some of us happen to believe that when our founders talked about guarding our virtue and freedom, that that was important. Whether it’s John Adams saying our Constitution was made only for moral and religious people … Ben Franklin, only a virtuous people are capable of freedom, as nations become corrupt and vicious they have more need of masters … We have been at war with the very pillars, the very foundation of this country.” [I don’t understand what he said either.]

Fred Jackson, the American Family Association’s news director, and co-host Teddy James of AFA Journal agreed that the shooting is a sign of God’s judgment for the failings of the public education system and liberal, mainline Protestant churches that affirm gays and lesbians.

It’s too late to argue that the the Constitution’s Second Amendment, possibly the most argued amendment, is only for the organization of a militia, which is needed only by the people who want to overthow the U.S. government: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.But gun control can restrict the number of guns, the method in which they are purchase, their licensing, and the power of the firearms. And now is the time to address the issue, no matter how much the gun fanatics condemn people who believe that safety from guns is important for everyone in this country.

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