Nel's New Day

January 7, 2014

Cold Brings Out Climate Change Crazies

This year the media has concentrated on the weather as subzero temperatures swept across many parts of the nation, and conservative pundits have responded with glee:

“This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bulls*** has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps, and our GW scientists are stuck in ice.”—Donald Trump

“Global warming my gluteus maximus.”—Sarah Palin

“I would love to see Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Hillary sitting outside on the 50 yard line of Green Bay the whole game, and then afterwards do a presentation for us all on global warming.”—Rush Limbaugh

“We’re looking at global cooling, forget this global warming.”—Stuart Varney, Fox Business

These people all have one thing in common: they aren’t scientists. In contrast, scientist Jeff Masters said this:

“As the Earth gets warmer and more moisture gets absorbed into the atmosphere, we are steadily loading the dice in favor of more extreme storms in all seasons, capable of causing greater impacts on society. If the climate continues to warm, we should expect an increase in heavy snow events for a few decades, until the climate grows so warm that we pass the point where it’s too warm for it to snow heavily.”

Science writer Chris Mooney also pointed out that  “scientists … stuck in the ice” got trapped after ice broke off of a glacier. Mother Jones added that record lows in the U.S. are happening at the same time that the temperature is about 120 degrees in Australia.

Mark Fischetti, senior editor at Scientific American gave a brief explanation of the current “Polar Vortex”:

“More and more Arctic sea ice is melting during summer months. The more ice that melts, the more the Arctic Ocean warms. The ocean radiates much of that excess heat back to the atmosphere in winter, which disrupts the polar vortex. Data taken over the past decade indicate that when a lot of Arctic sea ice disappears in the summer, the vortex has a tendency to weaken over the subsequent winter.”

If you talk to an uneducated climate change denier, here is some information, starting with the difference between climate and weather–two different things.

Weather: the state of the earth’s atmosphere at a specific time, usually referring to day-to-day temperature and precipitation in a specific area over a short period of time.

Climate: trends in atmospheric conditions over a long period of time in a more generalized area.

Weather changes according to seasons because the Earth’s position toward the sun changes. The angle of sunlight changes because the Earth revolves around the sun. The Roman Catholic church condemned Galileo in 1633 for his position on the sun being the center of our universe and didn’t apologize until 21 years ago—to show you how slowly education comes to the people.

In the summer, the angle is more direct than in the winter. In the colder season the ground isn’t as warm because the heat is spread out and there are fewer hours of sunlight. The weather is bitterly cold in many parts of the United States right now because an Arctic-chilled air mass headed south. When a high pressure system weakens the polar jet stream, air goes from high pressure to low pressure. Heat causes storms, and more heat causes more energy to be distributed by the storm.

Drunk Jet-Stream-300x225Bioanthropologist Greg Laden pointed out that while the Arctic air heads south, the North Pole is “relatively warm.”  The cold has not expanded; it’s just taking an “excursion.” Jennifer Francis explained that global warming is causing the influx of extreme cold. She compared the wavy pattern of the jet stream to a “drunk walking along.” Less drastic changes in temperatures between northern and southern climates caused weakened west-to-east winds and thus the “drunk” jet stream. Alaska is warmer at this time, perhaps leading to Palin’s comment. The United Kingdom is suffering from extreme cold while Scandinavia is have a warm winter.

Francis pointed out that climate change will cause this pattern to be more and more common with “wild, unusual temperatures of both sides, both warmer and colder.”

Self-appointed climate authority Newt Gingrich doesn’t deny global warming, but he likes the idea. He cites his experiences as looking at exhibits of “Antarctic dinosaurs,” and the “glacial moraine” to explain that life was “just fine” at that time. David Kreutzer of the conservative Heritage Foundation agreed that scientists think that climate change is caused by humans, but he, too, doesn’t see any problem with a much warmer planet.

Gingrich has company from the Koch brothers’ sponsored ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council). In a workshop last summer, Joseph Bast, president  of Heartland, told conservative state legislators that there is “no global warming trend” but if it were to get hotter, global warming “would be beneficial to the natural world and to human civilization.” Global warming, according to Bast, would help you live longer. Bast’s proof is that the amount of CO2 has increased during the past century at the same time that the average human lifespan has lengthened. A dropout from the University of Chicago, Bast majored in economics.

As Graham Wayne explained on SkepticalScience.com, however, hotter average temperatures cause problems with the water supply for agriculture, increased ocean acidity causing an unstable food chain, sea level rise, etc. The belief that warmer winters would mean fewer deaths fails to take into consideration the increased number of deaths from increased heat, about five times as many as prevented with warmer winters. Warmer climate also encourages disease-bearing insects such as mosquitoes to migrate; malaria is currently showing up in more and more places.

One serious problem of climate change is shown in California by the severe drought of 2013 when the jet stream tracked far north of normal over the eastern Pacific for the entire year. The warmer than normal air and higher than normal pressure pushed the usual West Coast storms toward Alaska while it brought cool air to the central and eastern United States. Ducks happily splashed during December in Siberia’s ice-free River Yenisei while California reservoirs dried up.

Instead of its average annual 30 inches of rain, Santa Cruz got 4.78 for all of 2013, a drop from the previous record low of 11.85 inches. Snowpacks are 20 percent of normal at the end of the year. There is no apparent end to the California drought. Scientists tie the bizarre jet stream pattern to very warm oceans and the distribution of heat in them. Another possibility is the accelerated trade winds and ocean currents from fresh water provided by melting Antarctica glaciers.

The enhanced greenhouse effect is, and will, cause serious problems for the planet. Greenhouse effect: the sun’s visible light (radiation) heats the ground; the heated ground releases the heat back into the atmosphere as infrared radiation. Greenhouses gases trap the heat and send it back to the ground, meaning that the energy coming in is faster than the energy going out. Too much of these greenhouse gases means that the globe will get very hot very quickly.

Venus and Earth are almost the same size and have the same amount of CO2; most of the Earth’s CO2 is caught in rocks, however, while most of CO2 on Venus is in its atmosphere. Earth’s atmosphere contains .004% of CO2 while the atmosphere of Venus is made up of 96.5% of CO2. The average temperature of Earth is 59 degrees Fahrenheit, and the average temperature of Venus is 872 degrees Fahrenheit. As greenhouse gases like CO2 increase, the temperature increases.

Greenhouse gasses

Scientists predict that the planet will heat up by over 7 degrees by 2100 if the emissions of greenhouse gases are not cut. A warming planet means fewer clouds, reflecting less light back into space. Professor Steven Sherwood said about the higher temperature:

“It would make life difficult, if not impossible, in much of the tropics, and would guarantee the eventual melting of the Greenland ice sheet and some of the Antarctic ice sheet. Climate skeptics like to criticize climate models for getting things wrong, and we are the first to admit they are not perfect. But what we are finding is that the mistakes are being made by the models which predict less warming, not those that predict more.”

Although the average of global air temperatures has not rapidly increased since 1998, the heat continues to be trapped by greenhouse gases with over 90 percent disappearing into the oceans. The temporary cushion for the planet has been the oceans, but this will not continue. The “pause” may also result from the lack of temperature readings from polar regions, where warming is greatest, according to a study last November.

Newt Gingrich asked, “What kind of hubris does it take to say, ‘I know exactly what this planet’s temperature ought to be and I’m gonna manage it to that effect’?” Even the Bible assigned the stewardship of our planet to humans. Doing nothing is failing in our responsibility.

As usual, Jon Stewart makes far more sense on his comedy show, The Daily Show, than the conservative politicians and pundits.

Climate change and global warming are supported by 29,000 scientists in almost 12,000 peer-reviewed papers. Ninety-seven percent of scientists believe in human-caused climate change. If even 29 doctors told me I had a brain tumor, I’d pay attention to their diagnosis. My question is why the conservatives weren’t talking about global warming during the extreme heat suffered by much of the United States 18 months ago.

December 2, 2013

GOP Strategy: Block and Blank

Imagine your life if you were paid full time for working a little over one day a week. That’s life if you’re a member of Congress this next five weeks. The House is scheduled to “work” six days during that time, making a total of 113 work days in 2013. With their $174,000 salary, GOP House members made about $1,380 a day this year. In a little over ten days, members of the House make the same amount of money that a fulltime worker paid minimum wage makes in an entire year. At least the House members worked 19 days more than last year, but this year’s calendar is 13 days less than that scheduled next year.

Perhaps House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) can’t find anything for the GOP to do in the next five weeks. It appears that the House has stopped repealing the Affordable Care Act because they’re afraid to take insurance away from people. Right now conservative lawmakers seem happy to just tell lies about people who are losing their insurance and having to pay more for other plans. The Senate doesn’t seem to be working any harder than the House as GOP senators sulk about the change in the filibuster rules.

What else is left for federal lawmakers to do this year?

  • Relief from sequester caps
  • Budget plans to keep the United States from shutting down or defaulting on the debt
  • Funding authority, which expires January 15
  • Pentagon policy bill blocked because of dissension over ways to stop sexual-assault cases and increased sanctions against Iran after the White House reached a tentative nuclear pact with that nation
  • Unemployment benefits, funding to help workers displaced by global trade, and business-friendly tax break including research and development
  • Fees paid to Medicare providers to keep doctors and hospitals from dropping patients from the program
  • Confirmation of the new Federal Reserve chair, head of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and three nominees to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia—not to mention all the other nominees waiting in the wings
  • The farm policy that also includes the funding level for food stamps
  • Immigration reform? Ha!

My favorite problem is the expiration of laws banning plastic guns on December 9. The 25-year-old law that stops weapons manufacturers from making guns undetectable by security systems expires without Congressional renewal. If Congress doesn’t act, anyone can easily take a gun anywhere, including onto airplanes, because plastic weapons can’t be detected.

Over 18 months ago, political scholars Thomas E. Mann and Norma J. Ornstein published an article in The Washington Post entitled “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.” One conservative and the other progressive, they agreed:

“The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

Searching for reasons behind the dysfunction, they listed “the mobilization of social conservatives after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the anti-tax movement launched in 1978 by California’s Proposition 13, the rise of conservative talk radio after a congressional pay raise in 1989, and the emergence of Fox News and right-wing blogs.”

According to the couple, however, the two people behind the move to the far right are Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist. From his entrance into Congress in 1979, Gingrich worked to persuade voters that this branch of government was “so corrupt that anyone would be better than the incumbents, especially those in the Democratic majority.” He spent 16 years bringing ethics charges against Democratic leaders and provoking them into overreactions that united GOP voters into opposing Democratic initiatives. Then he exploited scandals to raise public disgust with politicians and recruited conservatives to run against the government.

When Gingrich became speaker, the self-serving leader compromised with President Bill Clinton to build up the House’s reputation, but it was too late. The hatred toward Washington, similar to that from the Tea Party, drove out moderate GOP House members. Some of the radical conservatives moved into the Senate and similarly polarized its culture.

At the same time that Gingrich was poisoning the House, Norquist founded Americans for Tax Reform and passed out the Taxpayer Protection Pledge in 1986. Signers were bound to never vote for a tax increase, including closing tax loopholes. As of last year, 238 of the 242 House Republicans and 41 of the 47 GOP senators had given their souls to Norquist. Extremists liked the pledge so much that they created offshoots on issues such as climate change.

More recently, Ornstein wrote about the change in the Senate during the past decade. After 14 Senators, seven from each side of the aisle, compromised in confirming extremist judges Janice Rogers Brown and Priscilla Owen, Republican senators such as Lamar Alexander (TN) promised that they would never filibuster a judicial nominee.

Barack Obama’s move into the White House, however, turned “the filibuster into a routine weapon of mass obstruction.” No longer were filibusters based on qualifications. GOP senators abandoned their 2005-2006 commitments to not filibuster as  well as more recent ones in January 2013 to block everyone nominated for the bench.

In addition to filibusters, senators can block nominations for federal district court vacancies in their states, a practice known as “blue slips.” GOP senators, including Marco Rubio (FL) who actually recommended the nominee, are using this practice.

As the conservative Ornstein wrote:

“If the norms are blown up, which is what Senate Republicans under Mitch McConnell have done over the past five years—using the rules not to build bridges but to construct dams—it becomes almost inevitable that the rules will change to adapt.”

After the recent change in the filibuster rules, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) threatened more judges like Scalia and Alito, but these judges, as well as Thomas, came with the filibuster rules. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), with others, expressed concern that the Senate would get worse in effecting the legislative process. It can’t.

House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will prevent any legislature not in his political interest and support any legislation that will benefit him. Even with the majority of Democrats in the Senate passing a bill, the House will most certainly block it. The immigration reform passed the Senate with supermajorities, and Boehner won’t touch it.

The Party of No recently revealed its plan for the coming year to finish up the 113th Congress as the worst in history. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) met with a group of House GOP members and handed out a blank piece of paper labeled Agenda 2014, proving that they had no “governing vision or even a legislative agenda.” As an aide described the GOP leadership: “We don’t know where we are headed, and we don’t know what we can sell to our members.”

That’s the strategy of the GOP: blank.

November 4, 2012

Genetics Shape Religious Beliefs

Why are some people religious and others non-believers? A special report in Scientific American earlier this year addresses the question: “Why does God exists for some of us but not for others?” A study of of people’s religious beliefs shows “that certain personality types are predisposed to land on different spots of the religiosity spectrum.” According to this study, “genetic factors account for more than half of the variability among people on the core dimensions of their character, which implies that a person’s feelings regarding religion also contain a genetic component.”

This study uses the same personality characteristics that have been used to determine the level of conservatism in personality: extroversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness. These remain stable through a person’s life and are independent of each other.

“Extroverts are dynamic, gregarious and socially warm, whereas introverts are timid and reserved.

“Neuroticism refers to a person’s tendency to be anxious, depressed, and generally emotionally vulnerable, as opposed to emotionally stable and positive.

“A third facet is agreeableness, which captures whether a person is empathetic, helpful and trusting of others, as opposed to mean, individualistic and arrogant.

“Conscientiousness individuals are methodical, self-controlled, and willing to establish goals and work toward achieving them, whereas those low in conscientiousness tend to be impulsive and disorganized.

“Finally we can differ in openness: whether we like novel, challenging and complex ideas, experiences and feelings. Less open individuals prefer to stay within their comfort zone.”

An analysis of studies shows that religious people score higher on agreeableness and conscientious. They end to volunteer more and show more self-control in areas such as low alcohol, drug, and tobacco use. People who  assume that these traits come from their religious beliefs need to understand that personality traits are present in early childhood and then heavily shape social attitudes, values, and identities in later life.

Scholars have long suggested that religion fosters social bonds within large groups of people. Agreeableness and conscientiousness indicate preference for social harmony and personal order—a type of stability.

Another characteristic of religious people is that they are less likely to use humor. They are also more likely to be in education, medical services, health, and humanities fields whereas nonbelievers go into engineering, science, and mathematics.

Individuals low on openness tend to be drawn to fundamental religions. When presented with choices, people in these religions are willing to help familiar people but not strangers. Other tests show the highly religious people are not willing to help people who they perceive as threatening to their personal values. In other words, “those viewed as outsiders were least likely to receive a helping hand from more conservative beliefs.”

Shared environment may play a great role in childhood and adolescence, but the genetic influence kicks in between ages 18 to 25. For adolescents, genetics counts for only 12 percent of religious identity with the environment counting for 56 percent of the outcome. The remainder of the percentage comes from unique characteristics that shape adolescents. In adults, genetics determine 44 percent toward religiosity and 18 percent, environment. The farther they go from the influence of early years, the more idiosyncratic factors determine attitudes.

The report concludes: “Does God call us? For some of us, the answer is yes: through our genes, parents, acquaintances, and life events.

The far-right, religious people tend to accuse the “liberal education” in universities of turning their children away from the church. According to these studies, the young people are just turning to their genetic makeup to make decisions.

The studies also show why more religious people are unwilling to give rights to people who they don’t know, such as marriage equality, and are less likely to care about people in poverty who have starving children. Unless they know the people who need help, they don’t want to provide assistance.

Another interesting part of religion comes from a new poll revealing that more than 68 percent of registered Republican voters believe that people can be possessed by demons. Only 48 percent of self-identified Republicans believe in climate change. The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling, described by NPR as “one of the most prolific polling outfits in the country.” Yet only 37 percent of registered voters–both Democrat and Republican–believe in ghosts. According to the poll, zombies are considered to be the scariest monster, another issue that has not been raised at all on the campaign trail.

Asides:  Newt Gingrich’s newsletter, Human Events, included the following last week: The truth is, the next election has already been decided. Obama is going to win. It’s nearly impossible to beat an incumbent president. What’s actually at stake right now is whether or not he will have a third-term. Once again, politicians prey on the ignorant. According to the 22nd Amendment, ratified in 1951, presidents cannot run for more than two terms.

Mitt Romney has spent much of his campaigning trying to convince listeners that people are worse off since President Obama was inaugurated. Gallup’s “U.S. Economic Confidence Index” keeps refuting Romney’s claim. At -22 almost five years ago during George W. Bush’s last year, it has climbed to -8 this past week, up 12 points in the past month.

My praises to the sturdy people who are willing to stand in long lines to vote, lines that would be shorter if Republicans were willing to extend early voting. An example is Florida, where one man stood in line for eight hours. Other people lasted until 1:00 am after the lines were cut off at 8:00: that’s another five hours.

What I liked best about today was the extra hour that I gained from ending Daylight Savings Time. And VP Joe Biden’s comment: “It’s Mitt Romney’s favorite time of the year because he gets to turn the clock back.”

April 29, 2012

Farewell to Gingrich?

Newt Gingrich is almost gone from the current political scene although he hasn’t declared himself officially there—just officially maybe if etc. No matter what, he deserves a sendoff. This is the man that the GOP hates, who liked Citizens United until another Republican had a bigger super PAC, who thought that he could arrest judges for doing their job, and who decided that Fox was biased in favor of Mitt Romney—when Fox was supporting Rick Santorum. But there’s lots more about him.

As a child, Gingrich was seriously abused by his stepfather, a Marine officer. As a teenager, Gingrich loved zoos and dinosaurs, wanting an academic career. In his twenties, Gingrich grew his hair long, having a yen for the counter-culture of the 60s. By his thirties, having successfully dodged the draft with student and family deferments, he ran for the House of Representatives in an Atlanta (GA) suburb. After he lost, his campaign scheduler said, “We would have won if we could have kept him out of the office and screwing [a young campaign staffer] on his desk.” At this time Gingrich was with his high school geometry teacher, Jackie Battley, who he married when he was nineteen years old.

Politics and his wife didn’t mix. While Jackie Gingrich was still in the hospital recovering from her third cancer surgery, Gingrich “argued” with her over the terms of the divorce that he wanted and she didn’t. He had told one of his aides, “She isn’t young enough or pretty enough to be the President’s wife. And besides, she has cancer.” Another reason was his affair with Marianne, who became his second wife and was discarded after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Because Gingrich refused to pay alimony or offer child support for his two children, Jackie’s church took up a collection for her. Gingrich has said that when he read a book called Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them, he “found frightening pieces that related to my own life.”

Finally getting elected to the House of Representatives in 1978, Gingrich used the Republican whip, Dick Cheney, to rise in the ranks. Gingrich’s staff started a whisper campaign falsely accusing Speaker of the House Tom Foley, a Democrat, of being a closet homosexual and created another manufactured scandal about some House members’ supposed abuse of their credit union. Gingrich used these bodies for his advancement.

After George H. W. Bush appointed Cheney as secretary of defense, Gingrich took over as the House whip. Bill Clinton’s reelection dropped Gringrich’s national approval rating to 28 percent, leading him to push for Clinton’s impeachment. At the same time, Gingrich was having an affair with Callista Bisek, one of his staffers who is twenty-three years younger than Gingrich. Little did he know that Tom DeLay was leading a group of 20 Republicans working to oust Gingrich. The coup failed when Dick Armey told Gingrich about it after he found out that the plan didn’t include his succeeding Gingrich.

James Dobson gave up on the Republicans’ trying to get rid of Gingrich and took over the task himself by mobilizing the Christian Right. In 1998 Dobson gave a speech to the Council for National Policy, a secret group that brings together right-wing activists with wealthy conservatives to shape political strategy.

“Does the Republican Party want our votes—no strings attached—to court us every two years, and then to say, ‘Don’t call me. I’ll call you?’ And not to care about the moral law of the universe? Is that what they want? Is that what the plan is? Is that the way the system works? And if so, is it going to stay that way? Is this the way it’s going to be? If it is, I’m gone, and if I go—I’m not trying to threaten anybody because I don’t influence the world—but if I go, I will do everything I can to take as many people with me as possible.”

Dobson continued to threaten House Republicans when he met with 25 of them a month later. After Army confronted Dobson, Dobson persuaded Focus on the Family to tell its members—falsely—that Army was a paid consultant to the ACLU. Despite Gingrich’s and Army’s strategy of impeachment, the House lost five Republican seats—the worst midterm-election in 64 years for a party that did not control the White House. Gingrich resigned and divorced his second wife, again in her hospital room. This time he sent his message by phone.

For years Gingrich wrote op-eds and speeches, even a trilogy of alternative historical novels in which the Confederacy won the Civil War before he returned to the political arena in 2006. In New Hampshire, Gingrich warned that “before we actually lose a city” to a terrorist attack, the government should consider limiting free speech. In his manifesto, Rediscovering God in America, he also declared that the United States is a Christian nation. “There is no attack on American culture more deadly and more historically dishonest than the secular effort to drive God out of America’s public life,” he insisted.

At that time, even the right wing disapproved of Gingrich’s philandering. Jeffrey Kuhner, editor of the right-wing Web magazine Insight, wrote, “Mr. Gingrich views women as little more than sex objects who are discarded like an empty Coke bottle when they fail to satisfy his near-limitless appetite. He is yesterday’s man.”

Gingrich thought he could persuade Dobson to overlook his past peccadilloes. The big mistake was justifying his own actions because “every member of every jury of America has had weaknesses.” Dobson considers himself without spiritual fault. After Dobson’s harsh statements and questions, Gingrich said, “I have turned to God and got on my knees and prayed to God and asked for forgiveness.” Gingrich’s answer satisfied Dobson, especially because he had the impression that he could lift this sinner out of his darkness and depravity. It was Gingrich’s statement that led Jerry Falwell to ask him to give the commencement speech at Liberty University.

Despite the tarnished image of Liberty after one of the students was arrested for confessing his plans to commit mass murder against the notorious Fred Phelps church, a confession that came immediately after Falwell’s unexpected death, Gingrich gave the speech. He gave a call for graduates to confront “the growing culture of radical secularism,” thereby honoring the memory of Falwell. Gingrich’s sins fell away, and he was invited to appear with the other GOP presidential wannabes at the Family Research Council’s annual Value Voters Summit. Gingrich was back.

With Dobson’s anointing, Gingrich has joined the company of serial killer like Ted Bundy and David Berkowitz, forgiven and redeemed by Dobson because they  confessed their evil deeds and professed a commitment to evangelical religion.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German clergyman executed by the Nazis for publicly opposing Hitler and denouncing church leaders who acquiesced to his rule, calls this “cheap grace.” In 1943, he wrote, “Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like a cheapjack’s wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut-rate prices . . . In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin.”

Part of this information came from an abstract of Max Blumenthal’s book, Republican Gomorrah. This blog is just a piece of the iceberg regarding Gingrich’s scandals. You’re welcome to read more—or just wait for him to re-emerge somewhere else.

March 15, 2012

The Foreign Press Takes on Our Brave New World

What Europe thinks of the American Republican primaries: 

The German Press: The Republican presidential contest in America is a “freak show,” said Marc Pitzke in the German der Spiegel. The candidates vie with one another to spew the most outrageous hard-right positions denying evolution while endorsing torture and joking about electrocuting illegal immigrants. How did a major party in the world’s sole superpower become a “club of liars, debtors, betrayers, adulterers, exaggerators, hypocrites, and ignoramuses”? These know-nothings are enabled by a U.S. press that has been “neutered by the demands of political correctness” so that it can’t say what’s obvious: These people are daft! Instead, it “proclaims one clown after the next to be the new front-runner.” Newt Gingrich is actually considered an intellectual merely because he can create sentences with multiple clauses. Scarcely a one has even the most basic grasp of foreign policy. One said Africa is a country, another that the Taliban rule in Libya. Collectively, “they expose a political, economic, geographic, and historical ignorance that makes George W. Bush look like a scholar!”

The French Press: That’s the scariest part, said Lorraine Millot in the Paris Liberation. The only GOP candidate who knows a thing about diplomacy, Jon Huntsman, is gone. The others “careen to extreme positions that include starting new wars and abandoning old allies.” And that’s when they even have a position. Herman Cain, now thankfully out of the race, was the front-runner even though he couldn’t find a single coherent word to say about President Obama’s policy on Libya. He even boasted of knowing little about foreign countries. And yet it was his adultery, not his astounding ignorance, that brought him down.

The British Press: There’s a simple explanation for this bizarre phenomenon, said Max Hastings in the London Daily Mail. In the “lunatic, gun-toting badlands of America’s Hicksville, Tea Party country,” it’s considered suspiciously elitist to show an interest in modern science or the world beyond America’s “borders. “Say what you like about British politics, no MP of any party would dare to offer themselves as town dogcatcher while knowing as little about the world as the Republican presidential candidates.” We take public service seriously. Yet we in Britain, and everyone in the rest of the world, will suffer if “one of the lunatics” vying for the nomination makes it to the White House. “The American political system has seldom, if ever, looked so inadequate.” Don’t worry, said Matthew Norman in the London Independent. The fact that Gingrich is the latest threat to Mitt Romney’s inevitability just “confirms how inevitable” Romney’s nomination is. The thrice-married, ethically challenged Gingrich is unlikable in the extreme. Which means the nominee will be Romney, “the slimiest, phoniest opportunist to run for president since … well, ever.” So sit back and enjoy this circus passing for a presidential election. It can’t possibly end in a GOP victory. Can it?

[The part about Gingrich is a bit out of date—but still applies!]

February 28, 2012

Santorum Goes over the Edge, Loses Two States

If it’s Tuesday, there must be an election somewhere. And there is—Arizona and Michigan. Newt Gingrich have been uncharacteristically quiet, which may change now that he just got another $5 million for his sugar daddy billionaire. He does have a 28-minute political ad that claims he can bring gas down to $2.50 and no longer be reliant on oil from “Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran.” These, of course, are lies because the president doesn’t control the gas prices and the U.S. doesn’t import oil fromIran. Despite his accusations of a massive reduction in U.S. development of oil, production surged during the first two years of President Obama’s administration after its downward trend in the previous five (Bush) years.

Ron Paul just indicates “anything that Mitt wants.” The rumor is that Paul wants Romney to pick his son, Rand, as vice-president. Both Gingrich and Paul know that both the states voting today were lost causes for them, and they moved ahead to Super Tuesday in another week.

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum spent the past few weeks smearing each other, trying to win Michigan. Republican Gov. Paul LePage (Maine) said, “If they continue to beat each other up, then maybe we should get somebody unknown to go against Obama. They’re damaging themselves. It’s like a marital battle. Somebody’s got to apologize.” Chances are very good that these two are way beyond that. Even if they did apologize, no one would believe them.

Romney continues to make bizarre comments, for example when he offers people the chance to visit his parents at the cemetery where they are buried and loving the height of the trees in Michigan—sort of like Rick Perry hugging his bottle of maple syrup in Vermont. Then there was the shirt that a fan gave him that said “Mitt Happens.” But he’s largely kept to the script of criticizing Santorum.

Santorum, on the other hand, keeps going farther and farther over the edge, either from arrogance or desperation. Last Sunday morning he told George Stephanopoulos: “I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.  The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country. This is the First Amendment.  The First Amendment says the free exercise of religion.  That means bringing everybody, people of faith and no faith, into the public square.” He said more, but I can see your eyes glazing over.

Santorum was so hysterical that he said he wanted to “throw up” when hearing John F. Kennedy’s statement that he would not allow his Catholic beliefs to rule the country. Kennedy actually said, “I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.” Santorum missed the fact that Kennedy paved the way for Santorum, a Catholic, to be as successful as he is.

The question is whether Santorum would want to “throw up” at this president’s statement: “Church and state are, and must remain, separate. All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief.” He might, until someone told him that the president who said this was the revered Ronald Reagan.

After declaring that Obama has a “war on for-profit colleges” (Obama must be busy with all these “wars”), Santorum said, “President Obama wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob!” He continued by claiming that Obama wants people to go to college because he wants them to be liberal. “That’s why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image.

Santorum’s hatred of college is a 180-degree turn since 2006 when his Senate campaign website stated, “In addition to Rick’s support of ensuring that primary and secondary schools in Pennsylvania are equipped for success, he is equally committed to ensuring the every Pennsylvanian has access to higher education. Rick Santorum has supported legislative solutions that provide loans, grants, and tax incentives to make higher education more accessible and affordable.”

As in other situations, Santorum twisted what President Obama has said, including in his state of the union speech. Obama doesn’t use the term college; he says “higher education.” As Obama has pointed out, he wants every young person to have the benefit of an apprenticeship or education in a technical school, community college, or college/university. It’s exactly what Santorum wants, but he continues to denigrate the same vision from Obama.

With three university degrees, Santorum is so obsessed by his personal religion that he fails to remember his history. While campaigning in South Carolina, he said, “The idea that the Crusades and the fight of Christendom against Islam is somehow an aggression on our part is absolutely anti-historical. And that is what the perception is by the American left who hates Christendom… What I’m talking about is onward American soldiers. What we’re talking about are core American values.” Santorum overlooks the Crusades as the bloody medieval campaigns to take theHoly Landfrom the “infidels” (aka Moslems and Jews).

“I’m not a Washington insider,” Santorum claimed. Yet his $3.6 million income within the last few years came largely from “consulting” (aka lobbying) activities, and he was enough of an insider while he was in Congress to get millions of dollars in earmarks for his state. His ultra-partisan approach also gives him an insider aura.

Former Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-WY) called Santorum a “very rigid man … a lot tougher than [former House Speaker Newt] Gingrich to deal with. And former Sen. Bob Smith (R-NH) said of Santorum: “I’m not opposed to bucking the establishment, but I always felt he was using the establishment for his own aggrandizement. I remember him saying, ‘You’ve got to give me a little slack. I need to vote for this for my state.’”

Santorum rejects prenatal testing, but, as one woman pointed out, this can kill the fetus. She reported on how her amniocentesis showed that medication was not helping her fetus’s Rh negative disease, caused by the pregnant woman’s negative blood type fighting with the fetus’s positive blood type. Because of the doctor’s awareness of the problem, the fetus could be delivered at the optimum time, saving its life.

Also on record as not wanting women to be in combat, he tried to clarify that gaffe by stating that he was worried about the men’s emotions, not the women’s. But his backup statement voided that justification, when he explained that women are “fully capable of flying small planes.”

Known for his refusal to believe in man-made climate change, Santorum referred to anti-fracking activists, the people who don’t want methane gas to explode from the faucet whenever it’s turned on, as a “reign of environmental terror.” He forgot to explain that he is a top recipient of money from drilling companies, and his campaign gets big oil bucks.

At least during the past month, Santorum has dropped his “income equality is good” and stop giving out food stamps campaign. Late night talk and comedy shows made mincemeat out him after this statement: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”

Santorum is campaigning to end the secular state, science-based information, education, and women’s health care with the return of patriarchy and the demonization of everybody but white, heterosexual, right-wing Christian males. Most conservative pundits recognize that he would be a lost cause as a nominee; even Santorum-supporter Rush Limbaugh said he “cringed” when he heard Santorum’s comment that he voted against his principles because politics is a “team sport.”

In her poem at Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, Maya Angelou showed the way thatClinton’s administration wanted to be inclusive:

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew

The African and Native American, the Sioux,

The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek

The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,

The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,

The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.

Reading these lines makes me think about the people who Santorum would exclude from having rights, despite the U.S. Constitution: all women who want reproductive rights including birth control, all men who want their sexual partners to use birth control, all unmarried adults who wish to have consensual sex, all people who are not members of the Catholic or evangelical churches, all LGBT people, all people of color, all college-educated people, and all people who want a public education. His exclusionary believes leave about 5 percent of the people under the great tent of this nation—as far as Santorum is concerned.

There is hope, however, because Santorum lost both Arizona and Michigan. We’ll see what outrageous things he says within the next week to struggle for delegates in the next ten states.

February 23, 2012

Is It Lying or ‘Puffing’

Puffing. That’s the term that we used for smoking a cigarette for most of my life. Now, thanks to Supreme Court Antonin Scalia, the word has a new definition. Yesterday the court discussed the constitutionality of the 2006 Stolen Valor Act which makes lying about having military honors a crime. During their exchange, justices voiced concern about laws that would potentially cause politicians and others to be indicted for lies and “exaggerations” about accomplishments or failures—false college degrees, extra-marital affairs, etc.

“In the commercial context, we allow a decent amount of lying. It’s called puffing. So maybe we allow a certain amount of puffing in political speech as well. Nobody believes all that stuff, right?” That’s Scalia’s take on whether political lies are acceptable.

Let’s take Newt Gingrich’s response to ads about his ethics violations during his tenure as Speaker of the House of Representatives. “I was exonerated in every single case,” he said. After being charged, Gingrich agreed to pay $300,000 and admit he had “engaged in conduct that did not reflect creditably on the House of Representatives.” During the investigation, he submitted letters from his lawyers for which “the [House ethics] subcommittee was unable to find any factual basis.” Committee members stated that Gingrich “should have known” that the information in the letters “was inaccurate, incomplete and unreliable.” (Scalia would probably say that he was “puffing.”)

After the ethics committee voted 7 to 1 to reprimand him and require a $300,000 penalty, the full House passed the committee report by 395 to 28. Does this pass the Scalia test that nobody would believe Gingrich? I’m guessing not. When he claims that he was completely exonerated, millions of Americans nod their heads in agreement, thankful that the people accusing him of these ethics charges are wrong.

What about a state representative in Indiana, Bob Morris, who refuses to sign a resolution recognizing the Girl Scouts’ 100th anniversary because it is a “radicalized organization” that is “quickly becoming a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood” and that its agenda “includes sexualizing young girls” and promoting “homosexual lifestyles.” Morris’ lies has led to loss of members, meeting places, and status for the Girl Scouts because people believe him.

Jonathan Libby, a lawyer arguing against making lying illegal because of constitutionally-mandated free speech, said the law should not criminalize speech unless it “causes imminent harm to another person” or the government. He explained that laws against fraud and perjury were constitutional because those lies caused harm. The question here is the definition of “harm.”

Hundreds of politicians were elected in 2010 because they lied about their aims and goals. With their newfound power, they switched lanes from improving the economy and getting people jobs to their program of restricting people from voting, eradicating unions and fair wages, eliminating women’s reproductive rights, etc.–in short, doing harm. Now fewer than a couple of dozen people are providing over $100 million to “puff” about candidates, skewing the election in the way that they want.

Can a car salesperson justify lies about the condition of a used car by the new definition of “puffing”? Or would “free speech” justify lying about the condition of a house to a prospective purchaser?

Many years ago, I tried to smooth over a situation between a good friend and her young daughters by “puffing.” My friend firmly said, “I don’t lie to my children!” It was a great lesson in parenting that I’ve never forgotten. It’s a lesson that politicians have never learned. Their speeches show that they not only “shade the truth” but also openly lie about situations, knowing that they can persuade many people that what they say is factual.

Last night during the debate about whether women deserved contraception, the Republican presidential candidates talked about how our current culture is tragic because of “immorality.” I claim that lying to the people is also a form of “immorality.” How sad that a judge in the highest court of the United States would justify lying by the country’s leaders because we are not supposed to believe anything that they say.

The next time anyone accuses you of lying, just tell them that Scalia says you’re just “puffing.”

February 21, 2012

Candidates Enter the Debate Fray … Again

Political wonks focus on Arizona tomorrow when the next Republican presidential candidate debate starts on CNN at 5:00 pm (PT). We’ve had a four-week hiatus from the four white men posturing on a stage: Gingrich’s anger at the media forcing them into a corner; Paul’s earnestness about no government (including no war); Santorum’s whining about not getting enough air time; and Romney’s gaffes slipping into his cool answers. Santorum is the latest to reached his peak, up double-digits over Romney who just stays where he always has, while Gringrich has fallen after his wax wings melted when he got too close to the sun, and Paul keeps trudging forward.

Santorum has picked up a great deal of baggage since the last debate. Flush with his three-state victory in one day, he’s gone over the edge with his outrageous statements. Earlier, Gingrich seemed the idiot when he claimed that he would create a new state on the moon by the end of his second term in 2020. Now Santorum claims that prenatal testing results in abortions, that federally provided education is “anachronistic,” and that President Obama’s policies are not “based on the Bible.” The candidate wants to get rid of all three. Even Bob Schieffer lost his usual calm demeanor when he asked Santorum on Face the Nation, “What are you talking about.”

Even more bizarre among Santorum’s speeches is his claim that mainstream Protestant churches have fallen into the grip of Satan. During a 2008 speech at Catholic Ave Maria University in Florida, Santorum said: “[O]nce the colleges fell and those who were being educated in our institutions, the next was the church. Now you’d say, ‘wait, the Catholic Church’? No. We all know that this country was founded on a Judeo-Christian ethic but the Judeo-Christian ethic was a Protestant Judeo-Christian ethic, sure the Catholics had some influence, but this was a Protestant country and the Protestant ethic, mainstream, mainline Protestantism, and of course we look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it.”

Gingrich has been so quiet lately that he has almost disappeared after the  visibility Sheldon Adelson gave him by providing $21 million to Gingrich-supporting super PAC Winning Our Future. Adelson now promises another $100 million, more than the $98.5 million spent by all super PACs this year. The eighth-richest person in the world worth $25 billion, Adelson said,  “I’m against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections. But as long as it’s doable I’m going to do it.” He has a lot to gain: for almost 20 years, he’s lobbied to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and Gingrich promised to do so on his first day as president.

It’s hard to beat Gingrich’s wacky statements. He said that unemployment insurance violates the Declaration of Independence’s “commitment that we have the right to pursue the right to pursue happiness.” Gingrich would solve this by enrolling all people seeking employment in a “business-led training program.” Never mind that the Declaration has no legal weight and that the unemployed and their former employers already paid into these benefits that people are to receive.

Even better, however, is Gingrich’s solution for finding undocumented workers. After ridiculing the federal government for not locating them when UPS and FedEx “track 24 million packages a day,” he recommends the following: “We send a package to everyone who’s here illegally and when it’s delivered, we pull it up in a computer, we know where they are.” He’s skipped just one important fact: UPS and FedEx need to know people’s addresses before they can deliver packages.

Gingrich tries to control the media about complaining about their mean-spirited attitude. To protect himself, he has said, “Politics has become a really nasty, vicious, negative business, and I think it’s disgusting and I think it’s dishonest.” He has conveniently forgotten his rise to power almost 20 years ago when he urged Republican candidates to win by calling their opponents “sick,” “traitors,” “bizarre,” “corrupt,” and “pathetic.”

Fox is still valiantly defending Gingrich despite his peccadilloes. One of the network’s regulars, a so-called psychiatrist named Keith Ablow, describes Gingrich as so charismatic that three women wanted to spend the rest of their lives with him, two of them felt this way although he was married, and “one of them felt this way even though Mr. Gingrich was already married for the second time, was not exactly her equal in the looks department and had a wife [Marianne] who wanted to make his life without her as painful as possible.” Ablow suggested that with that power, people will be clamoring for a third Gingrich term and that Gingrich’s way of telling his wives the “incredibly painful truths” that he no longer loved them and was leaving them for other women could mean that he would be equally, brutally direct with America about whatever issues he had with the entire country. Ablow gives the term “spin” an entirely new dimension!

Romney suffers from criticisms about his fiscal affairs: he gave his kids $100 million without any taxes on either end; he stuffed some of his money off-shore in the Cayman Islands and Switzerland; and he profited from the Florida foreclosures—while at the same time he recommended that nothing should be done to stop them. His tax returns for just two years indicate that he makes as much money every day, seven days a week, as a middle-class taxpayer does in an entire year. And his suggested tax program would return more of that money to him than the less than 14-percent tax rate he has now.

Gingrich, Romney, and Santorum do have one thing in common: they want to base our nation’s laws on Christianity. These are some questions that I would ask at the debate:

For Rick Santorum: Because you denounced John Kennedy’s 1960 statement about the importance of separating church and state, would you carry out the Catholic bishops’ positions on abortion, contraception, and gay rights? If your answer is yes, would you then follow their positions on social justice in their opposition to war and capital punishment while believing in universal health care and caring for the poor?

For Newt Gingrich: Because you’re greatly concerned about Sharia law, would you oppose Catholic canon law too? Or would you believe that following Catholic law means that you should allow Muslims to follow their own religious law? Can you think of one example in which Muslims imposed Sharia law on non-Muslims in the United State sin the same way that Catholics impose their law on non-Catholics?

For Mitt Romney: Because Mormon scripture supports the superiority of white people, can you guarantee the enforcement of civil rights law, even for women and LGBT people?

These are just a few problems for these candidates. There’s much more to say about the onerous policies that these candidates would effect if they were elected.

February 3, 2012

Siegel Represents the 1 Percent

Newt Gingrich has a number of loyal supporters, including the ostentatious David Siegel. People may not recognize his name, but they will recall his 90,000-square-foot unfinished house in Florida that he’s still trying to sell for $75 million. When I wrote about him a few months ago, a computer search lacked anything current about him. Siegel, however, has reappeared in the limelight, this time with a lawsuit.

When filmmaker Lauren Greenfield obtained Siegel’s permission to make a documentary about the opulent home patterned after Versailles, home of French kings,  the year was 2007, and Siegel thought he could afford to build his palace. By 2008 the recession stopped the building but not the film, The Queen of Versailles, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last month. Siegel’s suffering company, Westgate, has a time-share resort in Park City (UT) where Sundance films are shown.

Sundance’s promotion described the collapse of Siegel’s time-share empire and the foreclosure on his mansion. Siegel took umbrage to this and the description of his “rags-to-riches-to-rags story,” claiming that this publicity is hurting his company’s business. Sundance changed the description but kept the offending phrase. Meanwhile the original description is still wandering the Internet. Not satisfied, Siegel tried to keep Sundance from showing the film.

His next approach was to file a lawsuit that alleges, “As a result of the defamatory statements, Siegel and Westgate have been injured in their good name, credit and reputation, have been shunned by customers and the business community, specifically the Park City area, with whom they previously had business relations and have suffered a loss of customers and diminished profits.” The solution, according to the lawsuit, is a sum in excess of $75,000 in damages from Sundance, Greenfield, and her husband-filmmaker, Frank Evers, as well as court costs.

“It’s just one more effort to ridicule and humiliate the 1 percent,” said the 76-year-old business owner. “They made it look like my company is in ruins, that I live in a pigsty, that my wife is a gold-digging blonde bimbo, that she’s overendowed, that she’s a shopaholic.” Then he backtracked a bit. “Some of that might be true but it’s not the way they presented it. She’s a shopaholic, but what woman isn’t.”

Siegel is also hostile about the filmmakers’ omission of his political and charitable activities. He takes pride in having had the Rev. Jerry Falwell in his home and describes himself as a “political kingmaker” who was “personally responsible for getting George W. Bush elected president.”

The Newsweek column (2/6/12) about Siegel and his lawsuit is available on the net complete with a photo of the house, but this source is missing the statistics, such as 23 bathrooms, and the lovely photo of David and Jacqueline Siegel. Those images are well-worth seeking out the original.

David Siegel has made himself an icon of the income inequality, the “class warfare” which Republicans contend is tearing the country apart. He wishes to build a 90,000-square-foot house while 1.5 million people are homeless and another 15.8 million are paying over 50 percent of their income toward house, making them eligible for tenant-based housing subsidies. Only one in nine, however, receive this benefit. In 2010, 17.2 million households in the United States, approximately 1 out of 7 in this country, were “food insecure” (a polite term for hungry), the highest number ever recorded in theUnited States. That was a year ago; the number increased in the last 12 months.

Food stamp use rose 70 percent over the past four years with the trend expected to continue. With the overwhelming layoffs and house foreclosures in late 2008 and early 2009, the number of people needing money for groceries went from 27 million people to 46 million, the number receiving food stamps six months ago. This assistance gives people about $2 per meal. Meanwhile the cost of living increased 3.6 percent while wages stayed stagnant—if people had wages.

The Gallup organization released information last October that American workers are now three times more likely than Chinese workers to be unable to feed their families. In the United States, 19 percent of Americans worried about being able to feed themselves or their families, compared to only 6 percent of Chinese. In this country almost one in four children go to bed hungry every night.

With his desire to build the biggest house in the nation and his lawsuit from feeling insulted, David Siegel is a symbol of the wealthy conservatives who believe that the people without homes, the ones who can’t feed their kids, just aren’t working hard enough. He supports Newt Gingrich for president, the man who said, “I repudiate, and I call on the President to repudiate, the concept of the 99 and the 1. It is un-American, it is divisive, it is historically false…You are not going to get job creation when you engage in class warfare because you have to attack the very people you hope will create jobs.”

Fact: The U.S. is number 1 in the world in terms of income inequality.

January 29, 2012

Today’s Conservatives Would Reject Reagan, Founding Fathers

As the conservatives move farther and farther to the right, more and more venerated people of our history would have no chance of getting elected. Pundits like to talk about how Ronald Reagan wouldn’t be good enough for today’s conservative—although his name is tossed around to prove some points that candidates make. Even the early leaders of the United States would be considered far too liberal to make the cut, especially in their religious beliefs.

Unlike all the candidates who claimed to be chosen by the Christian God to represent the people—Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum come to mind—George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Thomas Paine thought of their faith as a private matter and lacked a “pure” enough faith to satisfy current conservatives.

George Washington, an Anglican, followed the philosophy of Deism, believing in a god that set things in motion and then stayed out of the effects. As such, this god was a “supreme architect” of the universe. Widely tolerant of other religions, Washington wrote a letter to Touro Synagogue (1790) promising the Jews that they would enjoy complete religious liberty in America and described a multi-faith society with freedom for all beliefs. “For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.” Such stories about his praying in theValley Forge snow are myths created after he died.

John Adams, a Unitarian raised as a Congregationalist, refused to believe in the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus. His writings show that he found parts of Christian dogma to be incomprehensible. In his diary he wrote, “Thus mystery [Trinity] is made a convenient cover for absurdity.” When President Adams signed the famous Treaty of Tripoli, it stated, “[T]he government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion….”

Thomas Jefferson once said, “I am a sect by myself, as far as I know.” He did not believe in the Trinity, the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus, the resurrection, original sin, and other core Christian doctrines, once saying to Adams, “And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.” Admiring Jesus as a moral teacher, he edited the New Testament, eliminating the stories of miracles and divinity and leaving behind a very human Jesus, whose teachings Jefferson found “sublime.” Jefferson refused to issue proclamations calling for days of prayer and fasting, saying that such religious duties were no part of the chief executive’s job.

James Madison, nominally Anglican, was probably a Deist like Washington. The strictest church-state separationist among the founders, he opposed government-paid chaplains in Congress and in the military. He also opposed government-issued prayer proclamations, declaring them unconstitutional.

Thomas Paine, also a radical Deist, infuriated fundamentalists with “The Age of Reason” in which he  opposed institutionalized religion and all of the major tenets of Christianity, rejecting prophecies and miracles while calling on readers to embrace reason. The Bible, Paine asserted, can in no way be infallible. He called the god of the Old Testament “wicked” and the entire Bible “the pretended word of God.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously declared that religious groups should be able to choose their leaders without governmental interference. In doing so, it rejected arguments by the Obama administration that government regulations trump the free exercise of religion when denying people civil rights.

Surprisingly, no justice mentioned the obvious tension between this decision and the 2010 case Christian Legal Society v.Martinez. In the latter, justices held 5-4 that a public university could refuse to recognize a Christian organization because the group wished to practice discrimination in its members.

Which of the Republican religious leaders will win this year in their desire to impose their “Christian” beliefs on the nation? In my crystal ball, I think that Santorum won’t last  more than a month, and the Republican establishment will help Romney rise over Gingrich–despite Herman Cain’s and Sarah Palin’s endorsements of the latter.

Stay tuned this week for the Florida and Nevada primaries (1/31 and 2/4 respectively unless Nevada decides to make another change). I’ll be away from the computer for that time but be back in a week.

 

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