“Every generation needs a new revolution.”
-Thomas Jefferson

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
-Martin Luther King Jr.

Staceyann Chin, National Equality March 10/10/09 photo: Ed Needham

Monday, March 29, 2010

Carnage Along the Path: the Rise and Fall of the Tea Party/Palin/Christianist Movement and the Violence in its Wake.

The socio-political monster that is the Tea Party/Sarah Palin/Christianist movement must first rise for it to be slain. The result will be a more vibrant, constructive and civil political environment. But at what cost? If the last two weeks are a precursor of what is to come, it won't be pretty.

In February of this year we argued that the rise of Sarah Palin as a political figure in the U.S. would, ultimately, be good for the GOP, the Dems and America as a whole. [Read the article here.] Briefly, we believe Palin (and with her the Tea Partiers and Christianists) have placed the GOP in a position where it is splitting along ideological lines. The rift has been visible just beneath the surface since Sen. Barry Goldwater's (R-AZ) 1964 Presidential Campaign. The 1980's saw Ronald Reagan's hired gun, Lee Atwater, mobilize the "Christian Conservative" movement into a powerful base of the Republican Party. Atwater's protoge, Karl Rove, did the same for Pres. George W. Bush. In the meantime, the conservative-right has moved from being a reliable and effective grassroots supporter of the GOP to outright challengers to the leadership of the party. When John McCain ushered Sarah Palin onto the national political scene eighteen months ago, she captured the imagination of the far right as no one else in the past decade. Which was just what McCain had hoped she would do for his lackluster campaign. What he hadn't fully taken into account was the push-back from the moderates of the GOP and independent voters. In the end, Obama won the election with most of the independent vote as well as a modest, yet notable, percentage of moderate Republicans.

Jump ahead to 2010 and the Tea Party movement. The midterm elections are around the corner and the Charlie Crist/Marc Rubio Senate campaign in Florida shows what we can expect from the GOP. A big, vocal, ugly split. Charismatic young Rubio has the Tea Partiers/Palin folks sewn up. Gov. Crist has the support of the GOP establishment and the moderates along with some independents. This results of this race, the other primaries and the midterm general elections will be a precursor to what the next Presidential election in 2012 looks like.

It is most likely the Democrats will lose seats but keep the majority in both houses of Congress in 2010. The Tea Party/Palin/Christianists (TPPC) and the moderates will both claim some victories and suffer some defeats. As a result, the direction of the GOP will not be decided in the mid-terms and the struggle for dominance will boil over into the 2012 elections, culminating most visibly in the 2012 Republican National Convention.

This will do one or both of two things. The GOP traditionalists will win out and reestablish the party's fiscally conservative/socially moderate roots while reaching out to independents as the party with the "big tent." This could also mean the rise of a third party political force made up of the purged and disgruntled TPPC. Or, less likely, the vocal right wing of the GOP, bolstered by wins in the mid-terms and meeting with tepid or ineffective resistance from Republican leadership, will gain control of the party, perhaps even with Ms. Palin at the top of the ticket. Here, again, the possibility of the third party emerges with a candidate along the lines of Christine Todd Whitman, Colin Powell or Bill Weld.

How is this good? Because a healthy political system partially depends on a vibrant opposition. Look at the healthcare debate as a case in point. The GOP is still in a shambles following the 2010 election. The was very little constructive debate and negotiation between parties. With little exception, the GOP offered no proposals of their own and only a few Republican members became part of the process and suffered backlash for doing so. As a result, they are heading into the election cycle having to overcome their image as obstructionists. A robust GOP would have had plenty of political cover and wherewithall to develop and negotiate its own healthcare policy measures and temper those democrat proposals they deemed excessive. The Democrats, meanwhile, facing only the strategy of "No" were not put into a position where they had to unite, focus and fight for a cohesive policy. Instead, they split into factions and fought amongst each other, House against Senate, with the President staying above the fray without employing leadership to the cause of either faction. The result? A watered-down, middle of the road health care bill that, while making some significant headway, fell far below the expectations of just over a year ago when the new government was swept in with huge margins under a now less prescient banner of "Hope" and "Change."

Ultimately, the GOP is already heading into an identity crisis and the TPPC are accelerating that process. That is a good thing. The sooner the Dems have an opposition that relies more on constructive ideas, accountability and mutual respect than fear, misinformation and obstruction, the better.

The more timely question, given the events of the past two weeks, is what will be the cost of this process. While often characterized as such by the left, the TPPC's are neither wholly insane or racist (though arguably some of the former and much of the latter may be found). What may be said of those in the movement as a whole is that they share significant frustration, are motivated by deep-seated beliefs and are nearly entirely misinformed. This is not just a matter of believing false or misleading information from talk radio, the internet, Fox News or one another. It is also a matter of gravitating towards and accepting as legitimate information and ideas that reflect deep seated beliefs, fears and prejudices.  This phenomena, known as cultural cognition, makes beliefs specifically and perspective of reality in general impervious to fact or reason. Topical examples abound. Climate change, for instance, is accepted as fact by nearly every element of the scientific community. Yet, there are those who wholeheartedly believe otherwise. The so-called "Birthers" believe Barak Obama is not a U.S. citizen. There are those who believe homosexuality is a choice made by the individual rather than the natural development of an individual's biology as shown in every major study on the issue.  And there are those, as we covered in previous articles, who would claim America was founded as and intended to be a uniquely "Christian nation" despite the overwhelming contradiction of the U.S. historian community. In each of these instances, there are two clear factors. The belief in question is met with an irrefutable body of evidence to the contrary while it simultaneously reflects the cultural beliefs and perspective of the individual.

Cultural Cognition on display at McCain/Pain '08 rally.

Tea Party Convention, 2/10, Sarah Palin, Orly Taitz, and interviews with participants.

This is where things start to get sticky. Once one removes reason from the situation, you are essentially left with crowd control. Trying to limit the damage made by those who see themselves as leading a modern revolution. The crowd control around the Capitol earlier this month was not enough to restrain Tea Party protesters from shouting obscene language, racial and sexual slurs, and even spitting on a Member of Congress. This while other Members like Michelle Bachman stood on a Capitol balcony cheering and rallying for the protesters.

Rep. Bachman (R-MN) and fellow GOP members cheer on Tea Party health care protest.

Examples of racism at Tea Party demonstrations.

Politicians and political figures have taken to fanning the flames of the TPPC crowd to further their own political objectives. Witness the Sarah Palin poster of her "targeted" politicians, each with a gun sight symbol while encouraging her supporters to "reload." As the fears and prejudices of the TPPC are being exploited we hear of a brick through the window of Rep. Louise Slaughter's office in upstate New York. A coffin placed in front of Rep. Russ Carnahan's home in Missouri. A gas line cut at the home of the brother of Rep. Tom Periello in Virginia after the his home address was mistakingly posted as the Congressman's by Tea Party activists who encouraged others to "stop by." Earlier in the year we saw a man attack guards at the Pentagon and another fly a plane into an IRS building. Just today, nine men from a Michigan-based, Christianist Militia have been arrested and charged with planning to kill a police officer and bomb the funeral procession in an effort to spark a national uprising against the U.S. Government.

What does it take to get a highly motivated individual to move from the threat of violence to carrying out an act of violence? Seemingly, too little. And we are likely to have ample instances to inform an answer as long as there are those who continue to encourage such behavior directly or indirectly.

It will be a while before the TPPC begins to fade as it has yet to reach its apex. In the meantime, politicians and public figures who do not publicly and vociferously condemn the violence and threat of violence and, instead, fan the flames of this jingoistic, racist and fear-based anger do so at their peril. And our peril, as well.

For more on Tea Party rage, see Frank Rich opinion piece in NYT 3/27 here.
To learn more about "cultural cognition" go here.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Why We Love Jim Wallis and Pray for Glenn Beck.

Have you been following this? We have.

We nearly had a collective coronary at The Deal last week when l'enfant terrible, Glenn Beck, announced that "social justice" was a "perversion of the bible" and a "code word" for communism and nazism. We scoured the Book of Mormon for corroborating testimony, and while we found some crazy stuff, we found nothing THAT crazy.

Really, next to "love" or "compassion," what truly captures the essence of the gospels like "social justice"? Was not Jesus, arguably, the most significant social justice activist in history? Seriously, what IS this guy smoking?

As usual, our friend Jim Wallis, responds beautifully in his column for the Huffington Post:

"Dear Glenn,

Since I challenged your claim that "social justice" was a code word for Communism and Nazism, and your calling on Christians to leave their churches if their pastors preach social justice, you have begun to modify what you are saying -- and I appreciate that. You said social justice was a "perversion of the gospel," and I countered that to assert that, instead, it is at the heart of the gospel and part of the core meaning of biblical faith. And the church authorities you wanted Christians to turn their pastors in to would all agree that social, economic, and racial justice are integral to the message of Jesus.

But now you've moved from labeling social justice as Communist or Fascist to saying that it only means "big government" and that it violates the separation of church and state. Then you said that some Christians mean Marxism by that term and some do not. Finally, you said that if social justice means "empowering" people to act individually, then that might be okay. Well, that's progress, but there's still some need for conversation here. Christians can have different views of the role of government but still agree that social justice is crucial. Very few who believe that are Marxists. And while we all preach empowerment to live out the gospel, we don't think the meaning of social justice should be reduced to just private charity. Biblical justice also involves changing structures, institutions, systems, and policies, as well as changing hearts to be more generous. So there is still a lot to talk about here.

I am glad to see you are beginning to recognize the deep richness of the term "social justice." I and my organization, Sojourners, have committed 35 years to exploring this and to working with Christians across the spectrum to deepen their commitment to this essential, biblical concept. Now that you're willing to admit that social justice is more than just a code word, we have a wonderful opportunity for the two of us to sit down together and have an open and public discussion on what social justice really means and how Christians are called to engage in the struggle for justice.

Why don't we do that, on your show, or in some other venue? And let's make this a civil dialogue and not engage in personal attacks on each other -- which is never helpful in trying to sort out what is true. So let's talk about the heart of the matter. When would you like to get together for this conversation?

Jim Wallis"

We at The Deal cannot wait! C'mon, Mr. Beck, bite.

Read the article in it's original at the Huffpost here.

RIP, Alex Chilton, 12/28/1950 – 3/17/2010

A modern day troubadour with the fortitude and wisdom to forge his own path when slightly astray could have meant trappings of fame and fortune.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Charles Moore, Photographer Of The Civil Rights Movement, Dies At 79

Charles Moore passed away last week, but he leaves behind a body of work that pushed, poked, and prodded the civil rights movement of the late 1950's and 60's. The struggle's forward movement was not coming from a broadening enlightenment of the masses as much as it was coming from the relentless aggressive attention of Americans who could no longer sit still. Instead, they marched in the streets, registered voters, boycotted shops and public transit, prayed, sang, and faced violence with faith and compassion.

Moore captured scenes now indelibly etched in our psyche. The one above shows an arrested Marin Luther King Jr, thrown over a Montgomery, Alabama police station counter while his wife looks on in 1958. His images appear in our school textbooks and hang on the walls of our greatest museums. They are simultaneously works of fine art and the epitome of photojournalism.

When we now look back on these photos, like this one of a water cannon attack on demonstrators in 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, we cannot but think how it took so long to do what was so clearly right and just. Do you suppose there may come a day when we might look back on the current civil rights struggles around sexual orientation and think the same? Which side of history will you be on?

From a recent NPR piece by Claire O'Neill

"There are common names associated with the civil rights movement, like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. And there are lesser-known names like Charles Moore. His photos, which often appeared in Life magazine in the 1960s, are the ones that put faces to a movement for most Americans. He died last week at age 79.

Charles Moore had been in the military, he'd been a boxer, but, as he said in a 2005 documentary, his weapon of choice in the 1960s had a flash and a shutter. "I don't wanna fight with my fists," he said. "I wanna fight with my camera.'"

article cont'd with a Moore slideshow here.
listen to the NPR report here.

A great short documentary below:

Charles Moore is the legendary Montgomery photojournalist whose coverage of the Civil Rights era produced some of the most famous shots in the world (the dogs and fire hoses in Birmingham, the Selma Bridge, and Martin Luther King’s arrest in Montgomery, among many others.) His photographs are credited with helping to quicken the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The noted historian, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. said that Moore’s photographs transformed the national mood and made the legislation not just necessary, but possible. This is his story.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Deal is a Month Old!!

Thank you to all our readers, especially those who have been sharing and reposting our articles. We have grown from a few to thousands of hits from more than twenty countries solely from your interest (and a little social media). Keep coming back and let us know if you'd like to get in on the deal by reporting news and writing commentary.

Dear God, What's the Deal with Texas? Part 2: McCarthy=Good, Jefferson=Bad (we are totally NOT kidding)

On Friday, the Texas State Board of Education approved standards for a new social studies curriculum that will alter what is taught in Texas schools. As the largest single consumer of textbooks in the U.S., these changes are expected to be reflected in classrooms across the country.

As we reported last month in Part 1 of our story, the majority of the 100+ amendments represent a well publicized and long-standing effort to recast public school curricula to include a neoconservative, Christianist perspective held by the majority voting bloc of the board. These board members see their changes as necessary to rectify a liberal stronghold on public education. From Friday's New York Times article by James C. McKinley Jr: “We are adding balance,” said Dr. Don McLeroy, the leader of the conservative faction on the board, after the vote. “History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.”

The neocon-dominated board chose not to have any subject matter experts appear to evidence or opinion.  Members of the liberal academic intelligentsia, as they are viewed by the majority, were neither needed nor welcome in the process. In fact, they are regarded specifically as the "opposition." During the board's previous successful effort to change the subject of evolution to include it's weaknesses as a theory, Dr. McLeroy offered his now well-publicized quote, "Somebody's got to stand up to the experts." You can witness that little gem yourself here:

Here are some of the changes McLeroy and his ilk have made to what children will be learning in schools:
  • The study of “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association,” in a positive light without opposing, liberal perspectives.
  • Less criticism of the infamous Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his communist witch-hunt, showing how his views were partially vindicated in later years. 
  • Removal of Thomas Jefferson's role in the Enlightenment Movement and it's role in spurring revolutions in France and other countries. (Jefferson's views on separation of church and state, pure fiction to the conservatives, makes him persona non grata.)
  • Alongside studies of Abraham Lincoln, student will learn about President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis with more equal stature.
  • On the topic of civil rights, student will study the "violent philosophy of the Black Panthers in addition to the nonviolent approach of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." References to Justice Thurgood Marshall as the first black United States Supreme Court Justice have been removed altogether.
  • In economics, the term "capitalism" will be replaced with "free-enterprise system" because of the stigma they fear is carried by the term. “Let’s face it, capitalism does have a negative connotation,” said one conservative member, Terri Leo. “You know, ‘capitalist pig!’ ” 
  • In sociology, students will learn about responsibility for their own choices when it comes to dating violence, sexuality and eating disorders.
  • U.S. History classes will call into question the "separation of church and state." "I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state,” said David Bradley, a conservative from Beaumont who works in real estate. “I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.” [The religious anti-establishment in the First Amendment and the religious test clause in the Sixth Amendment. You can make the check out to Planned Parenthood of Texas, Mr. Bradley. Thank you.]
The standards will now be published for review by Texans and come up for final vote by the board this spring. If history is any indicator, little if any changes will be made.

Dr. McLeroy recently lost his bid for re-election and is serving out the rest of his term this year. There are no signs the majority voting bloc will be unseated, however, and even if they were, these standards, if passed, will remain in place for the next ten years.

After her own amendment to require studying the reasons behind the founding fathers' idea of separation of church and state was defeated, Mavis Knight, a democrat from Dallas and member of the minority, commented, “[t]he social conservatives have perverted accurate history to fulfill their own agenda.”

We agree, Ms. Knight, we agree.

Below, a short, recent ABC Nightline report:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What a Difference a Day Makes (in DC for Same Sex Marriage, Charity Employee Benefits, and the Catholic Church)

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

On Wednesday, March 3rd, loving couples in DC will be able to be married regardless of their genitalia. As a result, DC employees of Catholic Charities learned that spouses will no longer be covered by the company's new health plan.

Let's break this down, shall we?
  1. As- decent Americans are coming to realize that marriage may have more to do with mutual respect, partnership, commitment, responsibility and love and less to do with which public restroom one uses,
  2. Therefor- charity employees working for peanuts to help those in DC with the greatest needs and scarcest resources stay fed, clothed and housed will not be able to provide health care for their own spouses,
  3. Because- the church that holds the purse-strings has decided it is better to blaspheme the very essence of Christianity, to love thy neighbor, to do unto others as you would have done unto you, - in order to adhere the public to some man-made decree about sexuality while they have been 'doing unto' little boys in darkened vestries for centuries on a global basis.
That is pretty much the deal, isn't it?

It isn't the deal with World Vision. Who? World Vision, as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof points out in his recent NYT piece, is "the largest U.S.-based international relief and development organization" with "40,000 staff members in nearly 100 countries." They are also a "Christian organization (with strong evangelical roots) whose budget has roughly tripled over the last decade."

World Vision marches to the beat of a different (dare I say, decidedly Christian) drummer. At present, the man with the drum is Richard Stearns, head of World Vision in the US. Mr. Stearn, also an author, "begins his fascinating book, “The Hole in Our Gospel,” with an account of a visit a decade ago to Uganda, where he met a 13-year-old AIDS orphan who was raising his younger brothers by himself." In his book, he observes "What sickened me most was this question: where was the Church?” he writes. “Where were the followers of Jesus Christ in the midst of perhaps the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time? Surely the Church should have been caring for these ‘orphans and widows in their distress.’ (James 1:27). Shouldn’t the pulpits across America have flamed with exhortations to rush to the front lines of compassion?"

What World Vision doesn't do is convert. It is strictly forbidden in it's bylaws. If they awaken any awareness of grace in those they comfort and care for, it is by power of example alone. Now there's a concept.

Kristof goes on to observe "Mr. Stearns argues that evangelicals were often so focused on sexual morality and a personal relationship with God that they ignored the needy" and that "[i]n one striking passage, Mr. Stearns quotes the prophet Ezekiel as saying that the great sin of the people of Sodom wasn’t so much that they were promiscuous or gay as that they were “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49.) "[A]rrogant, overfed and unconcerned [?]" Jerry Falwell must be turning over in his grave.

Yes, the Catholic Church would do well to take a few pages from World Vision's playbook. But lets not hold our breath. Entrenched doesn't even begin to describe the unwillingness of the Vatican to open their eyes to the world around them or open their hearts to the meaning of Christ. Even the most optimistic of Vatican III proponents would roll their eyes with a "Ne, Deo, Ne."

The hard truth to all this is the Catholic Church and Christianists the likes of Pat Robertson and Rick Warren make it real easy for many of us to turn our backs on faith altogether. Kristof points out "[t]he American view of evangelicals is still shaped by preening television blowhards and hypocrites who seem obsessed with gays and fetuses. One study cited in the book found that even among churchgoers ages 16 to 29, the descriptions most associated with Christianity were “antihomosexual,” “judgmental,” “too involved in politics,” and “hypocritical.” Given the above, is it really any wonder the words of Hitchens and Dawkins resonate so resoundingly these days?

Amidst all this hullabaloo, however, World Vision quietly carries out God's work on Earth and churches across the country equate being "open, welcoming and affirming" regardless of sexual orientation to following in the footsteps of Christ. These stories, unfortunately, are far more rarely shared than the titillating obscenities of hypocrites hiding behind crosses that make the headlines as they have in DC.

Kristof, no starry-eyed dreamer himself, concludes wondering "[i]f secular liberals can give up some of their snootiness, and if evangelicals can retire some of their sanctimony, then we all might succeed together in making greater progress against common enemies of humanity, like illiteracy, human trafficking and maternal mortality."

Agreed. And maybe, just maybe, in the process, experience a hint of grace, a moment of selflessly doing what is right and good. And Christian. That would be good, too.

Read the full piece by Nicholas Kristof in the NYT here.

Dear Mr. Cuomo, A Sure Thing was a romantic coming-of-age movie.

(ie. there is no such thing as a sure thing in politics. Just ask President Hillary Clinton.)

Governor Paterson's debacle of the past couple weeks has stirred things up in the New York State political scene. To say the least. Especially over the past couple years, Empire State politics have been something akin to a professional wrestling match - lots of well rehearsed moves, unbelievable falls, and over-the-top grandstanding.

It has gotten to the point where I can't look at Gov. Paterson without thinking of Fred Armisen's cutting portrayal on SNL. The Governor has become a caricature of himself. Calls for his resignation are coming from all corners- from GOPers all too eager to score some political points, from Dems seeking to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the Gov., and today, from the National Organization for Women. The question last week was "will he drop out of the campaign?" This week it went from "will he resign?" to "when will he resign?" in a matter of 24 hours. It is no stretch to surmise the Patterson Administration is all but over. From here on out, it is only a matter of some more juicy headlines and a solidified date of departure.

All eyes are now on NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, son of three term Governor, Mario Cuomo. The press and the nearly every pol and pundit have all but anointed him as the next Governor of New York (save for Lt. Gov. Richard "Dick" Ravitch, next in line to finish out the term following a Paterson resignation). Unlike David Paterson, Andrew Cuomo inherited much of his father's political savvy. He is currently mum on the subject of the Gubernatorial race. And for good reason.

As NY Attorney General, Cuomo is presently involved in two high profile investigations - Paterson's Aide-gate and, less known outside of NY, an investigation involving NY Senate Majority Leader, Pedro Espada, Jr.  These investigations could be potential mine-fields, especially Paterson's. The fact that the Governor hasn't resigned yet likely means he is holding onto the seat as a potential bargaining chip given the results of the investigation. It will be a precariously fine line Cuomo must walk. He will need to satisfy the calls for justice while keeping a semblance of impartiality. A tall order when you are considered the default successor.

If Cuomo emerges sufficiently unscathed, it will then be his race to lose. And in politics, everyone loves the underdog. Fortunately for Cuomo, the "underdog" is GOP bad boy, Rick Lazio. A figure who doesn't draw much sympathy from tough New York voters.

Last but not least, the election for Governor isn't until November. Centuries in political time. Cuomo surely knows that anything can happen between now and then and usually does. If his current demeanor and reticence to engage Lazio and the issues around the election are a precursor to how he handles the situation between now and November 2, he should be able to pull it off. He undoubtedly knows it will be a long road to hoe because there is no such thing as a "a sure thing" in politics. Just ask President Hillary Clinton.

Read more about Cuomo's Albany entanglements in the NY Daily News here.
Read about the nails in the coffin of the Paterson Administration in the NY Times here.
Read about the very fine line Cuomo must walk in NY Magazine here.