Innocence Lost: The Path From Purity To Pragmatism

The attainment of morality is an elusive construct. Attempting to define the morality of a society is even more complex. Often, the combatants seeking to instill morality believe, with certainty, that the end justifies the means. In truth, cohesion often requires the concession of purity.

Commentary By: Daniel DiRito


Many Americans like to look at Europe as an example of the moral decay we can expect if we continue to alter our values and ignore our long standing Christian principles. Implicit in this belief, amongst many on the religious right, is the presumption that one’s morality is directly correlated with one’s sexuality…and that goes beyond any consideration of one’s orientation. It also includes a belief that sexual activity is only acceptable under the umbrella of a marriage. That means that sex before marriage is unacceptable and it also infers that both parties are expected to be virgins.

Along with these sexual mores and our disdain for Europe is a growing belief that Islam is an unacceptable religion…or at the very least a religion that will not lead to salvation and therefore it cannot lead to one’s admittance into heaven. Fortunately, life often provides the contrasts and comparisons necessary to illuminate the absurdity and/or hypocrisy of our beliefs…and our predisposition to judge others while ignoring the need for self-examination.

An article in The New York Times provides the backdrop for some measure of reflection…and an illumination of the slippery slope that moral certainty often becomes. The prevalence of Islamic immigrants in Europe has served to pit a strict religious ideology against a far more secular society…and that has led to some rather convoluted interpretations of propriety.

It seems that a number of the Islamic women (note that we don’t focus on the Islamic men) who have partaken in the sexual freedoms afforded by European culture now find themselves in the unenviable position of being unacceptable marriage partners. Islamic teaching require that a bride be a virgin, and should that not be the case, she can be rejected and the marriage can be nullified

Friday, August 5th, 2011 by Daniel DiRito |

Deciphering What Is Written On The Bathroom Stall

Clearly, there has been an inordinate historical focus upon the pursuit and punishment of those engaged in same sex encounters’¦likely a derivative of established social norms and values. Over time, it also appears that there has been a growing awareness that programs to limit public sexual activity need to evolve and to begin incorporating methods that seek to extinguish the behavior as opposed to criminalizing it.

Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

As the blogosphere has sought to digest the meaning of the Larry Craig incident, it has begun to spur a worthwhile debate‘¦one which has been ignored and has lurked in the background in ways eerily similar to the behavior that led to the arrest of the Senator.

Generally speaking, the public is opposed to encountering unexpected or offensive behaviors in public environments’¦and that is a reasonable concern for those within government to address. Clearly, the opinions regarding which behaviors constitute a nuisance or create the conditions under which to charge an individual with a crime will vary from individual to individual’¦often dependent upon one’™s values, one’™s religious beliefs, ands one’™s propensity for tolerance. The fact that there are discordant beliefs simply complicates the task for those charged with monitoring such activities.

By and large, citizens believe that law enforcement departments are committed to treating each individual fairly and with the same level of respect for their civil liberties. At the same time, history tells us that this isn’™t always the case. Regardless, most citizens afford our law enforcement departments the benefit of the doubt’¦which is as it should be’¦but only to a point.

In writing about the Larry Craig situation, I broached the question of whether the targeting of men who have sex with men (I avoid using the term gay because studies indicate that many of the men who participate in these clandestine encounters are married and consider themselves to be heterosexual) receives a level of attention that is commensurate with that given to those who engage in opposite sex liaisons in public locations.

I have asked readers and colleagues to ponder the question and to cite any examples whereby tactics similar to those employed in the Senator’™s case are being utilized to charge those engaged in opposite sex public encounters. At the moment, I have not been provided with any such examples’¦though a few individuals have cited prostitution stings as examples. I have discounted such examples because they constitute a specific crime that is not at play in circumstances like that of Senator Craig’¦meaning that the individuals charged in men’™s restrooms are engaging in consensual sex without the exchange of money (by definition the exchange of money is an act of solicitation), which generally leads to charges of lewd behavior, indecent exposure, or disorderly conduct.

I don’™t want to devolve into a legalistic discussion though some basic understandings are required for this debate. Firstly, laws can and do vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction so one size doesn’™t fit all. Secondly, courts have offered a number of rulings on the subject though no definitive across the board position can actually be derived.

Relevant to this topic, the Senator’™s actions constituted disorderly conduct’¦despite what he may have intended to do. In essence, intention doesn’™t necessarily equate with the ability to convict on the lewd behavior charge. The fact that he plead to the lesser charge (disorderly conduct) is evidence of this reality. Further, in some of these cases, the accused have successfully argued that their actions in a closed door stall in a restroom facility cannot equate with disorderly conduct because their actions didn’™t actually take place in public. The argument is open to interpretation and it can progress into questions of a fundamental granting of constitutional privacy privileges.

With that said, one can see that the issue is more complex than one might expect. Notwithstanding, it is important to note that the issue isn’™t solely one of legality as it is reasonable to consider other factors’¦such as what the public can legitimately expect upon entering a public restroom. While I am personally opposed to using these restrooms for sexual liaisons, the issue requires a much more comprehensive analysis.

To introduce the other considerations, let me begin with a simple example that will hopefully illuminate my concerns. Suppose one conducted a survey whereby the objective was to gauge the public’™s reaction and response to witnessing an apparent sexual encounter in a public restroom. In the study, the respondents witness 50% of the situations involving same sex participants and the other 50% involving opposite sex participants. In both cases, the sex of the participants is obvious, as is the sexual nature of the activity.

The respondents are then confronted as they exit the restroom in order to gauge their reaction as well as what they believe to be the appropriate response from law enforcement. Each respondent is asked to explain what they believe they witnessed to insure that they properly identified the sex of the participants. Once that is determined, they are asked to respond to a multiple choice question outlining the action they believe should be taken.

The first answer is, ‘œWhile I don’™t think they should be doing this in a public restroom, I’™m not in favor of it being a crime.’ The second answer is, ‘œI think that they should be charged with a crime in the event that a law enforcement officer were to be summoned’. The final answer is, ‘œI think that law enforcement needs to establish a sting operation to target those who might intend to engage in such activity in order to catch and charge them’.

My own belief is that the responses would be skewed towards answer number one with regards to opposite sex participants and towards answer number three with regards to same sex participants. I say as much because it would likely reflect the beliefs held by most Americans’¦meaning that heterosexual sex is viewed to be more acceptable than homosexual sex. In fact, I would contend that many of the respondents would laugh off the heterosexual activity while many of those witnessing homosexual activity would be outraged.

Therefore, one must ask whether the existing law enforcement actions being conducted in situations similar to that in Minneapolis’¦which led to the arrest of the Senator’¦reflect a societal bias with regards to homosexuals. In the absence of similar operations aimed at heterosexual activity, it seems safe to conclude that the treatment is not equal’¦and is likely reflective of prejudice.

Let me offer an even simpler example to reinforce my argument. All things being equal, a kiss between same sex couples in public will elicit a negative reaction (a moral judgment)’¦while a heterosexual kiss may elicit no reaction or at worst a negative reaction that such behavior doesn’™t belong in public’¦but rarely a negative moral judgment.

If that same bias is being applied to the actions of law enforcement (and it seems difficult to assume otherwise), we have a problem with selective and unfair discrimination.

Let me share part of a discussion I’™ve been involved with on this very topic. The information is from an individual who works with this issue and the men who are being charged with these types of offenses. I am not including his name or the organization as a matter of privacy. While I don’™t agree with every point made, I think it provides some important insight into a perspective that is often omitted from discussions of this issue.

Ok. The agency I work for has worked on hundreds of these cases. We have won lawsuits on the matter so I am going to respond to this last post with a few items.

1. Undercover operations have 0 deterrent effect. There is no evidence that sting operations against gay men have a deterrent effect. In fact the opposite is true. When members of the public see uniformed police ‘“ THAT is a deterrent. It makes many people feel more safe and if you combine it with signs saying that illegal behavior will be prosecuted or that surveillance is occurring (it doesn’™t have to be occurring) then you could argue there is a deterrent goal by the facility. But hiding a police officer does not prevent crime all it does is A. catch criminals or B. invites entrapment by overzealous cops who are frustrated with cautious perpetrators that refuse to take the bait. This is the reality.

2. Charging people is the goal. Police are very politically motivated. Their jobs and their bosses jobs are very much designed around getting rid of undesirables including queers. These operations usually carry a higher charge like in the Craig case where he claimed he had to negotiate it down to a misdemeanor. Charging felonies is about getting queers on the sex offender registry, shaming them in public, or costing them so much money they won’™t dare fight the charge in court. We had a case of 770 arrests in 4 months. Almost all were innocent. 50 of the guys got in touch with (agency name omitted) and all were acquitted because the officer refused to show up for court, meaning that he would commit perjury about what he put in the police reports. There is a fine for the charge, a fine for the court fees, attorney fees and sometimes there is a ‘œnuisance abatement’ charge so they can take your car which costs hundred to get it back. This is thousands more if you go to court. I repeat. These charges do not deter men or else every cruisy area where there were arrests would see reductions. This is not the case.

3. Police mostly are not responding to public complaints. Police know about cruisy restrooms because of websites and a few public complaints. We have filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) after FOIA after FOIA and never once have we received a public complaint of public sex. If this is such a big problem, which justifies an undercover operation, there should be some documentation. Nada. In (state omitted), the State Police even called their operations ‘œBag a Fag’ operations and printed T-Shirts saying so. This is the sign of bias not serving and protecting. If there are really people observing public sex (which is rare because most of this activity is committed by guys that do not want to be seen or caught) then a uniformed cop walking in should be able to see the same thing right. Right. But they don’™t want to deter it or stumble across it, they want to invite it. They want it to happen. 9 times out of ten these men never get a warning and sent away. They invest so much money and time that they love charging on the first offense, charging high and publicizing the hell out of it.

4. I have trained over 1000 police, some as a condition of our lawsuit and nearly all of them believe that gay sex is so sick they would do anything to root it out. I have had cops say out loud in a training that they would watch two women go at it, send a str8 couple home and bust a gay couple. I have also had cops admit in these trainings that these operations are scams designed to make money and shame people. Some chiefs and some prosecutors won’™t honor them at all. In (state omitted) we have shut down many of these when high level chiefs have admitted that uniformed cops are an effective way of dealing with the ‘œproblem.’

I think this is invaluable information’¦information that gives the reader a first hand view of the realities confronted by those who have engaged in such activity and the obstacles they face’¦but it also provides insight into which methods may be effective in limiting or deterring these activities as well as exposing the possibility that the motivations of those who establish programs like the one found in Minneapolis may be biased and misguided.

It’™s difficult to argue in favor of a program that isn’™t effective’¦unless, of course, one is particularly prejudiced against those who are participating in the behavior. If the goal is to extinguish this activity, it appears that these sting operations are less than effective.

Rather than rely upon one source, I consulted a document prepared by the U.S. Department of Justice titled, ‘œIllicit Sexual Activity in Public Places’. The following excerpts are from this lengthy document and they reiterate and reinforce some of the concerns shared in the prior quotation.

There are widely different perspectives on public sexual activity. Some do not believe the behavior constitutes a public safety threat; some view the behavior as a ‘œvictimless crime’ involving two consenting partners; and some see the behavior as a threat to the community’™s ‘œmoral decency.’ ‘œImpersonal,’ ‘œcasual,’ and ‘œanonymous’ sexual behaviors have negative connotations to many people, as they stand in contrast to ideals of romantic love, monogamous relationships, and long-term commitments. Moral overtones pervade discussions of nudity and sexuality, particularly when they address same sex interactions. These judgments often underlie the public’™s concern. Community morals and beliefs about how the law should regulate morality will affect how each community addresses the problem. This guide does not adopt any particular moral perspective; it is intended to inform you about the effectiveness and consequences of various approaches to controlling public sexual activity.

Primarily, such activity constitutes nuisance behavior and does not pose a serious threat to community safety.

The responses to public sexual activity can be fraught with difficulty. Charges of harassment, entrapment, bias and discrimination against homosexuals have historically surrounded efforts to address public sexual activity between men. Therefore, it is vital that you objectively analyze the problem so that you develop fair and effective responses.

Certain patterns (e.g., opposite-sex coupling at a ‘œlovers’™ lane’) have not been studied empirically, while others (e.g., same-sex contact in public restrooms) have been studied much more extensively. It is important to note that engaging in same-sex activity does not necessarily imply a homosexual identity; in fact, many men who have sex with men in public places are married or otherwise heterosexually involved, and do not consider themselves to be gay.

When apprehended, many offenders may suffer substantial social repercussions, in addition to any criminal justice related consequences that may ensue. Threats to their marriages, friendships, jobs, reputations, and social standing often cause them to try to distract attention from their behaviors by showing exaggerated degrees of respectability, such as strong ties to the religious community or passionate condemnation of homosexuality. The larger the community’™s moral objections to public sexual activity mean that participants have much to lose if they are discovered.

Two things are immediately apparent. One, The Justice Department realizes that efforts to limit this type of activity have moral considerations’¦and that can lead to prejudicial judgments. Two, the fact that same-sex activity is the only activity that has been extensively studied supports my contention that little effort is expended to suppress similar heterosexual activity. It also suggests that a bias has existed for many years with regard to homosexual activity and it has often been targeted.

A lack of privacy may also be the reason for male sexual activity in public restrooms. In particular, men with heterosexual identities may want to conceal their behavior from significant others. Their heterosexual identities also deter them from using other, less-public venues such as gay bars or sex clubs. Some homosexual men also lack the freedom to pursue same-sex partners privately due to family or peer disapproval. A community’™s condemnation of homosexuality may drive the behavior to remote, although public, locations, particularly among those exploring their sexuality and not yet connected to the gay community.

Most researchers and practitioners agree that focusing solely on arresting those engaging in public sexual activity is unlikely to reduce the overall scope of the problem. In your response strategy, you should acknowledge that it will be difficult to affect people’™s motivations for engaging in the activity. A balanced approach combining enforcement strategies and those targeting environments that support the behavior is most likely to decrease the prevalence of the activity and the public’™s concern about it.

Used alone, enforcement efforts are likely to lead to displacement. Although not the most desirable outcome, there is evidence that when displacement does occur, the magnitude of the problem decreases with the move to a new location.

In addition, an exclusive focus on environments in which same-sex interactions occur can result in charges of bias and discrimination. Therefore, you must address the full range of public sexual activity and target particular locations based on objective, justifiable assessments of threats to public safety.

Again, the report confirms many of the same conclusions offered by the party quoted above and with whom I discussed the issue. I view the warnings in the last paragraph to be a tacit acknowledgment that there has been a focus upon same sex encounters. Note the use of the word objective’¦a

Friday, August 5th, 2011 by Richard Blair |

Value Voters Summit – An Eclectic Mix of Values, With “Obama Waffles”

What’s better than a gathering of 24%er’s at a conference which includes the conservative stylings of such “values” luminaries as Bill Bennett, Tom DeLay, Stephen Baldwin, Phyllis Schafly, Rudy Giuliani, and Newt Gingrich? Why, the conservative entrepreneurial spirt and the sale of Obama Waffles, of course!

Commentary By: Richard Blair

You are excused if you missed the memo, but the annual Values Voters Summit is taking place this weekend in Washington, DC. I’m not going to write extensively about the summit, because quite frankly, it’s little more than another gathering of angry 24%’ers who think that George Bush has been too liberal on “values issues”. If you really want a blow-by-blow rundown of the summit (no, Larry Craig was not invited, as far as I can tell), go here.

Still, it’s always kind of interesting to check out the list of speakers at these kinds of events. Here’s a short run down of some of the highlighted guests, who are lecturing America this weekend on how to behave:

William Bennett – noted gambler and addict
Tom Delay – noted crook and future felon
Newt Gingrich – noted adulterer
Rudy Giuliani – see Gingrich, above (and noted cross-dresser)
Stephen Baldwin – noted “D”-list actor and drug and alcohol addict
J. Kenneth Blackwell – noted voter suppressionist & minority disenfranchiser

Draw your own conclusions.

Anyway, a big hit at the VVS has been the sales of Obama Waffles. (No, I’m not going to link to their site – I assume you, unlike John McCain, know how to work the google.) This culinary delight was apparently selling like hotcakes (no pun intended) to the fundie crowd, until event organizers took heat for the vendor booth and shut it down on Saturday afternoon. Here’s what the box looks like. Check out the top and the sides, as well as the front:

Thursday, April 30th, 2009 by Richard Blair |

Taliban Advances in Pakistan

The ham-handed, post-9/11 foreign policy moves of the Bush administration have actually led the world much closer to the possibility nuclear terrorism. In the near term, President Obama is left with very few (if any) realistic options to deal with the deteriorating political situation in Pakistan.

Commentary By: Richard Blair

Taliban in PakistanIn the immediate aftermath of the events of 9/1//2001, the Bush administration made a strategic foreign policy blunder that is still reverberating with negative consequences: embracing the government of Pakistan, then controlled by military strongman Pervez Musharraf, as a full partner in the administration’s horribly misguided “global war on terror”.

The thing is, the Musharraf regime was never more than an unwilling accomplice to BushCo’s wet dreams of U.S. dominion in the Middle East. Terrorist training camps within Pakistan continued to operate unfettered even as U.S. forces stormed into neighboring Afghanistan. Operations conducted by Pakistan’s military have been mostly staged for “show” purposes, and have been only marginally effective. Since Musharraf’s resignation as President, extremist elements in the country have made significant inroads, up to and including the government acceding to Taliban demands earlier this year that Shari’a law be implemented in a major Pakistani province.

And now, it appears as if Taliban militias are within striking distance of toppling the Pakistani government. Militia forces have advanced to within mere miles of Islamabad:

Residents streaming from Buner, home to nearly a million people, told local newspapers that armed militants are patrolling the streets. Pakistani television stations aired footage of Taliban soldiers looting government offices and capturing vehicles belonging to aid organizations and development projects. The police, say residents, are nowhere to be seen…

…Maulana Fazlur Rehman, head of one of the country’s Islamic political parties, warned in Parliament Wednesday [that] the Margalla Hills, a small mountain range north of the capital that separates it from Buner, appears to be “the only hurdle in their march toward the federal capital,” The only solution, he said, was for the entire nation to accept Shari’a law in order to deprive the Taliban of their principal cause.

The Bush administration left office with the full knowledge that they were leaving behind a fetid, smoking pile of foreign policy manure. Without a doubt, the instability in nuclear armed Pakistan is fast becoming the number one priority for Team Obama.

It’s interesting that the handwringers on the right were so worried about extremist Islamic elements getting their hands on nuclear weaponry from Saddam in the aftermath of 9/11. Many of us on the left also harbored the same concerns – except that the geographic source of the concern was much different – Pakistan, a nation that already possessed the weapons of mass destruction.

The ham-handed, post-9/11 foreign policy moves of the Bush administration have actually led the world much closer to the possibility nuclear terrorism. In the near term, President Obama is left with very few (if any) realistic options to deal with the deteriorating political situation in Pakistan.

But deal with it, he must. And soon.

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009 by Richard Blair |

Rick Santorum Goes All “Crusades” Again

Rick Santorum is at it again, this time defending the anti-Islamic ideas of Geert Wilders, the extremist right wing Dutch Parlimentarian. It is becoming clear that Rick Santorum is not the token liberal on the pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer, but their representative from the 15th Century. He’s a Republican Pundit Gone Wild.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Rick Santorum has been crying “Islamofascist” since well before his humiliating and much deserved defeat for Senate a couple years ago. The guy is basically a one-trick pony. He whines when Christianity is supposedly persecuted, but Rick is all about distorting the Muslim faith. Today’s Santorum column in the Philadelphia Inquirer combines both halves of Santorum’s twisted ovsession. First he defends Geert Wilders, the extremist right wing Dutch politician whose movie “Fitna” has been banned in the Netherlands. (Wilders heads his own political Party in the Netherlands, and its main focus is to make the Netherlands an explicitly Christian country – maybe that’s why Santorum is so attracted to Wilders’ ideas.)

As is usual, Santorum’s column is breathless with dire whines and predictions. The world is going soft on terror, at least as Santorum sees it. Of course Santorum’s notion of “going soft on terror” is when duly elected democracies promote policies of tolerance. But Santorum is positively over the edge in congratulating himself in this article. He’s whined and predicted for a long time now that Islamofascists are the greatest threat to humanity since, since, un, the greatest threat ever. To that end, all of Islam is a target. And in this column Santorum congratulates himself for being proven right, with more breathless dire warnings:

The gathering storm I have been warning of for years has now formed over the West. Yet instead of fighting the gradual incursion of Sharia and the demands of an intolerant, even militant Islam, Westerners are cowering and fatalistic. Last year, the Archbishop of Canterbury conceded that acceptance of some parts of Sharia in Britain seemed “unavoidable.”

Bullcrap. Santorum is waiting in the wings to be the hero, no doubt. Meanwhile thinking people of the world are helping battle for the hearts and minds of those who follow Islam, calling for the capture and destruction of Islamic terrorists, surely, but allowing that Muslims should be encouraged to follow their religion peacefully as full members of the international community.

Santorum and Wilders are examples of precisely what is wrong in this world. They wish to combat extremism with their own brand of ugly extremism. Santorum earned much infamy, well-deserved, in this country with his extremist stances on gay and lesbian citizens, showing that his stance is one of contempt rather than of the love his religion teaches him. Yup, one-trick pony that he is, his stance towards Islam is of contempt rather than the love his religion teaches him. Heck, I’m thinking Rick Santorum would only be happy if the entire West were ruled by his brand of Sharia, one that employed the Inquisition, and one that ran Crusades. The West long ago evolved from such base notions, but Santorum doesn’t believe in evolution, either.

Once again the Philadelphia Inquirer should be ashamed for publishing this man’s desperate whiney screeds. Surely Santorum’s is a call for help, not necessarily against the IslamoFascists he is fixated on, but from the extremism that grips his own heart.

Thursday, February 12th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

Joe the Almost Average To Play War Correspondent

Joe Wurzelbacher, the Poster Boy for the average Republican who suffers from delusions of adequacy, has been hired by Pajamas Media, an imitation news outlet, to cover the conflict in Gaza. Joe’s goal is to talk to Average Joes and Abduls to find out how they react to having homes bombed, questions that don’t really need answers. Stupid.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Joe Wurzelbacher, who showed that Republicans could be fooled into listening to a serial failure if he’s got a populist nickname like “Joe the Plumber,” is going to Gaza. No promises he’ll solve the 60 year old crisis there, but he’s going to get us in touch with average Joes, or Abduls, or whatever. This may be the stupidest idea to hit journalism in a long, long time. Of course, that assumes you consider Pajamas Media, the folks who hired Joe for this stupid stunt, to be a legitimate member of the media.

Let’s be clear. Joe Wurzelbacher fascinates Republicans, but even that fascination is misguided. Joe is not average. He aspires to owning a plumbing company, supposedly, but he needs to aim lower and aspire to average first. This guy’s got some serious delusions of adequacy. Why then, are Republicans fascinated by the whole Joe the Plumber schtick? It isn’t because Joe is related to financial criminal Charles Keating. No, that would spoil the mystique Joe’s got going of being a walking talking Ken doll. I think that’s the appeal to Republicans. Joe Wurzelbacher has enough personality to pull off the “Joe the Plumber,” “Joe the Campaigner,” and “Joe the fill in the blank” roles because he came that way in the box from Mattel. Barbie won’t let him have the dreamhouse? Fine, then he’ll be Joe the Army Ranger, or Joe the Toolbag, or Joe the Mailman. He is an (inadequate) everyman, and that works for Republicans because they hope he reflects their constiuency. Does the Republican constituency also suffer from delusions of adequacy? Maybe so. I’ll let you make the call.

But what about this Joe the War Correspondent thingie? Well, it appears Pajamas media, that conservative web site with delusions of adequacy, has hired Joe Wurzelbacher to be its war correspondent in Gaza. Before I hear calls for changing the missions of both the Israeli and Hamas factions in that action so as to aim at war correspondents suffering from delusions of adequacy, let’s hear a little bit from Joe about his qualifications, from the Herald-Sun:

Wurzelbacher said he was going to let “Average Joes” share their stories and get the real story of what is happening.

“It’s tragic, I mean it really is,” Wurzelbacher told Ohio television station WNWO.

“I don’t say that in any little way. It’s very tragic, but at the same time what are the Israeli people supposed to do?”

. . . .

“If given the opportunity to do some good however minute it may be, or could be something really good, you gotta take that chance. You have to do it,” Wurzelbacher said of his new job.

To sum it up, Joe doesn’t know what he’s doing, both sides have their arguments, it’s all very tragic, and it could be solved by talking to other average Joes and Abduls and whatever. Oh, and this is an opportunity for Joe Wurzelbacher to make money at a real job do good! And Joe? He’s not afraid. He’s got God on his side.

Wurzelbacher said he was not concerned about heading into a warzone for a 10 days.

“Being a Christian I’m pretty well protected by God I believe. That’s not saying he’s going to stop a mortar for me, but you gotta take the chance,” he told WNWO.

I suppose the theory here is that God loves even those whose aspirations are of “average,” who wish to make it in this world far more as an American Idol sort of 15 minutes of fame sort, like Joe, but who truly, at root, suffer from delusions of adequacy. What is startling to me is that Joe even has a theology that covers for him, protects him even when he so stupidly takes on a role in a dangerous area of the world where he clearly has no business. He’s a Republican Pundit Wannabe Gone Wild, all right, and his next stint, hopefully at FoxNews, is just around the corner. Even then he will be searching for adequacy, though.

Thursday, January 8th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

GOP Religious Whack Jobs Choose Blackwell for RNC Chair

Ken Blackwell is gathering his support for RNC Chair, it is heavily skewed towards Radical Right Wing Christian Clerics. As a Democrat who wishes Republicans to wander in the wilderness for a long time, I am glad to see Blackwell, backed by extremist Christian mullahs, get the job. But, hey, I’m biased.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

I love this. Ken Blackwell, who is largely responsible as Secretary of State in Ohio in 2004 for George Bush’s win, thus responsible for the continuation of Bush’s disastrous Republican policies, is reaping his reward from the 24%ers who still support George Bush. More particularly, he’s getting the support for RNC Chair from the biggest of the Radical Right Wing Christian Clerics, according to a report by Ben Smith of Politico. Here’s a few of Blackwell’s extremist Christian supporters:

Phyllis Schlafly, President, Eagle Forum (I once met her nephew by marriage. He was so ashamed of Phyllis he called her his “uncle’s wife” and would not refer to her as his aunt.)

James C. Dobson, Founder, Chairman and Grand Poobah, Focus on the Family (Didn’t his organization just lay off a whole bunch of workers? Why would anyone want the endorsement of such a failed enterprise?)

Dr. Ronald Godwin, Vice Chancellor, Liberty University, who was instrumental in popularizing Syun Mung Moon in the US – hey, that’s some claim to fame, working for two whack jobs, Moon AND Falwell!

Tony Perkins, President, Family Research Council. (Did they ever get this guy for those serial murders?)

Tim LaHaye, Founder and President, Tim LaHaye Ministries, the man most responsible, probably, for promoting the notion of the “End Times,” and thus responsible, in part, for how that notion helped twist the Bush Administration policies.

Hey, this is a whole bunch of the extremist Christian right wing of the party supporting a black man, Ken Blackwell. Perhaps it is because Blackwell was such a good and obedient soldier in 2004? whatever, the real surprising this is that there are a couple folks one wouldn’t expect to see on this list. Sure, Pat Toomey of Club for Growth pretends to be a fiscal conservative, but he’s a religious whack job from way back. Steve Forbes is the one who seems out of place to me. Hey, the man had a bisexual father, didn’t he, and famously so. How comfortable could Forbes, who has never in the past cozied up to the Christian extremists, be?

Of course, the RNC Chair race isn’t over, but as a Democrat I am pleased to see the Christian whack job wing of the Republican Party coalesce behind Blackwell, who will be the divisive presence, and likely incompetent, too, that we wish on the Republicans.

Sunday, January 4th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

Christmas in Baghdad, Shamelessness on Fox News Sunday

Iraq is celebrating Christmas and CNN is making it out like there never was such freedom before the US invaded, forgetting, perhaps, that Saddam did not persecute Christians. This is not an excuse for the US invasion, as it will be played, nor is it an excuse for the excesses defended by Dick Cheney on Fox News Sunday.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

My first reaction to the story on CNN about the first public Christmas to be celebrated in Baghdad was quite wary. A hot air balloon supporting a huge poster of Jesus is not going to go over very well among the Muslims there, is it, no matter whether they are Sunni or Shiite. And I am not often impressed by the kumbaya nature of the depiction of the celebration, with one woman, a Muslim, explaining why she attended.

On a large stage, children dressed in costumes representing Iraq’s many ethnic and religious groups – Kurds, Turkmen, Yazidis, Christians, Arab Muslims not defined as Sunni or Shiite – hold their hands aloft and sing “We are building Iraq!” Two young boys, a mini-policeman and a mini-soldier sporting painted-on mustaches, march stiffly and salute.

Even before I can ask Interior Ministry spokesman Major-General Abdul Karim Khalaf a question, he greets me with a big smile. “All Iraqis are Christian today!” he says.

Khalaf says sectarian and ethnic violence killed thousands of Iraqis. “Now that we have crossed that hurdle and destroyed the incubators of terrorism,” he says, “and the security situation is good, we have to go back and strengthen community ties.”

In spite of his claim, the spokesman is surrounded by heavy security. Yet this celebration shows that the security situation in Baghdad is improving.

Many of the people attending the Christmas celebration appear to be Muslims, with women wearing head scarves. Suad Mahmoud, holding her 16-month-old daughter, Sara, tells me she is indeed Muslim, but she’s very happy to be here. “My mother’s birthday also is this month, so we celebrate all occasions,” she says, “especially in this lovely month of Christmas and New Year.”

I suppose this celebration of Christmas in a country wracked by violence ever since the US invasion seven years ago is going to be touted as a good thing. Heck, Dick Cheney may use this as evidence as to why it was OK to torture, spy on Americans, get hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed, etc., etc. That wouldn’t surprise me at all. But Cheney is trumped by the celebrants themselves. On display at the celebration are some dioramas made by school children, and in them you can see the kind of terror and pain Bush/Cheney’s invasion of Iraq brought (from CNN):

In the middle of the park there’s an art exhibit, the creation of 11- and 12-year-olds: six displays, each about three feet wide, constructed of cardboard and Styrofoam, filled with tiny dolls dressed like ordinary people, along with model soldiers and police. They look like model movie sets depicting everyday life in Baghdad.

Afnan, 12 years old, shows me her model called “Arresting the Terrorists.”

“These are the terrorists,” she tells me. “They were trying to blow up the school.” In the middle of the street a dead “terrorist” sprawls on the asphalt, his bloody arm torn from his body by an explosion. Afnan tells me she used red nail polish to paint the blood. A little plastic dog stands nearby. “What is he doing?” I ask. “He looks for terrorists and searches for weapons and explosives,” Afnan says.

Afnan was likely six years old or so when Dick Cheney and George Bush invaded Iraq on the series of false pretexts Cheney is still defending. As I understand it, Christianity was not persecuted in the days before the US invasion, so Cheney and Bush cannot lay claim to having brought freedom of religion. Afnan’s diorama of ethnic and religious violence was brought to her directly from Bush and Cheney. Indeed, in a remarkable performance for its baldfaced defense of wrongdoing, Dick Cheney appeared on Fox News Sunday and laid out a case for Bush Administration successes, a performance stunning in its tenuous grip on reality, at least the reality young Afnan sees. From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Cheney, speaking less than a month before he and President Bush leave the White House, was blunt and unapologetic about his central role in some of the most controversial issues of the last eight years, including the invasion of Iraq, warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens, and harsh interrogation tactics. Cheney also said he disagreed with Bush’s decision to remove embattled Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in 2006, saying that “the president doesn’t always take my advice.”

“I was a Rumsfeld man,” Cheney said. “I’d helped recruit him, and I thought he did a good job for us.”

The interview was the second in less than a week for the normally reclusive vice president, and it comes as part of a broad effort by Bush and his aides to focus attention on issues that they consider major accomplishments of their two terms in office. In an interview with ABC News last week, Cheney suggested the administration would have gone to war with Iraq even without erroneous intelligence showing that Saddam Hussein had developed weapons of mass destruction. Cheney also said in that interview that he approved of the administration’s use of coercive interrogation tactics, including a type of simulated drowning known as waterboarding, against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and others.

Dick Cheney seals his reputation for all time as the puppetmaster behind the throne who supported policies of spying on US citiznes, invading Iraq, supporting Rumsfeld’s failed strategies, torture, etc. Perhaps because the performance was on Fox News Cheney’s immediate viewing audience did not sit in shock at the man responsible for the disasters of the last seven years. Perhaps those viewers even cheered. The rest of us know that Cheney’s policies have mangled our constitution, have destroyed our reputation in the world, have killed hundreds of thousands of innocents, and have led to the terror in young Afnan’s art project.

Again, a Republican such as Dick Cheney proves he has no sense of shame.

Monday, December 22nd, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |

One Leg Raised on the Bush–Cheney Legacy: Deconstructing the Spin and Propaganda

The Republican Party, in the person of its lame duck Chair, Mike Duncan, has already begun its campaign to vilify the supposed leftist Obama government, but the same extremist Republicans ignore their history of trampling on the constitution, of incompetence, of fearmongering, etc. The Party of Honest Abe has lost touch with honesty, opting for distortion as usual.

Commentary By: Walter Brasch

by Walter Brasch

The chairman of the Republican National Committee may have begun an irreversible descent into a future as a fear-bound paranoid victim of functional amnesia, possibly caused by a hysterical post-traumatic event such as the overwhelming victory of Democrats in the 2008 election and the nation’s repudiation of Republican policies.

In a two-page vitriol-loaded letter dated “Friday morning”–he apparently was unable to remember the exact date–Robert M. (Mike) Duncan, RNC chairman, told Americans that the Democrats plan to “impose their radical leftist agenda on America,” and that Republicans “must work vigilantly to guard our country’s freedoms from the inevitable assault [by Democrats] they will face.” He didn’t mention that not one of Barack Obama’s proposed cabinet members nor any of the members of the current Congress is a “radical leftist.”

It’s really sad that Mike forgot that fear-mongering, obstruction of justice, reduction of public information, distrust and resentment of the worker, and curtailment of civil liberties–with the complicity of millions of Americans and much of the Democratic leadership who willingly crumpled under unremitting Neocon assaults–have been the base of the Bush–Cheney Administration and a Republican-dominated Congress for most of the past eight years. Perhaps I can shock what little memory Mike may have left in the hope that some of his brain cells may once again function.

It was the Republicans, not the Democrats, who systematically violated the Constitution, while screaming “The terrorists are coming! The terrorists ar

Sunday, December 21st, 2008 by Walter Brasch |

Hurricane Ike: Myanmar Redux in the USA?

It’s been five days since Hurricane Ike hit the Texas gulf coast. Millions remain without power. The local, state, and federal governments have clamped a lid on media access and communications to the most affected areas. And the finger pointing for slow disaster response has started. Sound familiar?

Commentary By: Richard Blair

Earlier this year, a cyclone ripped through the Indian Ocean country of Myanmar (formerly Burma). The complete casualty figure will never be known, but hundreds of thousands died from the storm, flooding, and lack of basic services following the disaster.

The government regime in Myanmar was strongly criticized for many things in the aftermath. NGOs were not allowed into the affected area for weeks to provide relief assistance. Offers of help from foreign countries such as the U.S. were slow-tracked by the junta. Journalists were not allowed into the affected area to document the devastation. The government of Myanmar said it could handle the situation by itself (although it was plainly clear that this wasn’t the case), and didn’t want interference from outsiders. In a press conference at the White House on 5/5/08, two days after the disaster unfolded, First Lady Laura Bush was among the most critical of the Myanmar junta’s response:

The response to the cyclone is just the most recent example of the junta’s failure to meet its people’s basic needs.

I wonder if she would say that about the regime of her own husband, who visited the Hurricane Ike disaster area today, but left without making a statement of any sort.

It’s been almost five days since Ike ripped through southern Texas. This past Saturday, the media was wall-to-wall Ike, as the huge storm came ashore in Galveston, and tore a path well inland through Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city. The following day, when media reports started flowing in about blown out skyscraper windows, and power and basic services being knocked out, I had a gut feeling that things were pretty bad. Incidental reports that I was receiving through my own back channels only verified the extent of the damage in Houston.

But precious little information has been coming in regarding the situation south of Houston.

A no-fly zone has been established over the most devastated areas of the barrier islands on the Texas gulf coast, including Galveston, ostensibly “to provide a safe environment for disaster response and relief operations”. The thing is, no one has been able to determine who issued the no-fly order. News organization helicopters and others have not been allowed into the areas, and no media has been allowed in on the ground on the Bolivar Peninsula. Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas has clamped a lid on any city officials (other than her and the city manager) speaking to the press. There is even an unconfirmed report that FEMA has restricted all cell phone communications on Bolivar Peninsula.

There’s no indication as to why this media blackout is taking place – but it’s pretty clear – DHS, FEMA and the Bush administration are trying to manage the story. They don’t want another Katrina-style PR disaster on their hands, particularly in an election year. Take a look at this Coast Guard video, shot on 9/12 before Ike came ashore, and you might understand why.

It’s unclear how many people are still without power in southern Texas, but the number is in the millions, as of this evening. No lights, no air conditioning, no refrigeration for food. Gasoline (where available) is being restricted to 5 gallon purchases, at inflated prices. Businesses are closed. Schools might not reopen for weeks (or longer, in the most affected areas).

The finger pointing has already started. FEMA apparently belatedly showed up with manpower, but no relief supplies, and no distribution plan. They blamed the State of Texas. The State of Texas blamed local authorities. Sound familiar?

In the aftermath of Ike, federal and Texas officials blamed each other over delays in getting provisions, water and ice from staging areas in San Antonio and Fort Worth to relief workers and public distribution centers in the storm zone.

After taking criticism from U.S. Reps. John Culberson, R-Katy, and Nick Lampson, D-Stafford, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff claimed the state had failed to provide promised workers to run distribution centers. The supplies eventually arrived, and Houston Mayor Bill White downplayed the dispute as “a little drama.”

And according to today’s Houston Chronicle, FEMA is still “days away” from establishing a “mega relief center”.

It’s apparent that the only thing the Bush administration and DHS and FEMA have learned from the Katrina disaster of 2005 is message control. Maybe they asked for some pointers from the Myanmar junta that they so strongly criticized.

Update: Apocalypse Ike at Crystal Beach, Tx.:

Apocalypse Ike

(Found here in a huge gallery of Ike photos you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.)

Update, 9/17: New info – it’s only a matter of time before the pot starts boiling over in S. Texas:

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff returned to Texas for a second time to check on recovery efforts amid growing criticism about the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response.

In Houston, most people in the nation’s fourth-largest city remained without power for a fifth day, making it tough to track the latest information on where to pick up supplies. For most, the electricity wasn’t expected back on for at least another week…

Residents again waited in line for hours Wednesday at the nearly two dozen supply distribution centers set up in Houston to hand out food, water and ice. Mayor Bill White complained FEMA wasn’t bringing in the supplies fast enough, and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett had personally taken over coordination of efforts to hand out relief supplies.

FEMA officials in Houston said they were refining glitches in the relief effort and delivering millions of meals and water every 24 hours…

Heck of a job, Chertie.

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008 by Richard Blair |
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