Friday, January 06, 2006

There's No Christianity in Your Christianity

Atrios and Amy Sullivan from Washington Monthly have been going back and forth about Pat Robertson's latest insane barking hallucinations, with Amy saying that Robertson shouldn't be considered a real evangelical spokesperson (he's officially Pentecostal according to Amy, which me he isn't strictly fundie like Falwell), and with Atrios questioning back as to who, then, the rest of the world should look to in the Christian world for spokespersonship.

My recommendation, if you want someone sane and compassionate, would be Philip Yancey. But that would be neither here nor there.

I've made a variation of this point before but thought now would be a good time to revisit it. I watch a fair amount of Christian television, probably more than I should for my sanity. And what I find interesting about it is, how little of it is actually very biblical. Take the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). It's a 24-hour evangelical-pentecostal-fundie religion-athon. On any day you can find T.D. Jakes, Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson, Eddie Long, Hal Lindsey, Charles Stanley, D. James Kennedy, Joyce Meyer, Rod Parsley, Joel Osteen, John Hagee, Jesse Duplantis, and many more.

The only serious Bible person out of this group is Charles Stanley. The rest are politicians masquerading as ministers (Kennedy, Parsley, Lindsey, Robertson), money raisers (Hinn), or motivation speakers (Jakes, Long, Duplantis, Meyer, Osteen) . For the most part, there's very little Biblical stuff here. There's probably less biblical material on the Protestant TBM than on the popeapaloozing Catholic Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN).

Now, I'm not saying that all of the above speakers are bad people. I think Jakes, Long and Hinn are interesting. I think Osteen is sincere. And much of the stuff is, quite frankly, rather entertaining.

But it's interesting to me that televised Christianity at least has more or less abandoned any real serious bible teaching, preferring instead some form of entertainment or contrived outrage to appeal to viewers. Maybe too much biblical discussion would, ironically, prove to be divisive. I mean, what are we to make of the Beatitudes, for instance? What little bible teaching there is focuses on, not surprisingly, those passages that in some way can be construed as relating to "giving". As in giving to TBN or its affiliated ministries. But I digress.

I guess my point, if I have one, is these terms like evangelical, fundamentalist, pentecostal, are increasingly coming to seem to me largely irrelevant.

The rationalist former Episcopal Biship John Shelby Spong has written that Christianity must change or die, meaning that Christianity must come to terms with its heritage, honestly confront the irreconcilability of its historic writings and biases to the needs of a modern world, or risk becoming an irrelevant farce. By taking the entertainment and political routes while avoiding scripture, most popular Christian speakers are making Spong's argument for him.

I Believe Them, Don't You?

I'm glad the news media isn't still alive to have to witness this:

(from Atrios):

A senior U.S. intelligence official tells us [CNN] that our colleague Christianne Amanpour has never been targeted by the National Security Agency and nor has any other CNN journalist. The NSA as you know is the eavesdropping intelligence agency - the US government's big ear - and from time to time the offical says wiretaps overseas or other intercepts turn out to include Americans or what they call US persons which includes people who work for us companies and does so inadvertently. But if the NSA finds it has tape and trasncript of such a person by law it is required to be immediately erased, deleted, gotten rid of. US intelligence officials rarely comment on who they may or may not have collected information about, but because of all the web blogosphere attention this was getting today, this senior official was willing to look into it for us, and to be quite clear in his denial -- frankly, I get the impression the NSA is as puzzled by Andrea Mitchell's question, and NBC's decision to put it out on the web, as we were.

You might think that there's more to it than this, that I'm leaving out something, that the "news" folks at CNN's "Situation Room" went on to cast a rather skeptical eye towards this administration "denial". You might think they followed this up with some hard questioning.

But you'd be wrong. I was watching the tube at the time, and this was it. CNN's TV personalities seemed perfectly OK with this "quite clear" denial.

Gives you confidence, doesn't it, that our press is hard at work?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Rude Pundit in New Orleans

In case you haven't been by his crib in a while, the Rude Pundit, with Rude Brother, is in New Orleans, documenting the conditions there, four months after Katrina.

Have a look.

(work safe)

Reading Brooks

Atrios had the same, surprised, giddy reaction to today's David Brooks column as I did. Wow. Did Brooksie flip out, or what?

And indeed, Brooksie does come off like he's fed up with his gang's shennanigans. But before you get to thinking Brooks is going all softy, pay attention to the real money section here:

New leadership elections would, at least, make the current leaders re-earn their slots with new platforms. At best, they would allow the party to reinvigorate itself under new management. A party led by young talents like Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Mike Pence and Mark Kirk would be taken seriously as a party of reform.

I'm not familiar with Eric Cantor or Mark Kirk. But I have heard of Paul Ryan and Mike Pence. And neither of them could be categorized as "centrist" Republicans.

This is from the WashPost, dated March 2005:

These days Pence, 45, elected to his third term last fall, is leading the charge for conservative principles on Capitol Hill instead of merely talking about them on the air. The beginning of the 109th Congress in January marked the start of Pence's tenure as head of the Republican Study Committee, a group of more than 100 of Congress's most conservative lawmakers. According to the group's Web site, members are dedicated to limiting the power of the federal government, building national defense, protecting private property rights and preserving "traditional family values."


Meanwhile, Ryan is considered an "up and coming" conservative Republican member of the House, who has cosponsored one of the more aggressive Social Security "privatization" plans.

So, what do you think Brooksie has in mind here, by planting these names? A more moderate Republican-controlled House? Unlikely.

So be careful of a Brooks bearing gifts.

The Irony is Killing Me

Stop me if you've heard this one before, but yes, another right-wing moral blowhard, known far and wide for his marriage and family "advice and commentary", waxing politically against gay marriage, and the moral deficiencies of "liberal Democrats" has, um, recently announced his DIVORCE.

From the comments at Speed Gibson:

Hello, this is Irony checking in.

On Los Angeles radio this morning, we have a right wing drug addict who is three times married and divorced; a phone sex pervert; and a moralizing religious Jew who just announced his divorce, who have all built their radio careers in part by weighing in on the moral shortcomings of the Left.

Meanwhile, at the same time, we have a Liberal talk show host who has been succesfully married for over 20 years and by all accounts raised two well adjusted children and is often the subject of derision of same sanctimoniously superior Conservative blowhards. As a fan of Irony, my nether regions are all tingly today!

Thanks for Pandagon for the link.

Playin' Us For Suckers

They're at it again:

The Rev. Herbert H. Lusk II is a maverick black minister who took to his pulpit in Philadelphia in 2000 and pledged his support for a Bush presidency, a speech broadcast live at the Republican National Convention. Two years later, Mr. Lusk was criticized when he received a $1 million grant through the president's new religion-based initiative to run a housing program for the poor.

This Sunday, Mr. Lusk has offered his church in Philadelphia as the site for a major political rally intended to whip up support for the president's Supreme Court nominee, Judge
Samuel A. Alito Jr., whose confirmation hearings begin on Monday.

The event, dubbed "Justice Sunday III," will be broadcast by satellite nationwide to churches and Christian radio and television stations, and organizers say it will reach 80 million households.

The speaking lineup includes the Rev. Jerry Falwell of Liberty University; James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, a multimedia ministry in Colorado Springs; and Senator Rick Santorum, Republican of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Lusk said he agreed to be the host of the event at his Greater Exodus Baptist Church more out of loyalty to Mr. Bush - "a friend of mine" - than out of support for Judge Alito.

"I don't know enough about him to say I actually think he's the right man to do the job," Mr. Lusk said in a telephone interview on Wednesday about Judge Alito. "I'm saying I trust a friend of mine who promised me that he would appoint people to the justice system that would be attentive to the needs I care about" - stopping same-sex marriage, assisted suicide and abortions for minors, and supporting prayer and Christmas celebrations in schools.

Other black pastors criticized Mr. Lusk for providing a black church as a stage for a pro-Alito event when they say Judge Alito has a poor record on civil rights. The Rev. Robert P. Shine Sr., president of the Pennsylvania State Wide Coalition of Black Clergy, said, "The rights gained by blacks and other minorities are subject to reversal in the event that Alito, along with Roberts, sits on the court."

Mr. Lusk says he is accustomed to controversy. After his speech to the Republican National Convention, he was reported to the Internal Revenue Service by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a watchdog group based in Washington, which accused him of violating tax rules that prohibit churches from endorsing political candidates.

"In one person, Herbert Lusk represents what is wrong with mixing religion and government," said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United.

Mr. Lusk said the I.R.S. dropped the investigation because he never literally "endorsed" Mr. Bush, only the faith-based initiative. An I.R.S. spokesperson said the agency routinely refused to discuss investigations of taxpayers, or even to confirm whether an investigation took place.
Mr. Bush has visited Mr. Lusk's church twice to highlight its social service programs, once in 2001 and again in 2004.

Mr. Lusk's network of poverty programs has received several federal grants through the faith-based initiative, according to the White House press office: $999,952 for the housing program in 2002; $310,842 for a community technology center in 2003, and the same amount again in 2004; and $126,000 for a program to mentor the children of prisoners in 2004.

Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said in an e-mail response that Mr. Lusk's church had won the grants not because of favoritism, but through a competitive bidding process administered by federal agencies.

"There shouldn't be a double standard here where a handful of grants to those organizations that work with President Bush to house the homeless and treat the addicted are subject to close scrutiny, while the great multitude of grants go to organizations who have been affiliated with the Democratic Party for years," Mr. Towey said.

Mr. Lusk said he would await the confirmation process to determine whether his support for Judge Alito was justified. "I may be wrong on Alito, I don't know that, but I know I'm right on George W.," he said. "He's always done what he's told me he would do."

With the Abramoff-DeLay-Duke Cunningham scandals rocking the Republican Party, the Katrina-Sago disasters highlighting the Republican Administration's stewardship of state, or lack thereof, and the absence of a barn-burner issue like Terry Schiavo, it isn't surprising that this third installment of the Justice Sunday series hasn't attracted as much attention as the previous two.

But the fact that upwards of 80 million "households" may view this latest diatribe against the separation of church and state, liberty of conscience, and the Democratic Party, suggests it should be treated seriously.

For the sake of brevity I'm going to skip over the smelly financial implications here of a minister reaping millions from a president's "faith based initiative programs" and get to the ideological substance, which I've highlighted above.

For the good pastor just spouted the Christian Right's favorite talking points on gays, God, and abortion, all designed to dupe Christian congregants into thinking that the corporate Republican Party has its interests at heart, and if only given a free pass by Congress and the Media (which it pretty much has been), would surely usher in a new era of Christian utopia, happy families, obedient wives, and compliant workers.

But as Thomas Franks so eloquently put it in What's The Matter With Kansas?, the Right's Culture War has been a "complete bust". And for the sake of freedom, it's a good thing, too. The Christian Right cares not one wit for the values of privacy and individual rights. Meanwhile, tools like Lusk want to manipulate Christian adherents into ignoring the blatant abuse of power inherent in conservative political ideology that results in the deaths of thousands from Katrina, and the smaller scale, but more highly focused, mine tragedy this week in West Virginia. They want Christians to think that "there's nothing to see here, please move along". "Don't hold the administration or the governing party responsible."

I hope the predicted "80 million" viewing households will prove to be grossly distorted. But in case it's not, progressives shouldn't take the 2006 elections for granted, assuming the administration's disasters and scandals will cost them. The Christian elite is endeavoring to ensure that they don't. And that would be the truest injustice.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Getting the Government Out of the Way

I wonder what the economic libertarians think of this:

Time and again over the past four years, federal mining inspectors documented the same litany of problems at central West Virginia's Sago Mine: mine roofs that tended to collapse without warning. Faulty or inadequate tunnel supports. A dangerous buildup of flammable coal dust.
Yesterday, the mine's safety record came into sharp focus as officials searched for explanations for Monday's underground explosion. That record, as reflected in dozens of federal inspection reports, shows a succession of operators struggling to overcome serious, long-standing safety problems, some of which could be part of the investigation into the cause of the explosion that trapped 13 miners.

In the past two years, the mine was cited 273 times for safety violations, of which about a third were classified as "significant and substantial," according to documents compiled by the Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Many were for problems that could contribute to accidental explosions or the collapse of mine tunnels, records show.

In addition, 16 violations logged in the past eight months were listed as "unwarrantable failures," a designation reserved for serious safety infractions for which the operator had either already been warned, or which showed "indifference or extreme lack of care," said Tony Oppegard, a former MSHA senior adviser. That is a very high number, and it is usually indicative of a very poor safety record," Oppegard said.

Sago, a relatively small mine that listed 145 employees last year, was operated by Anker West Virginia Mining Co. until two months ago, when it was purchased by International Coal Group Inc. "Much of the bad history you're talking about was beyond our reach and ability to control," company chief executive Bennett K. Hatfield said yesterday. "But there's been dramatic improvement, and I think regulatory agencies will confirm that."

In the hours after Monday's explosion, Eugene Kitts, a company vice president for mining, said the 46 alleged violations described in MSHA's most recent inspection report were all minor. "We addressed them," he said.

But in MSHA's reports, 18 of the 46 most recent violations were listed as "significant and substantial." Among the problems cited: inadequate safeguards against the collapse of the mine roof and inadequate ventilation to guard against the buildup of deadly gases.

Other inspection reports over the past two years fault the mine for "combustibles," including a buildup of flammable coal dust and a failure to adequately insulate electric wires. Sparks from electrical equipment can ignite coal dust and methane gas, triggering fires and explosions.
The mine is contesting some of the violations, while agreeing to pay more than $24,000 in penalties to settle others.

Government documents also show a high rate of injuries and accidents at Sago. Although no miners were reported killed at the mine since at least 1995, 42 workers and contractors were injured in accidents since 2000, records show. The average number of working days lost because of accidents in the past five years was nearly double the national average for underground coal mines, MSHA documents show.

Some serious accidents caused no injuries. For example, in the past year, large sections of the mine's rocky roof collapsed on at least 20 occasions -- but not when workers were in the affected tunnels. Some of the collapsed sections were rocky slabs as long as 100 feet. The most recent roof collapse occurred on Dec. 5, less than a month before Monday's explosion.

J. Davitt McAteer, who headed MSHA during the Clinton administration, said he was troubled by an apparent spike in accidents and violations that occurred beginning about two years ago.
"The violations are not the worst I've ever seen -- and certainly not the best -- but I'm concerned about the trend and the direction they're going in. It's indication to those running the operation that you've got a problem here."

In the light of this:

UNDER MINED....What's the story behind the story of the tragedy at the Sago Mine? At least part of it is predictable: after George Bush took office in 2001 the Mine Safety and Health Administration was stocked with coal mining executives who were distinctly less interested in mine safety than they should have been. Clara Bingham told the story in "Under Mined," in the January 2005 issue of the Washington Monthly:

Coal executives, threatened by Vice President Al Gore's green background and his pledge to increase taxes on fossil fuels, thought they could get a better deal with the Republicans - when they raised a record $3.8 million dollars for the 2000 federal election, 88 percent went to the GOP. At the annual meeting of the West Virginia Coal Association a few months after Bush's inauguration, the group's director told 150 industry executives, "You did everything you could to elect a Republican president. [Now] you are already seeing in his actions the payback."

....Bush also demonstrated his friendship to industry leaders when he awarded the top job at MSHA to an executive with Utah's Energy West Mining Company, David Lauriski, whose top two deputies would also be recruited from mining companies. The woman who would become their boss, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, is the wife of Kentucky's Republican senator Mitch McConnell, a long time political ally of coal companies.

Bingham's story is primarily about Jack Spadaro, who was hounded out of his job as superintendent of the National Mine Health and Safety Academy after he became a whistleblower on an investigation into a coal waste leak in Kentucky. Read the whole thing.

Well, we can see that at least a few somebodies at the MSHA were checking on the place, but when the department and the administration are run by people more sympathetic to management than workers, than, well, things happen:

Manchin said the state would investigate the cause of the explosion, the miscommunication and the mine's numerous safety and health violations last year. "We're going to look into this," Manchin vowed.

John Bennett, whose father Jim Bennett was one of the victims and had been due to retire in April, complained that his father would "tell me how unsafe the mine is."

Problems at the mine had been "going on for months ... and they still send men in," Bennett told NBC's "Today" show, adding that he felt that if the mine owner had allowed workers to unionize the violations wouldn't have happened.

They may not have unions there, may hate them in fact, but, hey, at least by voting for W, West Virginia families made sure the Bible wouldn't be taken out of their homes by those bad old liberals.

MyDD has more on what you get by voting Republican.