Saturday, November 22, 2014

Texas State Board of Education is misnamed

One never knows just how crazy things can get in Texas, because when you think you've seen the worst, some new issue or goofball pops up that makes the rest of the nation wish that Texas had stayed with Mexico.  Damn that Sam Houston anyway!

The Texas State Board of Education is involved in the latest fracas proving that Texas education is still under the thumb of people who may have been educated but never learned anything - Republicans, naturally!  For years, these Republicans, being good "Bible-believing" Christians, have tried to foist their fundamentalist religion upon students in Texas schools.

It looks like they have finally succeeded.  By a vote of 10 to 5, the Texas State Board of Education voted to approve textbooks that would inform Texas school children that the US of A is a Christian nation, that "portray Moses as an influence on the Constitution and the Old Testament as the root of democracy."

Now all that is so far-fetched as to be laughable, but the Republicans who control the state's board of education are serious.

One has to wonder if these morons have ever read the Old Testament or the stories about Moses.  If they had, they would know that democracy was not even a concept in those days.  Yahweh was king and ruled absolutely.  The Israelites made a mutual covenant with Yahweh, their king, which said that Yahweh would take care of them and protect them by defeating their enemies so long as they obeyed Yahweh's every wish.  If they failed to obey, Yahweh would take away his protection or kill them outright.

Some democracy.

Furthermore, Moses is not even an historical figure.  There was no person named Moses!  It's all myth and legend!  I think these fundy Christians are so ignorant they have taken one of the three presentations of the so-called Ten Commandments (each containing a different 10 commands!) and want very hard to believe that our Constitution was based on those ten no-no's.

That just doesn't work, though.  You shall have no other gods?  Is that in our Constitution?  You shall keep the Sabbath day?  Is that in our Constitution?  You shall not make any graven images?  Where do you find that in our Constitution?  Don't commit adultery?  I don't find that in the Constitution, either.  And honor your mother and father?  What?  Where is that, in the Bill of Rights?

Essentially what you have running the public education system in Texas are a bunch of fundamentalist ignoramuses who intend and have the power to foist their specific brand of ignorance on the youth of the state.

Perhaps this is what it's all about.  An article at Crooks & Liars states:

"Scholars claim the decision to include the biblical figure of Moses in social studies education is part of a concerted effort by Christian extremists to promote the idea that the United States is a 'redeemer nation' - giving a divine justification for supposed American exceptionalism."

You'll note the title of this post.  I said the Texas State Board of Education is misnamed.  It should be called the Texas State Board of Christian Propaganda.

Ted Cruz, Cicero, and Treason

On November 20, the senator from Canada and now Texas, held forth on the floor of the U.S. Senate, using a speech from the Roman philosopher, Cicero, to denounce President Obama.

First of all, it would be nice if this clown in a senate suit would get about the business of the Senate and work on bills and programs which might benefit the country.  That is not what Mr. Cruz is about, however.  Mr. Cruz believes God has called him to do whatever is necessary to bring down Mr. Obama.  If that includes misrepresentation and outright lies, well, that's OK because Mr. Cruz is about the deity's business.

Jesse Weiner, a classics professor, takes Mr. Cruz to task in a recent article in "The Atlantic" magazine.

Cruz, says Professor Weiner, "dangerously misused Cicero."  In 63 BCE, Cicero gave a speech to the Roman Senate called "Against Catiline."  Catiline was an enemy of Cicero and had "conspired to murder Cicero and attempt a coup d'etat."  Cicero learned of this conspiracy and informed the Senate after which Catiline went into exile to die.

In a strangely demagogic manner, typical though of Cruz's orations, the senator took Cicero's speech and as Professor Weiner notes, "replaced many of Cicero's words and phrases" in order to adapt the speech to his purposes.  That is not exactly "Hoyle."

A huge problem for people who really care about this country is "that the senator not only accused the president of overstepping the constitutional bounds of his authority (a legally dubious claim), but also challenges the legitimacy of the Obama presidency, accuses the president of treason, and perhaps even advocates for his violent punishment."

Ironically, as Professor Weiner notes, "...from the position of Cicero, Cruz presents himself as a decidedly undemocratic oligarch."  That is not surprising, of course, as we have concluded that the oligarchs are currently undermining our system in a determined takeover which is well underway.

So when "Cruz explicitly accuses the president of being 'openly desirous to destroy the Constitution and this Republic,'" again essentially accusing Obama of high treason, what is his purpose?  This is, says the professor, "dangerous rhetoric."  By using such words, is Cruz actually trying to foment a revolution, a coup, a violent attack on the president of the United States?

Ironically, it would appear we haven't come very far in 2 millennia.  I'm waiting to hear if any one of the other senators will rise to denounce this tacky turkey from Texas.

Do you think, if we offered the Canadians a significant bribe, they would take Mr. Cruz back?

You can read Professor Weiner's article in its entirety here.

Skyscraper World's Tallest Roller Coaster POV - Skyplex Orlando

You'll be able to ride this is 2017.  If you dare.  It will be located on International Drive just down the road from SeaWorld.

What a crazy world in which we live!

Five Things You Should Know ... About Pres. Obama's Immigration Actions

[The following is from
Five Things You Should Know—and Share—About President Obama's Immigration Actions:
1. This is a big deal. Providing a mechanism that allows people to live and work in the U.S. without fear makes our country stronger. And it's the right thing to do: We are a nation of immigrants—and we do well to live the values declared on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
2. This policy is a step forward, but it's only a partial fix. The struggle will continue until no family fears separation, and all of those living in the U.S. have a path to citizenship. The president's measures are temporary and leave too many at risk. So while we celebrate that millions of families can now more fully pursue the American dream, we need to keep the pressure on Congress to pass lasting, comprehensive reforms.
3. The president's announcements are big—but not unprecedented.2 In fact, every president since Eisenhower—Republican and Democrat—has taken executive action on immigration. When President George H.W. Bush implemented the Family Fairness Program, it gave opportunities for deferred action and work authorization to 40% of America's undocumented population.
4. The American people want reform. Polls have shown a majority in favor of presidential action in the face of congressional inaction. Exit polls on Election Day two weeks ago showed that a majority also preferred finding a legal status for immigrants over deportation.3 You'll hear other polls quoted that cherry-pick information, but the fact is: Americans want change, and they will support executive action when Congress fails.
5. The president is acting because Congress hasn't. Leaders of both parties have said our immigration situation is a crisis—yet Republicans in the House have been unwilling or unable to take action. In the summer of 2013, a bipartisan bill passed in the Senate but was killed when House Speaker John Boehner yielded to pressure from his Tea Party members and refused to bring it for a vote. The president, immigration activists, and most Americans want Congress to act—but in the meantime, executive action provides some progress.
These actions are the result of tireless and courageous organizing by immigrants and their allies—a reminder that community-led activism can create change—and of President Obama's decision to go big despite virulent Republican opposition. In the days and weeks ahead, we'll continue to support meaningful reform, get the president's back on these forward-looking actions, and fight against the right-wing backlash.

Friday, November 21, 2014

How to tell if the U.S. is a Christian nation

The argument as to whether or not the US of A is a Christian nation has been going on for a long time.  From the outset there were those who thought that God should be considered the author of our freedom and that the values we embody in our founding documents should be the values professed by the Christian religion.

That didn't happen.  By and large, all of our founding "fathers" (with maybe one exception) had little use for the Christian religion per se, even though they often gave lip service to it so as not to jeopardize unnecessarily their political hopes and dreams.

Our founding fathers were mostly deists, who professed belief in an anonymous god who got things rolling, set the clock as it were, and then left well-enough alone.  It wasn't that they fought Christianity so much as they ignored it and went about their business.  Jefferson cared so little for traditional Christianity that he put together his own Bible.  John Adams told the entire world that there was no sense in which the United States was a Christian nation.

But let's assume for the sake of argument that the majority of our founding fathers were Christians in 1776.  They would have been predominately Anglican or Episcopalian or possibly Congregationalists and perhaps a few would have been northern Baptists.  Not one of them would be able to understand nor would they be able to abide today's so-called Christian fundamentalists.  They stressed a sense of responsibility, a belief that freedom was to be attainable for all (except, of course, for the slaves - but that was an issue to be resolved later), and that the United States was in essence, a commonwealth, in which its citizens shared some responsibility for one another.

Now, this overarching plan didn't always work.  Humans being human, tend to screw up things, and many were quite stupid just as many are today.  Others were corrupt and used their office and their government to line their own pockets.

But their "religion" was not what drove them to try to do the right thing.  Religion in its Christian form did not provide the basis for the American Constitution or other founding documents.  It was primarily the values of the Enlightenment which stressed human freedom and democratic processes and responsibility for one another.  The Enlightenment was about the betterment of society, and in the United States (led by Benjamin Franklin) its values of reformation, liberty, democracy and religious toleration took hold.

Just for fun, let's check out a definitive way to tell if the so-called Christian leaders of our time are right when they call this country a Christian nation.

In order to do that, we must consider the story of the legendary Jesus, told in several different ways by the Gospel writers.  We shall ignore the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and we shall ignore the other books of the New Testament for they were written long after Jesus was said to have lived and do not add anything of substance to his teachings.

The Jesus of the Gospels is a complex person and many commentators down through the ages have attempted to explain or describe or portray him in many different ways.  To some, he was a prophet; to others a zealous political anarchist; then some said he was mainly a healer; a rabbi (teacher); a miracle worker, etc.  It seems you can read the Gospels and come up with many different understandings of what Jesus was really all about.

But there are some fundamentals to an understanding of the Jesus of the Gospels:

He was compassionate.
He was loving.
He was kind.
He went out of his way to feed people and to heal people.
He said we should not judge others.
He said we should not be hypocrites.
He said that the most important things are to feed the hungry, heal the sick and visit those in prison.
He said that rich people were going to hell.
He said that the meek would inherit the earth (not the powerful).
He said that God welcomes all people, even the despised Samaritans.
He said that we should not worry about the government but get about doing God's work.
He said we should not pray in public!
He said we should not parade our religion in the public square (that's what hypocrites do).
He said we should pray for our enemies.
He said we should not lie.
He said we should not cheat or steal or bear false witness.

He had nothing whatsoever to say about homosexuality.
He had nothing whatsoever to say about contraception.
He had nothing whatsoever to say about abortion.
He said nothing about the free market or capitalism.
He said nothing about "keeping Christ in Christmas".
He said nothing about putting up copies of the Ten Commandments in public buildings.
He said nothing about God punishing the United States for any reason.
He said nothing about everyone carrying a gun.

Well, you get the picture.  The Christian right today is not even slightly related to the Jesus of the Gospels!  There is no connection!  The Christian right by their actions actually deny the foundational teachings of the man from Galilee!

They are not compassionate.  They would deny retirement, health care, and food to the less fortunate in order to "teach the poor a lesson."  They lie constantly about our president and about his actions and his programs.  They call him a Muslim which in our present political climate is a vicious lie.

The Christian right today glorifies war, wants to close off our borders and put in jail those who cross over to this land of freedom "illegally," although "illegal" is a term we define and not something written in stone during the Exodus.

The Christian right today adores and does everything in its power to protect the rich.

The Christian right today demands that their religious beliefs be the law of the land and that their religious practices be protected by law.  They demand that they be allowed to pray in public, that their beliefs underlie the laws passed by our legislative bodies.  And when they cannot accomplish this they pretend they're the victims when the truth is something far worse - they are using their religion to gain power in the land.

The Christian right today adores war, also.  Like it is said about John McCain, there never was a war they don't like.  Violence becomes them.  Not a few are threatening a violent overthrow of the government if their beliefs do not become enshrined in Washington.

Many of the Christian right are openly racist.  The election of President Obama sent them into a six-year conniption fit which has only increased over time.  They cannot accept a black man as president and will do anything to defeat him; tell any lie to make him look bad or stab him in the back.

The Christian right today has devolved to the extent that facts are nothing more than things to reconfigure for their own use.  Thus, they disbelieve in evolution and climate change because both challenge their notion that every word in the Bible is true.  They gather together and share their resources to influence our public schools so that truth be not taught, but rather their religious beliefs become the foundation of our educational system.

Back to the question as to whether we are a Christian nation.  We are not and never have been.  While the Jesus of the Gospels is reported to have shared some suggestions which are helpful to human life they were never enshrined in our founding documents because our founding fathers were led by the values of the Enlightenment rather than the values of the Bible.

Strangely enough, if the Christian right has their way, we will become ever more LESS of a Christian nation than their humid minds dream about.  The Christian right does not exemplify Jesus.  It's the reverse:  the beliefs and the actions of the Christian right are diametrically opposed to the teachings of the Jesus of the Gospel. 

Let's hope to whatever god we believe in that they never get their way!

For an interesting article on this whole Christian nation thing, read Hrafnkel Haraldsson's article, "America is a Christian Nation.  If We Don't Like It, We Should Get Out" here.

Keystone XL Pipeline

The Pipeline was narrowly defeated in the Senate.  Thankfully, Bill Nelson, one of Florida's senators voted against the pipeline.  But...the battle isn't over.  When it comes up again, which is inevitable, the Republicans will hold the majority in the Senate.  Then we can only hope Mr. Obama will wield his veto pen!

h/t to Ybor Stogie City.

Anti-Semitism Creeps Into Europe's Daily Routines

Anti-Semitism Creeps Into Europe's Daily Routines

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Dictatorship By Another Name

We tend to think of a dictatorship as a repressive political system headed up by one person - a dictator.  Down through history, that's usually what has happened.  We can name many of them in recent memory:  Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Castro, etc.  But dictatorships can also be collegial where a group of people effectively run a country according to their own dictates.  That definition gets a bit frayed along the edges in light of all the possible shapes and forms such a dictatorship could take but in the end it still serves the definition implied.

We're not quite there yet.  But it won't be long at the current rate of change.

First of all, the U.S. Supreme Court has abdicated its responsibility to uphold the Constitution by radically redefining the meaning of the first amendment so as to allow big money, whether deriving from corporate pockets or those of wealthy entrepreneurs, to actually change the substance of our democracy by purchasing elections!

One Senate race this past cycle cost over $300 million!

There are several members of the U.S. Supreme Court, including the Chief Justice, who are by habit and circumstance, deeply involved with (and perhaps indebted to) those persons and corporations who now are able to spend unlimited amounts of money to ensure that candidates favorable to their beliefs and practices are elected.

This kind of control via money has always been true to some extent, but what is currently underway is unparalleled in size and scope.  Politicians who owe their position to the oligarchy, as we have seen over and over again in our history, will do just about anything for their benefactors in order to remain in office.

When this happens, the great majority of our citizens no longer have any real say in the political life of our country.

Secondly, the legislative branch of the government, along with the judicial branch, have been effectively co-opted by the oligarchy.  The rich and powerful have bought enough legislators that those in the minority party who still care about a democratic country have been neutered.

In Congress now, people who are in control of how we treat the environment wish to unleash all restrictions on corporate pollution.  They disbelieve in climate science and rather than face up to the reality, do what they can to avoid it.  In fact, just today a bill came about which would restrict scientists from discussing their scientific endeavors relative to global warming!

On the other hand, Congress basically does nothing other than make plans to defeat the duly-elected president.  The Republican majority see their job, not to serve all the people, but to serve those who own all the people.  They do not make laws to help create jobs, or provide decent health care, or repair our infrastructure (which is failing at an alarming rate).  They try to find an attorney who will sue the president on their behalf.  They take vote after vote, all in vain, to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Congress is a conglomeration of clowns who bow down and kiss the asses of the rich and powerful, such as the Koch brothers, and take action only to benefit the rich and powerful.

The rest of us don't have a chance.

Finally, the media outlets are in their entirety owned and controlled by the oligarchy.  Thus, the news we see and read about is only the news they want us to see and read about!  And if they can't change the reality to their liking, they can certainly skew it to favor their point of view.

Megan Kelly on FAUX News in an interview with Ted Cruz allowed Cruz to pander to the bottom-feeders by claiming he will shut down the government if the president takes certain executive actions and the shut-down will therefore be the fault of Mr. Obama.  And Ms. Kelly giggles and agrees with Mr. Cruz.

FAUX News is the worst of the bunch in that it's owner and management make no secret of their antipathy to democracy and their commitment to a dictatorship of the rich and powerful.  Day after day, ad nauseam, this so-called "news" channel pumps out garbage which is quickly devoured by millions of fearful and ignorant people who in turn vote for the very people who are destroying their lives and the world in which they live to feed their own greed.

Here's a sign we will not want to ignore.  A sign of what's coming and what we can expect in the years ahead.

Mr. Obama plans to issue an executive order dealing with immigration issues.  He's going to make an important speech about it.  He's doing this because the immigration mess has gotten out of hand and the do-nothing Congress has done nothing about it.

It's no big deal in that both Bushes and Reagan used executive orders extensively - especially George the younger.

This is a big deal:  NBC, CBS and ABC will not be carrying the president's speech.  They'll be showing sitcoms and reality shows, etc.  CNN and FAUX News will carry the president's speech but in each case you can bet the pundits will pounce all over the president to put him down.

We are well on the road toward a dictatorship of the oligarchy - the rich and powerful.  And one of these days we're going to wake up and find it's really too late to do anything about it, for they have seized every avenue of power in this country.

We will wake to find we are under the control of a dictatorship by another name.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mark Keough, Christian pastor teapot crackpot, now a Texas legislator!

The Woodlands, Texas.  I know the place well.  Thirty years ago, I worked in The Woodlands, with the churches of The Woodlands.  We had our crazies then, too; Christian fundamentalists who paraded around with Bibles in hand telling the rest of the world how to live.  And while The Woodlands has always had a conservative bent, religiously and politically, it was possible to be a liberal and survive if you hid your liberalism.  For a time, anyway.

I haven't been back to The Woodlands for several years and I'm not aware as to how things have changed or to what extent they have changed.  But it appears that time has brought not more light but more darkness.

The Woodlands is a specially-created town built in large part by big oil.  In general, it has been a haven for the well-to-do and powerful or those who want to be well-to-do and powerful.  It has grown immensely over the years, spreading out for miles in an area just north of Houston.  In my experience, many of those living in The Woodlands had a special sense of self; a sense they were just a little bit better than those living elsewhere; a sense of entitlement because of their money and their power.

These days money and power are mainly the provinces of Republicans.  And The Woodlands is no exception.  That's the way it's always been in The Woodlands.  Mostly rich or well-off Republicans running the show.

What brought all of this reminiscing about was an article I read at Crooks and Liars by Juanita Jean.  It is titled "Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition."  It deals with a recently-elected Texas legislator named Mark Keough who also happens to be "senior" pastor of The Woodlands Bible Church.

I don't know Mark Keough, and so far as I can recall, he wasn't around The Woodlands when I was there.  Neither was his church, The Woodlands Bible Church.  Mark Keough, who attended a couple of fundamentalist seminaries where they teach the fundamentalist notion of Biblical inerrancy, and who has spent much of his life pushing luxury automobiles, somehow got the notion that he should be in politics so he could help convert the world to his Jesus.  I say "his" Jesus, because the Jesus in which he believes is not the Jesus of the Gospels.

The Jesus of the Gospels said, "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God that which is God's."  In other words, Jesus told his disciples to do the work of God in the world, which was always about healing the sick, helping the poor, and visiting those in prison, among other things.  He didn't tell them to take over the government so that they could run the government according to their own beliefs.

Jesus didn't speak much about "belief" or "faith" at all.  That business of salvation by faith alone comes from St. Paul, not Jesus.  And even Paul noted that "faith without works is dead."  But Jesus spoke about doing.  Do unto others!  Take care of one another.  Feed the hungry.  Nor did Jesus speak of defending oneself or seeking revenge.  In fact, he noted that God will be the judge and exact whatever revenge is necessary.

Mr. Keough has gotten himself elected to the House District 15 seat in the Texas Legislature.  According to Ms. Jean, "He has decided to deliver his legislative plans and updates from the pulpit."

These plans include "bills ranging from offering statewide victim-offender mediation for punishments to reduce recidivism, eliminating gun-free zones, such as schools and churches, as well as shutting down 'sanctuary cities,' referring to municipalities that do not use local funds to enforce federal immigration laws."

And here's more of what Keough, a teapot crackpot, is all about:

"He has been involved in the Texas home school dialogue in its early stages and is an advocate of home school education.  [Note that though he doesn't believe in public schools, he will have input into the mission and message of Texas public schools].

"Politically Mark calls himself a 'constitutional conservative'.  [Oh, stop laughing!]  He is an advocate of small business, free markets, fiscal responsibility, pro life, pro traditional marriage and family and small Government [sic].  He holds to the values of one national language (English), secure borders, (no amnesty or entitlements in either health care of education for illegal aliens) and to the preservation of the American Culture [sic] based upon its historical Judeo Christian Foundation [sic]."

But there's more!  "Mark being a life time member of the NRA for over 20 years, he is a second amendment advocate and both he and his wife and two of his children possess Concealed Hand gun Licenses [sic].

"He is an avid hunter, fisherman and sporting clay enthusiast.  He has hunted the American game as well as taken trophy plains game from South Africa Lipopo province."

[Please note that whoever wrote the above four paragraphs does not have a very good command of the English language.  He or she was probably home-schooled!]

Jes like Jesus!  You remember that fellow from 'bout 2,000 years ago, wandering around Palestine in his sandals and dirty old robe.  He was always out in the desert hunting something.  And he carried that big bad-ass saber under his robe in case some bad guy jumped him and he went on and on talkin' 'bout small business, and free markets and fiscal responsibility!  You bet yer ass, he did.  And he always bitched about abortions and traditional marriage and he thought the guv'mint of Rome was jest too damn big!  I'm sure you recall Jesus railing about the fact that the people spoke Aramaic 'stead of Hebrew!  He wanted one national language and preached about that when he failed to feed the hungry folks on the hill!  One thing, though, Jesus didn't care much about was that Judeo-Christian stuff.  The Judeo was OK, but hey, he was pretty much an orthodox Jew.  And finally, Jesus  didn't like foreigners who thought they ought to live within his borders.  You remember a couple stories about them damn Samaritans, those dirty pesky illegals.  Didn't he want the Romans to send 'em all back to wherever they came from?  You sure as hell shouldn't try to help them.

Oh, wait, it was the other way around.  Those illegals, Jesus thought, deserved the same treatment as his fellow countrymen.

Yes, I'm mocking the teapot crackpot, but where Keough really goes off the rails is in his belief that his election was a "divine appointment."

"We do believe that, as an extension of The Woodlands Bible Church, that this is almost as if it was a ministry as well.  I approached it from that perspective.  It sounds crazy, because you ask, 'where is the separation of church and state?'  You tell me.  Where is separation of church and state?  It's not there.  Somebody is determining the values of this culture and they are determining the values of those who hold public office, that are determining the future of your children, grandchildren and you. If the people in this position, as pastors and as Christian leaders, refuse to say anything, who is going to determine the perspective by which everybody lives, breathes and acts?  The secularists, the humanists, the socialists?  These are not empty words.  This is what's taking place."

So the Texas legislature has another kook who disregards our history and Constitution, who would have us believe the nonsense that the United States of America always has been and remains a "Christian" nation, who lies about the Constitution and who intends that his service as a legislator be an "extension of The Woodlands Bible Church" the purpose of which will be to "determine the perspective by which everybody lives, breathes and acts..."

Talk about an ego-maniacal pulpit politico!  Texas is full of them, unfortunately.  Keough will, if he hasn't already done so, take an oath of office which involves a commitment to serve all the people of the State of Texas, no matter their race, religion or sexual orientation.  And if he follows custom, he'll do so by placing his hand on a Bible.

But he's a damn liar, for the ministry of The Woodlands Bible Church is to convert everyone to faith in their particular Jesus.  Thus, Mr. Keough has served notice that his first and most important job as a legislator will be not to the serve the people of Texas but to convert the people of Texas to his unfortunate religious persuasion.

And by so-doing, along with issuing political statements from the pulpit, he has violated the laws and the Constitution of the United States of America.

One thing for sure, the IRS ought to be all over his righteous behind and the tax-exempt status of his church should be revoked immediately.

This is Progress?

Florida Town Lives Under 'Catholic Sharia'

This post and the previous post are also from the great Ybor City Stogie blog.

South Florida and Sea Level Rise

Rick Scott has built an ark

h/t to Ybor City Stogie.