Friday, April 29, 2011

The Issue is Still the Birth Certificate

     Mr. Obama recently handed the birthers a tremendous opportunity—if they're smart enough to take it. Yes, I'm referring to the official-looking document that appears to be the long-form birth certificate that he'd spent three years and more than $2,000,000 trying to hide.
     For the past few weeks, I was encouraged by attempts by state legislatures to require presidential candidates to show proof that they were "natural-born citizens" of the United States. After all, the Constitution reserves to the states the power to choose electors who, in turn, elect the President. Before the 1830's, state legislatures chose the electors. Since the 1830's, all states adopted a policy of allowing voters to choose the electors. Regardless of which method is used, it's officially the states that choose the electors.
     Only a few days ago, I was cautioning some birthers about the approach they were taking to the issue. To these people—probably Internet trolls and not real birthers—the issue was all about Obama's birth certificate. I advised the real birthers in the group not to be taken in by this tactic.
     By focusing on the reasonableness of the bill itself—that is, the bill that would require all presidential candidates, and not just Obama, to show proof of natural-born citizenship, they would be on solid ground. By allowing Obama's birth certificate to become the issue, they would be accepting two disadvantages:
1. They would be turning the bills into a referendum on Obama. In so doing, they would alienate a lot of Democrats who might otherwise support the bill.
2. They would be placing themselves in the position of having to prove that Obama's long-form birth certificate doesn't exist. Of course, it's impossible to prove a negative.
     Now that Mr. Obama has produced a convincing document (whether paper or virtual, real or forged), where do we go from here?
     If the issue is all about Obama, the birther movement is dead—not just for now, but forever. Let's suppose that it's later discovered and proven that the birth certificate is a forgery. It's next to impossible to restart a movement after it has been declared dead. Like grandfather's clock, it's “stopped short, never to go again.”
     As soon as Donald Trump started making noises about running for President, I smelled a rat. Just as Ross Perot was a stalking horse for Bill Clinton in 1992, Donald Trump smells like a stalking horse for Barack Obama in 2012.
     Then there was the video clip of Donald Trump playing the foil for a small group of Obama supporters. In seconds, they had made the birth certificate issue a referendum on Obama, and Trump let them. Smart people don't make stupid mistakes like that. That's when I knew that Donald Trump was a Trojan horse in the birther movement.
     Obama claims that he was able to present his birth certificate only because he had convinced the hospital and the State of Hawaii to waive a law forbidding its release.  It may or not be true that there is such a law, but think about it for a moment.  Is there a law forbidding Obama from releasing his copy of it?  Of course not.
     So how is it an advantage to birthers that Mr. Obama has shown something that looks like a birth certificate? As I said, it's an advantage only if the birthers are smart enough to seize the advantage.
     There are only two possibilities: Either the legislative approach to the issue is a partisan issue, and it has been "thrust deep, deep and forever into some nameless and ordinary grave;" or it's a non-partisan issue and very much alive.
     Since it can no longer be framed a referendum on Obama, it's no longer controversial, and it's no longer a partisan issue. A lot of Democrats and other Obama supporters may be convinced to support the so-called "birther bills." The question of whether the Obama birth certificate is genuine can go into stealth mode until the bills are passed.
Obama's handlers no doubt are hoping that the birther bills, defined as referenda on Obama, will go away now that he has produced the much-demanded document. Instead, we should frame the bills as commonsense measures to avoid the kind of wrangling we've been suffering over the birther debate. If we do, we may find that Mr. Obama has painted himself into a corner.
     Thank you, Mr. Obama.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

At Auschwitz, Boy Scouts were Prepared

     You probably never expected to hear that Hitler had teenagers arrested on the charge of being Boy Scouts. You probably never expected to hear than many were sent to death camps on that very charge.
     There are two kinds of Holocaust deniers: those who deny that it happened and those who deny than more than two thirds of it happened. Both types of Holocaust deniers act from cynical political motives.
     No doubt you've heard that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Actually, nine million people were killed in the Holocaust. Hitler's three million other targets for extermination were labor unionists, communists, homosexuals, physically handicapped persons, mentally handicapped persons, Christian ministers who refused to propagandize for the Nazis, and Boy Scouts. If you read the Boy Scout Oath and the Twelve Points of Scout Law, you can see why the Nazis would consider Boy Scouts a security risk.
     When Kazimierz Piechowski was ten years old, he joined the Boy Scouts in his native Poland. His mother wept for joy.
     Fast forward to September 6, 1939.
     Only five days after Hitler's troops invaded Poland, the Nazis began shooting Boy Scouts in the streets. Piechowski and some other Boy Scouts tried to escape across the border into Hungary, but they were caught and sent to the Auschwitz death camp.
     Once ensconced in the death camp, they found that other Boy Scouts in the camp had already formed a resistance movement. Those who could speak German found jobs in the motor pool, documents office, and other parts of the camp.
     Piechowski’s job was less appealing. He and another boy had the responsibility of loading naked corpses onto a cart to be hauled to the crematorium. He later got a job in the supply warehouse.
     Two years to the day after Piechowski had entered Auschwitz, he learned that a friend of his—also a Boy Scout—was scheduled for execution. From that day, three Boy Scouts and a Catholic priest hurriedly laid plans to escape.
     The Boy Scout motto, "Be prepared," took on a new dimension.  Piechowski managed to steal some SS uniforms and even guns and ammunition. A Boy Scout who worked in the motor pool actually stole the Auschwitz commandant's car.  
     They had no pass to get through the gate, but desperation gave them plenty of brass. Piechowski, dressed in the uniform of an SS lieutenant, threatened the guard and was allowed through the gate.
     He later joined the Polish Resistance. When the communists took over Poland, Piechowski was arrested again—this time for being a member of the Polish Resistance. He was 33 years old when he finally got out of prison.
     Kazimierz Piechowski is now 91 years old, and he often speaks to Boy Scout groups about his experiences. When asked if it bothered him to relive his experiences, he replies, "I am a Scout, so I have to do my duty—and be cheerful and merry. And I will be a Scout to the end of my life."

     Kazimierz Piechowski's  story is worth reading in full:

End Game for Taiwan? Part 2: Threats to Taiwan's Sovereignty

     In 2004, Chen Sui-bian was re-elected, and KMT supporters (shall we say) “gave the appearance of” trying to get him to resign on charges of corruption. I’ve never liked Chen Sui-bian, and I do believe that he was as crooked as a dog’s hind leg. He reminds me of the fence that was so crooked that, when a pig tried to jump through a hole in the fence, he kept landing on the same side of the fence. Nonetheless, if find the accusations ironic coming from the KMT.
     Cross-strait politics can be quite surreal.  Beijing has no objection to the KMT claiming that their regime governs not only Taiwan but all of China, Mongolia (including Outer Mongolia, which is independent of both China and Taiwan), Tibet, East Turkestan,  and Hong Kong; but they fly into paroxysms of rage when a Taiwanese politician claims that Taiwan governs only Taiwan.  
     There's a simple explanation for this.  (Maybe you've seen the Keebler cookies commercials.)  If a marketer of junk food were to claim that his cookies were healthy for you, the Food and Drug Administration would attack them with the full force of the law.  That's because they fear that somebody might believe that it's true.  On the other hand, Keebler can get away with saying that their cookies are baked by elves in hollow trees, because no one could possibly believe it.  It's the same way with claims of Taiwan independence versus claims of a vast "Chinese" empire with Taipei as its capital city.
     In politics, there are many kinds of horses. Some are show horses; some are work horses; and some Trojan horses; some are a horse of a different color. Chen Sui-bian was a race horse. He conducted his administration as if it were a race for public office; it was a public office he had already won. For eight wasted years, he pulled stunts to rally the party faithful and little else. His divisive stunts served only to solidify support from his core supporters, alienate potential supporters, and do little or nothing to deepen Taiwan’s sovereignty.
     In 2008, Chinese native Ma Ying-jeou’s campaign for the presidency was so image-driven that would put Nike and Amway to shame. Ma was elected president of Taiwan and the fantasy of Ma being president of all of China, Tibet, and so on, reached ultra-surrealistic proportions. That is, when no Chinese were around.
     I’m sure you’ve seen five-year-olds playing games of make believe. In their world of make believe, a child can be—well—the emperor of China, and other children can be other members of royalty. As soon as an adult enters the room, the fantasy disappears.
     That’s what happens when even a lowly Chinese official comes to Taiwan. ROC flags disappear, music stores playing songs in the Taiwanese language are forced to close, Taiwanese demonstrators are relocated to a spot well out of sight, and President Ma suddenly becomes “Mr. Ma” to his guest. His guest, who is less than nobody back in his native China, received the red carpet treatment in Taiwan. Taiwan’s highest government official becomes subservient to China’s lowest government official.
     Over the past few years, Ma has made around fifteen secret agreements with China. More publicly, the KMT-controlled legislature approved an agreement called ECFA, which gives Beijing substantial control over Taiwan’s export economy. Ma excused his actions by claiming that the agreement was economic rather than political. Of course, we all know that control over a vast segment of a nation’s economy amounts to control over that nation.
     During the 2008 campaign, Ma had promised not to enter political negotiations with Beijing during his first term of office. On the other hand, Ma’s promises have never seemed an impediment to Ma, and neither has public opinion. He once said that he didn’t have to listen to public opinion because the voters had given him a mandate (58%).
     Originally, the 2012 presidential election was scheduled for March 2012.  The Chinese Nationalist Party is now making noises about holding the election on Robert E. Lee's birthday, January 19.  
     The excuse given for the change is that it would save the taxpayers NT$500,000  (about US$17,000) to hold both the December 2011 legislative elections and the 2012 presidential election on the same day.  
     Left unmentioned is that Sometime-president Ma is also proposing to raise the salaries of government bureaucrats (the most likely KMT supporters) a total of NT$2 billion, during a time when wages for the rest of Taiwan have remained nearly stagnant for ten years.  Left unmentioned, is that young people (the most likely DPP supporters) reaching voting age between January and March will not be allowed to vote.  Left unmentioned is that combining the two elections would attract more lukewarm voters (the most likely KMT supporters).
     Ma spent several years promoting the expansion of a major polluting petrochemical plant in a wetlands area, against the wishes of people living in the area.  Now that it has become a major issue in the 2012 campaign, Ma has come out against the plant.  No problem.  When he loses the 2012 election, he'll have four months to change all that.
     There is also a movement afoot to allow absentee voting for businessmen in China.  Given  Beijing's desire to control Taiwan at all costs, this is an open invitation to voter fraud.
     The January 2012 presidential election is only nine months away. Ma’s popularity is below that of either of his potential opponents, and it’s continuing to drop. Small wonder, then, that Beijing is now pressuring Ma to enter political negotiations with them. That’s shorthand for surrendering Taiwan to Beijing before Ma is booted out of office.  With more than four months between the election and the inauguration of the next president, Ma Ying-jeou will be at liberty to pull all manner of shenanigans at the expense of Taiwan's hard-won freedoms.
     The KMT-controlled legislature has consistently blocked Taiwan’s purchases of defensive weapons, for the past ten years. (Only now, after the KMT has lost most of the bi-elections, and with the presidential election less than a year away , the KMT is making a show of bidding for purchases.) As a result, Beijing now has the military capability to invade and take over Taiwan. All Beijing lacks is a pretext.
     If Ma and his KMT revert to type, one of three things may happen. Either they will rush to turn over Taiwan to China before the January 2012 election, or they will presume to turn over Taiwan after the election but before President-elect Tsai Ying-wen is inaugurated president, or they will riot as they did in 2000 and give the Chicoms the pretext that they’re invading Taiwan to restore order. They didn’t have the military capability to take over Taiwan in 2000. Thanks to KMT blockages of Taiwanese arms purchases, they now have that capability.
     In any of those three scenarios, it would be hard to imagine the KMT not arranging to maintain perpetual rule over Taiwan with Beijing’s blessing and guidance. Only the vigilance and will of the Taiwanese can prevent any of these scenarios from becoming a reality.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

When Americans were Foreigners, and Christians were Marked for Extermination

     Everyone has been a victim of bigotry at some time or other. When fair-minded people seek solutions to problems caused by bigotry, they tend to focus on where blame may be assigned. Many of us try to empathize by uttering such remarks such as, "What if we Americans were foreigners, or what if Christians were marked for extermination?"
     Unfortunately, blame and empathy too often don't go far enough. If we also tried to assign responsibility, we may come closer to resolving the problem.
     One of the toughest lessons to learn about bigotry is that blame and responsibility are not the same thing. It's tougher still to accept that, while blame belongs to the bigots, the victim often has to accept responsibility.
     Let's look at one example.
     A friend of mine (let's call him Jack) attended an Ivy League college during the late 1970's and earned a master's degree in comparative religion, but he wasn't allowed to receive it. The person who had the power to approve or reject Jack's dissertation chose to reject it. Another professor told Jack that his dissertation was of doctoral level quality.
     Jack later learned that this person had boasted that he had never approved a dissertation of someone from the Deep South. Having hit a brick wall, Jack went to another university and received a master's degree in library science.
     For many years, Jack had to endure bigoted comments from people who regarded Southerners as inferior beings. Nonetheless, he overcame their bigotry.
     How? He did it by taking their sin on himself without believing that their rejection of him had any validity. Jack did what Jesus does when we sin: He looked beyond their sin and met their real needs.
     The bigots were to blame, but it would have been ridiculous to expect them to accept responsibility by recognizing their wrongdoing and correcting their behavior. If Jack had waited for them to correct their behavior on their own, he would have been placing his future happiness in the hands of those who manifestly disliked him.
     I often get emails from unhappy people who deal with their unhappiness by expressing anger toward people from other countries or of other religions. They're so befuddled that they're incapable of producing the kind of propaganda pieces that they forward to others. When offered reason and facts, they first attempt to refute both reason and the facts. When they fail at both, they lash out in blind anger.
     This level of anger and hatred is not due a deficiency of facts or intellect.  It's a problem of low self esteem, and they fail to realize that they're being manipulated by profiteers who feed on the anger of other people.
     I'm reminded of a story I heard when I was a boy.
     In the story, two women and a man were locked in a cell and could see no one but each other. As the two women competed for the attention of the same man, the women grew to hate each other. When the man became arrogant over the women's competition for him, they began to hate him, and he grew to hate them in return. Over the years, their hatred grew until it was all they knew. Finally, their cell door was thrown open and they were allowed to leave. Instead of leaving, they chose to stay in the cell for the rest of their lives expressing their hatred for one another. They lived in a hell of their own making.
     We all have reason to be angry at one another at one time or other. We have enough problems with people who are like ourselves, let alone those we see as different from ourselves.  It may not be true that "it takes all kinds to make a world;" but we have all kinds anyway.
     One unhappy bigot recently attempted to justify his hatred by quoting Psalms 5:5, “God hates all workers of iniquity." In Luke 14:26, the Bible also quotes Jesus as saying, "Unless you hate your father and mother, you can not be My disciple.” If that's the way that person understands the Bible, Father's Day and Mother's Day at that person's house must be pretty depressing. Of course, any understanding to the Scriptures should be based on the Scriptures in their entirety, and not just a few cherry-picked verses.
     I mentioned that I often receive emailed propaganda urging me to hate people from other countries and religions. I'm expected to believe that hatred of other people is the sort of thing that is required of an American patriot and a Christian.
     Any reasonable person can see that they're being manipulated to give assent to war and other forms of taxpayer-sponsored cruelty. Man's inhumanity to man is profitable for a few at the expense of the many.
     It's one of my hobbies to research America's role in China during the Boxer Uprising of 1899-1900. Both sides had ample reasons to be angry at one another. Both sides made unwise decisions and committed unfair acts.
     Wise decisions broaden our future possibilities. Unwise decisions narrow options. At 1:20 A.M. on June 17, 1900, both sides ran out of options and the war began.
     Tens of thousands of innocent people died along with the guilty. That's the nature of bigotry; all are blamed for the actions of a few. Most of the victims of the Chinese militants were Chinese. Exhibiting the same attitude as bigots today, the Boxers declared that they would exterminate all foreigners and Christians. These deluded people were being manipulated by a comparative handful of powerful Machiavellians in the Forbidden City.
     On the positive side, Prince Fu of the peace faction was persuaded to allow 3,000 Chinese Christians to take refuge in his mansion and gardens, under the protection of Japanese who were themselves under attack.  Prince Fu must have known that his property would be ruined in the 55-day siege.  Out of respect for innocent human life and a desire for future peace, he willingly made the sacrifice.
     Many victims of the militants refused to give in to hate, even at the cost of their lives. By repaying hatred with love, they set the stage for future reconciliation.
     One missionary, after driving off his attackers, wrote in his diary, "Thank God I didn't have to kill any of them."   It was one of the last things he wrote before his attackers came back and killed him.
     As another missionary lay dying, she said to her husband, "How I wish I could have lived so that I could go back and tell the people more about Jesus."
     When the war was over, every affected nation and almost everyone who had suffered at the hands of the Boxers demanded reparations from the Chinese government. Even Christian missionary groups joined the hate-fueled feeding frenzy.
     The China Inland Mission (CIM) suffered more deaths and more property damage than any other missionary group operating in China. It then came as a shock to everyone when CIM leader Hudson Taylor said that he would not ask for reparations. He said it was more important to display "the meekness and gentleness of Christ."  "If I had 1,000 lives," he said, referring to his own life, "I'd give them all for China."
     A lot of professing Christians these days like to wear bracelets bearing the letters, "WWJD."  It stands for "What would Jesus do?"
     (In an earlier article, I described events leading to the Boxer Uprising and the eight-nation war with China.  In essence, both sides made a series of selfish and bigoted decisions that progressively narrowed their options until they had no remaining option but a war that neither side wanted.  See "Leo Tolstoy and the Three Little Wars.")
     It's easy for people to make excuses and imagine that Jesus would put His stamp of approval on whatever we want to do. It's quite a bit more sobering to try answering the question, "What did Jesus do?"
     If we're honest with ourselves, we already know what Jesus did.
     He spoke firmly but kindly to a sinful woman and led her to repentance.  He told a parable that praised the behavior of a member of a hated minority group.  He humbled Himself in many ways to offer forgiveness and reconciliation to wrongdoers.  That includes you and me.  In his Eight Woes of the Pharisees (link), he blasted the bigots of his day for being too proud to do the same.  Almost word for word, the woes could have been written for bigots of our day.
     Jesus humbly looked beyond blame and took responsibility for reconciling us with our Heavenly Father. He looked beyond our guilt and saw our need. We should not be too proud to make the attempt ourselves.

Monday, April 18, 2011

End Game for Taiwan? Part 1: Taiwan's Painful Path to Freedom

     When delusion crashes headlong into reality, the result is always messy and painful. When people cling to delusion even after sixty years of colliding with painful and messy realities, the result is bizarre.
     The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which ruled over Taiwan from 1945 until 2000, is all but certain to get kicked out of office again in the March 2012 presidential election. Respecting the outcomes of elections is not a KMT virtue. Many observers in Taiwan fear that, President Ma Ying-jeou (pictured at left) will make major moves to betray Taiwan to Taiwan's enemies in Beijing before he is removed from office.
     To better understand this situation and the KMT’s bizarre concept of reality, it’s necessary for me to give a quick review of Taiwan’s 51-year-long (1945-1996), painful path to freedom and limited government.
     At the end of the Second World War, General Douglas MacArthur ordered Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek to effect the military occupation of Taiwan, which was then a part of Japan. When Chiang did so, he proclaimed that Taiwan had been returned to China, and his Chinese Nationalist Party dubbed that date a Chinese holiday called “Retrocession Day.”
     That was the beginning of a dangerous delusion that now threatens the existence of Taiwan as a sovereign nation.
     By 1947, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) had imposed martial law and the White Terror on the unfortunate people of Taiwan. Over the next 37 years—the longest period of martial law in world history—they would kill 30,000 Taiwanese. The KMT kleptocracy would also drive Taiwan’s vibrant economy into the toilet.
     That same year, Chiang presumed to impose his self-serving “constitution” on all of China, Tibet, East Turkistan, Hong Kong, all of Mongolia (including Outer Mongolia, which is independent of China even to this day), and somehow Taiwan. Chiang’s constitution claimed that the borders of China could not be changed except by constitutional amendment. Since, under international law, Taiwan was not a part of China, a conventional interpretation of that constitution would be that Taiwan could not become part of the Republic of China (ROC) except by constitutional amendment.
     What made Chiang’s constitution especially risible was that it presumed to rule areas that it did not rule and that it forbade Chiang to rule Taiwan, which was the only large land mass that Chiang did, in fact, rule. Thus, under Chiang’s constitution, the ROC did not exist except on the tiny island groupings of Jinmen and Ma-tsu.
     By 1949, the Republic of China was completely driven out of China and replaced by an even worse regime, the badly misnamed People’s Republic of China.
     In September 1951, Japan signed the San Francisco Treaty. As a term of that treaty, Japan gave up all claim to Taiwan without specifying which country, if any, would receive it. When Japan signed a similar treaty with the defunct Republic of China, Chiang’s representative insisted that Japan specifically grant Taiwan to the defunct ROC.
     Citing international law and common sense, the Japanese told Chiang’s henchman that Japan could not give what it no longer had. Ever since then, the KMT has made two risible and contradictory claims.
     One was the claim that the Japanese had really intended to give Taiwan to the ROC; therefore, the ROC had a legal claim to Taiwan. “ROC President” Ma Ying-jeou, who made that astonishing claim, holds a doctorate in jurisprudence from Harvard University.
     The other claim was that, Taiwan was “returned to the ROC” on the day that Chiang arrived.; thus, a treaty wasn’t necessary after all. In case you’re confused by that phrase “returned to China,” I’ll try to explain.
     After China lost the Sino-Japanese War of 1895, the Ch’ing Dynasty gave up Taiwan to Japan “in perpetuity.” In 1912, the Ch’ings abdicated, leaving the ROC in charge of China. Remember that part: Taiwan ceased to be a part of China even before the ROC existed. In spite of the fact that the ROC never ruled all of China and ceased to rule any of it (other than Jinmen and Ma-tzu) after 1949, the KMT (Chinese Nationalist Party) claims that they really do rule China. In this fantasy world, the PRC (which has obviously ruled China since 1949) doesn’t exist, and the ROC really is China.
     In December 1979, the United States government "de-recognized" Taiwan and stopped using tax dollars to prop up the Chiang regime.  Contrary to what one might expect, after the U.S. turned off the money spigot, Taiwan's economic miracle began.

     In 1987, martial law officially ended, but other repressive laws were put in place so that the KMT wouldn’t suffer post-partum depression. Lee Teng-hui, a native Taiwanese, (pictured at left) became vice president. Virtually all positions of power in Taiwan, though, remained in the hands of Chinese.
     In 1988, Chiang Ching-kuo, the son of Chiang Kai-shek died, and the unthinkable happened: Taiwan was suddenly under the control of Lee Teng-hui, who hated the KMT but had the wisdom to keep his mouth shut about it until he had gained the presidency.
     Under Lee, the constitution was amended to allow for elections. Lee was elected president in 1996.
     In 2000, another unthinkable event occurred: A three-way split resulted in the election of Chen Shui-bian, a native Taiwanese who was a member of the opposition party. For the first time since 1945, Taiwan’s presidency was no longer in the hands of the Chinese Nationalist Party, though the KMT retained control over the legislature.
     Unlike the United States, where the Democrats and Republicans resemble a sock-puppet show, in which one person’s hands manipulate both puppets, Taiwan really does have a two-party system.
     The pan-blue parties—that is, the KMT, a splinter group called the New Party, and a largely one-man show calling itself the People First Party—seemed to accept that it had shot itself in the foot. It spent the next four years blocking the new president’s efforts, even those that the KMT had championed when it occupied the presidency. Apart from these childish antics, the KMT bided its time until the 2004 election. It vowed not to make the same mistake twice.
     Then yet another unthinkable event occurred: Chen Sui-bian was re-elected by an outright majority.
     Chinese Nationalist Party supporters, who seemed to believe that Taiwan would always be theirs to rule and rob, rioted in the streets.  Some people might say that the rioters were trying to overthrow the government, but Taiwan’s libel laws (written and passed by the KMT) forbid such conclusions as this. For that reason, you won’t hear it from me. I do wonder, though, what KMT supporters were trying to do when they gave the appearance of storming the barricades around the Presidential Office Building.
     It’s hard to avoid the conclusion, though, that the Chinese Nationalist Party has a third-world concept of elections: that elections are only window dressing for self-styled and self-serving rulers who will rule or ruin.  It's getting harder to tell the Chinese Nationalist Party from the Chinese Communist Party.

(To be continued)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

If Being a Muslim were an Impeachable Offense

     If being a Muslim were an impeachable offense, would there be enough evidence against Barack Obama to remove him from office? Let's look at the facts.
     The accusation that Barack Obama is a Muslim takes two forms. The first is simply that Obama is a Muslim. The second is that he is a devout Muslim, which, we are told, is worse. Those who claim that their hatred of Islam is a way of defending Christian civilization are suggesting, then, that lack of religious commitment is more Christian than commitment.
     Just what do Muslims believe that supposedly makes them such horrible people that their enemies are forever demanding their annihilation? To the point, does Barack Obama adhere to those supposedly abominable beliefs?
     The religious laws the Muslims follow—variously called Sharia Law or Koranic Law—was lifted almost verbatim from the Law of Moses; that is, Mosaic Law or the Torah. The Law of Moses is still found in the Christian Bible and the Torah today. Many Jews favor the Talmud, which they generated during the Babylonian Captivity. Many Christians claim that, since they live under Grace and not the law, Old Testament law doesn't count except when it supports the beliefs of their religious denomination.
     With regard to religious practices, the biggest difference between Muslims and the rest of us is that they still follow the Law of Moses. (If you seem to hear strains of “Give Me That Old Time Religion,” you're getting the point.)
     Now let's compare Barack Obama's behavior with what we find in the Koran—or, if you prefer, the Old Testament.     You're well aware that Jews and Muslims don't eat pork. In fact, neither Jews nor Muslims use eating utensils that had touched pork or eat food that has been prepared by hands that may have touched pork during preparation. The Muslim term for ritually "clean" food is halal (lawful); the Jews call it kosher (clean).
     Are you aware that Barack Obama hosted a Hawaiian luau at the White House, and that the customary roast pig was on the menu? (See link.)
     Are you aware that Barack Obama ate a meal at a traditional Southern country restaurant in the Deep South? Since pork was one of the items on the menu, Obama's meal was prepared by hands that had touched pork.
     According to Jewish, Christian, and Muslim beliefs, the husband is supposed to be the religious leader of the family. When Michelle Obama and their two daughters visited Vale, Colorado, Michelle ordered short ribs. Either Mr. Obama fails the test of Muslim manhood by allowing this forbidden practice, or he fails the test of Muslim manhood by not caring.  (See link.)
     Sharia and Mosaic Law also forbid the eating of reptiles and amphibians. In the photo above, you will see Obama eating frog legs. (Link)
     I won't look into the question of whether Obama eats rabbits or non-piscine seafood. Sunni Muslims are allowed to eat those foods.
     Then there's the Muslim prohibition on drinking alcoholic beverages. Not content with merely drinking alcoholic beverages, Obama actually brews beer in the White House.  (Link)
     You may not be aware of this—I certainly wasn't—but Islamic law forbids the keeping of dogs as pets. (Link) Nonetheless, Obama keeps a pure-bred pooch named Bo. (Link)
     If I may digress for a moment for the sake of cultural education, American Presidents are expected to keep pets at the White House. It makes them seem more human to the voters. Even if Mr. Obama isn't legally the President, he's expected to put on a convincing act. We don't know what will happen to Bo when Obama leaves the White House.
     When Bill Clinton entered the White House, he brought a cat called Socks. When he left the White House, he dumped socks on one of his secretaries. She probably was Socks's real owner anyway. One can imagine that Monica Lewinsky may have been turned off if she'd seen cat hairs on Bill Clinton's lap.
     It's against the laws of all three religions for a man to look upon a woman with lust. Here we have pictures of Obama visually appreciating two women's butts, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy looking on with bemused approval.
     Aren't Muslims supposed to be virulently opposed to homosexuality?   Didn't Obama come out in favor of homosexual "marriages"?
     Obama did appoint a supposedly “devout” (there goes that word again) Muslim to a position in America's home-grown Gestapo, the Department of Homeland Security. That one appointment led Islamophobes to wail, gnash their teeth, pour ashes on themselves, and claim that this was proof that Obama was a Muslim. Shoot, man, he appointed 32 dual-citizenship Israelis to higher positions than that, and very few people accused Obama of being Jewish.
     Maybe you've heard of Sharia-compliant banking.  (If not, here's a crash course for you.)  Under Mosaic Law (now known as Sharia Law), dishonest weights and measures are forbidden, and so is usury.  Although these requirements are still in the holy books of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, only the Muslims still take them seriously.
     Under "Western" banking, bankers create "money" out of thin air, agree with other bankers as to how much the notes will be worth, and lend the "money" to innocent "customers."  The "customers" post as collateral something of value so that they can receive this funny money.  The "customers" have to repay the loan, not with "money" that the "customers" have created out of thin air, but with money they've had to earn.  The bankers then receive something for nothing.
     In the meltdown of 2008 through the current date, here's what happened:  The bankers lied to people in order to get them to borrow funny money that they'd never be able to repay with real money.  After the victims defaulted, the bankers took their victims' homes away from them.  The victims lost everything.  The bankers lost nothing and gained people's homes.  It was the bankers who then bribed dishonest congressmen to steal even more money from the taxpayers to "repay" the bankers for their supposed losses.  The bankers were then able to invest real money into still more enterprises, many of which were overseas.
     Under Sharia Law, this travesty would never have occurred.  We would have had honest money and fair banking practices.  If it somehow has occurred, executives for Goldman Sachs and other banksters would have been lucky just to have their hands cut off for stealing or their tongues cut out for lying.  Instead, Obama packed his administration with those crooks.  A Muslim would never have done that.
     Oh, let's not forget: Muslims are supposed to be terrorists, or so we're told. Is there any evidence that Barack Obama supports terrorism?  Well, yes, come to think of it, there sure is.
     Under America's Constitution, the federal budget is proposed by the President. Each year since he has been in office, Obama's budget proposals have included $3 billion to support a terrorist regime. This regime routinely bombs schools and private homes, and they even use white phosphorous against them.
     International law doesn't forbid the use of white phosphorous to illuminate an area at night or for use as a smokescreen. An American general once said that white phosphorous is not useful as a weapon of war because "there are more efficient ways of killing people."  We may take it, then, that white phosphorous is more effective as a weapon of terror. Canadian writer and activist Naomi Klein and others have seen where the terrorist regime that Obama supports had used white phosphorous on grade schools.  (See link.)
     Who are the victims of the terror attacks that Mr. Obama supports with our tax dollars? Who are the terrorists?
     The victims are the Palestinians in Gaza. Yes, the victims are predominantly Muslim. The terrorists are a gang of anti-religious war criminals whose actions make a mockery of the Law of Moses, even as they hijack the biblical name of Israel.
     Yes, Mr. Obama uses American tax dollars to support terrorism, but he's clearly not a Muslim.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Credibility: Corporate-owned Media versus the Internet

     Probably the most oft-repeated accusation against the corporate-owned news media is that they’re biased. Probably the most oft-repeated accusation against Internet reporting of the news is that there are many inaccuracies on the Internet.
     Both accusations are true. Perhaps not surprisingly, both accusations are true of both forms of reporting.
     Let’s first look at the matter of media bias. On my first day of journalism class at the University of South Carolina in 1977, my professor taught that bias is simply the framework by which we interpret the world around us. Bias is both inevitable and essential.
     Every minute of every day, every sentient being—that includes us—is bombarded with so much information that we can’t absorb it all. To avoid sensory overload, our minds create a model that, to us, represents the world as it is. We unconsciously filter out things that don’t fit the model. Things that do fit the model are assigned proper places and rankings in our mental map of that model.
     In one respect, these mental maps differ from the familiar diagrams known as mind maps. Mind maps often contain symbols signifying how we are to respond to certain information. Each item we fit into our mental map is a word or phrase, an item of information, and a symbol.
     This process, which is called semiotics, is necessary for survival and to simplify decision making. For example, when a cat sees a strange dog, the cat’s mental map detects the dog, the danger the dog represents, and possibly the cat’s manner of expressing the word dog. If cats somehow became unbiased and had to think everything through from scratch, cats would soon become extinct. With experience, a cat may adjust its mental model enough to accept a particular dog; but, in the general sense, dog still represents danger.
      I further explain the function of bias in part two of the three-part series “How News Reporting Really Works.”
     Semiotics doesn’t have the same results for all animals or for all humans. A dog may look at his master and think, “He feeds me, shelters me, loves me, and provides for all my other needs. He must be a god.” A cat is more likely to look at his master and think, “He feeds me, shelters me, loves me, and provides for all my other needs. I must be a god.”
     What we call media bias is usually one of two things: Either the reporter fails to account for differences in his perceptions and the perceptions of others; or the reporter has agenda that he allows to influence the way he reports the news. If his agenda get in the way of his reporting, it may be unconscious or deliberate.
     We all know that bloggers and other unpaid Internet reporters and commentators have agenda. But so do reporters and commentators working for the corporate-owned media.
There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t tell my students, “The truth is out there, but so are lies.”
     The corporate-owned media today is in the same situation as the university-trained doctors found themselves after the A.D. 1450 or so. For the first time in human history, university-trained doctors found themselves in direct competition with traditional healers. They responded by branding their competition witches and charlatans. After all, every educated person “knew” that leeches and bloodletting were more scientific and effective than herbs, foods, and other  unproven cures. They were the very people who, as recently as the 1850s, persecuted Ignaz Semmelweis for saying that doctors should wash their hands.
     In those days, doctors were also barbers. Some doctors are still barbarous.
     This competition went beyond the superficial matter of affecting opinions. With the help of government and the church, they actively influenced the model by which people perceived the issue. They would be perceived as the “medical community,” while natural healers would be seen—at best—as “alternative.”
     They got away with and continue to get away with it because of the relationships they enjoy with people in positions of power, including the corporate-owned information media. The Internet provides the most effective voice for competing information.
     It has often been said that the corporate-owned media can’t control what we think; but, by choosing which stories to cover, they can control what we think about. That’s not entirely true. By representing themselves as the only reliable source of news, and representing the Internet as an unreliable alternative, the corporate-owned media can affect the public’s model of reality.
For examples of unreliable and outright dishonest reporting, see the four-part series “How News Reporting Really Works,” and the companion piece “Sometimes They Lie.” (To begin reading this series, click here.)  (I make further references to problems in the corporate-owned news media in the five-part series “How Washington Really Works.” To begin reading this series, click here.)
     More blatant examples of media dishonesty have recently come to my attention. It would be too easy to dismiss Glenn Beck as a fool, but close inspection of him and his methods—and the fact that he keeps his job—show that he and his bosses are thoroughly dishonest.
     Picture for a moment someone like Glenn Beck reporting on the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929. The earlier version of Beck tells us that some Roman Catholic Italians entered a garage and viciously murdered six Jews and a garage mechanic. Over and over he reminds us that the killers were Italian Catholics and that most of the victims were Jews.
     The way this 1920s Glenn Beck tells it, it would be easy to get the impression that the Italian Catholics were acting from religious conviction and ethnic type. That seems to be the general idea. Instead of blaming the criminals for criminal behavior, we’re expected to blame the religion or the ethnic group.
     Glenn Beck and other disinformation specialists are pimps for banks and corporations that profit from war, other conflicts, and other disasters.
     He and others like him make a regular practice of finding examples of criminality by poor immigrants, Palestinians, and other peoples whose voices can not be amplified by profits or the profit motive. It’s the Internet that gives voice to the voiceless.
     Bias, agenda, and inaccuracies can be found in both the corporate-owned media reports and the independent media of the Internet. For that reason, a more workable model of reality would be to suspect, examine, and judge the reliability of all sources in both the corporate-owned media and the independent media. For the sake of Truth and Justice, this should be our model.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Differences between Actors and Congressmen

     In a recent article ("Common Sense, Benefits, and Peaceful Resistance"),  I wrote that advertisements tend to distort our sense of reality versus illusion; which distorts our sense of value and benefits. I then proposed practical solutions.
     The nature of politicians creates similar distortions.
     There are several significant differences between congressmen and Hollywood actors. Actors sometimes stop acting, but congressmen never stop. Congressmen expect you to believe that their performance is reality. Actors often venture into the real world and find out what it’s like, but congressmen rarely do so.
     Between the two, I prefer the actors. I think it’s high time that somebody stood up for actors who grab headlines for activist causes, and I think it’s high time somebody told the truth about congressmen who grab headlines for acting as if they care about causes other than themselves.
     If that sounds a mite harsh, try presenting your concerns to a congressman. I’ve spoken with congressmen many times, and the result has always been the same. Maybe your experiences with congressmen have been different.
     Congressmen, like actors, depend on cues to aid their performance. When you’re presenting your concerns to “your” congressman, take a close look at his face. Doesn’t it look more like the face of a salesman than that of someone who really gives a hoot about you? He’s not trying to understand your concern; he’s trying to locate your hot button. As soon as he thinks he’s located your hot button, he reaches into his store of sound bites, pulls one out, and plays it for you.
     He couldn’t care less about you and your problems, unless you’re a well-heeled lobbyist with a briefcase full of campaign contributions. He’s trying to boost his image in your eyes. Otherwise, he accepts campaign contributions from the malefactors of great wealth and votes from the poor and middle class on the pretext that he’s protecting each group from the other.
     It’s no coincidence that most congressmen or either lawyers or salesmen. People in both professions are noted for their acting ability; and people in both professions succeed by acting as if they care.
     Let me tell you a true story.
     A well-to-do man decided to build a second home in Wyoming and bought a ranch there. Locals were concerned about the loss of their way of life, but they were mollified by the fact that the rich man kept the land as a functioning ranch. One day, an eleven year-old boy got lost in the area of Jackson Hole, a canyon in that area. By the time he was sighted from the air, a storm had come up and rescue choppers were grounded. The boy would have to spend another night in the wilderness. The outsider would not accept this situation. He took his own helicopter and flew into the canyon, fighting strong winds to rescue the boy.
     Who was the hero in this story?
     A. Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY)
     B. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY)
     C. Representative Cynthia Lummis
     D. Harrison Ford
     That’s right. It was Harrison Ford, an actor. A congressman would never have stuck his neck out like that.
     When the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse trample innocent populations under their merciless hooves, where are the actors and where are the congressmen?
     Look at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti earthquake, and other disasters. Brad Pitt helped built temporary shelters. Angelina Jolie and Sean Penn did grunt work, hand-carrying supplies to disaster victims. They were getting down and dirty, helping people who needed help the most.
     Where were the congressmen? If congressmen step into a disaster area at all, they prefer to do it dry shod, like Queen Elizabeth I stepping from her coach onto Walter Raleigh's cloak.  Well, some congressmen were getting down and dirty, but not in the same sense of the term.
          Then-Congressman Richard Baker (R-Baton Rouge) crowed, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” He proposed what became known as the Baker Plan. Under his plan, the federal government would borrow a few hundred million dollars from the international bankers (to be repaid by the U. S. taxpayers) and lend it to real estate developers and other disaster capitalists. The disaster capitalists would use it to drive disaster victims from their property and make a bundle—all at U.S. taxpayer expense.
     That was too much even for President Bush to stomach. A million Iraqi and Afghani lives were a small price to pay for Bush and his chums to steal trillions of dollars, but Hurricane Katrina wasn’t profitable enough for him to sign on board. His Ferengi nature led him to balk at the idea.
In 2008, Baker resigned from Congress to go to work for a hedge fund. That was only a few months before the hedge funds did to the United States what they did to Southeast Asia during the Currency Crisis of 1997. (What next?)
     I said that actors often enter the real world, but congressmen seldom do. You see, successful actors work long, hard hours in bursts of about forty days at a stretch. Between exhausting assignments, they often have both the time and the money to go to the world’s trouble spots for weeks at a stretch.
     Congressmen never stop campaigning, and their so-called fact-finding missions are mainly campaign photo opportunities at taxpayer expense.
     Actors learn about starvation by visiting hungry people. They talk with the hungry people and with groups who are trying to relieve their suffering. Congressmen “learn” about starvation by attending $1,000-a-plate feasts at which speakers in Armani suits tell them that the American middle class should give up one meal a week.
          Actors learn about rainforest depletion by slipping into hiking boots and khakis and getting into the rainforest. Through translators, native guides give them the low-down.
     Congressmen travel in corporate-owned jets to international meetings in areas that used to be rainforests. That is, they had been rainforests before developers cleared away thousands of acres of irreplaceable resources to build the hotel at which the meeting took place. There, the same developers who cleared away the rainforest tell them the need to preserve the world’s rainforests.
     Actors learn about the tribulations of Gaza by venturing into Gaza. Congressmen get their information by visiting politicians—the same ones who order the shelling of civilians in Gaza. Actors get their information by visiting with real people.
     Obama? Oh, I can say a lot of bad things about him, but I’d like to wrap up by saying something good about him. When the genocide in Darfur needed to be stopped, Obama had the good sense not to send some idiot congressman on a phony fact-finding mission. He asked for actor George Clooney, who already had had his boots on the ground in Darfur for several years.
     George Clooney, Matt Damon, and other Hollywood actors, more than any congressmen could have or would have, played major roles in ending the genocide.
     Why do actors do a better job of representing our interests than most politicians do? I think it’s because of three more differences between politicians and actors:
     1. Salaries for politicians are confiscated rather than voluntary,
     2. Salaries for politicians are taken from every geographical area rather than just the area the politicians are elected to represent, and
     3. Campaign contributions, which are the only voluntary means of payment for politicians, may be given by people whose interests are at odds with the interests of the people that politicians are supposed to represent.
     By contrast:
     1. Actors don’t get salaries. They depend entirely on voluntary contributions, mainly in the form of ticket sales,
     2. People from every geographical area is a constituent or potential constituent of actors, and
     3. Actors depend on numerous and diverse individuals for their livelihoods and far less on interest groups.
     Perhaps we’d get better representation if political salaries and campaign contributions were voluntary and were limited to the price of a theater ticket.