Pastafarians, Wiccans, Others Banned from Green Bay Pack

Thursday, December 20, 2007

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Appearing at The Jaundiced Eye, the Independent Bloggers' Alliance, and My Left Wing.

Pastafarians may not participate in a holiday display in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Mayor Jim Schmitt described the proposal as "silly." He declared a moratorium on additional displays after a Wiccan wreath displayed with the nativity scene was vandalized.

After police announced Monday someone stole and damaged a Wiccan display overnight that had been placed on the roof Friday, Schmitt ordered that it wouldn't be replaced and that no other displays would be permitted until the City Council debates the issue tonight.

Schmitt's declaration means that the nativity scene, placed by Council President Chad Fradette last Tuesday, is the only holiday display over City Hall's northwest entrance.

Schmitt said he and City Attorney Allison Swanson developed proposed guidelines governing the size and style of future religious displays. His list limits such displays to December and attempts to limit such displays to legitimate religious symbolism.

In fairness, the mayor may be well within his rights to put a stopper on the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Seinfeldian Festivus (for the rest of us). But there are serious constitutional questions when the only remaining display is a Christian one.

"Who is to say what is a legitimate religious institution?" said Maureen Manion, a retired St. Norbert College professor of political science, with a specialty in constitutional law. "Is there a check-off list? That's shaky constitutional ground, as far as I'm concerned."

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is purposely ambiguous in that it tries to protect religious practices without establishing a religion, and "the courts have always bent over backward to not define religions," Manion said. "I think that's what the framers (of the constitution) were trying to protect — not having a sanctioned church.

. . .

Limiting displays to December is clearly an attempt to put Christian ideals first, which ignores minority religions that may have important holidays at different times of the year, said Terri Johnson, a professor of American government and politics at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

"The Bill of Rights was about protecting minority rights," she said. "Freedom of speech, of religion, all of those weren't to protect the majority, they were to protect the minority."

Faced with a law suit, after its Tuesday night vote to restrict the display, the city is scrambling to cover its bases.

Schmitt on Wednesday directed city maintenance workers to move a Christmas tree and wire reindeer next to the nativity display.

True, the christmas tree is one of the many vestigial pagan symbols that remain in the Christmas tradition. I doubt that it sufficiently replaces the damaged pentacle.

Schmitt said Monday he didn't realize until that day that the wreath and pentacle involved witchcraft. Wicca is a nature-based religion based on respect for the earth, nature and the cycle of the seasons, but Schmitt said he believed it was wrong to allow a Wiccan display next to the nativity scene.

"Wrong" to allow a Wiccan symbol near a Christian one... Well then, I guess we can be pretty sure that no bias went into his decision to restrict all but the nativity scene.

Not a fan of nativity scenes, myself. Although every year I play with the idea of putting up a display of the newborn Mithras in his cave, surrounded by the magi and shepherds, just to see if anyone notices the difference. I doubt Mayor Schmitt would catch on. After listening to this interview on NPR, I'm not sure he's ever heard of any religions other than Christianity. Certainly, he has never been touched by the noodly appendage. For my part:

I Want To Believe

Rich on O'Donnell on Mormonism

Monday, December 17, 2007

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Appearing at The Jaundiced Eye, the Independent Bloggers' Alliance, and My Left Wing.

I love the smell of a Lawrence O'Donnell meltdown in the morning. He goes off the rails better than any talking head in memory. Last Sunday may have been his best tirade ever; if for no other reason, the fact that he did not later retract it. If you're not a fan of The McLaughlin Group, you might have missed it.

I grew up on John McLaughlin and it's something of a tradition in my house. Every Sunday my husband and I drink our morning coffee to the mingled sounds Pat Buchanan's bloviating and my daughter's complaints of boredom. She sounds just like I did way back when my grandmother sat on her perch in front of the kitchen black and white. There are so few constants in the world of mass media. The McLaughlin Group is one to savor. At least once during every show, my husband or I will proclaim, on cue, "Wraaaahhhnng! I had oatmeal and banahnaaaaahs." It's kind of like "Hi Bob," only without the booze.

After last Sunday's McLaughlin offering, I searched the tv line-up for another airing. It was too good not to watch at least twice. YouTube to the rescue. (see above)

Here's what Frank Rich had to say, yesterday, about O'Donnell's anti-Mormon rant.

THIS campaign season has been in desperate need of its own reincarnation of Howard Beale from “Network”: a TV talking head who would get mad as hell and not take it anymore. Last weekend that prayer was answered when Lawrence O’Donnell, an excitable Democratic analyst, seized a YouTube moment while appearing on one of the Beltway’s more repellent Sunday bloviathons, “The McLaughlin Group.”

Pushed over the edge by his peers’ polite chatter about Mitt Romney’s sermon on “Faith in America,” Mr. O’Donnell branded the speech “the worst” of his lifetime. Then he went on a rampage about Mr. Romney’s Mormon religion, shouting (among other things) that until 1978 it was “an officially racist faith.”

That claim just happens to be true. As the jaws of his scandalized co-stars dropped around him, Mr. O’Donnell then raised the rude question that almost no one in Washington asks aloud: Why didn’t Mr. Romney publicly renounce his church’s discriminatory practices before they were revoked? As the scion of one of America’s most prominent Mormon families, he might have made a difference. It’s not as if he was a toddler. By 1978 — the same year his contemporary, Bill Clinton, was elected governor in Arkansas — Mr. Romney had entered his 30s.

O'Donnell, for his part, followed his shocking television appearance with a more moderated, but still scathing write-up on Romney's Mormonism.

Romney felt politically forced to give the speech specifically because evangelical Christians seem to know a little too much about the faith of his fathers. Many evangelicals believe and have said publicly that Mormonism--contrary to Romney's assertions--is not a Christian religion but an abomination of Christianity. Here's a sampling of why: Mormons believe that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri; that Jews were the first people in America; that Indians descended from Jews and are a lost tribe of Israel; that Jesus came to America; that after the next coming of Christ (which will be the second or third, depending on how you count his trip to America), the world will be ruled for a thousand years from Jerusalem and Missouri; and to answer Mike Huckabee's now famous question, yes, they believe "Jesus and Lucifer were brothers, in the sense of both being spiritually begotten by the Father."

When Matt Lauer asked Romney the Huckabee question about Jesus and the devil being brothers, Romney refused to answer and handed the question off to the Church of Latter Day Saints. The Church issued a deceptively worded statement that most reporters incorrectly read as a denial of the brotherhood of Jesus and Satan. In fact, the Church could not and did not deny it. The Church did correctly point out that attackers (meaning critics) of Mormonism often use the brother bit. Critics also use the Church's 70 year delight in polygamy and sex with very young girls, which also happens to be true. Critics of Mormonism have plenty to work with without inventing anything.

The pundits had no idea how deliberately misleading Romney's speech was. They loved the bit about Romney's father marching with Martin Luther King. None of them knew that if at the end of the march with George Romney, Martin Luther King was so taken with Mormonism that he wanted to convert and become a Mormon priest, George Romney would have had to tell him that they don't allow black priests. George Romney might also have had to explain to the Reverend King that Mormons believe black people have black skin because they turned away from God.

I find it disturbing that this is a conversation we even need to have. I agree with Eleanor Clift that all religions have some kooky notions; especially before they've had millenium or two to mature. But Romney opened the door with his passionate defense of his religion. I would have a far higher comfort level with Romney's Mormonism if he had forcefully stood up for separation between church and state, in his speech. He failed to meet that bar, saying instead:

Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom ... Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.

He put his religion in play. We all have a right to know exactly what he believes, as it seems he doesn't know how to separate those beliefs from his governance. Lawrence O'Donnell had the balls to call him on his duplicity. That's exactly the kind of righteous indignation we need.

Military Families Turn On Bush Republicans

Saturday, December 08, 2007

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Appearing at The Jaundiced Eye, the Independent Bloggers' Alliance, and My Left Wing.

"The man went into Iraq without justification, without a plan; he just decided to go in there and win, and he had no idea what was going to happen. There have been terrible deaths on our side, and it's even worse for the Iraqi population. It's another Vietnam."

-- Mary MacNeely, Mother of Air Force Reservist

Vietnam, which ruptured this country in incalculable ways. Among them, a right/left split that moved most military and military families to kneejerk Republican allegiance. Speaking as a member of one of those few left-leaning military families, let me say that I have seen this this coming; this Republican loss of its reliable military voter base.

Families with ties to the military, long a reliable source of support for wartime presidents, disapprove of President Bush and his handling of the war in Iraq, with a majority concluding the invasion was not worth it, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.
Candle with USA Flag Behind
The views of the military community, which includes active-duty service members, veterans and their family members, mirror those of the overall adult population, a sign that the strong military endorsement that the administration often pointed to has dwindled in the war's fifth year.

The Bush Administration's obsessive pursuit of "victory" in Iraq has not only managed to destroy its own support from military culture, but that of its party.

When military families were asked which party could be trusted to do a better job of handling issues related to them, respondents divided almost evenly: 39% said Democrats and 35% chose Republicans. The general population feels similarly: 39% for Democrats and 31% for Republicans.

And, I'm sure it doesn't help when chicken-hawks like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell belittle the sacrifice of our all-volunteer military.

Unfortunately, most of our friends on the other isle are having a hard time admitting things are getting better; some days I almost think the critics of this war don't want us to win. Nobody is happy about losing lives but remember these are not draftees, these are full-time professional soldiers.

How much is wrong with that statement? For one thing... Democrats live on a island? Shouldn't that be "other side of the aisle?" Perhaps it was a transcription error and I should point the finger at the Grayson County News-Gazette. Or perhaps McConnell really does strand the Democrats of his imagination at sea, with Gilligan and the Skipper, too. It would not surprise me. The man is apparently so out of touch with reality that he has no awareness that we are losing members from every branch of the military, not just the army (soldiers), and that many of those currently risking life and limb are not full-time military professionals, but reservists who are, on top of other indignities, losing the income of their regular salaries to collect, in many cases, significantly lower military wages.

Mitch McConnell, a shining example of Republican military advocacy; lionizing our "brave troops" one minute, and displaying his near total ignorance of the realities of military life the next.

"I don't see gains for the people of Iraq . . . and, oh, my God, so many wonderful young people, and these are the ones who felt they were really doing something, that's why they signed up. I pray to God that they did not die in vain, but I don't think our president is even sensitive at all to what it's like to have a child serving over there."

-- Sue Datta, Mother of Army Staff Sergeant

Being in an active duty military family creates a certain isolation and a sense of internal community. We are, in many ways, cut off from the sense of geographical community that many Americans define by. We move a lot, so it is the military bases, commissaries, and the surround of other military families that is the most reliable constant. The result is, among, other things a conformity of viewpoint within that community. Particularly because he is an officer, my husband has long dealt with the "presumption of Republicanism." You are assumed to be Republican and conservative unless you openly state otherwise. That's been the case throughout my husband's military career, but it may not be so for much longer.

From the beginning of this push to go into Iraq, there were rumblings. I was somewhat surprised to learn that I was not the only military spouse who was pissed as hell at the idea of my husband deploying for a war that made no fucking sense. One of my husband's Marines officially changed his party affiliation from Republican to Independent the day he got his orders. And, when I went to protests in my largely military town, Marines were seen walking by giving the thumbs up to the protesters. This war has never been as popular with military culture as Bush's staged photo-ops, with their props in uniform, would have you think.

Five years later, what we are seeing is a sea change. Military families are becoming fed up with a President and a political party that does not serve their interests.

Asked about the Bush administration's handling of the needs of active-duty troops, military families and veterans, 57% of the general public disapprove. That number falls only slightly among military families -- 53% give a thumbs-down.

And most military families and others surveyed took no exception to retired officers publicly criticizing the Bush administration's execution of the war. More than half of the respondents in both groups -- 58% -- say such candor is appropriate. Families with someone who had served in the war are about equally supportive at 55%.

The Bush Administration will not be able to hide behind the military for much longer, and defend his misguided policies as supporting troops who want "to get the job done." Not when 60% of military families say "the Iraq war is not worth the cost," and 58% want the within a year.

"We support the troops; we don't support Bush. These boys have paid a terrible, terrible price."

-- Linda Ramirez, Mother of US Marine

Natalie Maines: Free the West Memphis Three

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

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Appearing at The Jaundiced Eye, the Independent Bloggers' Alliance, and My Left Wing.

The most fascinating thing about Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines's newest cause is Fox News's spin on the story. Here's their lede:

The Dixie Chicks have a new controversy on their hands. Lead singer Natalie Maines is urging people to contribute money to a defense fund for three Arkansas men that she (and many others) believe were wrongly convicted of killing three children in 1993.

Oh that Natalie, with her outré political notions. She's so controversial. Is it time for another Dixie Chicks cd burning?

The only thing controversial about the cause Maines's has taken on is the prosecution that landed three innocent boys in jail thirteen years ago. And as the article goes on to point out, the conviction of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley has inspired outrage and activism all across America. It has been a cause célèbre for years.

Maines writes her plea on the Dixie Chicks Web site, which has already been answered by several celebrities including, I am told, Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Eddie Vedder, Jack Black and Henry Rollins.

Henry Rollins? You mean the former Black Flag front man who put out an album called Rise Above: 24 Black Flag Songs to Benefit the West Memphis Three five years ago? That Henry Rollins?

The story of the West Memphis Three came into broad public awareness when HBO aired a documentary on the case; Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. Its film makers became interested in the sensational story of what was reported to be a Satanic ritual murder, carried out by 3 teenage boys. Instead their cameras exposed a town in the grip of "Satanic panic" and the prosecution/perseuction of three boys for wearing black, reading about Wicca, and listening to Metallica. Their follow up documentary Paradise Lost: Revelations focused largely on the burgeoning movement to "Free the West Memphis Three." Thirteen years after their conviction, they remain in prison; Damien Echols on death row. They were convicted with absolutely no physical evidence, and on the basis of hearsay, a prison informant of questionable character, and the coerced confession of the mentally retarded Jessie Misskelley. This, even though he recanted the same evening, his confession was riddled with inconsistencies, and he did not testify in court.

The end of this nightmare may now be in sight. New evidence and advances in DNA technology go a long way to clearing these three boys. Some months ago, it was reported that no DNA found at the murder scene belongs to Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, or Jessie Misskelley. There is DNA that does not exclude the step-father of one of the murdered children, Terry Hobbs, and an associate of his, however. While that evidence would probably not be enough to bring new charges, it most certainly makes the two far more credible as suspects than the three young men currently sitting in prison. More disturbing, Hobbs's ex-wife, Pamela, has come forward with more evidence implicating him. A knife belonging to her late son, and missing since the murders, was found amongst her ex-husband's effects.

What follows is video of the recent press conference of with the West Memphis Three defense attorneys and forensics experts. I watched both sequences last night, in their entirety. They are poorly shot and recorded, but I couldn't peel myself away.

All information in this diary comes from repeated viewing of "Paradise Lost," parts I&II, and from the website dedicated to release of the wrongly convicted Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, Also of interest, read Natalie Maines's statement regarding her interest in the West Memphis Three here or here.