Thought for Today

"Do right and you will be conspicuous."
--Mark Twain

"Let Freedom Reign"

That was President Bush's three-word comment on the note Condi Rice passed to him, announcing that "control" of Iraq had been transferred to the Iraqis. (Proof that this note was totally staged: that word "reign." You just know that if he hadn't been rehearsed Bush would have written "rain." And his handwriting! It would have won the penmanship prize at any school Swami attended. But that's Bush--cool even in moments that test your deodorant. Like, say, in a Florida schoolroom on 9/11).

Where was Swami? Oh, in Iraq. The new Iraq, where Iyad Akmush Kanum, 23, learned the limits of sovereignty on Monday: American prosecutors refused to uphold an Iraqi judges' order acquitting him of attempted murder of coalition troops.

US prosecutors said that he was being returned to the controversial Abu Ghraib prison because under the Geneva Conventions they were not bound by Iraqi law...

"Iraqis who have been detained as a security threat can still be detained until firstly the coalition leaves or secondly they are considered to be no longer a threat," said Michael Frank, deputy special prosecutor for Multinational Force-Iraq (MNFI), who oversaw the case dressed in military fatigues.
Swami also finds himself shaking his head in sorrowful agreement with Christopher Dickey. From his Newsweek piece about Iraq's new prime minister:

Allawi is best understood as the anointed dictator in waiting. His job is to do whatever needs doing to impose order on the current chaos. Martial law, ruthless repression, you name it. With American firepower to back him up, he's more than ready to take the blame for any rough stuff. Allawi's defense minister proudly vows to chop off the hands and heads of terrorists. As Franklin Roosevelt is supposed to have said about an infamous Nicaraguan dictator, "He's a son of a bitch, but at least he's our son of a bitch."

Make Your Own Church Sign

Have you ever dreamed of borrowing the box of letters at your church, synagogue or mosque, and putting up your own church sign? Just imagine the chaos if we did that! WOMEN! JESUS SENT JOHN JONES TO YOU! or BOW DOWN TO MY WIFE, OR ELSE or OUTSOURCE THE PRESIDENT--and those are just warm-ups.

Well, now you can make your own church sign--without leaving your desk. Go to Church Sign Generator. (Forget the chain letters. This is something you really do want to share with friends.)

Swami's God (Part 2)

A friend of 40 years read yesterday's blog and wrote to ask: "Uh...you really believe in God?" (Most of Swami's friends are, you may have guessed, in the agnostic/atheist camp.) Swami hemmed and hawed. Then he remembered the night he interviewed Thich Nhat Hanh, and TNH told him:

This body is not me. I am much more than this body. The space of 50 or 60 or 70 years is not my lifespan. It is not true that I did not exist before I was born. It is not true that I will no longer exist after the disintegration of this body. My ground of being is the reality of no birth, no death. No coming, no going. It is like water is the ground of being of a wave. The wave might be afraid of being or non-being. But if she knows that she is water, she will lose all her fear. Nothing is born...nothing dies. That is a statement made by the French scientist Lavoisier. The Heart Sutra uses exactly the same terms. The day of your so-called death is truly a day of continuation. Birth and death cannot really touch us. If you know that, you will be able to enjoy every second of your daily life--even if you are in terminal illness.
This is Swami's view, too. When he's not utterly freaked out, that is.

From Swami's Mailbag: "Create a Virtual Democracy!"

Unlike the all-knowing Bush Administration, Swami is just another befuddled citizen. (Hey, you were warned--in Swami's very first blog: "This fakir is a bit of a faker.") So he was pleased to get another perspective on saving America from a new Dark Ages from Beliefnet reader Hal McKenzie:

"The grave problems with our government cannot be solved by a change in administration. The problem is that the government we know and love--our representative democracy--has been replaced by a government-corporate kleptocracy that operates in the shadows. It has its own sources of money, its own military forces, its own rules.

"The last 70 years or more were "war years"--we fought two world wars and the so-called Cold War (which was actually extremely "hot" for Third World people). That is enough time for a war-based culture, morality and government to become entrenched and take on a life of its own. Secrecy, deception and the use of deadly force unrestricted by law (to paraphrase Lenin) are key elements of such a war culture...

"But then, as you say, thank God for the internet!

"This is my idea: Create a virtual democracy on the Web. It can follow the basic outline of the Founding Fathers, or we can create a whole new constitution. As a SciFi buff, I think Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars novels contain some great ideas about a new kind of democracy. I think he should be approached for his input on this.

"It can start with an on-line Continental Congress, where people from all walks of life just brainstorm. Then the most well-thought out ideas can be published and put to a vote in a cyber Constitutional Convention, creating something concrete that people can rally around and push for. Then the virtual government can begin to take over from the sham government and root out the shadow government.

"Another idea: We New Agers need an organization modeled after AARP. Yes, the American Association of Retired Persons. You know their slogan: '35 million people dedicated to social change.' I think we should get an organization with 100 million or more members dedicated to social change.

"I used to work for AARP in its mailroom 30 years ago. It is a grass-roots organization. I used to pack boxes full of membership cards, flyers and incorporation kits for people who were establishing AARP chapters all over the country. Based on its huge demographic--baby boomers--it could amass political and legal clout, as well as lots of money. For your $10 membership, you get a high-quality magazine with useful stuff for seniors, lots of discount offerings on travel and what-not, and a lobby in Congress to go to bat for your concerns. Mass mailing is a big factor in its success.

"I also think that Truth, not ideology, should motivate this. The ideologies of the Left are just as outdated and narrow-minded as the fundamentalism of Christians and Muslims. The organization should have Truth in its name, like American Citizens for Truth (ACT).

"The most important thing is, you cannot bring down a mighty edifice by pinpricks alone, guerrilla-style. We need something akin to the Normandy Invasion. That's why it is crucial that we mobilize overwhelming political power that cannot be stamped out piecemeal.

"I have been stewing over these ideas for a long time. Thanks for the opportunity to vent."

Thought for Today

"He is a letter to everyone. You open it. It says, 'Live!'"


The Handover: "We're the Domino's Pizza of Liberation"

To celebrate the Puppet Show--oops, the Iraqi "handover"--there's a new "Get Your War On" comic. [Caution: not suitable for children or those unfamiliar with Dick Cheney's vocabulary.]

Jon Stewart: "Ours Is the One True God. Others Are Less."

Jon Stewart, host of the Daily Show (required view, Monday through Thursday nights, 11 PM ET, Comedy Central) did an hour on Larry King last week. The spiritual highlight:

KING: What do you think about religion in politics?

STEWART: I think it should be there, but more. It's just not there enough.

KING: More?

STEWART: Yes. I feel like, you know, I feel like the best thing to do is to convince the country that our God is the one true God and that others are less.

KING: American God, you mean?

STEWART: Yes. The one that blesses us for our manifestness.

KING: He doesn't bless England.

STEWART: No. No. He doesn't care for them. He feels that they're pasty.

KING: Pasty?

STEWART: Pasty and he doesn't care for the food.

KING: But Canada.

STEWART: Happy to have them in the attic, but not so crazy about them in general.

KING: He's a judgmental God.

STEWART: Very angry. Loves the Americans. Very big. Wants us to have bigger cars. Wants us to have bigger cars and as a little goof on us has only made a finite supply of oil. It's very--he's very funny. He's a trickster. Here's another little joke he did. He promised three different religions they were the chosen ones, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and then, funny, follow me, he put their holiest sites all in the same place. And then he backed away and he just wants to see who wants it more. That's what this is about. This is God going, hey, show me something, people.

KING: You kind of like him. You kind of like playing.

STEWART: I enjoy the mischief that he's making.

Swami: Praise God! Now Let's Talk Politics!

Swami gets a lot of mail that can be summarized like this: "Hey, Swami, Beliefnet is a spiritual site. Your blog is supposed to be a spiritual blog. But all you write about is politics: Michael Moore-loving, Bush-hating, lockstep-liberal politics. When are you going to get a clue--or just get the hell out of here and find some place where you belong?"

Or, in the words of Swami's smart-ass, Dean's List stepson: "Why can't you be more like Loose Canon?"

Swami understands these detractors (or thinks he does). After working a hard day--or even in the middle of a hard day--you look for comfort and relief. You don't crack open a beer, you click on Beliefnet. But instead of that first bracing gulp of spiritual refreshment, you get this jerk ranting about politics.

Is Swami so stupid he thinks he can convince anyone to change his/her mind about George Bush?

Does Swami know so little about spirituality all he can do is recycle political propaganda?

Is Swami so unbalanced he needs a blog as therapy, as catharsis?

Wrong on all counts, Swami insists. Swami is under no illusions that anything he writes will change a mind; all he hopes is to open a mind or two. Swami is no spiritual illiterate; he's been reading (and underlining) spiritual literature before many of you were born. And as for therapy, Swami's done his time (and then some) on the couch--and he's endured enough real life that he can, with justification, say he's been to the Clue Store many, many times.

Also: Swami hates politics.

Huh? If Swami thinks politicians are even bigger fakes than he is, why is he banging on the political drum almost every day?

Two reasons. One: "God told me to." Two: "To keep the Dark Ages from returning."

Swami's Idea of God

Swami believes in Prayer. Swami would bet on a Higher Power. And Swami instinctively "knows" the Buddha was right that there's no beginning, no end, no birth, no death--something deep in us endures.

But Swami, though riveted by Spirit, has lost interest in Religion.

You care how many angels can dance on a pinhead? Is your religious practice rich in Bible study and short on action? Is the unspoken point of your faith to make you and you co-worshippers feel you have a lock on virtue? Do you believe the only way to be saved is through surrender to a God who tells you that you were born in sin?

If you answered "yes" to any of those questions, Swami is NOT diasparaging you. He just believes something else: God cares more what we do than what we say. If we're to be judged, it will be on our actions, not our piety. Do we believe in Jesus/Mohammed/whatever? Prove it. Walk the walk, don't just talk the talk.

Maybe humanity always thinks it's at a Turning Point and that what we do is of immense consequence to the future of the planet. But it surely seems to Swami as if we're at a real Turning Point now. For some, that means the End Times are coming. For Swami, it means that we have a rare opportunity to save our planet--or destroy it. And Swami's personal preference is for a God who wants us to save it.

So politics, for Swami, is belief in action. Are the politicians sincere? Doubtful. But we don't have the luxury of their cynicism. We have to act as evolved beings--we have to hold the politicians to a higher standard.

Which leads us to....

What Are "Good" Politics?

Forget Kerry and Bush. Let's talk issues for a moment. Swami happily endorses the approach favored by the poet, essayist and farmer Wendell Berry. His whole piece is worth reading, but here's the kernel of his argument:

We now have a clear, inescapable choice that we must make. We can continue to promote a global economic system of unlimited "free trade" among corporations, held together by long and highly vulnerable lines of communication and supply, but now recognizing that such a system will have to be protected by a hugely expensive police force that will be worldwide, whether maintained by one nation or several or all, and that such a police force will be effective precisely to the extent that it oversways the freedom and privacy of the citizens of every nation.

Or we can promote a decentralized world economy which would have the aim of assuring to every nation and region a local self-sufficiency in life-supporting goods. This would not eliminate international trade, but it would tend toward a trade in surpluses after local needs had been met.

One of the gravest dangers to us now, second only to further terrorist attacks against our people, is that we will attempt to go on as before with the corporate program of global "free trade", whatever the cost in freedom and civil rights, without self-questioning or self-criticism or public debate.

This is why the substitution of rhetoric for thought, always a temptation in a national crisis, must be resisted by officials and citizens alike. It is hard for ordinary citizens to know what is actually happening in Washington in a time of such great trouble; for all we know, serious and difficult thought may be taking place there. But the talk that we are hearing from politicians, bureaucrats, and commentators has so far tended to reduce the complex problems now facing us to issues of unity, security, normality, and retaliation.

Which leads us, finally, to...

George Bush and the "Dark Ages"

Swami doesn't, as some of you think, hate Bush. (Nor does he worship Clinton or swoon for Kerry.) Swami fears a Bush second term because he thinks Bush represents the forces of Blind Belief--belief in an arrogant, swaggering, male-aggressive America, belief that the Bible and its Evangelical friends have absolute wisdom, belief that we don't need to smarten up and innovate so long as we have the biggest guns and the toughest soldiers.

And that position--though comforting--no longer works.

For instance, Swami has been reading "Guns, Germs and Steel," the Pulitzer Prize-winning book about "the fates of human societies" by UCLA professor Jared Diamond. Here's sentence one: "This book attempts to provide a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years." Ooops, there go the Creationists. They can't read this book--to them, it's ignorant heresy. Which wouldn't be so bad if the Republican party weren't so fond of these people. Give them more power, and no way will this be a textbook in a government-funded school. And that's just for openers.

Or consider science. We were once the greatest inventors on the planet. Now as the Washington Monthly reports, your value as a scientist is directly linked to your willingness to support government policies:

The Bush administration has ordered that government scientists must be approved by a senior political appointee before they can participate in meetings convened by the World Health Organization, the leading international health and science agency.

...."No one knows better than Health and Human Services who the experts are and who can provide the most up-to-date and expert advice," [HHS spokesman Tony] Jewell said. "The World Health Organization does not know the best people to talk to, but HHS knows." On the environment, we're not a world leader--we're a joke. (The Environmental Protection Agency just created an ad campaign that makes fun of those who want better gas mileage and cleaner cars.) Here's the noted writer Bill McKibben:

For environmental patriots, proud to live in the country that birthed the national park and the wilderness area, that led the way in cleaning up urban air and dirty rivers, it's hard to go to Europe and be treated with a mix of suspicion and pity. But that's the new reality. Like call centers and sneaker factories, environmental leadership has been outsourced.
How does this President plan to deal with any of these issues? He doesn't. This stuff goes right over his head. Or he declares them non-issues. In any event, these problems get in the way of his supporters' agenda, which is all about dominance and self-interest, so don't expect any progressive ideas from the White House if there's a second term.

Civilized, intelligent debate? Thank God for bloggers and agitators like Michael Moore--if it weren't for us, there'd be almost no contrarian thinking. Most churches seem to be asleep on these matters. Big media is too busy selling fantasy. And as for cable TV, this is how low it gets:

ALAN COLMES: Are all the American people that don't support him [President George W. Bush] dumb?

ANN COULTER: No. I think, as I indicated in my last book, they're traitors.

And you want me to delight you with my charming views on theology? Sorry to disappoint. Swami's gonna slap on his Kerry pin--not because he loves Kerry, but because four more years of Bush could turn our beloved country into a dull, second-rate backwater--and start marching toward Freedomland.

Got a better idea? Write Swami. Because, unlike our leaders, Swami knows he doesn't have all the answers.

Thought for Today

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a civilization, it expects what it never was and never will be."

--Thomas Jefferson

Dave Barry Cracks the Da Vinci Code

Dave Barry suspected that the key to a bestseller is a winning formula. So he studied Dan Brown's blockbuster. Now Dave thinks he's got an idea for a sure-fire hit:

The key to "The Da Vinci Code" is that it's filled with startling plot twists, and almost every chapter ends with a "cliffhanger" so you have to keep reading to see what will happen. Using this formula, I wrote the following blockbuster novel, titled "The Constitution Conundrum." It's fairly short now, but when I get a huge publishing contract I'll flesh it out to 100,000 words by adding sentences.
What's it about? Read on.

Joke: The Rabbi at the Wailing Wall

In Jerusalem, an American female journalist heard about an old rabbi who visited the Wailing Wall to pray, twice a day, everyday, for a long, long time.

In an effort to check out the story, she goes to the holy site--and there he is! She watches the bearded old man at prayer. After about 45 minutes, when he turns to leave, she approaches him for an interview.

"I'm Rebecca Smith from CNN, sir, how long have you been coming to the Wailing Wall and praying?"

"For about 50 years."

"50 years! That's amazing! What do you pray for?"

"I pray for peace between the Jews and the Arabs. I pray for all the hatred to stop and I pray for all our children to grow up in safety and friendship."

"And how do you feel, sir, after doing this for 50 years?"

"Like I'm talking to a f----g wall."

The Crystal Ball

Swami sees...

...a CD you must buy: Arvo Pärt's "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten"--from his Tabula Rasa CD--is the music heard during the abstract, heart-wrenching World Trade Center sequence in "Fahrenheit 9/11." If you have not heard Arvo Part, trust Swami: This is classical music in the great tradition. How powerful is it? Just one endorsement: In the '80s, a number of men dying of AIDS listened to "Tabula Rasa" obsessively during their final months.

...a police shortage in Iraq: Up to 30,000 Iraqi police officers are to be sacked for being incompetent and unreliable and given a $60 million payoff as the US hands over to an Iraqi government, senior British military sources said yesterday. Many officers either deserted to the insurgents or simply stayed at home during the recent uprisings in Falluja and across the south.

...a surprising endorsement for Michael Moore: You think you know Dale Earnhardt Jr.? (scroll down to "Heads Explode in Freeperville") He advised his crew to go see the Michael Moore movie "Fahrenheit 9/11." He said hey, it'll be a good bonding experience no matter what your political belief. It's a good thing as an American to go see... and it just shows you that Dale Earnhardt Jr. can reach far beyond the steering wheel.

...yet Another Whopper from Bill O'Reilly: Jack Matthews takes on O'Reilly in the New York Daily News:

In an April 27 radio debate with a Canadian journalist, you threatened to lead a boycott of Canadian goods if Canada didn't deport two American military deserters, saying that a previous O'Reilly-led boycott of French goods cost that country billions in lost export business. You cited the Paris Business Review as your source for those losses. In fact, Media Matters found no evidence that a Paris Business Review even exists, and France's export business with the U.S. actually increased during the run-up to the Iraq war.

....one or Two Flaws in the Iraq Handoff: As Ambassador Bremer was hightailing it out of Iraq, he left behind some iron-clad edicts that, as the Washington Post reports, might be less than universally applauded in Bagdhad:

It appears unlikely that all of the orders will be followed. Many of them reflect an idealistic but perhaps futile attempt to impose Western legal, economic and social concepts on a tradition-bound nation that is reveling in anything-goes freedom after 35 years of dictatorial rule.

The orders include rules that cap tax rates at 15 percent, prohibit piracy of intellectual property, ban children younger than 15 from working, and a new traffic code that stipulates the use of a car horn in "emergency conditions only" and requires a driver to "hold the steering wheel with both hands."

Iraq has long been a place where few people pay taxes, where most movies and music are counterfeit, where children often hold down jobs and where traffic laws are rarely obeyed, Iraqis note.
....some Great Parties at the Republican Convention: As the New York Daily News reports:

With thousands of Republicans set to invade the city this summer, high-priced escorts and strippers are preparing for one grand old party.

Agencies are flying in extra call girls from around the globe to meet the expected demand during the Aug. 30-Sept. 2 gathering at Madison Square Garden.

"We have girls from London, Seattle, California, all coming in for that week," said a madam at a Manhattan escort service. "It's the week everyone wants to work."

"It's going to be big," agreed one operator at a midtown escort service.

Charging from $300 to upwards of $1,000 for an hour of companionship and a whole lot more, escorts said they can always count on conventioneers for big business. Making Friends Wherever We Go

Nabil al-Tikriti, who teaches history part-time at Loyola University, writes on Juan Cole's blog (scroll down):

There are 15 million people in Istanbul who [are extremely hostile to] Bush. So that he could get a private tour of Topkapi and the rest of Istanbul during this NATO summit, they have closed the following for THREE DAYS: coast road from the airport to Dolmabahce, Galata Bridge, Taksim Square, Besiktas stadium valley, Sirkeci ferry terminals, and the first Bosphorus bridge. Last night we couldn't cross the coast road to view the sunrise from the Marmara. Today we can't get to the islands, because the ferry terminals are closed. Surreal. ... They recommended before the summit that everyone just leave town, and yesterday everyone I tried to contact was on their way to their summer holiday on the beach. It was like Thanksgiving Wednesday in the US.

Anyone who knows Istanbul knows that such a closure literally turns the city into an open-air prison. There are snipers posted on the next building to our hotel, constant military helicopters buzzing around, and naval craft cruising offshore. If only for sacrificing three days of their life for Bush's secure comfort, people here are furious. The trend in the past couple of years has been to hold such summits in remote locations. What brainchild decided to hold this summit smack in the center of one of the world's largest cities, with hostility running so high?

John McCain: Another Take

A reader comments on Swami's "open letter" to John McCain, urging him to keep his distance from the President:

"Lesson from those distant masters of Twin Peaks: 'The owls are not what they seem.'

"If Mr. McCain, who is indeed more honorable than snakes and sea-slugs, becomes Vice-President, it is because he is in some inherent fashion, corrupt. The man is, after all, a Republican. Maybe he likes Big Money and gets it from the same place everyone else gets it, but lies about it better. Maybe he has a tragic flaw and has a secret repressed psychological enemy like all the other Republicans--homosexuality, Clintonesque sexual urges, who the hell knows. At any rate, something in the Republican Party caught him and bound him like the One Ring.

"Given that, perhaps he is, nevertheless, possessed of a certain vague level of goodness and moral rectitude. He might really want to do something decent in Iraq and in the world in spite of his hopeless desire for money or repression of some psychological flaw.

"It is a true tragedy that the Democratic Party can no longer even be venal in a good Johnsonian) way nor good in a good way and be perceived as a hope for the American people.

"It's possible that McCain really has a Lyndon lizard brain and is playing his cards correctly. He might know that the junta will not be defeated in November but will crash and burn mightily later, when Much Wuss Things Occur, and then he will be the most honorable man left standing.

"The lines between good and evil sometimes are quite blurred."

Thought for Today

I hear all the people of the world
In one bird's lonely cry
See them trying every way they know how
To make their spirits fly

--Ricki Lee Jones, "The Horses"

The Evangelicals Bring Us Good News

Turns out the Republicans don't have a lock on Evangelical Christians--or they won't, if the National Association of Evangelicals has its way. In a draft of a report that addresses the Christian response to politics, the Evangelicals reject identification with any party and, instead, focus on issues: social and economic justice, fair wages, health care and the environment.

The report's take on international affairs is a bowl of icy water in the face for the President--it warns against "the excesses of nationalism." Here at home, the report urges Evangelicals to "guard against over-identifying Christian social goals with a single political party, lest nonbelievers think that Christian faith is essentially political in nature."

And this report is not something that will be shared with ministers, who can then accept or reject it at will. As The Los Angeles Times reports:

The draft is being reviewed by 100 denominational leaders, seminary presidents and others and is subject to final revisions. But officials said that the draft was essentially complete in its present form and would go before the association's board for approval in October.

Evangelical liberals and conservatives, who have collaborated for three years on the document, said they expected it would be approved. If the board approves the framework, it would be widely distributed throughout the country to churches, seminaries and para-church groups, such as the Promise Keepers. It would be viewed as an authoritative statement to guide them in their local political actions. In addition, it would become the main criteria guiding the association's lobbying efforts before Congress and the White House. Call to Action: Write John McCain

Like many of you, Swami watched John McCain's television appearances over the last few months with ever-increasing admiration. Here was a guy who wrote a book about courage--but never once mentioned his long, brave stint as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Here was a guy slimed by Bush operatives in the 2000 South Carolina primary--and yet he refused to "go there" when interviewers asked if he felt he'd been robbed of the Republican nomination that year.

In those interviews, it was clear that McCain has been exasperated by White House policy in Iraq and at home. And so some Democrats dared to dream he'd be John Kerry's running mate. Kerry and McCain apparently had some theoretical conversations that went nowhere. Still, some of us hoped that McCain could occupy an important post in a Kerry administration--say, Secretary of Defense (if Wesley Clark somehow didn't get that job).

Last week, McCain campaigned with the President and endorsed the President's strategy in Iraq. And now there's talk that Vice President Cheney--citing "health reasons" (or his need to prepare his legal defense in case he's indicted for leaking the name of a CIA undercover agent)--will step down and MCain will become Bush's running mate. In that scenario, Bush gains a remarkable asset: a man of unquestioned integrity. In that scenario, Bush rises in the polls and steams to victory in November.

Some of Swami's friends are beside themselves with anxiety. Swami hears them. And as one who would welcome Bush's return to Texas, Swami would like to short-circuit the Bush-McCain ticket. Unlike certain Republicans, however, Swami would like to do this on the spiritual level--that is, with ethics as the centerpiece of his argument.

So Swami has written a letter to John McCain. Maybe you'd like to write one of your own. Or, if you're feeling lazy, cut and paste Swami's text into the e-mail form. McCain's address: Contact Sen. McCain. (Swami scrolled down to the bottom of the list of TOPICS, and chose "other").

Swami's letter:

President Bush has not asked you to be his running mate this fall. He may not ask. But if he does--and you agree to run as his Vice President--it will be too late to send you this letter. Indeed, it will be too late to do much more than mourn for your fall from grace.

Right now, you occupy a rare place of honor in American politics. You are a man of integrity, not owned by special interests. You not only have a conscience, you use it. And what you say is what you mean--you don't create verbal loopholes that allow you to wiggle out of your opinions should they become inconvenient.

President Bush, on the other hand, is a man of self-proclaimed integrity whose actions don't square with his words. In Iraq and at home, he has minimal credibility. He has many slogans but few ideas. And the men and women who work for him seem to spend more time giving him deniability than achieving anything good for the American people.

Were you to be his running mate, your integrity would cover many of his sins. But only for a whole. As you know, values almost never flow upward --- it's just the other way. So President Bush's lack of integrity would inevitably erode your honor. Your place in history would be tarnished. Many of your admirers--myself included--would probably become detractors.

I understand you may want to run for President in 2008. Though I am not a Republican, I would happily cast my vote for you. But the way to get that nomination is not to serve four years as Bush's Vice President. If asked, please tell him: "Thanks, but no thanks."

Something More About Mary

You may recall Swami's puzzlement about Air Force General Counsel Mary Walker, who helped devise the legal theory that the laws outlawing torture can be unilaterally overturned by the President of the United States--and yet descibes herself as a Christian who integrates her faith with her life and work.

In her words:

If you limit God to one place in your life, like Sunday in church, you will never experience the excitement that life can hold. When God is the center of your life and everything you do revolves around His plans for you and the world, then that is when life really gets exciting. It's a travesty to be in a place of strategic importance to the world as a business or political leader and not allow God to accomplish the truly significant through you.
Swami has read more about Ms. Walker. And he has a new question: Was God working through you when you helped senior Pentagon officials evade responsibility for sexual assaults at the Air Force Academy?

The scandal at the Air Force Academy, in brief: After many assaults had been reported and ignored, five female cadets charged that rape, assault and harassment were common at the Academy. But nothing was done to punish the guilty. Last year, Mary Walker was asked to investigate and suggest reforms.

Her report concluded that there had been no cover-up, nor had there been any "systematic acceptance of sexual assault at the academy, institutional avoidance of responsibility, or systematic maltreatment of cadets who report sexual assault." In short, as she told CNN, it was that old story--a few bad apples: "We're talking about a very small percentage of the cadet population."

Later, thanks to another investigation (by the Defense Department Inspector General's Office), we learned there were lots of bad apples: Between 1993 and 2002, there were 142 allegations of sexual assault at the academy. And a follow-up survey by the Defense Department revealed that an astounding 20% of female cadets said they had been sexually assaulted at the Air Force Academy--but only 19% reported the crimes for fear they'd be punished. Of those who did report assaults, half said there had been some retaliation.

Those revelations led Congress to commission yet another investigation:

The panel noted that Walker's investigation, which cost taxpayers nearly $200,000 and spanned five months, "avoids any reference to the responsibility of Air Force Headquarters for the failure of leadership."

The omissions, the panel said, undermined the credibility of Walker's finding there was no "systemic acceptance" or "institutional avoidance of responsibility."

Some members of Walker's 13-person working group knew of investigations of the academy's sexual assault process in 1996 and again in 2000...

Walker acknowledged in a June interview that she didn't share some of that information with her group because she didn't see it as important. What would Jesus say?

The Thing About "Leadership"

Senator Joseph Biden, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a Rolling Stone magazine roundtable about Iraq:

About six months ago, the president said to me, "Well, at least I make strong decisions, I lead." I said, "Mr. President, look behind you. Leaders have followers. No one's following. Nobody."
Thought for Today

"The most disturbing aspect of 'morality' seems to me to be the frequency with which the word now appears; in the press, on television, in the most perfunctory kinds of conversation...when we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something, not that it is a pragmatic necessity for us to have it, but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen, and then is when the thin whine of hysteria is heard in the land, and then is when we are in bad trouble. And I suspect we are already there."
--Joan Didion, "On Morality," 1965

Cheat Sheet: The Bill Clinton Book

Scenario #1: You bought My Life and lugged it home. Or someone gave it to you. But there's just too much of it.

Scenario #2: You're never going to read 957 pages by that jerk, or even one. But still...you're curious. You'd like to know What's In It--you know, the "good stuff," and by that, because you really are A Serious Person, you don't mean just Monica.

Well, give a Beliefnet shout out--okay, a silent prayer--for a handy-dandy cheat sheet.

Your President in Action (Who's in Charge?)

From a Newsweek piece on decision-making on 9/11:

America was under attack, and somebody had to make a decision. Dick Cheney, huddled in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center under the White House, had just urged the traveling George W. Bush not to return to Washington. The president had left Florida aboard Air Force One at 9:55 a.m. on 9/11 "with no destination at take-off," as last week's 9-11 Commission report noted. Nor had Bush given any known instructions on how to respond to the attacks.

Today in Iraq: This Is Progress?

As Swami was reading about the 70+ people dead in attacks by Iraqi "insurgents" today, two paragraphs from a news report from AOL (members only) jumped out:

U.S. forces manning a checkpoint opened fire on a local government convoy that included Fallujah's mayor and police chief, who were trying to meet the Americans to discuss the violence, an Iraqi police lieutenant said on condition of anonymity. The convoy turned back, and no injuries were reported.

A motorist who drove through Fallujah Thursday morning said Iraqi police and insurgents were cooperating, chatting amicably along the streets, and seemed to be working together. The good news from Iraq? Swami can't recall. 24/7 electricity in Bagdhad? No. Not close. New schools open? Maybe. But the traitorous "liberal media" will never tell us how many. Hmm. Swami looks. But sees nothing.

Oh, wait! Maybe this: We're being imitated (the sincerest form of flattery, right?). As the Inter Press Service News Agency reports:

In what may be the first concrete example of the effects of the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal in Iraq, lawyers and human rights groups in Egypt, a major U.S. ally in the Middle East, say that local police are increasingly resorting to new torture tactics similar to those used by U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

Several lawyers and human rights groups told IPS in phone interviews over the past two weeks that the Egyptian State Security Police used methods that mirrored those in Abu Ghraib, like stripping some detainees naked--a rare practice in Egyptian prisons, even though the country has a long record of human rights abuses and prison torture.

Other practices include taking pictures or threatening to take pictures of prisoners naked, which the groups say was a hugely uncommon occurrence in the past; and blindfolding and handcuffing detainees for long periods of time, which also prevented them from fulfilling their religious obligations, such as praying five times a day. Abu Ghraib? Or Abu Garif?

Swami's no mindreader. Particularly when it comes to George Bush. So he has no idea why, after months of publicity about the biggest U.S. military scandal since the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, President Bush yesterday called the notorious Iraqi prison "Abu Garif."

This has gone unreported in the press. You had to watch "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" to see the President butcher the name. But then you have to watch "The Daily Show" Monday through Thursday nights just to know there's somebody sane on TV.

Is This Your Kid?

Channel One News wants to know how election issues like education, the economy and the war on terror affect teens, so it's looking for half a dozen teens for a project called Team OneVote. Six students of all backgrounds, from all parts of the country, will be an integral part of Channel One News and ChannelOne.com by providing video diaries and by keeping an online blog. (Video cameras are provided to team members.) Then Channel One will fly the 6 teenagers to Los Angeles to cast their votes on-camera in a OneVote television special.

Interested? Here's the application.

Thought for Today

"A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate."

--Thomas Jefferson

The Hottest Sex on TV (Thank Rupert Murdoch)

(CAUTION: This item may contain language and descriptions that will offend some readers.)

If you read reviews of "Nip/Tuck" in the Chicago Tribune or CNN, you might think this TV drama will continue to focus on the gritty, bloody business of plastic surgery.

But as Ed Martin notes in the Jack Myers Entertainment Report, an industry insider newsletter, about the first three episodes of the new season: "In terms of language, 'Nip/Tuck' is one F word and two C words away from R-rated entertainment."

And the language is mild compared to the sex:

More skin is more frequently on display on this show than on any other, with the possible exception of Showtime's "Queer as Folk"... The male leads on "Nip/Tuck" now bare their backsides with greater frequency than any of the men on "Queer as Folk." We even see one of them fully nude from behind, positioned between the legs of naked women and doing the pelvic thrust.
It gets raunchier. On you-pay-for-it-so-you-know-what-you're-getting HBO, "Sex and the City" practically turned Oral Sex into a character. But on "Nip/Tuck"--which is shown on basic cable--you can see (in next week's episode) a doctor get his nose broken when his lover sneezes during oral sex. There's more oral sex in the third episode. And for good measure, "Nip/Tuck" tosses in a gang-bang and female masturbation.

The network? FX, a division of Fox, the same Rupert Murdoch-owned company that brings you such defenders of true-blue America as Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity.

Granted: "Nip/Tuck" isn't shown until 10 or 11 PM, presumably well after the bedtime of Impressionable Youth--but not too late for teens. And yet, on the same day that Swami learned about the raunch on "Nip/Tuck," the Motion Picture Association of America decreed that Michael Moore's "Farenheit 9/11" would retain its R-rating--that unaccompanied teens under 17 couldn't see it.

Swami doesn't understand. There is less violence in Moore's film than in a single reel of any movie with Arnold or Bruce or Vin. (Yes, it's real violence--Swami won't forget that dead baby--but not much of it.) And no sex, unless you count the scene in which American soldiers sexually humiliate an Iraqi prisoner.

Maybe that's it: "Farenheit 9/11" doesn't have enough sex. And that makes the violence stand out. Swami can't think of another explanation--because the MPA surely wouldn't make a ratings decision based on politics.

On the other hand, maybe this is a good thing. You want your kids to see "Farenheit," you have to take them. And you know: The family that prays together--oops: sees films together--stays together.

Another family activity: MoveOn is sponsoring house parties for Moore's film next Monday. The idea is for you to gather with friends and talk about the film and then join Moore for an online conversation. If you bring the tots, you'll at least know the answer to that age-old question: "It's ten o'clock. Do you know where your children are?"

Did You Know...

...that our Armed Forces are recruiting soldiers from outside the United States to fight the war that our home-bred youth aren't rushing to die in?

This is from an interview with Fernando Juarez del Solar, father of Jesus Suarez del Solar, a Mexican who joined the Army and died in Iraq:

Q: I understand that the military is recruiting youth from the Philippines, from Mexico, people of color in the Third World. Was your son living in Mexico when he was contacted?

A: Yes. When he came to San Diego he had a green card.

Q: Where do recruiters contact young people?

A: On the border there are lots of recruiting offices. Last year, around October, this one recruiter crossed the border into Mexico and recruited young boys from a school in Mexico.

Q: What kind of promises did he make?

A: According to what I heard, the recruiters say, "You can go to the U.S.A. and enter high school and enter a military program in high school." ....They offer education and a formal offer of citizenship. That's not all. Here in the U.S., they recruit kids in the barrios. They contact them when they are 14, 15 years old. And they say to our kids, "It's not a problem you do not have papers. You can enter the program and we will help you with the papers and immigration. You just need to do well in school and our program." And critics get annoyed at Michael Moore for claiming in "Farenheit 9/11" that we get the poor and disenfranchised--the men women with the smallest stake in America--to do our fighting and dying for us!

Today's Call to Action: Assault Weapons

Good news for terrorists! Just 19 legislative days until the Assault Weapons Ban will expire. And then weapons like AK-47s, Uzis and TEC-9 assault pistols will be back on the streets again.

You may ask: Why would anyone want this ban to expire?

Well, almost no one does. Nearly 80 percent of Americans support renewal of the ban. Police organizations across the country have called on Congress to renew the ban. A majority of Senators support the legislation, and despite the opposition of the Republican leadership to bringing the issue up for a vote, support in the House for renewal of the ban also continues to grow.

Naturally, the National Rifle Association opposes the ban--but then, the NRA would aggressively defend your right to own a tank, a cannon, or even a rocket-powered nuclear weapon.

The NRA position seems dumb when you think of the scenarios that could play out if these weapons become legal again. Eighteen-year-olds could buy new American-made AK-47s. In many states, it will be possible to bring concealed TEC-9 assault pistols, loaded with thirty rounds of ammunition, into bars, churches and sports arenas, and even public schools or universities. Kids as young as 13 will be able to buy brand new American-made AK-47s at gun shows and through classified ads. New rapid-fire ammunition magazines that allow guns to fire up to 100 rounds without reloading will be mass-produced and sold on a cash-and-carry basis to anyone, with no questions or background checks.

And, of course, thanks to all the loopholes the government has created for gun buyers, terrorists will legally be able to purchase American-made AK-47s.

Where is President Bush? We all know: If the President pushes for it, the ban will probably be reauthorized. But--big surprise--he's been playing politics with this issue.

Well, you can play politics too. For more information, visit StoptheNRA.com.

Thought for Today

It is said that on the hilt of Prophet Mohammed's sword were the words: Forgive him who wrongs you; join him who cuts you off; do good to him who does evil to you, and speak the truth although it may be against yourself.

--Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

Bill Clinton Has a Blog?

When you've got 1.5 million books to sell, you do what you have to do. Blogging's "hot"--so why not Clinton? A sample of Bill Clinton's blog:

I don't know. I don't know. The day began wonderfully. Hillary had to go to Washington. She kissed me goodbye. I mean really kissed me goodbye. Not the obligatory peck on the cheek I had become accustomed to. Our relationship has gone to a deeper level of intimacy these past few days....
And if you believe that...

Yes, it's a parody. And a smutty one at that (children: look away). But it does remind Swami of...

The Sanctity of Marriage

Good news for lovers: Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas--"exactly 1 mile North of Sahara Hotel"--has recently expanded its Drive Thru Tunnel Of Vows "to include a romantic ceiling with cherubs and starlights."

Just the thing for couples craving "a unique, yet romantic ceremony." (You know who you are: so out-of-your-head crazy to be hitched you don't even want to take the time to unbuckle.)

And, of course, those are the marriages that last and last...

Tropic of Cancer

Forty years ago today, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that found Henry Miller's "Tropic of Cancer" to be obscene. Swami read the book soon after, and as an impressionable teen, was knocked out. Not by the sex--though there was more than enough to rile a prude and thrill an open-minded reader. By the honesty. Consider this sample:

It may be that we are doomed, that there is no hope for us, any of us, but if that is so then let us set up a last agonizing, bloodcurdling howl, a screech of defiance, a war whoop! Away with lamentation! Away with elegies and dirges! Away with biographies and histories, and libraries and museums! Let the dead eat the dead. Let us living ones dance about the rim of the crater, a last expiring dance. But a dance!
And now for some real pornography...

Bush Initiative: Drug Your Kids

When a government gets interested in "mental illness," it's not because it cares about the mentally ill. Just look back to the classic examples: the USSR and China. For them, "crazy" was a euphemism for "dissident"--which makes a screwy kind of sense; you probably had to be a bit nuts to challenge those nightmare dictatorships--and the "facilities" they sent the "mentally ill" to looked a lot like prison camps.

Well, guess what? America's next.

This headline from the British Medical Journal website is a neat summary of the government's breathtaking intent:

"Bush plans to screen whole U.S. population for mental illness."

This mental health initiative--to be announced next month--differs from the Soviet/Chinese model. Instead of taking the crazies away, it seeks to provide mental health services "in the community."

Testing everyone is a big job, even for this can-do president. So the first mental health screening will focus on kids--including preschool children:

According to the commission, "Each year, young children are expelled from preschools and childcare facilities for severely disruptive behaviours and emotional disorders." Schools, wrote the commission, are in a "key position" to screen the 52 million students and 6 million adults who work at the schools.
This plan has had a dry-run--in Texas (natch), where the state researchers recommended "newer, more expensive antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs." This caused Allen Jones, an employee of the Pennsylvania Office of the Inspector General, to become a whistleblower: He charged that officials who dealt with the medication plan got money and swag from drug companies--and that the mentally ill would be prescribed "expensive, patented medications of questionable benefit and deadly side effects." Unsurprisingly, he concluded that "private insurers [would be forced] to pick up more of the tab." His reward: He got fired.

Now let's go back to our school years, shall we? Not to the crazy stuff we did that might, in these times, qualify us for medication, but to English class. Does any of this sound familiar? Bueller?

Right, this reminds us of "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley. In that dystopia [your vocab builder for the day: it means "negative utopia"], the government hands out a drug called "soma," which takes the edge off all unpleasantness.

Soma has "all the advantages of Christianity and alcohol, none of their defects." As Huxley notes:

And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there's always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there's always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gram tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your mortality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears--that's what soma is.

Swami bets that many of you are taking drugs now that achieve that same effect. But there's a big difference between you and your doctor deciding you should take medication and the drugging--perhaps involuntary--of many millions of people by the government. Or is Swami mad?

Just to keep the image-mongering straight: Wasn't it Bush who believed that government should do less? After all, when he wanted to cut taxes, he told us, "Hey, it's your money." But now that it's about what we think, he'd like the government to be installed in our heads.

Oh, wait. Swami forgot. This isn't about creeping fascism after all. It's so much simpler: Drug companies have donated three times as much to Bush's campaign as they have to Kerry's. And you know how it is with contributors: They want payback.

Swami's sure you won't mind at all when your kid's school calls to talk about his/her need for medication. Profits for drug companies are important, dammit. If the government gains social and behavioral control at the same time--well, isn't that a neat bonus? And as for those who'd resist...well, they'd have to be crazy, wouldn't they?

Question for Loose Canon and the rest of the Republican true believers: Is this one of the ideas that makes Bush your dream president?

Thought for Today

In a public meeting, the great Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki was asked to define Buddhism in a single sentence. The audience tittered because, clearly, that was impossible.

But Suzuki had a ready answer. "Easy," he said. "Things change."

How Low Can O'Reilly Go?

Bill O'Reilly's fangs are getting sharper. Or maybe it's that Swami watches O'Reilly so infrequently that he can note the changes in his appearance. Radio? It would seem that O'Reilly is constant here--constantly nasty, denigrating and, in this case, constantly racist.

Consider his June 17th radio broadcast. On that day, he announced that he has "no respect for" the Iraqi people"--"they're a prehistoric group" and totally "primitive." What has he learned from the Iraq war? "We cannot intervene in the Muslim world ever again. What we can do is bomb the living daylights out of them."

You may wonder: What inspired such vitriol? A poll commissioned by the Coalition Provisional Authority that found that only 2 percent of Iraqis view American troops as liberators and 55 percent would feel safer if our soldiers left Iraq.

Trent Lott Has No Kid in Iraq

Trent Lott was his usual charming self in this Q&A in the Sunday New York Times Magazine. The best question: You recently created a stir when you defended the interrogation techniques at Abu Ghraib. Lott's response:

Most of the people in Mississippi came up to me and said: "Thank Goodness. America comes first." Interrogation is not a Sunday-school class. You don't get information that will save American lives by withholding pancakes.
White House: Boiling People Is Okay

There's always a new "initiative" in the Bush White House. Here's one you might not know about: The Millennium Challenge Account, which accounts for a $10 billion increase in American aid by 2006 for governments that "make the right choices for their own people." For those governments, that includes increased respect for human rights and an anti-corruption effort.

It is amazing to Swami that Uzbekistan is on that list. Human Rights Watch lists some stunning human rights violations. And The Memory Hole details a dozen or so cases of torture and notes a method not widely seen elsewhere: Uzbekistan's Dictator has reportedly boiled people alive.

Is there, perhaps, oil in Uzbekistan?

Outsourcing Prayer

The shortage of priests in America has led to a familiar ourcome: outsourcing prayer. Can you believe this?

With Roman Catholic clergy in short supply in the United States, Indian priests are picking up some of their work, saying Mass for special intentions, in a sacred if unusual version of outsourcing. In Kerala, a state on the southwestern coast with one of the largest concentrations of Christians in India, churches often receive intentions from overseas. The Reverend Paul Thelakkat, a Cochin-based spokesman for the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church, said, "The prayer is heartfelt, and every prayer is treated as the same whether it is paid for in dollars, euros or in rupees.
The good news: The fee is just a few rupees.

Thought for Today

Our word 'idiot' comes from the Greek name for the man who took no share in public matters."
--Edith Hamilton, in "The Greek Way," 1930

Today's Call to Action

Jeffrey Akman, the chair of the psychiatry department at George Washington University, has been receiving email messages from members of the public demanding that the university censure and/or dismiss Dr. Justin Frank from his clinical professor appointment for publishing his book "Bush on the Couch."

Whether or not you agree with what Dr. Frank has written, this is a frightening development for everyone who cares about academic freedom. Fortunately, Dr. Akman is a gracious colleague who has kept Dr. Frank informed of this development. It might be helpful to him hear from those who appreciate that GWU values free speech and diverse opinions.

If you would like to send a message praising the university's support of academic freedom in general, or Justin Frank in particular, please write to Dr. Jeffrey S. Akman: jakman@mfa.gwu.edu.

Reward for Conscientious Service

What happened to David Kay when he came home from Iraq and told everyone he had searched high and low--but there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction? Washington Monthly reports:

CIA leaders refused to accept Kay's stark assessment when he returned from Iraq last December that most prewar assessments of Iraq's weapons were wrong. Kay was assigned a tiny office far from the executive suites, without a working computer or secure telephone.
Ted Kennedy Disses the Pope

You'll recall--how can you not?--that Vatican honcho Francis Cardinal Arinze has called pro-choice Catholic politicians (think: John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, and You Know Who You Are) "not fit" to receive Communion.

Ted Kennedy has struck back:

"This pope gave Communion to Gen. [Augusto] Pinochet," the brutal Chilean dictator accused of murders and human-rights violations, Boston magazine quotes Kennedy as saying.
To be fair to His Holiness, the article also notes:

The pope did pray with Pinochet during his 1987 visit, but he also spoke out for democracy, praised anti-Pinochet bishops, met with opposition leaders and told reporters that Pinochet's regime was "dictatorial" and suggested the church could help overthrow it.

Bill Clinton's Spiritual Lesson

After the premiere of The Hunting of the President, The Big Dog made "a few remarks" that lasted about 45 minutes. (Man, that guy can talk.) Swami will spare you an account of his historical and political ramblings (you're welcome) and will focus instead on the spiritual lessons he shared:

It's a mistake for us to treat them [the Right] the way they treat us. If we do that, they own us.
C'mon, boy, you can do better than that.

I don't wake up hating Ken Starr. I wake up pitying people who think they have the whole truth and can trample over people.
Better, but doesn't quite cut it as a sound bite.

If you want to be forgiven, you have to give forgiveness--even to those who aren't smart enough to ask for it.
Yes! That's our Bill! (Before you say, "What an arrogant jerk," close your eyes and picture George Bush delivering that line--okay, scripted by others rather than thought up on the spot--with the little smirk that signals "joke." Works, doesn't it?)

The Blood of Strangers

The life of our friend Rosemary Breslin (1957-2004) was celebrated at St. Francis of Assisi R.C. Church in New York yesterday. Nothing is less interesting than the account of a funeral of a person you didn't know, so Swami will skip over the emotion to focus on a single fact.

Rosemary Breslin had a rare blood disorder that effectively deprived her of a functioning immune system. For 15 years, she was kept alive by all-too-frequent transfusions. Yes, her New York friends donated blood along the way, but more often than not, when Rosemary's nurse would call out the source of packets of blood, the origin would be a state in the midwest.

To be kept alive by the kindness of strangers! For all those years! If only there were a way to tell all those people how much their gift helped an extraordinary woman do great work, co-create a model marriage and serve as an inspiration to all. If only there were a way to bottle that love!

Thought for Today

So come, my friends, be not afraid.
We are so lightly here.
It is in love that we are made;
In love we disappear.
Though all the maps of blood and flesh
Are posted on the door,
There's no one who has told us yet
What Boogie Street is for.

--Leonard Cohen

(Note: for Cohen, "Boogie Street" is the material world, with all its lures and snares.)

Still More Moore

In today's Washington Post, Tina Brown finds "Farenheit 9/11" filled with "wacky insinuations"--but so powerful it glides over its Moore-made potholes.

This Sunday, on "Topic A," her weekly "views magazine," she'll be showing several clips from the film--and discussing it with some big-mouthed contrarians.

The Hunting of the President

A documentary movie Ms. Brown liked rather more is "The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill Clinton," adapted from the ably-reported book by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons. The film opens in New York this weekend (at the Angelika Theater) and on June 25th in Washington, D.C.

Swami went to the premiere last night and was much impressed by the careful, fact-based account of the complex non-story that was Whitewater. A "special guest" had been advertised, and as the lights went up, to no one's great surprise, there was Bill Clinton. He wore a navy suit, TV-blue shirt and yellow tie, and he was tall and slender and tanned, and immediately Swami thought of what The Rude Pundit (caution: he is aptly named) wrote the other day:

So yesterday the Rude Pundit did his laundry. And in that fine urban laundromat, the Rude Pundit was alone with the Chinese immigrant and Nuyorican women who work there. The television was tuned to CNN, where the "news" network paused in its Scott Peterson trial coverage to show the unveiling of the portraits of Bill and Hillary Clinton. George W. Bush spoke, earnestly, kindly, even transcendantly (in the context of Bush's politics), about the Clintons, but it was a typical "performance" by "compassionate" George--trying too hard, awkwardly pausing and smirking. We folded laundry, transferred things to dryers, and occasionally paused and watched. Then Bill Clinton began to speak, and all three of us stopped, almost at the same time, and turned to the television above the change machine and saw this man with such a command of self and words and such a knowledge of audience and humanity, someone funny, wise, and comforting. When he was finished, the Rude Pundit said, "Remember when we had a President?" The Nuyorican woman laughed, the Chinese woman nodded, and we may as well have all sighed in lust over Clinton, remembering a time when our President stood tall when he spoke, spine straight, not hunched over like a French bellringer.
So what did the Big Dog say? Tune in tomorrow.

The Kathie Lee We Love

Newsweek writer Chris Dickey writes: I completely support the idea of changing the Anthem from the militaristic "we're all victims standing strong in the face of adversity during a punitive action we failed to repel" tone of the "Star-Spangled Banner" to an ecologically inspired paean to patriotism by an anti-war, and especially anti-imperialist, activist. Michael Moore would have loved this lady.

And he passes on a line from another poem by Katharine Lee Bates:

One of the most elegant critiques [of the American pacification of the Philippines] was made by a poet, Katharine Lee Bates, author of "America the Beautiful." She also wrote an anthem to those slaughtered by Americans in the Philippines: "The flag that dreamed of delivering / Shudders and droops like a broken wing."
Dang, that Sister of Sappho could write!

What Would Snoop Dogg Say?

The arrival in Swami's mailboz of Snoop Dogg's "Shizzolator"--a device that translates text into Dogg--couldn't be resisted.

For those who have trouble grasping Swami in English, try a recent Swami entry in Dogg:

Yo' ass really didn't think, after Disney announced that shiznit wouldn't distribute Michael Moore's movie 'n da Weinstein brothers wrestled that shiznit away from Disney 'n into da delighted hands of other distributors, that "Farenheit 9/11" would sail into da theaters without some serious opposition, did yo' ass? Yo' ass didn't think da film would come out 'n yo' ass'd read reviews (or not) 'n go see that shiznit (or not) 'n just generally make up yo' mind fo' yourself, do yo' ass?

Silly yo' ass--that's da OLD American Way n' shit. Here's a bit of Shizzolated CNN:

At least 35 muthas wuz capped 'n some 138 wounded today when an apparent suicide hooptie bomber targeted an Iraqi army recruitment center in Baghdad, officials be like, know what I'm sayin'?
Swami is too much of a gent to put Loose Canon through the Shizzolator.

Iraq and Al-Qaeda

So now it's official: there was no link between Saddam and bin Laden in the 9/11 attacks. Many of us have known this for some time. Hans Blix has said this. George Bush has said this (but Dick Cheney doesn't listen--he still insists there's a connection).

Yesterday AOL ran a story about the Commission's findings. The headline: Iraq Not Tied to 9/11. To the side of the story was an AOL poll: "Do you think al-Qaeda had significant ties to Iraq?"

Set aside what the point of asking such a question was. (Was it a literacy test? A way of seeing if AOLers are terminally hard-of-thinking?) Stick with the results: As of the morning after, 54% of the 300,000 AOL members who responded--that's about 160,000 people--said YES.

Say what? Did they read the article? Watch the news? Hear the President?

Swami is riveted by a general human trait that seems to be magnified in America: the insistence on longheld belief, however discredited, over responsibly gathered, respectfully presented evidence.

For example: about 40-odd% of Americans believe the world was created in 6 days and Satan placed dinosaur bones on earth to make educated fools think the earth was created more than 5,000 or 6,000 years ago.

Were those, perhaps, the folks who said YES on that AOL poll?

Swami wishes that when AOL asks questions like these, it goes on to ask some related questions, just to see if there's an overlap when it comes to these facts-be-damned folks. Like: Was the world created just a few thousand years before Christ? Did God really make woman out of Adam's rib? Is homosexuality a "choice"?

Thought for Today

Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.
--Carl Jung

"America the Beautiful" as the National Anthem

The New York Times has raised--for the millionth time--the idea of changing our national anthem, which no one really likes to sing, to "America the Beautiful."

But the Times piece left something out.

The woman who wrote the words to "America the Beautiful" was--you know this from Trivial Pursuit, perhaps--Katharine Lee Bates. What you probably don't know is that Bates, a professor at Wellesley College, lived for 25 years with another woman, Katharine Coman, chair of the Economics Department and Dean of Wellesley. Theirs was a "romantic friendship" so deep that, after Coman's death, Bates wrote, "So much of me died with Katharine Coman that I'm sometimes not quite sure whether I'm alive or not."

If the red-blooded patriots who love this hymn knew it was penned by a presumably gay woman, would the words stick in their throats? Would we even be considering this song as our national anthem, tainted as its authorship is by such deviant sexuality?

More About Moore: The Opposition

You really didn't think, after Disney announced it wouldn't distribute Michael Moore's movie and the Weinstein brothers wrestled it away from Disney and into the delighted hands of other distributors, that "Farenheit 9/11" would sail into the theaters without some serious opposition, did you? You didn't think the film would come out and you'd read reviews (or not) and go to see it (or not) and just generally make up your mind for yourself, do you?

Silly you--that's the OLD American Way.

The NEW American way is the pre-emptive strike (sound familiar?)--hit your opponent before he can make a move. Silence dissent. Make the cost of free speech very very expensive.

Swami has seen Michael Moore's film, and in his view (scroll down to yesterday's entries), it is not "unpatriotic." It does not attack the military. It is not the work of a guy who "hates America." But it sure does suggest the President isn't much of a patriot. It very directly argues that the President is more connected to the Saudis than might be good for America. And if you're an "undecided," it certainly doesn't make you think, "That George Bush is a smarty who's done a helluva job."

Note: It's not just old liberal/pinko/Commie Swami who thinks this. Take a look at the FoxNews.com review--yes, THAT Fox News. Roger Friedman said that the movie "is a tribute to patriotism, to the American sense of duty--and at the same time an indictment of stupidity and avarice."

On the other hand, Fox's Bill O'Reilly left the film with about an hour still to go, saying he had something to tape back at the studio--although others have pointed out Fox doesn't tape at that hour. But that didn't stop him from commenting on the event:

O'REILLY: So who turns out for the screening of this movie [Fahrenheit 9/11] last night? You ready? Now, here are the celebrities that turn out. Here are the people who would turn out to see Josef Goebbels convince you that Poland invaded the Third Reich. It's the same thing, by the way. Propaganda is propaganda. OK? Billy Crystal. Martin Sheen. Leonardo DiCaprio. Ellen DeGeneres. David Duchovny. Sharon Stone. Meg Ryan. Ashton Kutcher. Demi Moore. Norman Lear. Rob Reiner. Jodie Foster. Chris Rock. Larry David. Jack Black. Matthew Perry. Diane Lane.
Doesn't sound like O'Reilly thinks you should see the film.

But he's mild. There are others who think you shouldn't even have a chance to see it. They want you to write to the theaters that have agreed to show the film and express your outrage--that's their idea of the American Way.

Who's behind this campaign? The Cosmic Iguana does the homework about the site that's on an anti-Moore crusade:

This web site, "www.moveamericaforward.org", is actually an alias for moveamericaforward.com. A DNS check reveals that "www.moveamericaforward.com" is being run by a Public Relations firm out of San Francisco: Russo Marsh & Rogers...

...Russo Marsh & Rogers is a political public relations firm with strong ties to the GOP. Sal Russo, a principle in Russo Marsh & Rogers, served as advisor for the "Recall Grey Davis" campaign... After this was revealed yesterday, Moveamericaforward.org changed its registration to obscure the connection.

Swami went to the site yesterday, got the list and wrote to the theaters. This is Swami's note:

A website urges its readers to write you and protest the showing of Michael Moore's movie. They represent a small number of haters. They're what they claim Moore is--they hate America. Thank you for showing the movie. Hope you make a fortune.
One wrote back. "Make a fortune? What about the death threats?"

Swami asked him to send them along. "Can't," he replied. "They were delivered by phone."

Of course. Because e-mail can be forwarded. And the haters could be prosecuted. So much better to make an anonymous call and then crawl back into your cave.

This is how it begins, folks. And this is why it's so important that you go to see this film and make up your own mind. Because letting other people tell you how and what to think--we all know how that movie ends, don't we?

Thought for Today

"According to The New York Times, last year White House lawyers concluded that President Bush could legally order interrogators to torture and even kill people in the interest of national security--so if that's legal, what the hell are we charging Saddam Hussein with?"

--Jay Leno

Michael Moore

In April of last year, Michael Moore hosted a dinner to mark the one-year anniversary of his book, "Stupid White Men," on the New York Times bestseller list. It should have been a festive evening, but Moore was in a funk. "I've talked to important Democrats who say there's no way to beat Bush in '04," he explained to his tablemates. "They say, 'We'll retake the White House in '08.' But can we make it through four more years of Bush?"

His friend Richard Belzer disagreed. "The wheels are coming off," he said. "Bush will come apart before the '04 election."

Moore was unconvinced. "Oprah? Would she run?" he asked. Over dinner, he tried out other wildcards who might be persuaded to enter the Democratic primaries. None resonated.

And so Michael Moore set out to make a film that would singlehandedly rescue the Republic. He doesn't admit this publicly--at last night's high-voltage screening in New York, he said the film would be successful if it convinced just one person to register and vote--but Swami has known Michael Moore long enough to know that, beneath the bluster and braggadocio, beats the heart of a patriot and idealist.

"Can a film change the world?" is the real question his new movie asks. To no one's surprise, Swami and Mrs. Uptown would say "yes"--we were devastated by "Farenheit 9/11." But we don't count. The "undecideds" do. And if, by midsummer, millions of them have seen this film, it's quite possible we'll have a better sense of the answer.

So what's in this "controversial" film?

"Fahrenheit 9/11" begins--appropriately enough--with fireworks: George Bush's victory celebration on Election Night in 2000. Moore then cuts to footage never before seen: one by one, African-American Congressmen and Congresswomen rise to contest the election results. But to be heard, they require the written support of one Senator. None would give that support. In a bitter irony, it falls to Vice-President Gore to declare them all out of order.

Footage of George Bush on vacation in August 2001 produces nothing but dread. We know what's coming. Think Moore is a vulgar opportunist? This is how he handles 9/11: almost a minute of blank screen, with only the sounds of the planes hitting the Towers--sounds you've never heard before--and people screaming. Then, over violin music, he shows papers blowing in a smoke-filled sky. And the shell-shocked faces of people on the street in Lower Manhattan. And then we're in that Florida classroom, where, for reasons he has never explained, the President sat and read "My Pet Goat" with schoolkids as the Towers collapsed.

Moore's pacing is astonishing. Critics fault him for his showmanship, as if good documentaries should be as dry as law texts, but in a film this serious, the comic touches are very welcome. Like when 142 Saudis (including 24 members of the bin Laden family) are allowed to leave the United States on September 13th--the music is "We Gotta Get Out of This Place." When we're looking at Bush's "military" record, the music is "Cocaine." We watch John Ashcroft sing. And it's always bracing to see Britney Spears express the same view of Bush as Loose Canon: "We should just trust our President and be faithful."

And then it gets heavy. Battle footage in Iraq. Torture (thankfully brief). Dead babies (also thankfully brief). The charred body parts of ambushed Americans. Iraqi mothers screaming, "They destroyed our houses! God will destroy their houses!" And, to complete the circle, the mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq ("People think they know. I thought I knew. But we don't.").

That mother is this movie's message: The rich and the white and the educated send the poor and the black and the dropouts to fight our wars. They die, so we don't have to. But the deal is: We never send them to fight unless it's absolutely necessary.

There are plenty of books and blogs that spell out, in painstaking detail, how Bush & Co. betrayed our soldiers and put unseemly business alliances with the Saudis above our security. But a movie is an entertainment--it's easier to absorb. Let's hope millions of people pass up the next summer blockbuster to spend an evening being worked over by "Fahrenheit 9/11."

Your Tax Dollars at Work

You know all about Halliburton, the company formerly headed by Vice President Cheney, now gorging on no-bid contracts in Iraq. But you may not know that former employees have come forward to blow the whistle on Halliburton's decidedly unpatriotic approach to "rebuilding" Iraq.

Halliburton's contract allows it to add on a profit of 1 to 2 percent and pass along all costs to the government. Maybe that encourages the kind of don't-give-a-damn attitude that inspired this article--and that inspires Republicans to block testimony from the whistleblowers.

Those former employees contend that the politically connected firm:

  • Lodged 100 workers at a five-star hotel in Kuwait for a total of $10,000 a day while the Pentagon wanted them to stay in tents, like soldiers, at $139 a night.
  • Abandoned $85,000 trucks because of flat tires and minor problems.
  • Paid $100 to have a 15-pound bag of laundry cleaned as part of a million-dollar laundry contract in peaceful Kuwait. The price for cleaning the same amount of laundry in war-torn Iraq was $28.
  • Spent $1.50 a can to buy 37,200 cans of soda in Kuwait, about 24 times higher than the contract price.
  • Knowingly paid subcontractors twice for the same bill.
  • One former Halliburton subcontracting manager, Marie deYoung, said in her signed statement that she had seen "significant waste and overpricing." "Halliburton rarely collected adequate information from subcontractors to justify payment of invoices. When I attempted to properly verify invoice terms before setting up payment authorization, I was chastised," said deYoung, a former Army captain and chaplain who resigned from the company last month.

    According to deYoung, Halliburton's financial staff lives at the five-star Kempinski Julai'a Hotel and Resort in Kuwait. "For a three-month period, the Kempinski hotel charged almost $1 million to house 100 Halliburton employees. By comparison, it costs less than $200,000 a year to lease tents that could house 400 soldiers. ... The military requested that Halliburton move into tents, but Halliburton refused."

    Rosemary Breslin (1957-2004)

    Swami knows you don't make friends as a book-reviewer, but he loved Rosemary Breslin's book, "Not Exactly What I Had in Mind," when he read it seven years ago and he wrote a rave review and he and Rosemary became friends, and then Mrs. Uptown came into the picture, and we started spending time with Rosemary and her husband, Tony Dunne. And then Swami was able to steer some work Tony and Rosemary's way, and they won prizes, and everyone was just delighted to be alive and on the planet together.

    Rosemary Breslin died yesterday, at 47. "Of that which cannot be said, nothing should be spoken," wrote the great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, and that is how Swami feels today--he just can't talk about this.

    But he can send you to this amazing woman's amazing book. Here is Swami's review, from way back when:

    It's a little hard to type through the tears.

    I picked up Rosemary Breslin's book, "Not Exactly What I Had in Mind," not knowing what I was getting into.

    I sort of knew that it was about having this possibly fatal illness and getting married anyway.

    I sort of knew she was the daughter of Jimmy Breslin, the New York columnist who has the finest instinct for recognizing the Real Deal and the greatest ability to turn a phrase in the business.

    I sort of knew she married a guy named Tony Dunne, who is related to Dominick Dunne the writer and Griffin Dunne the actor-director-producer and John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion, who need no introduction.

    Dear friend, these facts were irrelevant--I was unprepared for this book.

    And even though I'm going to tell you a bit about it, you'll be unprepared for it too.

    Rosemary Breslin, the cover picture tells us, is an extremely attractive woman. But she was, for most of her young life, a particular kind of Manhattan screwup. Very bad with money, for one thing, and not quick to file her tax return. Before she met Tony Dunne, she hadn't gone on a date for three years--so long a dry spell that her father asked her, "You're not a dyke, are you?"

    And, of course, there is the small matter of her disease: Her body is unable to manufacture mature red blood cells. It's like anemia--if you gave anemia the A-bomb.

    When she meets Tony Dunne, Rosemary Breslin, age 33, is about to move out of an apartment she can't afford. For their first dinner, which she doesn't realize is a fix-up, she puts on a gray cashmere sweater that's so not-new she notices, reaching for the wine, that she can smell her body odor on it.

    To tell you more would be to spoil your pleasure, but let me give you one hint. The first sentence of this book is: "I think I've found my husband's next wife." Nora Ephron would give a lot to write a sentence that fine. So, probably, would Jimmy Breslin. So would I. But I'm not sure that Nora or Jimmy or I could go through all that Rosemary Breslin has, and still have enough clarity and love to have written this book, one heartfelt, tragic and exquisitively funny sentence at a time.

    Granted, you will weep as you read. And, if you have prayers, you'll pray that Rosemary Breslin gets to grow old with Tony Dunne. But those prayers and tears aren't really about her--they are, I think, about you, about me, about wanting to feel love that strongly even if you have to live in the shadow of death.

    I can't think of a more important subject, or a more important book. Or, today, a person I admire more than Rosemary Breslin. To buy the book from Amazon.com, click here.

    Thought for Today

    When the tyrant has disposed of foreign enemies by conquest or treaty, and there is nothing to fear from them, then he is always stirring up some war or other, in order that the people may require a leader.

    --- Plato

    Do This, Go to Heaven

    Forget that we may not agree about whatever it is we're doing in Iraq. Focus on something that we can all agree on: caring for our soldiers who have been seriously wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    What can you do for those men and women?

    You can help them live in a decent home that's customized for them.

    Homes for Our Troops is a newly launched initiative to build affordable housing for the 800+ members of our Armed Services who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with permanent disabilities. It's like Habit for Humanity--volunteer workers, donated materials--just for a very specific clientele.

    This is a terrific idea--and especially important for handicapped Reservists, who do NOT get health insurance provided by the government.

    This, for Swami, is what Spirituality is all about: identifying the good, then doing it. So please go to the site, spread the word, give some money--whatever you can do, do it.

    And a big shout out to Jerry Gutekunst, the New Hampshire Volunteer Coordinator for "Homes for Our Troops" who brought this great cause to our attention.

    Ron Reagan Jr. on Bush's "Faith"

    The Washington Monthly (scroll down) quotes Ronald Reagan Jr. comparing his father to George W. Bush:

    Dad was also a deeply, unabashedly religious man. But he never made the fatal mistake of so many politicians, wearing his faith on his sleeve to gain political advantage. True, after he was shot and nearly killed early in his presidency, he came to believe that God had spared him in order that he might do good. But he accepted that as a responsibility, not a mandate. And there is a profound difference.

    Bush to Vatican: Save Me!

    You'd think that every American who's "pro-family" and "pro-life"--meaningless terms used to reduce complex issues to a level that even The Stupids can grasp--is poised to vote for George Bush in November.

    But the President's not a believer in that proposition. According to The National Catholic Reporter, during his June 4 visit with the Pope,

    Bush asked the Vatican to push the American Catholic bishops to be more aggressive politically on family and life issues, especially a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

    A Vatican official told National Catholic Reporter that in his meeting with Cardinal Angelo Sodano and other Vatican officials, Bush said, "Not all the American bishops are with me" on the cultural issues. The implication was that he hoped the Vatican would nudge them toward more explicit activism.

    Other sources in the meeting said that while they could not recall the president's exact words, he did pledge aggressive efforts on the cultural front, especially the battle against gay marriage, and asked for the Vatican's help in encouraging the U.S. bishops to be more outspoken.

    According to sources, Sodano did not respond to the request. Josh Marshall picked up on this item:

    I guess on one level we can say we've come a long way since 1960 when John F. Kennedy had to foreswear that he'd follow the instructions of the Pope in his decisions of governance. Today we have a Protestant born-again who tries to enlist the Pope to intervene in an American election....

    Presidents regularly meet with Popes. Certainly they talk about matters both political and moral, perhaps even theological. But is it the president's place to press the pope to sow religious divisions among American Catholics, a majority of whom seem uncomfortable with the efforts of some in the hierarchy to discipline pro-choice Catholic politicians? And, all that aside, is it proper for the president to enlist the Vatican as an arm of his political campaign? Good questions. For answers, let's ask Loose Canon, who is tighter with these dudes than Swami will ever be. And while we're at it, let Swami toss in a few questions of his own:

    l) Do you see the Vatican telling American bishops--who are well aware that many in their flock don't agree with the Vatican on "cultural" issues--to lay down the law on issues they have thus far successfully ducked?

    2) And if the Bishops do as Bush hopes, do you see their congregations falling into lockstep and voting, like automatons, for Bush? Or do you see many Catholics--who ignore the Pope's dictates on birth control and abortion and so on, but somehow manage to continue to attend Mass and take Communion--finally deciding this is the time to head for the exit?

    3) And what about all those "liberal" parishes that spend more energy helping the poor than thinking about the President--how might they react to the imposition of an agenda that's all about "againsts": against same-sex marriage, against stem-cell research, against abortion?

    While Swami awaits Loose Canon's response, he looks at the bright side. How many Catholics are there who can't wait to pull the lever for a "born again" Protestant? And how many African-American churchgoers are there? Swami doesn't have the figures, but he'll bet there are more African-Americans on the voting rolls.

    And that makes Swami think: Two can play...

    Jesse Jackson! Paging Jesse Jackson! Would Jesse Jackson please come to the courtesy phone?

    Who's More Catholic?

    President Bush craves American Catholic voters to do what the Pope tells them to. But if the way Catholic Senators vote is any indication, they don't listen to Rome. Nathan Newman reports:

    Sen. Dick Durbin has released a survey of Catholic Senators that rates them in three categories: Pro-Life, Domestic Policy and Foreign Policy. Unsurprisingly, Democratic Senators do poorly on the pro-life rating, but the news is in the Domestic and Foreign Policy ratings. Using the stated legislative priorities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Durbin has ranked the Senators on Catholic positions from the minimum wage to the right to unionize on the domestic front to the Iraq War Resolution and Global AIDS funding on the international side. And some Catholic Republicans are way off the Church's legislative priorities.

    Senator Sununu and Santorum received the lowest domestic ratings (23%) with Bunning and Santorum tied with the lowest ratings in foreign policy (6%). Other Catholic GOPers with notably low ratings were Senator Domenici (27% Domestic, 12% International) and Murkowski (33% Domestic, 7% International). Kerry had the highest domestic rating of any Catholic Senator (95%).

    Of course, conservatives will say only the abortion issue counts. Now, many Catholic leaders may say it counts more-and Durbin gives it its own rating, but it should raise questions in some quarters-hint to the media-that additional stories on who is a "good Catholic" could be done. Coming Up in the News

    Brace yourself: Sy Hersh sees more shocking images ahead:

    He said that after he broke Abu Ghraib people are coming out of the woodwork to tell him this stuff. He said he had seen all the Abu Ghraib pictures. He said, "You haven't begun to see evil..." then trailed off. He said, "horrible things done to children of women prisoners, as the cameras run."
    Swami and "Uplift"

    Sorry, kids. Hope those of you who hoped for a kinder, gentler Swami aren't too disappointed. Really, Swami tried, he really did. But it turns out Swami was just overtired from the exciting tech conference and that overnight cross-country flight.

    Accept it: Swami's mad and scared and feeling that what this blog can most constructively do is sound the alarm (and, whenever possible, praise goodness and expand compassion). To paraphrase "The Grapes of Wrath": As long as there are jerks trying to use religion to limit your spiritual and intellectual freedom, I'll be there.

    And it sure does seem those jerks are everywhere these days. Must be some historical thing, some end-of-an-era thing. Couldn't have anything to do with the folks behind the folks who run our government.

    The Messiah Is Among Us (Just Ask Him)

    Two decades ago--directed by God, he said--Reverend Moon launched the Washington Times.

    Later, Jesus, Confucius, the Buddha, and Muhammad showered Moon with hosannas.

    Last March, Moon apparently told guests at a Washington party that Hitler and Stalin--once bad guys, now good guys after five decades in the Great Beyond--have, from their graves, added their names to his endorsement list. They call Moon "none other than humanity's Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord and True Parent."

    Swami's not bowing down to Reverend Moon until Ronald Reagan endorses him. How long do you think that will take--a week? Two?

    Church Ladies in South Carolina

    Email from a Southern friend:

    So the day before yesterday I went to vote for the Democratic Candidate, Inez Tannenbaum, who, hopefully, will take the slot of Senator Fritz Hollings next term. I showed up with my husband, the Well-Known Liberal. I showed up with my daughter. I showed up with my passport and checkbook and other various and sundry pieces of identification proving that I lived where I lived, and I was who I said I was.

    The people before us proudly stated they were Republicans, and the two ladies behind the counter tittered and smiled, and let them go on through. The woman behind the counter is a member of my church, and she is also the mother of my brother's best friend. She sang in the choir with my mother. She's been to my house God knows how many times. The point is, she KNOWS me.

    I handed her my passport (you must have the exact proof of identity to get a passport, just as you do to get a South Carolina Driver's License, which I had recently lost). She asked me for my driver's license. I explained it was lost. She refused to let me vote. She asked the person next to her if she was right, and that tittering fool said that she, indeed, was right--I could only vote with a South Carolina Driver's License or a South Carolina I.D.

    Oh well, I don't expect this State, which has been Republican ever since Strom Thurmond started the Dixiecrats with his handstand Life Magazine cover and rotten ideas, and which now has begun subtly turning the blue South Carolina State Flag into a red one, to be anything but Republican.

    But I can't help thinking...and so it begins.

    Legalized Bigotry

    In your place of business, do you think you have the right to discriminate against or harass coworkers or customers simply because your religion teaches that they are evil or inferior?

    If you're a doctor, health worker or police officer, do you think you have the right to look at an accident victim or about-to-pop pregnant woman and say, "Nah, my religion doesn't approve of her, so I'm not helping"?

    If you agree you have such rights, you're going to love the Workplace Religious Freedom Act sponsored by our old friend Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA). (You remember Rick: the guy who saw a slippery slope from gay marriage to sex with dogs and kids and other stuff so disgusting they didn't even make the prisoners at Abu Ghraib do it. Not exactly a party animal--Swami sees no sodomy in Mrs. Santorum's past, present, and future--but Rick sure has a pornographer's imagination.)

    You say: "This is a crackpot bill, sponsored by a crackpot."

    Not so fast. Yeah, it's whack, but the crackpot is the third most powerful Republican in the Senate. Reagan II--ooops, President Bush--adores him. And Swami bets no priest denies him the blood and body of Christ.

    Mary Walker on Torture and Jesus

    Mary Walker's not a household name (except in households like Swami's). But in case she shows up in a future edition of Trivial Pursuit, you might do well to recall that, as general counsel of our Air Force, she was one of the lawyers who wrote the memos explaining how Americans could torture prisoners without violating the Geneva Convention.

    What's riveting about Attorney Walker is not how she helped devise this wickedly ingenious legal defense.

    It's that she's a Christian who's a big believer in Living Her Faith--she's co-founder of a San Diego spinoff of the Campus Crusade for Christ.

    Billmon thoughtfully juxtaposes her statements of faith with excerpts from the torture memoes.

    Before Loose Canon jumps all over Swami, let us note, as Billmon reminds us, "We cynical lefties should remember that it was Christian soldiers who blew the whistle on Abu Ghraib, out of stricken consciences."

    Still, Swami wonders about Christianity as practised in America: What, exactly, does "Christian Nation" mean? That is: What does it mean in action?

    When Politics Happens to Good Churches

    Several readers have asked what happens to churches that violate their non-profit status by taking political positions or endorsing candidates.

    They're not the only ones who wonder about that.

    As it happens, Josh Marshall, of Talking Points Memo, gives us a chilling update:

    Under current tax rules, clergy members are allowed to speak out on political issues and to lead nonpartisan voter registration drives. But the IRS can revoke a congregation's 501(c)3 tax-exempt status if it endorses candidates or engages in partisan politics.

    The American Jobs Creation Act, introduced [last] Friday by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), is scheduled for markup Thursday and a vote on the House floor next week. The bill's main purpose is to cut the top corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 32 percent and provide other tax relief to businesses, in return for repealing subsidies that have triggered European sanctions on U.S. farmers and manufacturers.

    But on page 378 of the bill is a provision entitled "Safe Harbor for Churches." It would allow clergy members to engage in political activity, including endorsing candidates, as long as they make clear that they are acting as private citizens and not on behalf of their religious organizations. They could not make partisan political statements in church publications, at church functions or using church funds.

    The provision also would allow clergy members to commit three "unintentional violations" of the tax rules on political activity each year without risking the loss of tax-exempt status. After the first violation, the church, synagogue or mosque would have to pay corporate taxes on one week's worth of its annual revenue. For the second violation, the penalty would be taxation of 50 percent of the organization's annual revenue. The penalty for the third violation would be taxation. Can You Hear Me Now?

    Swami got an e-mail last night that really put him off his feed:

    You know, I thought I was reading a spiritual, uplifting, enlightening article! Silly me! It's an election year and the long-reaching tentacle of the Democratic Party even permeates here. Propaganda under the guise of spirituality..sickening. Personal attacks on the dead...abhorrent and so Democratic. Enough negativity to gag a maggot. But then, power to the Godless government is all that matters isn't it? "Swami"..disgusting. "1984" has arrived.
    Swami's response:

    In this blog, I am examining how the spiritual plays out in the real world. Politicans who cloak themselves in religion--how do they behave? ARE they really "Christians"? That's what I'm looking at. So far, I'd say the "propaganda" is being put out by the people I write about. You are, in my view, essentially accusing me of writing about what's going on. You want politics to leave the blissfully pure spiritual home that is Beliefnet? Write President Bush.
    To which she wrote back:

    Damn right I want you to leave your opinions out of a spiritual arena where folks go to get away from "the world" to "come apart" and be fed spiritually. We mortals are bombarded with politics all day long from (obviously) every arena. AND I do thank you for taking the time to respond.
    This woman is no dope, no blind hater. And so Swami has reflected a bit more. And he must confess: He still doesn't get it. Hey, Swami would like "uplifting" as much as the next person. You think it's FUN to collect, day after day, the lies and slanders and illegal acts of the most "Christian" men ever to run the country? No. Sorry. It sucks.

    What kind of creep would take pleasure in watching John Ashcroft, before Congress, refuse to produce documents that show how the White House understood our armed forces might torture prisoners--but that the President couldn't be held accountable?

    Who enjoys Dennis Miller saying of the Abu Ghraib pictures, "I like to trade them with my friends"?

    Who gets off on Ann Coulter, who denies the Bush administration misled us about the war, telling us: "You'd have to put liberals in Abu Ghraib to get them to tell the truth about what people [in the Bush administration] were saying before the war--and then the problem would be that most liberals would enjoy those activities"?

    Who likes reading with fresh eyes how the Reagan team (scroll down) mocked gays and ignored AIDS in the early years of the Greatest President's term?

    This is ugly stuff. Swami thinks you ought to know about it, so you can see the threat to truth and civility that these people represent.

    But, like Swami's pen pal, many of you--maybe most of you--don't want to hear about it. You want "uplifting," and you'll want it even if you lose every civil liberty. Just give you sweet baby Jesus in a manger, a Heaven with a God in a robe and a white beard, and eternal life that you get without breaking a sweat.

    Good luck with that!

    Still, Swami feels your pain--hey, he shares it. So maybe we ought to try it your way for a while. In that spirit, readers who like outrage served up with humor should zoom over to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

    For the rest of you....

    Tolstoy's Vision of God

    On this day in 1881, Count Leo Tolstoy donned his peasant coat and homemade bark shoes, gathered his walking staff and two bodyguards, and set out from his estate for the Optina Pustyn monastery...

    The Education of the Virgin

    Take comfort in De La Tour's masterful portrait, from the collection of the Frick Museum in New York: De La Tour (Click to enlarge the image, or just look at enlarged image)

    Father's Day Book Pick for the Christian Father

    Her child's body was twitching, she was cold and unresponsive. Diagnosis: a tumor in the brain. A tumor pressing right against the brain stem of a 9-month-old baby. Heather Davis, an inveterate researcher, made sure her daughter had the best doctors in Los Angeles. Then she went right to the top of the chain of command--she got right with God. Read more about Baptism by Fire.

    Swami: The Morning After

    The better to fulfill his duties to you and Beliefnet, Swami took the night flight home from San Diego, where it was cloudy and cool, to New York, where it feels like a hundred degrees. Now that he is here, Swami feels...unlike himself. All those smarties at the tech conference! Swami's brain is as overheated as the New York sidewalk today. He must drink some hot tea--yes, a hot drink can be very refreshing on a hot day--and take to his mat.

    Tomorrow, the splenetic Swami you know and love (or loathe) shall return. And as for the national day of mourning for Ronald Reagan on Friday....Swami wouldn't dream of taking the day off.

    Humor from...Bill Gates?

    Let's lighten the gloom, shall we? Maybe the best story Swami heard at the conference was told by the Microsoft co-founder. It's about legendary investor Warren Buffett. As Bill (like Gates and Uptown are on a first-name basis) told it: "I was at a dinner with Warren Buffett. The wine steward at the restaurant went on and on about the wine--how rare, how precious, how very very expensive. When he reached Buffett to pour some, Warren put his hand over the glass. 'No, thanks,' he said. 'I'll just take the money.'"

    Reagan and The Rapture

    The Revealer reports:

    He [Reagan] spoke often of his belief that the likely conflict with the Soviet Union (he called it "the Final Battle") had been foretold; that the Soviets were the satanic nation of Gog written about in the books of Ezekiel and Revelation...

    As Reagan told People magazine on December 6, 1983, "theologians have been studying the ancient prophecies--what would portend the coming of Armageddon--and have said that never, in the time between the prophecies up until now, has there ever been a time in which so many of the prophecies are coming together. There have been times in the past when people thought the end of the world was coming, and so forth, but never anything like this." E-mail of the Week

    In case you didn't get it in your mail...

    Dear Mr. Ashcroft:

    Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from talks on television, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

    I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to follow them.

    1. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing smell for the Lord - Leviticus 1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

    2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what to you think would be a fair price for her?

    3. I know that I am not allowed to have contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual cleanliness - Leviticus 15:19-24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

    4. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

    5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states she should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill her myself?

    6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination - Leviticus 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?

    7. Leviticus 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

    8. Most of my male friends get their hair cut, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by the bible, in Leviticus 19:27. How should they die?

    9. I know from Leviticus 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

    10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Leviticus 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton and polyester blend). He also tends to curse a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? - Leviticus 24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? Leviticus 20:14

    I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

    Mourning in America

    Swami wasn't planning to comment upon Ronald Reagan beyond the few lines he quoted about "heroes" yesterday. For one thing, Swami is at a conference 3,000 miles from home, and after long days of listening to smart people and nights of trying to sound like a smart person himself, he had hoped to share a few anecdotes and get to bed at a reasonable hour. For another, Swami has been too occupied to see or read almost anything about the national week of mourning for Reagan. And, finally, while Swami was--to say the least--no fan of the Reagan presidency, good manners hold him back from attacking anyone while the body is still cooling.

    But even in a Four Seasons ballroom, with the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs at the podium, it is impossible to ignore the national orgy of mourning for Reagan. Swami understands that much of it is less about Reagan--who has been "gone" for so long that a kind of national Alzheimer's has set in and even those who loved him really don't remember him clearly--than about the idea of Reagan. It's grief for "Morning in America": for the '40s-movie, white-picket-fence nation that Reagan evoked. No Britney Spears flaunting her young flesh in that culture. No crisis that the local minister or the friendly coach couldn't fix. And, thanks to the love and understanding of the right spouse, a happy ending every time.

    That America never existed, but Swami's nostalgic for it too. We all miss childhood fables and stories with endings that wrap it all up in a bow. And we all crave meaning in our lives--the knowledge that we're important, if only in our neighborhood.

    But Swami feels the blood rise when we get to the part of the national mourning that deals with Who Reagan Really Was and What Reagan Really Did. In a free moment, he snuck a look at Loose Canon and saw that Ms. Hays had compared George W. Bush (her contemporary hero) to Ronald Reagan (one of her all-time heroes): "...gracefully or not, he [Bush] speaks the same awkward truths that Reagan spoke so eloquently."

    And so, setting manners aside for some collegial questioning, Swami must ask: What were these awkward truths, Ms. Hays? That for all our talk of freedom and fairness, we are a thug nation, incapable of telling the truth to ourselves about the ways we prey on the weak but cringe from the strong? That every chance a Republican President gets, he rigs the game so the rich--particularly his cronies--get richer? That our government doesn't give a fig about us, and that, in the worst possible sense of that phrase, we're "on our own"?

    And that's just the softball stuff. Are you interested in the facts with a topspin of outrage and invective? Here we go...

    Contrarian Takes on Reagan

    The most astonishing critique of Reagan and Reaganism came from Lee Atwater, who may have done more than anyone to get Reagan elected--and who was the first of the Reagan inner circle to die. On the way out, he had some second thoughts about what he'd done (courtesy of our pal The Rude Pundit--don't click if you're easily offended):

    When Lee Atwater, mentor to Karl Rove and one of the gurus of Reagan and then Bush I's campaigns, was dying of brain cancer, he had such an epiphany about the world he helped to create. He called the umitigated greed of the Reagan/Bush era a "spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of the soul."
    Then let's move on to Eric Alterman:

    Reagan's own penchant for self-delusion has been widely documented. He frequently convinced himself of historical truths on the basis of old movies he half-recalled. He pretended to one White House visitor to have participated in the liberation of German concentration camps at the end of World War II though he hand never even gone overseas as a soldier. He entertained a strange fascination with the End of Days and was even known to speculate that they might take place during his presidency. He invented what he called "a verbal message" from the Pope in support of his Central American policies, which was news to everyone at the Vatican. He announced one day in 1985 that South Africa--though still ruled by the vicious apartheid regime of P.W. Botha--had somehow "eliminated the segregation that we once had in our own country." Such strange pronouncements by the president of the United States eventually grew to be considered so routine that rarely did anyone in the White House ever bother to correct them. The president simply had a penchant, one former senior adviser admitted, to "build these little worlds and live in them." One of his children added, "He makes things up and believes them." What is more astounding is the fact that he convinced other people to believe them too.
    And, for the strong of stomach, a few more:

  • AlterNet: 66 (Unflattering) Things About Ronald Reagan
  • Christopher Hitchens
  • Greg Palast

    Give Reagan Credit

    At least once, Reagan made a mistake. (As someone has pointed out, a serious mistake--one "smoking gun" memo from what might have been regarded as an impeachment-worthy mistake.) But then he did something Bush cannot do--he admitted it. Remember this?
  • A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions tell me that's true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower Board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages. This runs counter to my own beliefs, to administration policy, and to the original strategy we had in mind. There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake.
    The buck stopped with Reagan. Ms. Hays, is this one of the qualities that reminds you of George Bush?

    Bush Answers Only to God

    For Bush, the buck doesn't stop in the Oval Office. He is accountable only to a Higher Authority (and, because he's been "saved" and can't be "unsaved," he essentially has a lifetime Get Out of Jail Free card). Which perhaps explains why the White House had its legal counsel write a memo that, acted upon, would pretty much amount to...a coup. See for yourself (from Talking Points Memo ):

    To protect subordinates should they be charged with torture, the memo advised that Mr. Bush issue a "presidential directive or other writing" that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws is "inherent in the president."

    So the right to set aside law is "inherent in the president". That claim alone should stop everyone in their tracks and prompt a serious consideration of the safety of the American republic under this president. It is the very definition of a constitutional monarchy, let alone a constitutional republic, that the law is superior to the executive, not the other way around. This is the essence of what the rule of law means--a government of laws, not men, and all that. Pray for Bush

    Yes, that's what Swami said. He's been reading Bush on the Couch, a just-published study of George W. Bush by Justin Frank, a very savvy Washington psychoanalyst. It takes you through the Bush family story in a way no one ever has before. And it suggests that Bush isn't the strong, decisive guy he and his handlers insist he is--he's a frightened little boy who needs everything to go his way or he really can't cope.

    In shorthand: Clinton felt our pain (or has the good sense to pretend to). But we feel Bush's pain--whenever he's in crisis, he displaces his fears by freaking out the entire nation.

    Swami won't be voting for Bush (that's not exactly news). But as Swami works day and night to bring this mendacious, spiritually bankrupt, would-be dictator from the Oval Office, he is acutely aware that only Bush is allowed to be a nasty SOB. If we kick at him, he'll try to hurt us--that's his pattern.

    But if start connecting the dots, there's no need to kick him; sadly, our President is falling apart right in front of us. That strange performance on the White House lawn as he almost couldn't bring himself to announce George Tenet's "resignation"--that was telling. Then he zoomed off to Europe, where Mr. Punctual was late for everything. And then this, from last weekend's World War II ceremonies:

    I saw Bush trying to sing the National Anthem...he didn't know the words!!! AND, AND...this was sweet!...the French set him up on CNN live so that as he read a speech, you could hear the announcer telling Bush what to say, then he'd repeat it, word for word, and in the same tone. It was a sight to behold...
    Confession: Swami is scared. Not because Bush expresses powrful truths in an awkward way, but because Bush is in a zone he's never known before--free-fall. And this time, Daddy and Daddy's pals can't rescue him. But maybe we can help. As we wait for him to make that walk to the chopper one final time, we can smother him with the compassion he's denied to so many, we can bathe him with hopes for a personal healing back in Crawford.

    So when you come to the part in your prayers when you list the folks who are special to you and much in need of help, please include the President. Starting tonight, on bended knee, Swami sure will.

    Ronald Reagan

    Andrea (Galileo's student): "Unhappy is the land that has no heroes."

    Galileo: "No Andrea, unhappy is the land that needs a hero."

    --Bertolt Brecht, "Galileo"

    George Bush: Blues Brother?

    Okay, Capitol Hill Blue is not the New York Times. But what if this stuff is even remotely true?

    In meetings with top aides and administration officials, the President goes from quoting the Bible in one breath to obscene tantrums against the media, Democrats and others that he classifies as "enemies of the state."

    In interviews with a number of White House staffers who were willing to talk off the record, a picture of an administration under siege has emerged, led by a man who declares his decisions to be "God's will" and then tells aides to "f--k over" anyone they consider to be an opponent of the administration.

    One aide says the President actually described Tenet's decision [to resign] as "God's will."

    God may also be the reason Attorney General John Ashcroft, the administration's lightning rod because of his questionable actions that critics argue threatens freedoms granted by the Constitution, remains part of the power elite. West Wing staffers call Bush and Ashcroft "the Blues Brothers" because "they're on a mission from God." Bill Maher: "Religion is Childish"

    The hiatus started somewhere back in Democatic primary season. It won't end until July 30th. But for those who have been missing Bill Maher's HBO show, "Real Time With Bill Maher," cheer up--he dropped in on Larry King last week and showed that he hasn't exactly lost his edge.

    CALLER: Hi, thank you for taking my call. Here's my question. Other than who we vote for and keeping respect for everyone's beliefs, Bill, I'm wondering how you think we can work to restore a separation of church and state?

    MAHER: Restore it, that's a good point. I think we have -- I hate to sound like a broken record. It has to take place at the top. When you have a president who is this openly religious and this openly contemptible, in contempt, rather, of the separation of church and state, I don't think anything is going to change until that changes.

    This is a man who proudly says that Jesus picked him to be president. You said something about you have to respect people's beliefs. I know that's what we always hear, we have to respect. I'm sorry, I don't. I don't respect religion. I don't respect superstitious thinking, which is what religion is. I don't respect childish thinking, which is what religion is.

    We talked about this before, this whole gay issue wouldn't even be an issue except it says it in the Bible. The Bible, that book that has people lived to be 900 years old and says the world is 6,000 years old, and that there are people who lived in a whale. That infallible work of genius and slavery is OK. You should stone a guy to death if he works on Sunday. That's the book that says, sorry no queers.

    So I'm sorry, I don't respect people who believe in religion. I was religious when I was a kid. We all had dumb stuff drilled into our head. It doesn't mean when you get to be an adult you can't drill it out. I tell you something else they drilled into my head when I was a kid, mercury in my cavities. We found out later mercury is so bad we shouldn't even eat it when there is a trace of it in fish. But it was drilled into my teeth. So when I got older, I had it drilled out. You can do the same thing with religion. Father Joe

    Swami took off one ridiculous costume and put on another: serious book reviewer.

    As promised, his longer take on Father Joe.

    What Gun Would Jesus Own?

    Swami's informal poll of his fellow believers--Swami counts himself as a Jew/Buddhist/Hindu--has not turned up a single one who owns a gun. Swami thus concludes that Christians are the folks who own most of the guns in America. (Okay, plus atheists and agnostics and the occasional Scientologist.)

    But Swami is weak on the New Testament. Can someone show him where Jesus says, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do"--and then blows a legion of Romans away?

    Oh, right. Swami forgot. The Second Amendment--"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed"--trumps the word of God.

    But we won't debate that here, will we? Because everyone knows: You can't have a real conversation with anyone who holds the Second Amendment above God.

    Not that there's need of a debate. Not when it's life-or-death. And so Swami wants your full attention here, because what Swami is about to tell you is truly a matter of life or death--maybe your life, maybe your kid's life.

    There's a piece of mail going around. It's from Thomas Mauser, whose son was killed by an assault weapon at Columbine High.

    You know about assault weapons? They can decimate a roomful of innocents in seconds. And you know the really cool thing about the gun that killed the Mauser kid? According to the manufacturer, it's "fingerprint resistant." Isn't that a feature every law-abiding citizen wants in his gun? Really, how can you get along without one of those babies?

    Mauser writes his letter because the ban on assault weapons is about to expire. Everyone--from police chiefs on down--wants it extended. Only the National Rifle Association wants the ban to disappear. But you know George Bush and those Senators and Congressmen who take NRA money--they think the gun lobby just hangs the moon.

    Mauser's letter follows. Whether you're a gun-owner or not, this is one gun control bill you should be able to support. And if you could share it with everyone in your online address book.....Swami would thank you a thousand times over. As would your loved ones.

    Please Do This

    Dear Friend,

    Five years ago my 15-year-old son Daniel Mauser was one of 13 people killed at Columbine High School by two students. One of them used an illegal assault weapon. This summer, AK-47s, UZIs, and TEC-DC9s will be legal again unless we do something about it.

    Using an exciting and unprecedented new Internet technology to grow an online petition, join me in my effort to see how many millions of names I can collect to deliver to President Bush. We will change the course of this country, create a lasting legacy for my son and other gun victims--and make America safer for you and your loved ones.

    Here is how you can help:

    Please sign this petition by cutting-and-pasting this message into e-mail and forwarding that e-mail to your family and friends. Make sure to add my e-mail address TOM@TOMSPETITION.ORG to your list of friends in the same forwarded e-mail (don't use bcc). This petition uses a new technology that allows you to see how many supporters you can reach through the power of "six degrees of separation."

    Sending to TOM@TOMSPETITION.ORG confirms your participation and allows our petition software to map the growing support for our cause. We will immediately send you a link to your personal petition page, where you can see a real time map of your impact on this historic cause.

    If each of us passes this message on to our friends and family this will be the fastest growing petition on the Internet ever! We will reach millions of people and force president Bush and Congress to extend the assault weapons ban.

    For more information on how the petition technology maps your support, go to: tomspetition.org/info

    Thank you,

    Tom Mauser

    On D-Day

    Christopher Dickey looks back at World War II and what the great journalist Ernie Pyle learned about war ("Dead men by mass production--in one country after another--month after month and year after year. Dead men in winter and dead men in summer.")

    And then he shifts to the present and quotes an e-mail from an American Lt. Col. in Iraq:

    "The American soldier in Iraq is a fine human being," he writes. "Young men and women, a zillion miles from home, watching their friends die day after day, being mortared just like me, eating lousy food, baking in the unbelievable heat. Young men and women who are attending too many memorials and last roll calls. These young men and women suffer these indignities routinely and go out each day to help rebuild a school, build a water line, repair a bridge, fix the substations, install air conditioners in orphanages, the list goes on and on. These young men and women are heroes, not prison guards gone wild. They are the bravest most incredible people I have ever had the pleasure to know."

    So Why Not Protect Them?

    A while back, Swami wrote about a Florida community that collected Kevlar body armor so our soldiers in Iraq could line the inside of their Humvees. It was a popular compaign: 40 law enforcement agencies collected 1,200 pieces of Kevlar. A report on a blog (scroll down) takes the story from there:

    Enter the U.S. Army, which was apparently embarrassed that the fact they still had our guys over there riding around in unarmored Hummers was getting lots of local media publicity, refused to accept the body armor (despite pleas from the local commander of the 351st, who wanted it), and publicly censured 1st Sgt. Chisholm for asking for it.

    Our local red, white and blue congressman, Cliff Stearns, also joined in criticizing Sheriff Dean for butting in where he wasn't welcome.

    The body armor is still sitting in a warehouse at the 351st's HQ in Ocala, and our guys in Iraq are still riding around in thin-skinned Humvees.

    Maybe you'd like to write Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, about this. You don't need to do more than cut and paste the article--and ask, simply, WHY?

    George & Ahmad, Sitting in a Tree,

    Ahmad Chalabi. Oh, dear. Swami hasn't dealt with this story yet, because--unlike the Bush Administration--he believes the accused are entitled to a presumption of innocence. It is not yet clear to Swami (though he is soooo tempted to believe this) that the Iraq war occurred because this one scoundrel, acting as an agent of Iran, gave the Bush Administration Iranian-invented "information" about Saddam's "weapons."

    In other words (if true): Iran, which loathes the United States and Iraq, got one enemy to invade another.

    But that's just the start of Chalabi's alleged perfidy. In addition to playing the Bush Administration--and, remember, he was our first choice to lead the new, "liberated" Iraq--he reportedly told the Iranians that we had cracked their intelligence code and were reading their dispatches.

    (What is not in dispute: Just in the last few years, the United States has paid Chalabi at least $39 million--and that's a very lowball figure.)

    If the allegations are true, this is a disaster that, in domestic terms, rivals the damage Abu Grahib did abroad. $200 billion spent, 800 lives lost, our economy disrupted, our credibility shot, our country divided--and all because the Bushies were so eager to go to war they were raw meat for any old ass-clown with a catchy story?

    No wonder Swami hasn't discussed this until now--it's too depressing.

    And Swami wouldn't be talking about it now if it weren't for the President's comment on Chalabi the other day.

    Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. Chalabi is an Iraqi leader that's fallen out of favor within your administration. I'm wondering if you feel that he provided any false information, or are you particularly--

    THE PRESIDENT: Chalabi?

    Q: Yes, with Chalabi.

    THE PRESIDENT: My meetings with him were very brief. I mean, I think I met with him at the State of the Union and just kind of working through the rope line, and he might have come with a group of leaders. But I haven't had any extensive conversations with him. As Jon Stewart pointed out on "The Daily Show," Chalabi sat behind the First Lady at the State of the Union--"and that doesn't happen just because you're the eighth caller."

    As Stewart's guest, the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, noted, "rope line" is not a term you use in daily speech. This wasn't a spontaneous answer--the White House knew the question was coming, and the President and his staffers worked up (and probably rehearsed) a response.

    Fortunately, Washington Monthly looked up a Bush response to a question about Iraqi self-rule, from February 8, on Meet the Press.

    Russert: If the Iraqis choose, however, an Islamic extremist regime, would you accept that, and would that be better for the United States than Saddam Hussein?

    President Bush: They're not going to develop that. And the reason I can say that is because I'm very aware of this basic law they're writing. They're not going to develop that because right here in the Oval Office I sat down with Mr. Pachachi and Chalabi and al-Hakim, people from different parts of the country that have made the firm commitment, that they want a constitution eventually written that recognizes minority rights and freedom of religion. So these are our choices:

    1) The President lied. He knowingly, consciously lied about the extent of his relationship with Chalabi.

    2) The President is so out-of-the-loop that he had no real relationship with the guy we wanted to run Iraq.

    3) "Oh. Right. We did meet. I forgot. So what you gonna do--shoot me with Saddam's gun? That's what's wrong with the press. Always playing 'gotcha.'"

    What gets your vote? (Or are there possibilities Swami hasn't considered?) Do let Swami know. And, while you're at it, you might like to write the President.

    And Deliver Us Not Into Lap Dancers

    You'd think England--which claims to value tradition in all things--would be the last country to tamper with the Bible.

    Not so. Later this year, an updated version becomes available.

    "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death" is no longer.

    Bring on: "Even if a full-scale violent confrontation breaks out, I will not be afraid, Lord."

    The Church and Politics

    A friend writes: "I wonder if you feel, as I do, that churches which dabble in politics should lose their tax exempt status."

    Clearly, the Catholic church has no such fear (see yesterday's item about pro-choice Catholic politicians and their Communion problems).

    But President Bush's hope of getting Pennsylvania churchgoers involved in his re-election campaign could create an IRS problem for Pennsylvania churches.

    Separation of church and state? Respect for the law? Swami has to wonder: What's left for these guys to trash?

    Swami's Catholic Problem (and Yours?)

    Yesterday Swami praised the Pope in advance for his much-anticipated excoriation of the United States war policy when he sits down for his visit with President Bush this week.

    Today's a different story. Today, Swami has come to blast the Catholic church for inserting itself into our Presidential election.

    Rick Hertzberg, in The New Yorker, lays the trouble out in short strokes:

    Because Kerry opposes the recriminalization of abortion and supports stem-cell research to find treatments for such diseases as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, a bevy of bishops have all but called for his defeat. The archbishop of St. Louis has said he would refuse to let Kerry take Communion, the central sacrament of Catholic inclusion, and lesser bishops in Boston, New Orleans, and Portland, Oregon, have chimed in with similar sentiments. The bishop of Colorado Springs has gone further, declaring that anyone who votes for a candidate who favors abortion rights or stem-cell research (or gay marriage or assisted suicide) will be denied Communion in his diocese. Of course, there are still lots of bishops, probably a majority, who think that using the Eucharist as a political bludgeon is a bad idea. Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, of Los Angeles, to name one, has said that Kerry is welcome to take Communion in his diocese. There is plenty of disagreement within the Catholic Church and plenty of debate in the Catholic press.
    Needless to say, there are many pro-choice Catholic politicians who have not been singled out like Kerry and New Jersey Governor Gov. James E. McGreevey, a divorced Catholic who has spoken out for abortion rights. And, presumably, they take Communion. Doesn't seem fair, does it?

    Seems to Swami that American Catholics have two choices. They can ignore the Church--as many of them already do--or they can color within the lines. If the latter, Swami has a question: Why pick on Kerry and McGreevey? Don't you think it's your duty to inform your diocese of local/state Catholic politicians whose views are anathema to the Church?

    Is this "being a rat," as they used to say in old movies? Maybe. But if all the wafflers on key doctrines were known, Catholics could stand in the Communion line secure in the knowledge that no heretics were among them. Granted, this "search and destroy" mission might do more than purge high-profile dissidents--it could have the effect of emptying many Catholic churches. No, the Church would never do that. Better to stick to attacking Catholic Democrats and help re-elect a President who doesn't go to church.

    President Bush: Keeper of the Faith-Based

    We all know the President believes that religious groups may administer social services better than the government (especially when you cut a federal agency's budget so it has a hard time doing its job).

    Bush gave a speech yesterday--he called it "America's Compassion in Action"--in which he expounded on his affection for faith-based initiatives:

    I'm proud to report that we've reached more than 10,000 faith-based and community groups with the message that we want your help, that the federal government now welcomes your work. And do not fear being discriminated against by the government.

    Listen, I fully understand there are people in the faith community who have said, why do I want to interface with the federal government? (Laughter.) Why would I want to interface with a group of people that want to try to get me to not practice my faith? It's hard to be a faith-based program if you can't practice faith. And the message to you is we're changing the culture here in America. (Applause.)

    For those who are disturbed by remarks like this, there was the usual disclaimer:

    Look, I fully understand it's important to maintain the separation of church and state. We don't want the state to become the church, nor do we want the church to become the state. We're on common agreement there. But I do believe that groups should be allowed to access social service grants, so long as they don't proselytize, or exclude somebody simply because they don't share a certain faith. In other words, there's a way to accomplish the separation of church and state, and at the same time, accomplish the social objective of having America become a hopeful place, and a loving place.
    Tim Russert, Reconsidered

    Don't be fooled by the cuddly guy hawking his book about his dad. He's a bit of a thug when it comes to women. Just look at his his treatment of Nancy Pelosi and ask yourself if he'd be this tough if General Zinni--who makes the same argument against the Iraq war that Pelosi does--were on the "Meet the Press" hotseat.

    Swami urges you to read the Russert-Pelosi dialogue in The Daily Howler (scroll down):

    Howler's conclusion: "Somehow, Russert has come to think it's his job to make Democrats say nice things about Bush."

    Today, Howler returns to this dust-up and nails what is--to Swami, at least--the Larger Issue:

    Russert's questions had nothing to do with the actual merits of Pelosi's views; instead, he seemed to scold her for having expressed them. Such an attitude strangles democracy. When he appeared on 60 Minutes, General Zinni discussed such approaches:

    ZINNI: Look, there is one, there's one statement that bothers me more than anything else, and that's the idea that when the troops are in combat, everybody has to shut up. Imagine if we put troops in combat with a faulty rifle, and that rifle was malfunctioning and troops were dying as a result; I can't think of anybody that would allow that to happen, that would not speak up. Well, what's the difference between that and a faulty plan and a faulty concept and strategy that's getting just as many troops killed and is leading down a path where we're not succeeding in accomplishing the mission that we've set out to do?

    Zinni is the former commander of all U.S. troops in Iraq. But somehow Russert knew much better about the way the troops must be feeling. The GOP had been pushing this line, and Big Russ's obedient Buffalo boy knew he should peddle it too. The Pope and the President

    President Bush is a big fan of Pope John Paul II.

    "He is a strong man," the U.S. president said. "He's got a huge presence and it's an honor to be with him. It truly is."

    "He'll have something to say," Bush added. "Believe me, he'll use this as an opportunity to talk about a world problem or an issue, and he'll do it in a loving way. I mean he's the kind of person that makes you feel good."
    Dream on, Mr. President.

    Granted, the Pope's most recent pronouncement, Zenit reports, is a weak kick at American culture:

    The Church in the United States "is called to respond to the profound religious needs and aspirations of a society increasingly in danger of forgetting its spiritual roots and yielding to a purely materialistic and soulless vision of the world."

    Who will do this work? "The lay faithful," the Pope said.
    A call for less materialism and more spirituality? Bush would grin from ear to ear after a papal audience that delivers this message.

    But the Pope is not likely to give Bush that easy out.

    Several news reports say that this Presidential visit was forced on the Pope--that it's an American idea.

    And in the Los Angeles Times, Tim Rutten writes:

    On the front page of last weekend's Tablet, England's oldest Catholic newspaper, was this: "The American President, George W. Bush, will be asked by the pope at their Vatican meeting on 4 June to stop basing his policies in the Middle East on the use of force, a leading curial cardinal said this week." According to Cardinal Pio Laghi, former papal nuncio to the United States and a frequent messenger between the Vatican and White House, the pope wants a multilateral peace-keeping force in Iraq, "one that is not under those who organized the war."

    According to the cardinal, the pope intends to remind Bush that "the end never justifies the means, respect for life must always be honored and that struggle against terrorism does not justify giving up the principles of the state of law."
    Hey, this visit could yet be fun.

    Letters, We Get Letters

    Like any Internet shut-in with a book half-written, Swami loves mail. Especially mail from Beliefnet readers, many of whom have been lavish in their praise. Well, thanks, but you should know that Swami works in the shadow of a few giants in the blog trade. You like Swami? You'll love these guys (yes, sorry--all guys):

  • Eschaton
  • Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall
  • The Washington Monthly
  • The Rude Pundit (not for the prudish)
  • Billmon

    Swami gets less hate mail than he expected--Swami suspects he's so toxic to haters and frauds that they'd rather dismiss him than confront him--but every once in a while, the electronic postman brings a doozy. And when you get a scorcher, why keep it private?
  • You and your blog read like neo-liberal fascism, and that's being polite. No, I won't go into anything personal about you, because it's all about you and what you extrapolate in your ridiculous blog. You really should get to know some of my left-wing wacko "Move On" members.

    As for your hero, Kerry, I call him "Falstaff Kerry". But wait, you don't know what I'm talking about--your liberal education left out the classics in favor of dialectical materialism, diversity and the herd instinct.

    Oh, and you took the weekend off from your blog to do what? Is your commune making tofu and granola this weekend? Nah, you're all too busy hanging out on the futons and air mattresses watching car races. Nevermind the servicebeings who fought and fight to keep your freedom of speech and other infrustructures.

    Your blog is a filthy mud puddle on the Internet. Mud puddles dry up quickly...
    Swami replied to this gent. But the response was incomplete, for Swami declined to say that his commune years (months, to be honest) are far behind him. Swami's in the limousine liberal stage now. To prove it, he's rented a modest cottage at the beach--well, it's actually alongside the train tracks, but within driving distance of the beach--so Mrs. Uptown and Baby Uptown are nowhere near New York when the Republicans blow in for their convention. And it was to this cottage that the Uptowns repaired for the holiday weekend.

    Swami doesn't do parades, but he took Baby Uptown to the park quite early one morning--in a past life, Baby Uptown must have been a farmer, for she rises with the sun--and, after she'd finished with the slide and ladder, Swami led her to the war memorial. There, Swami took her hand and gently traced the names of some of the dead, hoping in some magical way the littlest Uptown could feel their sacrifice (and they, in some magical Heaven, could feel the life energy pounding in her veins).

    And then Swami read a book. (See below.)

    In short, a beautiful weekend. Swami hopes that his bilious correspondent set down his hatred long enough to enjoy it too.

    Father Joe

    "Father Joe" is the best selling book on Amazon. Swami is allergic to bestsellers, but he started this book in midafternoon and didn't get up until he'd inhaled all 271 pages. Inhaled, in part, because Swami was stunned that Tony Hendra is the author--Swami worked on several humor projects with Tony and is a big fan of "Ian Faith," the rock manager immortalized in the mockmentary "Spinal Tap." Inhaled, mostly, because Tony is very funny and Father Joe is very wise.

    Basically, "Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul" is a love story about a brilliant, troubled English kid and a Benedictine monk. No. Not what you're thinking. A love story, not a sex story. And the best kind of love story, too, because each gives all of what he's got to give--Tony is a warehouse of problems, worldliness and irony, Joe is all ears and a refusal to pass judgment. And in their decades of friendship, that dynamic never changes.

    Swami will be reviewing this book elsewhere later this week--the link to that review will be posted here--so we won't belabor the plot now. Anyway, what Beliefnet readers may want to know is more of the "spiritual" wisdom that Father Joe dispenses. For instance:

    "The only way to know God, the only way to know the other, is to listen. Listening is reaching out into that unknown other self, surmounting your walls and theirs; listening is the beginning of understanding, the first exercise of love."

    "Feelings are a great gift, but they're treacherous if that's all we live for...Feelings trap us in the self. Doing a thing because you feel wonderful about it--even a work of charity--is in the end a selfish act. We perform the work not to feel wonderful but to know and love the other."

    And this--one of Swami's favorite lines in the book--from Tony Hendra: "Unlike the pious, he didn't speak of Christ very much. But then, neither did Christ."

    This is not a book the fire-and-brimstone crowd will welcome. It's too benign. Father Joe's God is too forgiving, too permissive, too willing to overlook a moment's indiscretion, too interested in the kind of long-term spiritual growth that comes from pouring love and more love on wounds. No, if you're gleefully counting down to the Rapture, this book isn't for you.

    But if you're interested in spending some time with two fabulously interesting guys--one wise, one God's own fool--you want to get this book today. What will you come away with? That's your treat. But if Swami is typical, he heard Father Joe's message in the Eagles song, "Desperado" (he's been thinking a lot about that scene in "In America")--the last few lines, actually:

    Desperado, why don't you come to your senses?
    Come down from your fences, open the gate
    It may be rainin', but there's a rainbow above you
    You better let somebody love you, before it's too late.

    If this last line is very much the story of your life--it is definitely the story of Swami's--"Father Joe" is essential reading.

    Stem Cells, Anyone?

    We all know what the True Believers think by now: using embryos for research is "murder."

    But Swami challenges True Believers (and the unsure) to read Michael Kinsley's analysis: The False Controversy of Stem Cells.

    If, after reading it, you still think it's "murder," please write in and school the Swami.

    John Ashcroft: Liar or Idiot?

    From Terrorists on Ashcroft's 'Wanted List' Already in Jail:

    At least two of the terrorists identified by John Ashcroft as part of an 'Al-Qaeda cell' that is waiting to attack America this summer are already in jail.

    A respected website that holds databases on terror suspects lists Amer El-Maati as 'incarcerated'.

    Likewise, Aafia Siddiqui, a female former MIT student, was arrested in Pakistan over a year ago, according to NBC.

    The 'cell' that these individuals are said to belong to doesn't even exist. The Abu Hafs al Masri group was described by the Boston Globe as a 'phantom organization'. Their researchers could find no evidence that the group was real. So, did Ashcroft know this and, in addition to stepping on Tom Ridge's feet, blatantly lie at that news conference? Or did he just ask his lieutenants to whip up something scary, and, to do that, they produced a document that just happened to be mostly....wrong?

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