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The blog of Frederick Clarkson

Archive for September, 2005

What to Do About the Racist Remarks of William Bennett?

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Sarah Posner has published a well-researched piece at The Gadflyer, about the Salem Communications radio empire that carries a vast array of conservative programming. Here is an excerpt:

“Michigan Democrat John Conyers has written a letter to the Salem Radio Network,” writes Posner, “requesting that it suspend Bill Bennett’s program for his outrageous remarks that ‘[Y]ou could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.”‘ But who owns Salem, and what do you think they’re going to do about Bennett?”

“Salem Radio Network’s parent company is Salem Communications, a publicly traded media company which openly claims its programming is from a conservative Christian perspective. The company owns over 100 radio stations in major metropolitan markets and syndicates its programming to 1,900 stations around the country.

“Salem’s principals, CEO Ed Atsinger and his brother-in-law and Board Chairman Stuart Epperson (himself a radio host), are long-time patrons of the Christian right and its favored Republican candidates and causes.”

Much more.

Written by fred

September 30th, 2005 at 10:14 am

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Its Time to Fight the Religious Right

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DefCon, the Campaign to Defend the Constitution, officially launched today.

The campaign promises to aggressively challenge the religious right on the facts, the law and the Constitution. One defining characteristic of DefCon’s approach — is that it has apparently made a clean break with the dubious Inside-the-Beltway driven tactic of name-calling that has hobbled Democratic and liberal responses to the religious right for a generation. Instead of relying on focus-group derived labels such as “radical religious extremists,” DefCon is choosing to focus on delivering clear, forceful arguments and messages. This is very good news and offers hope of the development of a far more productive strategy to persuade the American people that theocracy is not the direction we want to go.

Duke University Law Professor Erwin Chemerinsky writing at the DefCon Blog says its “Time To Fight the Religious Right.”

“I believe, Chemerinsky declared, “that the greatest threat to liberty in the United States is posed by the religious right, largely comprised of Christian fundamentalists. Across a broad spectrum of issues they want to move the law in a radically more conservative direction, ultimately threatening our freedom.”

DefCon also released a report today titled Islands of Ignorance, describing the threat to American science education in ten states and localities where “intelligent design” is being promoted by the religious right as an alternative to evolution.

DefCon also released a letter, signed by leading scientists, clergy, Nobel Laureates and others, urging the governors of all 50 states to work to stop the erosion of American science education.

Specifically, we are concerned about efforts to supplement or replace the teaching of evolution in our public schools with religious dogma or unscientific speculation. Science classes should help provide our children with the tools and scientific literacy they need to succeed in a 21st century economy.

We are well aware of studies showing American children falling behind those of other nations in their knowledge and understanding of science. We certainly will not be able to close this gap if we substitute ideology for fact in our science classrooms – limiting students’ understanding of a scientific concept as critical as evolution for ideological reasons.

We do not oppose exposing our children to philosophical and spiritual discussion around the origin and meaning of life. There are appropriate venues for such discussion — but not in the context of teaching science in a public school science classroom.

We have come together — people of science and people of faith – for the sake of our children and the competitiveness of our country, to urge you to ensure that:

– Science curricula, state science standards, and teachers emphasize evolution in a manner commensurate with its importance as a unifying concept in science and its overall explanatory power.

– Science teachers in your state are not advocating any religious interpretations of nature and are nonjudgmental about the personal beliefs of students.

– There are no requirements to teach “creation science” or related concepts such as “intelligent design,” or to “teach the controversy” — implying that there is legitimate scientific debate about evolution when there is not. Teachers should not be pressured to promote nonscientific views or to diminish or eliminate the study of evolution.

– Publishers of science textbooks should not be required or volunteer to include disclaimers in textbooks that distort or misrepresent the methodology of science and the current body of knowledge concerning the nature and study of evolution.

Our nation’s future rests, as always, in the hands of our children. We hope to have your commitment to ensure that our schools teach science, not ignorance, to our children as they prepare the next generation for the challenges of a new century.

[Crossposted at Talk to Action]

Written by fred

September 29th, 2005 at 8:27 pm

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Roy Moore to Make a "Major Announcement"

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Roy Moore, the disgraced former Chief Judge of the Alabama Supreme Court is thinking of making a comeback — a run for the GOP nomination for governor of Alabama in 2006. According to the web site We Need Moore, the web site of the Draft Roy Moore campaign (backed by Conservative Christians of Alabama), Mr. Moore will make his intentions known in what is described as “a major announcement” on Monday, October 3 at 1:00pm in Gadsen, Alabama, Moore’s hometown. “This will be an historic occasion,” according to We Need Moore. “The eyes of the nation are upon Alabama. We need a crowd to show support for Judge Roy Moore and the media that we have strength. Ya’ll come and bring a carload.”

Moore, popularly known as the “Ten Commandments Judge” is thought to be a serious contender against the business oriented incumbent Republican governor, Bob Riley. Moore is also said to be seeking to field a full slate of candidates for statewide office.

On the Democratic side, the Associated Press reports that current Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley is expected to square off against former Gov. Don Sielgleman.

Moore is best known for installing a two and a half ton monument to the Ten Commandments in the state courthouse, shortly after his election as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. A federal judge declared that the monument was religious display that violated the constitutional separation of church and state and ordered Roy’s rock removed. Moore refused to remove the monument and was subsequently removed from office. In so doing, he became a national hero of the Christian Right, and a central figure in far right efforts to undermine the federal judiciary.

As much as many Christian Right pols are a departure from the golf club Republicanism of much of the latter 20th century, Moore is a further departure, representing an overtly and confrontationally theocratic politics — reminiscent of the pugnacious populism of former Gov. George Wallace.

The Birmingham News recently reported about one of Moore’s recent appearances at a church in Ozark, Alabama: “More than 200 people filled the green pews of the Glory to Him Church to hear Roy Moore preach about God and government on a humid Thursday night. “We will always be one nation under God. No federal court, no federal government, no state government can deny it,” Moore thundered. “Amen” the crowd answered back.

Written by fred

September 28th, 2005 at 8:59 pm

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Mike’s Message for Democrats

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A California college student and blogger named Basie, has an important interview with Michael Dukakis — who has a message for the Democratic Party.

Jonathan Singer: Your one-time Lieutenant Governor John Kerry came very close to the Presidency this fall. What are some of your thoughts and feelings towards the election?

Michael Dukakis: I think the one great missing piece in this campaign, and it’s something that we Democrats have got to get serious about at every level, was that we still aren’t doing the grassroots job the way it has to be done. I happen to be a product of grassroots campaigning, grassroots organization. I wouldn’t have been elected dogcatcher in my state had it not been for that.

When I’m talking about grassroots organization, I’m not talking about parachuting kids in with two weeks to go from seven states over. I’m talking about a precinct organization with a precinct captain in every precinct and block captains — maybe a half a dozen per precinct — who systematically make contact with every single voting household in that precinct, beginning early. This is not something you do in the last couple of weeks. You have to start months in advance. And you do it on a 50-state basis. I don’t care if the state is red, blue or polka dot.

We didn’t do that. We didn’t even do it in the battleground states. That isn’t to take away from what otherwise I thought was a very strong campaign with a very strong candidate. I thought John did a good job and was a much better candidate than I was, frankly. I think his campaign was much better than mine.

We still aren’t doing this grassroots job. I know there are people who don’t think that old-fashioned grassroots campaigning works. They’re just plain wrong. They’ve never done it, they don’t understand it. And that’s what we have to do beginning now.

Written by fred

September 27th, 2005 at 8:33 pm

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The Blogging of the Deval Patrick Campaign for Governor

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Please welcome the Deval Patrick for Governor Blog to the MA political blogosphere.

This is, to my knowledge, the first candidate blog for any office in Massachusetts. Patrick earlier broke new ground across the summer by granting interviews to MA political bloggers.

On their first day, they are inviting comments on Patrick’s economic plan which can be viewed here (pdf). For some additional perspectives on Patrick and economics, see the endorsement rationale of Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts.

Written by fred

September 26th, 2005 at 3:38 pm

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Massachusetts Governor Makes His State the Butt of His Jokes;Republican’s Out-of-Town Act May Alienate Majority Democrats

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That’s the headline on a story in today’s Washington Post.

Making his state the butt of his jokes may go over big with with Christian Right and golf club Republicans in South Carolina, but here in MA, we just call him Governor Toast.

Written by fred

September 25th, 2005 at 10:15 pm

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Evolution; Just a Guess?

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The blog Religion Clause has great primer for what is shaping up as a classic court case over the teaching of evolution or intelligent design in science classes. The federal trial begins Monday Sept 26th in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania regarding the “Dover Area School District’s policy on intelligent design. Intelligent design has become a flash point in the war over the role of religion in American society, and Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District seems destined to become a symbolic battle….. At the heart of the case is a statement that the school district requires biology teachers to read to ninth-grade students:

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part. Because Darwin’s theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations. Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, “Of Pandas and People,” is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves. With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments.

No doubt one aspect of the case will be the religious right’s slippery use of language. One key arguement in the religious rights’s grab bag is that the theory of evolution is well, “just a theory” and that other “theories” such as intelligent design, deserve to be presented in the name of academic freedom. The New York Times recently published a set of F.A.Q.s about evolution borrowed from a pamphlet used by the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, NY as part of their staff training program.

Is evolution ‘just a theory’? A “theory” in science is a structure of related ideas that explains one or more natural phenomena and is supported by observations from the natural world; it is not something less than a “fact.” Theories actually occupy the highest, not the lowest, rank among scientific ideas. … Evolution is a “theory” in the same way that the idea that matter is made of atoms is a theory. Is it true that there is lots of evidence against evolution? No. Essentially all available data and observations from the natural world support the hypothesis of evolution. No serious biologist or geologist today doubts whether evolution occurred.

Written by fred

September 25th, 2005 at 9:34 pm

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This is Why We Need Talk to Action

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Bruce Prescott has a hair-raisingly important post over at Talk to Action.

Two weeks ago Paul Pressler, the architect of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, described how the Religious Right intended to deal with Roe v. Wade. After expressing his elation with the selection of John Roberts as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court he said, “Roe v. Wade won’t be revoked, it will die the death of a thousand cuts and qualifications and regulations until it gradually disappears.”

I suspect that Pressler has described the Religious Right’s strategy for dealing with more than Roe v. Wade. They are already applying the same strategy to repealing the First Amendment and civil rights legislation.

One of the most egregious examples is the authorization that congress gave churches and religious groups to discriminate in hiring yesterday. Churches and religious groups have always been free to discriminate in their hiring when they were spending money received from private donations. Yesterday congress authorized them to discriminate in hiring with the money they receive from federal grants.

Much more.

Its to be able to discuss important posts like this, that we are developing Talk to Action into a fully interactive scoop-based site. (Scoop is the underlying software behind The Daily Kos and Booman Tribune among others.) We need to be able to talk about stuff like this in a more considered way. We need to flesh out-the implications and discuss the short, medium and longterm things we can do about it. We need to know more about the religious right and governmental players behind such initiatives.

As we all know, things worth doing often take more time than anyone could reasonably have imagined. And that has been true in developing Talk to Action. But we are nearing launch. With any luck, we won’t have to take it off the launch pad and call in the engineers, or go back to the drawing board. But I think that this time, luck is with us.

Written by fred

September 24th, 2005 at 5:20 pm

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Values, Culture and Politics

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Who’s afraid of freedom and tolerance? Why are fundamentalists so frightened by liberal family values? A look at competing worldviews, by Doug Muder, is the cover story in the Fall issue of UU World magazine, published by the Unitarian Universalist Association.

For those seeking to find progressive religious “values-based” approaches to understanding and responding to conservative evangelicalism, it is an interesting and important read. Muder makes a spirited and convincing case that conservative values hold no distinct advantage for the family or for anything else, and that statistics on such matters as divorce and pornography bear him out. He calls for greater understanding of conservatives and better articulation of progressive religious values as essential in the culture war. Here is an excerpt:

“It is tempting, human, and (to an extent) inevitable for religious liberals to respond with our own feelings of persecution, helplessness, and anger. But in doing so, we fall into the vicious cycle of polarization: Our anger feeds their sense of persecution just as theirs feeds ours.

We have a way out of this cycle: a message of hope that the Right cannot match. Our way of life works in this new world and does not demand that we roll history back. We need to broadcast this Liberal Good News loud and clear.

But in order to communicate our message, we need to understand the anger and helplessness of the Christian Right, so that we can cut through the static that jams our signal. We need to talk about more than freedom and choice; we need to explain why we want freedom and choice. We need to talk about the committed life and how committed liberals escape the superficiality and nihilism that the Right fears and assumes we represent.

We need, in short, to reclaim one of Christianity’s best ideas and hardest practices: We need to love our enemies and to bless with hope those who curse us with anger. Such love and such blessing would not be a signal of weakness or an overture to surrender, but rather a portent that we had found the true power of our religious heritage. Armed with that power, we can win these culture wars. Without it, we may not deserve to.”

While I agree with much of the article, I think there is a problem, well more of a limitation, I suppose, with this approach. And its not unique to this article, it’s a limitation endemic to liberalism across the board in the U.S. The article substitutes the idea of “values” and “message” for political strategy and electoral activism — when there is a need for both. Love and understanding and good message are not to be confused or conflated with recruiting and fielding good candidates, mobilizing voters and winning elections. There is no evidence that reframing of values, and coming up with better articulations of those values taken by themselves, affect electoral behavior or electoral outcomes.

That said, I do think that people of liberal or progressive values can and should better understand conservatives of all sorts. They should also, as Chip Berlet has persuasively argued in several essays on Talk to Action — stop the pointless and counterproductive demonization of conservative Christians. There are those who think that calling conservatives names like “religious political extremists” is smart politics. But this focus-grouped, inside-the-beltway-manufactured style of sloganeering has often substituted for having an actual political and electoral strategy in response to the Christian Right. I think the current composition of Congress ought to give anyone who thinks this stuff is a good idea, considerable pause.

Let me be blunt: there is no substitute for direct engagement as a citizens in electoral politics. Electoral politics is citizenship. It is here that our major civic conversations take place, and choices are made for our communities by electing our governmental representatives to office at all levels. It is the nature of electoral politics that there is some conflict as people differ about what choices should be made — and by whom. This is normal, and valuable. The avoidance of this conflict means abandoning the playing field to the far-better organized Christian Right.

The Christian Right political movement is crystal clear about this — and works across the election cycle to build for power sufficient to make their values real in public policy. Liberal and progressive organizations, with a few exceptions, (notably Neighbor-to-Neighbor and Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts), are not so engaged.

Politics begins, but does not end with values. “Message,” whether a message of love and understanding, or ruthless labeling and demonization, is only one dimension of political life in our constitutional democracy. A key to the success of the Christian right has been the way that it has integrated participation in civic and electoral life with their values. In fact, that participation is a value in itself. There is no liberal or for that matter, Democratic, “message” that will make much, if any electoral difference, absent a major retooling of our approach to electoral politics.

[Crossposted at Talk to Action]

Written by fred

September 23rd, 2005 at 10:33 pm

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PDM & Patrick in the News

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The cover story in The Valley Advocate this week is about Deval Patrick and the just-announced endorsement of his candidacy for governor by Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts. Here is how it starts out:

Fred Clarkson sees the political tide turning in Massachusetts, and he likes the direction it’s flowing. “Things are changing,” says Clarkson, a Northampton-based author well regarded for his political reporting, most notably tracking the influence of the Christian Right. “All the trends are trending progressive and Democratic.”

There was, for instance, Mitt Romney’s smashing failure to extend the coattails of his 2002 gubernatorial victory to fellow Republicans in last year’s legislative races. Clarkson also points to the resignation of heavy-handed House Speaker Tom Finneran (replaced in his district by a Haitian woman, no less) and a general “shaking out of old guard in the Democratic Party.” The electorate, he says, is ready to replace the old models of patronage and insider politics.

“They’re in the mood for reform,” Clarkson says. “They want clean government. They want honest government. They want functioning government.”

This is great news to Clarkson and his colleagues at Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts, which formed after the 2002 gubernatorial election to help like-minded candidates. Last week, the group is endorsed the man it believes can lead Massachusetts to a brighter, more progressive, more inclusive future: Deval Patrick (see “Our Obama,” May 26, 2005).

“This is a man who clearly has progressive values and who can connect them with a large and comprehensive vision,” says Clarkson, who sits on PDM’s state coordinating committee. “That’s something you rarely see in a candidate.”

Much more.

Written by fred

September 22nd, 2005 at 9:28 pm

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