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The blog of Frederick Clarkson

Archive for November, 2005

New Blog Site Takes On The Religious Right

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Talk to Action, the first national interactive blog site devoted to discussing the theocratic Christian Right — and what to do about it — launched on Monday, November 21st. I would have posted about it sooner here, but for some technical gitches.) Ths site is intended to provide a platform for the kinds of conversations that need to take place in order for us to see the strength of the theocratic movement recede in favor of a refreshed and rebounding constitutional democratic movement. That is a tall order, I know. But I think it is not only necessary, but possible. And I invite you to join us in making the vision a reality.

I have been blogging for only a little over a year — since about two months before the election. I had added a blog to my personal, professional web site because I thought I would like to post a few items a week. I honestly knew nothing about the greater blogosphere — then my friend Ann Rose told me about this place called The Daily Kos. It changed my life. It is a daily miracle of extraordinary writing and online political conversation unfolding before your eyes. I also learned new dimensions of what a scoop-based blog site could be this past year from Booman Tribune, My Left Wing, Street Prophets, and most recently Political Cortex — where I was privileged to be on the inside of it’s development at the same time fellow blogger Bruce Wilson and I were cobbling together Talk to Action. I am grateful to Tom Ball and my fellow Cortexans for all I have learned — and I just hope I can continue to keep up with them!

The blogosphere is growing, maturing, and breaking new ground all the time. Talk to Action embraces what has come before, at least those parts that Bruce Wilson and I, and other of the founding Talk to Action writers have experienced of it — but we are also striking out in some new directions.

Talk to Action will differ from other major sites in that it seeks to be less freewheeling in tone and content. Our focus is narrower — our topic is the religious right and what to do about it. We are also putting an editorial framework on the discussion. Here is a quote from our statement of purpose:

“We are pro-religious equality and pro-separation of church and state. We are prochoice, and we support gay and lesbian civil rights — including marriage equality. Therefore, debates about the validity of abortion and gay rights are off topic. We understand that some people who share our general concern about the politics of the Christian Right may not agree on all of these matters. That’s fine. Anyone who agrees with the general mission of this site is welcome to participate — but bearing this in mind. It is our intention to take the conversation forward, and not let it be held back by debating what, in our view are or should be, settled matters of human, civil and constitutional rights. Similarly, religious debates are off topic, especially debates between theism and atheism. Finally, we are nonpartisan. While political discussions are welcome, — even central to the purpose of this site — we do not wish the site itself to be a platform that is necessarily for or opposed to any particular party.”

We are also different from other major sites in that half of our writers are new to the blogosphere. We expect that many of our readers will be as well.

But like most of the progressive blogosphere, we see the need for changes in the way that we all think and act in political life. With regard to the religious right, consider this: If what people have thought and done about the religious right so far is so smart, how come it is the most powerful faction in the GOP in the Congress? How come intelligent design is one of the biggest issues in the country? Why is it that the bedrock notion of separation of state is increasingly being called into question by top appointees to the federal bench?

I hope that Talk to Action will be a place where we can reconsider some things. Refresh our political thinking and skills — and leave bad ideas and political habits behind. Our first post on our first day, I think epitomizes the kind of sharp-eyed analysis we want to bring to bear on history and current events. Contributing writer Esther Kaplan, author of with God on their Side: How Christian Fundamentalists Trampled Science, Policy, and Democracy in George W. Bush’s White House, discusses a major shift in the stance of the Anti-Defamation League with regard to the Christian Right:

“It seems to have finally dawned on Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League and a highly visible Jewish community talking head, that he should stop making nice with the Christian right. Just a few years ago he was calling on American Jews to show evangelical conservatives some gratitude for their hard-line support for Israel. But last week, Foxman used the ADL’s annual conference to sound the alarm about attempts to “Christianize America” …. It’s great to see Abe Foxman wake up and smell the coffee.”

Also featured on launch day, are Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst at Political Research Associates who has been a leading thinker, writer and activist on matters involving the religious right for 25 years; and Jonathan Hutson, an attorney and progressive Christian activist who launches a series of essays he provocatively calls “Cross Examination.”

I am thrilled an honored by the remarkable group that has come together to make Talk to Action happen: In addition to Chip, Esther and Jonathan, here is the rest of the founding group of featured writers:

Joan Bokaer, founder, Theocracy Watch; Michelle Goldberg, senior writer, Salon.com; Joel Pelleteir is an artist whose remarkable painting American Fundamentalists is touring the U.S.; Michelle Murrain is a seminarian at the Pacific School of Religion; Bruce Prescott, executive director of Oklahoma Mainstream Baptists; Max Blumenthal writes about politics and religion for The Nation and The Huffington Post; Cynthia Cooper is an attorney, author, and playwright; Scott Isebrand operates the blog site Religious Right Watch; Lorie Johnson operates the blog site Dark Christianity; Carlos Stouffer operates the blog site Jesus Politics; Pastordan operates the blog site Street Prophets.

These short descriptions cannot begin to describe the depth of their knowledge, the vividness of their writing, and the originality of their thought. You’ll just have to stop by, see for yourself, and enjoy their company

At this writing, we are still scrambling to add features and work out the bugs. Each time you visit — and I hope you will — you are likely to see changes; some large, some small. Please be patient with us. We are in this for the long run, and we hope you will be too.

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November 24th, 2005 at 7:15 pm

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Clarkson Speaking in Cambridge

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If you plan on being in Boston on Sunday, November 27th, you are invited to hear my speech titled, The Dramatic Progress of the Theocratic Right — What in the World do We Do Now?.

Phillips Brooks House, Harvard Yard, 1:30 PM.

The event, which is free and open to the general public, is sponsored by the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard and by the Humanist Association of Massachusetts.

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November 14th, 2005 at 8:12 pm

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Focus on Your Local Focus on the Family

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Anti-gay politics is at the center of American life these days. Some argue that many Republican successes are predicated on the idea of “turning out the base” with this “wedge issue.”  While it is not always clear that this tactic is as successful as some say, there is no question that it is taking place. Anti-gay politics is a staple of American life. So, who exactly is behind this?

Well, there are many actors, of course.  But I want to focus on just one, multidimensional player: Focus on the Family headed by Christian radio psycologist James Dobson. And I want to zero in on one aspect in particular — Focus on the Family political operations in the states.

Several years ago, I wrote a study about state level conservative think tanks and advocacy groups, published by Political Research Associates (pdf file). There were two, related networks started in tandem in the late 1980s. One emphasized the business/libertarian part of public policy, and the other emphasized the policy issues dear to the religious right. The latter, was the network of Family Policy Councils affiliated with James Dobson’s Focus on the Family.  The details have changed since I published that study, but the general trajectory remains the same. Most importantly, these groups are at the forefront of antimarriage equality campaigns nationwide, and their role as fronts for Focus on the Family are not widely understood and that Dobson’s organization has active, organizational tentacle in 34 states, in addition to his radio program which is available just about everywhere.

For example, the point group in the recently defeated effort to repeal anti-discrimination laws in Maine, was the FOF affiliate, the Christian Civic League of Maine.

In defeat, the Maine FOF group immediately announced that they will now seek to amend the state constitution to ban marriage equality. When they do, they can draw on the experience of many other FOF-led efforts from around the country. For example, the point group in seeking to get an anti-marriage equality measure on the ballot in Massachusetts, is the Massachusetts Family Institute.

Some already existing local groups grafted onto FOF as state level affiliates, and others were started from scratch. And some groups have come and gone. But whatever their genesis, they are joined at the hip with Focus on the Family, just as the Family Research Council serves as the group’s de facto political lobby in Washington, DC. The Family Research Council merged with FOF in 1988, but later decoupled in order to give it more flexibility politically without necessarily reflecting on the Focus on the Family. However, the distinction has always been pretty thin. Among other things, James Dobson has remained on the board of directors all these years.

Similarly, although the FOF states that the State Family Councils “have no corporate or financial relationship with each other or with Focus on the Family,” this is disingenuous, since an organization must meet certain criteria to become affiliated with Focus on the Family; and must behave in certain ways in order to maintain it’s standing. Some groups have been dropped over the years. Even a casual examination of the web sites of these groups will show, they have similar, although not uniform, structures, procedures, and policy agendas. But all are deeply involved in state politics, and thier activities often include voter mobilization and even distribution of voter guides.

There are currently FOF affiliated state policy councils in 34 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Have you focused on your local Focus on the Family?

[Crossposted at Political Cortex and Talk to Action]

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November 10th, 2005 at 1:52 am

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Kickin’ Ass in Massachusetts

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Kickin’ Ass in Massachusetts is the title of a major political gathering on the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, this weekend, Nov.12-13th. The event, sponsored by the UMASS College Democrats, will focus on the economy, health care, public education, the environment — and the politics of the 2006 elections in the Commonwealth.

The conference is notable because, among other things, it models the way that college democrats can collaborate with Democratic town committees to boost their electoral fortunes.

The conference keynoter will be U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA). And the two announced Democratic candidates for governor, Deval Patrick and Tom Reilly, will also be featured.

Here are some Saturday highlights from the full schedule, available on the Web site of the UMASS College Dems.

10:15 — 11:15 am: U.S. Rep. Barney Frank

11:30 am – 12:30 pm: Massachusetts AG Tom Reilly

12:45 — 1:45 pm: Candidate for Governor, Deval Patrick

3:30 — 4:45 pm:  State Rep. John W. Scibak, Committee on Health Care Financing

3:30 — 4:45 pm:  State Sen. Stan Rosenberg, Committee on Higher Education

3:30 — 3:45 pm: Governor’s Councilor Peter Vickery

Download the conference flyer.

The event is also notable because not only does it feature speakers from such organzation as Planned Parenthood, Common Cause, and the United Auto Workers, but is also features MA political bloggers Michael DiChiara, Michael Wilcox, and me.

Here is some of what the UMASS College Dems have to say about the event:

Our College Democrats chapter has been working with our parent organization, the College Democrats of Massachusetts, and the Amherst Town Democratic Committee to organize a Massachusetts-specific policy-oriented Student Activist Conference…[to]… give over 200 students from 36 College Democrats chapters from across the Commonwealth the policy information they need to be effective grassroots activists. The programming at this conference has been designed to help College Activists as they interface with the general public in the cities and towns of Massachusetts to answer the fundamental question of why people should vote Democrat. This policy-oriented conference will complement the Campaign Corps training workshop for College Dems held at Clark University in late October…. Expert panelists in two plenary sessions and several smaller workshops will discuss the issues of tax policy, jobs and the economy,education, and healthcare — all with a Massachusetts-specific slant…. At least half of Massachusetts College Democrats have not grown up in this state, and so we are arranging a “Massachusetts Politics 101″ discussion session. This will give grassroots activists the information about local and statewide political dynamics that they need to be effective as they operate within the Commonwealth. For those students who will go on to work in other states, a Massachusetts Politics panel discussion will serve as an illustrative case study in how strengthening Our Party starts with tenacious involvement in local and state-level politics – from the grassroots up…. the outcomes of local and state-wide campaigns and ballot initiatives have immediate and lasting effects on the nation’s political landscape. Come and learn about the fights that need to be taken up and won in Massachusetts. College Democrats from across this state are prepared to offer their insight and energy, their time and their shoe leather to help build a lasting Democratic majority.

[Via Frederick Clarkson.com and Political Cortex]

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November 9th, 2005 at 4:48 am

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Anti-Defamation League Denounces Efforts to "Christianize America"

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In recent weeks, several leaders of major American institutions have spoken-out against the Christian Right. First up was Rev. John Thomas president of the United Church of Christ, a mainline protestant denomination.

Thomas denounced groups “within and beyond the UCC” that are “intent on disrupting and destroying our life together.”

“Groups like the Evangelical Association of Reformed, Christian and Congregational Churches and the Biblical Witness Fellowship are increasingly being exposed even as they are increasingly aggressive,” Thomas said. “Their relationship to the right-wing Institute for Religion and Democracy and its long-term agenda of silencing a progressive religious voice while enlisting the church in an unholy alliance with right-wing politics is now longer deniable. United Church of Christ folk like to be ‘nice,’ to be hospitable. But, to play with a verse of scripture just a bit, we doves innocently entertain these serpents in our midst at our own peril.”

Then, up stepped Dr. Hunter Rawlings interim president of Cornell University, who used his state of the university address to rally the univeristy to come to terms with the problem of the “intelligent design” movement, which he described as “a subjective concept…. a religious belief masquerading as a secular idea. It is neither clearly identified as a proposition of faith nor supported by other rationally based arguments.”

Rawlings’ went on to quote from a letter written by university founder Ezra Cornell in which he warned “that the principal danger, and I say almost the only danger I see in the future to be encountered by the friends of education, and by all lovers of true liberty is that which may arise from sectarian strife. From these halls, sectarianism must be forever excluded, all students must be left free to worship God, as their conscience shall dictate, and all persons of any creed or all creeds must find free and easy access, and a hearty and equal welcome, to the educational facilities possessed by the Cornell University…..”.

This week, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, addressing an ADL conference, spoke out against efforts to “Christianize America.”

The Isreali newspaper Ha’aretz, reported that the ADL “has in the past spearheaded campaigns against religious preachers and Christian elements deemed unusually extreme. But this is the first all-out media assault by an ADL head on the U.S. Christian establishment.”

“Today we face a better financed, more sophisticated, coordinated, unified, energized and organized coalition of groups in opposition to our policy positions on church-state separation than ever before,” Foxman said. “Their goal is to implement their Christian worldview. To Christianize America. To save us!” he said.

Foxman proceeded to describe the process and to name names: “Major players include Focus On Family. Alliance Defense Fund, the American Family Association, Family Research Council and more. They and other groups have established new organizations and church-based networks, and built infrastructure throughout the country designed to promote traditional Christian values.”

The ADL continued the “media assault” with a press release today stating that the curriculum for teaching the Bible in the public schools being promoted by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, is unacceptable, because it “advocates the acceptance of one faith tradition’s interpretation of the Bible over another.”

“This wholly inappropriate curriculum blatantly crosses the line by teaching fundamental Protestant doctrine,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. “The text relies solely upon the King James Version of the Bible and hews to a fundamentalist reading, especially of New Testament passages. This is the primary flaw in the curriculum – that it advocates the acceptance of one faith tradition’s interpretation of the Bible over another.”

According to ADL, the King James Version is the least faithful one to the original Biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek.

There are acceptable resources available for teaching the Bible in public schools. For example, the newly published textbook, “The Bible and Its Influence” from the Bible Literacy Project is designed to meet the standards for teaching the Bible in public schools with one semester on the Hebrew Scriptures and one on the New Testament.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that although public schools may not teach religion, they may teach about religion in a secular context. The Bible may be taught in a public school, but only for its historical, cultural or literary value and never in a devotional, celebratory or doctrinal manner, or in such a way that encourages acceptance of the Bible as a religious document. If a school district chooses to teach the Bible in this context, the adopted curriculum must be balanced and pluralistic in nature and the curriculum should not advocate one particular religion, interpretation or translation over another.”

(For its part, Focus on the Family, one of the leading Christian right organizations, thinks the curriculum “should be in all public schools,” although it promotes creationism, Christian nationalism, and has generated national controvery.)

It is encouraging that more and more important leaders in American public life are rising to meet the urgent challenge of our times: an antidemocratic movement, bent on religious supremacy and creeping theocracy at all levels of government, and in all areas of life. Let’s encourage more leaders to follow the lead of Foxman, Rawlings and Thomas.

[Crossposted at Talk to Action, Political Cortex, and DefCon]

Written by fred

November 8th, 2005 at 12:40 am

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A Poster Boy for the GOP Culture of Corruption?

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The GOP Mayor of Chicopee, Massachusetts has been arrested and charged with extorting big campaign contributions from local businessmen in exchange for favorable treatment.

Richard Goyette, 36, a Republican running for a second term, dropped out of the race today, all but guaranteeing that liberal Democrat Michael Bissonette will win the election on November 8th. Goyette says he plans to serve out the rest of his term. City Councilors have called on him to resign. Chicopee is a city of about 50,000 people located just north of Springfield.

The Associated Press reported

“The alleged conduct of Mr. Goyette is an unconscionable breach of the public trust, and only serves to undermine citizens’ confidence,” U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan said at a news conference. “Citizens rightfully expect public officials to uphold the best interests of all constituents without expecting cash contributions to do their job.”

An FBI affidavit unsealed Tuesday describes a pair of surveillance videos, both shot Sept. 2, that allegedly show Goyette accepting $5,000 cash contributions from two business owners who agreed to cooperate in the investigation.

One witness — identified by investigators as “Concerned Citizen 2″ — is the owner of a towing company who said he gave Goyette the money to keep his contract with the city. The man said he gave $2,500 to Goyette’s 2003 campaign in hopes of securing the contract, investigators said.

“It became clear that Goyette expected to receive substantial campaign contributions from towing companies that did business with the city of Chicopee,” FBI Special Agent Susan Kossler said in her sworn testimony.

On the video, according to affidavit, when the towing company owner takes the cash from his desk drawer, Goyette says, “What, no envelope?”

On the same day, Goyette went to the office of a Chicopee developer — dubbed “Concerned Citizen 4″ — and allegedly pocketed another $5,000 in exchange for a guarantee that problems with the man’s development project would be smoothed over. That exchange also was videotaped, the FBI said.

The Fray has much more — including a grainy still from the FBI surveillance video that the FBI says shows Goyette stuffing an envelope with the five large he had just extorted from a developer, into his pocket.

[Crossposted at Political Cortex].

Written by fred

November 3rd, 2005 at 8:35 pm

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Will Massachusetts End Gerrymandering?

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Can we take the drawing of Massachusetts legislative districts out of the smoke-filled room — where they can be drawn in the light of day by people who will try to draw them fairly and in public? We can if we can get the Fair Districts inititative petition on the ballot. But organizers are only half way to thier goal of 100,000 petition signatures. They actually need about 65,000 valid sigs, but old hands say they need 100 to get 65. I have written an updated version of a post I did here a week or so ago, at Political Cortex. Check it out to find out how you can help in the home stretch.

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November 3rd, 2005 at 12:17 pm

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Jimmy Carter Takes on the Christian Right

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“Blurring the line between church and state threatens civil liberties and privacy, says former President Jimmy Carter. That’s the case he makes in his new book, Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis, which draws on Carter’s experiences as a president and a Christian.”

The above is a blurb promoting an interview on Fresh Air, with Terry Gross, on the web site of National Public Radio.

In the book he writes:

Nowadays, the Washington scene is completely different, with almost every issue decided on a strictly partisan basis. Probing public debate on key legislative decisions is almost a thing of the past. Basic agreements are made between lobbyists and legislative leaders, often within closed party caucuses where rigid discipline is paramount. Even personal courtesies, which had been especially cherished in the U.S. Senate, are no longer considered to be sacrosanct. This deterioration in harmony, cooperation, and collegiality in the Congress is, at least in part, a result of the rise of fundamentalist tendencies and their religious and political impact.

Fortunately, this degree of rigidity and confrontation has not yet taken hold among the general public.

Carter is right. But it will take some effort to learn how to engage in constructive conversation, and to learn with whom it is worth having such conversations and with whom it is not. I am not going to try to lay out a plan on this short essay. But rather to stake out the ground that it is not only possible, but necessary.

That’s why is wrong to write off, as some do, all conservative Christians as beyond all conversation and all reason. I find the routine derisive language used by many against those with whom they disagree on matters of religion to be incompatible with the values of tolerance and equality to which progressives have historically been all about. It borders on religious bigotry — and all too often falls well over the line.

Jimmy Carter is a conservative Democrat. He is also an evangelical Christian. His faith is an important to his identity. He is also hero of civil and human rights. He supports the separation of church and state. And he opposes the fundamentalist enforcers who have taken over the Southern Baptist Convention. He left the SBC out of principle. He opposes, among other things, their insistence on the subordination of women, and the banning of women from positions of leadership in the denomination.

Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst at Political Research Associates, has been a leader among progressives in articulating why the demonization of evangelicals and religious conservatives is politically ineffective at best; stupidly counterproductive at worst.

“Most Christian evangelicals,” he wrote at Talk to Action recently, “are not part of the Christian Right. I know from talking with evangelicals and fundamentalists across the country that they are offended by the rhetoric from some liberal and Democratic Party leaders who do not seem to be able to talk about religion without chewing on their foot.

I have this fantasy about kidnapping a busload of liberal inside-the-beltway pundits and driving them to some town in Middle America where they have to learn how to talk to voters who think that going to a church, or synagogue, or mosque or other place of worship is a normal part of life. The pundits won’t be given a ticket back to Dupont Circle until they don’t flinch when someone says words like “faith,” “prayer,” or “blessing.”

I suspect some will have to walk back to the Potomac.”

[Crossposted at Political Cortex and Talk to Action.]

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November 2nd, 2005 at 7:40 pm

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My Debut at Political Cortex

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November 1st, 2005 at 12:03 pm

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