Celebrating Stupidity: The U.S. Constitution Is Whatever We Want It to Be

Witch-hunter and Selma city councilman Dennis Lujan.

A fortune telling business wants to set up shop in Selma, California.

Apparently ‘that don’t go ’round here.

According to pastor Dale Davis, “I do think we have a right to say what businesses come to our community and we as a Christian community, we feel this is not a business we want in our community.”

Councilman Dennis Lujan is not so lily-livered in his opinion, informing the potential entrepreneurs, “You’re not welcome here, period.”

Forthwith, the Selma city council held a standing-room only meeting to craft an ordinance banning fortune tellers from operating within city limits (seriously).  This, of course, is after the council learned that their current ban on fortune tellers was ruled unconstitutional a quarter century ago.

Aren’t these guys always talking about free markets and small government?

Selma is apparently overrun with fool-ass-clowns.  It’s not a new development.

I’ve come to realize, and this Selma side-show clearly illustrates it, that many of these Christian fundamentalists see the U.S. Constitution in the same way they see the Holy Bible: as a confirmation of their personal beliefs irrespective of what the texts actually say.  It’s like the people who argue that taxes are illegal even though it says in the Constitution, quite plainly, that congress has the power to levy and collect taxes and apportion those taxes as it sees fit.

Fundamentalists consider the very existence of lifestyles and opinions they personally disagree with as an attack on their way of life.  So logically, attacking those other lifestyle choices and opinions is simply the defense of their own way of life. Forced vaginal probes impede the murder (as they see it) of unborn and in some instances–yet to be conceived–children. It doesn’t register for them that such a law could possibly be an attack on women.

Ships pass in the abyss.

Okay.  So money out of politics first and foremost, of course.  But whenever we get to the point where we can start really fixing education, we need an emphasis on civics and especially the U.S. Constitution, because there are a lot of people possessed of abject ignorance to what it says, and more importantly, what it means.

Selma.  Salem.  I’m just saying.

Wasn’t Justice First Anyway?

U.S. Army veteran and Representative for Florida's 22nd District, Allen West

You might have heard about how U.S. Representative and incendiary quote factory Allen West–an early candidate for both Fool of the Year and Fool of the Decade honors–followed up his not-so-subtle claim that “78-81” Democratic congressional members are card-carrying members of the Communist Party with the equally untrue assessment that economic justice is un-American.

(There are roughly 78 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC)–all Democrats.  Again, not subtle.)

What you might not have heard is that the supposedly-Communist CPC proposed a budget in March of this year (which they suspiciously named The People’s Budget–Uh-oh!).

Their budget is designed to eliminate the deficit by 2021–in fact, it creates a budget surplus, while preserving Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

This is primarily done by cutting waste in defense spending, applying the Buffet Rule, taxing capital gains as regular income, and eliminating oil subsidies and corporate loopholes from the tax code.  Their budget enacts a public option for healthcare.  It fixes–REPEAT–fixes Social Security’s insolvency.  It invests US$1.45 trillion in job creation, education, clean energy, housing, and broadband infrastructure.  It promotes energy independence.  It eliminates emergency war funding which will help prevent presidents from going to war without congressional consent (as mandated by that pesky U.S. Constitution).

In short, this is a budget that is not only balanced, but saves money by reducing spending overall, eliminating waste, and moving us closer to a flat tax rate (for all but the very poor). It might sound made up but it’s not.  I got all this directly out of the actual budget proposal (which you can read here).

The CPC budget stands in stark contrast to the budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan which devastates social programs, imbalances the tax code even more in favor of the rich and large corporations, and in the end INCREASES the deficit by more than US$3 trillion.  Despite being denounced by religious leaders as “immoral” and “irresponsible,” the Republican majority in the House passed the Ryan Budget on March 29, 2012.

The CPC budget proposal was voted down the very same day, 78-346.  It barely managed a ripple in the national media.  And Allen West called them communists for proposing it.

(A bipartisan budget proposal incorporating ideas from both sides also went down in flames that day.)

West has been one of the louder voices in the cacophony denouncing social justice as socialism, communism, Marxism, Leninism, Maoism, hell, syllogism, and whatever other ism they think will get a rise out of people.

Much as socialism and capitalism have been locked hand-in-hand by our Constitution, so has liberty and justice (I’m pretty sure I heard that somewhere).   Before the Founders even got started with the particulars of how our newly formed nation would work, they made their intentions clear:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

My glasses might be smudgy but I think justice is first.  Now obviously this isn’t a prioritized list but justice seems to at least be equally important as  the other things.  I hear so much talk of liberty being an American value.  Yet when many people say that they only mean economic liberty.  Oddly, many of these same people don’t interpret justice to include economic justice.

Communism dictates that an engineer and a janitor should earn the same income.  It’s ridiculous.  I’d be willing to bet that less than 0.01% of Americans believe anything remotely close to that.  What I believe, and I think many other Americans believe, is that a janitor should be able to put food on his family’s table and a roof over their heads.  That his kids should have access to a college education.  That no children should starve. That no one should die of untreated illnesses or exposure to the elements.

These are not radical assaults on American liberty.  They are American values that simply place a higher priority on justice.  There’s actually a reasonable argument to be made that economic justice  increases liberty because it allows more people the freedom to enjoy it.

Allen West’s type of partisan name-calling is usually just a means of deflection.  Unfortunately, so are the calls for a “change in the tone” of political discourse.  I disagree.  Our lives, our freedoms, our futures–and our children’s futures–are at stake.  We should be passionate about these things, so long as that passion doesn’t supersede truth and reason.

So it goes with liberty and justice, too.

Allen West--technically--violates U.S. federal law by putting Ol' Glory in water--on flag day. (I know, I know, but I just couldn't help myself. :))

Pepsi…The New Awesome

Gross polluters Charles and David Koch are award-winning members of ALEC

Thinkprogress.org is reporting that in January 2012, Pepsi pulled its support from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

This is great news.

For those of us against the excessive influence of corporations on politics ALEC is one of the bad guys.  In fact, they’re one of the handful of organizations at the very heart of the problem.

ALEC is a right-wing lobbying group comprised of a conglomeration of Fortune 500 companies and rich Republicans.  They help enact right-wing model legislation (test markets for legislation like Shoot First/Stand Your Ground) and help coordinate that legislation in other states as well as on the federal level.

“W” loves him some ALEC. ‘Nuff said.

ALEC doesn’t just push for legislation, they WRITE the bills and then give them to Republican lawmakers to enact–as-written.  It’s called cookie-cutter legislation; multiple assemblies pass these bills containing the exact same wording; it’s pretty much fill in the blank where lawmakers simply add the district or state, sponsoring legislators, and the legislative body in which it’s being proposed; one Republican lawmaker (from Florida, of course) accidentally submitted a bill with the ALEC mission statement still attached.

ALEC proposed legislation includes (but is in no way limited to):

Pepsi pulled its support for ALEC  in lieu of the unpopularity of Stand Your Ground legislation which ALEC ardently supports (and is currently promoting in multiple states and on the federal level).  The pressure of Pepsi’s pullout forced Coke to follow suit.

This type of defection typically engenders right-wing retaliation.  We need to support Pepsi (and Coke) for making a bold and somewhat courageous decision.

But it does serve as proof that we can make a difference.

So drink a Pepsi today! 🙂

What I Hate About Republicans–Fundamentalism

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This is the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, one of the most broadly interpreted–and hotly contested–parts of the U.S. Constitution.

The Establishment Clause was initially interpreted to mean the U.S. Congress only.  Many of the states had already adopted official churches. However, by the early 19th century–when many of the founding fathers were still involved in governance–the interpretation had already been broadened to include elements of state and local government.  However, the Clause didn’t formally include the states until the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1947 ruling on Emerson vs. The Board of Education.  The ruling echoed writings by Thomas Jefferson on the subject in which he envisioned a “wall of separation” between the government and the church.  It makes sense.  They had just rebelled against a Christian theocracy; it stands to reason that they wouldn’t want to re-establish the same system here in America.

Like many of the ideals expressed in the Constitution, our interpretation  of the church/state relationship has evolved.  Both sides have positions rooted in the origins of our nation.  The real question is, do we want to progress with those ideals or go backwards?

This is where Conservatives and strict Constitutionalists miss the point.  The greatness of the U.S. Constitution is its adaptability to the needs of the times while maintaining core values regarding  liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, pursuit of happiness, et al; not because it was perfect as-ratified in 1788, long before the automobile, the airplane, the nuclear bomb, modern medicine, and the Internet.  Remember, the Constitution also allowed for slavery and counted slaves as 3/5 of a person.

But then Christian fundamentalism has its roots in the vestiges of slave culture.  In the 1960s Republicans courted southern whites enraged over the Civil Rights Movement as part of the Southern Strategy.  Republicans positioned themselves not simply as proponents of Christianity, but rather as defenders of Christian supremacy.  This is not about protecting peoples’ right to worship; it’s about imposing their particular brand of Christianity on all Americans.

This brand of Christian fundamentalism is called Dominionism, the belief that secular government must be eliminated in favor of theocracy.  It’s basically fascism toting a crucifix.  Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, and Sarah Palin number among the nationally known Republicans who subscribe to this theory.

…Which brings us back to the Establishment Clause.

I believe that, much like the issue of slavery, the Founding Fathers were not stauncher in their enforcement of the Establishment Clause in the interests of pragmatism.  It would have been detrimental to the birth of the new nation to  embroil it in a battle over economics and religion.

Yet regardless of how we might interpret the Establishment Clause, what is not debatable is that the Founders did not intend for us to be a theocracy, Christian or otherwise.  How do we know this?  The Constitution itself.  All the framers needed to do was state, “These United States of America shall be a theocratic union…” or ” The official religion of these United States shall be…” or something to that effect.  The fact that such language is notably absent from the Constitution speaks volumes about the Founding Fathers’ intentions.

Of course, there are the words of the Founding Fathers themselves:

“And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors.” —Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823

Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”  –George Washington, Farewell Address

“The priesthood have, in all ancient nations, nearly monopolized learning. And ever since the Reformation, when or where has existed a Protestant or dissenting sect who would tolerate A FREE INQUIRY? …  But touch a solemn truth in collision with a dogma of a sect, though capable of the clearest proof, and you will find you have disturbed a nest, and the hornets will swarm about your eyes…and fly into your face…” — John Adams, letter to John Taylor

“It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”–Thomas Jefferson

The Christian Right mistakenly argues that our nation’s founders were all Christians (much less wanted a Christian theocracy).  Many did believe.  Many others, including, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams were  Deists.  It stands to reason then, that they would want a nation in which all people were free to believe–or not believe–as they choose.   It was a concept unique in the world at the time and which many Christian fundamentalists have difficulty comprehending. 

Obviously, faith can be a guide, but it cannot be the basis by which laws are made.  That would, by definition, make us a theocracy, no different structurally than Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

This is where the Republican party bears responsibility.  In courting the Christian fundamentalist vote they have perpetuated a dangerous element in politics.  And the  Republican leadership supported fundamentalism not because they shared their deep, albeit hateful, type of faith.  They did it to acquire a devoted, factually ignorant, and malleable voting block, one conditioned to accept cloudy answers and fall in line with a simple call to faith.

They set discriminatory and oppressive policies, cherry-picked in the interests of their own insecurities, and shroud them in religion.  They claim their purposes are noble; faith is personal and sacred; and to challenge their beliefs is disrespectful and taboo.  In fact, we are the cultural assailants because we won’t let them impose their beliefs on us.

On top of all of that, the most terrifying thing about these Christian extremists is their longing for the Rapture.  Call it Armageddon, call it Judgement Day, they yearn for the destruction of this world because they believe God’s Kingdom awaits them on the other side.  True, the Christian extremists controlling the Republican party want to fundamentally change our form of government. But their ultimate goal is a Holy War.  Therefore, it is incumbent upon both people of reason and reasonable faith to join together to not only oppose Republican Dominionism but to eradicate its influence from American politics.    This is not about abortion rights.  It’s not about gay marriage or the social safety net or U.S. foreign policy.

This is about what kind of America we want to live in: a Christian theocracy based on a narrow interpretation of the Bible, or a nation of laws based on reason, liberty, and equality of opportunity for everyone.  We have to decide and then fight for it.

Otherwise we are going to reap the whirlwind.

This is the end of Bill Maher’s documentary Religulous.  It’s a bit too broad and propagandized, but hyperbole aside, it’s accurate about a point many people don’t want to talk about.