Friday, April 24, 2009

A Sampling of Signs from the "Tea Bag" Parties That You Didn't See on the News (update 1)

I wanted to take a brief moment to show an advertising graphic that was used to promote last week's tea parties. This graphic was used by the Bay Area Ron Paul Campaign for Liberty to promote the tea party in San Mateo, California.

The text on the graphic (I tried to enlarge it, but I wasn't able to make it more readable) says: "Uncle Sam Reminds You: KEEP PAYING TAXES. The ongoing extermination of Palestinian Children Can’t be Done Without Your Help."

At least California's GOP Chairman condemned the poster. But what does it say about either Ron Paul, his supporters, or the tax parties in general, that a poster this despicable was used in the first place?

Anyone who truly believes that these tea parties were simply grassroots gatherings of people who believe that their taxes are too high needs to take a bit of time and examine how those tea parties were organized and promoted (hint: Fox News) and the messages espoused (secession, revolution, and racism among others). Some on the right are upset about the recent report from the Department of Homeland Security warning about the possibility of violence from right-wing extremists. After listening to some of the messages and looking at some of the posters from the tea parties, it seems that DHS may have gotten things absolutely right and we should be worried.

Update: I found a larger, readable version of the poster.


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Thursday, April 23, 2009

IN Touch: Double Standard

My seventh post on The Indianapolis Star's IN Touch blog is now online. I'm going to keep re-posting those entries here (at least until someone from the Star asks me to stop). Go ahead and visit the post on the IN Touch site as posts there tend to receive a fair number of comments and getting involved in the discussion can be fun (or frustrating). And for the record, I did not choose the title (it is the second time that the Star has chosen "Double Standard" for the title of one of my posts [see Double Bailout Standard]); my choice for a title was "Hypocrisy in filibustering judicial nominations" but I guess that wasn't quite punchy enough. The Star also added paragraph breaks where I hadn't. Oh, well.

President Barack Obama has nominated Judge David Hamilton of the U.S. District Court in Indianapolis to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Despite receiving the endorsements of Sens. Evan Bayh and Richard Lugar, Judge Hamilton's nomination hearings have been delayed by Republicans.

Now, Sen. Inhofe, R-Okla., says he will filibuster the nomination because of Judge Hamilton's ruling in the Statehouse prayer case. However, Inhofe has previously opposed the use of filibusters against presidential judicial appointments. In 2005, he called the compromise allowing the use of filibusters in extraordinary situations a "travesty."

More importantly, in 2003, Inhofe made the following statement about Democratic plans to filibuster one of President George Bush's judicial nominees: "If successful, their effort will amount to a de facto amendment to the Constitution. This outrageous grab for power by the Senate minority is wrong and contrary to our oath to support and defend the Constitution."

So, just to be sure that I understand correctly, it was an unconstitutional "outrageous power grab" by Democrats to filibuster a judicial nominee but it is perfectly acceptable for a Republican senator to filibuster a Democratic judicial nominee.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

A Sampling of Signs from the "Tea Bag" Parties That You Didn't See on the News

According to most of the media coverage that I saw and heard about Wednesday’s tax protests (the so-called “tea parties”), the issue was supposed to be "runaway government spending" or "tax increases" or the bailout. Supposedly these tea parties were non-partisan events or anti-Obama events. Media coverage included plenty of pictures of signs decrying the bailouts and tax increases (um, just a silly question, but which tax increases would those be?). But I thought that I'd take a few minutes and showcase a few of the pictures that you probably didn't see in the mainstream media (and certainly not on the coverage from Fox News which was, in demonstrable reality, one of the prime sponsors of the protests; what happened by the way to "fair and balanced" let alone the notion that the job of a journalist was to report news, not make it?).
Anyway, here are a few pictures that I came across. If you have any other good ones, I'd love to see them. These are (mostly) in no particular order.
Let’s start, then, with a sign that clearly reminds us that these protests are not about President Obama and have nothing to do with racism.
And we have this charming sign for a person who must not have gotten around to reading the Constitution, the Treaty of Tripoli, or the proclamations on the subject by several presidents (including this guy named George Washington):
Then there is this guy who manages to combine racism with the “not born in America” conspiracy that has so many right-wing nutjubs in a lather.
Leaving President Obama aside for a moment, we have this sign from someone who apparently didn’t get the “non-violence” memo. Ah, yes, the joys of American democracy where we simply torture those elected leaders with whom we disagree.
I’m still having a hard time keeping straight whether President Obama is a socialist, communist, or fascist. And I’m not quite sure if this guy’s worry is that President Obama is a fascist or if he simply doesn’t like good orators with a firm grasp of the English language.
President Obama “stole” her money? Did she report it to the police? I don’t know, according to his income tax return, he did pretty well so I’m not sure why he would go rob her.


Yes, let’s be sure to impeach President Oba … oops, I mean “The Kenyan”. It would say a lot about our country if we impeached Presidents for blowjobs or trying to respect the will of the electorate and solve national crises while ignoring little things like shredding the Constitution, torture, illegally imprisoning Americans without trial, and starting wars on false pretenses. Yeah, only the really important stuff justifies impeachment!
3445607186_ff193e952cThis guy isn’t content to call President Obama a socialist; no he has to get really nasty and call him a “pig”. Oooh, harsh. Then again, if President Obama is really the secret Muslim the right-wing wackos claim, then calling him a pig really would be an insult. This guy must be really, really smart. I’m sure he’s willing to forego his Social Security check…

3447320547_13e5044b04 This one bugs me. Did the kid come up with the racist slogan all by himself or are his mommy and daddy teaching  him to be a good little racist?


Back to the whole Hitler theme. I really am getting confused. Is President Obama Hitler or Stalin? And maybe I’ve misread my history, but I don’t recall “socialism” having much to do with Hitler’s rise to power. Fear of communists, anger at the western allies, and of course good old-fashioned anti-Semitism, all played roles, but I don’t recall the socialists electing Hitler or being the principal reason that people voted for him.


I love this one from “Team Sarah”. Funny that it has a picture of Texas given that Gov. Perry of Texas has suggested that secession might be a good way for Texas to address its financial independence. But I guess that would work for Team Sarah (don’t forget her ties to the Alaska Independence Party). And, if the Constitution really is the “rules” for right wing radicals, don’t you think that they’d, oh, I don’t know, maybe think about … um … reading it?


A little more non-violence aimed at elected officials. This sign really reminds me that there are quite a few people who don’t quite get the concept of elections and the consequences thereof.


Here we go, echoing Rep. Michelle Bachmann’s calls for revolution. Yep, that’s the way our system is designed to work: When you don’t like the decisions of democratically elected officials, you stage a revolution! And you thought that was only how thinks worked in Banana Republics.


I fell like I’m supposed to know the guy standing in front of the “Second American Revolution” sign. Anyway, I thought this picture was a pretty cool trifecta: Illegal aliens, revolution, and socialism. Wow!


I’ll admit that I’ve never read Ayn Rand. But I just love (dripping sarcasm for anyone who gets sent here by a random Google search) the notion that altruism is responsible for the financial crisis. Yep, derivative swaps and $165 million bonus payments are the poster child for altruism. IMG_0013-4

“Selfishness IS a Virtue. Say NO to Sacrifice.” What do you bet the person holding that sign also thinks that America is a Christian nation and that we should be teaching the Bible in schools. IMG_0113

Have you wondered why: (a) gun sales are up and (b) the Department of Homeland Security has expressed some concern about right-wing extremists?


Somehow the phrase “Communist King” seems like a bit of an oxymoron. Or maybe it’s just that the guy holding the sign is a moron (hold the oxy-). I wonder how long it took him to come up with that acronym.

3447464824_763dfbe15e “Terrorist to America”? And if he really trusts in God, why isn’t he in church instead of out protesting?


Remember, again, that these protests were supposed to be about taxes and were supposed to be non-partisan. After looking at this next sign, ask yourself what precisely President Obama has done in less than three months in office to engender this kind of hate?

3446661127_6e823b201aThis next sign (the one on the left) is simply too funny to pass up and it does seem to express so many of the viewpoints that were expressed at the tea parties. Could you please identify for me a single “unconstitutional anti-Christ socialism federal deficit-spending program”? How about just a simple anti-Christ program?


And finally the sign that puts the entire day of tea parties into proper context: 3448134194_e9c4021cf0 So now that you’ve seen the rest of the sentiments being expressed at these protests, aren’t you feeling good about the quality of civic debate here in America. And, if you’re not a right-wing extremist, are you feeling just a little bit worried? I am.

Update: For additional signs and posters from the tea parties, see here, here, and  here.


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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Furor Over President Obama Speaking at Notre Dame

The University of Notre Dame has invited President Obama to speak at the University's commencement ceremony this spring and this invitation has stirred up a furor among some Catholics both within and without the University community. Apparently, the problem is that President Obama supports women's reproductive rights (i.e., abortion) and, because this view is antithetical to Catholic teaching, some have argued that the University should not have invited President Obama to speak. I have several problems with this whole matter.

First, I want to be clear that I am not criticizing any Catholics for their personal theological or moral views. They have the right to those views and I have the right to agree or disagree. I don't know much about Catholic theology or teaching with regard to abortion or anything else. But the issue at hand has nothing to do with whose views are "right" or whether those views are well-founded or properly based in theological doctrine. Rather, the issue is whether those views should bear upon the decision of whether to invite the President of the United States to speak at graduation.

So, let's examine the issue of whether President Obama should have been invited to speak at Notre Dame. The first thing to remember is that he has been invited to speak at commencement, not to a class on theology or morals or ethics. Students at prestigious universities look forward to the opportunity to hear from "important" people at their commencements; it is a right of passage, in a way. To that end, it is likely that President Obama's speech will center on a universal topic like living a good life, helping the needy, getting involved in the community, or any of a host of the topics and themes regularly heard in commencement addresses. I doubt that President Obama will use the opportunity of that speech to lay out a major policy proposal or to address a controversial issue (such as abortion); a commencement address is rarely the time or place for such a speech. And, with all of the issues presently facing both our nation and the world, it seems highly unlikely that President Obama would choose the issue of abortion to be the focus of a commencement address.

It is also critical to keep in mind that President Obama is not just some random person chosen to speak. Nor is he merely a well-known person of marginal import. No. He just happens to be the President of the United States of America. The very idea that any institution, let alone a premier academic institution, would turn down an opportunity to have the President of the United States speak is a bit hard to comprehend. President Obama was, in all likelihood, invited to speak at commencement because of his office, not because of his viewpoints, past endeavors, or the fact that he hails from nearby Chicago. The University extended an offer to the leader of our country; that the invitation was accepted should be viewed by the University community as an honor.

I'm also troubled, however, by the degree to which abortion (and, to a lesser extent, support for stem cell research) has been the focal point of the discussion. I understand that abortion is against Catholic teaching and that therefore, on that issue, President Obama's views conflict with those of Catholics (or at least Catholic teaching if not the actual views of many of America's Catholics). But I also understand that Catholic teaching opposes the death penalty; yet President Bush, an ardent supporter of the death penalty (and a frequent "enforcer" of the death penalty during his time as Governor of Texas) was invited to speak at Notre Dame (twice, I believe). I also understand Catholic teaching to oppose wars not fought for defensive purposes; yet President Bush sent the United States to war in Iraq on false pretenses. It is also worth noting that President Carter (pro-choice) spoke at a Notre Dame commencement ceremony, as did former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (who introduced the law that decriminalized abortion, homosexuality, and contraception in Cananda) and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (who was instrumental in establishing the Global AIDS and Health Fund [now the The Global Fund] which, among other things, distributes millions of condoms in the Third World). So what it is about President Obama's support for reproductive rights that makes him different from all of these other speakers that the University of Notre Dame has welcomed?

And why, of all of the issues that President Obama has taken a stance on, is abortion so important as to be seen by some as disqualifying? Is abortion the absolute cornerstone issue of the Catholic faith, more so even than social justice? Is abortion the sole issue by which a person's "Catholic-ness" is to be measured and judged? Perhaps I'm mistaken, but it would seem to me that Catholics would, with the exception of issues relating to reproductive rights, have far more in common with those of President Obama than they did President Bush. I've already mentioned the death penalty, but what about torture, imprisonment without access to counsel or trial, and war? According to CNN, in the November 2008 elections, Catholics supported Mr. Obama 53% to Sen. McCain's 45% (don't forget that Sen. McCain was opposed to reproductive rights and his Vice Presidential candidate ... shudder ... I don't even want to go there).

One final point that I'd like to make. Yes, I understand that Notre Dame is a Catholic institution. But neither its student body nor faculty is homogeneous. In fact, a review of the University's website shows that the University's campus ministry includes services for Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, and other Christian denominations, as well as Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists. I find it hard to believe that students or faculty of these other faith traditions must be uniform in their beliefs, words, or deeds, in strict conformance to Catholic teaching; for that matter, I find it hard to believe that Notre Dame's Catholic students and faculty must be completely faithful to Catholic teaching either. And I find it hard to believe that every word articulated by every professor or speaker at Notre Dame must be in conformance with Catholic teaching (I wonder; do biology classes at Notre Dame teach evolution or creation...?).

Notre Dame is a highly respected academic institution. President Obama is the President of the United States of America. There is nothing that he has said or done that should disqualify him from speaking at Notre Dame's commencement and Notre Dame should be nothing but honored to have a sitting President accept the offer to speak at a commencement ceremony.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

What Do Israeli Arabs Think? (update)

A few weeks ago, I posted several articles by Israeli Arabs that offered a different view of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute than the views most commonly heard from the Arab and Muslim world. Included in that prior post was an article by Israel's deputy consul general to America's Pacific northwest region. Lest anyone think that he is merely a token Muslim appointed to a diplomatic post by Israel or that his views are an aberration, I offer the article "Apartheid in Israel: The facts say otherwise" from Reda Mansour, an Israeli Druze (a branch of Islam) and Israel's consul general to the southeastern United States:

A few years ago I began an initiative at the Israeli Foreign Ministry aimed at opening a dialogue with Muslim communities in the West. When the first delegations of European and American Muslims started to arrive, they were amazed at the coexistence between Arabs and Jews in Israel.

For many outside of Israel, their perception of the country has been framed by the international media. They have allowed their opinions to be shaped by a constant stream of pictures and articles with one main idea: Between Arabs and Jews there can be only hatred and violence.

With this mind-set, the delegates traveled to Haifa, Israel, one of the most beautiful cities on Earth, a place where beauty is about more than geography. In Haifa, the Muslim delegations visited a major university with an Arab Muslim vice president and many Arab students. They went to markets and offices and observed Arabs and Jews peacefully going about their simple daily lives.

The delegations heard the call to prayer of the muezzin. They visited the mosque of the Ahmadi Islamic sect, Muslims persecuted in many parts of the world who have flourished in Israel, and traveled near the world Baha’i religious center, a faith persecuted in Iran. They met some of the more than 100 Islamic family court judges and talked with the imams who provide religious services; both groups are paid by the Israeli government.

In a regular Israeli parliament session, there are an average of 15 Arab members, some of whom are part of self-proclaimed Zionist parties. Israel has Arab members of parliament and in the Cabinet; it has Arab ambassadors and high-ranking Arab officers in the military.

Yet despite examples of diversity like these, some critics persist in trying to apply the terrible adjective of apartheid to the State of Israel. The facts on the ground, however, show nothing even remotely close to a racist system. For while one can claim that Arabs in Israel do not receive enough government attention or investment in their community, or one can argue that the situation for Israeli Arabs is sensitive as a minority in a country that has gone to war with its Arab neighbors, all of these issues are political and have nothing to do with race.

There is no apartheid in Israel. Nor is there apartheid in Gaza and the West Bank. The territories came under Israeli control in 1967 following the Six-Day War, and over the next 20 years Israel controlled them with nearly no security measures: almost no checkpoints, no fences and no controlled roads.

However, during the first Palestinian uprising in 1987 and again during the 1990s, Israel was forced to toughen its security measures. The country had to protect its citizens because the terrorists of Hamas made suicide bombing their tactic of choice and shopping malls, night clubs, schools and hotels their primary targets.

Before the uprising began, more then 120,000 Palestinians worked in Israel. In every Palestinian household there was at least one person who worked in Israel. The workers entered the country freely and their standard of living was among the highest in the Middle East.

Only after 25 years of controlling the territories and having its citizens targeted by terror did Israel begin to institute the security measures that some are trying to call “apartheid.” That is why it has been so hard to make the charges stick. Israel, like any other country, is not perfect. The country and its diverse population still admittedly face political and security issues. But apartheid? You must be joking. Israel and the international community are ready for Palestinian freedom and independence. The question is, are the Palestinians?

The greatest problem facing the Palestinians today is not Israel or illusionary “apartheid” but a lack of unified and visionary leadership. Palestinians need to understand that violent action will never yield the results they want and that serving as a useful distraction for the regime in Tehran will never bring prosperity.

The Palestinians need to produce their own Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi -- a leader who will demonstrate to them that nonviolence is a much more successful tool for freedom and coexistence.

I'm going to start collecting articles from Israeli Arabs and Muslims that show that the dispute is not quite so black and white, that Israel is not the monster that the rest of the Arab and Muslim world (and Jimmy Carter) would have people believe, and that life for Israel's Arab and Muslim populations, not to mention its other ethnic and religious minorities, is far better than that of minority communities in much of the rest of the world (and certainly is not apartheid). While there may be individual policies for which criticism of Israel is fair, the treatment of minority populations ("apartheid" for example) should not be among those criticisms. Too many liberals in America and Europe have been quick to condemn Israel and support the Palestinians without really thinking through the issues and really hearing both sides. Perhaps hearing what some Israeli Arabs and Muslims have to say will help broaden the horizons and perspectives of the discussion. Then again, that would require an open mind and intellectual honesty, wouldn't it?


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For Those Who Think Hamas Are the "Good Guys"

One of the best ways to understand the thoughts and intentions of the Muslim and Arab world is to watch and listen to their own TV and radio and read their newspapers. It turns out that what is said in Arabic is often quite different from what is said to international audiences. Unfortunately, given that so few westerners speak Arabic, it can be very difficult to find out what is really being said and it is rare for our western media outlets to report on what is really being said in the Arabic-language press (like Al-Jezeera). To that end, there is MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) and the MEMRI TV Reserach Project which follow the Arabic-language press and offer translations for western viewers.

By way of recent example, take this "drama" presented at Gaza Islamic University during a festival to commemorate the founder of Hamas and then broadcast on Al-Aqsa TV on April 3, 2009 (if you don't want to watch, here is the transcript). The material is too abhorrent and disgusting for me to embed or reprint here (focusing as it does on the blood libel). But it is worth viewing and/or reading in order to see what is being presented on the official Palestinian TV network. Browsing through MEMRI's other offerings will show that this is not an isolated incident. When a Palestinian resident of Gaza turns on their TV, this is the kind of material that they can watch. It makes even FOX News seem fair and balanced.

The next time that someone tells you that Hamas wants peace or that the Palestinians don't teach hate or that Muslim clerics offer only peaceful messages, show them this clip or just tell them to look around at MEMRI and see what the Palestinians and other Arab nations really have to say about America, Israel, and Jews.

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Spring Break from Hell!

So I'm back in my office, several days earlier than expected after what I can only describe as the Spring Break from Hell.

The original plan had been to spend spring break with some dear friends in Charlotte, North Carolina. Unfortunately, we learned that their kids weren't on break the same time our kids were, so we had to figure out what to do while their kids went back to school. We hit upon the idea of staying with them for a long weekend (and they would take their kids out of school for a day) and then our family would drive up to Washington D.C. to play tourists for a few days. A lot of driving, but the plan sounded pretty good...

All of the guidebooks to D.C. advise contacting your Congressman or Senator in advance to try to secure tickets for certain tours. We did so and ... nothing. Even though it was still several weeks in advance, we were told that our Congressman's office could not get us tickets, even for the tour of Capitol Hill. We understood that White House tickets were tough to come by (and I elicited a hearty chuckle from the Congressional staffer when I told him my kids wanted a play date with the Obama girls), but were surprised that we couldn't get a Capitol Hill tour. So we tried our Senator. And got no response. (Actually, that's not entirely true. When I walked into the office today, there was an envelope from our Senator with a tour book to Washington.) Thus, we should have known that this vacation was not going to be all that we'd hoped for.

So, on Thursday afternoon, we started our drive to North Carolina. We'd planned to drive as far as Knoxville, Tennessee, before stopping for the night. We didn't want to drive through the "mountains" (sorry, I go to Colorado and Wyoming; the Great Smokies are really big hills...) at night and figured that we'd only have a few hours of driving on Friday so that we'd have most of the day to spend with our friends. Alas, as we left Indianapolis, we kept hearing weather reports of extremely severe storms that were going to be racing across our intended route (hail, tornadoes, the works). So, we decided to spend the night in Lexington, Kentucky, thereby nearly doubling the time that we'd spend in the car on Friday. Oh, well.

Thankfully, Friday morning dawned sunny and with only moderate winds, so we set off. The drive was just fine and we made good time to Charlotte. We arrived just as our friends' kids were getting home from school and we all had a lovely afternoon just relaxing around the house. Everything was going very nicely. That is until...the door.

Later that evening, the women went out to rent some movies, the girls (our 9-year-old and their 11-year-old) were playing in one room, and all us boys were playing video games across the hall in another room. At about 8:00, the 11-year-old walked into the game room to tell us that there was an emergency and that my daughter needed to go to the hospital. She delivered this information in such a casual, calm manner, that we thought she was joking. She reiterated her point and finished by saying that my daughter had sliced her finger off. That got my attention and we raced downstairs to find my wife (who had just returned from the store) holding my daughter's bleeding hand over the sink. Long story short, my daughter's middle finger was accidentally slammed in the hinge of a door, nearly severing the tip of her finger.

After a trip to the ER and several stitches (my daughter was very brave and never cried about her injury; she was just very, very anxious about stitches and shots and she had over a hour to sit and bleed and worry while we waited to see the doctor) we started trying to figure out what to do. We were told that she needed to see a hand surgeon on Monday. We talked to several doctors about the issues and risks before deciding to return home so that she could be seen by a hand surgeon here in Indianapolis (home to a renowned hand center and hand surgeons, one of whom just happens to be a good friend of my father). We enjoyed a nice Saturday afternoon with our friends (a drive through petting zoo, if you can believe it) before jumping back into the car early Sunday morning for the drive back to Indy. While there weren't many tears about the injury itself, there were lots and lots of tears about leaving their friends a few days early and being forced to cancel the planned outing to D.C. Oh, and just in case all of that wasn't quite enough, I woke up on Sunday morning with a bad cold and cough that was enough to rattle my brain inside my skull; nothing like coughing so hard you have to throw up...

20 hours of driving in 4 days. Wow, how much fun is that?

Thus, bright and early on Monday (the first "real" day of spring break) we found ourselves in the office of the hand surgeon. All of Monday afternoon was spent trying to calm my daughter down that Tuesday's surgery wouldn't be so bad, all of Tuesday afternoon was spent in a surgery waiting room, and Wednesday was spent trying to cater to the needs of a mostly good-natured little patient and her somewhat cranky twin brother (given all the attention being paid to his sister and the fact that it was his best friend that we were visiting, he's been pretty good about all this).

It turns out that her finger should be fine. The doctor said that she did a good job trying to amputate the tip, but that there is a good chance that it will heal fine now. As the doctor put it, the finger has a good chance know; without surgery, it would have had zero chance.

And here I am, with what should be a few more days of spring break to look forward to, back in my office. We've told the kids that we'll put together another trip to D.C., but of course the when and how are complete unknowns.

And after all the driving, the stress and worry, the coughing, and everything else, I'm completely exhausted and in desperate need of a vacation.


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