The Pope’s Miracle

pope franics


I’m sure you’ve heard Christ’s miracles rationalized. The miracle of the loaves and fishes, for example. You will hear that it was the spirit of sharing inspired by Jesus that resulted in the feeding of the multitude, not some magical expansion of those five loaves and two small fishes.

And, surely, you have heard that Santa Claus “exists” through the spirit of giving in our hearts at Christmas.

Viewed from that perspective, Pope Francis may well be a miracle worker.

By his gentle demeanor and mild words, by his inclusive smile and wide-open arms, by his refusal to be drawn into shaming and blaming, this Pope radiates a message of forgiveness and love, not disapproval and disdain.

It is a message that is resonating around the globe, calling out “Sinner, come home!”  Promising forgiveness and redemption. Drawing us in, not shutting us out.

Could this be what the world needs now? Love, sweet love?

It is certainly not a message reserved for Roman Catholics. It is the central tenet of all Christian faiths. Love God with all your heart; love your neighbor as yourself.

Culd this turn out to be the transformational mracle of the Twenty-first Century?

Not if the Religious Right can stop it. Shockingly, many American “conservatives” are condemning the Pope for his inclusive and forgiving message.

In today, Bob Cesca reports:

With the Pope’s visit to the United States launching Tuesday, Republicans are lining up to condemn his views on everything from the climate crisis to income inequality and, most recently, confessional forgiveness for women who have abortions

This negative response to the Pope’s call for us to love one another has been expressed by several of the Republican presidential candidates, even professed Catholics like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie.

The Republican rank and file are also up in arms. Arizona’s Paul Gosar announced he is boycotting the Pope’s speech to Congress, for example. Fox News pundits are raging against the pontiff’s “interference.” And the rest of the right-wing noise machine is in full cry.

My instinctive  response to this hatemongering is revulsion and loathing. But I must resist those emotions.

They are counter to the Pope’s central theme. I must somehow find compassion and tolerance in my heart – even for those who have so perverted politics and society. Even for those who  – as the Salon writer put it – “exploit religion to oppress, restrict and demonize.”

I am sure Pope Francis would encourage us to point out the flaws in their thinking but with a conciliatory tone.

I expect him to take that gentle approach when he addresses Congress on Thursday and the UN General Assembly on Friday. And who knows? His words could begin the healing that America – and the world – so badly needs.

And that would be the miracle we have all been waiting for.

Click for the article.

Click for more on the Pope’s visit.


What’s “Religion,” Anyway?




Here we go again. Was Ben Carson a bigot to say he would not want a Muslim President? Muslim-Americans are calling on him to drop out of the 2016 presidential race, and I can understand how they feel. But this is just another round in an age-old debate.

I am old enough to remember how uneasy some Americans felt at having John Kennedy as President. He was a Roman Catholic, after all, and didn’t Catholics owe more loyalty to the Pope than to their country?

And you know Mitt Romney’s religion was one reason he failed to win the presidency. A lot of Americans don’t want some Mormon with their sin-stopping underwear in the White House. Don’t Mormons believe in polygamy? How could you have a President like that?

I am not going to try to make sense of religion. I think the bottom line is that religion is a belief system that does not rely on logic. You believe religious doctrines because you believe them, and that’s that.

I guess freedom from logic gives us a nice warm feeling. Logic is mean.

Many Jamaicans believe in the sacrament of the “wisdom weed” (lower picture). They honestly take that woozy, floating sense you get from a toke as a gift of enlightenment from God – or Jah, as they know Him.

Perhaps these Jamaicans – and their fellow-Rastafarians – will some day be able to participate in their sacrament everywhere in America without fear of arrest. Marijuana is becoming increasingly legal across the country. But they would have to be careful here in Lakeland, Florida today. The “wisdom weed” is illegal here – religion or no religion.

And, getting back to the Carson controversy, I doubt that American voters are ready for a Rastafarian President.

The implications of religious freedom are being tested in many other ways. Should Kim Davis (top photo) be permitted to reject legal mariage license applications because of her “Christian” religion? Should company owners be free to refuse their employees legally mandated birth control on religious grounds? Should the federal government defund Planned Parenthood?

To those of us who view all religious dogma with varying degrees of skepticism, it seems so obvious. “Freedom” means being free to do anything that does not abridge the freedom of somebody else. It does not mean being free to control what others do – or don’t do.

Unless, of course, they’re breaking the law. Montezuma would not be free to sacrifice those virgins in today’s America. Virgins have rights under the law, too.

As for Carson’s comment, does he not know that every American President – regardless of faith – swears to abide by the Constitution of the United States? Isn’t that a pledge to reject Shariah law if it conflicts with the Constitution?

But I guess that doesn’t matter. I don’t think a Muslim could be elected President in this country at this stage in history. There’s just too much prejudice against Muslims.

But I don’t think an Atheist could get elected either – not a professed Atheist anyway.

Freedom of religion is still just a nice-sounding phrase, not a practical concept. Indeed, “freedom” is just a nice-sounding word. Mankind has a long way to go before that kind of enlightenment is achieved. In the meantime, we strruggle toward the light.

Click for the Carson controversy.

Click for more on relgious freedom.

Click for more on the wisdom weed.


The Fear/Hate Merchants



TV pundits and opposing politicians are “outraged” over Donald Trump’s “failure” to correct a questioner who called President Obama a Muslim foreigner and said Islamic terrorists are building training camps in America. What the questioner wanted to know was how Trump would rid America of the Islamic training camps.

Trump said he’d heard about such “bad things” and would look into it.

Of course he did not tell the questioner that President Obama is a Christian. Of course he did not say the President was born in America. And of course he did not dismiss the claim that Islamic terrorists are training jihadists on American soil.

If he had done that, many of his supporters would have deserted him.

Trump himself has insisted the President was born abroad. He may not believe it but he obviously believes it’s politically beneficial to say so.

Thanks to the First Amendment, there’s a significant segment of the American population who believe Barack Obama is a Muslim who was born in Kenya. It doesn’t matter that he has produced his birth certificate. It doesn’t matter that he goes to church with his family like other American Christians. The right-wing propaganda machine has convinced millions of Americans that he is a Muslim – not only a Muslim but a mole who is sabotaging America from the inside so that the Muslims can take over (illustration from one such web site above).

You may never have heard of the training camps. But they’re a favorite figment of the right wing’s imagination. The web echoes with such stories, along with the “true” story of Nine Eleven, the age-old specter of the Illuminati, the UN plot to send black helicopters to America and imprison Americans in underground internment camps… and so on.

When the armed forces recently planned training exercises in Texas, state officials raised the alarm. They warned that the federal government was planning to invade the Lone Star state and they prepared to resist the invasion with military force.

Much of the right-wing fantasy industry exists to make money. The conspiracy theorists get rich selling books and tapes online.  Hate and fear sell. And the hate merchants couldn’t care less who gets hurt.

The shame of it all is that the Republican Party has chosen to embrace these charlatans and their disciples. They make up at least a third of the party’s base, and they’re the ones who can be counted on to vote.

It is this flock of angry, frightened, severely misinformed “conservatives” that Trump has won over.

He is not going to do or say anything to lose their support.

Click for an example of fear mongering.


Carly Fiorina’s Vile Smear


I disliked Carly Fiorina even before CNN’s Republican primary debate. The woman is a fraud. She presents herself as a humble secretary who rose through the corporate ranks to become the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. And she insists that her “success” in the business world qualifies her to run the world’s number-one democracy.

The truth is that she was born into a well-heeled family. Her father was a law professor who became dean of Duke University School of Law, deputy attorney general, and a federal judge. Her mother was an  artist.

Her parents sent her to various private schools in the US and abroad – even to one in Ghana. She has a bachelor’s degree  from Stanford and two master’s degrees. Does that sound like your average corporate secretary? Of course not!

She began her business career as a management trainee at AT&T, and got routinely promoted as management trainees usually do. In due course, she became CEO of AT&T spin-off Lucent, which she ran into the ground. Then she moved on to head HP, which she almost bankrupted before getting fired.

In short, as Chris Hayes noted last night on MSNBC, her Horatio Alger story is phony. And I dislike phony politicians.

But, while I disliked Fiorina before, I detest her now.

In Wednesday night’s debate, she urged Republicans in Congress to defund Planned Parenthood –  even at risk of a government shutdown.

In making her case, she “dared Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Obama to watch” undercover videos that set off the defunding crusade.  The videos, which were doctored, as such videos usually are, depict a heartless organization selling aborted fetuses for medical research.

According to Fiorina they show “a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.”

It was enough to make Sandra recoil in horror. But it was not true.

Even the doctored videos don’t sink that low. found that the scene Fiorina describes is not in any of them.

Here’s the truth, as the FirstDraft web site tells it:

The video that Mrs. Fiorina seems to be referring to does show a still image of a fetus being held outside of the womb. But it is not seen squirming as Mrs. Fiorina describes. …. There is no indication that the fetus pictured is about to have its brain removed…

Planned Parenthood is not a sinister organization profiting from the sale of aborted baby parts, as Fiorina suggests. It provides free life saving services – such as breast cancer screenings – to millions of poor women across America.

Fiorina’s callous attack illustrates the contempt that many pampered members of the elite have for the poor. Her glib twisting of the truth illustrates the contempt she has for American voters.

Carly Fiorina for President? I don’t think so!

Click for more on Fiorina’s attack.

Click for the real Fiorina story.


The Lust for War


After more than five hours of immersion in Republican personalities and policies, I have emerged this morning with the uneasy feeling that – with the exception of one or two of the presidential candidates – it doesn’t matter who among them makes it to the White House. He or she will plunge America into at least one new war.

As far as I can recall in my stupefied condition after listening to so much irrelevant ranting and bragging, only Rand Paul and John Kasich – and possibly Ben Carson – aren’t itching to blow up the world.

The vast majority of the debaters left no doubt that they want more – thousands and thousands more – American boots on the ground in the Middle East, for one thing. They agreed that the worst thing America ever did was to bring home the troops from Iraq. Now, they argued, the troops should go back to wage war against ISIS.

Iran  was also a popular target for proposed military agression. And Russia was not far behind. North Korea got a mention or two. One candidate – I think it was Marco Rubio – seemed to feel China should be taught a lesson for building artificial  islands next to Japan.

And Syria came under a lot of verbal fire, especially at the 6 p.m. debate.

It seemed to me that when the candidates weren’t trying to outbrag one another, they were engaged in a bloodthirsty contest to be the most hawkish person on stage.

I was left with the impression that they would make America great again by building a massive army and using it to bully the rest of the world into doing whatever Americans want them to do.

Nobody explained how this mighty army and its global conquests would be financed. Indeed, when they weren’t threatening to use military force against somebody, they were promising to slash taxes and balance the federal budget.

But the only alternative to increasing taxes, as far as I can see, would be to create a massive deficit. And America still has to dig itself out of that huge deficit from the Iraq adventure.

Nobody revealed where the required troops would come from, either. I suppose the draft would have to be reintroduced. Does anybody out there remember Vietnam?

Is that what Americans really want? Another Vietnam? Another Iraq? Thousands more dead and maimed young people, the escalation of hatred for America throughout the world and all the other inescapable horrors of endless war?

I guess we’ll find out next November.


The Trickery of Tokenism



Tokenism is as old as history. Conquering nations made a practice of appointing natives of the conquered nations as their agents.  In Jamaica back in the days of slavery, absentee landowners would appoint black or mixed race overseers to manage their lands while they were away in Britain. Sometimes, the overseer would be a son the landowner had produced with one of his slaves.

You would think that by now oppressed people would be wise to such tricks, but apparently not.

Just look at the Republican lineup for tonight’s debate. On stage, there will be two Hispanics, a black man and a white man married to a Hispanic. And, oh yes, a woman. The debate organizers moved Heaven and Earth to get her into the main debate.

That lineup certainly looks “diverse.”  And, if you add the 6 p.m. debate, it becomes even more “ethnic.” There’s a son of immigrants from India in that debate.

But when you listen to these “minority ” candidates tonight, they will sound just like the white-bread, male Republicans sitting next to them. They are not champions of ethnic minorities, they do not support women’s rights. They stand for the same oppressive policies as Republicans everywhere.

They deny that humans play a significant role in the horrors of climate change, for example. And they reject the notion that a woman has a right to choose her own reproductive destiny.

The token black candidate, a distinguished but misled neurosurgeon, would give full citizenship rights to a fertilized egg, making it a crime for a woman to take a next-day birth control pill. At the same time, he would revoke the birthright provision of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, the provision that makes so-called “anchor babies” Americans.

Think about that for a minute. This supposedly erudite surgeon would give citizenship to an egg but not to a fully formed baby born in the USA.

I even read on the Internet that this black man “marginalized” the horror of slavery in one of his interviews. And I wouldn’t be surprised. He often chides the “Black Lives Matter” protesters and plays down police brutality against minorities.

This minority representative says President Obama deliberately depresses the national econony to keep people on welfare. He argues that welfare programs keep black Americans dependent on the government and  he says Obamacare is “the worst thing since slavery.”

He also opposes gun registration because – wait until you hear this – America’s national debt could reduce America to a third-world country in which martial law might be imposed, and citizens would need their guns to resist the government.

Surprising views especially coming from a black man. And this candidate is certainly dark skinned.

The Republicans are counting on the candidate’s complexion to make their outlandish policies palatable. Just as they are counting on the ethnicity of the Hispanic candidates and the gender of the lone woman on stage.

Will American voters in 2016 be so easily fooled? It remains to be seen.



Same Old, Same Old…



Confined to bed after a nasty fall, I reluctantly watched TV all day yesterday. It was mind numbing. Especially that tirade by Donald Trump in Dallas last night. How can anyone describe him as entertaining? On what grounds do the pundits find him fresh and surprising?

What I heard was the same old boasts and promises we’ve heard so many times before.

He bragged about his prowess as a business tycoon and negotiator, and made snide remarks about Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, even sinking so low as to make fun of Kerry’s bicycle accident.

And he included a long, rambling dismissal of the media, describing even conservative pundits as “losers.”

Of course he repeated his promise to build a high wall between the US and Mexico and send America’s millions of illegal immigrants back home. That’s always a crowd pleaser.

He also pledged unimaginable prosperity and lower taxes (except for hedge fund managers), and thousands – no millions – of new jobs as businesses are bullied into bringing their factories home from abroad.

Oh yes, there’s that two trillion – or is it three trillion? – dollars supposedly tucked away abroad by American corporations. He would bring that home in a heartbeat. How?

Well you have to take his word on that. He is a master negotiator, remember? He can get it done.

Indeed, Trump isn’t much on “how.” He is more of a “what” kind of guy. And the “what” is enticing to many. Riches beyond their wildest dreams, a victorious America free of illegal immigrants and with the whole world groveling at their feet, lower taxes, less red tape, less government interference in their lives, oil and gas flowing like milk and honey, happy, healthy veterans, and “cherished” American women dancing in the moonlight …

That’s what a lot of voters dream of, I guess. But nobody seems to be asking how Trump proposes to deliver this dream.

The only “how” I can recall from last night’s speech was his plan to threaten Ford with a 35-percent import duty if it builds a plant in Mexico. He doesn’t say how he would get such a tax through Congress. And you and I know he couldn’t. But, what does that matter? The crowd loved it.

Let’s face it. Trump is a hot-air balloon. But it seems Americans enjoy his swagger. CNN is expecting record ratings for the Republican primary debate tomorrow night. Because of Trump. Because TV viewers expect some new and amazing utterance from him.

Yet I bet he will say the same things he always does. The only surprise is who gets insulted next. And even that is getting old.

Click to hear the speech.


When Stars Implode



Why do I feel so shattered by Serena Williams’ defeat? Why am I not rejoicing in the Cinderella victory of aging and unknown Roberta Vinci?

Should I not be rooting for the underdog? Should I not celebrate when someone who needs a break gets one? Serena is already a superstar, already hugely rich, already celebrated throughout the world. She did not need that victory last night.

But tell the truth. Wouldn’t it have been a moment to treasure if she had advanced to the US Open finals, if she were poised to make history this weekend?

Instead, we get to watch Vinci play fellow-Italian Flavia Pennetta. Big deal. Do you care who wins? I don’t.

I know, I know, everyone is expected to rejoice when David vanquishes Goliath. But instead of rejoicing with Vinci this morning, I am mourning with Serena.

I share her frustration and shock. As the match progressed, I shared her alarm. I could feel her freeze as she felt herself failing to live up to the hype the media had placed on her shoulders. I could feel her vulnerability as her feet of clay were so cruelly exposed.

Perhaps one reason for my lack of empathy with Vinci is the way she won. By guile and subterfuge, with junk balls and fakery. It reminded me of the day in 1973 when Margaret Court was humiliated by Bobby Riggs. If that’s tennis, I don’t like tennis.

But I do not believe that’s the primary cause of my malaise.

Deep down, I think I hate to see champions crumble. It sabotages my sense of the order of things. When stars implode, It undermines my faith in the stability of the Universe.

I am troubled by the humiliation of Tiger Woods, for example.

And Jordan Spieth? What’s with him? He was so promising, and now he seems so maladroit. Ditto for Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson… and on and on. Even Jason Day apparently cannot maintain the stellar level he so recently attained.

If they can’t play golf consistently, who can? Who will ever be able to?

I don’t follow professional football but I am troubled by the way Tom Brady has been shamed. If he was guilty of deflating those footballs, I don’t want to know.

I suppose some people take pleasure in the humiliation of superstars. It helps to soothe their own sense of inadequacy, I guess.

But I don’t. I enjoy the superhuman feats of others more gifted than I. They make me believe in the possibility of the heroic. When my heroes collapse, I collapse with them.

Click for the story.

Click for US Open match highlights.

Click for the Bobby Riggs match.


Behind the Hillary “Scandal”



I was wondering why The New York Times had joined the horde of media critics snapping at Hillary Clinton’s heels. After all, I expect Fox News, the New York Post and their ilk to add “scandal” after every mention of Hillary’s name, but the Times?

Nicknamed “The Gray Lady” because of its austere disregard for the sensationalist tricks of the trade, The New York Times is venerated as a national “newspaper of record.”  I have always regarded the Times as an extremely reliable source.

But time and again, recently, the Gray Lady was caught with her foot in her mouth when it came to those Hillary “scandals” that the popular media tut-tut about.

There was the story about the Justice Department supposedly investigating Hillary, for example. That  had to be retracted. Twice.

It was so riddled with inaccuracies and sheer fiction that even after a comprehensive retraction was published, an unprecedented second retraction had to be issued to correct the details.

I’m sure you’re aware of the relentless flood of negative press concerning Hillary’s use of her private server for official communications when she was secretary of state. Although she only did what others in her job had done, you would think she had committed some crime and was headed for Guantanamo. Of course, this is the same as all the other Hillary “scandals” – overblown right-wing propaganda.

As Rachel Maddow observed recently, everything Hillary does is a scandal as far as the National Press Corps is concerned. And Rachel did not exempt the Times.

The Times’ disregard for the Clintons was not restricted to stories about the email “scandal.” One reporter sniffed that Bill Clinton was looking “frail” and older than his 68 years, and the Times magazine published an unflattering (some people called it creepy) portrait of Hillary on its cover (above).

To media observers, it was beginning to look fishy.  As New York University professor Jay Rosen wrote on Twitter:

I have resisted this conclusion over the years, but after today’s events it’s fair to say the Times has a problem covering Hillary Clinton. 

And David Brock, founder of Media Matters, declares in a new book that the Times has earned “a special place in hell” with its biased treatment of the Clinton campaign.

But it might not be the Times that’s out to get Hillary after all. It could be just one staffer – the newspaper’s Washington bureau chief, a journalist named Carolyn Ryan.

I just learned from the Daily Kos that the Times has reassigned Ryan. And, according to that report,  the move is in response to the numerous complaints about her bureau’s reporting.

The Times said the move is just organizational, and Ryan will continue to concentrate on covering the 2016 campaigns. But I wonder how that will play out. Brock quoted Ryan as saying “the Clintons just lie” to explain her arbitrary treatment of a statement from Hillary’s campaign. So it looks as if she had some kind of grudge against Hillary.

Even if it is Ryan who has been behind some of the Times’ assault on Hillary, moving her won’t stop the media crusade. It’s what so much of the media do these days. Tear down the good guys and build up fakers and rogues.

My personal hope is that the Gray Lady will back out of the lynch mob. American readers should have learned by now to “consider the source” when the mud flies. And it would be said indeed to see a trusted source contaminated.


The Power of Palin


To you and me – and Tina Fey – Sarah Palin is a joke. I am amazed that she is still around, chattering mindlessly and uttering outrageously bigoted opinions – a blast from civilization’s distant past.

Listening to her incoherent rant at yesterday’s rally against the Iran deal, I understood only snatches of what she was trying to say.But what I understood was breathtakingly ugly (calling Black Lives Matter protesters “dogs” for example).

To me, Sarah Palin is totally un-American. But sadly, she is the grotesquely primitive face of a significant segment of the American population.

The Americans who hail Kim Davis as a Christian martyr, for example. The Americans who elect rogues and dunces to Congress. The Americans who are threatening to put the world’s destiny in Donald Trump’s hands.

It’s a frightening prospect, and it’s looking more and more possible.

Think about it. Trump and Palin – what a team!

Trump has been singing Palin’s praises recently, saying he would be delighted to have her in his cabinet. And Palin has been saying how much she would enjoy being Trump’s secretary of energy.

Don’t laugh – it could happen. We could be on the brink of a drill-baby-drill America, just as global oil pricess spiral into the abyss.

Palin is no laughing stock. She is a real threat to all that’s best in America. Indeed, according to Michael Keegan of People for the American Way, it’s Palin who triggered the current right-wing revolution.

Here’s Keegan’s take on the subject:

We are living in the post-Palin America. Sarah Palin entered the national spotlight on the Republican presidential ticket in 2008 and captured the hearts of those who would go on to form the Tea Party movement and become the overwhelmingly dominant faction of the GOP’s base.

It is this post-Palin America that gave us the Trump candidacy. And this post-Palin America could give us a Trump presidency.

I can hear you scoffing. Surely, these troglodytes are a small minority in America’s population, you are thinking. The vast majority of Americans are decent, evolved human beings who would never embrace the bigotry and stupidity of politicians like Palin and Trump.

And, yes, the right-wing revolutionaries are a minority. But they vote.

And, as long as two-thirds of the electorate don’t bother to go to the polls, the Trump-Palin movement represents a very real danger to America – and civilization – as we know and love it.

Click for Tina Fey’s Palin.

Click for Palin on CNN.

Click for more about yesterday’s rally.

Click for more on voter turnout.