Robert N. Minor's weekly column featured daily on our homepage. Robert is the author of Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society and Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He may be reached through www.fairnessproject.org or at E-Mail .

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"What's Love Worth, After All?"

The government of the United States has no right to tell two consenting adults whom they can and cannot love. That's the essence of the argument for marriage equality.

Religions can believe anything they want, but love is none of the government's business. Let religions fight with each other over this, for there are religious people everywhere disagreeing over who people should or shouldn't love.

When a society is built on fear and hate, whether religiously or otherwise inspired, those who dare to love whom they want are seen as subversive. They're the ones willing to fight society's fear and hate so they can live as people who love another.

Groups that want to limit the definition of love so it fits nicely within their stifling boundaries get scared by love that knows no bounds. They visit their fears of what it would mean if they themselves loved boldly on those who don't fit what feels safe to them.

It doesn't matter that real loving never always feels “safe.” It feels vulnerable, fears being unrequited, and fears that it is never more than temporary.

There's a real basis for those feelings, for the nature of loving is that one will eventually lose what one loves. It's inevitable - whether that be one's pet, a friend, or a life partner, death always interferes, even if love itself is intended to last “forever.”

And there are reasons love feels fragile. One is always risking when one loves that now or in the future it will be spurned.

That means, then, that love is not only a risk but an important act of human affirmation. We need every act of love all the more because it is so human to love what can be taken away.

We love because it's worth the heartbreak. We love because it's a force for change not only in our personal lives, but in the world.

Love isn't just between two people who commit to it. Real love can't keep to itself. It might start with one other, but the loving between two lovers can't contain itself from becoming a force for good.

That's why it's a total misunderstanding for a couple to attempt to huddle away from the world out there to be caught up in each other. That's fear, - fear of being lonely, being hurt, losing, not being loveable.

Love must change the world out there or it is mere neediness. Love is actually a force for liberation.

To ask same-sex love to hide, keep to itself, not share itself with family and friends, is to ask a couple to feel phony, illegitimate, and lacking.

The concealing of same-sex love by our society keeps love from changing our culture. And no matter how LGBT people want to act as if nothing will change if they have equal marriage rights, the fact is: much will.

And it should.

Every open loving relationship between two men will say to men of all sexual orientations that men do not have to beat, defeat, or kill each other. It will say that this is not inherent in men, but that men can share vulnerabilities, nurture each other, and find comfort in one another.

Men do not have to be in competition. They don't have to view each other as rivals or enemies. They don't have to go off to a battlefield far away to kill or be killed by other another man.

And that is so radical because it challenges our whole warrior culture and all the money made by sending men off to battle to destroy other men. Same-sex love is subversive.

Every open loving relationship between two women will say to women of all sexual orientations that women do not have to find their fulfillment in a man. It will say that feeling like half a person without the other sex is not inherent in women. Women are whole and complete themselves.

Women do not have to give up any of their inherent qualities to be subordinate in a marriage. They can take care of themselves, love themselves, and protect themselves.

And that is so radical because it challenges all the sexism in our culture and all the money being made by convincing women they must do everything to attract men. Same-sex love is subversive.

It's so subversive that many don't want to see it. They prefer to think that it must be only sex; and in a society so sick with self-imposed ignorance about all sexuality, that confuses what love means all the more.

Love is subversive enough to be costly. But it's worth the price because it changes ourselves and society.

Love's costliness makes it easy to get distracted with less dangerous relationships that fit nicely in the patterns dictated by our consumer-oriented society. Patterned relationships called “love” are peddled all around us.

And same-sex love, whether that be deep friendships or romantic partnerships, costs even more. LGBT people have learned that it can be a great price as prejudice, law, religion, national boundaries, and cultural norms must be fought in order to love.

In fact, LGBT people provide a real model of the sacrificial love that ought to be a religious parable. If love is the goal of religion and love is costly - costly enough in Christian beliefs to say that it brought a crucial death on a cross - then there remains no group that has taken up the cause of such love more sacrificially.

Throughout history LGBT people have been tortured and killed for their love, have been fired for their love, have been rejected by their families and friends for their love, have been ridiculed and humiliated for their love. And their loving itself has been defamed, desecrated, and denied.

Truly they are models of the importance of love. And so, in the middle of this Gay and Lesbian History month, we remember the history of sacrificial love.

While in this fear-based society, we must champion all attempts at love, no matter how inelegant. They should be celebrated.

© 2014 Robert N. Minor

Class, Race, and Addicts Who Prefer Eliminating LGBT People

In response to the President publicly supporting marriage equality, it’s open season for right-wing pastors to publicly preach violence toward LGBT people.

Brown University political scientist Michael Tesler has previously shown, as in a recent issue of The American Journal of Political Science, that President Obama has such an affect on race-conscious voters that they adjust their positions on health care reform, taxes, Supreme Court justices, and even a president’s dog because of him.

Tesler’s recent analysis of surveys on marriage equality (“The Spillover of Racialization into Marriage Equality”) demonstrates that Obama’s support pulls blacks toward equality, but also pushes white “racial conservatives” away.

The most rabid of them feel free to spout the same hatred toward LGBT people as they do toward the not-white president.

On May 6th at Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, NC, Pastor Sean Hayes’ sermon recommended maiming: "Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist…. Man up – give him a good punch." Later he added: "When your daughter starts acting too butch, you rein her in.”

On May 10th, Mississippi state Rep. Andy Gipson, a Baptist minister, posted Leviticus 20:13 on his Facebook page in response to the President: "If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads." In the ensuing uproar Gipson stood firm: "To be clear, I want the world to know that I do not, cannot, and will not apologize for the inspired truth of God's Word."

On May 27th Dennis Leatherman of Mountain Lake Baptist Church in Oakland, Maryland in a fifty-minute sermon proclaimed: “we need to put them all in prisons and we ought to fence them in.” He’d prefer worse, but the Bible constrains him from his fleshly desire to kill:

“To ... have a tendency to be effeminate or homosexual is just as wicked as to have a tendency to be a womanizer. Sinful nature does not justify sinful behavior…. First of all, there is a danger of reacting in the flesh, of responding not in a scriptural, spiritual way, but in a fleshly way. Kill them all. Right? I will be very honest with you. My flesh kind of likes that idea. But it grieves the Holy Spirit. It violates Scripture.”

Charles L. Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, North Carolina in his May 13th sermon preferred elimination of homosexuals in concentration camps. "Build a great, big, large fence -- 150 or 100 mile long -- put all the lesbians in there…. Do the same thing for the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified so they can't get out...and you know what, in a few years, they'll die out...do you know why? They can't reproduce!"

Worley’s flesh spoke too: “It makes me pukin’ sick to think about -- I don’t even know whether or not to say this in the pulpit -- can you imagine kissing some man?”

Pastor Curtis Knapp of Seneca, Kansas’ New Hope Baptist Church, however, found no biblical basis to refrain from execution. After referencing Leviticus, he added: “They should be put to death. Oh, so you’re saying we should go out and start killing them? No. I’m saying the government should. They won’t, but they should.”

These pastors must be competing for attention for their indistinguishable lives and ministries with Topeka’s notorious Fred Phelps clan. They’re like drug-pushers who need buyers to stay in business, followers to make them feel like Big Daddies.

It’s as if they can’t help being obsessed with LGBT people. They have a personal, inexpressible stake, which begs the question of their security in their own sexual attractions.

It’s coupled with coming out against the one they’ve turned into the face of darkness, Barack Obama.

For they’re the religiously addicted. They feel so righteous in their cause that they have no feelings about blunting their bigotry, hatred, destructiveness, violence, and inhumanity.

They’re heavily addicted users desperate for the “high” that preaching righteousness gives them especially when they feel threatened, feel their lives are accomplishing so little. Remember, John Bradshaw: “The high of righteousness is the same as the high of cocaine.”

They have no interest in your arguments about what the Bible, god, or history actually says. They must cling desperately to their interpretations as unquestionable truth.

Meanwhile an increasingly pro-LGBT culture, now including a black president, acts as if their drug is past its expiration date and no basis for feeling they’re on the side of History or Justice.

Rev. Mel White, veteran activist against religious oppression recently warned columnist Chris Hedges (“The War on Gays”) that classism and LGBT oppression are intertwined.

“The culture of hate feeds off the frustrations and feelings of betrayal among the impoverished, the unemployed, the underemployed and the hopeless…. As the economy unravels, as hundreds of millions of Americans confront the fact that things will not get better, life for those targeted by this culture of hate will become increasingly difficult.”

LGBT oppression is also used to maintain racism, and not just since President Obama embraced marriage equality.

We learned in March from internal board memos that the leading group opposing marriage equality, the very white-led National Organization for Marriage, exploits black people for their purposes. “The strategic goal of the project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks — two key Democratic constituencies,” a memo says. This would: “provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these [black] spokesmen and women as bigots.”

When ministers of color invoke “traditional family values” to collude in LGBT oppression, they’ve ignored white criticism of families of color and promote an image our culture pictures as a very white, suburban, family of privilege in 1950s nostalgia.

Oppressive systems function by encouraging groups they oppress to join in the oppression of others rather than upset the system. Thereby the privileged who benefit from keeping others down aren’t threatened themselves.

What Do We Learn from Rush’s Latest Offense?

Anyone paying the slightest attention has heard of right-wing talker Rush Limbaugh’s three-day rant against a female Georgetown University law student whom Republicans refused to allow to testify at a congressional birth control hearing. It wasn’t about one or two words Rush said but about days of misogyny and crazy-making bloviating.

What did we learn from this latest display of Limbaugh?

(1) Absolutely nothing new about Rush. If we’re shocked, we’ve been living under a rock. From his beginnings on national radio, he’s been caught, lying, distorting, and misrepresenting anything and anyone that doesn’t sound right-wing enough for him, and calling it entertainment.

Al Franken said at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner back in April 1994: “Most of us here in the media are what I consider infotainers….Rush Limbaugh is what I call a disinfotainer. He entertains by spreading disinformation.”

A year later the media watchdog group, FAIR, published the 128 page paperback The Way Things Aren’t: Rush Limbaugh’s Reign of Error: Over 100 Outrageously False and Foolish Statements from America's Most Powerful Radio and TV Commentator, which chronicled his lies only until 1995. Lie after lie after lie have been identified since.

And as for anti-women talk? Remember in 1993 when on TV he showed a picture of 13 year old Chelsea Clinton as “the White House dog?”

I remember tuning in briefly in curiosity even before then, concluding: this guy must be on drugs. And, sure enough, he was.

(2) To stay in the news, be outrageous. The media declares something “old news” quickly.

The Fred Phelps cult of Topeka, Kansas discovered this long ago. In order to get the attention they needed for their tiny, insignificant family-church, they’d have to act outrageously, and, to keep getting attention, to become progressively more outrageous.

Their protests lost the attention of locals and the regional press. So the Phelps clan painted even more vile slogans on their signs.

Their protests against those who died of complications from AIDS were old news. So they decided to picket memorials of the famous and soldiers and put their money in travel around the country to hit well-publicized funerals.

The best thing one can do to a Phelps’ picket is to ignore it. However, when they show up in a new place, the media won’t.

We can’t know what’s really in the head of someone who talks like a sociopath with a microphone, but as an entertainer Rush knows he can get the psychological attention celebrities crave by being in the center of things. Rush needs that. So he practices: “it doesn’t matter what people are saying about you, as long as they’re talking about you.”

Sure, he might lose some sponsors for now. But how many people who don’t agree with him will tune in waiting for the next crazy thing he’ll say?

And how many will do that because, they tell us, we have to know what the “other side” is saying, even though the gist of it all never changes?

(3) How to “apologize” without apologizing. In an 191-word statement on his website mostly explaininng how he was right on the issue, he did what most leaders do that’s called an “apology.”

“My choice of words was not the best and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir,” he wrote. “I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.”

Even regularly offensive right-wing talker Don Imus called this “lame,” and referred to Limbaugh as an “insincere pig.” It probably takes one to know one.

But this is the nature of most responses that are called apologies today. They actually place the blame on the offended party.

Stephen Pastis captured this in his popular comic strip, “Pearls Before Swine.”

Rat told Pig: “I’m going to start apologizing to all the people I’ve insulted by telling them ‘I’m sorry that you were offended.’”

Pig questioned whether that was a real apology. So Rat responded: “No. That’s what’s so great. It allows me to retain the impact of the original insult while taking on the implied bonus insult of ‘You are an oversensitive ninny.’”

To that Pig observed: “But that’s kinda rude cause it’s sorta saying the guy is too dumb to realize that.” Rat, of course, replied “I’m sorry that you were offended.” And clueless Pig said: “Apology accepted.”

A real apology would be: “I apologize. I should not have said that. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?” But as long as a non-apology is accepted as an apology, no one has to take responsibility for what they’ve said.

(4) There is no free speech issue in sponsor boycotts. Boycotting sponsors is capitalism at work.

Journalist A.J Liebling, who said “People everywhere confuse what they read in newspapers with news,” famously observed: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”

Agreed: Everyone should have the right to express their opinions no matter how offensive. And, at least in theory everyone has the constitutional right to express opinions in public discourse.

But speech in corporate media isn’t free or equal. It never has been. It’s bought and paid speech, bought and paid for by media owners and their sponsors.

Media corporations are already the arbiters of who gets to speak on their networks. And it takes big money to buy a media megaphone.

We are fortunate now to even have some mainstream alternatives with a few liberal talkers and much of the lineup on MSNBC. They’ve changed the whole media landscape.

But we must remember that the customers of commercial media aren’t the viewers and listeners. Viewers and listeners are the products whose attention is delivered and sold to the sponsors.

I’m unconvinced that boycotts are always the best tactic, but no one has to be an unwilling product sold and used by corporations to spread what offends those being so used. The right-wing shouldn’t be the only group expressing their discontent with their being sold to advertisers.

Does Your Politician Pass the Religious Test?

There might actually be politicians who are sincerely religious – think Jimmy Carter – but I wouldn’t trust the words of any of them when it comes to describing their religious faith and what it has to do with their stand on national issues.

They’re so successfully coached. If they’re really good at it, they know what religious language, metaphors, and allusions work.

And they know that getting elected requires the making of a brand, embodying an image they can appear to live in order to sell themselves. It means treating everything they do as advertising.

It’s the public relations industry at work. It’s the selling of a product.

And it’s as believable as most advertising that describes itself in terms of what the consultants tell them will move people to buy. In this climate politicians realize this, including current and previous presidential publicity teams.

Selling himself as a brand with a Pepsi-like logo and a short, catchy slogan, Obama’s ads actually won the best advertising awards for any marketing of the election year. His garnered the vote of hundreds of marketers, agency heads, and marketing-services vendors gathered in 2008 at the Association of National Advertisers' annual conference, edging out runners-up Apple and Zappos.com to be named Advertising Age's marketer of the year for 2008.

And a candidate’s religion is a part of the focus-group-tested advertising mix. Remember John McCain, who identified for a long-time as an Episcopalian, claiming in 2007, though un-baptized, to be a Baptist so that the right-wing religious base could lose their doubts about his religious credentials?

Though the Constitution’s only reference to religion is to forbid a religious test for government office, and though when a person becomes a politician we realize that their statements about their religion are overly-nuanced, professionally-orchestrated, public-relations-tested, and carefully staged, Americans still seem to want their leaders to convince them that they’re sincerely religious.

The previous president, no matter how little he personally knew about his own faith, the Bible, or anything religious, had so convinced the right-wing he was one of them that they hung on to him desperately, hoping he would validate their belief. No matter how he’d let them down, they desperately needed to believe he was one of their chosen, fundamentalist, pushers of their religion.

Religion is highly useful for politicians and others. It can be manipulated positively or negatively.

It’s most often used to support whatever it is - an idea, a position, an institution - that someone wants to promote by sanctifying it. That can be by finding Bible verses that seem to support what is a prejudice, choosing out of all of history the things to be considered “traditional values” while ignoring all else, or hiding behind a religious belief to save oneself from examining what it claims to promote.

By asserting the origins of something in the Divine, one doesn’t have to face the reality that it might be just a stupid idea someone holds onto that really ought to be given up.

Don’t hold me in any way responsible when I use it to push a political agenda. It’s not my self-rewarding prejudice. It’s God’s idea.

In a newly released poll conducted in mid-July by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service, 56 percent of Americans surveyed said it’s important for a presidential candidate to have “strong religious beliefs.” They claimed this was true whether or not those beliefs differed from their own.

Those who most agreed were white evangelicals at 73 percent and ethnic minority Christians at 74 percent. I assume these people can trust that their political choices are believable when they discuss their faiths.

The President’s religious stance, of course, has been part of a sustained attack by the right-wing including the religious right-wing. The poll indicated only one in three Americans identify Obama as a Christian, while 18 percent still think he’s a Muslim.

This is due to ignorance, of course. Just one in four Americans, including 44 percent of white evangelicals and 21 percent of ethnic minority Christians, could correctly identify Mitt Romney as a Mormon.

In fact, white evangelicals are the group most likely to say that they don’t know what Michele Bachmann’s beliefs are even though she attends a Baptist church. 51 percent did not know and only 35 percent said she had beliefs similar to them.

In not identifying the President as a Christian, there’s another element. It’s soothing to the religious and political right-wing who just doesn’t like Obama for a variety of other reasons to cling to the view that he’s not really a Christian, even if they don’t believe he’s a Muslim.

To believe that his more compassionate, approach to the poor and needy comes out of sayings of Jesus that the President actually quotes – “As you do to the least of these, you do to me.” – is to have to confront the idea that the right-wing Republican “let them eat cake,” destroy the safety net for the most vulnerable, could possibly be non-Christian.

That would be threatening. So, use religion to remove the threat. Justify your stand by refusing to believe Obama could be a Christian.

But then believe that those who are in agreement with your political stands must be very religious, that is, very religious in a right-wing Christian way. Republicans (70 percent) are more likely than Democrats (51 percent) to say strong religious beliefs are important, with those who identify with the Tea Party more likely to say it is “very” important.

And put your faith in what politicians tell you about the strength of their religious beliefs as if they aren’t salesmen selling a product because you have to do so. There would be no easy comfort in having to do the research into the candidates, their funders, and backgrounds, and thereby be high-information voters.

Better to believe God approves of these politicians, and that’s enough for me. Amen.

And that’s the way religion most often gets used in politics to sell its products.

Eighteen Suicides a Day

Eighteen U.S. veterans, on average, commit suicide every day. Eighteen. Every day.

That’s the latest statistic of one of the most under-reported costs of our wars. It adds up to more than are actually being killed in our on-going wars themselves.

There is still debate about how many Vietnam veterans have committed suicide on top of the more than 58,000 who died in that war. The number might be as low as the 1987 Centers for Disease Control estimate of 9,000 or as high as 200,000.

One retired VA doctor who supports the latter figure wrote that: “the reason the official suicide statistics were so much lower was that in many cases the suicides were documented as accidents, primarily single-car drunk driving accidents and self inflicted gunshot wounds that were not accompanied by a suicide note or statement.”

There are many messages one can take away from these grim statistics, but few as moving as the one that hit me as I watched a “60 Minutes” interview a while back with a young American soldier in Afghanistan.

He had just survived a firefight where he lost two close comrades. His interview was punctuated with the welling-up of tears that he continually fought back as he struggled to keep in place the mask of his war-assigned duty to cover up what was tearing him apart inside.

How damaging is the emotional toll for our men, and now some women, who must suppress the feelings that connect them to their humanity in order to fight wars for a system that parties away on the other side of the world, a system where their mostly well-off leaders tell them they must do this thing, and that they can earn no higher honor?

It was difficult enough for many of us to sit through the first thirty minutes of the box office hit “Saving Private Ryan” without turning our eyes away as bodies were blown apart and men cried out in agony before our eyes. What must the real experience have done to those men who endured the gruesome, relentless destruction of their comrades for days on the Normandy beaches?

One salty old Navy veteran of the actual event, confessed to me that he cried during those scenes in the film, adding: “I don’t know why.” It wasn’t like him to so react, but those feelings were obviously there in some depths he no longer believed he could access.

It’s still true that a major measure of manhood in our culture is a man’s willingness to go off somewhere to kill other men and be killed by other men. And this kill-or-be-killed agreement for something abstract like the “American way,” “freedom,” or “the country” constitutes proof for many that they did live up to what it is to be real men.

And if that is the measure of a man, then equality in patriarchal terms means women will also have to take upon themselves the idea that their life is as valuable only to the extent that they are willing to give it up.

Yet current impressions remain that women’s lives are more valuable than men’s in these matters. A woman taken in combat (think the Jessica Lynch capture and rescue fable the military cooked up) is still a much more tragic event in our media and political culture.

For men, let’s just keep the body count as low as possible. But a woman taken in combat indicates the enemy has fallen to new lows.

The justification for this difference was that men are somehow inherently violent. They’re more ruthless, competitive, and cutthroat in an inborn, genetic sense.

Internalizing this kill-or-be-killed ideal teaches men that their lives are important only to the extent that they sacrifice them at work, in sports, or in war, for their families, for the team, for the nation. We reward them for killing and dieing in the national interest.

To get men to internalize this message requires relentless monitoring. “Boys will be boys” supports the early version of this message: beat or be beaten. Boys enforce on each other that toughness and aggressiveness are valued, while nurturing, and being emotionally (other than sexually) moved by others is for girls.

Sympathetic emotions must be stuffed down as deeply as possible to get men to become fighters in life. The hurt, fear, and confusion all humans feel cannot bubble up or it will destroy the missions assigned to manhood.

Stuff them deep, boys and men. Keep them deep enough that they will never enter into your conscious judgment to infect how you decide to treat another human being, especially another male.

Should you feel any bond with the man who is your enemy in business as well as war, you are liable to wimp out. And that is still for sissies.

Our men are suffering post-traumatic stress disorder not just because of what they witnessed but because they are human beings - as fully human as our women - who are being asked to do something far out of touch with their humanity. And like it.

They are still those little boys they once were whose minds had to be worked on relentlessly to get them to believe that war was their manly duty. And fear of what would happen to them if they did not conform meant they had to deny all within that could threaten the profitable agenda of the military-industrial-prison-media complex.

They did not want to be considered queer for staying in touch with what still lies down deep within and conflicts with what they’ve been told they must do. They did not want, after all, to be treated the way society has treated gay men.

They came to believe that the alternatives to living this version of manhood could be death, humiliation, and rejection. For they knew that this American warrior code still says a man will get rewarded for killing another man, but can be killed for loving another man.

So, What Are We Going to Do About It?

I’ve learned that asking that question is a way to stop many discussions, especially those that have degenerated into complaining about whatever those in authority are doing to the rest of us. I won’t attend another meeting if I suspect that it’s just another rehearsal of how awful the boss, an administration, the right-wing, those people, whomever, or whatever, continues to be.

It doesn’t matter where people are on the political spectrum as to how they fall in the spectrum of responses to a call to do something. But it does matter to us if we really want to stop what’s hurting us.

Some people get stuck. Their response to discrimination and injustice is to continue to go on about just how awful things are.

They can teach us the history of the problem as well as how systemic it is. They can be telling the truth, but their actions often stop there.

How many books by great thinkers whom I admire are thoughtful, accurate, enlightening discourses on the history and depth of problems with the only solution offered being that it helps to understand how entrenched it all is? But understanding is never an end; we understand in order to respond to our knowledge, whether it opens us up or turns us inward.

How many have experienced this limitation in their education? The Humanities and Social Sciences in most universities fall into this category, leaving students in the depths of problems with little more than a wish of “good luck with that.”

If these liberal arts professors were to start teaching students solutions, they’d be criticized by their colleagues for not being objective, and threatened with never earning tenure or a merit raise. They’re already labeled leftists, so they must be careful not to sound biased in favor of changing anything.

Of course, if professors are in fields designed to promote the current socio-economic system, such as business, they’re expected to flow with advice. And it’s handsomely rewarded as “consulting” with higher paychecks.

Make no mistake. We need people who bring to light the latest selfish, shortsighted, bigoted strategies of the religious-political-economic-military right-wing. We need to know what’s really going on with them.

The existence of progressive talk radio and the evening lineup on MSNBC has clearly changed the discussion. It keeps, for example, the Koch brothers and the multitude of on-going attacks on labor that they bankroll in the news when mainstream media would rather move on and take the spotlight off its potential advertisers.

The popularity of blogging has given people the feeling that just sitting down at their computer and complaining about the world is doing something. It requires no face-face-to-face contact with its readers or the powers that be, and often spreads a blogger’s cynicism and hopelessness.

Online petitions continue to proliferate even though we’re not always sure that they get us anywhere. And though I’m just happy someone is doing something, anything, such as an online petition, the process can become an easy substitute for the legwork of being an agent of change.

Then there are those of us who turn the issues on each other. Instead of the real change work of fighting the oppressors and the powers that dominate us, we pick on those of us who are doing something because it doesn’t represent the purer view of how the victims of oppression should act that we espouse.

This is both personal and political. Getting stuck in these ways without helping all of us with what it takes to change things often arises out of a feeling of hopelessness. And here is a key point: hopelessness is, after all, a secondary emotion that covers deeper fear, confusion, and hurt.

Acting out of hopelessness and cynicism is not personally healing. It instead spreads ones own feelings of hopelessness to others, as a substitute for confronting the root, underlying personal hopelessness.

Hopelessness and cynicism are easier to feel than the terror that it’s going to get worse for me personally, that what’s going on in the world is going to attack me. They substitute for admitting to ourselves that we don’t have the answers or the power to change things.

They result from feeling isolated in the struggle while they serve to promote that very loneliness. They fester because of a lack of healthy community or in groups dedicated to building monuments to shared hopelessness and cynicism.

No matter how connected, online can be a lonely place. No matter how many people are out there, or how popular ones blog is, these cannot substitute for voice-to-voice, face-to-face, shoulder-to-shoulder participation in a community strategizing and fighting together to promote, control, or prevent change.

Hopelessness is a real feeling. Hope, however, is a choice that must be remade every time things look worse.

So, want hope in the midst of what’s going on, instead of cynicism and despair? Listen to the voices of those who have won change when the odds seemed stacked against them.

Paul Rogat Loeb’s The Impossible Will Take a While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear (2004) has collected many of these voices. “Hope,” Loeb quotes one writer, “is believing in spite of the evidence, then watching the evidence change.”

And listen to Alice Walker’s poem, “Once” (1968):

It is true –
I’ve always loved
the daring

Like the black young
Who tried
To crash
All barriers
at once,
wanted to
At a white
beach (in Alabama)


Re-Using the Religious Right-Wing for 2012

Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow at the People for the American Way Foundation, is closely following the current courting of the religious right-wing by the Koch-funded astroturf group, Americans for Prosperity. The Koch brothers see to it through this grassroots Tea Party front group that their anti-workers agenda moves forward by provoking its very victims to cover for them.

Meanwhile, fresh from the Jack Abramoff bribery scandal, Ralph Reed is back to promote his Faith and Freedom Coalition, a partnership of the religious right-wing and the ostensibly secular Tea Party for a get-out-the-vote operation aimed at the 2012 elections. Reed is again promising to turn out the religious right-wing vote for the GOP.

In March, Reed’s organization hosted the over-hyped Iowa gathering of GOP presidential contenders. And Tim Phillips, the president of Koch’s Americans for Prosperity, was a panelist for the religious right’s “Awakening Conference” in April at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.

We can expect the media to trot out the idea that “values voters” are the key to the next election. It’s a trope promoted by the right-wing itself that was endlessly repeated by corporate media’s analysis of the 2000 and 2004 elections in the same way they now continually over-inflate the threat of tea-partiers.

Using the religious right-wing by economic conservatives to do their bidding in creating oligarchy is nothing new. And it’s very easy to do, given the insecurities, fears, and victimhood promoted by right-wing religious leaders and teachings.

As we watched it come to a head during the Bush era, members of the religious right-wing are eminently useable targets for those who can convince them they have their religious vision at heart. It’s a scam, certainly, as Thomas Frank pointed out in 2004 in What’s the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.

We’re not talking about stupid or powerless people when we analyze the religious right-wing. It’s just, frankly, that they’re easy marks who desperately needed this well-honed scam to be true back then as they need it to be now.

“Right-wing Christians were ripe for the picking by economic conservatives who may or may not have agreed with right-wing Christian doctrines but embraced this new political strategy that could further the high of righteousness upon which right-wing believers were dependent.” (When Religion Is an Addiction, 2007)

Back then the Neo-Conservative gang that included Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and John McCain had few religious beliefs in common with them, and none that would be central to conservative evangelical altar calls. But their message discipline told them what to say, what not to say, and how to manipulate familiar right-wing religious symbols.

They fed “W” just enough religious language, and used the right images, to allure the religious right-wing into thinking Bush was of their ilk. And no matter how Bush let them down, they so needed to see him as a good Christian, that they could not be fact-based.

Topeka’s notorious hate-preacher Fred Phelps is just the extreme case of this broader religious right-wing need. To get attention and justification for his otherwise forgettable, insignificant little crew of family members, which he can no longer get from the local media, he must conceive of ever more obnoxious, more attention-getting protests.

And Phelps gets his attention needs filled when he does. Ask the nobody Florida preacher who last September threatened to burn a Q’uran -- and then in March after the month of media attention died down, did so -- how he gets his attention needs met.

FOX continues to know how to take advantage of the religious right-wing’s need for attention and affirmation. Giving them undo publicity and heft, its thoroughly secular, or at best loosely Christian, pundits like Bill O’Reilly find cover for FOX personalities’ transgressions, sexual exploits, and off-color language.

There’s nothing like a come-to-Jesus, story for them. And Newt is doing his best to exploit their need for a savior alongside his third wife, arguing in books strategically named Rediscovering God in America that he’s an expert at real evangelicalism -- or is it Catholicism (whatever works)?

There’s more neediness than ever among the religious right-wing after the election of the personification of its enemy in 2008. The fact that a March Harris poll found 14% of Americans (24% of Republicans) agreeing that Obama might be the anti-Christ, fits with estimates of the percentage of Americans who are authoritative personalities and use religion addictively.

Anti-Christ or Alien symbolism reinforces the radical religious right-wing’s crusade to defeat Obama at all costs and why the secular economic conservatives will be able to use the religious right-wing again.

David Koch and his brother aren’t known for their religiosity. Neither is Grover Norquist, the radical economic conservative who wants the federal government small enough to drown in a bathtub, who joined the board of the right-wing gay Republicans called GOProud, and whose group received $60,000 from a Charles Koch-headed foundation.

But Norquist was also on an Awakening Conference panel to promote conservatives doing the legwork for “limited government.”

So, no matter what we’d rather think about these sincere religious people, to make a difference we’re going to have to remember that we are dealing with a pathology that feeds their use of religion. We’re not just talking to people with an intellectual misunderstanding.

This means we have to accept that we are talking about, and to, people who are getting psychological needs met through political affirmation of their religious beliefs. We have to understand that this comes from a deep down unbelief, a fear that their god (and so they) might lose.

It explains why both the political and religious right will lie, cheat and, yes, steal to save the world from the Anti-Christ, whether they see that as Obama or not. And it means our task is to continue to model what it is like to believe in progressive values such as equality, compassion, and community, but not enable their psychosis.

A Movement for Real Change We Can Believe In

There’s so much happening politically that looks like a war on democracy that I haven’t been able to focus on the status of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” since it was “ended,” or the progress, or lack thereof, of civil unions and marriage equality. I have faith that others are doing so.

I do care. I’ve always advocated that LGBT people have the right to every sick institution straight people “enjoy.”

What’s going on beyond the politics of marriage equality and military service really concerns me because of its direct effect on the success and health of everything in which LGBT people want their share.

I want a nation where human beings, health, families, communities, children, adults, and peace on earth flourish. I want people to see that we’re all in this together and not about getting my own piece of the pie and letting others fight for any crumbs.

I was hoping that it wasn’t even a Freudian slip, when popular CNBC business commentator Larry Kudlow said of the Japanese disaster: “The human toll here looks to be much worse than the economic toll and we can be grateful for that.” I’m surprised he didn’t add how thankful he was that endless pictures of Japanese suffering moved the American people’s protests off media’s front pages.

We wouldn’t hear how a Wisconsin governor who left his university in disgrace without finishing his degree after committing fraud in a student government election does the bidding of the richest in the country. Worse yet, that playbook endorsed by radical right-wing funders like Wichita’s Koch brothers, is being used nationwide to solidify corporate rule.

In state after state, the blueprint is to take away the ability of the bottom 80% of the country to organize through labor and professional unions and what’s left of the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, so as to solidify control by those in the top 5% who have increased their share of the wealth over the last twenty years while the remainder stagnated.

It’s not enough that the Supreme Court’s shameful overreach in Citizen’s United opened the floodgates to corporate purchasing of those who pretend to represent the people. It’s to ensure that no avenues exist for the majority to influence American policies.

The Michigan Republican Governor and legislature even gave the governor the power to remove democratically elected representatives at all levels of local government and replace them with corporate managers. In other states, voter ID laws and anti-labor acts pass to disenfranchise their citizens.

It’s hard to believe that the human toll of these actions doesn’t move their promoters. But these ideologies include blinders that prevent sympathy with the hardships of the masses. Only individual charity they can take credit for counts.

While the power of the base of the Democratic Party is thereby being eroded around the country, Democratic leadership in the White House and Congress hunker down to see how they can come out of all this in the next elections. They go on about cooperation and bipartisanship, which means Democrats conceding to Republicans on these issues, not visa versa.

There’s little, personally, for most politicians to worry about, Democrat or Republican. Most will benefit financially from corporate takeover.

Even losing, they’ll collect their public pensions and find secure, more lucrative jobs as lobbyists and consultants. And when they yak about pain to go around, they mean suffering for working people, not their funders.

A recent headline says the White House is going to try to determine what will fire up its base. Blindness must rule that bubble, for all they need to do is look around at what’s happening.

Egypt, Bahrain, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen showed that people could no longer trust that those at the top cared about their welfare. When Mubaraq and his rich banker son fell in Egypt, working people worldwide realized that believable hope is in themselves.

Back here it started with Wisconsin, and Indiana, and Michigan. People saw that they would have to lead any change. No expensive politician would protect them from the growing oligarchy that wanted the world.

They had to endure a mainstream media that didn’t get it because it didn’t want to recognize grassroots leadership. They had to accept being called an unruly mob by the right-wing even though they were committed to non-violent resistance.

They had to hear themselves talked about as outsiders, even if they grew up in the state whose strategies they were protesting. They had to expose behind-the-scenes corporate funders who were taking over their elected officials, homes, farms, and infrastructure.

They had to use tactics that would be criticized, even punished, by conservative leaders, such as leaving their state to prevent a quorum. And they had to endure a relentless beat as it continued on with the hope of grinding them down to cast them into the dustbin of history.

There is now a tension, a tension that the oligarchy hopes it will win. The Koch brothers and there kind, Rupert Murdoch and his FOX Channel, ideologues and Limbaughs on the right-wing, and Wall Street and Banker fat-cats are betting that people will get tired, the rallies will fade away, voters will forget, workers will become afraid of losing the little they still have, and all will go back to “the new normal.”

But this is a movement of the majority. There are more workers than there are bosses.

This is a movement that began realizing we can’t rely on Obama and Reid. At best we can cheer the “Wisconsin 8.”

It’s a movement that must sustain itself with the anger, frustration, heart, and soul that unites people, whether they consider themselves working or middle class. They are united in a fight, not against each other -- not straight vs. gay, white vs. people of color, or men vs. women -- but against those who are shifting the country’s wealth from all of its people to a select few who can only hide in their gated communities for so long before those who enable, and literally guard, them say: “No more.”

Egyptian Hope; American Pessimism

The world watched as younger generations in Egypt rose up against the old guard represented by 82-year-old Hosni Mubarak, who had been their President as long as most could remember.

On February 11, his Vice President, Omar Suleiman, announced that Mubarak had resigned, transferring authority to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces following 18 days of protests challenging his nearly 30 years of rule.

Most mainstream American media tried to get us to understand what was happening in corporate media’s terms. Run by major multinational conglomerates and funded by huge corporate advertisers, they did their best to keep our eyes glued to their screens and our minds interpreting the events in ways they could understand.

The White House reportedly watched events on the English version of independent Arabic-language news network Al Jazeera, which scares American politicians to death. American cable censored their reporting of Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Egypt from American eyes.

Corporate media filters ensured that Egypt would be seen in terms that are best for American business. Since we had propped up Mubarak by selling arms to his military, which made bokoo bucks for our arms industry, he was labeled s a “friend of the US,” which means “of US corporations.”

Like the ruthless old Shah, whom our CIA put back in office in 1953 by overthrowing Iran’s democratically elected president, Mohammad Mosaddegh, Mubarak could be counted on to spend money on us. It was about our oil companies then just as it’s about our arms-makers’ profits now.

In spite of criticism from the right to center-left, our President – thankfully -- stood back with a message of support for the workings of democracy. While media pundits encouraged us to interfere, Obama allowed Egyptian people in their squares to determine their own agenda.

So-called media experts from the right and center threatened us again with the specter of “radical Islam” or stereotypes of “Islam” in general. To be feared was “the Muslim Brotherhood,” officially the Society of the Muslim Brothers, which was founded in Egypt.

The Brotherhood actually condemned the 9/11 attacks as well as all terrorism, and has so far had little influence on these young protesters, but is invoked to scare. In reality, even this group’s actions were dominated by a younger generation that wants Egypt to be a more open society and is not the same type of group as “Brotherhoods” in other Arab nations.

One hero for these protesters was secularist, Muhammad al-Barada’i, who had fled Mubarak’s wrath. Not a “friend” of past US administrations, we vilified him for reporting there were no WMD’s in Iraq as head of the UN’s Atomic Energy Commission while the world awarded him a Nobel Peace Prize.

Another hero was Egyptian Google marketing manager, 30-year-old Wael Ghonim, who wants to bring Egypt into the 21st century. Jailed for 12 days by Mubarak’s goons, he was a prominent leader of the protests. On January 25th he Tweeted: “Dear Western Governments, You’ve been silent for 30 years supporting the regime that was oppressing us. Please don’t get involved now.”

If threats of scary Muslims weren’t enough, American media used the headline “Concern for WMD Research in Egypt.” Did corporate media prefer another Iraq-style invasion?

In reality, Egyptian options are open enough that the Wall Street Journal could begrudgingly editorialize: “An Egyptian Iran may also be the least plausible scenario.”

What scared the media and our power brokers most was the fact that this was a real grassroots movement. Using the new media such as Facebook and Twitter, twenty- and thirty-something professionals planned and led the people into the squares.

The same new media that multi-nationals hope will distract youth from challenging the powers, was used to orchestrate the downfall of one of the ruthless. Instead of tweeting about inane, self-centered egoism, Egyptian young people used it to empower themselves for political and social change.

These were not people waiting for top-down action to lead them to their future. They were not taught to believe that the solution to our problems is electing the right leaders from a very limited number of bought-out choices who will heroically bring “change you can believe in.”

Their educations and history were steeped in the stories of the uprisings of ordinary people, casting out colonial powers, and knowing how even presidents they supposedly elected were invested in protecting politicians’ powerful benefactors.

They weren’t convinced that effective education was measured in the useless, inherently conservative answers considered correct on standardized tests created and produced by profit-oriented corporations that fear change. They believed in themselves.

They actually had read some of our great, people-oriented writers like Noam Chomsky and historian Howard Zinn. You know, the ones considered too “radical” for official, approved, American education.

They therefore knew they could choose hope. They didn’t settle in as jaded pessimists as many of those in power hope we all will, and many of our young people tragically have.

“Pessimism,” Zinn wrote in You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train (1994), “becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; it reproduces itself by crippling our willingness to act.”

"That you can't change City Hall is a rumor being spread by City Hall," wrote African American lesbian writer-activist Audre Lorde. That there’s no hope for us to change things, she advised, is just what those with the power want us to believe.

Democracy can be messy and unpredictable. It’s scary for those who must wield control. In this case, though, it actually included cleaning up Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo after word of Mubarak’s fall.

Democracy has its victims. But when corporations kill, all’s very neat, tidy, and controlled.

We can see the difference when we walk into the neat, controlled, corporate-certified environment of Starbucks where even access to local media is limited, but then go next door where a local coffee shop provides its unique atmosphere and a disorganized variety of citizen-produced media that remind us of the messiness of true democracy.

“Hope,” workers’ writer Studs Terkel reminds us, “has never trickled down. It has always sprung up.”

Marriage. Where Are We Now?

With November’s poll results, marriage equality continues to fail when put on the ballot. We can’t ignore the progress that’s been made, but the American people remain an easy mark for those who claim protecting marriage involves denying it to LGBT people.

If we use marriage as the measure of what’s happening for LGBT people in the country, we’ve chosen the wrong measure. It’s a sensational issue, for sure. On both sides, national organizations have bet donation asks on it. But expect more disappointments ahead.

A better measure of progress is the success of non-discrimination ordinances particularly on the local level. Here’s where everyday people are.

As in Kalamazoo and Salt Lake City, these changes aren’t confined to gay havens on the coasts and our largest cities. And the Mormon Church supporting a non-discrimination ordinance in Salt Lake after buying anti-marriage votes around the country, is a telling sign of the symbolic place of marriage in American politics and consciousness.

In addition, the reaffirmation of legal civil union rights in Washington state, tells us that there is something about the idea of marriage that keeps us stuck. It’s beyond any homophobia, the politics of wedge issues, its success in money-raising for anti-gay organizations, and all the religious justifications for anti-gay prejudice.

LGBT people are the scapegoats, and the ballot measures extending marriage equality are lightening rods, for what marriage really means to people in the US. Marriage is itself the problem.

Those who have fought tirelessly in Maine, California, and the forty other states where it’s illegal, with thirty also banning it constitutionally, should not be scorned. The battle is an up-hill one because of what “marriage” deeply says to most people.

Marriage is not just a legal concept here. If it were, it would already be as successful as civil unions.

It’s a symbol, like motherhood, Santa Claus, and the flag. It not only symbolizes an ideal people go on about and LGBT people would like to get in on, but a guilt-inducing reality that’s doing very poorly for most people.

LGBT people hold the ideal itself in their hopes. In terms of human rights, they have the right to every sick, failing institution straight people have.

But it’s the actual reality in the light of the ideal that marriage symbolizes that keeps it an issue for those who would deny it to LGBT people.

Marriage for many symbolizes dashed hopes. Fifty percent fail. That doesn’t mean the other fifty percent are personally living in the bliss that marriage is supposed to bring them.

We’re not just talking about people who stay together with abusive spouses because the exiting is scary, or those who feel that they could never do better. Living as if one has compromised one’s life, done the best they could, settled for inevitable disappointment, and just agreed to make it through, is what marriage has become for many.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if marriage hadn’t promised so much more. It wouldn’t be so disappointing if it hadn’t been idealized and pushed by our social, economic, and religious institutions, and most media.

Its expectations are so high that when they don’t materialize, it becomes more a symbol that highlights the personal failings to meet the ideal for those who embrace it. Something about them – their character, their personality, their bad choices, their inadequacies – the symbol reminds them, is to blame for their disappointment.

The symbol is full of mythology represented in that ideal, commercially lucrative marriage ceremony followed by a honeymoon that lasts forever, the intertwining of the two in harmony, and the sex that will become better and better as they grow emotionally closer.

Marriage, the symbol, is supposed to involve happily-ever-after-ness, or, at least, personal fulfillment. It’s supposed to save us from our loneliness and provide a companion who always accepts us just the way we are, warts and all.

Why, then, the joke: that scientists have found a food that stifles peoples’ sex drives – wedding cake? Why, then, the wives who report being lonely in their marriages, or the men who have decided they’d rather be workaholics than find their fulfillment at home?

Why, then, the complaints that the romance is gone, “the honeymoon is over,” and the incessant justifications that all this is normal? Why, then, the feeling that this person has not fulfilled the needs they were supposed to fill in marriage? Why does the grass start looking greener elsewhere even when one has committed to always keep it mowed here?

As long as the symbol claims to represent ideals that are probably unrealistic or seldom realizable, marriage is more likely to symbolize one’s personal failure to have attained these ideals. It will remind us we have failed.

There might be some who have the ideal. They’re out there somewhere, but they’re not us.

When asked, many married people are in denial. Facing its failings for those who have not divorced would enforce the sense of one’s personal failure.

Denial is rife. Evidence those who are totally surprised that there is anything wrong with their marriage when a spouse announces they’re unhappy and want a divorce.

It’s not that all the fifty-percent that are still together are unhappy. But we see again the principle that those who are the least secure are more likely to project their problems on others.

To the extent that marriage really symbolizes disappointment, failure, and insecurity, to that extent I must “protect” it all the more and project my emotional problems on others, like LGBT people. I overreact by denying it to others.

The future of marriage is not bright in itself. Our broader culture would rather blame than take a deep look at what we are expecting from a very sick institution.

It would be nice to believe sooner than later that LGBT people will be allowed to participate legally in this symbol. Less likely is the fact that the institution will become a more successful one.

If marriage were now, though, LGBT people wouldn’t be its scapegoats.

Is Huckabee the Right-Wing’s Savior?

The Christian right-wing is painfully anxious. The addicted among them are increasingly desperate for the new pusher to deliver the high of feeling righteous they had felt before the Bush administration let them down.

They hung on as long as they could, repeating the mantra that no matter what he did, W really, really must be “a good Christian man.” As his administration comes apart under investigations from which they thought a Republican Congress would eternally protect them and exposés showing that its primary interest is serving corporate greed, they’re afraid of the failure of their belief.

Those who can’t let go, still needing Bush to deliver proof that their righteousness is genuine, face the administration’s end (without The Rapture having saved them yet) and the fear that there is no Republican dealer on the horizon. Who will lead government in righteous causes, their using activities? Who will help them feel they really are righteous victors after all?

Is there the prospect of another fix, hopefully stronger, to relieve their anxieties? Or must they face themselves and reality cold turkey, without their current political drug?

As if fulfilling their predictions of Christ’s return on the Mount of Olives, enter former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee. Huckabee says he’s “the Christian candidate” among Republican pretenders.

He’s pulled it off effectively enough to scare Mitt Romney into soft-peddling the beliefs that make the Christian right-wing label Mormons an anti-Christian cult. He’s scared the others into religious gymnastics in fear that they’ll lose the Christian right-wing vote.

With the folksy ability to charm the public perfected as a professional Southern Baptist preacher who knows what to say when, the closeting of his belief in hell and damnation for those who reject his sectarian salvation in order to sport the facade of compassion that televangelists like Joel Osteen have perfected, and his pastorly ability to save money with free labor from the faithful (“volunteers”) to do his political work and prove thereby that they really believe, Huckabee is poised to be the Christian right-wing’s savior.

He knows how to be president already. He maneuvered politically enough to become past president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. And, as he testified to the 1998 Convention, he entered politics because: “I knew government didn’t have the real answers, that the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives.”

Now the conservative political coalition that provided the political fix the religious right-wing needed for its current high is showing its inner sectarianism, and it could look like a church fight. Can the economic conservatives, military conservatives, and social conservatives hold together?

None other than Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, a group that began socially right-wing but bought into the full three-part conservative political hope, pronounced on MSNBC’s “Hardball” last month that Huckabee is “a liberal” because he doesn’t accept their whole agenda. That’s the ultimate putdown to scare the addicted.

Criticism wasn’t necessary until Huckabee became a winner in Iowa. There 80% of his supporters identified as “conservative Christians.”

Huckabee represents the Neocon playing to the Christian right-wing coming home to roost. The religiously addicted need him now.

They believe he represents that 2008 buzzword, “change.” And there are young religious conservatives who love his message and its public facade of inclusivism. An on-line network of 12,000 campaign volunteers calls itself Huck’s Army. One of its 19-year old founders, Alex Harris, says: “we are not going to have to be embarrassed about him.”

But leaders representing both the right-wing Christian machine and the right-wing economic machine care little about Huckabee’s social agenda if he threatens their pocketbooks. They’re afraid Huckabee’s not far enough to the economic right. They want even more corporate control of the country than they gained under Bush, not face the possibility that preferences for the rich could be turned back.

So, right-wing leaders are endorsing candidates more likely to preserve their economic gains under Bush. Kansas right-wing Opus Dei Senator Sam Brownback endorsed John McCain. Right-wing millionaire televangelist Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani. Tony Perkins and his Family Research Council endorsed Romney. Gary Bauer, former president of the Family Research Council and president of American Values endorsed Fred Thompson. Paul Weyrich, founder of the Moral Majority and the Heritage Foundation endorsed Romney.

Even powerful right-wing political operative James Dobson of Focus on the Family officially only noted enthusiastically that Huckabee did well in Iowa. Dobson’s strategy, understand, is to support what preserves his political power. So, expect him to endorse a likely winner when it isn’t too early to know whom.

The members of the Republican establishment don’t want any religious conservative to spoil their economic gains either. Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal editorial page labeled Huckabee “religious left.” Right-wing talker Rush Limbaugh accused him of “class warfare.”

Still, the religious right-wing desperately needs a savior. It needs a political leader who can deal that feeling of righteousness they sought from Bush.

They’re looking for “change,” all right, but that’s a change to more assurance that their regressive social agenda that breaks down the wall of separation between their religious establishment and the government will be accomplished. It means more attempts to turn US citizens into people who are Fundamentalist-acting, like them.

Huckabee knows not to make their agenda appear mean. He’s a polished professional who’s perfected how to woo the flock he needs behind him to become a president.

When people look back at his intemperate right-wing statements of the past, he knows how to deflect their objections with charm and a smile. No need to take them back.

So, when confronted with his 1992 position that homosexuality “could pose a dangerous health risk” and, therefore, AIDS patients should be isolated from the general public, he doesn’t repent. He uses a chronological defense without revealing where he now stands.

Beware of Huckabees in sheep’s clothing. He's the tip of the theocratic iceberg.

Even images in the book of Revelation portray evil coming in the features of a lamb. And not all change is progress.

Now We Know, But Do We Want To?

We’ve been wondering why the Democrats talk a good line of opposition to the occupation of Iraq, all President’s crimes, and, especially, torture. There’s a lot of sound and fury, but when it comes to denying a Bush Attorney General nominee, or exploring impeachment, Democratic leadership caves in to whatever Bush and Cheney want.

From the beginning of her leadership, in spite of protests and a resolution this year led by good ole Dennis Kucinich, Speaker Nancy Pelosi says, “impeachment is off the table.” She’s even tamed firebrand John Conyers, chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

We now realize that Democrats who were elected to represent us have settled in as managers. We’ve learned that “managing” means calculating how representatives should vote based upon re-election prejections so that any final tally produces the result the managers need without threatening election prospects and corporate sponsors.

Democratic leaders keep talking about how they must manage the House and Senate. Yet, in the process, their “leadership” is so far behind the progressive views of the majority of Americans that dwindling public respect for the Democratic Congress reflects only the fact that it appears less bad than corrupt, corporate Republican alternatives.

A December expose in the Washington Post reveals another possible explanation for all the tough Democratic talk that lacks real substance. It helps us understand why Attorney General nominee Mukasey -- who couldn’t say waterboarding was torture for fear that criminal indictments would result against Bush-Cheney -- was a shoe-in after all the anti-torture posturing by Democratic leaders.

In September 2002, we now learn, two Democrats, Nancy Pelosi and Bob Graham, were among four members of Congress briefed by the Bush administration in secret about their use of torture as part of a CIA program. Waterboarding was one of the techniques presented during “a virtual tour of the CIA’s overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques investigators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.”

Staff attendees report that no objections were raised and “the briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough.” There were about 30 such private briefings during 2002 and 2003 with only one formal objection raised.

As of this writing, Pelosi has declined to comment. One congressional source said she did recall discussions about “enhanced interrogation” and that she raised no objections.

Tell me it isn’t so, but one of the real dangers of pursuing critiques and even accusations of crimes by this administration is that Democratic leadership might also be implicated. The administration’s claims that congressional representatives were informed about, and approved of, torture now seem to be accurate.

In some ways this seems like blackmail, doesn’t it? But as a result, we have another case where politicians are going to have to create other persona because their past has been so wrong.

Both the Republican and Democratic frontrunners for their presidential nominations have had to create persona involving finessing their pasts and reconstructing their present. Flip-flopping? Spinning? Downplaying? Shooting the messenger? Falsifying? You bet.

They’ve learned that the media is looking for an image not a person. So, they have staff to help them create, develop, test how they better appear.

One exception is Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich. He’s been right all along. On Iraq, on torture, on domestic eavesdropping, on the last two presidential elections, on administration crimes, on LGBT issues. You name it.

Even as Mayor of Cleveland in the late seventies when he stood up against big utility and bank pressure to privatize the city’s electric utility and lost re-election for it, the result was Clevelanders now realize that he had their interests at heart. They can see it in their low utility bills today.

Twenty years later Cleveland’s city council honored him for the "courage and foresight" to stand up to the banks and for saving the city an estimated $195 million between 1985 and 1995. He’s been reelected to represent Ohio’s tenth district five times.

Kucinich doesn’t have to create a covering image of himself, a role for TV. So he doesn’t. He just presents himself as who he is, a plain human being with drive, specific programs, and even flaws.

The media not only ask, “but can he win?” They provide us with image-based reasons that he can’t. Not only is it his height or haircut. It’s that he refuses to put on an image. He votes consistently with his conscience. And he has nothing to hide.

The media ignore him – he gives them no show-biz image to hype. The Democratic Party’s image consultants, -- making tons of cash every election cycle creating candidates -- wish he’d just go away.

The other Democratic candidates can’t keep up with his truthfulness. They’re too busy fudging, flipping, polling, and corporate fund-raising like good Republicans.

And maybe we don’t want another president like Jimmy Carter. He was the last of the real human beings. We’ve been told to believe that though he was, and is, a great guy, he made a lousy president for these very same reasons. He was no actor.

His actor successor, Ronald Reagan, changed that. He skyrocketed the national debt, still raised taxes, never spoke the word AIDS while tens of thousands died, and let our infrastructure suffer.

How can a man I remember as a terrible president now be someone every Republican candidate invokes with awe and reverence? It’s the image, man!

And the public gets caught up in all this hype and hoopla. We’re attracted to political images just as we’re attracted to other actors, glitzy sports celebrities, and show-biz creatures, like Paris Hilton or Barry Bonds.

Real humans are out of luck when it comes to support from our institutions. Our institutions have been pushing inhuman roles – gender, consumer, warrior -- on us for generations to keep profits soaring.

But don’t we the people feel down deep somewhere that the ones who are imageless human beings are right? Are we too afraid to say so? Too afraid we’ll not be in sync with the crowd? Too afraid we’ll look strange if we do?

Can an open human being be president? Why not? But only if we demand it.

Let Them Hit Bottom

There are clear signs that right-wing dominance is waning. But it’s not time for us to celebrate or think that their fall is irreversible.

It’s time instead to make sure we aren’t under them, trying to prop up their egos, while they fall. It’s time to ensure we aren’t enablers who keep what isn’t going to be a pretty sight from happening. It’s time we repeated clearly, out-loud what we really believe is true and that it is not what they’ve been telling us.

It’s all common knowledge in addiction theory. Hitting rock bottom is crucial. It’s inevitable only if enablers don’t slow the fall or soften the final thud so addicts don’t get to feel what they must to realize that they need to change their ways.

The desperate, fevered activity of the religious-political right-wing to get their own righteousness enshrined in the whole country reflects fear that their time is coming to an end. They believed in Bush as their last hope. Now the leading Republican candidates for the presidency have them even more worried. They’re losing faith and looking for another messiah to cling this season.

Even the Christian right-wing stars can’t agree. Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani in November while James Dobson threatens to form a third party if Rudy is the candidate.

As Democratic candidates also adjust their values to get elected, though, maybe Hillary will become the conservative’s best hope. She certainly has conservative big business behind her already with what matters most to it – investments in her

The signs are all over that as we baby boomers die off, the religious and political landscape is going to change. What’s called the millennial generation, those born between 1978 and 1996, is very different.

They are the most diverse generation ever with nearly 40% from minority groups. Numbering about 80 million, they voted for Democrats in the 2006 election by 22 percent. One study indicates that they volunteer at the highest level ever recorded for youth in 40 years.

Polls reveal that they are extremely concerned about the environment. They support gay marriage by 56%. 63% believe that government should be more involved in solving the country’s problems, and 62% favor tax-financed, government-administered universal health care.

Studies of the millennials don’t give right-wing religion and its current expression in politics much hope. 74% say that the “people’s will” should have more influence on US laws than the Bible.

And a 2007 study by the Barna Research Group, a conservative, non-profit research corporation that advises Christians about how to become more effective, is even less hopeful for the right-wing. In a new book co-authored by its president, David Kinnaman, entitled unChristian: What a New Generation Thinks about Christianity and Why It Matters, and published by conservative Baker Books, the statistics should be especially unnerving to them.

Kinnaman’s interpretation, however, seems to enable the right-wing to believe it’s not the fault of their mean-spirited quest for control of the country and every soul in it. So, I expect his spin will give them an out. They won’t have to question their fundamental problems.

For the rest of us, it’s good news. It reflects the fact that addictive religion and its pushers are unappealing to many of these millennials.

It’s not just that it shows that 40% of 16-29 year-olds identify as atheists, agnostics, adherents of non-Christian religions, and those who have no faith orientation. That compares to only 25% of adults over 40 who so identify.

More interesting is that 16-29 years olds are far more critical toward, and even resistant to, Christianity than the same age group was a decade ago. Ten years ago a large majority of Americans outside Christianity felt favorable toward Christianity and its role in society.

Now a mere 16% of those who identify as non-Christians in the age group said they have a “good impression of Christianity” The skepticism has been growing quickly among the young.

One can assume that the “Christianity” millennials are reacting to is the dominant, outspoken version that they overwhelmingly experience in the media -- conservative, fundamentalist, and right-wing. What is most telling is that they judge those who do identify as Christian conservatives, such as Evangelicals, in the harshest terms.

Only 3% of 16 to 29 year-olds who identify as non-Christian express favorable views of conservative Christianity compared to 25% of those who did in past baby boomer generation surveys.

When 16-29 year-olds were questioned about ten favorable and ten unfavorable images of these Christians, 87% marked judgmental, 85% marked hypocritical, 78% marked old-fashioned, and 75% said Christians were too involved in politics.

On top of that, among “favorable” attributes, 82% of non-Christians thought that Christianity teaches the same basic ideas as other religions. The Christian right-wing must hate that. They believe they’re the only ones teaching the Truth. Those other religions that “reject Christ” are doomed.

Even half of the young people who qualify as Christians by the Barna Group’s criteria perceived Christianity as judgmental, hypocritical and too political. A third said it’s out of touch with reality.

And the most common perception is that Christianity’s image today is “anti-homosexual.” 91% of non-Christians and 80% of young church-goers said so and followed up with claims that Christians go out of their way to show contempt and unloving attitudes toward lesbians and gay men. Even 22% of self-identified “born-again” young people without prompting on the survey said: “Christianity in today’s society no longer looks like Jesus.”

Like others, religious addicts will blame everything but themselves for all of this – you, me, Hollywood, culture, liberals, atheists, professors. You know the list.

They won’t interpret this as their fault because they need to believe that their righteous stance comes directly from God. It has nothing to do with their bigotry, insecurity, and refusal to deal with their problems.

But we know the cause because outside the addiction we’ve seen it. And what we can do is make sure we say so.

“T” and the Rest of Us Are Told to Wait Again

The last time Congress tried to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in 1996 without including transgender people -- we were told then that leaving gender identity out was the best strategy -- it failed. And here we go again.

ENDA was reintroduced in April 2007, this time with sexual orientation and gender identity protection. But it’s been revised again by openly gay congressman Barney Frank with the blessing of Democratic leadership to eliminate gender identity protection. These “leaders” who run a Congress that has a lower approval rating than the Current Occupant of the White House because they refuse to stand up for something even if it will fail, remind us that they know better than the rest of us.

Seeing how little that’s been accomplished by the Democratic controlled congress -- except to increase presidential surveillance powers and continue the Iraq war – we’re supposed to believe this too is a great strategy.

How really sad this all is on a larger human level.

It’s sad that another group of human beings, full US citizens, is told to be patient. They’ll just have to keep waiting for the guarantee that they won’t be fired for who they are. The time, they’re told again, is not right.

That’s thoroughly American, isn’t it? How many groups down though American history have been told by their political “friends” that they’d have to wait? These so-called friends have said: “We’d like to do it, really we would, but politics aren’t right. Be patient.”

Then those groups stood outside while others exercised their rights and benefited from their protections. These political friends, of course, already had the insider rights or were getting them through the current strategy.

What those left out really heard was not that the time isn’t right but that “you are not right.” You are not in the same boat we are. Your category, the place you fit, is just too much for now. Your rights aren’t as crucial as mine.

“You’re not worth a fight. We won’t make any progress, you see, if we bring you along. Other people won’t get ahead if we include you.”

That “strategy” always forgot humanity. It was about winning, and anyone who wanted just to be included was criticized for interfering in their tactics of “winning.”

It sounded patronizing and patriarchal. Anyone who didn’t “get how things work,” as these “friendly” leaders did, was just plain naïve. “You may be activists, but we are the real leaders.” Get out of the way. You need us paternalistic politicians to guide you children.

It was bad enough that members of dominant groups often said they were “really on their side.” But even those who had previously had to wait took up the same methods. Now they could get ahead while they told others to just wait some more.

Add to the human sorrow the sadness of watching gay groups fight over whether the time is right for transgender people to be included. It’s a symptom of forgetfulness of the history of, and barriers overcome by, the gay liberation movement.

It’s also the sadness of seeing gay people forget that discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation is really about gender identity, gender variation, and gender fears. After all, no one would mind gay people being around if they’d just fit into the two gender roles. Then we wouldn’t notice they were here.

“Why do they have to flaunt it?” Those gay people won’t limit themselves to acting “straight.” They want to have sex with the “wrong” gender. They fall in love with the “wrong” gender. They act as if it’s okay to show affection to the “wrong” gender. They even want to marry the “wrong” gender.

And they don’t stick to the script of what a true man or woman is supposed to be, how they’re supposed to think, dress, act, and feel. They act as if the proper gender role would be a straightjacket.

Gay men and lesbians just won’t act straight enough. No matter how butch or fem they try to be, there’s just something queer about them. They’re not “real” men or women, no matter how straight they act.

Again and again it’s been shown that discrimination against lesbians and gay men is really about gender issues. I argue that this is the major difficulty that keeps our culture stuck in Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human (2001).

So, it’s sad that even gay people don’t understand that leaving out gender identity protection isn’t about “transgender issues.” It’s protecting anyone – gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, uncertain-sexual – who doesn’t fit the dominant culture’s dysfunctional view of how limited genders should be.

It’s about anyone’s freedom to express themselves outside the two boxes society allows. It’s for the straight guy who likes pretty things. It’s for the “good gay man” who slips and does something feminine. It’s about the passable lesbian or straight woman who decides to stand up “like a man” for herself and her interests at work.

Adding sexual orientation protection without gender identity will allow heterosexual people, gay men and lesbians who squeeze into two gender roles to get by. But they’d better not show that they have ideas, goals, feelings, loves, and interests outside those boxes.

Gay men and lesbians and politician “friends” think that if they do win a watered-down version, it will be easier to come back and fight the real battle all over again to add transgender people to the list of Americans. Not only do they not get the issues here for everyone, they actually believe that that will be easier later.

They tell us the time will be right later. And when will that be? When will they stand up for everyone’s gender identity rights?

With this Congress, don’t hold your breath. In the meantime, gay or straight, don’t slip up

There’s Money, not Bigotry, in Our Genes

There’s big, big money available for anyone who’s ready to find the source of all human problems in our genes. It can construct whole institutes and enormous buildings.

You’d have thought that with all that money we would have found a genetic cause for heterosexuality by now. But there’s probably little, if any, funding for that since it’s not considered a defect.

Genetic research promises a slew of possibilities for improving humanity. But it can also be useful to deflect our attention from the systemic causes of bigotry, violence, and inhumanity that are embedded in the values of our political-social-economic system.

The promise of genetic answers to these problems can keep the institutions of a culture the way they are -- profit-oriented, not human-oriented, coping-oriented, not healing-oriented. There might even be more money available for research to ensure it does.

I’ve set out before in Scared Straight why I think political arguments for accepting LGBT people because sexual orientation is genetic, no matter how true genetic origins might be, are ultimately self-destructive and even self-hating. Genetic answers can be an excuse – poor things, they can’t help themselves. Arguments like that only work temporarily.

In reality racism is justified through some kind of genetic argumentation. And the fact that people can’t help being the color they are hasn’t ended white racism.

Remember the study reported in a 2000 issue of The Sciences that theorized that rape is a natural product of evolution? Those researchers concluded that: "prevention efforts will founder until they are based on the understanding that rape evolved as a form of male reproductive behavior."

Last month the journal Nature Neuroscience reported a new study from researchers at NYU and UCLA that there are “two cognitive styles – a liberal style and a conservative style.” It received a lot of mainstream media attention.

The researchers studied 43 college students who rated their political orientation on a scale from “extremely liberal” to “extremely conservative.” Using a simple response test while the students were wired to an electroencephalograph, they found a difference in brain activity related to political orientation.

Liberals were determined to more likely than conservatives have a strong response in the area of the brain used to inhibit responses at a time when they were supposed to inhibit responses. As a professor of communication told the Chicago Tribune, the study “provides scientific evidence for conclusions people (studying political rhetoric) have reached previously.”

“A higher tolerance of ambiguity and complexity is typical of people who are liberal,” he said. “That’s not a surprise. It does, however, suggest there may be a hereditary and neurological basis for that. It might also suggest there’s less likelihood of people shifting their political ideology if its hard-wired in there.”

Another UCLA researcher in the field advised caution, but then added that if political attitudes are tied to neurophysiology, “it would make bashing conservatives – or liberals – pointless. It’s not as if people are making a choice to see the world this way or that way. It’s how they’re built.”

Hold on. Don’t jump to the conclusion that there’s no hope for change yet.

That the responses of conservatives and liberals are deeply held and related to their current neurophysiology as such scientific evidence shows, is thoroughly understandable without looking beyond the experiences of their past lives.

The more substantial history of research since World War II into “authoritarian personalities” that John Dean raised to public attention in his Conservatives Without Conscience (2006) is another example. That research shows that something like 20% or more of the US population is most comfortable submitting to and adopting the conscience of an authoritarian figure.

On that basis, people who measure highly on these researchers’ measures of authoritarianism are consistently associated with right-wing, not left-wing, ideology. They are willing to give up their own values and do great harm to others if they believe the authority sanctions it, while others who score highly are willing to take advantage of them.

As University of Manitoba author and researcher Robert Altemeyer explains: “I have called them ‘God’s designated hitters.’ We end up with the irony that the people who think they are so very good end up doing so very much evil, and, more remarkably, they are probably the last people in the world who will ever realize the connection between the two.”

To hear people conclude from these studies that there is something genetic that produces authoritarian personalities is also to go too far. Just like concluding that addictions are hard-wired, no matter how there may be a predisposition in some people’s genes, is to ignore the factors in our society that produce and encourage such mentalities.

Fear does much to the human brain. If we get too scared, we can easily become conservative. Threatened, we pull away from everything else to protect the little we have – our families, our money, our very lives.

Fear from childhood on – fear of the adults around us, fear that we are really less than fully human and deserving of punishment, even eternal punishment – is an effective motivator to seek any means out of the fear.

And fear changes the way we think. It affects our self-esteem and our very neurophysiology.

So will we face the fact that we’ve been raised in a fear-based society that the current administration has only ramped up? Or will we do everything we can to blame the results of fear on something genetic and evolutionary?

As I’ve argued in When Religion Is an Addiction, there are people who are so addicted to their feelings of righteousness to escape from their fear and loathing that only recovery methods will help them. And religious addiction is only one of the approved coping mechanisms to escape what scares us.

No matter how difficult it may be to give up coping mechanisms and seek personal and societal healing, this doesn’t mean that they’re so hard-wired that there’s no hope.

It means there’s much work to do to change a society that thrives on addictions by challenging our own and those of others

Hiding the Family Values Gang’s Sexual Addictions

You’re just waiting for the next “Family Values” Republican to get caught with his pants down, aren’t you [Ed. Note: Republican Senator Craig’s bathroom activities came out after this column was written]? They’re being exposed fast and furiously now that bloggers can do an end run around mainstream media enablers.

It’s hard to keep up and keep score, but you can put money on the fact that the biggest pushers of anti-sexual rhetoric and hand-wringing have got a lot of personal sexual addiction to hide. And the most anti-gay whatever are the most likely to be caught in some bathroom somewhere doing exactly what they condemn and coming up with excuses for cheating on their token straight families that only enablers could believe.

That’s not to don their masks of homophobia or agree that there’s anything wrong with the sex they want. It’s to marvel at the depths of their hypocrisy and their comfort in hurting others who like the sex these hypocrites seek in the dark.

So in July just after we stomached US Senator David Vitter of Louisiana’s exposure that this married “Family Values” crusader has been visiting prostitutes and is known for wearing a diaper in these escapades, we’ve got more hypocrisy.

Remember when Vitter’s wife in all self-righteousness told Newhouse News Service in 2000 that if her husband were as “unfaithful” as Bill Clinton, her response would be “a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary. If he does something like that, I’m walking away with one thing, and it’s not alimony, trust me.”

Next in July, the Catholic Diocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay $660 million to 508 litigants who filed suits as victims of sexual abuse by priests. Barbara Blaine, founder of SNAP (Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests) explained the Church hierarchy’s willingness to settle as a cover-up: “More than anything else, they are fixated on avoiding depositions and courtroom testimony where they’ll be treated like regular citizens instead of royalty, and where they have to explain decades of secrecy and recklessness and corruption.”

Then, Republican Florida State Representative Bob Allen was nabbed in a Titusville, Florida park men’s restroom when he agreed to give an undercover officer oral sex for $20. This staunch advocate of “Family Values,” never saw an anti-sex bill he didn’t like. He even sponsored HB 1475 that called for punishment for consenting adults who practice “lewd or lascivious offences,” even just “the simulation of any act involving sexual activity.”

My, oh my! And with police recordings and reports contradicting him, Allen, get this, denied any wrongdoing. “I certainly wasn’t there to have sex with anybody and certainly wasn’t there to exchange money for it,” he told the press.

In fact, he claims he was seeking oral sex because: “This was a pretty stocky black guy, and there was nothing but other black guys around in the park.” Okay -- searching for public sex to save him from his racist fear that he “was about to be a statistic.”

And then the Young Republican Federation eliminated from its website all references to its recently elected leader and rising star in the national GOP, Glenn Murphy, chair of the Clark County, Indiana Republicans, after police charged him with “Criminal Deviate Conduct” for sexually assaulting another man following a Young Republicans party in late July. Of course, as a consultant for Republican candidates, Murphy regularly used wedge issues such as gay marriage to promote them.

Murphy, his lawyer writes, defends his actions as between two consenting adults. Got it. It’s okay for two consenting adults if one of them is an anti-gay Republican?

I’m sure I’ve missed some, but stay tuned. Expect many more.

Repression leads to obsession. And sexual addiction and its cover-up with sexual and religious righteousness are widespread cultural phenomena our sexually sick culture doesn’t want to face.

“As long as we can pin addiction on dysfunctional families and make them the primary cause of sexual addiction,” Anne Wilson Schaef asks in Escape from Intimacy (1989), “can we then hold onto the illusion of ‘normal,’ refuse to look at the role of our institutions (especially church and school), and avoid completely the role of addictive society?”

As I discuss in When Religion Is an Addiction, sexual and religious addictions are not strange bedfellows. They have a long history of cross-addiction in the Christian Church back at least as far as Church Father St. Augustine.

Today, though, it’s multiplied by the sexualization of our culture through conservative corporate, “free market” consumerism. Sex sells. It’s portrayed as something everyone can “have” better if they buy, buy, and buy more.

Sex is sold as proof you’re a real man or woman. It proves you’re finally close to another human being.

Everyone else has the stuff that ensures that they are having the great sex you aren’t. And if you aren’t compulsive about sex, you’re told there’s something wrong with you. Even “science” colludes with the idea.

This is an ideal environment for institutions to recruit people by convincing them that they’re guilty for having, or even thinking about, sex. A tried and true method for getting people to relieve their guilt would lose much of its power if society weren’t selling things this way. No wonder right-wing religion is in cahoots with big business and its consumerism.

The resulting societally encouraged sexually addictive thinking and its guilt would require healing and learning how sexuality can be holistic and healthy. But the popular method is to try to relieve the guilt and shame by another addiction – the addiction to the feeling of being righteous.

Enter anti-sex politics and right-wing Christianity with its fear of anything it can’t control. Hide in the high of feeling righteous and identifying with each righteous cause, cling to the righteous feelings of right-wing Christianity’s exclusiviem, and you have crossed into another addiction.

It’s easier than coming to terms with what you hate about yourself and rejecting the institutions that promote that hate.

And this righteousness high works, until the addict falls off the wagon.

Using Guilt to Control the World

The political and media debate over the President commuting the sentence of a convicted felon and former assistant to the Vice President so that he’ll serve less time than Paris Hilton, reminds us of how relative guilt is. You’d think — wouldn’t you? — that being found guilty by a court would settle it.

But guilt is seldom a pure moral idea. It’s mixed with the powerplays of people and institutions who wield it.

There’s also a difference between being guilty according to some standard and feeling guilty. Just think of how you’ve felt when you looked into the rear view mirror and saw that police cruiser.

Feeling guilty, whether or not a person is really guilty of some offense, isn’t just a crucial tool of religion. It’s a control mechanism that’s useful to keep anyone who feels guilty from dealing with larger issues.

In some ways the President’s act is another blatant example of how guilt and punishment are really defined in the US. Justice is hardly ever a blind application of “you do the crime, you do the time.” Some are declared not guilty when they are or guilty when they aren’t.

When you know the right people, have enough money, or are a potential plea-bargainer who’s got beans to spill about the powers that be, there are completely different ways to relate to guilt. And if you’re into such power, you won’t feel guilty at all.

George W. Bush’s worldview assumes his rich-boy privilege as the way things are. If there’s any key to Bush’s entire life, it’s that it’s about little more than knowing, and being bailed out by, the right people.

Guilt or failure? Nah, daddy’s friends have taken care of all that.

Guilt is a useful tool of the powerful. After Scooter’s conviction, Bush’s commutation of his sentence in spite of a Republican prosecutor, jury, and Bush-appointed judge declaring him guilty, reflects that others don’t feel he’s guilty. And now he is also in debt to a powerful President and his Vice, who appear guilty.

Many right-wing talkers for their purposes consider Scooter not guilty of anything. They say his obstruction of justice is really “nothing wrong.”

But Bush went further in finessing his presidential privilege to declare someone not really guilty. He commuted Scooter’s sentence rather than pardoning him.

Commuting the sentence actually guarantees that the guilty must legally keep quiet about whatever crimes his sentence-commuting superiors have committed. Pardoning him would set him free to squeal. And, since a commutation appears to be less than a pardon, it makes the President look less guilty of overthrowing the judicial system than those who want a pardon.

Using feelings of guilt is a tried and true way to maintain control. And feeling guilty works on a number of levels.

People who brandish the guilt feelings are asserting and maintaining their positions of power over those whom they get to feel guilty. Guilt feelings bind people to the one they believe has the authority to free them from guilt.

Using someone’s guilt to get them to do what you want, such as protecting you from your own deeds, has become an art. It’s one of the reasons our leaders love the idea of guilt. They use the words “personal responsibility” to invoke it.

Preachers know how successfully getting people to feel guilty brings in more souls along with their pocketbooks. As it did for Libby with the Pres and Vice, the preachers’ use of guilt feelings makes followers dependent upon preachers for salvation from the guilt.

Religious guilt-promoters might talk about God saving the guilty, but those preachers are the real dealers of their message. And guilty people become as dependent on those preachers’ messages as on any drug.

In addition, people caught up in dealing with their personal guilt feelings are distracted. Preoccupation with personal guilt keeps them so focused that they have little energy or time to threaten the powers that be. They’re too obsessed with their guilt.

So, guilt feelings keep the powerful in place. The system loves it. The rich and powerful thrive on the guilt of others. And the beat goes on.

Finally, guilt feelings don’t just come from religious and political leaders. We too learned to use guilt to control our personal environments.

Our comfort with feeling guilty hardly needs our leaders to trigger it. We’ve so internalized our guiltiness that most of us actually embrace feeling guilty in order not to face the fact that life and the actions of others are really out of our control.

Trying to control everything, after all, is a protective mechanism. As children we couldn’t control the adults around us. And those adults could at times be responsible for quite negative responses to us. We quickly saw that we’d better learn how to never let things get out of control.

So, today, if we can just feel that we’re in control of the environment around us, we believe it’s less likely to hurt us. Most of the time we can pull this off.

But illness and accidents happen. And instead of embracing the fact that we’re not in control of the universe, learning to welcome surprises, and growing in the process they provide for our lives, we’d rather dwell on “what we could have done.”

Our guilt over what we could have done to prevent a death, an accident, an illness, or a negative response from others, is easier to embrace than admitting that we’re not able to control most of these events. Our guilt comforts us.

An illusion of control is a recognized mark of addictive thinking. The desire to control an addict is a mark of those who enable the addiction to thrive. Fear that the world is full of chance and serendipity drives people to religions that comfort people that there really is a Controller, no matter how accidental things look.

So guilt, a seemingly noble expression of justice, is a useful control mechanism to remain in power. Even for the less powerful it helps us feel as if we’re in control of what we often are not.

Government Messes, Gay Bombs, and Citizen Hope

Washington, D.C is such a mess in all three branches of government that you don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or get angry at each day’s news. No wonder people would rather hear about the future of Paris Hilton or “The Price Is Right.”

The Republicans and this President have so skewed government regulations, regulators, taxation, warfare, and conversation to rewarding the rich at the expense of the bottom 80%, that accusations that Bush is incompetent ring hollow. “Dumb like a fox,” Bush and his friends are laughing all the way to the bank.

The Democrats at times seem to make progress. What would we even know about the Bushies if the Republicans were still in charge of distractions? We’re now actually hearing the word subpoena.

But then they cave in to this President and his Republican buddies as if Bill Clinton were still their leader. Their excuse is the same political one they used before the 2006 elections -- they don’t have the power and so can’t stand up for anything they might lose.

Arianna Huffington’s June 13th column, “Democratic Dinosaurs in DC Are Holding Us Back,” sounds right. As opposed to where the country that voted for these “leaders” is, beltway Democrats are spinning their loss to Bush in the handling of the war funding issue as a real victory.

Instead of acting like the Democrats value something, one of their main strategists still spins their capitulation through the strategy that worked so badly in 2000 and 2002. It’s shallow and merely political.

“From a purely political view, Democrats had their cake and ate it too,” writes Stuart Rothenberg. “Why take a chance alienating swing voters when the party already made its point by sending the president a deadline bill that he vetoed?”

Bush continues on, assured that he’ll win all his fights with the Democrats right up until he leaves office. He doesn’t have to move an inch, only proclaim he’s compromising.

Scandal after scandal, corrupt cronyism, and deceptive spending are uncovered in the administration weekly. All the Democrats have been able to do is get the guilty to testify before them that they have poor memories of anything that could be incriminating.

Bush continues to put forward extreme right-wing reactionaries for congressional approval as if he knows Congress will approve whomever he sends. A surgeon general appointee who is so unscientific that he is over a quarter of a century behind on issues of sexual orientation? A Federal Elections Commission Board nominee who has a track record suppressing African American voter turnout in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division?

Bush has a winning record with the Democrats. They helped seat his Supreme Court and Cabinet appointments they now complain about. He’s still betting on the fact that no matter how blatantly against democratic values his nominees are, if they promise like good boys and girls to any of the Democratic-led committees that they won’t do any apparently illegal or partisan things ever, ever, ever again, the Democrats will actually believe them.

Meanwhile, the multi-millionaire white men who line up to be Republican presidential nominees for 2008 continue to flee their pasts by changing their tunes to hum whatever the Christian right-wing is currently playing. A Mormon is actually trying to court those religious people who think he belongs to a cult? Family values candidates are climbing all over themselves to repent better than the others of their past adulteries?

The mainstream-media-crowned “first tier” Democratic candidates are holding their fingers in the air, certain they’ll find their values somewhere in the wind of an imaginary electorate. The others who’ve been consistent about their message aren’t likely to get enough big bucks from corporate sponsors to get their messages out.

What we know about the Pentagon and its salivating big business war profiteers (One can only imagine what hasn’t come out.) is that it has gone way beyond what Eisenhower envisioned when he warned us in 1961: “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

The Pentagon can’t account for one-quarter of its spending?

Trillions of dollars in “emergency” (Unplanned? How good is any of the planning for this thing?) spending for an occupation of a country whose people and legislators want us out?

A President searching for military leaders (and a War Czar) who will ratify his failing policies while dumping generals who can’t put a good face on them?

Are you angry, crying and laughing? If not, did you hear that on June 8th the Pentagon admitted that the Air Force’s Wright Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio had asked for $7.5 million to develop a hormone bomb that when dropped on enemy soldiers would turn them into homosexuals and make them more interested in sex with each other than fighting.

“The Department of Defense is committed to identifying, researching, and developing non-lethal weapons that will support our men and women in uniform,” was the justification for the project in response to a CBS inquiry. Military officials also insisted that the plan has long since been abandoned.

Our hope in the middle of all this maddening, sad, and sometimes laughable-in-unbelief mess isn’t any of these leaders as saviors. It must remain with those American voters who voted for an immediate end to the Occupation of Iraq by the US and the Occupation of the US government by this administration and a Rubber Stamp Congress.

It’s the pressure and persistence we display that forces a political party to make a difference. Otherwise, they’re ready to settle into the Beltway with funding from the lobbyists of big business.

We’re not politicians, as American historian Howard Zinn reminds us. Our job is not to compromise.

We are citizens. Our job is to remind our representatives again and again what we exactly want for our country. Our job is to be the hope in the middle of the mess in which politicians thrive.

Those June Gay Lifestyle Expos

It wouldn’t be the first time that someone pointed out that Gay Pride Festivals aren’t gay pride festivals any more.

They’re no longer defiant statements that affirm against mainstream bigotry that LGBT people are proud and healthy anyway. They’re now concerned with being liked by the straight world.

They’re no longer dominated by the actions and agenda of organizations that continue to fight for equality, acceptance, and progress. Those organizations’ booths get squeezed in, if not out, by businesses large and small that want to capitalize on the LGBT dollar.

Pity the small town festival with no businesses that cater to their community and too small for national corporations to care about it. They just have settle for pride in who they are.

Music and musicians that celebrate a lifestyle, not LGBT life, dominate Pride stages. Speeches by activists from local, regional, and even national, organizations meant to inspire us to continue the fight are drowned out by entertainment stages or ignored as breaks to refill with alcohol before the next performance begins.

Pride started to celebrate the June 1969 Stonewall rebellion in New York. Now they must be profitable enterprises. Can you imagine those West Village street people and drag queens first weighing whether their defiance would be financially feasible?

There are those who think the change is just great. It means we’ve arrived and are acceptable. It means business loves our money. It means we’re “post-label.”

They measure our worth by our buying power. They seem to believe LGBT people are GAP-buying, latte-drinking, light-beer-guzzling (or fine-wine-sipping), concert-going, Lexus-driving, gym-devoted, home-mortgage-owners who no longer have problems with being fired from their jobs, attacked on the streets, or kicked out of public accommodations. What’s wrong with people who don’t fit this lifestyle anyway?

Picking on pride fests, isn’t the point at all, though. Parties can really be fun.

It’s just that they’re part of a profound change in LGBT communities that attempts to mold everyone to fit into the stifling values of a broader culture.

Mainstream national media portrays LGBT people this way, and loves it. “Gay-themed magazines lighten up: publications back off from social issues and glom on to lifestyle and entertainment,” was the headline of a May news report originating in the Sacramento Bee and reprinted nationally.

Gay magazines like The Advocate and Jane and Jane, the story reports, are now: “more about the ‘active lifestyle,’ as the media cliché goes. Home improvement. Fashion. Celebrity culture…. The gay media are not immune to the trends that have recently dominated mainstream publications – in other words flash over substance, influenced by (what else?) the Internet.”/font>

So, while pride festivals have come to sell a lifestyle little different from Home and Garden Shows and Travel and Leisure Expos, LGBT magazines have morphed into People and US Magazine.

It’s no surprise that LGBT people are in sync with such changes. Everyone who’s brought up in our culture should have been taught that being all we can be means being active consumers. Any minority group learns to believe that keeping up with the dominant group is the way to fit in.

The box stores want your money no matter who you are. If BrokeBack Mountain will make money, even WalMart will splash ads all over. The only unacceptable lifestyle is one that doesn’t relish and promote the joys of shopping.

Going out to the malls and buying stuff, remember, was the primary therapy Bush prescribed for the country after 9/11. Be scared, was the Commander Guy’s message, but not so afraid that you’ll quit shopping for distractions from what’s going on around you.

This emphasis upon consumption does to LGBT communities what it does to the straight world around us. It enforces the idea that people are what they buy. We are our car. We are our CD library. We are what we drink.

Instead of opening LGBT lives further to their innumerable possibilities, many we have yet to explore, our cultural institutions have become places to learn a restrictive lifestyle that’s sellable.

There can be token appearances of those who don’t fit, but the dominant message is that there is another lifestyle to be admired and sought for by dedicating your purse to it. There may even be well-crafted messages that say you can purchase being unique just like everyone else.

Yet, the reality is that LGBT people have lives of great variety. There are many that aren’t encompassed by this promoted lifestyle.

And since most don’t fit the lifestyle, no matter how hard they try, the message of this consumer promotion is they should just try even harder, devoting their lives to fitting in.

Can’t live the gay lifestyle at work or with your friends? You can do it here.

Don’t feel right about your sexual orientation? We’ll help you by showing you the way it’s supposed to be lived.

Not having enough fun in your life? Look how much fun we appear to be having.

Don’t even aspire to the lifestyle? What’s wrong with you?

You can be acceptable after all. Read our magazines and go to our festivals and you can see how to be really be gay.

What’s sad about all this is everything we lose.

We lose those we marginalize, those who don’t fit in because they can’t afford to, choose not to, or have unchangeable attributes that prevent them from doing so. After all, there is still something very white about this gay lifestyle.

We lose our commitment to inclusiveness. Instead of opening broader possibilities, we limit them to those who chase the latest version of products along with us.

We lose the edge we have to create our own humor, theology, arts, and culture. Instead we copy the acceptable in a society that’s desperate for new answers to the same old problems it hasn’t solved for centuries.

We lose our ability to speak truth to a very sick culture. And if you’ve looked around you lately, you know straight culture is deeply ill. It needs outsiders, not insiders, to save it.

Virginia Tech, Don Imus, and America’s Seething Anger

There’s a seething anger not far below the surface of many people in America today. It’s ready to explode at the least feeling of being slighted.

You see it when someone gets cut off in traffic, someone doesn’t like how someone looks at them, a relationship breaks up, or the service in a restaurant is shoddy. It takes so little to set people off.

This past month we’ve seen it again in a horrible tragedy at Virginia Tech and in listeners defending the anger and invective, sexism and racism of Don Imus’ radio persona that attracts them. Like walking through a minefield, you never know when you’ll be the next victim of such anger.

There are few institutions doing any more than punishing symptoms. Punishment hasn’t worked before to change any society – not even threatening eternal punishment. But we do it anyway.

Emphasizing punishment and fear is the knee-jerk reaction of many Americans, especially our politicians. We gravitate to it because punishing always reminds people who has the real power and who’s the “toughest.” The desire to increase punishment is a reaffirmation to the ones who set up and do the punishing that they are in control and standing over the ones they punish.

Mainstream media won’t seriously analyze the underlying problems or the systemic causes. Their emphasis on the economic bottom line keeps them part of the problem.

Few people seem to have the time, patience, insight, and emotional health to sit with the problems long enough to investigate and alleviate the causes of it all. And the punishers are there to criticize anyone who tries.

We ‘d like to believe that it’s just the individual perpetrator’s problem. To be able to dismiss them as just plain crazy means we don’t have to question the values and institutions that brought them to this place. It’s such a relief to know that they’re not like us.

It’s not that the causes haven’t been studied by social scientists. The studies are legion, but these causes are buried beneath and within, even crucial to, the very institutions we value just the way they are.

Our culture is profit-oriented, not human-oriented. It’s oriented to teach us how to cope with its problems as if they’re inevitable, not heal.

The demands of our “growth” economy, its emphasis on being in inevitable competition with almost every other human being on the planet, and its driven consumerism, are so out of touch with human needs that profits justify anything. People are always subordinated to stock values.

This anger is a crucial component of the “boy code” we teach to our little boys from day one to make them grow up to be warriors who beat other men, fierce competitors, and well-armored leaders. Boys learn that it’s a beat-or-be-beaten world of manhood out there, so they’ve got to be on the alert for other men’s anger.

Then men hear themselves being blamed for this code that’s put on them whether they like it or not. “Men are just testosterone driven, naturally out of touch with their real feelings, or naturally angry. Drug them. Lock them up. Execute them when they get bad enough.”

And shame them if they should ever decide to get in touch with an inborn humanity that’s not violent but nurturing. Make them prove they’re men when they feel shamed by responding with male violence. And use the gay slur to keep them in their place in a society where gay is still bad.

Make guns easy to get and close at hand. Then some, when they do blow up, will have up-to-date killing implements at hand.

American manhood training doesn’t take long. Even those who’ve spent only a few-years residency in our violent manhood culture internalize it.

I can’t forget the student from India who told me how American culture had changed him in just two years. Upon returning to India, and while walking with his best friend who tried to put his arm around him, he found himself automatically pulling back.

A normal expression of friendship to Indian culture, which he had accepted without thinking for his first eighteen years, had been conditioned out of him by American manhood’s intense homophobia. Such homophobia is a necessary US ingredient to keep men apart so they can be “real men.” In America you can get awards for killing another man and killed for loving another man.

Our country’s lingering treatment of women as lesser humans enforces an underlying anger in women, too. And they have much to be angry about.

April 24, 2007 was “Equal Pay Day,” the day when women’s earnings added to last year’s finally catch up to what men earned by December 31, 2006. The fact alone that women still make 76 cents to every man’s dollar is proof enough, using a measure that really counts in our economy, of how women are valued. The Fair Pay Act has been languishing in Congress since the early 1990s.

Women are more often conditioned to take this anger out on themselves, their bodies, their psyches, and their lives. It takes a lot more to get them to pick up a weapon against someone else. As one psychologist said: “Under all depression is rage.”

After the month is over we’ll have seen the usual suspects blame the victims of anger, the media turn events into tabloid moments, the usual pundits wax eloquent about gun control or the freedom to carry enough fire power to take out any classroom, and callers to talk shows go on about punishment, the good old days, or the need to force the Bible and prayer on everyone in every classroom.

We’ll await the next massacre, the next talk show host who will make racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks only to claim they’re really not prejudiced when they get caught, and the next round of stricter penalties from clueless legislators who need to show they are “tough” on something.

But will we ask why there is a seething anger within so many of us? Will we take the time to consider systemic causes? Will we be willing to change the institutions and values of a very sick system? We can, if we really want to change things.

Now, Who Are the Real Narcissists?

There’s been lots of hand wringing and bloviating over a February report by a San Diego State University psychology professor entitled “Egos Inflating Over Time.” It’s as if the rest of us have been waiting for some ammunition to blame the under-30 crowd for coping with the cultural problems the over-thirty crowd engineered.

From Oprah to James Dobson, the O’Reilly Factor to Alter-Net, an academic paper that claimed research shows that today’s college students are more “narcissistic and self-centered” than their -- obviously -- more ideal elders has served to take our focus off of the sick cultural system baby-boomers have created at the under-30 crowd’s expense.

Head researcher, Jean Twenge, even gives recommendations that any punishing parent saying “What’s wrong with kids today” would love. Those who wish we still had that old abusive parenting with the belief children should be seen and not heard and treated as humans brought into the world to solve their parents’ problems, cling to her prescriptions.

“We need to stop endlessly repeating ‘You’re special’ and having children repeat that back,” she told the Associated Press. “Kids are self-centered enough already.”

Another member of the research team, W. Keith Campbell of the University of Georgia, warned that this could result in “negative consequences for society, including the breakdown of relationships with others.” It will produce romantic relationships that are “short-lived, at risk for infidelity, lack emotional warmth” and include “game-playing, dishonesty, and over-controlling and violent behavior.”

Twenge even viewed the increased commitment of under-thirties to volunteer work with skepticism. And Campbell, worrying that there were no obvious remedies, still recommended: “more authoritative parenting. Less indulgence might be called for.”

Though their focus may relieve those who created the world the under-thirties live in today, this all brings to mind what journalist-researcher Mike Males exposed as the blaming and shaming of teenagers and twenty-somethings in his 1996 work, The Scapegoat Generation: America’s War on Adolescents, and his 1999 documentation of furtherance of this diversionary political tactic in Framing Youth: 10 Myths about the Next Generation.

As a university teacher who’s taught over thirty years, I’m tempted to complain with my colleagues that these aren’t the good ole days when we were in school. Though it might make me feel better, and though I’m not enamored with the newest generation of college students, I don’t believe there is a “greatest generation” anywhere else either.

In fact, I wish this younger generation would act more self-centered. I wish they’d stand up for their rights, freedoms, and economic security. But I worry there are many who feel hopeless, brainwashed, and disempowered.

The under-thirties ought to be angry at the babyboomers for ballooning a national debt that fattens babyboomers’ own pensions and stock values while leaving the bill for the under-thirties. Rich babyboomers are having the party and the young will be left to pay their whopping bill.

They ought to be fuming that what’s left of the social net still available to my generation is not being fixed by over-thirty politicians who will dump the problems on them. All the talk of privatizing Social Security sounds great to generations with money to invest, but not to those who’ll spend decades paying off their educational loans while paying through the nose for housing.

They ought to be fighting the baby-boomer’s military industrial complex that sends the under-thirties to war to die and get disfigured in order to benefit the corporations and CEOs of older generations.

They ought to be furious that baby-boomer-controlled media have chosen to keep their attention (even in so-called news programs – Where will Anna Nicole Smith be buried?) on entertainment and fluff rather than examining in depth the larger issues that affect their lives. Focusing on such issues, after all, might get the young angry!

They ought to be boiling mad about the mountains of college debt they’re incurring as tuition rises faster than inflation while federal and state lawmakers of these older generations cut college subsidies. Older generations made college a requirement for “successful” futures while refusing to really invest in the nation’s human infrastructure or pay more than a minimum wage for the work college-age students must do to pay their bills -- work that keeps them from concentrating on their educations. Babyboomers wouldn’t want to interfere with tax cuts for the powerful of their generation.

The under-thirty crowd ought to be outraged that their elders are so overcome with false nostalgia that they think that previous decades were better, but conveniently forget in reality it was only better for well-off white, heterosexual males.

They should be hopping mad that prejudiced baby boomers afraid of the younger generation’s tolerance are ramming through legislation to undo any efforts to create equality and even constitutional amendments to solidify their elders’ bigotry. Their generations will be left to undo this.

They ought to be fed up with the emphasis on consumerism that elder generations have perfected into a shopping therapy that proclaims relentlessly that emotional problems will be solved by purchasing products, procedures, and distractions.

They ought to rebel against the burden their parents put on them to fill the holes in their parents’ lives, never again accepting the sick cultural drumbeat that says children are here to fulfill parents.

They ought to be ticked off that “researchers” are so over-inflating their own generation that they don’t even see that the negativity they predict is already characteristic of the babyboomers’ relationships. Do they really believe that “the breakdown of relationships with others” and romantic relationships that are “short-lived, at risk for infidelity, lack emotional warmth” and include “game-playing, dishonesty, and over-controlling and violent behavior” aren’t epidemic among boomers?

Young people aren’t perfect, but blaming them keeps a sick system going. It’s easier than questioning our own values and lifestyles.

The under-thirty crowd ought to look older generations directly in the eye and say: “You are the ones creating this mess for us. You are the ones who control the cultural messages. You are the ones who are benefiting from all of this. And, now, you are the ones calling us narcissistic?”

Ted Haggard Graduates from the Accelerated "Straight 101" Course

Last November, the New Life Church, a model fundamentalist mega-church he had founded in Colorado Springs, ousted fifty-year-old Ted Haggard, its senior pastor.

A darling not only of Republican Christianity (Haggard participated in regular conference calls with Bush), but of his own 14,000 member religious empire and the National Association of Evangelicals over which he was President, Haggard first lied about knowing the out-of-town male prostitute that claimed they had a three-year relationship. Soon Haggard admitted buying methamphetamine from him, undisclosed “sexual immoral conduct,” and a long battle against feelings contrary to Haggard’s beliefs.

Haggard immediately “got help” from a small “restoration panel” of right-wing, anti-gay leaders. Within days one of them, Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, swiftly abandoned his “close friend” because Dobson was too busy. “This could take four or five years and I just have too many other things going on,” Dobson told CNN’s Larry King.

In mid-December a second pastor of the same mega-church stepped down after admitting “sexual contact with another adult.” Christopher Beard was the 35-year old leader of New Life’s “intensive” adult leadership program.

All this isn’t surprising. An obsession with sexuality usually acted out against LGBT people and any women who aren’t submissive to men often accompanies right-wing Christianity.

In fact, sexual and religious addictions aren’t strange bedfellows. Just go back, as sexual addiction experts do, to the Father of Western Christian theology, St. Augustine’s Confessions and his later theological demonization of sex, to find a classic case of these co-addictions.

All of this made a previously filmed HBO special with Haggard as the film’s on-screen tourist guide to Evangelicals quite eerie. One of the first scenes in the documentary “Friends of God,” which first aired January 25th, shows Haggard bragging with some parishioners about how often they -- you guessed it – have sex. Sex must have been central to him.

Then on February 5th, only 3 months later, Haggard was declared “completely heterosexual.” In fact, a member of the four-man board of “overseers” said this was a “discovery” Haggard had made after an intensive three-week “counseling” program at an undisclosed Phoenix “treatment center.”

Whatever Haggard had learned from this intensive course in being straight, and the twice a week “Christian counseling” he continues to receive, he and his wife plan now to pass on to others. He told their old congregation in a February email that they plan to take an on-line master’s degree course in psychology “so we can work together serving others the rest of our lives.” The “overseers” recommended he leave town and do secular work.

All of this sounds painfully familiar to thousands of LGBT people who once trusted and hoped in right-wing Christian psycho-spiritual talk to “cure” them.

It reminds them of the rejection, threats of abandonment, pressures, and fears they encountered that forced many into ex-gay programs that took their money, played on their vulnerabilities and needs for acceptance, and allowed their leaders to act out their own fears of really being gay. Programs that eventually disappointed them when they found they were all smoke and mirrors, brainwashing and abuse.

Not surprisingly, these in many ways lucrative conversion techniques are contradictory to settled science. Over a quarter of a century ago all the major professional psychological organizations declared that homosexuality isn’t an illness. Then, in 1999 eleven professional organizations condemned so-called therapies touted as turning people straight. They were, professional studies concluded, not only ineffective but potentially harmful.

The small rival group the right-wing relies upon because it continues to justify views based in religious bigotry with long-debunked scientific theories now is also in trouble because one of its own wrote that the civil rights movement was irrational and that supporters of human rights are intellectually stunted. In its Winter 2007 “Intelligence Report,” the Southern Poverty Law Center documents the failure of this group, which calls itself the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, to fully repudiate these statements.

Among other things, Gerald Schoenewolf, a New York psychotherapist and member of the Science Advisory Committee of NARTH wrote in an angry polemic: “Africa at the time of slavery was still primarily a jungle…. Life there was savage…and those brought to America, and other countries, were in many ways better off.”

All of this reminds us that all discrimination goes together, though often only one is in the open. Any oppression represents a lifestyle, a way of relating to others who are different, that hides many oppressions.

It also reminds us that being, acting, thinking, and feeling “straight” are learned behavior, not natural. No matter what our sexual orientation, we usually learn “straight” through the extended course that is growing up in the USA.

We’re enrolled early and it envelops and entrances us relentlessly because the major figures and institutions in our lives enforce straightness. In fact, we’re scared into it by the fears of what might happen if we don’t perform straightness – violence, threats of violence, ridicule, humiliation, isolation, and rejection.

Haggard’s short, intensive version is a review session built on the fact that straight is learned behavior. It’s learned out of these fears, motivating him to do what would come closest to “restoration” of the straightness he hid behind before -- a lifestyle that brought him attention, love, a career, feelings of importance and acceptance, power, and denial of what still remains within that straightness can hide for long periods of time.

Sexual orientations are natural to people – heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, uncertain-sexual, asexual. You name them.

True, we don’t know definitively the cause of heterosexuality. Science hasn’t finally determined this yet. Though, we do know it’s set very early in life.

Still, some, scared that their own heterosexuality is extremely fragile, are shaking in their boots, afraid that their sexual orientation will come and go due to brief encounters or bad parenting. They’re often religious people who don’t really believe that their heterosexuality is a divine gift to celebrate. If they could believe, they wouldn’t be so scared or oppressive.

Mel White’s Journey Continues

The Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right is the subtitle of Mel White’s brand new book, Religion Gone Bad. It’s his latest intimate analysis of the intentions of the extreme right-wing of Christianity that’s been setting the national agenda for over a decade.

Most well-known for his “coming out” story, Stranger at the Gate, White has the deep insider knowledge of the Christian right-wing that makes his own stories insightful, even crucial, reads for the rest of us. As a former ghostwriter for some of the biggest names in Christian bigotry today, and as someone who remains in touch with the thinking and feeling of the usual culprits behind Republican Party Christianity, his warnings and analyses provide a sobering look into the totalitarian goals of the radical right-wing.

Close followers of the right-wing won’t be surprised by his sense of alarm. They’ll find new evidence to back up their concern here.

Those who still think that these authoritarians should be valued for their sincerity, made objects of laughter on Comedy Central, pitied for how persecuted they feel, or enabled by the usual liberal attempts to “understand” them better, will need this wake-up slap. The only danger is that these people won’t want to face Mel White’s sobering analysis head on.

Though the book has broader implications for all progressive Americans, White intends to persuade his readers that “the struggle for ‘gay rights’ is the next stage in the broader struggle for civil rights” as well as other progressive struggles in this country.

“Consciously or unconsciously, fundamentalist Christians are using their anti-homosexual campaign,” he writes, “to test how much intolerance the American people will tolerate. . . . It is a struggle against fundamentalist Christianity (to use their words) ‘for the heart and soul of the nation.’ It is a struggle we dare not lose.”

White sees the struggle as a war. He documents, again with much inside information since he knew most of the protagonists personally, their call to war, its warriors (Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson), its enforcer (Focus on the Family’s James Dobson) and its extremist (Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church’s D. James Kennedy).

Part Two discusses how fundamentalists fight and win their battles beginning with an analysis of the May 1994 summit of 55 fundamentalist leaders at the Glen Eyrie conference center outside of Colorado Springs. His chapters on the meeting that set the tone and agenda for the right-wing takeover document the setting of the “fascist” strategies and authoritarian goals we’ve since seen put in place.

In the final section, White fights back with his recommendations for resisting the looming fundamentalist take-over of the country. Taking back progressive constitutional political values and reclaiming the progressive moral values of Jesus and the Bible are central to his argument.

At this point some may be tempted to leave White, but this may be the most important time to continue reading. White still identifies as an “evangelical,” but one in no sense like those who claim the term. He really believes that the “good news” is really good news for everyone, inclusive of all religious and non-religious people.

In my mind, the last few pages of Religion Gone Bad are worth the price of the book, though they end too soon. As White tells how Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King, Jr’s method of “Soul Force” grabbed him, and how he has evolved after discovering and practicing for over ten years this life-style of “out-loving” the enemy, we find the activist-tested wisdom he has for us today.

Though he learned from King how morally important it was not to write off the fundamentalists or give up on them, his activist “Soul Force” experience and principles have brought him today to the point where he sees that the time to negotiate with them is over.

“For decades we’ve tried to negotiate with fundamentalists to end their antihomosexual campaign. They’ve refused. It’s time to take the next step,” this front-line fighter against the Christian right-wing advises. “Agape love demands it.

What follows are exciting paragraphs advising what “love demands” we do or, as I would put it, how to step out of the victim role toward the Christian right-wing, in order to stop enabling their addiction.

“Love demands we take it to the street,” he writes. It also demands that LGBT people stop agreeing to participate in church debates and studies of issues that discuss LGBT people as if they’re lab rats and specimens. Out of the dysfunctional emotional need to be accepted by the religious institutions in order to feel better about themselves, LGBT people have agreed to have their very humanity analyzed -- “the ultimate act of self-denigration.”

Such actions, White argues, not only contribute to the postponing of justice but actually further prop up the very structures that promote religion-based bigotry. Continuing to support institutions that oppress one after already expressing concerns and demonstrating ones case is what Gandhi would call “cooperating with evil.”

How many continue to give money to and continue as active members of institutions that respond only by abusing them? How many continue to believe that more cooperation will change these abusers’ hearts even while the leaders harden their hearts further?

There will be people who will respond that White is too much of an activist for them, no matter how extensive now White’s experience of the Christian right-wing’s real threat is. They might settle instead for check-book activism or something much safer. They might prefer to hide in their relationships far away from the world out there.

Yet it’s fear that keeps us from doing what will fully change things. So, the ultimate beneficiary of stepping out of the victim role is always the person who does it.

In White’s terms, it’s not just about changing the world out there. “The person who benefits most from demanding justice is the person who demands it….Win or lose, we take it to the streets because just being there enriches and empowers our lives.”

The Privilege of Mary Cheney

I once sat in a meeting where a rich, white gay man told the staff of a lesbian and gay community center that they were behind-the-times to think that banks still discriminate against LGBT people and organizations. The center staff’s daily experience told them otherwise, but it was nice that he was confident everyone experienced being gay the way rich, white men do.

My own experience is full of examples of well-off gay people thinking that everyone can afford the privileges they have. So to these well-off there was no need to dirty their hands in the fight to end employment and other discrimination for those who can’t buy influence.

A letter to the editor of an LGBT magazine from a well-off, white gay male, world-traveling couple scolding that: everyone can afford the $15 entrance fee for a pride festival. “You people just need to stop wasting your money on beer.”

The white, gay male, business-owning couple that could afford to buy a therapist who would certify that they weren’t gay so they could adopt a Latin American child. They saw no need to lobby to end political policies against people like them.

The white, gay male physician who told a local community center he didn’t want to be known as a gay doctor when LGBT people called to seek security in the services of one who understood them. He was later happy to have his picture with his partner appear on the front page of the local daily paper when they were able to take advantage of their second home in California and get married during the brief period it was legal in San Francisco.

Buying one’s way out of the discrimination against any targeted community by well-off members is common. Often it’s accompanied by the fantasy that discrimination has ended and those now discriminated against have brought it on themselves. Ask Justice Clarence Thomas.

Money combined with other privileged statuses (white and male, for example) buys both a façade and shelter against open discrimination. It’s one of the myths of classism that everyone can rise financially above it all.

It may even cause those so fortunate to assume that they’ve been fully accepted. They can believe that until, like the recent congressional page scandal or the crackdowns of the Nazi Holocaust, the privileged are surprised to also be rounded up.

For Mary Chaney, privileges start with being white and rich. She, after all was the lesbian/gay corporate relations manager for Coors brewery, soliciting the very community the Coors family spends money to discriminate against.

Mary can’t benefit from male privilege directly. She wasn’t born male. She had no choice.

But she can claim much of it as the daughter of a powerful, gun-toting man. Mary benefits from the power of her hyper-masculine-acting daddy. And her daddy is the discriminator’s hero, the Vice President of the United States.

Mary’s daddy can do everything possible to stay out of, even discourage, the fight for LGBT rights in order to remain cozy with his powerful friends in the anti-gay right-wing. He can use his own privileged status to ignore the continuing bigotry his stand supports and the suffering it causes non-privileged LGBT people.

To maintain this privilege Dick and Lynn Cheney have no response at all to criticisms from their right-wing base. When Republican Illinois senatorial candidate Alan Keyes insulted their own daughter by calling her a “sinner” practicing “selfish hedonism,” they were silent.

Yet daddy and mommy do show outrage – that’s outrage! – when daughter’s privilege is emphasized by anyone who connects their privileged lesbian and the on-going discrimination Cheney’s party promotes. It was such “outrage,” remember, over John Kerry’s debate response about them surely loving their lesbian daughter as someone who didn’t choose her sexual orientation.

The Cheneys show outrage when anyone points out their hypocrisy. How angry must Lynn Cheney act publicly when anyone asks about the nature of the love affair between two women in her highly sexual western novel Sisters?

Now Mary Cheney announces she’s pregnant out of wedlock, and her daddy and mommy are “happy” to welcome their privileged lesbian’s grandchild. Meanwhile, Mary and her long-time partner, Heather Poe, live in a state that forbids both their marriage and the adoption of the lesbian love-child by Ms. Poe.

Never fear, though. White, rich, political privilege will bring a bevy of lawyers to handle any legal problems for the Cheneys without any threat that it might promote the end of discrimination most LGBT people experience.

Our country doesn’t want to look at the privileges of class. It prefers to encourage all of us to spend our time seeking the “American Dream.” It doesn’t want us to notice that the dream is a nightmare for most, that few ever really attained it, fewer still maintain that status, and fewer than ever today have the possibility of realizing it.

Keeping us believing that it’s there, keeps us investing in a socio-economic system that lets a few through and prevents the many. Keeping us believing that we will be the ones who attain it, keeps us from threatening the power and privilege of the well-healed, most of whom these days inherited their power and privilege.

Keeping us believing that even those from non-privileged groups -- women, people of color, LGBT people, and others -- can rise above the discrimination and become acceptable to the well-off by economic and other success, only goes so far, though.

Mary Chaney in herself is no more liked, loved, or appreciated in reality by the right-wing for all her privilege than anyone else. When it comes down to it, discrimination continues more silently and indirect.

The usual right-wingers objected to Mary Cheney’s announcement with well-worn condemnations. Janice Crouse, “senior fellow” with the ultra right-wing Concerned Women for America predicted the worse. It’s “the root cause of all sorts of negative outcomes -- drug use, juvenile delinquency. You name it."

Privilege only goes so far. No matter how high you rise in an organization, no matter how hard you work, as long as discrimination itself isn’t addressed and solved, the usual slurs fester there even if not expressed openly toward the one with privilege.

© 2014 Robert N. Minor

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