Saturday, September 08, 2007

Our Endangered Country

Back in the old days, most of the people who talked about the “Judeo-Christian tradition” were nice, high-minded” clerics from the mainstream Protestant denominations who wanted to include Jews in on things like Brotherhood Week. The sentiments may have been a bit treacly, but the underlying purpose – to make people less inclined to hate each other on the basis of religious affiliation – was praiseworthy. The underlying purpose o fthe new crowd seems altogether different. Being inclusive is not wht they have in mind. On the contrary. It looks to me like what they want to do is to slice off those of their fellow citizens who don’t meet their standards for admission to the “Judeo-Christian tradition” – e.g., those who have an “aversion to religion,” by which they presumably mean an aversion to organized religion and/or religious dogma – and then to read these citizens out of American society. As a Judeo-Christian who has an aversion to religion, and who is an American as good or better than any mousse-haired, Bible-touting, apartheid-promoting evangelist on any UHF television station you can name, I must protest.


I think I know who these people … are talking about when they talk about the Judeo-Christian tradition. By Judeo-Christian, I suspect, they mean Christian. By Christian, they mean Protestant. By Protestant, they mean evangelical. (And by evangelical, I’ll bet, they mean anti-abortion, pro-school prayer, anti-gay rights, pro-Star Wars, extreme right-wing Reaganite Republican.)

---- Hendrik Hertzberg, “Antidisestablishmentarianism”, Washington Diarist, The New Republic, September 16, 1985

The other day I mentioned that Glenn Greenwald is working on a new book. The subject is about how conservative movement propagandists like Rush Limbaugh and Hugh Hewitt and the rest propagate the myth that "conservatives" are by definition masculine and "liberals" by definition, aren't. A theme that is just as prevalent for the folks in the Rush-Drudge-Hannity axis is that "liberals" are socialist communist atheist anti-Christian America haters. Our good friend Mr. O'Reilly is one of the chief purveyors of this notion, with the exception that he likes to use his own label (i.e. he hates not liberals, but "secular-progressives".)

Time and time again, though, I see O'Reilly characterize positions that are held by numerous and prominent Christians as "s-p" stances. If it wasn't so irritating it would be comical. Hell, who am I kidding? It is comical watching O'Reilly try to explain to his audience how the Pope taking a position that he had previously designated as an s-p position doesn't deligitimize his stereotyping.

But the branding that is going on within the conservative movement isn't funny. A political faction defining what is to be an American in such an exclusionary manner is antithetical to the pluralistic origins of the country

In my review (really, it was more of a survey) of The Assault on Reason I quoted Gore saying that we're having a political faction turn into a political religion that seeks absolute power and seems to see itself as being in the early stages of an ideological civil war. Another way of putting it might be that these ideologues are seeking to enforce an orthodoxy of opinion. And the sort of orthodoxy the conservative movement seeks to create and enforce is an "American" orthodoxy.

As in the Hertzberg quote above, they seek to define "American" as being a Republican Christian nationalist or someone, at least, willing to compromise and make common cause with the religious right. I sometimes wonder if Barry Goldwater were alive today if he wouldn't have people calling him a left leaning conservative.

We're already witnessing this movement start to purge its ranks of dissent. Repeatedly, individuals become "liberal" or "left" the moment they break ranks. Over and over again we here them calling some Republican a RINO (aka Republican In Name Only.) Christine Todd Whitman wrote in It's My Party, Too that the Republican Party is under attack from social fundamenalist zealots who are driving out members such as herself.

What these folks are saying is that anyone who doesn't share their politics is un-Republican, un-Christian, and furthermore, un-American. This is an insult not only to a humanist atheist such as myself, but to millions of other Americans who have a right to think for themselves without becoming some kind of de facto second class citizen. This includes secular Republicans/conservatives, libertarians, and liberal Christians who think that you can disagree with Rush Limbaugh or James Dobson and still consider yourself an American.

One reason that I posted the Gore review first was that it introduces the topic of the art of mass persuasion and the replacement of the marketplace of ideas in an open forum with a marketplace of commecials on the one-way street of television. As Media Matters documented in its Left Behind report, the portrayal in the media of this Republican Christian nationalist movement as if it is the face of religion in America serves as an excellent example of the process Gore sees in action.

Religion is often depicted in the news media as a politically divisive force, with two sides roughly paralleling the broader political divide: On one side are cultural conservatives who ground their political values in religious beliefs; and on the other side are secular liberals, who have opted out of debates that center on religion-based values. The truth, however is far different: close to 90 percent of Americans today self-identify as religious, while only 22 percent belong to traditionalist sects. Yet in the cultural war depicted by news media as existing across religious lines, centrist and progressive voices are marginalized or absent altogether.


Despite the fact most religious Americans are moderate or progressive, in the news media it is overwhelmingly conservative leaders who are presented as the voice of religion. This represents a particularly meaningful distortion since progressive religious leaders tend to focus on different issues and offer an entirely different perspective than their conservative counterparts.

But I'm not sure there is a greater living example of the intellectual poverty of the propaganda campaign to equate "traditional" American with "conservative Christian nationalist Republican" than Jimmy Carter.

I read Carter's Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis and agreed with almost everything in it. How so? I'm an atheist and he's a born again evangelical Christian. In O'Reilly world, doesn't that make me an "s-p" and Carter a "traditional" American who should be at odds? For O'Reilly's view to hold, then Carter has to be a "secular-progressive," too.

So let me tell you about this "s-p."

He has a PhD in nuclear engineering. He spent ten years serving in the navy, that’s longer active duty than any president (with the exception of Eisenhower) since the Civil War era presidents. His son Jack voluntarily left college to serve in Vietnam. Carter is likely the most devout president we’ve ever had and the first born again evangelical Baptist Christian to hold the office of President. Since leaving office he’s started the Carter Center. Habitat for humanity. He works to monitor elections around the world for fraud. They go to Africa to teach people how to grow food and fight disease. He has negotiated several peace deals and won the Nobel Peace Prize.
He teaches at Emory University still and teaches Sunday school 30 – 40 times a year.

Echoing the sentiment expressed by Gore in The Assault on Reason (but perhaps differing with Gore on the extent to which Americans realize the transforming of America) Carter begins

Americans cherish the greatness of our homeland, but many do not realize how extensive and profound are the transformations that are now taking place in our nation's basic moral values, public discourse, and political philosophy.
Unlike the above exclusionists, Carter seeks to defend the traditions that he considers our share values. Carter warns that those very values are now in peril.

Our people have been justifiably proud to see America’s power and influence used to preserve peace for ourselves and others, to promote economic and social justice, to raise high the banner of freedom and human rights, to protect the quality of our environment, to alleviate human suffering, to enhance the rule of law, and to cooperate with other peoples to reach these common goals.

With the most diverse and innovative population on earth, we have learned the value of providing our citizens with accurate information, treating dissenting voices and beliefs with respect, and accommodating free and open debate on controversial issues. Most of our political leaders have extolled state and local autonomy, attempted to control deficit spending, avoided foreign adventurism, minimized long-term peacekeeping commitments, preserved the separation of church and state, and protected civil liberties and personal privacy.

All these historic commitments are now being challenged.
Carter identifies several factors that have threatened "these historic commitments": the reaction to 9/11, “massive sums of money being injected into the political process”, and – what he calls the most important factor – “fundamentalists have become increasingly influential in both religion and government, and have managed to change the nuances and subtleties of historic debate into black-and-white rigidities and the personal derogation of those who dare to disagree.” Carter believes that the union of religious and political conservatives has empowered neoconservatives to implement their political philosophy on the country.

The GOP has adopted as a "rigid agenda" the theological views of the religious right. Out of control lobbying has turned:

American belief in free enterprise into the right of extremely rich citizens to accumulate and retain more and more wealth and pass of it on to descendents. Profits from stock trading and income from dividends are being given privileged tax status compared to wages earned by schoolteachers and firemen.
Almost every issue is now decided on a strictly partisan basis and any public debate of issues is virtually non-existent. Decisions are made behind closed doors between legislators and lobbyists.

One of the areas of partisanship that troubles Carter greatly is the split between Democrats and Republicans on how to resolve international dispute.

Among Republicans, the percentage endorsing diplomacy in preference to military actions is minimal, while Democrats take the opposite point of view. In the approach to combating terrorism, two-thirds of Republicans believe that use of overwhelming force is best, while an even larger proportion of Democrats think that, although our armed forces should be used when our nation’s security is threatened, excessive use of military action tends to increase animosity against our country and breed more terrorists. This sharp and growing difference over the issue of whether international disputes can be better resolved by diplomacy or by military action is now the most accurate predictor of party affiliation – more important than gay marriage, homosexuality, or abortion.
After pointing out several issues where Americans generally agree, Carter notes, “the intensity of feeling about controversial issues is often much more important than the numerical divisions. This is especially apparent when the subject of debate is abortion or gun control, where the opinion of a persistant majority of Americans has had little effect in the political world.”

In the case of handguns, Carter asserts that 4 out of 5 Americans prefer modest restrainst on guns, and that under presidents Reagan, Bush 41, and Clinton legislation was passed prohibiting the manufacture, transfer, and possession of 19 specific semiautomatic assault weapons.

[N]one of these are used for hunting – only for killing other humans. More than eleven hundred police chiefs and sheriffs from around the nation called on Congress and President Bush to renew and strengthen the federal assault weapons ban in 2004, but with a wink from the White House, the gun lobby prevailed and the ban expired.
Carter is no anti-gun zealot. He owns a handgun, four shotguns, and two rifles and uses them to hunt, while some of his friends collect rare guns. These are rights that they all enjoy and cherish. But the NRA, heavily influenced by its primary client, the firearms industry, has created the impression with the public that any regulation of guns means that weapons are going to be taken away and homeowners will not be able to protect themselves. Carter feels that the gun lobby is opposed to reasonable regulatory measures that will save lives.

The gun lobby also protects the ability of criminals and gang members to use ammunition that can penetrate protective clothing worn by police officers on duty, and assures that a known or suspected terrorist is not barred from buying or owning a firearm – including an assault weapon.
What's more, the NRA has also opposed regulations that would help to prevent arms from being sold to terrorists.

Deeply concerned when thirty-five out of forty-four men on the terrorist watch list were able to buy guns during a recent five-month period, the director of the FBI began to reexamine the existing law and asked some U.S. senators to consider amendments. The response from top officials in the NRA was to criticize the watch lists – not the terrorists – and to announce support for legislation that protects gun manufacturers and dealers from liability if a buyer uses an AK-47 in a terrorist attack.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American children are 16 times more likely than children in other industrialized nations to be murdered with a gun, 11 times more likely to commit suicide with a gun, and 9 times more likely to die from firearms accidents. Furthermore,
The John Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research reports that the rate of firearm homicide in the United States in nineteen times higher than that of 35 other high-income countries combined. In the most recent year for which data are available, handguns killed 334 people in Australia, 197 in Great Britain, 183 in Sweden, 83 in Japan, 54 in Ireland, 1,034 in Canada, and 30,419 in the United States. The National Rifle Association, the firearms industry, and compliant politicians should reassess their policies concerning safety and accountability.

Carter also sees, however, areas where public opinion seems to be slowly effecting positive change, as in the case of growing approval of homosexuality and in opposition to the death penalty, noting that in a nationwide poll only 1% of police chiefs thought expanding death penalty would reduce crime.

Shifting gears, Carter moves on to explain his own religious background - and this is the section of the book best highlights that O'Reilly's "s-p" versus "traditional" Christian Americans memes is complete rubbish, as it is laughable for anyone to consider that O'Reilly is more of or somehow a better traditional Christian. Carter is a Southern Baptist who has gone to weekly Bible lessons his whole life; first as a student, then as a teacher.

"We received the Holy Scripture in its entirety as the revealed will of God, agreeing that the words and actions of Jesus Christ are the criteria by which the Holy Bible is to be interpreted.”

So far sounds pretty much like the fundamentalists that O'Reilly and the conservative movement tend to view as "traditional" Americas, but here is a key and essential difference.

“Although, often helpful, human interpretations of the Scriptures were not to be regarded as infallible or as official creeds or instruments of doctrinal accountability.”

Which allows for doubt and error, and thus tolerance of diversity and heterodoxy.

His church was expressly anti-authoritarian, stressing that Jesus did not give himself or his disciples authority over other people, but instead urged them to go out and spread the word of truth and love and alleviate suffering. As an evangelical he/they believed in a global commitment to spread this Christian faith. They believed strongly in church/state separation, studying the history of Christian martyrs who had died to prevent secular leaders from encroaching on religious freedom. They also believed in religious freedom, compassion for unbelievers and respect for all people as equal before God. Carter's church spent at least 1 Sunday each year protecting the environment, believing dominion over Earth was an assignment of good environmental stewardship.

Carter believes in getting along in harmony with different sects, which he contrasts with a fellow whom just so happens to be one of O'Reilly's "traditionals":

“You say you’re supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that and the other thing. Nonsense. I don’t have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.” (Pat Robertson, The 700 Club)

As governor of Georgia, Carter served as deacon at Northside Baptist Church, teaching a few times each year but not publicizing his appearances in advance so as it would be regular members in attendance. Since becoming an ex-president, he has served as a professor at Emory University for 25 years, sometimes lecturing in the Theology Deptartment. He currently teaches Bible class between 35-40 times each year at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia to adult members and visitors.

In his 2002 Nobel speech Carter made a remark about it being a troubled time for those live by a faith of kindness to others. Asked by Christianity Today to explain what he meant, Carter offered the following response which seems to indicate that he too is aware of the dangers of dogmatism being coupled with eliminationist rhetoric:

There is a remarkable trend towards fundamentalism in all religions – including different denominations of Christianity as well as Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam. Increasingly, true believers are inclined to begin a process of deciding: ‘Since I am aligned with God, I am superior and my beliefs should prevail, and anyone who disagrees with me is inherently wrong.’ And the next step is ‘inherently inferior.’ The ultimate step is ‘subhuman,’ and then their lives are not significant.
A few weeks before the hostages were seized in Iran in 1979, the newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention visited Carter in the Oval Office. “We are praying, Mr. President, that you will abandon secular humanism as your religion.” Carter had no idea what he meant, but it was a portent of what was to come, as this was the first sign of the rise of the modern fundamentalist movement. The new president was essentially doing the same thing that O'Reilly does. O'Reilly's stereotyping of "S-P"s is a way of categorizing millions of Americans as something inherently inferior to his so-called "traditional" Americans.

Carter found out that a small conservative Southern Baptist group had gotten enough political support to elect the new president of the SBC. What Carter had run up against was the newly formed Moral Majority and other nascent fundamentalist/dominionist/Christian nationalist groups.

With an aquaintance familiar with the movement, Carter attempted to figure out what he had done which had branded him as an infidel

Some of the things we considered were that I had appointed many women to high positions in government, rejected using government funds for religious education, established an independent Department of Education to enhance public schools, accepted the Roe v. Wade abortion decision of the Supreme Court, worked with Mormons to resolve some of their problems in foreign countries, normalized diplomatic relations with the Communist government of China, called for a Palestinian homeland and refused to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and was negotiating with the Soviet Union on nuclear arms control and other issues.
Carter notes that his church leaders had for generations considered themselves “fundamentalist” in that they adhered to fundamental principles of Christianity, but that he learned of a more intense form with the following characteristics
  1. "Almost invariably, fundamentalist movements are led by authoritarian males who consider themselves to be superior to others and, within religious groups, have an overwhelming commitment to subjugate women and to dominate their fellow believers."

  2. "Although fundamentalists usually believe that the past is better than the present, they retain certain self-beneficial aspects of both their historic religious beliefs and of the modern world."

  3. "Fundamentalists draw clear distinctions between themselves, as true believers, and others, convinced that they are right and that anyone who contradicts them is ignorant and possibly evil."

  4. "Fundamentalists are militant in fighting against any challenge to their beliefs. They are often angry and sometimes resort to verbal or even physical abuse against those who interfere with the implementation of their agenda."

  5. "Fundamentalists tend to make their self-definition increasingly narrow and restricted, to isolate themselves, to demagogue emotional issues, and to view change, cooperation, negotiation, and other efforts to resolve differences as signs of weakness."
Carter states that 3 words describe fundamentalism: rigidity, domination, and exclusion.

After he relates the experience of how he witnessed fundamentalists take over his religious denomination, Carter notes that he has seen what might best be described as a parallel secular fundamentalism that has infused politics [Blogger's Note - Carter does not use the phrase "secular fundamentalism," but I'm using it as this will tie into a forthcoming post]:

During the last quarter century, there has been a parallel right-wing movement within American politics, often directly tied to the attributes of like-minded Christian groups. The revolutionary new political principles involve special favors for the powerful at the expense of others, abandonment of social justice, denigration of those who differ, failure to protect the environment, attempts to exclude those who refuse to conform, a tendency toward unilateral diplomatic action and away from international agreements, an excessive inclination toward conflict, and reliance on fear as a means of persuasion.
Carter feels he most closely identifies, now, with the National Association of Evangelicals.

Unlike the fundamentalists of the Moral Majority and such organizations, he sees no conflict between science and belief. The Bible is God’s spiritual message, “but the ancient authors of the Holy Scriptures were not experts on geology, biology, or cosmology, and were not blessed with the use of electron microscopes, carbon-dating techniques, or the Hubble telescope," and he Fully endorses the scientific method as a means of discovering truth about the universe, subscribing to Stephen Jay Gould’s non-overlapping magisterium dictum.

Overall, during last two decades, fundamentalists have rejected the charge of Jesus to “render to Ceasar the things that are Ceasar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” When the the governance of church and state become intertwined, this is bad not just for secular democracy, in Carter's view, but for religous freedom and human rights, as well. To make this point, he speaks of Liberation theology in Latin America, whose leaders Carter viewed as heroes fighting dictators. Yet those same leaders were opposed by Pope John Paul II who "condemned the human rights activists and supported the more orthodox church leaders, who were aligned with despotic and abusive regimes" in order to engender loyalty to the Vatican.

Today's fundamentalist and religioug right movement in America fully embraces the dissapearance of any boundary between the Church and the State.

‘There is no such thing [as church/state seperation] in the Constitution. It’s a lie of the left, and we’re not going to take it anymore” – Pat Robertson, who also wants to replace public education with religious academies.

But such views are not confined to extremist televangelists, witness former Chief Justice William Rehnquist saying, “The ‘wall of separation between church and state’ is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicity abandoned.”

In 2000, the Southern Baptist Convention which Carter formely was still a part of, dropped from their new creed, “The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion,” and have espoused vouchers and constitutional amendment to authorize mandatory prayer in school.

We are already seeing this agenda take root successfully, with President Bush's Faith Based Iniatives breaking the down the 1st amendment by allowing tax payer money to be used to discriminate and prosletyze.

Carter is also troubled by right-wing attacks on an indepedent judiciary. He cites a telecast group’s leader saying that activist judges pose "a greater threat to representative government” than “terrorist groups” and Dr. James Dobson calling the Supreme Court “unaccountable,” “out of control,” and “a despotic oligarchy” having waged a 40 year “campaign to limit religious liberty.”

Under the pretense of defending religious liberty, their true goal is to ensure the "liberty" to enforce social and political orthodoxy, as Carter points out that the judges who are being attack are themselves Christian AND Republican:

In fact, most of the judges who are targets of this well orchestrated religious attack are devout Christians. Ten of the thirteen federal appeals courts
actually have a majority of Republican appointees, as does the U.S. Supreme Court, which elected a president in 2000 with a five-to-four partisan ruling.
As further examples of zealoutry that is overtaking the GOP, Carter lists Sandra Day O’Connor upon retiring stating that, “The present climate is such that I worry about the future of the federal judiciary,” and Missouri Republican John Danforth in April 2005 in the New York Times sounding very much the same as Al Gore in saying that:

Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians. The elements of transformation .. are parts of a larger package, an agenda of positions common to Conservative Christians and the dominant wing of the Republican Party … The problem is not with people or churches that are politically active. It is with a party that has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious movement … As a Senator, I worried every day about the size of the federal deficit. I did not spend a single minute worrying about the effect of gays on the institution of marriage. Today it seems to be the other way around.
Then, of course, is the most infamous example of fundamentalist attacks on secular America, the episode of the 700 Club when Pat Robertson and Jerry Fallwell blamed the 9/11 attacks on Americans who do not share their fundamentalist worldview.

Fundamentalists such as Robertson and Fallwell who believe that the 9/11 attacks were God punishing the United States for legalizing abortion fail to take into account that their beliefs have the practical consequence of being demonstrably anti-life, according to Carter, who himself is morally opposed to abortion and views it as a tragedy.

With economic prosperity and strong social services, American abortion rates reached a twenty-four year low during the 1990s, to a rate of only sixteen per thousand women of childbearing age. It has long been known that there are fewer abortions in nations where prospective mothers have access to contraceptives, the assurance that they and their babies will have good health care, and at least enough income to meet their basic needs.
Since Pulitzer prize winning historian Gary Wills has already covered this topic in his review and seeing as I'm incapable of doing a better job of summarizing, I will here defer to his review

Carter is opposed to abortion, as what he calls a tragedy "brought about by a combination of human errors." But the "pro-life" forces compound rather than reduce the errors. The most common abortions, and the most common reasons cited for undergoing them, are caused by economic pressure compounded by ignorance. Yet the anti-life movement that calls itself pro-life protects ignorance by opposing family planning, sex education, and informed use of contraceptives,tactics that not only increase the likelihood of abortion but tragedies like AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. The rigid system of the "pro-life" movement makes poverty harsher as well, with low minimum wages, opposition to maternity leaves, and lack of health services and insurance. In combination,these policies make ideal conditions for promoting abortion, as one can see from the contrast with countries that do have sex education and medical insurance.

Carter writes:
Canadian and European young people are about equally active sexually, but,deprived of proper sex education, American girls are five times as likely to have a baby as French girls, seven times as likely to have an abortion, and seventy times as likely to have gonorrhea as girls in the Netherlands. Also, the incidence of HIV/ AIDS among American teenagers is five times that of the same age group in Germany.... It has long been known that there are fewer abortions in nations where prospective mothers have access to contraceptives, the assurance that they and their babies will have good health care, and at least enough income to meet their basic needs.
The result of a rigid fundamentalism combined with poverty and ignorance can be seen where the law forbids abortion:

In some predominantly Roman Catholic countries where all abortions are illegal and few social services are available, such as Peru, Brazil, Chile, and Colombia, the abortion rate is fifty per thousand. According to the World Health Organization,this is the highest ratio of unsafe abortions [in the world].
A New York Times article that came out after Carter's book appeared further confirms what he is saying: "Four million abortions, most of them illegal, take place in Latin America annually, the United Nations reports, and up to 5,000 women are believed to die each year from complications from abortions." This takes place in countries where churches and schools teach abstinence as the only form of contraception—demonstrating conclusively the ineffectiveness of that kind of program.

By contrast, in the United States, where abortion is legal and sex education is broader, the abortion rate reached a twenty-four-year low during the 1990s.
Ok, then. Back to my own review.

Carter also views the fundamentalist opposition to stem cell research as being unreasonable given that "about 2% of the estimated four hundred thousand frozen and unused embryos wind being given to other families who desire children, while the others are being destroyed."

The counter-productive social views of the religious right are effecting not just US citizens. For example, they oppose sexual education in favor of teaching encouraging abstinence only, and as a result Republicans and the White House have opposed sending money to organizations in Africa that have family planning services despite the AIDS pandemic on that continent.

Another disturbing facet of the "prolife" movement, in Carter's view, is the increasing focus on a system of retributional punishment, and especially in its support for the death penalty.

[O]ur nation’s almost total focus is now on punishment, not rehabilitation. This is a characteristic of fundamentalism: ‘I am right and worthy, but you are wrong and condemned.’ More than seven Americans out of a thousand are now imprisoned – most of them for nonviolent crimes. This is the highest incarceration rate in the world, exceeding Russia’s former record of six per thousand.
In addition, we are one of last countries in world to employ the death penalty, with 90% of known death penalities carried out by ourselves and the repressive regimes of China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. The USA and Somalia are the only two countries in the world which would not ratify the International Covenant on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits child executions.

This does not make sense, given that the death penalty doesn’t deter crime. States with the highest number of executions also have the hightest crime rate. What's more, the death penalty is inequitable and has led to the deaths of innocent citizens:

Perhaps the strongest argument against the death penalty is the extreme inequity in it employment: it is biased against the poor, the demented, and minorities, and designed or at least applied to protect white victims. It is not surprising that since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 76 percent of those sentenced to death, even in the federal courts, have been members of minority groups. As a typical example, of the 99 murderers who were executed in 1999, for 127 homicides, 104 of the victims were white! It is almost inconceivable to imagine a rich white person going to the death chamber after being defended in court by expensive trial lawyers, especially if the victim was black or Hispanic.

Recently, with the advent of DNA testing, it has been found that many people on death row are actually not guilty. Illinois governor George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions when he learned that thirteen condemned inmates were innocent of capital crimes, and five of them were subsequently freed completely because of DNA tests. Since 1973, almost 120 inmates in American prisons who had been sentenced to death have been released from death row.
Christian fundamentalists beleive women should be subject to male dominance, but Carter counters that in the scriptures Jesus was a liberator of women and treated them as equals. This regressive fundamentlaism which seeks to roll back the rights of women makes it less likely that suffering women around world will get US help.

Carter sees the neoconservative vision of Pax Americana to be achieved by preemptive unilateral military force - as outlined by Dick Cheney's "Defense Strategies for the 1990s" - as itself being best described as itself a kind of fundamentalism and sees in this international lawlessness a parallel with the domestic attack on the judiciary and domestic lawlessness.

Again, these fundamentalist forces support policies that are not in the interests of the U.S.

[The] dependence of military force to expand America’s influence and other recent deviations from traditional values have dramatically reduced the attractiveness of our political, cultural, and religious offerings to the world. Although most Americans are convinced of the superiority of these attributes of our Western society, it has become increasingly obvious that a heavy-handed effort to impose them on other people can be counterproductive.

Carter is "convinced that our great nation could realize all reasonable dreams of global influence if we properly utilized the advantageous values of our religious faith and historic ideals of peace, economic and political freedom, democracy, and human rights.”

Yet our foreign policy is turning world opinion against us and such actions as the embargo on Cuba is counterproductive, as it helps to create the myth of Castro as David fighting an American goliath and causes economic suffering of Cubans. This does not mean - as Carter's detractors in the noise machine assert - that he supports Fidel Castro. Carter visited Cuba in 2002, only on the guarantee of Castro that he could speak directly to the people, telling them their political freedom and rights were being violated, and encouraged the Varela Project.

Another example that Carter believes is working against us is the US trying to force nations to grant blanket immunity to America from the International Criminal Court for genocidal crimes committed by military personel, contractors, and tourists. Twelve Latin American countries were actually deprived of military and other aid as a means of strong-arming them into agreeing.

North Korea was branded part of a"axis of evil." Yet, "so far, a fundamentalist policy of not negotiating with those who disagree with us has backfired in North Korea …” and in Iran. Then there is the disturbing Left Behind political faction that wants to do their part to bring about the Rapture by fomenting apocalyptic war in the Middle East.

Under the fundamentalist administration of President Bush, we have seen the U.S. torture people and detain children. Abu Ghraib. The Red Cross reporting that 70-90 percent of those detained in Iraq were held in error. One hundred and eight deaths (as of the time of the book's writing) of those held in US custody, at least 28 of which were homicides.

Carter does not believe the following behavior is representative of America's best values:

Iraqi major general Abed Hamed Mowhoush reported voluntarily to American officials in Baghdad in an attempt to locate his sons, and was detained, tortured, and stuffed inside a green sleeping bag, where he died from trauma and suffocation on November 26, 2003.
But no high level officals or officers held accountable which indicates that the administration is more concerned with image management that it is the preservation of human rights.

It is Carter's belief that policies which are based on violence result in a cycle of escalated violence. Declaring a policy of preventative war sends the message that war is more acceptable than negotiation. This, and our abandonment of the Geneva Conventions and using "extraordinary renditions" to outsource torture serve to make the world a more lawless and dangerous place.

Carter understands that torture is not about seeking justice:
The primary goal of torture or the threat of torture is not to obtain convictions for crimes, but to engender and maintain fear. Some of our leaders have found it easy to forgo human rights for those who are considered to be subhuman, or ‘enemy combatants’.
Tortured innocent persons poise a problem for the US when released. Can they sue, can they reveal info about how they were treated? Instead of correcting the problem, the US has tended towards holding them in prison. This is a disgrace.

It is an embarrassing tragedy to see a departure from our nation’s historic leadership as a champion of human rights, with the abandonment defended legally by top officials. Only the American people can redirect our government’s legal, religious, and political commitments to these ancient and unchanging moral principles.
Another troubling trend that is endangering the globe is the US slide towards increased nuclear proliferation

In rejecting or evading almost all nuclear arms control agreements negotiated during the past 50 years, the United States has now become the prime culprit in global nuclear proliferation. Former secretary of defense Robert McNamara summed up his concerns in the May/June 2005 issue of Foreign Policy magazine: "I would characterize current U.S. nuclear weapons policy as immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary and dreadfully dangerous."
All around, our proliferation policy does not make sense. Upwards of eighty billion dollars have been spent on a Star Wars program that won’t work, but military-industrial political forces support it. We pulled out of the ABM Treaty and Russia now feels justified in upgrading its nuclear arms without regard to treaties. We've witnessed the end of “no first use” nuclear plan and the subsequent event of a Chinese major general announcing China was under pressure to renounce its own “no first use” plan.

These same political forces are considering violating the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and intend to militarize space.

Watching America and the world seemingly spiral towards a global nuclear arms race reminds one of the Global Game Change simulation run by Professor Altemeyer in which the authoritarians "produced a nuclear holocaust that killed everyone and destroyed the planet."

Anyways, about the war in Iraq, Carter says:

A basic question to be asked is , ‘Has the Iraqi war reduced the threat of terrorism?’ Unfortunately, the answer is ‘No.’ Not only have we lost the almost unanimous sympathy and support that was offered to us throught out the world after the attack of 9/11, but ther is direct evidence that the Iraqi war has actually increased the terrorist threat. Intestimony before congress, CIA Director Porter Goss stated, ‘Islamic extremists are expoiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists [holy warriors] .. These jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced and focus on acts of urban terrorism.’ He added that the war ‘has become a cause for extremists.’

The U.S. National Counterterrorism Center reported the number of serious international terrorist incidents more than tripled in 2004. “Significant” attacks rose to 650 up from 175 in ’03. In Iraq, from 22 to 198.

As already indicated, it is part of Carter's Christian upbringing to believe that Americans should be good stewards of the environment. It goes without saying that here, as with virtually everything else, the current administration has turned this area of policy over to special interests and as a result pollution has increased and we have failed as a nation to take action on the issue of global warming, which effects not just us, but the entire planet.

It is also a mandate of Carter's faith that one has a duty to alleviate the plight of the suffering. He believes America is failing in this regard by not giving enough foreign assistance. However, he does blame this on lack of goodwill; Americans believe we are giving much more in aid than we actually are and feel that we should give less, but the "less" they recommend is still much higher than what we are giving.

At home, speaking of turning a trillion surplus into a trillion deficit by tax cuts for rich and deficit spending:

This fiscal approach, which will squeeze domestic programs, has been a well-understood goal of some conservative true believers since the origination of Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, head Start, and other humanitarian programs under Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson. The inheritance tax was originated by Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, and is now an additional target for elimination – another massive reduction in the tax burden for the richest families in America.

In the first three years since the 2000 tax cuts, the number of Americans living in poverty increased by 3.5 million, while income for the four hundred wealthiest Americans jumped 10%.

But not only are these "radical changes" happening to our domestic economy, our economic security is also being threatened by the accumulation of international debt owned by foreign nations. Policies meant to enrich the rich are detrimental to America and the world.

Concluding, Carter reiterates that America must be a moral exemplar for the world, and should not substitute military might for democratic ideals.

Blogger's Note - I may fix and change a few things in the post over the next day or so. I had to spend so much time dealing with transcription errors from my notes that I didn't feel like re-working this draft version.

No comments: