Sunday Reads: Once more with confidence…

With all this heat, I could not bear to put up a picture of hot coffee…so here is a nice cool watermelon to enjoy your summer morning Sunday reads.

Good Morning!

Actually that exclamation point seems a bit overstated. I wanted to write a poetic introduction to this morning’s post. I sat on my bed with the laptop angled up on my lower legs…my fingers on the well-worn keyboard, and nothing could make them move and flick the keys, to write out words on the computer page. I just looked at my hands and saw only that my nails needed to be clipped, and the screen needed to be cleaned.

Must be the heat, it zaps any intelligent thought out of my brain, and it drives my mind into stillness. Nothingness. Only the relief pouring out of my A/C unit and the sound of my fan falls on me. Nothing.

I won’t kid you all into thinking that I have any thought-provoking comment on the news links today. These plastic keys are getting hot under the pressure of my fingertips as they sit waiting for me to get on with it.

Dammit, I should have known that naming a post, once more with confidence was just asking for trouble. So all that I wrote for the intro to this morning’s post is poof, gone. My computer froze, it too must be affected by the heat. No kidding, I had to take a picture of the computer screen so I could retype the paragraphs I did write. Ugh…

For the start of today’s post, I give you this…h/t Boston Boomer who sent me the link last night while I was having computer problems.

Weimar America …Before I even read the article I knew exactly what I was going to be reading about…what little brain cells I have left, the ones who have not melted in the heat, could grasp that headline.

What happens when a nation that was once an economic powerhouse turns its back on democracy and on its middle class, as wealthy right-wingers wage austerity campaigns and enable extremist politics?

It may sound like America in 2012. But it was also Germany in 1932.

Since I’ve been re-reading the book Banality of Evil, and just last month finished the book In the Garden of Beast, this article is not at all surprising to me.

Most Americans have never heard of the Weimar Republic, Germany’s democratic interlude between World War I and World War II. Those who have usually see it as a prologue to the horrors of Nazi Germany, an unstable transition between imperialism and fascism. In this view, Hitler’s rise to power is treated as an inevitable outcome of the Great Depression, rather than the result of a decision by right-wing politicians to make him chancellor in early 1933.

Historians reject teleological approaches to studying the past. No outcome is inevitable, even if some are more likely than others. Rather than looking for predictable outcomes, we ought to be looking to the past to understand how systems operate, especially liberal capitalist democracies. In that sense, Weimar Germany holds many useful lessons for contemporary Americans. In particular, there are four major points of similarity between Weimar Germany and Weimar America worth examining.

Please, if you read nothing else, read the rest of this article…

Next up…David Miscavige: A cult figure in the fame game  This link is about the cult of Scientology, it’s big shot leader and Sea Org…and it is freaky stuff! If you do not know what Sea Org is, you may be one of those folks who have not kept up with the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes split. Some gossip mags are speculating that Sea Org is the reason behind Holmes filing for divorce and seeking full custody of their daughter. Well, I have no comment on that…but a cult is a cult, nuff said.

At first glance, the handsome Georgian mansion in the heart of the Sussex countryside could easily be mistaken for a National Trust property. Indeed, at this time of year, Saint Hill Manor would not look out of place in a BBC costume drama; lawns are manicured and greenhouses stocked with abundant produce.

Only the presence of stern-faced young men sporting pristine black naval uniforms and white flat caps indicate Saint Hill’s true calling. The cadets are members of the Sea Org, the 6,000-strong unit within the Church of Scientology that is run along quasi-military lines and which is treated with a degree of respect that borders on fear by some of its followers.

Many members are little more than children who have signed contracts pledging to perform a billion years of service for the fledgling church which was set up in 1954 by the former pulp fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, and is famed for its celebrity followers.

Banned from having children while part of the group, Sea Org members are considered the Scientology elite, shock troops to be dispatched to the church’s trouble spots. Hubbard declared that they had “unlimited ethics powers”.

Uh…again I can only say, it’s a cult!

Small-framed, sharp-featured and with an unnerving gaze, Miscavige’s official title is “chairman of the Board of Religious Technology Centre“, a stand-alone organisation whose remit is to “preserve, maintain and protect the Scientology religion”. According to the church, the centre “holds the ultimate ecclesiastical authority regarding the standard and pure application of L Ron Hubbard’s religious technologies”.

What this means in practice, according to those who have quit the church, is that Miscavige wields absolute power over Scientology’s followers.

I will omit the Cruise/Holmes discussion and get back to Miscavige:

Scientology claims the abuse it receives is typical of the treatment meted out down the centuries to any new religion. But a plethora of lawsuits alleging that Scientology has harassed its critics, humiliated and beaten its followers and forced family members to break off contact with their loved ones, all denied by the church, have conspired to leave a sinister impression.

There is also unease over the apparent disappearance of Miscavige’s wife, Shelly, another former member of the Sea Org, who was responsible for introducing Holmes to Cruise and who has reportedly not been seen in public since 2007.

In a letter to the Observer, Jeffrey K Riffer, a lawyer who acts for Shelly Miscavige, denied claims his client was missing. “Mrs Miscavige has been working nonstop in the church, as she always has.”

Once it was the case that the church could rely on its internal disciplinary mechanism to ensure negative publicity was kept to a minimum. According to lawsuits, contested by the church, followers were threatened with manual labour if they spoke out about harsh treatment. The ever-present threat of being rejected by the church and having all links with it broken off, was enough to make even sceptical Scientologists stay silent.

But this fear no longer holds sway – even among Miscavige’s own family. “My experience in growing up in Scientology is that it is both mentally and at times physically abusive,” his niece, Jenna Miscavige Hill, told the Hollywood Reporter. “We got a lousy education from unqualified teachers, forced labour… not to mention the mental anguish of trying to figure out all of the conflicting information they force upon you as a young child…

Questions also loom about the fortunes that Miscavige spends on living up his celebrity lifestyle…

Even those who are supportive of the church are tired of Miscavige’s influence. Last New Year’s Eve, Debbie Cook, a high-profile Scientologist, emailed the church’s followers, urging them to reject its demands for money. Under Miscavige, Cook said, Scientology had become too focused on luxury buildings and was holding more than $1bn in reserve instead of spending it on spreading the religion, claims denied by the church. Miscavige, Cook claimed, had dismantled the internal checks that were supposed to prevent the church from being led by a single person.

There are claims that several of Scientology’s former followers have briefed the FBI on Miscavige’s lifestyle. It is alleged that he owns numerous vehicles, flies in corporate jets and has five stewards and two chefs at his disposal – claims denied by the church.

It is ironic that Miscavige, who by masterminding Scientology’s successful claim for tax exemption from the US Internal Revenue Service in 1993 transformed the church’s fortunes, now finds himself its biggest liability.

Well, I still can’t believe this cult is considered a “church” just thinking of all the tax exemptions alone is enough to piss me off. That there is a missing wife, crazed celebrities and indoctrination of children just adds fuel to the fire.

Let’s keep the rage flowing:  TN Tea Party Groups Demand School Textbooks Overlook Slavery

Remember the Tea Party — that reactionary right wing movement that helped lead the Republican Party into the fever swamp of madness?

Well, in places like Tennessee they found especially fertile ground, and that state’s Teabaggers are now demanding that school textbooks leave out America’s history of slavery.

A little more than a year after the conservative-led state board of education in Texas approved massive changes to its school textbooks to put slavery in a more positive light, a group of Tea Party activists in Tennessee has renewed its push to whitewash school textbooks. The group is seeking to remove references to slavery and mentions of the country’s founders being slave owners.

You know, over at the Holocaust museum there was a section that focused on propaganda, and the way the Nazi’s changed the kids history books to push the Aryan ideal and make the kids “good little Nazis.”

From Tennessee to Louisiana, the tea party nutcases are working hard to fuck up the education system. Louisiana Legislator Upset That Education Vouchers Can Go to Muslim Schools

It looks like someone’s pocket Constitution was lost before she voted in the Louisiana legislature. That’s Republican legislator Valarie Hodges, who wholeheartedly supported Bobby Jindal’s school voucher program. Well, she supported it until she discovered that — GASP! — state money could go to Muslim schools.

Now she’s just horrified.

Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Watson, says she had no idea that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s overhaul of the state’s educational system might mean taxpayer support of Muslim schools.

“I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,” the District 64 Representative said Monday.

“I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school,” Hodges said.

Hodges mistakenly assumed that “religious” meant “Christian.”

HB976, now signed into law as Act 2, proposed, among other things, a voucher program allowing state educational funds to be used to send students to schools run by religious groups.

Well….what about that assumption?

“Unfortunately it will not be limited to the Founders’ religion,” Hodges said. “We need to insure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”

Well, hey, Rep. Hodges. You don’t get to pick and choose the “permissible religions” when you hand over public funds to private concerns, which is why those of us with half a brain think that public school money ought to be used to fund public institutions, especially when there is NO “founders’ religion.”

See, that way it’s easy. My tax money doesn’t go to fund stupid conservative, narrow-minded, intellectually dishonest education controlled by Catholic bishops and Southern Baptist wingnuts, and your tax money doesn’t go to Muslims. Didn’t you believe that whole “freedom of religion” thing in the Constitution?

Jezebel has a funny take on this story here: Republican Horrified to Discover that Christianity is Not the Only Religion

It’s an honest mistake, assuming that the Constitution only protects your own personal megachurch faith. But one Louisiana Republican is learning the hard way that religious school vouchers can be used to fund education at all sorts of religious schools, even Muslim ones. And while she’s totally in favor of taxpayer money being used to pay for kids to go to Christian schools, she’s willing to put a stop to the entire program if Muslim schools are going to be involved.

Valarie Hodges admitted that when she supported Governor Bobby Jindal’s school voucher program, she only did so because she assumed the religious school vouchers could only be used for Christian schools. Religious freedom means that everyone’s free to follow Valarie Hodges’ religion!

Okay, looks like I have a theme going here, and I did not even notice it.  But back to the Jezebel link:

As The Friendly Atheist points out, the brand of Christianity currently espoused by many in the religious right wing would be pretty unrecognizable to the Founding Fathers, who were pretty high on Deism and pretty low on Christian rock concerts/ talking about The Children’s collective virginity/ having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But whatever. Facts are immaterial at this point.

Yup, there is no need to have facts…or science, or anything at all resembling intelligence.

Case in point: LePage calls IRS the ‘new Gestapo’  You know, this healthcare reform, ACA,  is what the GOP supported before it got signed into law and renamed after Obama.

Gov. Paul LePage used his weekly radio address to blast President Obama’s health care law and described the Internal Revenue Service as the “new Gestapo.”

The IRS description was a reference to a provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires Americans not insured by their employers or Medicaid to buy health insurance or pay an annual penalty when filing their tax returns. The provision, known more broadly as the individual mandate, was the subject of a multi-state lawsuit, but was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

LePage said the court decision has “made America less free.”

“We the people have been told there is no choice,” he said. “You must buy health insurance or pay the new Gestapo — the IRS.”

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant, responding to LePage’s remarks, said, “We’ve come to expect a bunch of nonsense from Gov. LePage, but this is a step too far. There appears now to be no limit to the extreme language he will use to misinform, degrade and insult people. Somebody needs to explain to him that he’s the governor of a state, and not a talk radio host. I demand a full apology on behalf of all those who suffered at the hands of the real Gestapo.”

[…]

The debate over the mandate has become a political flash point since the health law was enacted. Republicans maintain that the requirement is an unfair tax. Democrats say the mandate was originally a Republican idea born from the conservative Heritage Foundation, which introduced the measure in 1989 as a counterpoint to calls for a single-payer health care system.

[…]

The governor added that Maine will not move forward the ACA’s insurance exchanges — the marketplaces where individuals can shop for health plans from private companies — until the proposed $800 million tab to pay for them passes Congress.

“With these looming uncertainties circling around this issue, Maine cannot move forward right now with Obamacare,” LePage said.

The governor finished his radio address by outlining his ideological opposition to the health-care law, which he said “raises taxes, cuts Medicare for the elderly, gets between patients and their doctors, costs trillions of taxpayer dollars, and kills jobs.”

“Even more disheartening is that reviving the American dream just became nearly impossible to do,” he said. “We are now a nation which supports dependency rather than independence. Instead of encouraging self-reliance, we are encouraging people to rely on the government.”

Oh boy…

Now, let’s move on to the latest news out of the Justice Department: Holder says civil rights ‘under renewed threat’

In an address to the National Council of La Raza convention in Las Vegas on Saturday, Attorney General Eric Holder told the Hispanic advocacy group that the gains of the Civil Rights era were coming “under renewed threat,” and touted the administration’s efforts in protecting the rights of minority groups and immigrants.

“Many of you know this firsthand – and have felt the impact of division, and even discrimination, in your own lives,” said Holder in his address, according to prepared remarks released by the Justice Department.”

The attorney general pledged that the civil rights advocacy group would “never have a more committed partner than the United States Department of Justice” and touted the administration’s record on those issues.

In particular, Holder highlighted the Supreme Court’s ruling last week striking down much of Arizona’s law targeting illegal immigration.

[…]

Holder said with the decision, the justices were “confirming the federal government’s exclusive authority to regulate with regard to immigration issues.”

But Holder, expressed concerns over the provision left standing. “We’ll work to ensure – as the Court affirmed – that such laws cannot be seen as a license to engage in racial profiling.  And we’ll continue to enforce federal prohibitions against racial and ethnic discrimination, in order – as President Obama has promised – to “uphold our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants,” he said.

The attorney general also touted the administration’s decision to halt the deportation of some young illegal immigrants, a move popular within the Hispanic community, calling it “a significant – and long-overdue – improvement to our nation’s immigration policy.”

Holder said the next step was for lawmakers to push through more comprehensive immigration reform and he said the administration would “keep working with Congressional leaders – from both parties – to advance the passage of critical legislation like the DREAM Act.”

Hmmm, in an election year…yes, that would be a dream in itself. However according to Holder:

“Over the past three years, our Civil Rights Division has filed more criminal civil rights cases than during any other period in its history – including record numbers of human trafficking, hate crimes, and police misconduct cases,” said Holder, pledging that such efforts would remain a “top priority” for the department.

The Obama administration is also sending Vice President Biden to the convention. He is scheduled to speak on Tuesday.

Romney, however, will not be attending, and chose instead to send a surrogate, former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. Gutierrez was not given a speaking role and instead met with attendees at the conference.

Okay, that about does it for me. Except for one little wish, and that goes to Barney Frank…congratulations on getting hitched this weekend. Rep. Barney Frank Marries Longtime Partner In Newton

Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank tied the knot with his longtime partner Jim Ready on Saturday.

The 72-year-old congressman tried to keep the details of the private ceremony under wraps, but managed to drop enough clues to tip off the media.

Governor Patrick officiated the wedding.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Al Green, Rep. Jim McGovern, and others were seen arriving at the Newton Marriott Saturday evening.

[…]

Ready, 42, lives in Ogunquit, Maine and runs a small business that does custom awnings, carpentry, painting, welding and other services; he is also a photographer.

And what are you all reading about this morning? Stay cool and don’t even bother walking outside today, give this video of Absolutely Fabulous a look-see…especially starting at the 8:20 mark. “Sweetie…Now prepare yourself for the heat…you’re not used to it.”