Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Golf Links by Sarah N. Cleghorn

The Golf Links

The golf links lie so near the mill
That almost every day
The laboring children can look out
And see the men at play

Newt’s War on Poor Children

New York Times Op-Ed Columnist

Newt’s War on Poor Children
Published: December 2, 2011

Newt Gingrich has reached a new low, and that is hard for him to do.
Nearly two weeks after claiming that child labor laws are “truly stupid” and implying that poor children should be put to work as janitors in their schools, he now claims that poor children don’t understand work unless they’re doing something illegal.

On Thursday, at a campaign stop in Iowa, the former House speaker said, “Start with the following two facts: Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it’s illegal.” (His second “fact” was that every first generational person he knew started work early.)

This statement isn’t only cruel and, broadly speaking, incorrect, it’s mind-numbingly tone-deaf at a time when poverty is rising in this country. He comes across as a callous Dickensian character in his attitude toward America’s most vulnerable — our poor children. This is the kind of statement that shines light on the soul of a man and shows how dark it is.

Gingrich wants to start with the facts? O.K.

First, as I’ve pointed out before, three out of four poor working-aged adults — ages 18 to 64 — work. Half of them have full-time jobs and a quarter work part time.

Furthermore, according to an analysis of census data by Andrew A. Beveridge, a sociologist at Queens College, most poor children live in a household where at least one parent is employed. And even among children who live in extreme poverty — defined here as a household with income less than 50 percent of the poverty level — a third have at least one working parent. And even among extremely poor children who live in extremely poor areas — those in which 30 percent or more of the population is poor — nearly a third live with at least one working parent.

For this analysis, the most granular national data available — census areas with 100,000 or more people — were compared. For reference, New York City has 55 of these areas. You’d have to slice the definition of neighborhoods rather thinly to find a few areas that support Gingrich’s position.

Lastly, Gingrich vastly overreaches by suggesting that a lack of money universally correlates to a lack of morals. Yes, poverty presents increased risk factors for crime. But, encouragingly, data show that even as more Americans have fallen into poverty in recent years, the crime rate over all — and, specifically, among juveniles — has dropped.

“Facts” are not Gingrich’s forte. Yet he is now the Republican front-runner. It just goes to show how bankrupt of compassion and allergic to accuracy that party is becoming. •

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

ALEC Exposed: A Nationwide Blueprint for the Rightwing Takeover

Published on Wednesday, July 13, 2011 by The Nation
ALEC Exposed: A Nationwide Blueprint for the Rightwing Takeover
by John Nichols

“Never has the time been so right,” Louisiana State Representative Noble Ellington told conservative legislators gathered in Washington to plan the radical remaking of policies in the states. It was one month after the 2010 midterm elections. Republicans had grabbed 680 legislative seats and secured a power trifecta—control of both legislative chambers and the governorship—in twenty-one states. Ellington was speaking for hundreds of attendees at a “States and Nation Policy Summit,” featuring GOP stars like Texas Governor Rick Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Convened by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—“the nation’s largest, non-partisan, individual public-private membership association of state legislators,” as the spin-savvy group describes itself—the meeting did not intend to draw up an agenda for the upcoming legislative session. That had already been done by ALEC’s elite task forces of lawmakers and corporate representatives. The new legislators were there to grab their weapons: carefully crafted model bills seeking to impose a one-size-fits-all agenda on the states.

Founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich and other conservative activists frustrated by recent electoral setbacks, ALEC is a critical arm of the right-wing network of policy shops that, with infusions of corporate cash, has evolved to shape American politics. Inspired by Milton Friedman’s call for conservatives to “develop alternatives to existing policies [and] keep them alive and available,” ALEC’s model legislation reflects long-term goals: downsizing government, removing regulations on corporations and making it harder to hold the economically and politically powerful to account. Corporate donors retain veto power over the language, which is developed by the secretive task forces. The task forces cover issues from education to health policy. ALEC’s priorities for the 2011 session included bills to privatize education, break unions, deregulate major industries, pass voter ID laws and more. In states across the country they succeeded, with stacks of new laws signed by GOP governors like Ohio’s John Kasich and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, both ALEC alums.

The details of ALEC’s model bills have been available only to the group’s 2,000 legislative and 300 corporate members. But thanks to a leak to Aliya Rahman, an Ohio-based activist who helped organize protests at ALEC’s Spring Task Force meeting in Cincinnati, The Nation has obtained more than 800 documents representing decades of model legislation. Teaming up with the Center for Media and Democracy, The Nation asked policy experts to analyze this never-before-seen archive.

The articles included below are the first products of that examination. They provide an inside view of the priorities of ALEC’s corporate board and billionaire benefactors (including Tea Party funders Charles and David Koch). “Dozens of corporations are investing millions of dollars a year to write business-friendly legislation that is being made into law in statehouses coast to coast, with no regard for the public interest,” says Bob Edgar of Common Cause. “This is proof positive of the depth and scope of the corporate reach into our democratic processes.” The full archive of ALEC documents is available at a new website,, thanks to the Center for Media and Democracy, which has provided powerful tools for progressives to turn this knowledge into power. The data tell us that the time has come to refocus on the battle to loosen the grip of corporate America and renew democracy in the states.

In coordination with the Center for Media and Democracy and The Nation, Common Dreams will be re-posting many of the articles examining the leaked ALEC files. To see what's already available go here and here. Updates to Common Dreams will be added here.
© 2011 The Nation

Sunday, May 29, 2011

NOVEMBER 22, 2010 1:18PM
Is nothing sacred? The sad demise of Norway's "sex priest"

Einar Gelius
The now ex-Lutheran pastor Einar Gelius
presenting his new book in Oslo last month

I NEVER THOUGHT I’D live to see the day, but in a recent interview the Pope finally conceded that condoms just might be permissible under certain conditions – in this case, when used by a male prostitute to prevent disease (gee, I wonder how he came up with that example?). The Pontiff’s comments have aroused the media like few other reports from the Vatican in recent years, exciting the WHO and other usual suspects and giving traditionalists a severe case of the dry heaves. (It can’t be doing prophylactic stocks any harm.) But regardless of the controversy his possibly premature comments have caused, one thing is certain: no matter what Benedict says about sex or anything else, his job is secure. The same cannot be said of a Norwegian cleric, however, who published a kiss-and-tell book on sex in the Bible last month, only to encounter a Norwegian religious establishment that is, as Queen Victoria used to say, “not amused.”

Fifty-one year-old Einar Gelius is a Lutheran pastor at a parish near Oslo who has a reputation for unorthodox interpretations of the “good news.” He thrives on controversy, and has gained a reputation as a “soccer priest” for his frequent use of sports imagery in his sermons and for once holding a mock funeral for his favorite soccer club. In 2003, he gave the hidebound Lutheran church some not entirely welcome publicity by performing a wedding ceremony for a couple in a telephone booth. Four years ago, he scandalized many in the Norwegian church by appearing in the TV program “Shall We Dance?” waltzing around a church dressed in his minister’s cassock. This sort of stunt can be forgiven, but Gelius clearly went one pew too far when he dared to question the church’s deepest and darkest taboo. Are you ready for it? Sex. “Christendom, as propagated by the church,” he says, “has been more hostile to sex than any other religion,” leading directly to widespread rape, abuse, and general unhappiness. In his new book, Sex i Bibelen (“sex in the Bible”), Gelius went through the entire Bible in search of salacious material - and discovered a bookful.

Gelius's memorable telephone booth wedding of 2003
(Source: Dagens nyheter)

At a press conference in October, Gelius told the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet that the Bible, and particularly the Old Testament, “reeks of horniness, lust and pleasure, and is an endlessly rich tale of sex that can stimulate people’s own sex lives.” He also raised the possibility that Jesus enjoyed sexual relations with Mary Magdalene, but that - unlike Dan Brown - the Bible provides no definite proof that they actually got it on. Moreover, Gelius’s volume urges the faithful to watch all the porn they like and provides intimate details of his own sexual experiences with women. “I am a sexual person,” the good pastor told journalists. “Both with and without my clerical collar. I feel it powerfully.” When challenged on the wisdom of describing his own sex life in a religious work, he pointed out that eighty percent of the book is made up of his own retellings of actual racy Bible stories. So that’s all right then.

The response from the church authorities was tepid at first. When he heard about Sex i Bibelen, conservative bishop Ole Christian Kvarme of Oslo, who generated headlines three years ago after firing a pastor for living in a gay relationship, called it “a book we could have done without,” saying that he would read it before passing judgement, but had no desire to sully his mind with such fare.

Is there anything to complain about in the book? Gelius maintains there is not. “Many people have an image of the church as being moralistic and judgmental,” he said in October. “I wanted us to focus on what is positive. To highlight the good texts in the Bible that deal with joyful and wonderful sexuality.” He added: “Sexuality is part of creation. That’s why the first thing God said [to humanity] was, ‘Go out and have sex.’” To his critics, Gelius said: “Read the book first, then we can talk.”

Ole Christian Kvarme
No sense of humor? Oslo's hard-line
Lutheran bishop, Ole Christian Kvarme

Gelius will have plenty of talking to do on November 29. That’s the date for a special church hearing called by Bishop Kvarme, who has finally read the book and determined last week that sex “is not the central theme of the scriptures.” Until the committee meets, Gelius is suspended and will likely be spending this Christmas combing the want ads. So whether you’re talking about Rome, Oslo, or Washington, DC: after two millennia, basic human nature remains organized Christianity’s biggest and least attractive hangup.

But not all Norwegians are as gloomy as Bishop Kvarme. The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation quotes one contributor to its online forum as saying, “If all pastors had been like Gelius, I would still be going to church. And I would even leave something on the collection plate.”

UPDATE: Following a meeting with Bishop Kvarme on November 23, Pastor Gelius formally resigned from his position with the Norwegian Lutheran Church.
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