Wednesday, November 30, 2011
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Lawyers representing convicted assassinargue in newly filed court documents that a bullet was switched in evidence at his trial and new forensic details show he is innocent of the 1968 killing of Sen. .
In the latest of many appeals filed on behalf of Sirhan, the attorneys are seeking to overturn his conviction. They repeated a previous assertion and presented reports from experts who said Sirhan was programmed through hypnosis to fire shots as a diversion for the real killer.
Prosecutors had no comment, said Lynda Gledhill, a spokeswoman for the California attorney general's office, which is handling the appeal.
The lawyers, William F. Pepper and Laurie Dusek, also said sophisticated audio tests recently conducted on recordings from the assassination night show 13 shots from multiple guns were fired — five more than Sirhan could have fired from his small pistol.
Sirhan Sirhan, now 66, convicted of assassinating Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, …
Authorities have claimed eight bullets were fired, with three hitting Kennedy and the rest flying wildly around the kitchen and striking five other victims who survived.
Paul Schrade, who was struck by gunfire, refused to comment on the new filing, saying he is working on his own new analysis of the assassination.
Pepper and Dusek argue that before Sirhan's trial, someone switched a bullet before it was placed in evidence because the bullet taken from Kennedy's neck did not match Sirhan's gun. The lawyers suggest a second gun was involved in the assassination, but they do not know who fired it.
Pepper said the new evidence outlined in a 62-page federal courtbrief filed in Los Angeles is sufficient to prove Sirhan is innocent under the law.
"They put fabricated evidence into court before the judge and jury"Pepper told The Associated Press. "We are satisfied that for the first time in 43 years of this case we think we have the evidence to set this conviction aside,"
The motion was filed last week in federal court in Los Angeles
Whether it has any chance of success is questionable, said leading appellate lawyer Dennis Fischer of Santa Monica.
"It's a longshot in the longest way," he said, "but they certainly are raising intriguing questions."
He said the passage of time weighs against defense appeals, with courts tending to ask what took so long to raise the issues. However, he said federal courts frequently are willing to take a closer look at cases in which governmental misconduct is alleged, even if it is long after the fact.
"The current thinking by the U.S. Supreme Court is these things need to end," said Fischer. But he added in case with such historical importance, "No one will ever be satisfied."
Sirhan, now 67, a Palestinian immigrant, was denied parole after a hearing last March where he denied any memory of shooting Kennedy on June 5, 1968, moments after he claimed victory in the California presidential primary.
Parole officials said he doesn't understand the enormity of his crime that changed U.S. history.
Pepper and Dusek are the latest attorneys to take up Sirhan's case after his conviction and argue on his behalf before parole boards and courts.. All of his appeals have been turned down. Pepper, who has taken on other unpopular cases including that of Martin Luther King assassin James Earl Ray, stepped in after Sirhan's previous lawyer died.
At trial, Sirhan took the witness stand and said he had killed Kennedy "with 20 years of malice aforethought." He later recanted the confession. Prosecutors introduced in evidence handwritten diaries in which he wrote: "RFK must die."
The latest filing by Pepper and Dusek relies heavily on a report by audio analyst Philip Van Praag who did tests on an audio recording made by a news reporter during the shooting. The expert concluded that 13 shots were fired and that none of the sounds on the recording were echoes or other anomalies.
The report also claims that the sounds of gunfire were not isolated to one spot in the room but came from different directions.
The lawyers also contend that Sirhan did not have adequate assistance of counsel at trial, noting that his chief attorney, Grant Cooper, decided Sirhan was guilty at the outset and never pursued available defenses.
The Sirhan defense team settled on a claim of diminished capacity and never denied that Sirhan was the shooter of Kennedy, the brief noted.
"Defense counsel did not pursue the issue of a possible substitution of another bullet," the brief said.
Acknowledging "the difficulty of retrying a case of this vintage," the lawyers asked that the sentence be set aside and Sirhan set free.
"Petitioner fully understands that he is likely to be deported to Jordan where he would hope to quietly live out the rest of his life with family and friends, but at long last he would, at least, have received long delayed justice," the filing states.
As an alternative, they asked that the judge set an evidentiary hearing to reexamine the case.
Monday, November 21, 2011
Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new BBC poll has found widespread dissatisfaction with free-market capitalism.
In the global poll for the BBC World Service, only 11% of those questioned across 27 countries said that it was working well.
Most thought regulation and reform of the capitalist system were necessary.
There were also sharp divisions around the world on whether the end of the Soviet Union was a good thing.
In 1989, as the Berlin Wall fell, it was a victory for ordinary people across Eastern and Central Europe.
It also looked at the time like a crushing victory for free-market capitalism.
Twenty years on, this new global poll suggests confidence in free markets has taken heavy blows from the past 12 months of financial and economic crisis.
More than 29,000 people in 27 countries were questioned. In only two countries, the United States and Pakistan, did more than one in five people feel that capitalism works well as it stands.
Almost a quarter - 23% of those who responded - feel it is fatally flawed. That is the view of 43% in France, 38% in Mexico and 35% in Brazil.
And there is very strong support around the world for governments to distribute wealth more evenly. That is backed by majorities in 22 of the 27 countries.
If there is one issue where a global consensus seems to emerge from the survey it is this: there are majorities almost everywhere wanting government to be more active in regulating business.
It is only in Turkey that a majority want less government regulation.
Opinion about the disintegration of the Soviet Union is sharply divided.
Europeans overwhelmingly say it was a good thing: 79% in Germany, 76% in Britain and 74% in France feel that way.
But outside the developed West it is a different picture. Almost seven in 10 Egyptians say the end of the Soviet Union was a bad thing and views are sharply divided in India, Kenya and Indonesia.
Friday, November 18, 2011
Few speeches pass the test of time. Today's landmark address lingers as moldering rhetoric, the esoteric purview of specialized scholars, or fades from memory entirely. The speech that resonates decades later is rare—more so when two such addresses occurred within days of each other.
Yet this month we mark the 50th anniversary of two such addresses. The first, Dwight D. Eisenhower's farewell address, on Jan. 17, 1961, drew relatively little attention at the time but gathered prophetic force over the years. Three days later, John F. Kennedy's inaugural address hit the nation like an energy bolt, galvanizing a generation.
A half century later, the speeches remain relevant.
Interestingly, Ike's first idea for a farewell address appears only in passing in the famous speech, but it's still worth recalling. His earliest concept for the address was outlined in a May 1959 memorandum summarizing a meeting of some of the president's top advisers, including his brother Milton: "Speech stresses the need for common sense to accommodate the broad range of belief in the political spectrum of America, particularly in an era when the nation may have an Executive of one Party and a Congress of another." The next day, Ike wrote Milton, then president of Johns Hopkins University, "The purpose would be to emphasize a few homely truths that apply to the responsibilities and duties of a government that must be responsive to the will of majorities, even when the decisions of those majorities create apparent paradoxes."
The phrase "common sense" is today so overused as to be commonly nonsensical, and that broad range encompassing the American political spectrum has become Balkanized, with too many factions—from the Tea Party movement to the so-called professional left—convinced that they alone represent its breadth. But both extremes neglect that, as Ike observed, the people's will is often contradictory. Recall the recent protests that the government better keep its hands off Medicare.
Of course, a speech warning against the gathering dangers of partisanship would not have carried the force of a decorated general speaking out against the "acquisition of unwarranted influence . . . by the military -industrial complex." Talk about an admonition that still rings as we inexorably approach a 10th year of global conflict. The Boston Globe reported last month that 80 percent of retiring three- and four-star officers in recent years have taken jobs as defense industry consultants or executives, up from less than 50 percent in the mid-1990s. This trend is startling and dangerous. As the Atlantic's James Fallows (a former U.S. News editor) observes, it represents a form of "structural corruption" infecting the system.
Another less-noted passage from Eisenhower's speech is also worth remembering. Warning about the dangers of scientific research becoming too dominated by government, Ike inveighed against "the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite." In 50 years, not only have Eisenhower's fears not been borne out in this regard, but the pendulum has swung dangerously in the other direction. We now endure an age of "truthiness" where the notion of esoteric knowledge is held in disdain: WebMD has made us doctors, blogs have made us pundits, and anyone who has read the Constitution fancies herself or himself a scholar. No need to pay attention to those eggheads going on about global warming; the Internet has made us all climatologists debating the relative merits of the science.
But Eisenhower's farewell was delivered in the shadow cast by the generational torch that was about to be passed. The glow from that fire truly did "light the world" for that generation and others succeeding it.
There's a certain irony in the fact that the inaugural address, with its summoning trumpets and mellifluous "ask-nots," remains JFK's best-known speech. The truth is that he didn't like flowery imagery or rhetorical excess. "The inaugural was a special occasion and there was a special tone in that speech," Kennedy's speechwriter, the late Ted Sorensen, told me when I was writing White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters. "It was more elevated language."
Kennedy had a rare sense of the bully pulpit, neither undervaluing it nor overestimating its power. On one hand, JFK was "deeply—excessively—skeptical about the value of speeches per se," my father, aide Arthur Schlesinger Jr., wrote in his diary at the time. Kennedy understood that talk alone cannot itself bend history. But he also understood that given the proper context, a speech can catalyze a moment and help shape events, as with his three great addresses from June 1963: the American University speech on world peace, his civil rights address to the nation the following day, and his stirring talk at the Berlin Wall.
It's a lesson that Barack Obama needs to absorb as his presidency shifts to a more exhortative stage, with an obstinate GOP controlling the House. He seems to have taken too much to heart Mario Cuomo's aphorism that we campaign in poetry but govern in prose (which Hillary Clinton used against Obama during the 2008 primaries). In fact, governing sometimes requires poetry, speaking not simply to the head as Obama does with such professorial skill, but to the heart or the gut. As the president is unhappily having to demonstrate today, the bully pulpit must sometimes be used to express national outrage and national grief—drama, in other words, from a chief executive who prides himself on being "no drama."
Perhaps my favorite quotation from the late President Dwight Eisenhower is making the rounds on Facebook in the form of a virtual poster produced by a progressive Facebook group called “The Other 98%.” If you’ve got any progressive friends, you’ve probably seen it (pasted below), though it’s too bad they didn’t use more of the quote. It’s a really remarkable and eloquent piece of rhetoric:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final
sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone.
It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.
The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.
It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.
It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.
We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.
We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.
This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road. the world has been taking.
This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
A couple of friends have asked me about the origins of this speech, and specifically whether Ike wrote it. The short answer is that it’s a collaboration, but certainly the key sentiment came from the president. [Check out the month's best political cartoons.]
As I recount in White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters, the circumstance was the March, 1953 death of Joseph Stalin. Eisenhower felt that the Soviet dictator’s demise provided an opportunity to nip the Cold War in the bud. It prompted him to give a speech that would be titled “The Chance for Peace.” Here’s the key section from Ghosts:
More than a week after Stalin’s death, Eisenhower was talking with speechwriter Emmet Hughes about the address. “Look, I am tired—and I think everyone is tired—of just plain indictments of the Soviet regime,” Ike said. “I think it would be wrong—in fact, asinine—for me to get up before the world now to make another one of those indictments. Instead, just one thing matters. What have we got to offer the world?”
As Eisenhower spoke, it seemed to Hughes that his contemplation was drawing to a close. Ike’s thoughts were now coalescing. The president stopped and, jaw set, stared out the window onto the South Lawn. The tiny speck of an F-86 Sabre buzzed across the sky.
In an instant his reverie broke, and he wheeled around. “Here is what I would like to say. The jet plane that roars over your head costs three quarter of a million dollars. That is more money than a man earning ten thousand dollars every year is going to make in his lifetime. What world can afford this sort of thing for long? We are in an armaments race. Where will it lead us? At worst to atomic warfare. At best, to robbing every people and nation on earth of the fruits of their own toil.
“Now, there could be another road before us—the road of disarmament. What does this mean? It means for everybody in the world: bread, butter, clothes, homes, hospitals, schools—all the good and necessary things for decent living. …”
Eisenhower and Hughes would go over a dozen drafts of the speech, each of which the president carefully edited. It survived criticism from quarters as disparate Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who thought an overt peace overture a mistake.
When he gave the speech, to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in April of 1953, Ike was ill and was barely able to deliver it.
Luckily for all of us, he did—even out of the Cold War context, it remains magnificent presidential statement.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Sunday, November 13, 2011
(AP) — More than 3,000 police and soldiers backed by armored personnel carriers raced into Brazil's biggest slum before dawn Sunday, quickly gaining control of a shantytown ruled for decades by a heavily armed drug gang.
The takeover of theneighborhood was the most ambitious operation yet in an effort to increase security before Rio hosts the final matches of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Officials are counting on those events to signal Brazil's arrival as a global economic, political and cultural power.
The head of state security and chief architect of Rio's shantytown pacification program,, called the operation a major success and a big step toward breaking ' hold on key parts of Rio.
"We have taken over areas that for 30 or 40 years were in the hands of ... a parallel power," he said. "This is a very large area. It's one of the biggest shantytowns in the Americas if not the world. We're returning dignity and territory to people."
The action in Rocinha is part of a campaign to drive the drug gangs out of the city's slums, where traffickers often ruled unchallenged. The city of Rio de Janeiro has more than 1,000 shantytowns where about one-third of its 6 million people live.
Authorities said it took just 90 minutes to seize control of Rocinha. Police simultaneously overran the neighboring Vidigal slum, also previously dominated by the Friends of Friends drug gang.
Both slums sit between two of Rio's richest neighborhoods, and Rocinha's ramshackle homes climb a mountainside covered in Atlantic rain forest. Police methodically cleared alleys and streets on their way up steep, winding roads.
Huey helicopters swarmed over the slum, crisscrossing the hill and flying low over the jungle surrounding the slum, as police hunted down suspects who might have fled into the forest. By evening, police said they made just four arrests.
People peeked from their windows and stared as armored personnel carriers roared up streets. Rifle-toting officers from the BOPE police unit, made famous by two "Elite Squad" films, trained their weapons down narrow corridors.
Down a side alleyway, police discovered a house they said belonged to the No. 2 gang leader, Sandro Luiz de Paula Amorim, known as "Peixe," who was captured by police a few days earlier when they encircled Rocinha with roadblocks.
In stark contrast to the impoverished shacks around it, Amorim's three-story home was outfitted with a large whirlpool bath, swimming pool, huge aquarium, high definition TV and just one book: the ancient Chinese military text "Art of War."
One resident applauded the police invasion. "Tell the world we're not all drug traffickers! We're working people and now they're coming to liberate us," a man yelled as police rolled by.
Marisa Costa da Silva, 54, who runs a small candy shop at the base of the slum, was less sure. "Lord knows if there will be war or peace, or even if things will be better if police take this slum," she said. "We've heard they've been abusive to slum residents in other places they've taken. I have no idea what to expect."
Rocinha's location has made it one of the most lucrative and largest drug distribution points in the city.
"Rocinha is one of the most strategically important points for police to control in Rio de Janeiro," said Paulo Storani, a security consultant and former captain in the elite BOPE police unit leading the invasion. "The pacification of Rocinha means that authorities have closed a security loop around the areas that will host most of the Olympic and World Cup activities."
Some estimates say the Friends of Friends gang brings in more than $50 million in drug sales annually in Rocinha and Vidigal alone. Much of the drugs are sold to tourists staying in the posh beach neighborhoods of Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana and to middle- and upper-class Brazilians who live there.
"This action is a huge blow to the structure of drug trafficking in Rio de Janeiro and against the second-largest drug faction," Storani said. "Beyond that, it's essential to have security in this area simply because of the huge number of people who circulate there."
Law enforcement agents will remain in Rocinha for an undetermined time, said Alberto Pinheiro Neto, head of operations for the military police.
Officials are now calling on the shantytown's residents to help law enforcement find drugs and weapons hidden in the community. The head of Rio's civil police, Marta Rocha, made a special appeal to the "mothers, sisters, grandmothers, aunts" to collaborate with the peacekeeping effort.
"Women of Rocinha, give us this information, bring us the news that will allow us to sweep through this territory that belongs to the people of Rocinha," she said. "The day is starting. There is no going back. I am sure the population will help."
The invasion of Rocinha comes near the end of a watershed year in the fight against drug gangs. Rio's program of installing permanent "police pacification units" in slums started in 2008.
The slums initially targeted were not among the most violent. But last November, gangs struck back with a weeklong spree of attacks, burning buses, robbing motorists on highways and spreading fear and chaos. At least 36 people died in the violence, mostly suspected drug traffickers fighting with police.
The surge of violence prodded police to invade the much-feared Alemao complex of slums on Rio's north side, near a highway leading to the international airport. Police routed the gangsters and took control within hours, imbuing the city with a new confidence that its security woes might be overcome even though most gang leaders had escaped capture.
A year later, the operation in Rocinha comes after careful planning and at a time chosen by authorities.
Police officials openly announced when they planned to invade Rocinha. They've used that tactic before and say it's led to fewer firefights during the incursions, with gang members either fleeing or simply laying down their weapons before police arrive. Up to 2,000 officers are expected to be involved.
In recent days, police set up roadblocks at Rocinha's entrances to capture the slum's fleeing drug kingpins.
The effort paid off Thursday, when police captured Antonio Bonfim Lopes, known as "Nem," who was the most-wanted drug trafficker in Rio. He was found hiding in the trunk of a car. His top lieutenants were also captured in recent days.
Associated Press writer Juliana Barbassa contributed to this report.
|AP / Jay Finneburgh|
It is class warfare. But it was begun not by the tear-gassed, rain-soaked protesters asserting their constitutionally guaranteed right of peaceful assembly but rather the financial overlords who control all of the major levers of power in what passes for our democracy. It is they who subverted the American ideal of a nation of stakeholders in control of their economic and political destiny.
Between 1979 and 2007, as the Congressional Budget Office reportedthis week, the average real income of the top 1 percent grew by an astounding 275 percent. And that is after payment of the taxes that the superrich and their Republican apologists find so onerous.
Those three decades of rampant upper-crust greed unleashed by the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s will be well marked by future historians recording the death of the American dream. In that decisive historical period the middle class began to evaporate and the nation’s income gap increased to alarming proportions. “As a result of that uneven growth,” the CBO explained, “the distribution of after-tax household income in the United States was substantially more unequal in 2007 than in 1979: The share of income accruing to higher-income households increased, whereas the share accruing to other households declined. ... The share of after-tax household income for the 1 percent of the population with the highest income more than doubled. ...”
That was before the 2008 meltdown that ushered in the massive increase in unemployment and housing foreclosures that further eroded the standard of living of the vast majority of Americans while the superrich rewarded themselves with immense bonuses. To stress the role of the financial industry in this march to greater income inequality as the Occupy Wall Street movement has done is not a matter of ideology or rhetoric, but, as the CBO report details, a matter of discernible fact.
The CBO noted that in comparing top earners, “The [income] share of financial professionals almost doubled from 1979 to 2005” and that “employees in the financial and legal professions made up a larger share of the highest earners than people in those other groups.”
No wonder, since it was the bankers and the lawyers serving them who managed to end the sensible government regulations that contained their greed. The undermining of those regulations began during the Reagan presidency, and so it is not surprising that, as the CBO reports, “the compensation differential between the financial sector and the rest of the economy appears inexplicably large from 1990 onward.” Citing a major study on the subject, the CBO added, “The authors believe that deregulation and corporate finance activities linked to initial public offerings and credit risks are the primary causes of the higher compensation differential.”
So much for the claim that excessive government regulation has discouraged business activity. The CBO report also denies the charge that taxes on the wealthy have placed an undue burden on the economy, documenting that federal revenue sources have become more regressive and that the tax burden on the wealthy has declined since 1979.
In the face of the evidence that class inequality had been rising sharply in the United States even before the banking-induced recession, it would seem that the Occupy Wall Street protests are a quite measured and even timid response to the crisis.
Actually, the rallying cry of that movement was originally enunciated not by the protesters in the streets, but by one of the nation’s most respected economists. Last April, Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz wrote an article in Vanity Fair titled “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%” that should be required reading for those well-paid pundits who question the logic and motives of the Wall Street protesters. “Americans have been watching protests [abroad] against repressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few,” Stiglitz wrote. “Yet, in our democracy, 1% of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income—an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret.”
Maybe justice will prevail despite the suffering that the 1 percent has inflicted on the foreclosed and the jobless. But to date those who have seized 40 percent of the nation’s wealth still control the big guns in this war of classes.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Sử gia Vũ Ngự Chiêu đã tìm được trong văn khố Pháp một tài liệu quan trọng giúp chúng ta biết được thái độ “chống Pháp” của người trong gia đình Ngô Đình Diệm: Sau khi Đệ Nhị Thế Chiến bùng nổ, anh em ông Ngô Đình Khôi, Ngô Đình Diệm đã nương vào thế lực của đoàn quân viễn chinh Nhật tại Việt Nam để hoạt động chống Pháp. Mùa hè năm 1944, tổ chức Đại Việt Phục Hưng Hội của họ Ngô bị Mật Thám Pháp khám phá và hơn 50 thành viên của nó bị bắt giam. Ngô Đình Diệm may mắn được người Nhật giúp thoát khỏi bàn tay người Pháp, nhưng Ngô Đình Khôi thì lại phải đối diện với cơ quan an ninh của chế độ Bảo Hộ.
Ông Khôi đã nhờ Ngô Đình Nhu nói với Tổng Giám Đốc Cảnh Sát Paul Arnoux ông ta xin thề ông không bao giờ xui ai chống Pháp và chỉ mong được nhận bát cơm từ tay nước Pháp mà thôi. Sau đây là nguyên văn trong bức điện tín mà Arnoux đã gửi cho Toàn Quyền Jean Decoux để báo cáo thượng cấp về vụ này:
“NGO DINH DIEM est toujours en Indochine. NGO DINH NHU reconnaît son agitation coupable et aveuglément ardente; il aurait reçu hier après-midi sur crucifix de son aîné KHOI – que ce dernier n’a jamais incité quiconque contre la France à laquelle il ne demande plus que « son bol de riz », ajoutant « il ne nourrit aucun mauvais sentiment contre gouverneur général qu’il considère comme animé droiture parfaite malgré erreurs dues ses collaborateurs».”
Thái độ của Ngô Đình Khôi thật khác thái độ của những vị chí sĩ đấu tranh chống Pháp như Nguyễn An Ninh hay Nguyễn Thế Truyền rất xa. Ninh chết trong tù ngoài Côn Đảo còn Truyền bị đày sang Madagascar. Bản phóng ảnh của bức điện tín nói trên đã được in lại trong: Vũ Ngự Chiêu, Các Vua Cuối Nhà Nguyễn, Tập 3, Văn Hóa, 2000, tr. 856.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
AlterNet - Conservatives Want America to be a "Christian Nation" - Here's What That Would Actually Look Like
Let's compare Rick Perry's version of "Christian values" to what the Bible really dictates.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, in an appeal to evangelical voters, said "Christian values" and not "a bunch of Washington politicians" should be the touchstone guiding how Americans conduct their lives. ...
"America is going to be guided by some set of values," Perry told a crowd of 13,000 students and faculty members yesterday at a sports arena on the school's campus. "The question is going to be, 'Whose values?'" He said it should be "those Christian values that this country was based upon."It's worth calling attention to Perry's obnoxious rhetorical ploy of using "Christian values" to refer only to his own very specific, right-wing set of beliefs -- preemptive war, gay-bashing, tax cuts for the rich, creationism in schools, deregulating corporations, dismantling the social safety net, the standard Republican package -- as if he owned or had the right to define all of Christianity. In reality, there's such a huge diversity of opinion among self-professed Christians past and present that the term "Christian values" could mean almost anything.
Christians have been communists and socialists (including Francis Bellamy, the author of the Pledge of Allegiance); Christians have supported empire and dictatorship (including Mussolini, who made Catholicism the official state religion of fascist Italy). Christians have advocated positions across the political spectrum, from environmental preservation to environmental destruction, from pacifism to just war to open advocacy of genocide, from civil rights to segregation and slavery.
This broad range of opinion comes about because the Bible never mentions many of these issues, and addresses others in only vague or contradictory passages scattered throughout its individual books. This gives individual Christians wide latitude to find support in the text for virtually any political position you'd care to name.
However, there's one area where there's much less room for debate, and that's the question of political organization. The Bible sets out a very clear picture of what its authors believed the ideal state would look like. Coincidentally, this is the same subject Rick Perry was speaking to: "those Christian values that this country was based upon." We can compare this statement to the dictates of the Bible to see what it would mean to have a government based on "Christian values." Then we'll be in a better position to decide whether America has such a government.
According to the Old Testament of the Bible, after escaping Egypt and reaching the promised land, the twelve tribes of Israel were united into a single country under David and Solomon. After Solomon's death, there was a rebellion, and the country split into two separate kingdoms, Israel and Judah, which lasted until the Assyrian empire destroyed Israel and carried its people off into exile. Both these kingdoms survived for several hundred years, and therefore there's more than enough written history to tell what the Bible's authors thought of as a good state or a bad state.
But right away, there's a problem. The Bible never even mentions democracy -- that concept was completely unknown to its authors. The system of government it enshrines is divine-right monarchy -- and not just monarchy, but kingship. Under normal circumstances, the Bible is very clear that the throne passes only from father to son. (The sole exception was Athaliah, a queen of Judah who came to power in a bloody coup and whose reign lasted only six years.)
Even more to the point, the Bible's ideal government is unequivocally a theocracy: a country where the church and the state are one, where there's an official religion which all citizens are required to profess, and where law is made by the priests. There was no religious freedom in the ancient Israelite kingdoms: all people were required to worship the same god in the same officially approved ways, on pain of death. For instance, when Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai and finds the Israelites worshipping a golden calf, his immediate response is to order the butchering of everyone who participated in idolatry (Exodus 32:27). Many of Israel's subsequent kings do likewise. The Bible goes so far as to say that, if pagan worshippers are discovered in any city, the entire city should be burned down and everyone who lives there should be killed (Deuteronomy 13:12-16).
The Bible also puts a high value on racial purity. The Israelites were the chosen people of God, and were instructed to keep themselves separate. Time and again, they were sternly warned against marrying people of another race, tribe or ethnicity. For instance, the Old Testament pronounces a perpetual curse on the neighboring Ammonite and Moabite tribes, saying that any person descended from either one, even down to the tenth generation, "shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 23:3). In one of the Old Testament's most gruesome stories, a priest named Phinehas finds an Israelite man having sex with a Midianite woman, and impales them both on the same spear (Numbers 25:6-8). For doing this, he's praised as a hero of faith, and God rewards him with "the covenant of an everlasting priesthood." When the Israelites invade and conquer neighboring lands, God instructs them to massacre all the captives, including women, so that they're not tempted to intermarry with them (Deuteronomy 7:2).
By the time of the New Testament, much of this had changed. Christians weren't all of one ethnicity, nor did they have their own country. They were scattered throughout the powerful, militaristic Roman Empire, governed by absolute rulers who were brutally intolerant of dissent. In light of this, it's little surprise that the New Testament teaches the virtue of submission to the authorities. It states unequivocally that earthly rulers, even when they act unjustly, are ordained to their position by God and that Christian believers should obey them without question -- in fact, it states that those who resist are in peril of eternal damnation (Romans 13:1-2).
All these ideas, so clearly advocated in the Bible, are utterly contrary to what this nation stands for. The idea of divine-right kingship is what our founders successfully rebelled against in bringing forth this country. America is a democracy where the people choose their leaders, a constitutional republic where the powers of those leaders are strictly defined and limited by law. America is a multicultural, multiethnic nation founded on the idea of welcoming immigrants, the homeless and tempest-tossed of every land. Submission to the established authorities, of course, isn't an American value: Americans have a long and colorful history of debate, protest, and civil disobedience, and the right to criticize our leaders is sanctified in the Constitution. And most of all, America is a secular nation with a separation of church and state. We have no official faith, no national church as many European countries still do.
But America's Constitution is more than just a secular document; it's literally godless. It doesn't claim that the ideas it contains were the product of divine revelation. It states that governing power comes from the will of the people, not the commands of a deity. It doesn't assert that God has specially blessed this nation or shown it special favor -- in fact, it never mentions God at all. And it mentions religion in only two places, both of them negative mentions: in Article VI, which forbids any religious test for public office, and in the First Amendment, which forbids Congress from passing any law respecting an establishment of religion.
If America's founders had meant to establish a Christian nation, this is where they would have said so. But they said no such thing. And this leads into a historical fact that the religious right would dearly love to forget: the godlessness of the Constitution was a point of major controversy in the debate over ratification. When it was drafted, the fact that it made no explicit mention of God or Christianity wasn't a minor oversight. It was a major, deliberate omission that was obvious to all. Religious language was omnipresent in other legal documents and charters of the day, including the ones that inspired the Constitution in the first place.
For example, the Constitution's precursor, the Articles of Confederation, explicitly gives God the credit for making the state legislatures agree to it: "...it hath pleased the Great Governor of the World to incline the hearts of the legislatures we respectively represent in Congress, to approve of, and to authorize us to ratify the said articles of confederation and perpetual union."
Going back further, the 1620 Mayflower Compact, made by the Pilgrims just before their landing, begins, "In the name of God, amen" and describes the purpose of their voyage as "for the glory of God and advancements of the Christian faith."
Another foundational legal document, the 1689 English Bill of Rights, was based on the political thinking of John Locke and may have been part of the inspiration for our own Bill of Rights. This document calls the U.K. "this Protestant kingdom," states that "it hath pleased Almighty God to make [King William III] the glorious instrument of delivering this kingdom from popery" and declares that no Catholic will ever be allowed to hold the throne of the U.K.
And lastly, there's the document at the root of the Western legal system, the Magna Carta. Like the others, it's woven throughout with religious language: its preamble begins "Know that before God..." and states that it was created "to the honor of God" and "the exaltation of the holy church."
In the light of these documents, it's easy to see just how unique, unusual, even unprecedented the Constitution is. The United States of America was the first modern republic that was created on the foundation of reason, without seeking blessings from a god, without imploring divine assistance or invoking divine favor. And, as I said, this fact was not overlooked when the Constitution was being debated. Very much to the contrary, the religious right of the founding generation angrily attacked it, warning that ratifying this godless document as-is would spell doom for the nation.
For instance, at the Constitutional Convention, the delegate William Williams proposed that the Constitution's preamble be modified to read: "We the people of the United States in a firm belief of the being and perfection of the one living and true God, the creator and supreme Governor of the World, in His universal providence and the authority of His laws... do ordain, etc". A failed Virginia initiative attempted to change the wording of Article VI to say that "no other religious test shall ever be required than a belief in the one only true God, who is the rewarder of the good, and the punisher of the evil". The Maryland delegate Luther Martin observed "there were some members so unfashionable as to think that... it would be at least decent to hold out some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism."
However, the Constitution's defenders held firm, and all the attempts to Christianize it failed. And the religious right of the day bitterly lamented that failure. One anonymous anti-federalist wrote in a Boston newspaper that America was inviting the curse of 1 Samuel 15:23 - "Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee." In 1789, a group of Presbyterian elders wrote to George Washington to complain that the Constitution contained no reference to "the only true God and Jesus Christ, who he hath sent." In 1811, Rev. Samuel Austin claimed that the Constitution's "one capital defect" was that it was "entirely disconnected from Christianity." In 1812, Rev. Timothy Dwight, grandson of the infamous preacher Jonathan Edwards, lamented that America had "offended Providence" by forming a Constitution "without any acknowledgement of God; without any recognition of His mercies to us, as a people, of His government, or even of His existence."
What the religious right failed to achieve at the Constitutional Convention, they kept trying to do in the following decades. The National Reform Association, founded in 1863 by a group of clergy, proposed a constitutional amendment which would have changed the preamble to read, "We, the people of the United States, humbly acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Ruler among the nations, His revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government... do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, they repeatedly brought this proposal before presidents and congresses, getting turned down each time. As recently as 1954, the National Association of Evangelicals was still trying to amend the Constitution with language such as, "This nation divinely recognizes the authority and law of Jesus Christ, Savior and Ruler of Nations, through whom are bestowed the blessings of Almighty God."
Only within the last 50 or 60 years, now that they've finally accepted they have no realistic hope of changing it, has the religious right flip-flopped and started claiming that the Constitution meant to establish a Christian nation all along. This staggeringly dishonest, wholesale rewriting of history has become their stock in trade, to the point of having full-time propagandists who obscure historical fact and promote the Christian-nation myth. These falsehoods filter into the political mainstream, until we have absurdities like Rick Perry claiming that the United States, a secular and democratic republic, was based on the legal code of an ancient theocratic monarchy. We, as liberals and progressives, should know better than to accept this falsehood. We have every reason to speak out and uphold America's proud history as a secular republic founded on reason and governed by the democratic will.