12-30-07: I’ve been sitting on this for sometime because I wasn’t quite sure how to talk about it. Interesting that I should find difficulty in discussing it since it’s been one of the most polarizing topics over the past 6 months. The topic is impeachment. Do any of you think that impeaching our current President is an impractical and politically unsound idea?

I don’t need to go on about how people have been screaming for Bush’s, Cheney’s, and even Rove’s collective heads on a platter due to the crimes that they have committed against Iraq and even against our own US. I must admit that I want them to be held accountable for their actions. However, through discussing it with people whom I have deemed smarter than myself, I had decided that such action would not be prudent.

We all know that this current administration has less than one year until elections. There are some who claim that to pursue impeachment would not be practical because of the amount of time necessary to draft articles of impeachment against any of them, not to mention the fact that even after they’re impeached they still need to undergo a trial by the Senate. There is also the argument that some Republicans would view this as a sort of “tit for tat” response because of the way they pursued impeachment proceedings against Clinton and that if we did the same against Bush that they would do the same to the next President should it be a Democrat. It’s an interesting argument which I have to admit I bought into. However, two things were brought to my mind compliments of a wonderful interview I heard with author Gore Vidal.

First, Bush is a fascist and to compare him to Hitler is not inappropriate. Bush has done exactly the same thing that Hitler did when it came to “saber rattling.” In order to start his war for oil/money/greed in Iraq he needed to come up with an enemy. The enemy he created were the Muslims. To help him paint them as the enemy he made use of the evangelical Christian right which despises anything that doesn’t conform to their twisted idea of Christ’s kingdom. Since Muslims don’t believe that Christ is the savior they must be infidels and should be wiped out. Bush then tells us that they declared war against us. Guess what people? The Muslim nations NEVER DID declare war against us. Al-Qaeda never spoke for all of Islam, and believe it or not, neither did Saddam Hussein. No official declaration of war by the Muslims ever happened. Even after the tragedy of September 11 there were many Muslim government leaders who condemned the actions of Al-Qaeda. What have we done in return? We have declared them the enemy and that if we don’t take the war to them that we’ll all likely perish in a Nuclear Holocaust. Bush has INVENTED the enemy. Hitler did exactly the same thing which helped bring about World War II. He claimed that Czechoslovakia was a threat to Germany and that they needed to be dealt with in order to save their own country. He invented a threat that did not exist. So, from where I’m sitting comparing Bush to Hitler doesn’t seem that inappropriate to me at all.

Second, instead of looking at the politics of whether or not Bush and company should be impeached, let’s approach this from a truly practical point of view. Bush and his cronies (or perhaps it’s Cheney and HIS cronies) are a threat. They are dangerous men in positions of power. For several months now we’ve been hearing terrifying rumors about attacking Iran because they were developing nuclear weapons to be used against both Israel and us. There was talk about a possible preemptive strike against Iran with us possibly using nuclear weapons ourselves. The danger here is that once a country uses such weapons against a single enemy it becomes impossible to keep the rest of the world out of the fight. Iran has an alliance with Russia. North Korea doesn’t exactly care for the US. China and Japan are keeping their eyes on North Korea. Can anyone see the devastating potential here? If Bush and company get itchy trigger fingers and decide to attack we are looking at World War III, only this time it isn’t just the US that has “the bomb.” Other countries have such destructive weapons as part of their arsenal and that makes the US a target, all because we have demagogues in power.

Now, let me ask the question again… Knowing that we have such dangerous people running our government and affecting world politics, does impeachment sound like an impractical and politically unsound idea?


12-4-07:
Yesterday, while listening to Howard Stern on Sirius I had the pleasure of hearing an amazing new song written by Billy Joel called "Christmas In Fallujah and sung by a young artist named Cass Dillon. What really affected me about this song were Billy's amazing lyrics which were inspired by actual letters from our amazingly brave soldiers over in the Middle East. On a more personal note, the song really touched me deeply because I have a brother-in-law (my husband's younger brother Kurt Lane) who I think is the nicest, coolest guy I've met in a terribly long time, and even though I've only met him one time I know that I think of him as family and that I care about him very much. He is in the Oklahoma National Guard, Calvary, and is to be deployed to Iraq any day now. He will be doing convoy patrol on the dangerous highway from Kuwait to Baghdad and I don't have to tell anyone how absolutely terrified I am. Let me say it again, he is family to me and the mere thought of possibly losing him makes me sick in ways I can't adequately describe. I beg that all of you will keep Kurt Lane in your prayers so that when his tour of duty is finished (anywhere from 12 to 18 months) that he can come home to his wife, his children, his entire family alive and well.

Now I'm sure you're wondering what this has to do with this song that I mentioned. In doing a web search for Cass Dillon I found on YouTube a live performance of this song. I cried when watching it, not just for Kurt, but for all of the brave men and women who have served, are serving, and those who have lost their lives because of this war. May this song impact you the same way it has impacted me.



11-4-07:
Fundamentalism. Religious extremism. Biblical literalism. Homophobia. These are the issues that are covered in a magnificent new documentary called “for the BIBLE tells me so.” This movie examines the lives of several different families and their gay children while living in an ever increasing atmosphere of intolerance from fundamentalist religions. Many of these stories will make you laugh, most of them will make you think, and some of them will make you cheer to see how the lives of the parents have been forever changed for the better by having gay or lesbian children. However one of the stories deeply distressed me. A religious woman had a daughter who while in college came out to her as a lesbian. The mother, in her religious way, pretty much shamed her daughter in a letter through the misuse of scripture. The damage committed by this was terrible as after a period of time the daughter committed suicide because she could not live with the shame and guilt placed upon her by her own mother. The movie gave some terrible statistics regarding gay teen suicide, and even worse statistics about the number of suicide attempts, all because fundamentalist religious institutions have brainwashed teens into thinking that they are going to hell because of who they are. When you have the likes of Fred Phelps who claims that God will pour his wrath upon not just gays, but those tolerant and friendly towards gays, or James Dobson who promises that the fall of this country will be due to homosexuality, is it any wonder why teens are so messed up? They are kicked out of their homes, dis-fellowshipped by their churches and made to feel that God hates them and will never welcome them so long as they continue their “sinful” lifestyle. If I may say so myself, this tragedy is something that should be condemned instead of homosexuality!!! This then of course brings up the whole notion of reparative therapy.

Scientific research has proven time and time again that such therapy not only fails, but is actually terribly detrimental to the poor souls who endure such torture. James Dobson makes the claim that thousands upon thousands of people have gone through such programs and have successfully been cured of their so called sexual deviance when in reality all that has happened is that they’ve learned to suppress their natural sexual tendencies as a result of being shamed, intimidated and being made to feel guilty before the eyes of God.

If there is anyone reading this who is even slightly questioning his or her sexual orientation and is also struggling with the religious beliefs that have been spoon fed to them, please listen to what I have to say here… GOD LOVES YOU AND IS NOT ASHAMED OF WHO YOU ARE!!!!!! Through centuries of mistranslation, and through recent years of terrible misuse and misquoting, fundamentalist leaders have taken on this hateful mission to rid the world of a group of people they don’t understand. How long has this been going on in our world? History has shown that groups are always trying to blame the ills of the world on another group of people. White supremacists have blamed the problems of the world on people who are Black, the Christians of the late 11th through 13th Centuries waged war against the Moors which resulted in the Crusades (and we all know how well THAT turned out, don’t we?), and worst of all, Adolph Hitler decided that the Jews needed to be eliminated simply because they did not conform to his idea of what the human race should be. The result of that was a truly dark time in human history simply known as the Holocaust.

To anyone who might be reading this who is suffering because of the religious/sexuality dilemma, I promise you that God doesn’t hate you at all. God made you who you are and did so not out of any desire to punish you. You are who you are to help show the true message of God’s love for all of humanity. Please know that the fundamentalists and evangelicals who preach hellfire and brimstone against you because of your sexuality truly have no idea what the Bible really does say! While the Bible does contain some valuable, and spiritual messages, it was still written by men who are just as flawed as mankind is today. They may have been good men, but they were flawed men nonetheless. Just because they were chosen to deliver messages from God did not exempt them from making mistakes or errors in judgment. As it stands, the Bible really does not condemn homosexuality in of itself, rather it does make some pretty harsh judgments when it comes to the use of sexual acts as a means of humiliation and committing harm on another person. Nowhere in the Bible does it say anything about loving, committed same-sex relationships, and as I’ve said many times before in previous blogs, if homosexuality were indeed one of the greatest of sins (as fundamentalist preachers would have us believe) then why didn’t Jesus ever say anything about it?

To the youth out there, I stand before you now as a witness to the awesome power of God’s healing love. I am a gay man who is also an active Christian. More than that I’ve been in a committed relationship with the same man for 11 years and we both rejoice in our spiritual relationship we have with God. I am here to say that God loves you. Don’t believe the rhetoric and hate that many of the right-wing fundamentalist churches preach. What they are practicing has absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to the beautiful sermons and lessons that Jesus taught in the Bible. Listen to the messages of Jesus and know that God’s love for you is greater than anything you can possibly comprehend. IF ANY OF YOU HAVE ANY DOUBTS AFTER READING THIS, PLEASE CONTACT ME BY WAY OF E-MAIL AND I WILL DO MY ABSOLUTE BEST TO HELP YOU IN ANY WAY POSSIBLE!!!

We as Disciples of Christ call ourselves Christians. Who would we rather believe? Do we follow the hateful sermons given by hate-mongering preachers from a pulpit, or do we follow the peaceful, loving messages that a religiously radical man (as viewed by the Pharisees) named Jesus Christ preached?

As for me, I’ll follow Jesus.


10-6-07:
I just found this highly interesting article in the NY Times. It's a fantastic article refuting the neo-conservative assertion that the United States is a Christian nation only. As a Christian myself I always found this to be a bit unnerving because it then begs the question as to which Christian theology must we follow? We must also ask ourselves about people of the Jewish, Muslin, and Hindu faiths (just for starters). Are they as American citizens commanded to abandon the religious beliefs that they brought with them and to start following Christianity? There are countless different Christian religions alone each one with a different interpretation and belief structure all the while professing to follow the tenets of Jesus Christ. Again, if we are indeed a Christian nation, which theology do we adopt and have the American citizens follow?

I loved this article because it goes back and looks at the source, both secular and sacred, and really shines a spotlight as to what some of our founding fathers thought and believed, and it also gives us some insight as to says the Bible says about religious government. I only wish I could I could write as well as this author did. His name is Jon Meacham and his credentials are given at the bottom of this article. It is reprinted here from the NY Times without permission.

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JOHN McCAIN was not on the campus of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University last year for very long — the senator, who once referred to Mr. Falwell and Pat Robertson as “agents of intolerance,” was there to receive an honorary degree — but he seems to have picked up some theology along with his academic hood. In an interview with Beliefnet.com last weekend, Mr. McCain repeated what is an article of faith among many American evangelicals: “the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation.”

According to Scripture, however, believers are to be wary of all mortal powers. Their home is the kingdom of God, which transcends all earthly things, not any particular nation-state. The Psalmist advises believers to “put not your trust in princes.” The author of Job says that the Lord “shows no partiality to princes nor regards the rich above the poor, for they are all the work of his hands.” Before Pilate, Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” And if, as Paul writes in Galatians, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” then it is difficult to see how there could be a distinction in God’s eyes between, say, an American and an Australian. In fact, there is no distinction if you believe Peter’s words in the Acts of the Apostles: “I most certainly believe now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right is welcome to him.”

The kingdom Jesus preached was radical. Not only are nations irrelevant, but families are, too: he instructs those who would be his disciples to give up all they have and all those they know to follow him.

The only acknowledgment of religion in the original Constitution is a utilitarian one: the document is dated “in the year of our Lord 1787.” Even the religion clause of the First Amendment is framed dryly and without reference to any particular faith. The Connecticut ratifying convention debated rewriting the preamble to take note of God’s authority, but the effort failed.

A pseudonymous opponent of the Connecticut proposal had some fun with the notion of a deity who would, in a sense, be checking the index for his name: “A low mind may imagine that God, like a foolish old man, will think himself slighted and dishonored if he is not complimented with a seat or a prologue of recognition in the Constitution.” Instead, the framers, the opponent wrote in The American Mercury, “come to us in the plain language of common sense and propose to our understanding a system of government as the invention of mere human wisdom; no deity comes down to dictate it, not a God appears in a dream to propose any part of it.”

While many states maintained established churches and religious tests for office — Massachusetts was the last to disestablish, in 1833 — the federal framers, in their refusal to link civil rights to religious observance or adherence, helped create a culture of religious liberty that ultimately carried the day.

Thomas Jefferson said that his bill for religious liberty in Virginia was “meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindu, and infidel of every denomination.” When George Washington was inaugurated in New York in April 1789, Gershom Seixas, the hazan of Shearith Israel, was listed among the city’s clergymen (there were 14 in New York at the time) — a sign of acceptance and respect. The next year, Washington wrote the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, R.I., saying, “happily the government of the United States ... gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. ... Everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

Andrew Jackson resisted bids in the 1820s to form a “Christian party in politics.” Abraham Lincoln buried a proposed “Christian amendment” to the Constitution to declare the nation’s fealty to Jesus. Theodore Roosevelt defended William Howard Taft, a Unitarian, from religious attacks by supporters of William Jennings Bryan.

The founders were not anti-religion. Many of them were faithful in their personal lives, and in their public language they evoked God. They grounded the founding principle of the nation — that all men are created equal — in the divine. But they wanted faith to be one thread in the country’s tapestry, not the whole tapestry.

In the 1790s, in the waters off Tripoli, pirates were making sport of American shipping near the Barbary Coast. Toward the end of his second term, Washington sent Joel Barlow, the diplomat-poet, to Tripoli to settle matters, and the resulting treaty, finished after Washington left office, bought a few years of peace. Article 11 of this long-ago document says that “as the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,” there should be no cause for conflict over differences of “religious opinion” between countries.

The treaty passed the Senate unanimously. Mr. McCain is not the only American who would find it useful reading.

Jon Meacham, the editor of Newsweek, is the author of “American Gospel” and “Franklin and Winston.”

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Lastly, I want to share with you very simple, yet powerful video that my husband found.



10-5-07: 
Today I heard something that just sent me through the roof. I'm sure all of you have heard by now about what the Democrats in Congress are trying to do regarding the ENDA bill. The Democrats (under the advice of Nancy Pelosi) have decided that in order for this nondiscrimination bill to pass the part of the amendment that includes transgendered people must be taken out. I'm sure all of you have also heard an overwhelming cry from the greater gay community and its allies that this is not to be tolerated. It is believed that we really do need to stand together as a whole community instead of a divided one.

What really raised my ire was hearing Congressman Barney Frank during a telephone interview on Sirius OutQ's Michelangelo Signorile show. When Rep. Frank was told about how many (and I do mean MANY) in the gay community felt that it would be better to hold off on the bill until we knew that Congress could truly pass an all inclusive nondiscrimination bill he responded with how it was intellectually dishonest. Intellectually dishonest? With all due respects Rep. Frank, I find your calling this very notion as intellectually dishonest! You try to justify it by comparing it other bills, specifically those involving healthcare for children, and how those same children would be harmed if the bill for their needs hadn't been passed incrementally. Guess what Barney? We in the GLBT community are not children and to compare their situation with ours is intellectually dishonest!!! Another reason I find your excuse to be intellectually dishonest is because at the end of the day we are talking about job discrimination! This is the big issue here and instead you and your Democratic colleagues have decided to change the topic and make it about transgendered people! That is intellectual dishonesty!!! Discrimination is discrimination and IT IS WRONG!!! We are talking about eliminating discrimination in the work place and through your weak-minded ideas you are passively discriminating against a group of people you've been entrusted to protect!!! I find this to be particularly sickening. If you feel so strongly about this Rep. Frank then why don’t you and Rep. Pelosi approach members of the transgendered community and tell them personally why you’re removing them from ENDA. Please be sure to make a mental note of their faces as you tell them that Congress views them as some sort of “poison pill.” Lastly, you want to pass a stripped down version of the bill now because of a lack of votes needed to push through the all inclusive version of ENDA. So tell me Rep. Frank, when do you think you will have the votes in Congress to include the transgendered??? What makes you think you'll magically have those votes a year from now, or 5 years from now??? For you to even justify this tactic is intellectual dishonesty!!!

I am truly disgusted by this Rep. Frank. I understand fully that compromises are required many times in order for progress to be made, but this is one compromise that many people in the GLBT (notice the "T" for transgendered?) community are not about to tolerate. We have drawn a line in the sand on this issue and we had deeply hoped that you and the rest of the Democrats in Congress would have done the same.


9-5-07:

Is homophobia wrong?

YOU BET IT IS!!!



9-2-07:
I’ve been quiet for a while now mostly because I really haven’t felt like blogging much. I find myself just too tired and not wanting to work in front of my computer after spending 8+ hours a day staring at TWO computer screens at my job. Even with all of the news that has broken recently regarding Larry Craig and the resignation of Alberto Gonzales, I knew there would be plenty of other bloggers who would report on these stories and I just could not see the point of adding yet another point of view to all of that. However, something did happen earlier this week that caused me to write this particular entry.

A few days ago I heard a segment on Sirius OutQ about a recently released story regarding the late Mother Theresa. In it she had claimed that even she had experienced a crisis of faith on more than one occasion. What this did was to spawn the ever heated debate regarding sexuality vs. spirituality, or more plainly asked, “Can a person be religious and be a part of the GLBT community, or does the person need to delete certain parts of religious text in order to be at peace with themselves and their beliefs?” I was at work when I heard that question and I don’t have to tell you that I was grabbing my cell phone and out the door into the company parking lot (I didn’t want anyone to overhear what I had to say on the phone) so that I could give my 2 cents worth on the subject. What followed was a series of phone calls from other people, most who were in support of what I had said, but there were some who said I was wrong. One caller in particular really went off quoting poor scriptural references to back up his claim that I’m a sinner and it’s only because someone told him that this reference was the literal word of God. This whole discussion really got me to thinking and made me realize that what’s important is that we seek the truth for ourselves. I can quote you scriptural passage after passage backing up my point of view and at the same time point out the errors in the homophobic passages the Christo-fascists like to use in order to bash us into submission. I could do all of that, but I realized that in doing so I would really no better than those extreme right wing pastors who preach from their pulpits every falsehood imaginable. Each of you must study and discover the truth for yourself for only then will each and every one of you be armed to do any necessary battles with the extreme right wing about what the Bible says regarding us GLBT folk. Just approach the Bible as the book that it is, not the inerrant word of God, but a collection of books written by men. They may have been good and enlightened men, but in the end they were nothing more than flawed men. Approach the Bible from this point of view and dig deep into the scriptures so that you may discern the truth as it really is. I have done so and continue to do so (it’s a never ending task), and in all that study I’m even more convinced that the Bible has NEVER condemned homosexuality, bisexuality, or even transgendered people in any shape or form. There is NOT ONE shred of evidence that supports this. It is my prayer that each and every one of you learns these things for yourself. Don’t take my word for it; rather take God’s word for it as you learn the real truth in your personal studies.

Lastly, before I go, I thought I would comment on how things are here in my home life. All is well with me and Keith. We’re still thrilled beyond belief about our new house. We’ve been living here for almost 6 months and we can’t describe how much we love our home. From time to time we become involved in some minor projects to help improve our wonderful home. Just today we put up some material to cover the walkway from our carports through to our patio (our cars are parked behind the house). This will help to not only cut out some of the intense sunlight, but it will also provide a little bit of covering whenever it’s raining so that we won’t get soaked as we make our way to and from our cars.

Here’s a shot of what it looks like.

As you can see it's a simple outdoor material we bought at Home Depot. Also if I have that glazed look about me it's because it was over 100 degrees and I was sweating pretty badly.

Well that’s about it. I don’t know when I’ll make my next update, but I promise that if I see or hear anything that is of personal importance I will definitely make a point of talking about it here.

My best and love to all of you…


8-19-07:
Today is a cause for celebration. First, my wonderful husband and I celebrated 11 years together yesterday (as opposed to our Holy Union/Wedding Anniversary which is in October) and we did so by spending a wonderful day together in Northern Arizona. We decided to take a trip up to the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest near Holbrook, AZ. It was Keith’s first time to really see it and it would be my second (the last time I saw it was during a family vacation back in 1976). It was absolutely spectacular! We actually took the time to explore the park (which I didn’t have the opportunity to do 31 years ago) and I was absolutely dazzled by both the landscape and the number of fallen trees which had become petrified. Keith had a blast as he brought most of his camera equipment (he loves to experiment with black & white film) and tried his hand at taking some nature photography. He did also bring the digital camera and I’m hoping to run those through Photoshop to take out some of the glare and maybe “cheat” a little bit at getting some of those colors to really pop! Anyway, that was it for our trip yesterday. We were going to go to Seligman AZ as well, but we just ran out of time. We do plan on going back up to the Painted Desert to really spend a full day there as we were only there for only a few hours.

This now leads me to my second cause for celebration… I finally got my Photos page done!!! I had started working on it a couple of months ago, but I could see that it was going to turn into a real nightmare so I found it difficult to get motivated enough to finish it. I also knew that I couldn’t exactly transfer over what had been the existing Photos page over to the new server. There were too many elements involved to do that so I just decided to basically re-build the page for the new server. I’ve tested it several times and I’m now pleased to say that it’s done and ready for viewing! I’ve also configured it so that when you click on the Photos link it will open up in a new browser window so that you won’t lose your place should you wish to navigate back to this page.

8-5-07: Let me apologize for not writing here sooner. As always I've been terribly busy with work and whenever overtime comes into the picture I usually find myself burned out and not really wanting to do any work in front of my computer when I come home. Having said all of that life has been very good for me. Keith and I celebrated my 46th birthday just a few weeks ago with a trip out of town. I promise to post some pictures from that trip once I get a chance. Also, if I do post sporatically, or if sometimes my webpages don't seem to work right, it's because in addition to TRYING to still move everything over to the new server, it appears my Internet provider has botched things up somewhat and I have very limited Internet access. The customer support team said that their engineers were working on it, but as of this time no projected fix time has been given. I will try to do what I can to get things working and moved. Please be patient with me. It will get done.

7-4-07:

Dear Friend:

As we pause this July 4th to remember our nation's fight for independence, the SLDN family asks our friends and supporters to take a moment to reflect upon those who serve our country in the shadows of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."  Today, in every corner of the globe, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans are on the frontlines, serving our country.  They serve with honor and distinction defending our freedoms while serving in silence.

Since the first shot of the Revolutionary War, gay soldiers have fought our country's battles.  Since the great naval battles of the War of 1812, gay sailors have defended our shores.  Gay Marines died in the trenches of World War I and gay Airmen defended the skies during World War II.  In every war, on every battlefield, lesbian, gay and bisexual service members have fought, been injured and died protecting America from her enemies.

Yet, despite those sacrifices, tens of thousands of service members have been discharged and turned away from military service simply because they are gay.  As our closest military allies welcome the service of gay patriots, our own country continues to pursue a policy of exclusion and discrimination.  While more than 1 million veterans living in the United States today are lesbian or gay, their service continues to be dishonored through "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Please take a moment today and join SLDN is saluting all of our men and women in uniform, including our LGBT service personnel.  From our very first fight for independence to today's global war on terrorism, they have served and continue to serve honorably and with distinction.  All of us at SLDN are proud to fight on their behalf, and proud to count you among those working with us for the freedom to serve.


Sincerely,



Steve Ralls


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7-1-07:
I have two things to share with all of you today. Grab a cup of coffee or your favorite cool drink because this is going to be an extremely long blog entry.

First, read the following article. It originally appeared in the New York Times on July 1, 2007 and was written by Frank Rich. It has been “reprinted” on the website truthout. I am reprinting it here without permission.
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When the Vice President Does It, That Means It’s Not Illegal
    By Frank Rich
    The New York Times

    Sunday 01 July 2007

    Who knew that mocking the Constitution could be nearly as funny as shooting a hunting buddy in the face? Among other comic dividends, Dick Cheney's legal theory that the vice president is not part of the executive branch yielded a priceless weeklong series on "The Daily Show" and an online "Doonesbury Poll," conducted at Slate, to name Mr. Cheney's indeterminate branch of government.

    The ridicule was so widespread that finally even this White House had to blink. By midweek, it had abandoned that particularly ludicrous argument, if not its spurious larger claim that Mr. Cheney gets a free pass to ignore rules regulating federal officials' handling of government secrets.

    That retreat might allow us to mark the end of this installment of the Bush-Cheney Follies but for one nagging problem: Not for the first time in the history of this administration - or the hundredth - has the real story been lost amid the Washington kerfuffle. Once the laughter subsides and you look deeper into the narrative leading up to the punch line, you can unearth a buried White House plot that is more damning than the official scandal. This plot once again snakes back to the sinister origins of the Iraq war, to the Valerie Wilson leak case and to the press failures that enabled the administration to abuse truth and the law for too long.

    One journalist who hasn't failed is Mark Silva of The Chicago Tribune. He first reported more than a year ago, in May 2006, the essentials of the "news" at the heart of the recent Cheney ruckus. Mr. Silva found that the vice president was not filing required reports on his office's use of classified documents because he asserted that his role in the legislative branch, as president of the Senate, gave him an exemption.

    This scoop went unnoticed by nearly everybody. It would still be forgotten today had not Henry Waxman, the dogged House inquisitor, called out Mr. Cheney 10 days ago, detailing still more egregious examples of the vice president's flouting of the law, including his effort to shut down an oversight agency in charge of policing him. The congressman's brief set off the firestorm that launched a thousand late-night gags.

    That's all to the public good, but hiding in plain sight was the little-noted content of the Bush executive order that Mr. Cheney is accused of violating. On close examination, this obscure 2003 document, thrust into the light only because the vice president so blatantly defied it, turns out to be yet another piece of self-incriminating evidence illuminating the White House's guilt in ginning up its false case for war.

    The tale of the document begins in August 2001, when the Bush administration initiated a review of the previous executive order on classified materials signed by Bill Clinton in 1995. The Clinton order had been acclaimed in its day as a victory for transparency because it mandated the automatic declassification of most government files after 25 years.

    It was predictable that the obsessively secretive Bush team would undermine the Clinton order. What was once a measure to make government more open would be redrawn to do the opposite. And sure enough, when the White House finally released its revised version, the scant news coverage focused on how the new rules postponed the Clinton deadline for automatic declassification and tightened secrecy so much that previously declassified documents could be reclassified.

    But few noticed another change inserted five times in the revised text: every provision that gave powers to the president over classified documents was amended to give the identical powers to the vice president. This unprecedented increase in vice-presidential clout, though spelled out in black and white, went virtually unremarked in contemporary news accounts.

    Given all the other unprecedented prerogatives that President Bush has handed his vice president, this one might seem to be just more of the same. But both the timing of the executive order and the subsequent use Mr. Cheney would make of it reveal its special importance in the games that the White House played with prewar intelligence.

    The obvious juncture for Mr. Bush to bestow these new powers on his vice president, you might expect, would have been soon after 9/11, especially since the review process on the Clinton order started a month earlier and could be expedited, as so much other governmental machinery was, to meet the urgent national-security crisis. Yet the new executive order languished for another 18 months, only to be published and signed with no fanfare on March 25, 2003, a week after the invasion of Iraq began.

    Why then? It was throughout March, both on the eve of the war and right after "Shock and Awe," that the White House's most urgent case for Iraq's imminent threat began to unravel. That case had been built around the scariest of Saddam's supposed W.M.D., the nuclear weapons that could engulf America in mushroom clouds, and the White House had pushed it relentlessly, despite a lack of evidence. On "Meet the Press" on March 16, Mr. Cheney pressed that doomsday button one more time: "We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." But even as the vice president spoke, such claims were at last being strenuously challenged in public.

    Nine days earlier Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency had announced that documents supposedly attesting to Saddam's attempt to secure uranium in Niger were "not authentic." A then-obscure retired diplomat, Joseph Wilson, piped in on CNN, calling the case "outrageous."

    Soon both Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Congressman Waxman wrote letters (to the F.B.I. and the president, respectively) questioning whether we were going to war because of what Mr. Waxman labeled "a hoax." And this wasn't the only administration use of intelligence that was under increasing scrutiny. The newly formed 9/11 commission set its first open hearings for March 31 and requested some half-million documents, including those pertaining to what the White House knew about Al Qaeda's threat during the summer of 2001.

    The new executive order that Mr. Bush signed on March 25 was ingenious. By giving Mr. Cheney the same classification powers he had, Mr. Bush gave his vice president a free hand to wield a clandestine weapon: he could use leaks to punish administration critics.

    That weapon would be employed less than four months later. Under Mr. Bush's direction, Mr. Cheney deputized Scooter Libby to leak highly selective and misleading portions of a 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq to pet reporters as he tried to discredit Mr. Wilson. By then, Mr. Wilson had emerged as the most vocal former government official accusing the White House of not telling the truth before the war.

    Because of the Patrick Fitzgerald investigation, we would learn three years later about the offensive conducted by Mr. Libby on behalf of Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush. That revelation prompted the vice president to acknowledge his enhanced powers in an unguarded moment in a February 2006 interview with Brit Hume of Fox News. Asked by Mr. Hume with some incredulity if "a vice president has the authority to declassify information," Mr. Cheney replied, "There is an executive order to that effect." He was referring to the order of March 2003.

    Even now, few have made the connection between this month's Cheney flap and the larger scandal. That larger scandal is to be found in what the vice president did legally under the executive order early on rather than in his more recent rejection of its oversight rules.

    Timing really is everything. By March 2003, this White House knew its hype of Saddam's nonexistent nuclear arsenal was in grave danger of being exposed. The order allowed Mr. Bush to keep his own fingerprints off the nitty-gritty of any jihad against whistle-blowers by giving Mr. Cheney the authority to pick his own shots and handle the specifics. The president could have plausible deniability and was free to deliver non-denial denials like "If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is." Mr. Cheney in turn could delegate the actual dirty work to Mr. Libby, who obstructed justice to help throw a smoke screen over the vice president's own role in the effort to destroy Mr. Wilson.

    Last week The Washington Post ran a first-rate investigative series on the entire Cheney vice presidency. Readers posting comments were largely enthusiastic, but a few griped. "Six and a half years too late," said one. "Four years late and billions of dollars short," said another. Such complaints reflect the bitter legacy of much of the Washington press's failure to penetrate the hyping of prewar intelligence and, later, the import of the Fitzgerald investigation.

    We're still playing catch-up. In a week in which the C.I.A. belatedly released severely censored secrets about agency scandals dating back a half-century, you have to wonder what else was done behind the shield of an executive order signed just after the Ides of March four years ago. Another half-century could pass before Americans learn the full story of the secrets buried by Mr. Cheney and his boss to cover up their deceitful path to war.

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I said I had two things to share. The second is for me absolutely revolting. I make no secret that I am completely opposed to this so called “Iraq War.” I won’t go into the politics yet again, but I am completely opposed to it. However, I am a supporter of the troops. Now there are those on the “not so right” who claim that a person cannot support the troops while in opposition to the war. NONSENSE!!! I show my support by giving what money I can to help provide them with not just much needed supplies, but I like to help by getting involved with care packages. I care for our men and women who are in harm’s way and I want them to come home to their parents, their siblings, their spouses, and their children. I cry whenever I hear of these children (I’m almost 46, so someone who is 19 or 20 is a child in these eyes) being sent to fight and die. I feel a love for them as if they were members of my extended family. That’s how I support the troops. My argument is with the political hacks we call “leaders” who are sending these young souls to their deaths, and all for reasons which are nothing more than blatant lies.

I’m not the only one to feel this way. A young veteran feels much the same as I do. His story is below and it is the truth. I support our troops, but our government does not nor do they care for our veterans. The article first appeared in The Chicago Tribune on June 24, 2007 and was written by Kirsten Scharnberg. It is reprinted here without permission.
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Veterans: Military Curbing Free Speech
    By Kirsten Scharnberg
    The Chicago Tribune

    Sunday 24 June 2007

Protesters in uniform could be downgraded, lose their benefits.

    The young combat veteran stared at the letter in disbelief when it arrived in his mailbox a few months ago.

    The Marine Corps was recommending him for "other than honorable discharge." The letter alleged he had violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice by wearing part of his uniform during an anti-war rally. Furthermore, the letter accused him of being "disloyal," a word hard to swallow for a man who had risked his life to serve his nation.

    "All this because I have publicly opposed the war in Iraq since I came back from it," said former Marine Sgt. Liam Madden, 22.

    Madden Is Not Alone.

    At least two other combat veterans who have returned from tours in Iraq and become well-known anti-war advocates have seen the military recommend them for less-than-honorable discharges. One of them is a young man 80 percent disabled from two tours who was threatened with losing his veteran's disability benefits if he continued to protest in uniform.

    Critics - including some groups that have been the most supportive of the war - say the crackdown on these men constitutes a blatant attempt to quiet dissension in the ranks at the very time more and more members of the armed forces are publicly questioning the war they are being sent to fight.

    "I may disagree with their message, but I will always defend their right to say it," Gary Kurpius, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said in a scathing statement this month under the headline, "VFW to Corps: Don't Stifle Freedom of Speech."

    "Trying to punish fellow Americans for exercising the same democratic rights we're trying to instill in Iraq is not what we're about," he said.

    "We Don't Restrict Free Speech"

    The military defends its decision to punish the men, stating that its policies regarding acceptable forms of protest are clear. Military guidelines state that troops may attend demonstrations only in the United States, only when they are off base and off duty, and only when they are out of uniform.

    "We don't restrict free speech," Maj. Anne Edgecomb, an Army spokeswoman, said. "It's the uniform that gets people in trouble. When you wear the uniform, you are representing the armed service behind that uniform, and it is against the military code of justice to protest in uniform."

    Madden and the two other Marines were clearly documented wearing at least part of their uniforms at public protests. (Though all three had completed their active-duty service, they remained reservists; the military argued that the Pentagon's conduct codes still applied to them, an assertion that seems likely to make its way to federal court.)

    The military, with its hierarchical rank structure and absolute adherence to following orders, has never been an institution that takes kindly to debate from within. But today, as an increasingly unpopular war drags on and troops are being sent on multiple combat tours, the criticism from veterans and even those on active duty is reaching a fevered pitch.

    Perhaps the most telling part of such criticism is how open disgruntled troops are becoming despite the risk to their careers - signing their names to furious letters printed in military-owned newspapers; speaking on the record to reporters in Iraq about how badly the mission is going; writing members of Congress. And then there are the protests in uniform, a throwback to the Vietnam War, when veterans such as Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) denounced the war in weathered fatigues.

    Many of the protests involving vets in uniform are all-out street theater, like one in Washington last spring where protesters staged a mock patrol, manhandling people at simulated gunpoint in order to illustrate how they say Iraqis are treated by American troops. Just last week in Chicago, a similar protest took place. The intended subtext of the uniformed protests is apparent: that protesters have additional credibility because they have witnessed the war, that the uniforms now being used in protest have walked the real-life battlefield.

    "Guys like us - veterans who served but then came to believe the war is not only wrong but illegal - are not who the military wants speaking on a national stage," Madden said.

    If Madden and the other Marines initially feared their high-profile discharge cases would serve to silence protest, the opposite seems to be slowly and quietly happening. The men's cases have spurred dissenters to voice their disapproval of the war while remaining within military guidelines.

    Take, for example, DOD Directive 7050.6. It provides the right of service members to complain and to request redress of their grievances, including to members of Congress. Some 2,000 active-duty and reserve troops have used the protection of that directive to sign "An Appeal for Redress," an initiative that sends troops' demand to end the war to Congress.

    The wording of the appeal is intended to be patriotic and respectful while unequivocally anti-war: It begins, "As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform ... " It ends, "Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home."

    Of the three Marines caught protesting in uniform, the case of former Cpl. Cloy Richards has garnered the least public attention - but the most within military circles. The 23-year-old from Missouri has been deemed 80 percent disabled from two tours in Iraq; he agreed this month before a military discharge review board that he would no longer protest in uniform to keep his honorable discharge and his veterans benefits that come to some $1,300 per month.

    But that hasn't silenced Richards' protest. He now attends anti-war demonstrations in civilian clothes; his mother attends as well, wearing his old uniform for him.

    Veterans Group Against War

    Others are also creative. A young infantryman based at Ft. Drum, near Watertown, N.Y., home to the 10th Mountain Division, well knows the fine balancing act it is to be a uniformed member of the military and a committed anti-war activist. Phillip Aliff - he asked that his rank not be used, saying that would be against regulation - is the president of the Ft. Drum chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

    Once a week, Aliff and the other IVAW members finish their duty day in uniform, change into civilian clothes and drive off base to meet at the Different Drummer, a cafe in Watertown modeled on the anti-war coffeehouses of the Vietnam War era.

    "I'm definitely walking the line," Aliff said, admitting that none of his direct commanders know of his anti-war activities. "But we who protest have a collective experience. We took part in it ... so when even we say it's wrong, that carries some real credibility."

    The Ft. Drum group has grown from two members when it was launched two months ago to 12 today. Aliff said the members encourage each other to speak out despite fear of reprisal.

    "None of us wants to get in trouble," Aliff said. "None of us wants to lose our jobs or our GI bills or our benefits. But we also feel we have to be willing to do what's right."

    By meeting off base and out of uniform, the Iraq Veterans Against the War members stay just inside the line of military code legality. They don't distribute literature on base or openly recruit new members at work.

    "We know we have something to say so we are finding legal ways in which to say it," Aliff said.

    A Zogby poll last year showed that war critics like Aliff may not be entirely on the fringes of the mainstream military. The poll of 944 U.S. military personnel in Iraq conducted by Zogby International and Le Moyne College found that 72 percent believed the U.S. should pull out within one year.

    "The unrest has been churning below the surface for a while," said Madden, who is still waiting to see what will become of his less-than-honorable discharge recommendation. "But now the signs of that unrest are starting to be readily apparent."


    1996 Rule Prohibits Protesting in Uniform

    According to a Department of Defense directive issued in 1996 and renewed in 2003, "members of the Armed Forces are prohibited from participating in off-post demonstrations when they are on-duty, in a foreign country, when their activities constitute a breach of law and order, when violence is likely to result, or when they are in uniform."

    The military has said the three Marines who have faced less-than-honorable discharges for violating the uniform portion of that code at a war protest would have faced the same punishment had they been at any other kind of rally.

    "If it had been a pro-war rally, it would still have been a violation," Col. Dave Lapan, a Marine Corps spokesman, said of one of the cases earlier this month.

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    kscharnberg@tribune.com
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Liam Madden was videotaped in an interview regarding his situation. I strongly recommend that all of you see and hear for yourselves what he has to say on this subject. If I can make a request of all of you is that you contact your Representatives and Senators. How can our government send our troops to defend our Constitution and way of life (so says George W. Bush) when our elected leaders disregard those very same rights and punish those who would seek to exercise those same rights as laid out in our Constitution?


6-23-07:
This is probably the most important news item I
ve contributed so far. Please look at the video below and fill out the form. If you are offended by crimes based on hatred alone, but you don't know what to do or how to help stop it, then here is your chance. This is your opportunity to let your Senators know how VITALLY IMPORTANT it is that they pass the Matthew Shepherd Act.

Fight Hate Crimes


Share this video >>

One in six hate crimes are motivated by the victim's sexual orientation. Yet Federal laws don't protect these people. Watch the video. Then tell your Senators to support the Matthew Shepard Act.


Subject:

Dear [ Decision Maker ],

As your constituent, and as a supporter of the Human Rights Campaign, I am deeply concerned about hate crimes, and I am writing to ask that you continue to represent the interests of your state by supporting the Matthew Shepard Act.

(Edit Letter Below)

Sincerely,
[Your name]
[Your address]
Take Action on this Issue
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6-17-07:
There has been an organization here in Arizona called “Arizona Human Rights Fund” or AHRF for short. It’s pretty clear from their title that they are an organization pursuing equality and fairness for all of Arizona’s citizens. Two years ago Keith and I were proud members of AHRF, but as with many political organizations, it was run by people who had their own personal and political agendas. Needless to say Keith and I gave up our membership and instead dedicated our attention and energies towards the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which we found to be far more focused and less divisive.

Through our local political friends we found ourselves at the AHRF annual banquet last night. I’ll just say that Keith and I were somewhat impressed with what has happened in the last two years. Much of the leadership has changed and they have found themselves a new focus and direction. As a result they have rid themselves of their old name and are now called “Equality Arizona.” What made last night’s dinner especially wonderful was that their keynote speaker was none other than that force of nature, the incomparable Sandra Bernhard!!! She was insane, blunt, filthy, politically incorrect, and basically OUTRAGEOUS!!! It was a treat to have the opportunity to hear and see her last night.

What “sealed the deal” on last night was an opportunity to attend a VIP Reception where we met “La Bernhard” and managed to have our picture taken with her!


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The quality of the picture is rather poor because we did not expect to have a photo-op with her, so this picture was taken with Keith’s cell phone. I will say that she is such a dominating force that when I approached her I had absolutely no idea what to say to her. All I could do was smile and have my picture taken with her. I can say that I am extremely impressed with her as a person. She knows who she is and she knows what she wants. She truly is larger than life!!!



6-17-07:
I thought it would be nice to post something pleasant here for a change. I found this video on someone else's Yahoo! Profile page and found it on YouTube so that I could share it with all of you here.

I'm not a fan of Enrique Iglesias, but I have to really tip my hat to him for what he does here during a concert performance with a young,  (presumably) gay guy he had pulled onto the stage from the audience. While you're watching the video make sure to take note of the reaction coming from the audience. It is one of total support and acceptance.



6-10-07:
Okay kiddies, this is going to be a LENGTHY entry. What I’m going to share with all of you is an article written by Chris Hedges. He’s an author, most recently of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. Hedges is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and won a Pulitzer Prize as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times.

This article recently appeared on the website Truthout and originally appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer on June 3, 2007.

It is reproduced here without permission.
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What If Our Mercenaries Turn on Us?
    By Chris Hedges
    The Philadelphia Inquirer

    Sunday 03 June 2007

    Armed units from the private security firm Blackwater USA opened fire in Baghdad streets twice in two days last week. It triggered a standoff between the security contractors and Iraqi forces, a reminder that the war in Iraq may be remembered mostly in our history books for empowering and building America's first modern mercenary army.

    There are an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 armed security contractors working in Iraq, although there are no official figures and some estimates run much higher. Security contractors are not counted as part of the coalition forces. When the number of private mercenary fighters is added to other civilian military "contractors" who carry out logistical support activities such as food preparation, the number rises to about 126,000.

    "We got 126,000 contractors over there, some of them making more than the secretary of defense," said House defense appropriations subcommittee Chairman John Murtha (D., Pa.). "How in the hell do you justify that?"

    The privatization of war hands an incentive to American corporations, many with tremendous political clout, to keep us mired down in Iraq. But even more disturbing is the steady rise of this modern Praetorian Guard. The Praetorian Guard in ancient Rome was a paramilitary force that defied legal constraints, made violence part of the political discourse, and eventually plunged the Roman Republic into tyranny and despotism. Despotic movements need paramilitary forces that operate outside the law, forces that sow fear among potential opponents, and are capable of physically silencing those branded by their leaders as traitors. And in the wrong hands, a Blackwater could well become that force.

    American taxpayers have so far handed a staggering $4 billion to "armed security" companies in Iraq such as Blackwater, according to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman (D., Calif.). Tens of billions more have been paid to companies that provide logistical support. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.) of the House Intelligence Committee estimates that 40 cents of every dollar spent on the occupation has gone to war contractors. It is unlikely that any of these corporations will push for an early withdrawal. The profits are too lucrative.

    Mercenary forces like Blackwater operate beyond civilian and military law. They are covered by a 2004 edict passed by American occupation authorities in Iraq that immunizes all civilian contractors in Iraq from prosecution.

    Blackwater, barely a decade old, has migrated from Iraq to set up operations in the United States and nine other countries. It trains Afghan security forces and has established a base a few miles from the Iranian border. The huge contracts from the war - including $750 million from the State Department since 2004 - have allowed Blackwater to amass a fleet of more than 20 aircraft, including helicopter gunships. Jeremy Scahill, the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, points out that Blackwater has also constructed "the world's largest private military facility - a 7,000-acre compound near the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina." Blackwater also recently opened a facility in Illinois ("Blackwater North") and, despite local opposition, is moving ahead with plans to build another huge training base near San Diego. The company recently announced it was creating a private intelligence branch called "Total Intelligence."

    Erik Prince, who founded and runs Blackwater, is a man who appears to have little time for the niceties of democracy. He has close ties with the radical Christian Right and the Bush White House. He champions his company as a patriotic extension of the U.S. military. His employees, in an act as cynical as it is dishonest, take an oath of loyalty to the Constitution. But what he and his allies have built is a mercenary army, paid for with government money, which operates outside the law and without constitutional constraint.

    Mercenary units are a vital instrument in the hands of despotic movements. Communist and fascist movements during the last century each built rogue paramilitary forces. And the appearance of Blackwater fighters, heavily armed and wearing their trademark black uniforms, patrolling the streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, may be a grim taste of the future. In New Orleans Blackwater charged the government $240,000 a day.

    " 'It cannot happen here' is always wrong," the philosopher Karl Popper wrote. "A dictatorship can happen anywhere."

    The word contractor helps launder the fear and threat out of a more accurate term: "paramilitary force." We're not supposed to have such forces in the United States, but we now do. And if we have them, we have a potential threat to democracy. On U.S. soil, Blackwater so far has shown few signs of being an out-and-out rogue retainer army, though they looked the part in New Orleans. But were this country to become even a little less stable, outfits like Blackwater might see a heyday. If the United States falls into a period of instability caused by another catastrophic terrorist attack, an economic meltdown that triggers social unrest, or a series of environmental disasters, such paramilitary forces, protected and assisted by fellow ideologues in the police and military, could ruthlessly abolish what is left of our eroding democracy. War, with the huge profits it hands to corporations, and to right-wing interests such as the Christian Right, could become a permanent condition. And the thugs with automatic weapons, black uniforms and wraparound sunglasses who appeared on the streets in New Orleans could appear on our streets.
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6-6-07:
I have two things to talk about today. First, the migration of my webpage goes smoothly. I'm assuming that if you're reading this that you're looking at the page hosted on benandkeith.com instead of the page hosted on AOL since I'm no longer updating the AOL version of this site. Anyway, the migration goes well. I had hit a couple of snags because of some problems when trying to retrieve the original documents off of AOL's FTP server. That particular problem has been fixed and everything is running smoothly. I'm still doing it in stages so as to not burn myself out, but it is continuing. As I said before, I'll make sure everyone knows when the move is complete.

The other item to discuss was something wonderful that happened last weekend. My younger brother (Marc) got married!!! His bride is an amazing gal who I've had the pleasure of meeting several years ago. I don't have to tell you that everyone in my family thinks the world of her (Janice) and it was a joyous occasion when the entire immediate family came together (the first time in over 8 years) for the wedding! Not only was the wedding itself absolutely beautiful, but it gave me and Keith a chance to revisit my old hometown of Livermore California and see where I grew up, visit old friends from school, and even take a couple of trips into San Francisco. While the side trips and driving around my old home was wonderful, the real highlight was being with my siblings again. What was really extraordinary is how we all sort of came to the same conclusion regarding this lengthy separation. We all decided that family is far too important to just neglect or ignore. I was reminded as to how much I love my sister and two brothers. It's always nice whenever one of us gets to visit another, but there was something (at least for me) magical when all four of "us kids" came together. I felt that unbreakable bond and the phrase "blood is thicker than water" just resonated in my mind. It was such a blessing for me to be with them in this capacity and it is my sincerest hope that this won't be the last time we all get to spend time together as a family.

I hope that all of you are able to enjoy what I experienced last weekend. There truly is no feeling like that of a real family, whether that family is by blood or not. Even "chosen" families are important. I just want to convey that no matter what kind of family each and every one of you have, please take the time to really cherish it. None of us will live forever and when members of our family leave this earthly life they are gone until we have the immense joy of being reunited with them in the next life. Whatever your family situation is, I hope that all of you can appreciate and love what you have. I'm just sorry I wasn't smart enough to realize it until 1 month from my 46th Birthday!!!


5-27-07:
Just a quick announcement to say that I'm in the process of moving my entire website over to a new host. I'm a wee bit sick of AOL and am in the process of phasing it out. Keith has purchased a host domain on Yahoo and I will be moving my entire page over there. The primary reason for doing this is to hopefully make it easier to manage my website, both this one and my White Sock page. The sock page, while it will be easier to completely migrate, will be done at a later time. I desperately want to get this site done as it works more in harmony with Keith's website. As I do this I will continue to keep my site here on AOL until the entire move is finished. During that time things might look a little weird and certain links might appear and disappear while others may not even work at all. I aks that you be patient and know that I'm going to be spending a lot of time migrating everything over as soon as I can. If you wish to start viewing my website at its new location just go to benandkeith.com/ben and you can start to see it take shape there. Keep in mind that it won't be the entire site with all of my pages. As soon as its done I'll let everyone know and I will also place a redirect page so that people will  hopefully be redirected to the new site automatically. Also, when pages do go up at the new site the content will be updated a bit. As I've been looking at my pages I've realized that some of the writing is a bit dated, both in terms of personal expression and spiritual thought. I did write most of this 10 years ago so it was bound to happen. Anyway, updated pages will be moved to the new site while all of the pages, with their original content, will be kept here in their entirety. Have fun!!!


5-24-07:
My friends, tonight I feel betrayed. Last November I, along with countless other citizens of this country, made our voices heard. We did so through our power of the vote. We voted to remove Republicans who had allied themselves with our administration in regards to the war in Iraq. We saw a change in the political spectrum. Democrats had the majority in both houses of Congress. There was a new sheriff in town and brought along a mandate to get our soldiers out of Iraq. That's all we were really interested in. Yes there were other issues at the table, but our dying soldiers in a senseless war was first and foremost on the minds of almost every citizen who voted for change. Get out of Iraq. Unfortunately a number of Democrats decided to vote for a war funding bill that had no benchmarks for the Iraqi government, and no timetables for troop withdrawal. In essence our Congress gave President Bush a blank check with no strings attached. Yes my friends, I feel terribly betrayed tonight.

I could go on about what has gone on here, but I think Keith Obermann should offer his two cents instead. He can speak with much greater clarity than I could ever hope to write.


5-13-07: I came across this video podcast from a Myspace buddy named Ben Patrick Johnson. If you ever watch any prime time CBS shows you'll hear his voice as he provides promos for them. He also has a regular podcast which I find to be extremely enjoyable. This one really speaks to my heart and no further analysis is required from me. Just click on the video and enjoy!



5-10-07:
I have just two small thoughts for today. First, numerous anti-gay groups are gathering in Poland this weekend for a big conference where the subject will be basically how to combat against the "homosexual agenda." They have picked Poland because it is currently the most notoriously anti-gay country throughout that part of the world. The conference will have representatives from Focus On The Family and even the Catholic Church will have a presence. A spokesperson for the conference basically said that they hope they can change the minds and hearts of the more liberally minded churches throughout Europe, and eventually change the world as well. What I find amusing is that with all of the problems in the world, the homelessness, the poverty, the hunger, and even the lack of education for the children both domestic and abroad, that the only thing they can be concerned with is people like me. I feel so flattered that I'm considered to be such a threat.

The second thought is regarding divorce. It was just reported that divorce rates have reached an all time low since 1970. However the report also stated that one big reason for the low divorce rate is due to the fact that less people are getting married and are just simply living together. Why isn't this a big issue with the Christian conservatives? Based on their interpretation of the Bible, people living together is just as sinful as gays, yet I don't hear any of the evangelicals complaining about them!

The hypocrisy continues.


5-9-07:
It was just reported that according to the latest Newsweek poll President Bush now has an approval rating of only 28%. This is the lowest any President has had since Jimmy Carter in 1979. What is also interesting is how the American public is largely unhappy with the entire Iraq war and are especially unhappy with the way President Bush vetoed the war spending bill because it had timetables for troop withdrawals not to mention benchmarks measuring the progress of the Iraqi government. And, as mentioned in my latest blog, Condoleeza Rice said that Bush would veto anything that had benchmarks as part of the bill. I had hoped that this would serve as a wakeup call to the American people. My hopes have been justified as the majority of American citizens want Congress to send another war spending bill with timetables attached, and if President Bush vetoes it again to send another one, and another, and another, and another until he gets the message that we want our troops out of Iraq and back home!!!

Also a recent Newsweek poll showed that Democratic candidate Barack Obama is ahead in the polls, even ahead of any Republican candidates. The real joke is how Ann Coulter (I'm still convinced she's a frustrated lesbian in denial) said that she thought Newsweek was doing more push polling for Al-Qaeda! She also said that Newsweek is making up the polling results because "where people are allowed to vote, Republicans do much better." I just had to laugh at this!!! I've participated in a number of political polls over the last several years, and as time goes on I've seen support for the Republicans continue to decline while the Democrat numbers are on the rise. So much for her conspiracy theory!!!

I'll repeat what I've said in the past. We must remain vigilant and keep our eyes and ears on what our government is doing. Examine everything that they do and discover the truth for yourselves. This is how we will emerge victorious!!!


5-7-07:
I have been hearing as of late something called "political grand standing." What brought it to my mind today was something that I heard on the radio. Basically the Republicans are currently blaming the Democrats of political grand standing with the latest bill regarding the continued funding of the Iraq war. As we all know the Democrats did add some provisions to the bill. They wanted benchmarks for the Iraqi government plus a timetable for a withdrawal of troops. Needless to say President Bush vetoed it. What angered me was how the Bush administration accused the Democrats of political grand standing by sending a bill to Bush while knowing full well that he would veto it. Yes, they did know, but from where I sit they did not do it for the reasons the Republicans claim, rather they did it to show the American people where the Bush administration's true motives lie. Even Condoleeza Rice said that the President would never sign a bill that had benchmarks to show any progress being made by the Iraqi government. I don't know about you, but as I see it this just shows that the administration was never interested in establishing a democratically run Iraq. Of course I've always suspected that this was all about oil and control of the Middle East, and while the only proof has been a suspicious document known as "Project for a New America," there has been no hard evidence of any kind. Nonetheless this should serve as a wakeup call to the American People that we have a President who has clearly shown that he has his own agenda and has no interest in getting out of Iraq.

Now, as far as political grand standing goes, this government of ours has once again shown its true, hypocritical colors. I say once again because this kind of double standard has been practiced by them for sometime now. Remember some years ago when President Bush showed up on the deck of an Air Craft carrier wearing a flight suit for all the world to see? Remember what he proclaimed? "Mission accomplished!" That is political grand standing!!! Remember just a few weeks ago when the memorial services were held at Virginia Tech for the terrible shootings that took place there? President Bush made an appearance to remember the students that died. Now while I don't have a problem with the idea of a President doing that, I would like to know why he hasn't appeared at any of the funerals for our thousands of fallen soldiers! Why won't he show his face there? Would it be because he doesn't want the public to be reminded that he's the reason those young, brave men and women are now dead? Of course he would want to show up at the Virginia Tech memorial. That shows a compassionate and sympathetic President, but no way would he dare appear at any of the funerals of our dead soldiers. So then why show up at the VT memorial? Political grand standing.

Don't be fooled by anything this man or any of his cronies say. At this point I believe they've become so accustomed to lying that they probably don’t lose any sleep over it. Always be on your guard and examine everything that comes from the collective mouths of our administration. After a time you'll start to see the pattern of lies and deceit for yourself.


5-6-07: I want to share with all of you something that I heard today. I feel it is totally relevant in light of the Hate Crimes Legislation before Congress, and it is especially relevant considering the anti-gay rhetoric that has been spewed in our direction. What I heard was a wonderful and exhilarating sermon about love. Love is the new commandment given by Christ. When Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest, Jesus said to love God with all your might, mind, soul, and strength. Then Jesus said that equal to that love of God is to love your neighbor and that all the rest of the law would hang on those two commandments.

Many people think that love is a feeling. It isn't. It's action. Just look at the way it used. I love you. I breathe air. I drink water. I love you. Clearly love is the verb making it an action, not a feeling. Jesus commanded us to love one another, not just people who believe the way we do, not just the nice neighbor versus the mean one, and not just political leaders who have our best interests at heart. When Jesus said to love your neighbor, Jesus meant EVERYONE!

Another example of love is the inclusive nature of God. In the book of Acts, Peter goes to the house of Gentiles and is not only willing to be in their midst, but it also prepared to baptize them.. This, according to Jewish scripture, was forbidden. Yet, here was Peter mingling with Gentiles. Why would he do this? Peter explained with a vision that he had. He had fallen into a trance and saw a sheet with all sorts of animals. Pigs, cows, chicken, you name it. Three times Peter had this vision, and in each one he heard God's voice telling him to eat of the animals. Three times Peter refused saying that it would be against Jewish law to eat such unclean animals. God told him to not call unclean what God calls clean. In other words, if God says it's okay, then it's okay!!! Peter was then summoned to the home of Roman Gentiles. When all those around Peter condemned him for associating with "unclean" people, Peter shared his story, explaining to them that there is room for all people in God's Kingdom.

Can you imagine it? First we're going allow Gentiles. What's next? Are we going to allow blacks? Are we going to allow women??? What about those gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people??? Are we going to allow them, and allow all the aforementioned people to become leaders in our churches as well?!?!?!? This is scandalous!!! The Bible says NOTHING about letting such people in!!! That's the mantra coming from the fundamentalists and Christian conservatives. What we need to do is exercise the new commandment. We must LOVE (Remember, love is an ACTION, not a FEELING!) all those around us, our friends, our enemies, our allies, and our detractors for that is how we will show the world, the whole world, that WE ARE CHRIST'S DISCIPLES!!! God's Love and Kingdom is both great and infinite, and there is room for all of us.


5-5-07:
It's Saturday and I thought I would write something here... My husband, Keith, purchased a journaling software package the other day for his own personal use, but as I looked at it we both realized that this was something that I could possibly use myself. What I like about it is that it can really help me in the way that I like to blog. At the very least it will help me keep my thoughts better organized.

Now, I do have a point that I wish to make. In light of Federal Hate Crimes legislation that has been before the House (and is about to go before the Senate) the tone of anti-gay rhetoric has truly been on the rise. I'm not just talking about the general volume (or noise as I like to call it), but the content has taken a darker tone as well. I've heard a number of things the during the past several days that have really pushed several buttons and I feel the need to address these.

Most recently a Myspace friend named Doug has found love in his life. He has, in his own words, a "special guy" that means the world to him. I understand this love. I have my own special guy in Keith, so I can relate to Doug when he shares his thoughts and feelings towards his own special guy. Recently he has been struck by the neo-conservative/fundamentalist non-Christian movements (the "non" part is my own doing of course) efforts to paint a bleak picture regarding the GLBT community. Stories about how we're sinners, how we're sick (and need reparative therapy despite what the APA says to the contrary), and how our very own existence is a threat to all that is supposed to be right and good about America. I don't need to say how much this truly devastated him.

This brings me to my second thought. A couple of days ago, while listening to OutQ In The Morning on Sirius, there was a caller who shared with everyone a conversation he had with a fundamentalist co-worker. In an attempt to point out to his co-worker the dangers of radical fundamentalism and how much of the terrorism going on right now stems from that, he asked his co-worker if he were told by his religious leaders to commit acts of terrorism and to kill people who might not believe religiously and/or socially with them, would he do it? His co-worker looked him square in the eye, and without missing a beat said "yes." I could not believe what I had heard. Part of me had suspected that such radical zealots did indeed exist, but when it was proven to me I have to admit that it sent a very cold shiver down my spine.

It distresses me to know that such thoughtless people exist. These are people who are "checking their brains at the door" and will blindly follow any order given to them by their political or religious leaders. What I find most astonishing is that when you approach them with New Testament principles, even go so far as to share with them some of the Beatitudes given to us by Christ, they completely disregard it and look at you as if you were speaking a foreign language and had a third eye blinking from your forehead.

This takes me back to my friend Doug. When I read what his blog about how he felt from the "not so right," I basically told him that we have already won this war. Granted, we will take our fair share of lumps and bruises before we reach the finish line, but we will reach it, and when we do the party will be FABULOUS!!!

The people from the fundamentalist and neo-conservative movements are afraid. We represent something they don't understand. What's more is they see how fabulous we all are and how rich our lives are. They see that and end up projecting their self-hatred and resentment upon us. As Yoda once said, "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering." Our detractors fear us and what we represent. What's more is that they are deeply afraid that perhaps they might have more in common with us than they are willing to admit. Just think about it. Ted Haggard is a perfect example. Here was a man who was trotting out his moral superiority over everyone, and yet he had the same feelings that we all happily live with. Out of fear for what he knew he had he ended up becoming angry at himself and angry at how truly free we live our lives. Out of that anger came a terrible hatred which he spewed upon anyone who would listen. Out of that hatred came suffering, but the suffering was not felt by us. It was felt by Ted himself. He represents all of those whackos who claim to be right and better than us. How many times did we hear words of arrogance and judgment coming from Republican politicians only to see them fall from grace? We've all heard about people who live in glass houses. Well these religious leaders and politicians have built and placed themselves on glass pedestals, and these same people need to be wary of where and who they throw their stones against, for if they do not break their own pedestals, there are some bitches in our own GLBT community with a mean pitching arm!!!

In closing, let me say this. Love IS a Christian value. Jesus spoke of love wherever he went. The love that Doug has for his special guy is beautiful. It is right, and it is good. Make no mistake about it my friends. In the end love will always win, and we have already won.


4-5-07:
Well here I am just past the middle of the week after living in the new house that Keith and I purchased. What I have going on inside is truly a mixed bag of emotions. Let me start off by saying that I absolutely LOVE this house!!! It's spacious (especially after having lived in a 1 bedroom apartment for 9 years) and it's located in the most charming little subdivision in the central/west area of Phoenix. It's unbelievably quiet, except for the occasional sounds of freight trains sounding their horns as they pass alongside the nearby Grand Avenue which is only about 1/4 of a mile away.

I said that my emotions were mixed. Well let me start off by saying that the moving process was probably the single most unpleasant moving experience I've ever been forced to endure. I will not going to go into details as I'm going to leave that to Keith in the days to come. However, I will say that the moving company involved will never be used by either of us ever again.

Then there are all of the horror stories that I am reading about homes going into foreclosure all over the country. Granted this is largely because the homeowners bought their houses using subprime mortgages. This is something that Keith and I did not do. We got ourselves a prime mortgage which has given us a good interest rate that's locked so we don't have to overly concern ourselves with that. However, it has woken in me a need to be ever more frugal and diligent when it comes to saving money. I've tried my best to be responsible as I know Keith has as well, but after having such a terrible moving experience, coupled with the fact that Keith and I absolutely LOVE our new home, has caused me to almost obsess over our financial situation. We make enough money to pay all of our bills along with our mortgage and still have some cash left over for fun. Nonetheless I feel a great responsibility to make sure that all of my financial ducks are in order every month, that all of my bills are paid promptly (something I've been doing for quite some time) and that I do my best to save any left over money in the event that the "unforeseen" should happen. I realize that I'm probably being an alarmist and that this is nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction on my part, but with the economy being what it is I feel that I can never be too secure.

Lastly, I need to sing the praises of two wonderful guys. For years now Keith and I have been blessed to have as best friends a fantastic gay couple named Brendan and Gordon. This is a friendship that was destined to be. We have been there for each other during dark and difficult times, and last weekend was their turn to be there for us.

As mentioned earlier, the move last weekend was highly unpleasant. Again, I won't go into the details, but this was causing great stress with me and Keith. When I had a few seconds I sent off a text- message to Brendan informing him briefly of what was going on. They weren't supposed to help until sometime in the afternoon, but upon receiving my message they both promptly came over with a variety of supplies and helped us out like absolute troopers. They were supposed to go to a symphony concert that night, but when they saw what was happening they elected to actually stay and help us out insuring that our move would be complete by the end of the weekend, something that would not have happened without their assistance. These two guys went above and beyond the call of duty and for me there simply aren't enough words to convey my gratitude. Because of them Keith and I have been blessed.

So here it is on a Thursday. The cats (neither of which took the move well) are roaming about becoming more comfortable with the home. Many household items are still in boxes, but that's okay as there is plenty of time to go through those and find what we need or still want. I have bad memories of the past weekend which keep resurfacing whenever I do any unpacking, and I'm always concerned with being financially responsible so that we can keep this house. However, when I do go through either here or in our patio, while I may experience frustration because of what happened during the move, I still find a joy and excitement because this house belongs to US!!! While I may not be sure where to place an unpacked item, just wandering throughout the house looking for that elusive place gives me a peace like I've not felt in a long time. This is a good house and it's filled with good energy.

I am happy.


3-26-07: Well  everything is still on track with the new house! As reported in my previous blog entry, Keith and I just bought a house and we are set to move this coming Saturday!!! Everything is packed up and all of the last few details have been taken care of. Now I had planned on not posting any blog entries until after getting settled in the new home, but I came across something so humorous that I had to share it with all of you... ENJOY!!!


2-18-07:
Wow... So much has happened that I don't quite know where to begin.

Let me start off by saying that I'm yet again having some really bad computer problems. Keith and I are not quite sure what the problem is, but one thing we are sure of is that it's terminal (Get it? Computer? Terminal??? BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!)... Ahem... Okay, so it wasn't that funny and neither is my computer problem. We're fairly certain that it doesn't have much life left in it. As a result I'm hardly ever online because it only operates for a few minutes at a time before locking up in some strange manner and that is why I haven't posted anything lately. Believe me, I've wanted to, but computer problems made that difficult. As a result I'm getting a brand new laptop! However, because I've got some good external speakers, a really great ergonomic keyboard and awesome flatscreen monitor, I'm going to also get a docking station so that I don't have to get rid of any of my neat "accessories." The new laptop should arrive by mail (Keith ordered it from Dell) sometime this coming week, and I'm looking forward to having it!!!

Now, why am I writing? It is to show how amazing God can be in one's life (If you want to read Keith's story on this just go to Happines is..... a painless home buying experience on Myspace.). For several years we've talked about owing our own home. We currently rent an apartment, and while it's been great, it's still not ours. We've looked at houses and condos, but the time was never right to own a home. At least, until now. Last Sunday we were talking to a real estate agent at our church and just wanting some advice and answers to some questions we had. We told her that we were only shopping around and not ready to really buy. She said that this was the time to do it and put us in contact with a mortgage broker. He helped us to get any last and lingering blemishes on our credit reports (we scored ratherly nicely afterwards) and on Tuesday we actually qualified for what is called an "A Paper Loan." Our real estate agent then e-mailed us a listing of homes for us to consider. We looked at all of them and none of them really did anything for us. They were somewhat within our price range and definitely within our geographical parameters, but we didn't like what we saw. Then, on Wednesday she called Keith to say that she did have one that, even though it was outside of our desired geographical area, was pretty good and that we should look at it. So, after I came home from work we all got together and were shown this really wonderful townhouse. It was a beautiful two bedroom, 1.75 bath townhouse that really spoke to us. It was a couple of miles outside of the area we wanted to stay in, but for the price it was selling at it seemed like a dream too good to pass up. That afternoon we made an offer. By 8:00 PM the owner made a counteroffer and by 9:00 Wednesday night we signed the contract.

It's been a very dizzying week. For most people house shopping can be a somewhat daunting and lengthy process. For us, the whole thing came together in a matter of days. The home is now in escrow and is scheduled to close on March 30 meaning we can move in anytime after that. Keith and I (along with our real estate agent) are convinced that God had a hand in this. It shouldn't have been this easy or this painless, yet it was. The home is ours and in less than two months we will be living there (we'll still be living in Phoenix if anyone is interested). The point of this is to tell everyone out there how wonderfully God can work in anyone's life. Once we did all the things that we were responsible for (cleaning up credit, lowering debts, etc.) we gave it over to God, believing that when the time was right God would help us find the perfect home. That has now happened. If God can work such a miracle in our lives then God can work one in yours.

We will be having a housewarming party shortly after we're settled in our new "digs." We also know that we have more friends who live outside of Arizona than we do who live here locally. Now, for those of you who wish to do something for us we are actually registered with Home Depot!!! If any of you wish to contribute something to our new home the URL to our online registry is Keith Lane and Ben Ragunton Housewarming Registry. Now let me emphasize that NOTHING IS REQUIRED FROM ANYONE!!! This is simply a way for people, who should they so wish, to be able to purchase some desired items for our new home. We will not be upset or angered if no one purchased anything for us. All of you out there are still our friends and family and will always be so.

Well that's about it. I don't know when I'll next post anything here because even though I'm getting a new laptop, the next several weeks are liable to be completely insane as we start the moving process. Packing, transporting, unpacking, etc... I'm sure all of you know how unpleasant a task that can be. Nonetheless, once we're settled I'll be online again to share some more of my political, social and religious rants. I'll also try to post some pictures of the new home once everything is in its place. In the meantime, keep your head up, keep the faith, and know that all of you are continuously in the mind and heart of God.

1-3-07: Well in my last blog entry I said that I would be back soon... I'M BACK AND WITH A VENGEANCE!!! What's more is I have another piece of evidence as to the damage done in Iraq compliments of our own Administration.

This morning as I was going to work I heard on Sirius' OutQ In the Morning an interview with a gay Iraqi living in England who was a member of "Iraqi LGBT." Their mission has been to try to help relocate within Iraq gay Iraqis who are targeted for kidnapping an execution by the new government there. Apparently, while Saddam was in power, he really had no problems with the LGBT community, so long as they did not pose any kind of a threat to his political power. Saddam was a secular leader, not a religious one. The young man interviewed said that there were restaurants, coffee shops, and even bars where they could congregate. While they didn't have the social acceptance that one might find in San Francisco's Castro District, they were at least able to move about freely without fear of any sort of repercussion. Now there is a religious government put into place. On top of that there are the other religious sects that are trying to grab for any power they can and they are of a fundamentalist nature. The interviewee said that the current leadership was like a Taliban, an extremely fundamentalist Islamic organization that kidnaps suspected LGBT people, some of them as young as teenagers, and beheading them. It should also be noted that not only does this affect the LGBT community. While women didn't experience many of the freedoms that are found here in the US, it was not a completely repressed society either (which is one of the many lies President Bush told regarding the removal of Saddam). Now women are facing the same restrictions that were seen in Afghanistan before the fall of the Taliban government.

Now you may be asking yourself why I'm bring this all up. Let me assure all of you that I did not like at all Saddam Hussein. The man was a tyrant and a monster, and there is no doubt as to the war crimes that he had committed against both Iran and his own people! The man did have to be removed!!! What I am opposed to is the manner in which this was done. President Bush ordered our military in there under completely false pretenses and forced the removal of this man after bombing Baghdad back into the Stone Age. On top of that our own government was instrumental in setting up the current regime which in many ways is far worse than what Saddam could ever have been, for there is nothing more terrifying than radically fundamentalist religious group with full political power over its citizens. These politically empowered religious leaders are executing the rule of law from an extremely fundamentalist view of the Koran, and anyone who does not conform to that is subject to whatever punishments they see fit to implement. Again, what distresses me most about this is that our own government played a role in putting them into power, and as a result of that women no longer hold the same rights and freedoms they once had and LGBT people are systematically being hunted, kidnapped, and executed for simply being who they are.

Now, before I conclude this particular subject, let me leave you with some food for thought. There are radically fundamentalist people who call themselves Christians. Now as a Christian myself I find their beliefs to be downright terrifying. While I believe God to be a God of love and peace (all one needs to do is look at the teachings and lessons that came from Jesus Christ), they believe God's finest attribute is His ability to hate, to cause His people to wage war, and to even murder innocent people because of the so-called "sinful nature" of those who live here in the US. These same right-wing Christians have even expressed a desire to see the death penalty automatically re-instituted and carried out against anyone found to be homosexual. That's right. If these people get their way it means that my days are numbered!!! Sounds outrageous? Well it isn't. It may be a way off (the mid-term elections certainly put the brakes on any of the current plans they might have had), but the stage is clearly being set. We must be ever vigilant for when it looks like this will happen. How can we stop it? By first addressing the situation in Iraq. It can be done by contacting your Representatives and Senators and letting them know as to what is happening there. If we can stop it from happening in Iraq, then maybe we can prevent it from happening here.