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An Open Letter to the Leaders of a Rival Government of the United States and Its Ringleader, Senator Tom Cotton:

It has come to our attention while observing your letter to the government of Iran that you may not fully understand our constitutional system. Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution -- the power to conduct foreign policy and the laws and judicial rulings which restrict your powers in this regard, and the consequences of overstepping the boundaries of your lawful powers in a democracy founded on the rule of law -- which you should seriously consider as President Obama's negotiations with Iran progress.

First, under our Constitution, the president has sole authority to negotiate with foreign governments as the representative of the United States government. There can be no rivalry with the president by other persons or institutions seeking to conduct foreign policy on their own. As the U.S. Supreme Court decided in United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp. (1936):

The President alone has the power to speak or listen as a representative of the nation. He makes treaties with the advice and consent of the Senate; but he alone negotiates. Into the field of negotiation the Senate cannot intrude, and Congress itself is powerless to invade it.
The 47 senators who recently sent correspondence on U.S. Senate letterhead to the government of Iran with the stated purpose of opposing and seeking to thwart the president's foreign policy goals in negotiations with that country have violated the legal guidelines established by this Supreme Court ruling.

And that's not all. The Logan Act states:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
Although no one has ever been convicted under the Logan Act, there has never before been as flagrant and brazen a violation as the recent action organized by Sen. Tom Cotton. The correspondence on U.S. Senate letterhead was sent by a minority of senators and was therefore "without authority of the United States." Its contents were "in relation to... disputes or controversies with the United States" and its purpose was "to defeat the measures of the United States," i.e. President Obama's policy goal and ongoing negotiations to reach an agreement with Iran concerning its nuclear energy program, to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation and war.

Second, our Constitutional system of government is based on democratic elections by the people to choose their representatives. The powers of the people and their elected officials have different characteristics. For example, senators are elected for 6-year terms, but the people retain their right to vote throughout their adult lives. As applied today, for instance, Sen. Tom Cotton and the other signatories of the letter to Iran might be voted out of office at the next election, based on the people's judgment that they have taken an action which violates the Constitution and laws concerning the separation of powers and appropriate conduct of foreign policy and is thus incompatible with holding political office. Furthermore, the people might petition the Senate for expulsion of such senators from office before their terms expire (the Congressional equivalent of impeachment).

What these two Constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any correspondence with the government of Iran regarding that country's nuclear program and the U.S. president's negotiations with that government as nothing less than a gravely unethical and likely unlawful action, demanding the full and unrelenting attention of the American people and appropriate consequences. The United States Justice Department could prosecute a case against the politicians who wrote or signed such a letter; and the American people could use their voice and their vote in our democratic society to demand that such politicians lose their seats, either at the next election or through expulsion. With the stroke of a pen, Attorney General Eric Holder could authorize an investigation concerning the highly inappropriate and quite possibly illegal correspondence initiated by Sen. Tom Cotton. With the marking of a ballot, future voters could end the terms in office of those who used their office to commit high crimes and misdemeanors, such as Sen. Cotton and his allies in undermining U.S. foreign policy and the office of the President.

We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations with Iran progress.

Sincerely,

The American People

Discuss

Recently, President Obama casually mentioned that "we tortured some folks." We did something impolite and may have inconvenienced or annoyed some folks. Kind of like farting in an elevator. An unfortunate action for which no one will be held accountable.

"We," the U.S. government, seem to be doing a lot of those kind of things lately. Without our own knowledge or consent, we hacked into some folks' computers at the U.S. Senate. We also put some folks on a secret blacklist, banning them from traveling on airplanes, without charging or convicting them of any crime.

We gave lots of money to folks who crashed the economy, but cut off the money to folks who got hurt by the economic crash.

Most recently, while dissing jobless Americans again, we gave money to military folks in Israel who are blowing up some civilian folks in Gaza who were hanging out in schools.

I don't know about you, but I'm getting sick and tired of some of the stuff "we're" doing. I'd rather that we, the people, treat folks a little bit better than "we've" been doing through "our" government.

But it seems we can't change much of what our government does. We voted for Barack Obama because we didn't like George W. Bush and his policies. We voted for Democrats in the Congress because we didn't like the Republicans. But it didn't work. Our government is still doing most of the same bad stuff to the same innocent folks that they were doing before.

Fortunately, there is something we CAN do. We can stop voting for some folks. Yes, it will be impolite and annoying -- kind of like President Obama seems to think torture is. But people have tough jobs, they're working hard, and sometimes when that's the case they can be forgiven for doing things that piss people off. Doing things such as not showing up at the voting booth to affirm their supposed support for a whole lot of stuff they actually oppose.

The thing is, elected officials and their appointees seem to be committed to hurting some folks, no matter which candidates for office we, the people, vote for. Even if we can't change the policies, we can at least make it clear that "we" aren't part of it anymore -- that "our" government no longer represents us and seemingly no longer wants to.

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In a surprisingly positive development, a spokesman for Turkey's ruling party said that Kurds in Iraq have the right to self-determination. This reverses decades of Turkish opposition to an independent Kurdistan.

The statement has been relatively overlooked so far, but could signal a shift in policy as Turkey has long been a principal opponent of Kurdish independence, which would mean a partitioning of Iraq.

"The Kurds of Iraq can decide for themselves the name and type of the entity they are living in," Huseyin Celik, a spokesman for the Justice and Development Party, told the Kurdish online news outlet Rudaw last week. ...

"The Kurds, like any other nation, will have the right to decide their fate," Celik told Rudaw, in a story that was picked up by CNN's Turkish-language outlet.

Even more significant than this statement by a leading Turkish politician, Turkey is making deals with Kurdistan as though it were already an independent state:
Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan have recently forged a strong bond over oil, much to the chagrin of Iraq, which claims that Baghdad has sole authority over oil in Kurdistan. Turkey recently signed a 50-year energy deal with Iraqi Kurdistan’s semi-autonomous government to export Kurdish oil to the north, and Kurdistan has increased its exports this week despite the insurgency by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Remember when Joe Biden advocated for the partition of Iraq into three loosely federated quasi-states, one Sunni, one Shi'ite, and one Kurdish? That may be about to happen -- or perhaps even full legal independence for each region -- and there are good reasons why. As Adam Taylor writes on the Washington Post blog:
Iraq broadly falls into distinct regions that line up with ethnic or religious groups: A Kurdish north, a Sunni middle, and a Shiite south. Iraq's modern borders were defined by its time in the Ottoman Empire and subsequent years as a British mandate, and you can make an argument that they are "artificial." Many felt that Saddam Hussein and his minority Sunni government had only been able to maintain a centralized, national government with repressive, dictatorial tactics. That wasn't compatible with a modern democracy, and the fear was that if regions weren't given more power, conflict was inevitable.

Given recent events, those fears look justified. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an Islamist extremist group birthed from al-Qaeda, has taken over many of the Sunni areas of Iraq, including the major city of Mosul. Baghdad's majority-Shiite government, led by Nouri al-Maliki, appears unable to force its own army to face them on the battlefield – and worse still, their policies appear to have led many moderate Sunnis to grudgingly accept ISIS. Meanwhile, the Kurds have taken the northern city of Kirkuk, one of the few remaining disputed areas (the Kurds have long enjoyed virtual autonomy). On Friday, Shiite militias began gathering to take up arms.

It looks like those who advocated the partition of Iraq had the right idea all along. Iraq never should have been a single geopolitical unit. Maintaining it as one country was unrealistic and untenable. As the independence of Kurdistan appears increasingly likely, with Turkish approval, and the Sunni and Shi'ite regions fight a civil war, it's time for the United States government to change policy and begin supporting a logical, peaceful partition of Iraq into three states. Perhaps if policymakers had listened to Joe Biden when he suggested this idea a few years ago, Iraq wouldn't be in the mess it's in now.
Discuss

One famous definition of insanity is to repeat the same mistake over and over again, every time expecting a different result. By that definition, the United States government has gone insane. We keep intervening in failed states and civil wars halfway across the world, leaving chaos in our wake. But every time we think this time it will be different.

America started a war to effect regime change in Iraq. We left that country with a new authoritarian ruler, who is now being challenged by a rebel army. Instead of learning the lesson that perhaps our intervention wasn't helpful and we should leave this chronically unstable part of the world alone, the United States is once again taking steps towards war. President Obama has authorized ground troops to Iraq:

The United State is deploying up to 275 military troops to Iraq to protect the U.S. Embassy and other American interests and is considering sending a contingent of special forces soldiers as Iraq struggles to repel a rampant insurgency, officials said Monday. ...

President Barack Obama, in a formal report to Congress, said the troops in in the deployment he was announcing would be equipped for combat and would remain in Iraq until the security situation improved.

Since the security situation in Iraq is unlikely to improve -- and will probably only worsen -- can we expect anything but a long-term, open-ended commitment of American forces into the Iraqi civil war? That's what the Republicans in Congress will be pushing for, and if history is any guide, they'll probably get their way. Although "The White House insisted anew the U.S. would not be sending combat troops and thrusting America into a new Iraq war," that seems open to change. Once our troops are there and they start getting embroiled in the conflict, it's easy to upgrade their status to "combat" or to send more troops in to help them achieve their open-ended mission.

This neoconservative philosophy of repetitive military interventionism that only seems to set us up for the next round has reached a tragi-comic level of absurdity. So I leave you with this classic scene from the movie Spaceballs, which seems to capture the essence of the moment quite aptly:


We might not be able to dial down the U.S. government's absurd policy of never-ending military interventionism, but at least we can laugh about it. I just hope it won't be some other country that gets the last laugh at America's expense.

Discuss

For many years, historians and "alternate history" buffs have speculated about what would have happened if Abraham Lincoln had decided to fight against slavery and preserve the original Union of American states instead of allowing the CSA to secede. As Recedo University Professor Anthony North writes in his annotated version of A Diary of Lincoln: American Pragmatist:

The young idealistic reformer Abraham Lincoln had been gradually, steadily moving in the direction of abolitionism, but a defining moment in his political career turned him away from that path, and ultimately ensured that his Presidency would witness the bloodless partition of the original USA, the establishment of the Confederate States of America, and the perpetuation of slavery for many decades to come.
What was this "defining moment" that Prof. North believes made Lincoln into the weak, pragmatic politician he became, who turned away from the cause of African American freedom and negotiated a partition settlement with the CSA in 1861?

According to Lincoln's Diary, he attended a conference of Republican activists in the late 1850s, where issues of race and slavery were hotly debated. In his own words:

A man of flushed countenance stood up in the chamber, and, with booming voice filled with anger, shouted down anyone who dared to speak of the plight of the Negro and how good citizens of this land might discuss solutions to the question of the slave power. He forcefully declared that only the Negro himself might legitimately have a voice on this matter, and that the white man should remain silent and filled with shame; for all the ideas of the whites, even those who sympathize with the Negro, are insufficiently sensitive to the righteous anger of that race and are therefore worthless and should not be brought forth for discussion. Cheers echoed wildly through the hall, while other men in attendance, myself among them, felt their hearts sink in dismay.

Though I disagreed with the exponent of such philosophy at the time, and was saddened by his untimely and fiercely expressed opinion, I reflected upon it in due course and decided that if the Negro and his ideological allies wish for political men such as myself to exclude ourselves from seeking the freedom of his race, then I shall oblige them. From that day forward, I committed myself to other matters of importance to our great nation and resolved to let the Negro deal with his own problems by himself.

We can only wonder what might have happened if Lincoln had made a different decision. Or perhaps if the unnamed Republican debater in that conference -- a white man, by the way -- had taken a more inclusive course and encouraged participation and discussion by fellow Republicans who weren't quite as radical on the slavery question, but who generally sympathized with black people and their quest for freedom.

It's easy to wonder about such things, but the fact of the matter is that we don't know if Abraham Lincoln would have become anything other than the feeble compromiser and sell-out to the CSA that he became. Still, it's interesting to think about. I'm sure we would all like to believe that Lincoln had the potential to become a different kind of leader -- one who would fight to end the scourge of the slave culture -- and that his natural progression toward more and more liberal views on the issue of race was derailed by his encounter with a fanatic who told him to shut up. Perhaps in a parallel universe, Lincoln would have fought to preserve the Union and free the slaves. Perhaps in a parallel universe, advocates of equal rights for black people wouldn't have told the gradually evolving Lincoln that his views weren't pure abolitionist enough to be part of the conversation.

But we'll never know. Lincoln did shut up about slavery, and the Confederate States of America celebrated the 153rd anniversary of their independence this year. Because black people were left to fight for their freedom entirely by themselves, without the involvement of ideologically impure whites, they remain oppressed to this very day under the "apartness" system -- mostly a cosmetic reform of slavery -- in the global pariah state to our south. We can only wonder, what if Lincoln hadn't been urged to shut up about slavery? What if he hadn't obliged, but had continued debating it in his imperfect white ways? I guess we'll never know.

Discuss

I saw this today and felt that it perfectly summarizes so many problems in America:

Top 2 articles on Daily Kos Recommended List, May 14, 2014, 3:45 p.m. EDT
On the one hand, an innocent young black woman is brutally beaten, jailed, abused in jail, and charged with felonies for standing up for her civil rights during a conversation with a police officer.

On the other hand, a wealthy white businessman who owes the government over $1 million in unpaid fees recruits a gang of armed thugs who threaten law enforcement officers at gunpoint, preventing them from enforcing a court order. He and his gang have not yet been arrested or charged with any crime, and continue to make armed threats and obstruct justice.

We have a problem in this country with unequal enforcement of the law. A discrimination problem. It seems that if you're white and rich, you may get special treatment. If you're poor or black, you may also get special treatment -- especially hostile and savage.

Oh yes, Cliven Bundy may eventually be arrested -- after very careful and cautious deliberation, and treated with kid gloves, to avoid offending the sensibilities of the powerful and their defenders. And yes, Nubia Bowe may eventually be found not guilty in a court of law -- if she's lucky -- after a long, costly legal battle, and after having to endure all kinds of physical and psychological abuse to try to break her will and spirit.

This kind of discrimination in favor of the powerful and against the powerless is the kind of thing that happens routinely in nations that are derisively called "third world" countries.

So I ask: If armed separatists like Cliven Bundy are given wide berth by the law enforcement and criminal justice systems, while ordinary law-abiding citizens like Nubia Bowe are treated with instant, over-the-top police brutality, is this a symptom of a serious decline of American standards of civilization? If these trends of inequality and injustice continue, is America in danger of becoming a third-world country? Discuss.

Discuss

What is it about being a Western rural conservative that seems to entitle a person in this country to special treatment by the government? Cliven Bundy owes the government over $1 million in unpaid fees for using land that didn't belong to him. Instead of paying what he owes, he assembled an armed gang and intimidated federal law enforcement officers from enforcing court orders against him.

Anybody else would be in jail right now -- possibly even being charged with an act of terror. His assets would be frozen. He would not be holding TV press conferences, and we would not be talking about his racist views; instead, we would be talking about his upcoming trial.

There is a real story here, but it's not what the media seems to think it is. Cliven Bundy's silly, antiquated rants about "the Negro" are merely a distraction. In fact, they are a convenient distration -- distracting everyone's attention from the fact that a lawbreaker has successfully intimidated the United States federal government by using the threat of violence, as a way to continue flouting the law and refusing to pay grazing fees that every other rancher who uses federal lands routinely pays.

A court had ordered that Bundy's assets be confiscated -- the cattle he was grazing on federal property for years without paying for that privilege. When agents showed up to enforce the court order, Bundy called out a gang of armed men, who pointed guns at federal officers. In response to being threatened in this manner, the government stopped its attempt to enforce the law.

As an L.A. Times editorial summarizes the story:

Bundy is the cattleman who grazes his herd on federal land operated by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, but unlike more than 15,000 other ranchers, he refuses to pay the associated grazing fees. After 20 years of disagreements and court battles, the U.S. government began rounding up his cattle this month. The rancher and a group of armed supporters confronted the federal authorities, leading to a standoff; the authorities withdrew.
Let's be honest about what happened here: Bundy and his gang used terror, and so far, their act of terror has succeeded.

Unless Bundy is arrested and charged, there is now a precedent in the United States that terrorizing federal officials by brandishing guns can succeed in preventing the law from being enforced. That is a very dangerous precedent.

Why is the government so tolerant of people like this who flout its authority and use threats of violence to avoid paying their bills? In this age when terrorism is such a big issue, why are some Americans allowed to get away with things that fit that description? Why is the government afraid to enforce its own laws against a particular type of people? They are not afraid to come down with the full force of the law on everyone else, so what is it about Western gun-toting conservatives that uniquely seems to get the government quaking in its boots and afraid to act like, well, a government? Do these people have special privileges, because of their heritage or political ideology, that other Americans don't enjoy?

That's the real question the media should be asking. And until they start asking it, it is everyone's responsibility to keep bringing it up.

Discuss

Carnell Brundy, a tax cheat who owes the government $1 million, recently assembled a gang of fellow African Americans in an armed standoff with federal law enforcement officers in downtown Detroit.

Despite multiple court orders against him and his recent act of domestic terrorism, Brundy somehow remains secure in the privacy of his own home rather than in jail. Even more surprising, every day he goes on TV to rant and rave about "the Cracker" and how white folks would be better off if they were still serfs in medieval Europe instead of drinking moonshine and playing the banjo on the front porch of their shacks in Hickville, USA.

It remains a mystery why Carnell Brundy is not simply arrested for breaking the law and terrorizing federal officers who were attempting to enforce court orders against him. Pundits all across America are asking: "Why do we keep giving this guy airtime to spout his fanatical anti-white views, instead of simply telling the police to do their job and put him behind bars already?"

In other news, a cattle rancher in Nevada was shot to death by police after one of his cows briefly strayed onto federal property. While attempting to recover the cow, the rancher was gunned down for approaching too close to the officers and talking back to them.

Discuss

Today is Earth Day, and this year there is both very bad and very good news. For the first time in millions of years, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 400 parts per million, a grim milestone that should spur all thinking people to action to try to reduce fossil fuel emissions and prevent extreme climate change.

But what actions can we take? Politics these days seems to be a hopeless exercise for progressive thinkers who care about the long-term future of the planet. Is there anything we can do to have a direct positive effect ourselves, rather than trying to compete with unlimited corporate cash to influence elected officials?

The good news is that there is something we can do, a movement we can join today to make a difference. And the really exciting thing is that this movement is not just about helping the environment, but also about empowering people who are doing so with a stake in a new, people-powered economic system -- a system in which the money supply is created specifically to help fund a global transition from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy. Follow me below the fold to learn more!

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My first political memory was of wealthy Republicans laughing at Walter Mondale for talking too much about "the poor." They were watching the 1984 presidential debate. I was 5 years old. My father worked for Reagan and we were at a political soiree at a mansion in Northern Virginia.

Although I grew up Republican, I later became a Democrat in part because I decided that society should help the poor, not mock them or ignore them.

One thing I've noticed, however, is that there has been less and less discussion of the poor in our nation's political discourse as the years have rolled by. Instead, politicians are always talking about "helping the middle class."

There's nothing wrong with helping the middle class, but there are some people in America who need much more help. And let's call it like it is: those people are poor. Downright poor.

As the chart shows, the bottom quintile -- that's 20% of all Americans -- earn an average annual household income of only $11,490. The next quintile up -- another 20% of Americans -- earn $29,696. So there are basically 40% of all Americans who earn less than $30,000 per year for their entire household.

These are the invisible Americans. Their concerns and needs never discussed by politicians. The word "poor" itself has been mostly banished from our political vocabulary -- so outmoded that Mondale might have been the last mainstream politician to use it!

The poor? Oh, you mean those starving people in Africa, right? No. The people all around us, here in our own country, who live lives of struggle and shame, and are totally ignored by our nation's leaders. They stock shelves at Walmart, flip burgers at McDonalds, clean toilets in people's homes, and do underpaid temp work and unpaid internships in corporate offices. Many of them have college degrees and cannot find a job in their field. Many of them, despite having the desire and ability to work, cannot find a job at all.

If the poor are all around us, among us, then why are they so invisible? Part of the reason is that they have been taught to think of themselves as "middle class." Nobody wants to admit to themselves and others that they're actually "poor."

This is an American phenomenon which is likely rooted in our nation's Calvinist religious heritage and the modern proliferation of the self-help movement and "name it and claim it" charismatic Christianity. Many Americans worry that to be poor means to be rejected by God. And they have been persuaded that admitting the reality of one's negative circumstances will attract more bad things to oneself via the "law of attraction."

So, instead of poor people in America developing a consciousness of their true economic situation and fighting to change it by reforming the economic system that has put them at a disadvantage, they retreat into shame and false hopes that they can pray their way out of a poverty they do not acknowledge.

I don't claim to have all the answers for how to lift America's poor out of poverty. But a good start would be simply to talk about the fact that poverty exists in America and is growing -- that our nation is filled with poor people, and more people are falling out of the middle class and into poverty each day, and most of these people are just like anyone else: they try hard in life, go to work or fill out job applications as vigorously as non-poor Americans. Most importantly, we as a society need to start admitting that the poor are not "temporarily embarrassed millionaires" nor are they part of an all-encompassing top-to-bottom "middle class," but they are just poor, and most of them are likely to stay that way despite their best personal efforts unless economic policies are changed.

Jesus said "The poor are always with you." Yes, yes they are. Even in 21st century America. But they don't have to be. That's up to us. Solving the problem of poverty begins with admitting it exists. Bringing back the word "poor" into America's national debate could help to focus our attention on its reality.

Discuss

A news story today made me wonder if I had woken up in 1955, in the starched and sexually repressed world of Back to the Future or Pleasantville. I snapped back to reality as I realized I was reading it online, on Huffington Post:

A major online payment processor is refusing to handle credit card payments for a startup condom company.

A representative for Chase Paymentech, the payment processing platform offered by JPMorgan Chase, told Lovability founder Tiffany Gaines over the phone this week that the company considers it a "reputational risk" to handle online payments for condoms, which it classifies as an "adult-oriented product."

Lovability was founded by a mother-and-daughter team of entrepreneurs:
Tiffany is a graduate of New York University, and is presently working towards her Masters in Fine Arts in Design For Social Innovation at SVA. Her dream has always been to start a business with a meaningful social impact.

Pam is a mother of four daughters who has over 30 years of experience as an entrepreneur. Her business skills and passion for women's empowerment were a perfect match for Lovability Condoms when Tiffany sought out her partnership back in June 2013.

The Lovability condom company defines its mission as "to empower women to take responsibility for their sexual health." As it says on their website, they are specifically focused on selling condoms to women:
Lovability Inc. brings you beautifully packaged condoms with one goal in mind: to de-stigmatize women's relationship with condoms by helping women celebrate the empowerment that comes from being prepared...

By overhauling the traditional packaging, messaging, and distribution model of condoms, we've created the first condom brand intended to fit seamlessly into a woman's lifestyle so that she feels more comfortable acquiring, carrying, and providing the condoms.

Why? We were shocked and upset when we realized that 1 in 4 women in the United States suffer from an STD.

For some reason, Chase Bank thought doing business with this company would be a "reputational risk."

It would be interesting to know if Chase also refuses to process payments for guns. Those are pretty controversial too -- much more controversial, in this day and age, than latex birth control. But I doubt that gun retailers have been banned from accepting credit card payments from customers. Somebody correct me if I'm wrong.

I think Chase needs to step out of the time machine and embrace the 21st century. We're not living in the times anymore when nervous teenagers had to request condoms from behind the pharmacy counter, bracing themselves for a stern lecture or refusal of service.

The only risk to Chase's reputation is from the ridiculously offensive stance they have taken against birth control and the blacklisting of innovative and socially-conscious female entrepreneurs. Perhaps they plan to shift most of their business to countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan. Because after this boner of a decision, it's hard to imagine anyone in the more progressive countries of the world deciding to do their banking with Chase.

Discuss

How should we remember a person whose life mission was accomplished in reverse? In particular, someone who was so obnoxious and repugnant in arguing for his cause that he convinced most people to believe the opposite?

This is the riddle of, as my friend put it, the "excruciatingly Reverend" Fred Phelps (1929-2014) -- a man who founded the infamous "God Hates Fags" Westboro Baptist Church and ironically may go down in history as one of the most effective evangelists for gay rights, because of how many people were turned off by his hateful rhetoric and decided to increase their love and acceptance of gay people in reaction to it.

As one universalist Christian blogger wrote in "A Love Letter to Fred Phelps":

I believe the only right and rational response to a man who spends his whole life carrying around signs (literal or figurative) that say "God Hates You" is to proclaim to the world, with our words and our life, that "God Loves You!" ...

You are my enemy, Fred Phelps. As your life ends, I want you to know that God is running to meet you. And if what I believe is true, I'm excited for you to find out just how wrong you've been about how good God really is. I'm excited for you to spend some time apologizing to all those gay people in Heaven who have already forgiven you. I'm excited for you to learn from the best teacher about what it really means to love your enemy. And I'm excited for you to discover how much God really loves us. Even you. Even me.

Presumably Phelps was sincere in his hateful anti-gay antics. But because his church was a theater of the absurd -- protesting at military funerals, for example, claiming that random soldiers' deaths were somehow an angry God's vengeance upon the United States for its growing tolerance of gay people -- Phelps accomplished something remarkable: he made the anti-gay cause appear so disgusting and ridiculous that hardly anyone wanted to be associated with it. Instead, millions of Americans began thinking, "If the people who say 'God hates fags' are this bad, maybe God really loves gay people!"

A religious person might say that "God works in mysterious ways" -- even through people like Fred Phelps.

The best parodies are nearly indistinguishable from reality. Although it's probably too much wishful thinking to suppose that Westboro Baptist Church was in fact a parody, like the Landover Baptist Church which mocks materialistic evangelical megachurches, we can't be sure. Shortly before his death, Phelps himself was excommunicated by his church -- which consisted entirely of his own family -- reportedly for "advocating a kinder approach between church members." But I wonder if that's the whole story. Maybe he had a change of heart and decided he had been wrong to hate gay people all those years. Or maybe, just maybe, he was excommunicated because he told his church that the whole thing had been a big parody designed to discredit holier-than-thou religious opposition to homosexuality.

Whether or not that was Phelps' intention (and it probably wasn't), that's exactly what he accomplished. Life is like that sometimes. If you go too far one way, you may provoke a reaction in the other direction. If you look ridiculous doing it, you make the other side seem reasonable in comparison. If you make people hate you, they might hate your enemies less, or even start liking them.

Believe it or not, there is actually a spiritual tradition based on the idea of deliberately making yourself look bad: an extreme Sufi practice called Malamatiyya, which means the "path of blame":

All of the Malamati values and practices are attempt to humiliate the nafs [ego] with every action so that they may work toward a spiritual transformation. The "path of blame" requires that an individual always claims blame and hold his or herself in contempt. In this way, their inner being is directed towards a connection with God, however the interior is kept secret by an exterior that is non-conformist or unruly. ...

To illustrate such a practice it is said that a saint "was hailed by a large crowd when he entered a town; they tried to accompany the great saint; but on the road he publicly started urinating in an unlawful way so that all of them left him and no longer believed in his high spiritual rank." According to the Malamati, this saint was virtuous in his unlawfulness.

Basically, the idea of the Malamati Sufi tradition was to piss off everyone you encounter. They believed that you must hate yourself and make others hate you, in order to get God to love you. How sad.

What if Fred Phelps was a self-hating gay man? What if, in his own tragic and deluded way, he made himself a figure of uttermost hate, so that in taking the hate of the world upon his shoulders, he inadvertently helped to free gay people from the tyranny of a religious ideology that says they are deserving of our hatred? What if in making "God hates fags" such a comically despicable notion, he made it laughable and thus made it lose much of its power?

I don't hate Fred Phelps. By making himself a caricature of hate, he helped make it socially unacceptable to hate gay people and persuaded millions of people to embrace them as equal and worthy of love. Whether he did that accidentally or as part of a sick but brilliant strategy of reverse psychology, the more appropriate title for Mr. Phelps is "comedian," not "Reverend." When the history books are written about the gay rights movement of the early 21st century, Phelps will be remembered not with hatred, but with the ironic laughter he so richly deserves.

Discuss
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