Tag Archives: Culturemutt

Poetic Justice for Beck’s Social Justice Rant

tea kettle with boiling water

“I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”

Why run?  “Social justice” codes for Nazism and communism says conservative commentator, Glenn Beck.  And he does not care if this pisses you off.  If anything, his notoriety is helpful.  “I could give a flying crap about the political process … We’re an entertainment company,” he said in a Forbes magazine cover-page article this month. In the 12 months leading up to March 1, 2010, his company Mercury Radio Arts brought in $32 million in revenue.  Five million daily viewers are in love with his Fox News show.  His wildly irresponsible statements are helpfully cataloged with a generous profile on Dickipedia — a wiki of dicks.  Here are some highlights:

“I’m thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I’m wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it.” (2005)

“When I see a 9/11 victim family on television, or whatever, I’m just like, ‘Oh shut up.’ I’m so sick of them because they’re always complaining.” (2005)

“The only [Katrina victims] we’re seeing on television are the scumbags.” (2005)

Not listed but equally ridiculous:  “This President, I think, has exposed himself as a guy over and over and over again who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture” (2009).

“I don’t necessarily believe that [what Beck says] is reflective of his own personal politics — I don’t even know if he has personal politics,” says Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers, a trade magazine devoted to talk radio. “I see him as a performer.”

Performer he may be, but for much of the American religious world, the social justice slam was the last straw.  All hell broke loose; many in the American religious establishment turned their firepower on Beck.  From Scott Trotter, a spokesman for Beck’s own Latter-day Saint community:  “Public figures who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints represent their own views and do not speak for the church.”  Evangelical leader Jim Wallis, on his blog GOD’S politics, said, “the Catholic Church, the Black Churches, the Mainline Protestant churches, and more and more Evangelical and Pentecostal churches including Hispanic and Asian-American congregations all consider social justice central to biblical faith.” He then called for Christians to boycott Beck’s show.  Beck qualified his comments by denying them: “No, no, no. Didn’t say that [tell people to leave their churches if they talked about social justice]. I said if they are basing their religion on social justice. Social justice and economic justice are code words. Look for those code words, and then ask your church, ‘What do you mean by that? What is that?’ Because they’re code words. And don’t be sucked into that.”

In an April 6 Huffington Post article, Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church pastor Ryan Bell talked about meeting with filmmakers at his church to create PSAs responding to Beck: “Our goal is to help people understand what social justice is and its place at the center of Christian faith.”  Here is the first of these that can be viewed at socialjusticechristian.com

If anything good came of Beck’s comments, its this: American Christianity proved that it was up to the challenge of fighting back against conservative attempts to shape its narrative and quell the struggle for social justice.  Religion is fundamentally not right wing or left wing.   And faith has no quarrel with social justice.



Bjorn Karlman

Keep it simple, Keep it stupid: Palin on Nuclear Defense


Ever-innocent of in depth analysis, Sarah Palin likened President Obama’s nuclear policy to a child in a playground telling one of his playmates, “‘Go ahead, punch me in the face and I’m not going to retaliate. Go ahead and do what you want to with me.”  Setting aside the stats on the amount of gradeschoolers that use the word “retaliate”, let’s focus on the bigger picture of Palin’s April 7 bid at “snappy quip of the day”.  Yet again, Sarah Palin has taken “Keep it Simple Stupid” to such ridiculous lengths that she has emerged looking… well… quite simple and quite stupid.  Even Obama who seldom comments on Palin’s yap felt the need to comment this time around, calling her “not much of an expert on nuclear issues.”

Let’s unpack Palin’s genius further with a look at the context of her remarks.  This past Thursday, April 8, Obama signed a nuclear treaty with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that would result in both countries significantly scaling back the size of their nuclear arsenals.  Included in the smorgasbord of changes to nuclear policy, the United Sates is pledging not to threaten to or actually nuke any non-nuclear country that is in compliance with the international nonproliferation treaty.  Even if chemical or biological weapons were to be used on the US or its allies, the response under this new agreement could be aggressive military action but not nuclear action against said country.  Two caveats: nukes may be back on the table if biological weapons grow sufficiently in their ability to devastate AND North Korea and Iran are still fair game for nuking since they won’t cooperate with nonproliferation standards.

Back to Palin.  The vision of a post nuclear world obviously doesn’t get much traction with the Alaskan.  Neither does nuance.  Treaties of the kind just signed will help reduce the threat of nuclear warfare or nuclear terrorism as they will reduce the size of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals while simultaneously, bolstering security around what remains.  Palin seems to think that voluntarily reducing your nuclear capacity is a sign of weakness.  This is classic conservative shortsightedness.  If what we ultimately want is greater security, it makes sense to reduce firepower and the possibilities that the most destructive weapons in the world may fall into the hands of rogue states or terrorist groups.  Also, Palin seems incapable of reading the fine print: the nuclear option is not going away.  It can and will still be used, depending on the size of the threat against the United States.  And, as Robert Gibbs pointed out, the United States has, “a massive conventional arsenal that we believe has an important deterrent effect on anybody that might make the poor decision to attack our country.”

As entertaining as we may find Palin’s quips and sandbox nostalgia to be, if her long-term goal is the security of the United Sates and its allies, it would behoove her to think about more than inciting populist rage one chipper aside at a time.  Leadership is more than Tea Party diatribes, FOX talk or practiced, wink-punctuated debates rebuttals.  Unless it is addressed carefully, Palin’s lack of substance will collapse like her Katie Couric interviews and her failed governorship.  Time for some soul searching?  You betcha.



Bjorn Karlman

CultureMutterings Episode 2 – On Strip Clubs, Discrimination and Joe the Plumber Wanting to Shoot Illegal Immigrants


In this second episode of CultureMutterings I cover some of the ideas, fights and questions that have come up over the last few posts.  Hot topics: gay people in the military; the Icelandic sex industry; Joe the Plumber venting about how he wants to torture people and FOX News on the Congressional Budget Office.



Bjorn Karlman

Joe the Plumber in Phoenix Last Sunday at a Tea Party Event

Some particularly telling excerpts:

“I am not politically castrated — new word for political correctness, by the way. I am not politically castrated. Put a fence in, start shooting. End of story.” (the plumber’s fix for illegal immigration)

“Line up every damn last terrorist, I’ll torture them my damn self. And I’m not just talking.”

“The Tea Party I kinda look at as being a Church…. the main purpose is God.”

“You gotta have the respect of your family and friends, the rest of the world can go to hell”

“Iran… I don’t know why we aren’t bombing them right now.”

“I’m not out here as a lunatic fringe”

“I read history books”




Bjorn Karlman

What the Shuttering of Icelandic Strip Clubs says about “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”

Fear Wall

It’s the social conservative’s wet dream: Last week we learned that legislation had passed in Iceland banning all strip clubs.  Not only can you no longer run a strip club, but no business can profit from employee nudity in any way. So topless waitresses are out too.  There are signs that this momentum will result in a banning of the sex industry entirely. The legislation that passed on Wednesday last week is not the work of enterprising evangelicals or straight-laced rightists. Quite the contrary.  It is one of the most unique legislative milestones for the administration of Johanna Sigurdardottir, the first openly lesbian Prime Minister in the world.

This legislation that doubtless would win the approval of American “values” voters, was not inspired by religionists or indeed by any traditionalist undercurrent.  Though the Focus on the Family James Dobsons of the world would be delighted with this kind of an outcome,  this is the achievement of a small, hugely secular, socially progressive, Nordic state that England’s Guardian newspaper, calls “the world’s most feminist country”.

“It is pleasing how fresh the breeze of equality is at Althingi [the Icelandic parliament] these days,” said Siv Fridleifsdótttir of the Progressive Party, the bill’s first presenter (Icelandic newspaper Fréttabladid via Iceland Review Online).

Cut to the United States.  It’s been an interesting few weeks for gay rights.  On March 18, openly gay US infantry officer, Dan Choi, along with an outed officer, Capt. Jim Pietrangelo, chained themselves to the White House fence.  They did so in protest of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT), the US military policy that restricts the military from efforts to out service members or applicants that are gay, lesbian or bisexual, while still barring those that do come out from further service.  After coming out as gay on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show about a year ago, Dan Choi was issued a discharge letter from the military.  Choi has appealed the decision, and a final call has not yet been made.

On March 19, retired senior US military officer and NATO commander John Sheehan shocked the world with his logic in support of DADT.  Sheehan said that part of the reason for the 1995 massacre of 5,000 Muslim men in Srebrenica was the fact that there were gay soldiers among the Dutch UN peacekeeping troops that were protecting the Bosnian Muslim enclave. Sheehan made his statement before a Senate hearing on DADT.  The comments sparked Dutch outrage of biblical proportions, as well as worldwide criticism and disbelief.

What such statements reveal about the moth-eaten mindset of those that back the discrimination and deception inherent in DADT, is telling. Sheehan and like-minded antediluvians are so steeped in their anti-gay dogma that they are willing to make the issue one of life and death.  This is the antiquated language of DADT:  “The prohibition against homosexual conduct is a longstanding element of military law that continues to be necessary in the unique circumstances of military service. … The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.”

So basically, according to the military, gay people are bad for morale and order.  And according to religious conservatives, gays are a threat to the institution of marriage, the physical and psychological health of children and the moral condition of society as a whole.  What is wrong with these dinosaurs? It would behoove them to take a protracted soak in an Icelandic hot spring.  Has society fallen apart in Iceland with an openly gay person wielding the highest powers afforded to a citizen?  Has morale plummeted and chaos reigned?  Are children permanently scarred and is society taking a moral plunge? No, no and NO. Instead we have witnessed the kind of successful attack on the sex industry that most anti-gay, pro-DADT American leaders salivate just thinking about.

It is time for real equality in America.  We may differ in our views on homosexuality but surely, it is time to judge each person on their individual merits and potential, not their sexual orientation.  We are close to the finish line.  President Obama ran on a campaign promise to repeal DADT.  In his first State of the Union he again promised to do it.  May the tides of change hasten and may the insult to basic human equality that is DADT, become a thing of the past.



Bjorn Karlman

CultureMutterings Episode #1

Here goes the first video post.  The idea behind it is a beginning for what I am calling CultureMutterings – basically a video post about recent news, recent CultureMutt posts and reactions/rebuttals to some of the comments made on the posts.  This is my first stab at this and I am obviously highly camera trained…. enjoy



Yes He (Still) Can: Obama got his mojo back through health care

Girl with posterIt’s time for the detractors and tea partiers and general naysayers to take a deep breath, pack up their signs and book their one-ways home.  Health care reform passed tonight in what even Fox News concedes is a victory for President Barack Obama.  The bill passed 219-212 with Republicans stamping their little feet all the way.  The bill is now headed to Obama to be signed into law and is what CNN calls, “the most sweeping American social legislation in more than four decades”.  The path for progress has finally been cleared and Obama has passed the biggest test of his presidency.

Victory had been far from clear.  In January, when Republican candidate Scott Brown won the senate seat held previously by the late Ted Kennedy, opponents of health care reform danced in the streets because Democrats had lost their filibuster-proof 60-seat majority that they had been counting on to pass the health care reform legislation.  In addition to this setback, Democrats were severely divided on the details of legislation being shaped and wallowed in analysis-paralysis.  On top of that, conservative spin masters were doing their level best to introduce wild misinformation Sarah-Palin-style about supposed “death panels” afforded by the new legislation and Communist-style takeovers of American health care.  The air was thick with the fear-mongering babble of conservative detractors that believed that if they could repeat the same lies often enough, people would believe it and progress would be halted.  Not so.

Truly herculean efforts by Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and other Democratic powerhouses, led by a newly-confident Obama, stood up for what they knew was right.  They fought harder than many thought they were capable of fighting.  Obama first postponed and then canceled his trip to Asia and Australia as the end drew closer and closer.  Those that had felt Obama had lost some of his umph were either delighted or disgusted when he made campaign-style speeches to huge crowds as late as Friday, March 19 when he addressed an enormously supportive student crowd at George Mason University, VA.  Yesterday he gave the most personal, direct and soul-baring speech of his presidency to House Democrats.  The crux of his argument was a quote from Lincoln, “I am not bound to win, but I’m bound to be true. I’m not bound to succeed, but I’m bound to live up to what light I have.”  Obama spoke to Democrats, knowing full well that he was asking many of them to risk their careers.  In doing so, he asked them to dig deep and think about why they chose public service in the first place: “Something inspired you to get involved, and something inspired you to be a Democrat instead of running as a Republican… somewhere deep in your heart you said to yourself, ‘I believe in an America in which we don’t just look out for ourselves, that we don’t just tell people you’re on your own.’ ”

We hadn’t seen this Obama in a while but what Obama proved tonight is that he could do more than win the most significant election in a generation; he could pull off one of the greatest comebacks of recent political history and truly grab the reins of leadership with both hands.  As both friend and foe predicted, Obama’s success as a leader hinged on his ability to deliver on health care.  The Republicans knew this and fought accordingly.  But in the end, it was Obama that won.  As he said tonight: “We rose above the weight of our politics. … We are still a people capable of doing big things.”  And this is a president who is still capable of doing great things.

We’ll end on how Slate sums up the closing acts of the circus that was the House debate today:

“Minority Leader John Boehner used his time to deride the process that led to the bill’s passage. ‘Can you say it was done out in the open?’ he asked. His rhetorical device at times backfired. ‘Do you really believe that if you like your health care plan, you can keep it?’ ‘Yes!’ shouted Democrats. Boehner fired back, ‘You can’t!’ ‘Yes we can!’ yelled Democrats.

When the vote tally reached 216, a cheer went up stage right. Democrats hugged and kissed. Republicans stood with crossed arms. It didn’t take long for Democrats to settle on their victory chant: ‘Yes we can!’ ”

Welcome to a new day.



Bjorn Karlman

Why I, a Swede, Believe in America and in Health Care Reform

ItPhoto 137‘s been a battle between two of the best things about America:  Individual liberty on the one hand and shared responsibility on the other.   In the debate on health care we can’t resort to Dubya-style prattle that framed political dramas as a battle between good and evil.  It’s just not that simple.  There are good ideas and good people on both sides of this debate.  I don’t often speak in the first person on CultureMutt but I have no problem making this exception because of the extreme importance of what is at stake here.  I want to address this on as personal a level as possible.

Health care in America is an embarrassment, it is woefully inadequate and completely unacceptable in the world’s richest and most powerful country.  How is it that in America, the world’s sole superpower, we have huge slabs of the population that are one illness away from bankruptcy and devastating, personal failure?  How is it that insurance companies are able to deny people coverage based on pre-existing conditions?  This is cruel, this is heartless, this is fundamentally un-American.

red, white, and blue capsules in pill bottlesI will admit that as a Swede, I often compare America to what I have in my country of birth.  Yes, Sweden has socialized medicine and yes, this does bias me in favor of providing health care as a right for all.  But I made a very conscious decision ten years ago to move to the United States.  The reason?  I still believe with all that is in me, that America is the land of opportunity.  I still believe that things – very good things – can be done in this country that cannot be done anywhere else.  I am proud of my adopted country and I defend it whenever I travel.  This is where I want to live and this is the country I am committed to on a level that makes me feel deeply invested in doing all I can to improve this country for all that live here.

What is special and what is unique in America is an unwavering belief in the possibilities of what we can achieve as individuals and what we can achieve together.  No other country on earth can claim the kind of environment that America offers to all that live here: superior opportunities to thrive and prosper.  I will admit that I came to America because I personally wanted to thrive and prosper and be supported in my drive to do so as an individual.  But having lived in America for 10 years now, I can say that the American promise has proved to be about more than just individual success: it is about our shared destiny as a people.  The good news about America is that this is a country where we give a damn.  This is a country of compassion.  This is a country where we care about other people; where we pick up our fallen in battle; where we work TOGETHER in the hope of improving our collective existence and that of future generations.  No matter how controversial, infuriating or deeply disappointing the path, we CANNOT allow the firestorm that is the health care debate to allow us to forget about this fundamental truth.  There is a better way than this.

Gavel, Stethoscope and Books on FlagLet’s not pretend that the health care reform bill that will be voted upon tomorrow in the House is without fault.  It certainly has weaknesses and compromises.  I am tempted to get on my soapbox as usual and pontificate on what the bill REALLY should look like but this time I won’t.  This moment is too important.  The bottom line is that our current health care has failed.  People are hurting, people are vulnerable and the time for change has come.  Just as it took courage and overlooking imperfections and potential political ramifications to vote in Medicare for seniors and Medicaid for the poor decades ago, it will take courage to bring health care reform today.  The time for stalling is over.  This country is better than this.  We are better than this.  And the America health care reform will bring is better than this. May the House prove it by voting for Health Care Reform tomorrow.  In the words of President Obama this afternoon, “Let’s get this done!”.



Bjorn Karlman

Red-faced Turkish Prime Minister Threatens to Deport 100,000 Armenians

fotolia skulls

If genocide denial doesn’t work, maybe mass deportation will.  Or so goes the apparent logic of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Incensed that Sweden and the United States have recently decided to call the WWI era massacres of approximately 1.5 million Armenians “genocide,” Erdogan told the BBC’s Turkish service yesterday that, “If necessary, I may have to tell… 100,000 (Armenians) to go back to their country because they are not my citizens. I don’t have to keep them in my country.”

Despite Turkey’s aspirations to join the European Union, Erdogan also recalled Turkey’s ambassadors to Stockholm and Washington and, according to Reuters, “warned they could hurt a fragile effort to reconcile with Christian Armenia after a century of hostility.”  This echoes Turkey’s recall of its ambassador to Canada last year after Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper dared to mention the genocide.

Turkey denies that 1.5 million Armenians were killed in Turkey, although it concedes the killing of Christians as the Ottoman Empire collapsed almost a century ago. As more historians and foreign governments join together in condemning Turkey’s actions and its denial of genocide, the pressure is mounting on Turkey to admit to the sins of the past.

Erdogan has so far been incapable of anything but weaksauce rants about the “Armenian diaspora” that he claims is spreading falsehood and tarnishing Turkey’s reputation.  So far his behavior is amounting to international embarrassment for Turkey as Erdogan’s deportation threats are seen as overblown and petty, as well as being fairly hollow.  According to Reuters,  Aris Nalci, an editor at Turkish-Armenian weekly newspaper Agos, said such remarks are not new for Erdogan. “We are not taking it as a serious threat,” Nalci said.

Serious or not, Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarksyan replied with the understatement of the year: “This kind of political statement does not help improve relations between the two states.”  Last year, Armenia and Turkey made the progressive decision to start diplomatic relations and open their shared border.  Neither government has ratified the deal though and there has already been furious back and forth with both governments accusing the other of rewriting the text of the original agreement. Erdogan’s latest antics will no doubt add to the fun and further complicate any chance of success.

But let’s not be too surprised at Erdogan’s badly chosen words.  Prior actions prove him well-deserving of The Atlantic‘s description as “sometimes-dyspeptic.” At last year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland,  The Atlantic reports that “the roughest moment came when Erdogan accused Israel’s Shimon Peres of being a killer. ‘Peres, you are older than me,’ Erdogan said. ‘Your voice comes out in a very high tone. And the high tone of your voice has to do with a guilty conscience. My voice, however, will not come out in the same tone.’ He went on, ‘When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill.’ ”

Peres tried to respond but, as this YouTube clip faithfully captures, it was too late: Erdogan had decided to storm off the stage.


Bjorn Karlman