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THEISTWATCH FOR AUGUST 18, 1995 Contents: United States--RELIGIOUS AGENDA MAY THREATEN GOP WHITE HOUSE BID United States--GANGSTA RAP CRITIC IS TARGET OF LAWSUIT United States--FIRST LADY ASKED TO SAY AWAY FROM BEIJING CONFERENCE World--THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS Texas--AND NOW A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR ____________________ ____________________ RELIGIOUS AGENDA MAY THREATEN GOP WHITE HOUSE BID by Conrad Goeringer Election day is still more than a year away, but you'd never know it listening to some major Republican strategists. One GOP pollster is sufficiently optimistic that he told USA TODAY, "This is our election to lose." Another party official working on behalf of Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana echoed that sentiment, but added that when it came to losing, "Sad to say, we may be capable." One reason for the party's optimism is the sheer scale of its 1994 congressional victory; it was the "greatest midterm majority sweep of the 20th century" declared GOP Chairman Haley Barbour, and it saw the Republicans grab control of both the U.S. House and Senate for the first time in four decades. There's more fueling this optimism; polls show that nomination front-runner Sen. Bob Dole leads President Clinton in a number of polls, albeit by close margins. Any Republican who receives the party nod for a White House run can also boast of the efforts the GOP made in keeping its "Contract With America," moving toward a balanced budget, lowering taxes, and "getting tough" on crime issues. The electoral map looks good for the Republicans, too. Seven states which gave Clinton 52 of his electoral votes last time may prove difficult to win in 1996. They are: Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Montana, Nevada and New Hampshire. Republicans may succeed in running a "values" campaign to erode Clinton's public image and emphasize instead the GOP stand on behalf of "family values." Clinton will have to win California, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois, maybe Ohio. It can be done, experts say, but it is very difficult. And there's the Whitewater affair. Clinton may be hurt by the congressional investigation, especially if there are surprises. He's suffered an "image problem" due to government actions at Waco and the shoot-out with the Branch Davidians. Attorney General Janet Reno can take only part of this hit, and the Justice Department is also going to face PR problems over the announced settlement of $3.1 million in the case of separatist Randy Weaver, whose wife and son were killed in an attack by federal agents. This "painful chapter in law-enforcement history," along with the Waco disaster, has reinforced perceptions that the government is "out of control." But there are plenty of obstacles and hazards in any GOP cakewalk into the White House in 1996. Most Republicans would like to run a campaign focusing on economic issues and place minimal attention on the moral and religious agenda raised by groups such as the Christian Coalition. While the Coalition has not announced support for any one candidate, the organization is still a group with which to be reckoned. It distributed tens of millions of "voters guides" in the 1994 election, and exercises control or significant influence in many state GOP organizations. Some observers think that the extreme stands on welfare, abortion, censorship, gays and school prayer may be racing ahead of voters' political appetites. "What Republicans have going for them is people think they're headed in the right direction," political analyst Charles Cook recently told USA TODAY. "What they have to be concerned about is people worrying they're going too far." Both frontrunner Dole and challenger Senator Phil Gramm of Texas have been working hard to shore up their credentials as both economic and religious conservatives. Dole masterminded the defeat of Clinton's nominee for the post of U.S. Surgeon General, and he seems to have captured a "bandwagon" effect with his attacks on permissive violence and sex in Hollywood films, television and music lyrics. Clinton is in the awkward position of what strategists term "triangulation." He has to stay to the left of conservative Republicans, yet maintain a more moderate stance than many of his fellow Democrats, especially on issues such as spending and taxes. He has to capture some of the "family values" rhetoric as well; his guidelines about the role of religion in schools, along with his "out of the blue" campaign against teenage smoking, may be an effort in that direction. Republicans also have to worry about "dark horse" candidate Pat Buchanan. The 56-year-old political commentator lost 33 straight primaries to President George Bush in 1992, but still managed to ignite the "culture war" theme on which he is still capitalizing. Observers are amazed at Buchanan's energy and enthusiasm and some of the fighting spirit is beginning to rub off on his supporters while the candidate runs a surprisingly vital campaign on a slim $3 million budget. Buchanan is tapping into to anti-NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) sentiment, with a call for an automatic 10 percent tariff on all Japanese goods. Even a respectable show in the New Hampshire primary could spell troubles in other states for the Dole campaign. Buchanan's energetic candidacy also is forcing the other runners in the pack, especially Dole and Gramm, to "prove" their social conservatism and pick a vice presidential running mate with similar conservative credentials. That goes against the "big tent" philosophy of party chairman Barbour. There is also the Perot factor. This past weekend, Perot's "United We Stand" movement held its mammoth convention and heard representatives from both major parties plead for the organization's support. George Bush may well have lost the 1992 election because of the Texas billionaire's third-party ambush. While there is considerable confusion over exactly what Perot and the United We Stand movement actually endorses, it could symbolize growing voter disgust with both Democrats and Republicans. Third party efforts could also come out of on-going suspicion which many religious conservatives have with the GOP. With House passage of the bulk of the Contract With America, groups such as the Christian Coalition and Focus on the Family are waiting for "payback time" enactment of an extensive religious-social agenda. The House voted deep cuts in social programs, including more restrictions on abortion. One upcoming litmus test of political loyalty for Republicans (and even Democrats) may be a "Religious Equality Amendment." The Clinton administration has already tried to defuse this issue; the U.S Department of Education is currently mailing guidelines to the nation's 15,000 school districts which define the extent of religious rights and free speech for students and teachers. The guidelines reflect an agreement of nearly three-dozen American religious groups which was signed and issued two months ago as a Joint Statement. For religious conservatives, however, the Statement and administration guidelines do not go far enough; groups such as the Christian Coalition want a specific constitutional amendment supporting expanded religious exercise and instruction in public schools. The amendment could be the price GOP candidates such as Dole may have to pay in exchange for religious conservative political support and organization. Despite their considerable political and financial resources, however, Christian conservatives may not be able to deliver sufficient votes to assure a GOP victory in November, 1996 if voters sense that the "moral agenda" on abortion, gays and other issues has "gone too far." A third-party effort by Buchanan or a lesser-known candidate supported by someone such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family could end up hurting the GOP and re-electing President Clinton. Fourteen months until election day is a long time. GOP strategists also worry that if that period is "a reasonably placid time in the economy and the world," it could work to Clinton's advantage. But in politics, and the rest of life, anything can happen. GANGSTA RAP CRITIC IS TARGET OF LAWSUIT by Conrad F. Goeringer What links anti-rap activist C. DeLores Tucker, "Kultur"-guru William Bennett and Psychic Friends Network schmoozer Dionne Warwick? It appears that all three are players in a bizarre story involving attempts to pressure Time Warner, Inc. to stop distribution and production of controversial rap-music albums and a possible attempt to persuade a leading rap producer to leave one record label and renegotiate a multi-million dollar contract. On Tuesday, August 15, Interscope Records filed suit against Ms. Tucker in the Federal District Court in Los Angeles. According to the New York Times, the suit alleges that Tucker told producer Marion Knight that if he "cleaned up his albums" and ended his association with Interscope, she would broker a new deal on his behalf with Time Warner. Knight claimed that Time Warner which owns 50 percent of Interscope would pay Knight $80 million to break with the rap production company. Tucker's alleged share of this deal has not been revealed. On August 15, she acknowledged that she had met with Knight several times and discussed establishing a new distribution arrangement. C. DeLores Tucker attracted headlines this past summer when, as chairwoman of the National Congress of Black Political Women, she formed a controversial alliance with former Reagan Administration Education Secretary William Bennett. Speaking under the auspices of the Empower America group, the two demanded that media giant Time Warner stop producing and promoting so-called "gansta rap" lyrics which some find offensive and obscene. Producer Marion Knight is chairman of the popular Death Row Records label, which represents controversial rap singers such as Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre; those albums are distributed by Interscope. Critics were quick to point out the dangers Tucker and her organization risked in their "strange bedfellows" alliance with Bennett. Bennett is the so-called "Kultur"- guru of the conservative-religious right with his calls for legislation on behalf of "family values" and his emphasis on the role of religious ideology in American society. Critics charged that Tucker and Bennett were also promoting censorship and a "chilling effect," especially since much rap music is filled with social and political commentary. Ms. Tucker told the newsmedia, in announcing her alliance with Bennett several weeks ago, that she and other Black women "were sick and tired of being called sluts, ho's [whores] and bitches." The Interscope lawsuit, however, suggests that more than just social principle may have been involved in the pressures against Time Warner. In addition to promises of big bucks ($80,000,000) to Knight, there is also the bizarre involvement of Dionne Warwick. According to the Times, the pop-singer was "acting as Ms. Tucker's representative" in a proposed meeting with Knight. One recent Warwick financial venture has been the Psychic Friends Network, which promises a variety of "readings" over the phone using psychics, tarot card readers, astrologers, and dream interpreters. An hour of such services can run up to $240. The service is run by Inphomation, Inc. of Baltimore, and operates with a "stable" of some 1,500 alleged psychics. Inphomation Inc. was involved in a negotiated settlement last January with the Tennessee Attorney General's Office, Division of Consumer Affairs. The original complaint alleged that the hotline run up extra time-toll charges with recordings which list the "credentials" of alleged psychics, repeated information, and used other devices to "drag out" the length of time customers would spend using the service. In the settlement, Inphomation agreed to credit or reimburse accounts of certain customers, and institute new procedures. "Infomercial" style ads for the Network run an estimated 300 times a week on cable systems throughout the country. Critics have complained that these programs are set up to appear like legitimate talk-shows complete with a host and audience. Warwick has appeared in spots for her Network, often schmoozing with clients who are delighted and satisfied with the "accuracy" of the psychic forecasts and the value of the advice offered. Skeptics believe that psychic readings and related phenomena have no basis in reality and that "psychic hotlines" merely provide good guesses and homespun advice to clients. C. DeLores Tucker told the N.Y. Times that "I welcome my day in court with them," and immediately dropped discussion of the specific charges by attacking Interscope, insisting that the company "ought to be ashamed of themselves for putting out such filthy records." Meanwhile, the chairman of Time Warner's music division, Michael J. Fuchs, said that he had agreed to a meeting with Marion Knight only because Tucker had assured him that Knight was going to "tone down" the lyrics on his albums. Fuchs said that he knew nothing of a business deal. He also added that "To me, this is like 'A Night At The Opera,' and I'm waiting for Bill Bennett to enter as Groucho Marx." FIRST LADY ASKED TO STAY AWAY FROM BEIJING CONFERENCE Upcoming UN Conference on Women draws fire from religious right by Conrad Goeringer Will she or won't she? That question is being asked a lot in Washington, as pressure mounts to derail a plan for First Lady Hillary Clinton to lead a delegation of American women to the UN Conference on Women, slated next month in Beijing, China. The New York Times and other media report that there is "much hand-wringing among senior diplomatic officials who are not sure she should go." Even administrative insiders are pointing to China's abysmal record on human rights and civil liberties, and the fact that it is still holding a gentleman named Harry Wu, who happens to be a U.S. citizen and an outspoken critic of China's domestic policy. Mrs. Clinton's participation in the Conference may be a leverage point in arranging Harry Wu's timely release from a People's Republic dungeon. The Chinese would be wise to arrange this, for any number of reasons. Human rights is turning out to be a major stumbling block in the Chinese appetite for foreign investment which is desperately needed to fuel the 20-30 percent growth rates in the country's vast free trade and enterprise zones. And China can't resist the post-modern twentieth century culture for ever. Along with blue jeans, sports cars, and microtechnology come problematic items such as fax machines, computer networks, open discussion, and Western liberalization. The Great Wall may have kept out foreign armies for centuries, but it can't stop direct satellite broadcasts and cellular phone transmissions. When China takes possession of Hong Kong in 1999, the former Crown colony may end up changing China more than China can alter the face of Hong Kong. But the women's summit remains a target of religious neanderthals in the West, who even without the unintentional help of the Chinese regime, seem to be mounting an aggressive campaign to derail the conference. Conservative Christians have been arm-twisting their Congressional flunkies and allies for weeks to stop American participation and funding. Focus on the Family honcho James Dobson has labeled the meeting "the most radical, atheistic and anti-family crusade in the history of the world." Dobson, a Christian "family values," Bible disciplinarian kind o' guy when it comes to raising kids, has a slew of other phrases, too, in describing the gathering. It represents, he says, "radical gender- feminist ideology," is "Satan's trump card if I have ever seen it," and exemplifies "breathtaking wickedness" in its goals. "Most of what Christianity stands for will be challenged during this atheistic conference. Every good and perfect gift from the hand of the Creator will be mocked and vilified," Dobson told the Rocky Mountain News recently. There's more, he claims. The International Women's Conference will "undermine the family, promote abortion, teach immoral behavior to teen-agers, incite anger and competition between men and women, advocate lesbian and homosexual behavior, and vilify those with sincere faith." It will also depict marriage as "the root of all evil for women." Conference organizers insist that the meeting expected to attract some 50,000 delegates from around the world won't be quite that ambitious. It WILL focus on family planning, equality for women, and related health issues. But the U.N. Conference remains a bete noir for the Christian Right and the Chinese government may be, without knowing it, playing into the hands of our own homegrown religious demagogues. Both House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senator Bob Dole have officially opposed American participation and funding in the event. In the House, the GOP tried unsuccessfully to block funds for the U.S. delegation's travel expenses. If she does go, Hillary Clinton's presence at the conference could backfire. Even a brief stay which does not entail meetings with Chinese officials could be perceived as a sign of what the Times called "American nonchalance about (China's) human rights record." Despite their opposition to the conference, religious activists will be sprinkled throughout the meetings. Focus on the Family is sending five delegates, and even a small religious presence could cause a stir over issues such as abortion and birth control. The "Harry Wu" card could be just what Republican politicians and the religious right needs to dampen American enthusiasm for the U.S. Women's gathering. President Bill Clinton's campaign has adopted a "triangulation" strategy of trying to keep the incumbent left of the GOP, but more moderate than a number of fellow Democrats. If religious conservative succeed in painting the Women's Conference as an "anti-family" affair, and link it to the controversial abortion issue, they may ensure that Hillary Clinton stays home. THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS by Conrad Goeringer Drive by an adult bookstore and see lines of picketers outside, and most of us would yawn, then mutter something like "damn religious nuts." What community hasn't seen groups of "people of faith" and other self- righteous zealots protesting bookstores, movie theaters, playhouses, libraries and even television studios over programs or materials they want the government to censor? Nothing new here unless you visit the town of Mesquite, Nevada. Nevada is still "wide open" territory. Even with its growing emphasis on theme-parks and "family entertainment," casinos and other entertainment venues provide plenty of action and fun for consenting adults. Casinos are found in this little town, which is just eighty miles north-east of Vegas. So is the Pure Pleasure adult bookstore, which is where Mormons and other religionists have "drawn a line in the sand" in their battle for prudery, intolerance, and invasive snooping. Seems that since Pure Pleasure opened its doors in 1993 to a growing number of customers, church activists have been demonstrating literally day and night, around the clock to shut the establishment down. Associated Press recently interviewed mostly Mormon demonstrators, some of whom even travel several hours from nearby LDS-dominated Utah. The demonstrators do more than just exercise their constitutional rights to picket they've assembled a thick log filled with the license plate numbers of those who have visited Pure Pleasure. What happens with this information is not known. Whatever one thinks about the ambiance or appeal of adult bookstores and "peep show" movies, one has to admire the determination of the owner who remains firm in his conviction of staying open for business, especially in the confrontational face of religious bullies. Mormon church officials in Salt Lake City "reject claims that the church is engaged in an organized effort to close down the bookstore." Of course they would, at least in so many words. Bet they also give plenty of lipservice to the Bill of Rights and talk about "freedom," as long as it doesn't apply to individuals, movements, or philosophies with which the LDS happens to disagree. The Mormon spokesman added that "The church encourages its members to do all they can to oppose pornography and other societal ills." *************** In Kashmir, militant Islamic fundamentalists appear divided over the recent murder and beheading of a Norwegian hostage by the Al Faran separatist movement. Businesses, markets, schools and even government offices shut down on August 16, while another day passed without word on the fate of four other hostages. Al Faran is demanding the release of fifteen of its members currently held in Indian prisons. The group wants to separate the state of Kashmir and establish an Islamic Republic. AND A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR . . . If you enjoy TheistWatch, you may also find the AMERICAN ATHEIST NEWSLETTER to be a useful (and educational) addition to your reading. Each month, the _American Atheist Newsletter_ reports in depth not alone religious gaffes but state/church violations, religious assaults on reason, and the feats of Atheist activists. 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