In early 2012, best-selling novelist Joel Rosenberg came to Capitol Hill for a meeting with an unidentified member of Congress to discuss the end of the world. "I thought the topic was going to be the possible coming war between Israel and Iran," Rosenberg explained on his website. "Instead, the official asked, 'What are your thoughts on Isaiah 17?'"
For the better part of an hour, Rosenberg says, the writer and the congressman went back forth on something called the "burden of Damascus," an Old Testament prophecy that posits that a war in the Middle East will leave Syria's capital city in ruins—and bring the world one step closer to Armageddon. As Rosenberg put it, "The innocent blood shed by the Assad regime is reprehensible and heart-breaking and is setting the stage for a terrible judgment."
But Rosenberg and his anonymous congressman aren't alone in viewing Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's actions through a biblical lens. With Congress set to vote next week on the authorization to use military force in Syria, the Damascus prophecy has taken on a new significance among the nation's End Times industry—writers and pastors who believe the world is hurtling toward the return of Christ as forecasted in the Book of Revelation—and its adherents in the pews and in public life. On Saturday, Rosenberg will travel to Topeka, Kansas, at the invitation of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, to discuss the situation in the Middle East.
On Saturday, President Barack Obama announced that he would ask Congress for an authorization to use military force in Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack in Damascus that killed more than 1,400 civilians. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R–Ohio) quickly scheduled a vote for the week of September 9th, after Washington returns from August recess. But will the measure pass? Here's a quick guide to emerging factions on Capitol Hill.
The Republican Anti-Interventionists: Led in the House by Congress' only member of Syrian ancestry, Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, and a growing cohort of allies like North Carolina Rep. Walt Jones and Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, who previously sought to block military aid to Syrian rebels. (Amash's response to Obama's announcement Saturday: "Thank you, Mr. President.") They're likely to argue that any military action without authorization from Congress is unconstitutional—and any military action with authorization would simply waste American resources. On the Senate side, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul announced their opposition last week. Paul fretted that a "piddly attack with a few cruise missiles" would only worsen the conflict and possibly threaten the security of Israel. They are joined by Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who says "there is still no compelling national security impetus for American military involvement in a civil war in the Middle East."
The Democratic Doves: Best represented (unsurprisingly) by Florida Rep. Alan Grayson. He's skeptical of US intel on the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons—and even if he were convinced, he still wouldn't support American military intervention. "There is nobody in my district who is so concerned about the well-being of people in Syria that they would prefer to see us spend billions of dollars on a missile attack against Syria than to spend exactly the same amount of money on schools or roads or health care," he told Slate. "Nobody wants this except the military-industrial complex," he also said. Also, on Saturday, right after President Obama wrapped his speech calling for a vote in Congress, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) went on CNN to say there is still no reason to place Americans "in harm’s way" over the Syria conflict. (Rangel expressed similar concerns in this June USA Today op-ed.)
The GOP Maybe-if-You-Ask-Nicely-Caucus: New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte endorsed military strikes in Syria on the condition that Obama first seek the support of Congress. Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told constituents that "we cannot simply allow Assad to continue this unthinkable brutality against his own people," but insisted that congressional approval is a necessary step. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the number-two Republican in the upper chamber, expressed skepticism at the idea of intervention but would not rule it out entirely—provided he had a chance to vote on it. Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell and several dozen colleagues wrote a letter to the White House last week demanding a Congressional referendum without making any promises on how he would vote.
In April, a massive explosion ripped apart a fertilizer storage facility in West, Texas, killing 12 first responders and injuring at least 200 people. This didn't have to happen—as Mother Jonesreporter previously, the disaster was a product of lax regulation and mismanagement at various levels of government, and a company that had taken few steps to protect itself or the community. (The county didn't even have a fire code.)
Just how bad is the oversight of chemical facilities like West Fertilizer Co.? According to a new report in the Dallas Morning News, 90 percent of the federal government's chemical safety data is wrong:
A Dallas Morning News analysis of more than 750,000 federal records found pervasive inaccuracies and holes in data on chemical accidents, such as the one in West that killed 15 people and injured more than 300.
In fact, no one at any level of government knows how often serious chemical accidents occur each year in the United States. And there is no plan in place for federal agencies to gather more accurate information.
As a result, the kind of data sharing ordered by President Barack Obama in response to West is unlikely to improve the government’s ability to answer even the most basic questions about chemical safety.
The Gray Lady has her standards, at least. For as long as anyone has kept track, the New York Times has enforced a strict policy of avoiding language it deems offensive while jumping through hoops to explain why. While cursing is permitted in excerpted works of fiction, in the paper's news sections, f-bombs, s-words, racial slurs, and off-color terms such as "screw," are strictly non grata. (The one exception: The 1998 publication of the NSFW Starr Report.)
No one—even Joe Biden—is exempt. In the hands of the Times copy desk, "cocksuckers" becomes "Offensive Adjective Inappropriate for Family Newspaper"; "fuck you money" is "forget you money"; and "slutbag" is euphemized as just one of "several vulgar and sexist terms" uttered by New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner's spokeswoman. If—to borrow a trope that really ought to be banned—the Eskimos have 100 words for snow, the New York Times has at least 100 ways to say "fuck." None of them use the word "fuck."
Can you read between the lines to figure out which words the Times copy desk considered unfit to print in the quotes below? Give it your best fucking shot:
Walsh, a tea partier elected in the conservative wave of 2010, has reinvented himself as a talk radio host after getting trounced last fall by Iraq war vet Tammy Duckworth. On Wednesday, Walsh celebrated King's legacy by drafting a list of problems he believes afflict African Americans, such as an unwillingness to take responsibility for their own lives, and a total dependency on "the government plantation":
I have a dream that all black parents will have the right to choose where their kids attend school.
I have a dream that all black boys and girls will grow up with a father.
I have a dream that young black men will stop shooting other young black men.
I have a dream that all young black men will say "no" to gangs and to drugs.
I have a dream that all black young people will graduate from high school.
I have a dream that young black men won't become fathers until after they're married and they have a job.
I have a dream that young unmarried black women will say "no" to young black men who want to have sex.
I have a dream that today's black leadership will quit blaming racism and "the system" for what ails black America.
I have a dream that black America will take responsibility for improving their own lives.
I have a dream that one day black America will cease their dependency on the government plantation, which has enslaved them to lives of poverty, and instead depend on themselves, their families, their churches, and their communities.
You can listen to the audio of Walsh himself reading it, if you hate yourself.
Walsh's dream that all black boys and girls will have fathers who play an active role in their lives and wean them away from a culture of dependency is somewhat ironic given that his ex-wife sued him in 2011 for $117,437 in overdue child support payments. (The former couple settled in 2012; details of the settlement have not been released, although Walsh's ex-wife released a statement at the time saying the congressman was not a "deadbeat.")