December 2005 Archives

The Des Moines Register article "Iowa klansman wants protest of gay marriage" talks about a KKK member, Douglas Sadler, who is attempting to organize a protest against efforts in Iowa to recognize same-sex marriage. He expresses his opinion this way:

''We don't believe God's law should be perverted any more than it already has been,'' said Sadler, a Charles City resident and father of four. ''The further we go away from God's law, the further we get away from God.''

[...]

''We don't believe they have the right to marry,'' Sadler said. ''In fact, we don't think they have the right to exist.''

I wonder: would he accept one of the Right's "conversion therapy" shams as an appropriate means of ensuring non-existence, or does his faith require death by stoning or beheading like that of his fundamentalist brethren? Following in the footsteps of Sam Harris, I have to note that the problem is not primarily with the lunatic fringe--it lies more with the religious moderates who tolerate, to whatever degree, people like Sadler solely because he's a fellow Christian conservative.

(Thanks to AmericaBlog for the tip.)

Diebold and Stalin

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Rand Careaga slams of voting-machine manufacturer Diebold by association with Stalin’s “counting the votes” remark. (It’s the lead image on his “Diebold Variations” page, and easily the strongest of his attempts.)

(Thanks to Brad Friedman at HuffPo for the tip.)

Brokeback Mountain 2

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Uggabugga has a parody movie poster playing on the Right’s closeted sycophancy.

Great work!

(Thanks to Hullabaloo for the tip.)

Comedy Central (and its corporate parent Viacom) have apparently caved in when confronted with complaints of religious correctness from some Catholics over an episode of South Park. As the Comcast article, “’South Park’ parked by complaints” notes:

Following the Dec. 7 season finale of South Park, titled "Bloody Mary," the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights slammed the network for its irreverent portrayal of church icons and sought to block the episode from being rebroadcast.

It appears the group may have met with success. A repeat of the finale was scheduled to air Wednesday night, but was pulled from the Comedy Central lineup without explanation.

South Park’s entire raison d’etre seems to be nose-thumbing of a very public sort at every sacred cow of American culture. Their attitude is likely that if everyone is pissed off at them—and it appears that nearly everyone is—then they must be doing something right. If it is acceptable to skewer gays, environmentalists, and the ghost of political correctness, then there should be no uproar when they take on organized religion.

If Viacom has any cojones, they’ll hype this episode and release it on a special DVD, as they did with The Passion of the Jew.

In their press release and an ad in today's New York Times, the ACLU is calling for a special counsel to investigate Bush's warrantless wiretaps.

20051229-aclu.jpg

(Thanks to TalkLeft for the tip.)

Bob Barr, former GOP Congressman from Georgia, has penned an op-ed entitled "Presidents all the same when scandal strikes" for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, likening Bush's lies about "what now appears to be a clear violation of federal electronic monitoring laws" to Clinton's escapades:

It would be refreshing if [the Bush White House] decided to clear the air and actually be honest about its post-Sept. 11 surveillance. However, that's unlikely.

I have some respect for Barr, unlike many of today's conservatives; he has demonstrated an appreciation for civil liberties that is muted or absent in his former colleagues. (He is even collaborating with the ACLU for the past three years, something few--if any--Republicans would dare to do.)

(Thanks to Kos for the tip.)

John at AmericaBlog notes in "GOP pro-war group running ads claiming we found WMD in Iraq and Saddam was tied to Al Qaeda" that:

When you belong to a party that no longer practices any of its original guiding principles, all that's left to fight for are the lies.

He's referring to the WSJ article "Some Conservatives Return to Old Argument" about the group Move American Forward. They are pushing the old--and thoroughly discredited--claims that Saddam had WMDs and ties to al Qaeda in order to lift Bush's approval ratings out of the basement.

As the old saying goes: "If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If both the facts and the law are against you, you must be defending the Bush administration."

David Moberg's "The Republican Crack-Up" from In These Times details George Bush's annus horribilus: Iraq, Katrina, failed attempts to privatize Social Security and repeal the Estate Tax, and an endless series of GOP corruption scandals.

Can Democrats manage to avoid tying Bush's record of failure around his neck like an enormous albatross?

Charles Krauthammer's "Impeachment Nonsense" starts off with the biggest, steamiest pile of manure I've laid eyes on since the days when I lived next to a dairy farm:

2005 was already the year of the demagogue, having been dominated for months by the endlessly echoed falsehood that the president "lied us into war."

Far from being an "endlessly echoed falsehood," Bush's pre-war lies are well established in the historical record. One can read Henry Waxman's Iraq on the Record report, which documents not only 55 of Bush's documented lies, but also many others from Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and Powell, for a total of 237 false and misleading statements. (For a slightly less rigorous analysis, the October 2003 issue of Harper's contained an article, "A history of the Iraq war, told entirely in lies," which used the Bush administration's inaccurate statements to great effect.)

The rest of Krauthammer's op-ed is no better. He buys into, and helps to propagate, the errors that Media Matters has identified as the "Top 12 media myths and falsehoods on the Bush administration's spying scandal."

Kathryn Joyce’s “Defending Christmas” at Soma Review is a brief disproof of John Gibson’s The War on Christmas. She talks about mass-market books being “assembled like cheap plastic toys on conveyer belts from materials of questionable integrity,” and refers to Gibson’s as:

a dubious hash of rumor, sketchy news reports, sentimental memoir, and the fake populism and persecution complexes that color most conservative missives in today’s culture wars.

The review gets harsher from there, noting that:

the only truth The Christmas Wars touches upon is the current state of religious and political division in our country, and the inanity of so many evangelical Christians that parades as piety. But of course, this is an industry book: intended to perpetuate division, not examine it.

As with Bill O’Reilly’s error-ridden lamentations, Gibson’s book of Christmas tales illustrates not an oppressive secular minority, but an arrogant Christian majority that portrays its persecution complex as actual persecution.

The unsigned editorial (attributed to "the editors") in the latest issue of The Nation, "Bush's High Crimes," excoriates Bush supporters--young and old--for their lack of historical awareness:

For the generations who came of age after the mid-1970s, it is worth recalling why warrantless domestic surveillance so shocks the political system. It needs to be repeated that the same arguments cited by Bush--inherent presidential power and national security--sustained the wiretapping of Martin Luther King Jr., unleashed illegal CIA domestic spying and generated FBI files on thousands of American dissidents. It needs to be repeated that in 1974, the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon included abuse of presidential power based on warrantless wiretaps and illegal surveillance. It needs to be repeated that a few months later, presidential aides named Cheney and Rumsfeld labored mightily to secure President Ford's veto of the Freedom of Information Act, in an unsuccessful attempt to turn back post-Watergate restrictions on homegrown spying and government secrecy.

Most of all it needs to be repeated that no constitutional clause gives the President "because I said so" authority. [emphasis added]

Jonathan Schell's "The Hidden State Steps Forward" (which quotes Nixon's infamous "When the President does it, that means it's not illegal" rationalization) and David Cole's "The Emperor's Powers" cover adjacent territory, and are also worth reading.

The editorial ends with the question "is it impossible to imagine illegal wiretaps leading to the final undoing of the Bush presidency?" The possibility of another presidential impeachment may be difficult for the country to bear, but not as difficult as three more years of this administration's unchecked abuses of power could be.

Aaron Freeman leads off his "Spy on Me, Make My Day" post with the famous Tiananmen Square lone-protestor-versus-the-tanks photo. He recounts the defiance his mother taught him, and emulates it for his own sake and for that of his daughters:

When I was eight my mother led our whole family into the marches against segregation in Chicago. The FBI spied on us then, too. In the sixties, the Bureau claimed to be looking for "communists," now they're hunting "terrorists," but they look for enemies among the same group of Americans: protesters, we who dissent. At civil rights marches there were countless guys in suits taking movies and snapshots of us all. Sometimes it was the FBI, sometimes the Chicago Police Department's in-house anti-subversive unit, the Red Squad. My mother taught us to smile a wave at the camera. Even at eight we understood they meant to scare us. I was in Catholic schools at the time so I was well acquainted with the notion of stuff going on my "permanent record."

But my mother wanted protest on our permanent records. She insisted that she and her children be counted among those whom bullying law enforcement did not scare.

If only more parents would do the same.

Media Matters' "Former fellows at conservative think tanks issued flawed UCLA-led study on media's 'liberal bias'" thoroughly dissects the "study" being touted as proof of "liberal media bias:"

Given the study's conclusions (that the media is replete with liberal bias) and the study's failure to acknowledge its authors' conservative pedigree, it is not surprising that a number of conservative news outlets picked up the story, as did a few mainstream outlets. [...] None of the outlets that reported on the study mentioned that the authors have previously received funding from the three premier conservative think tanks in the United States: the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI), The Heritage Foundation, and the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace.

Sarah Posner's "Impeachment and 60 Minutes Ironies" at Gadflyer discusses the possibility of Echelon's use in Bush's illegal spying, and notes how the media brush the allegations aside:

Faced with the possibility that Bush may have committed an impeachable offense in circumventing court approval for surveillance, the leading conservative rags instead are calling upon a very stale bag of tricks: blaming Bill Clinton.

Here is a longer excerpt from Bruce Schneier's "Uncle Sam Is Listening" at Salon, mentioned by Posner, which describes the Echelon program:

Echelon is the world's largest information "vacuum cleaner," sucking up a staggering amount of voice, fax and data communications -- satellite, microwave, fiber-optic, cellular and everything else -- from all over the world: an estimated 3 billion communications per day. These communications are then processed through sophisticated data-mining technologies, which look for simple phrases like "assassinate the president" as well as more complicated communications patterns.

Supposedly Echelon only covers communications outside of the United States. Although there is no evidence that the Bush administration has employed Echelon to monitor communications to and from the U.S., this surveillance capability is probably exactly what the president wanted and may explain why the administration sought to bypass the FISA process of acquiring a warrant for searches.

The Moonie Times had an op-ed column yesterday from Bruce Fein "...unlimited?" who worked in the Reagan justice department. (Thanks to John at AmericaBlog for the tip.) Fein's remarks are devastating, especially considering that they come from a fellow conservative:

President Bush presents a clear and present danger to the rule of law. He cannot be trusted to conduct the war against global terrorism with a decent respect for civil liberties and checks against executive abuses.
The sensible DC newspaper, the Washington Post, mentions in "Bush Addresses Uproar Over Spying" that former NSA Director Michael Hayden complained about FISA "paperwork"--and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the legislation authorizing the spying would be "would be difficult, if not impossible" to get through Congress. (Thanks again to John at AmericaBlog for this tip as well.) These examples prove Fein's point: the Bushies sidestep the law when it's inconvenient, and don't bother to get it changed because they don't care...isn't that the very definition of authoritarianism?

Kevin Drum's "Tomorrow's Talking Points Today" savages Max Boot's LA Times column "Plame platoon is AWOL on new leaks." Boot tries to aggrandize Bush's lawlessness by claiming:

Ask yourself why there have been no terrorist attacks on American soil since 2001. Not one. It's hard to know the exact reason we've been spared, but surely part of our good fortune should be attributed to the very measures -- the Patriot Act, the NSA surveillance, the renditions, the enhanced interrogation techniques -- that are now being pilloried by self-righteous journalists and lawmakers.

but Drum responds:

Of course, you might just as well ask yourself why there were no terrorist attacks on American soil in the four years before 9/11. The fact is, superhawks always claim their programs are vital to American security, and they almost always turn out to be wrong. We didn't need to intern Japanese-Americans during World War II, we didn't need Joe McCarthy's theatrics during the Cold War, and we didn't need COINTELPRO during the Vietnam War. And when the Church Committee outlawed the most egregious of our intelligence abuses in the 70s, guess what happened? The Soviet Union disintegrated a decade later. Turns out we didn't need that stuff after all. America is a lot stronger than its supposed defenders give it credit for.

History will not be kind to Dubya, or to his enablers.

the freedom to read

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The Standard-Times has information ("Agents' visit chills UMass Dartmouth senior") about a college student with suspicious reading habits: he was researching fascism and totalitarianism, and requested a copy of Mao's "Little Red Book."

Then the feds came knocking on his door.

The student's professor suspects that more monitoring is occurring, is reconsidering plans to offer a class on terrorism, and calls reading Mao "completely harmless."

I visit my local library regularly, and check out books that are probably on the Bush administration's watch list; I have purchased several others, which are shelved in plain sight in my home. Whether or not the spooks have used the Patriot [sic] Act's infamous Section 215 to generate a file on my reading habits will remain unknown until I feel it necessary to file a FOIA request.

(I heard about this incident yesterday, but didn't have the time to track down the details. Thanks to Joe at Hughes for America for posting "George Bush's America" with a link to the Standard-Times article.)


update
12/27 (9:47am):
Kos breaks the news in "UMass Mao library book story is a hoax" that this story is untrue; the student in question fabricated the entire incident. As Kos notes in his mea culpa:

When we're wrong in promoting a story, we need to face up to it and move on. That's what makes us better than the opposition, who as we know, never own up to mistakes.

In all fairness to the Right, "never" is an overstatement; I have seen a few retractions, although not nearly as many as there should be. I'd love to see everyone--on the Left as well as the Right--own up publicly and completely about the errors they propagate. This is my attempt at doing so.

I would like to note that, absent the obsessive secrecy of the Bush era as illustrated by the gag order implemented by the Patriot [sic] Act, this hoax would not have been possible. If the librarians had been free to comment on the (nonexistent) incident, the student's mendacity would have been exposed much more quickly.

David Sirota's "The Superlaws That Undermine Working Americans" looks at legislation's misuse against workers:

These superlaws deliberately prevent workers from commodifying the only economic assets they have (ie. their work) while allowing employers to do whatever they want. That means workers are put at an impossible disadvantage, totally stripped of their leverage to bargain not just for wages, but for everything.

Take note of the inversion that happens whenever this issue is discussed in the MSM: An onerous law that advantages capital vis-a-vis labor will never be called "class warfare," although it clearly is. Labor's complaints about such injustice, however, will cause a great hue and cry from the media about "class warfare" being waged from below.

Doug Ireland's "Time to Impeach" at AlterNet is very pointed at nailing Dems (who he calls "co-conspirators") for their complicity in Bush's illegal spying, and writes:

"It is therefore not simply extremist raving to suggest that impeachment of George Bush should be put on the table. [...] And when a president commits a crime in violation of his oath of office swearing to uphold the law, it is time to impeach."

More surprising is Jonathan Alter's "Bush's Snoopgate" at Newsweek, which also doesn't shy away from mentioning the previously unmentionable i-word in the domain of the mainstream media:

This will all play out eventually in congressional committees and in the United States Supreme Court. If the Democrats regain control of Congress, there may even be articles of impeachment introduced. Similar abuse of power was part of the impeachment charge brought against Richard Nixon in 1974.

John notes at AmericaBlog that: "I don't think I've ever read anything as scathing as this from the mainstream media. Newsweek's Jonathan Alter lays it on the line and spells out a damn good case for impeachment..." Kevin Drum writes "The NSA and the Law" in Washington Monthly, discussing FISA and concluding:

...the president's program is almost certainly illegal unless you accept his unprecedented notion that we are currently in a state of war so grave that he has virtually unlimited power to override federal law whenever he considers it necessary. Even more importantly, by keeping his program secret, he has set himself up as the sole arbiter of whether his actions are legal or not. Neither Congress nor the courts are allowed any oversight, a position that is both breathtaking and dangerous.

Atrios quotes a Bush speech from 20 April 2004:

Secondly, there are such things as roving wiretaps. Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution. [emphasis added]

Atrios' summation is "LIAR." I see no way for this to be seriously disputed.

If Bush's resignation and/or impeachment over this illegal spying (or any other impeachable offenses) wouldn't lead to a Cheney presidency, then I would be all for it. Given the line of presidential succession, though, Washington needs to be cleaned out in much the same manner as the Augean stables.

update
12/21 (8:38am):
If there are any skeptics in the audience about the Bush speech quoted above, ThinkProgress has the video.

Over the weekend, some much-needed attention has (finally!) been paid to revelations about Bush's end run around the legal limitations on the powers of the presidency. It all began with James Risen and Eric Lichtblau's article "Bush Secretly Lifted Some Limits on Spying in U.S. After 9/11" in Thursday's New York Times, which interviewed "nearly a dozen current and former officials" to provide a damning tale of spying run amok:

Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years...

The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval represents a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices... [...] ...some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches.

David Sirota explains in "How the Media 'Authorize' The Abuse of Power" "the media complicity in "helping estsablish [sic] a quasi-legal framework for what was a clearly illegal abuse of government power:"

Notice, for instance, that in describing the President's clearly illegal behavior, the media are parroting the White House's terminology - terminology specifically crafted to make it sound as if Bush was operating on quasi-legal grounds.

So for instance, the Times tells us Bush "secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans." The paper also refers to "the powers granted the N.S.A. by President Bush." "Authorized" and "granted." The word "authorize" is defined as "to grant power or authority to," and the word "grant" is the act of giving something one has. The media's use of these terms, then, is the media trying to make the public assume as fact that Bush actually had the power or authority to grant in the first place.

I agree with Peter Daou that Bush's so-called "secret spying," despite its pleasing alliteration, is more properly termed "illegal spying." As he observes about the criticism of Bush's actions:

He's not in trouble because it's "secret". After all, the NSA, CIA, FBI, and the military all operate, with our consent, in "secrecy" to a certain extent. Let's get it straight, he's in trouble because it is illegal. [emphasis in original]

In "Political Animal" at Washington Monthly, Hilzoy notes the relevant FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) sections and reluctantly concludes that this is an impeachable offense:

I am normally extremely wary of talking about impeachment. I think that impeachment is a trauma for the country, and that it should only be considered in extreme cases. Moreover, I think that the fact that Clinton was impeached raises the bar as far as impeaching Bush: two traumas in a row is really not good for the country, and even though my reluctance to go through a second impeachment benefits the very Republicans who needlessly inflicted the first on us, I don't care. It's bad for the country, and that matters most.

But I have a high bar, not a nonexistent one. [...] We claim to have a government of laws, not of men. That claim means nothing if we are not prepared to act when a President (or anyone else) places himself above the law. If the New York Times report is true, then Bush should be impeached.

Katrina vanden Heuvel asks some important questions in "Lying and Spying" at The Nation:

But what if the Times had published its story before the election? And what other stories have been held up due to Adminsitration [sic] cajoling, pressure, threats and intimidation? [...] How many other cases are there of news outlets choosing to honor government requests for secrecy over the journalistic duty of informing the public about government abuse and wrongdoing?

Risen's book, State of War: The Secret History of the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration, will be released in January. Will we have to wait until then for answers?

amazon.com

Lakoff, George. Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, Second Edition (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2002)

This volume, the second edition (2002) of Lakoff's 1996 opus Moral Politics, fleshes out his work on metaphors in political language. It's valuable reading for anyone who enjoyed Don't Think of an Elephant! and wants to delve deeper into Lakoff's thinking on the subject. This list of lessons (pp. 419-20) is about as concise as possible:

  • Words are defined relative to conceptual frames. Words evoke frames, and if you want to evoke the right frames, you need the right words.
  • To use the other side's words is to accept their framing of the issues.
  • Higher-level moral frames limit the scope of the frames defining particular issues.
  • To negate a frame is to accept that frame. Example: To carry out the instruction "Don't think of an elephant" you have to think of an elephant.
  • Rebuttal is not reframing. You have to impose your own framing before you can successfully rebut.
  • The facts themselves won't set you free. You have to frame facts properly before they can have the meaning you want them to convey.

Lakoff delineates the "Strict Father" and "Nurturant Parent" cognitive models--corresponding to conservatism and liberalism, respectively--and shows how seemingly contradictory positions (such as conservatives' disapproval of abortion and support for the death penalty) actually have an internal coherence when viewed from within their model. That doesn't make the results of the conservative "Strict Father" model any less pernicious, as Lakoff observes: "In the process of writing this book, I have had to examine, and therefore question, every point of my own beliefs."

Every day, I have had to compare my liberal beliefs with conservative beliefs and ask myself what, if any, reason I had to hold my beliefs. I have emerged from the process with a great respect for the coherence of the conservative position and for the intelligence and cleverness used by conservatives in articulating their views in a powerful way. [...] I also find conservatism, now that I think I understand it reasonably well, even more frightening than I did before. (pp. 335-6)

This paean to the much-maligned Sixties is my Quote of the Day:

Sixties liberalism, to those involved in it, focused on social responsibility. Sixties liberals see it this way: They risked their safety and their lives (and sometimes lost them) in civil rights demonstrations. They fought for anti-poverty programs, and worked to establish them. They brought feminism and ecology into the mainstream. And they demonstrated courageously against what they saw as the immorality, duplicity, and downright foolishness of the federal government in conducting an immoral and ill-advised war in Vietnam. The people who did all these things were not flower children, or deadheads, or violent radicals. They were idealistic liberals who were self-disciplined, self-reliant, hard-working, and dedicated to American ideals; they were the very opposite of the stereotypes. (pp. 318-9)

Later generations should take a few pages from the Sixties playbook and--armed with Lakoff's trenchant analysis--prepare to take on today's reactionaries.

James (A Pretext for War) Bamford has penned his first article for Rolling Stone, "The Man Who Sold the War." In it, Bamford brings the story of John Rendon--of Bush's favored consulting firm, the Rendon Group--to light. He begins with Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri's tales of Saddam's WMD, and how they became part of Dubya's march to war despite their complete falsity:

...as President Bush was about to argue his case for war before the U.N., the White House had given prominent billing to al- Haideri's fabricated charges. In a report ironically titled "Iraq: Denial and Deception," the administration referred to al-Haideri by name and detailed his allegations - even though the CIA had already determined them to be lies. The report was placed on the White House Web site on September 12th, 2002, and remains there today.

Rendon bragged to Bamford about his PR victories in stage-managing the first Iraq War:

After Iraq withdrew from Kuwait, it was Rendon's responsibility to make the victory march look like the flag-waving liberation of France after World War II. "Did you ever stop to wonder," he later remarked, "how the people of Kuwait City, after being held hostage for seven long and painful months, were able to get hand-held American - and, for that matter, the flags of other coalition countries?" After a pause, he added, "Well, you now know the answer. That was one of my jobs then."

Bamford notes the Rendon Group's "at least thirty-five contracts with the Defense Department worth a total of $50 million to $100 million" over the past five years.

Propaganda disguised as patriotism is what our tax dollars are responsible for these days. I'm not sure what's worse: the fact that we're selling it, or that so many of our fellow citizens are buying it.

In "A Moral Philosophy for Progressives" Ernest Partridge demolishes another right-wing bogeyman: moral relativism.

I can report that there is one sentiment that clearly unites all religious right opinions of moral relativism that I encountered: they are against it. But while the religious right is quick to apply moral relativism as an epithet to all kinds of evils of modernism, secularism, and liberalism, the right is apparently reluctant to define it. Accordingly, the defender of moral relativism faces an obstacle similar to that of the defender of liberalism: one must begin by casting off the burden of slander that has been attached to the concept, and then proceed to define it correctly.

The article is a shorter version of "Morality and the Law," the eighteenth chapter of his book-in-progress. The longer version is worth reading for the section on contextual morality, which contains this gem about Clinton's impeachment:

In fact, when it suited their strategic purposes, Clinton's accusers embraced contextualism, as they put aside their formal purity for political advantage. Chairman Henry Hyde did just that during the "Iran-Contra" hearings in 1987, when it was his political allies that were telling the lies. The then-contextualist Hyde condemned the "disconcerting and distasteful whiff of moralism and institutional self-righteousness" that was conspicuous among President Reagan's critics. And in defense of Col. Oliver North and other perjurers before the Congressional Committees, Hyde remarked that "It just seems to me too simplistic [to condemn all lying]... In the murkier grayness of the real world, choices must often be made...."

Examples abound, of course, whenever the normally absolutist GOP gets caught with its hand in the proverbial cookie jar. The tortured defenses of conspiracy, money-laundering, insider trading, torture, etc. are examples of ideology running amuck, while the reality-based community languishes.

Partridge's Crisis Papers website is highly recommended.

Bruce Schneier's recent piece "The Erosion of Freedom" has generated a reaction, to which he has responded with "Limitations on Police Power Shouldn't Be a Partisan Issue." Schneier mentions "the USA Patriot Act and other laws" and explains how "they represent an enormous increase in police power in the United States" by illustrating what he identifies as "four principles that should guide our use of personal information by the police:"

The first is oversight: In order to obtain personal information, the police should be required to show probable cause, and convince a judge to issue a warrant for the specific information needed.
Second, minimization: The police should only get the specific information they need, and not any more. Nor should they be allowed to collect large blocks of information in order to go on "fishing expeditions," looking for suspicious behavior.
The third is transparency: The public should know, if not immediately then eventually, what information the police are getting and how it is being used.
And fourth, destruction. Any data the police obtains should be destroyed immediately after its court-authorized purpose is achieved. The police should not be able to hold on to it, just in case it might become useful at some future date.

Escapee from the Meme Machine mentioned Lloyd Eby's article "Giving privilege to atheism in today's America" this morning, describing it as a "load of garbage" and a "neverending well of lies." His hyperbole isn't far off the mark. Eby's misconceptions are myriad, but two of them are worth addressing in detail: his mistaken opinion that atheism is a religion, and his incorrect assessment that atheism is somehow "privileged" in America.

Atheism is, by definition, the absence of religion. A declaration such as Eby's that non-religion is actually religion is, at root, tautological nonsense. Eby uses a definition of religion that includes the phrase "system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith," declares that atheism is based on faith ("belief in something for which there is no proof"), so atheism is therefore a religion. Logic, when tortured in this manner, is all but useless. Like the famous algebraic puzzle that purports to show a=2a (made possible by a division by zero), Eby's conclusion rests upon a similar fallacy: the false equivalence of P and ~P.

Is atheism, as Eby puts it, "privileged and set up as an establishment by government?" Only for the delusional. For those delusions to bear any semblance to reality, the following things would have to be true:

  • our currency would carry the inscription of an atheist national motto "In no gods we trust,"
  • our Pledge of Allegiance would contain the phrase "under no gods,"
  • each session of the Supreme Court would begin with the intonation "no gods exist to save this honorable Court,"
  • each legislative session would begin with a statement that prayers are both inefficacious and unnecessary to good governance,
  • religious days such as Christmas and Easter would not be national holidays, and
  • postal delivery would not be interrupted for days of religious observance.

It doesn't take much reflection to realize that it is religion and not atheism that is privileged in America. That we have not succumbed to government-enforced Christianity, as many on the Right pine for, is a testament to the strength of our belief in freedom of conscience.

Actions such as restoring previous non-religious versions of the Pledge of Allegiance and our national motto, and restarting mail delivery on Sundays) would not be atheistic in intent, merely neutral. This expression of non-preference (not preferring monotheism over polytheism, Christianity over Islam, or organized religions over idiosyncratic ones) would be a loss of privilege for religion, but only to the extent that it would place religion and non-religion on the same footing.

Even radical steps such as these would not be privileging atheism, merely no longer granting privilege to its ideological opposite. Official advocacy of a neutral stance with regards to religion is not the establishment of non-religion; it is merely the non-establishment of religion. A government that neither discourages nor encourages, neither aids nor hinders religion is--in Eby's mind--a "privileging" of atheism.

Things are not better when he discusses the ongoing evolution "controversy." Eby describes evolution--which, of course, he calls "Darwinism"--as "incomplete, implausible, and insufficient to explain or account for all the perceived complexity of observed biological organisms." I do not comprehend that someone with a doctoral degree in philosophy can seriously argue that the Creationist/ID stance that "God did it" is somehow a complete, plausible, and sufficient explanation. Is it possible that his education did not include any mention of the "uncaused first cause" fallacy? His repeated use of "Darwinist" is aggravating, but not as much as this verbal flatulence:

[Richard] Dawkins and similar proponents of secular Darwinist evolution are attempting to have things both ways. Their secularist naturalism and atheism are really religious claims, and their heated defense of Darwinist evolution is really a defense of their religion. If religious claims are ipso facto out of bounds in a scientific endeavor or investigation, then their own stance is out of bounds. Thus they cannot be allowed to get away with holding that their secularist naturalism and atheism are to be privileged as scientific, while claiming that intelligent design is religious and non-scientific.

Eby's rhetorical construct is based on the false equivalence of religion and non-religion. No matter how strong his faith, it cannot make his wishes come true.

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