March 2006 Archives

accepting atheists

Marcus has a post entitled “Gaining Acceptance for Atheism” over at Washington Syndrome that makes a good point about the blogosphere’s potential to impact the public’s negative opinion of atheists:

Ten years ago, I'm not sure there was anywhere that your average Christian American was exposed to openly atheistic viewpoints. These days, I'm constantly amazed how many prominent bloggers profess their atheism on a daily basis. On the list, with the help of The Raving Atheist: Daily Kos, Washington Monthly, The Volokh Conspiracy (Jim Lindgren), Pharyngula, Daily Pundit, onegoodmove, Matthew Yglesias, Vodkapundit, and of course many others, including me. Notably, many of these have substantial conservative readership.

Of course, the average American still may not tune in to these atheist blogs, but a lot of people do. A lot more than used to face proud, open, secularism a few years ago. And since most of the hostility toward atheists, in my view, is based in the fact that so few people feel they know any, this could well start to have a dramatic effect. [emphasis added]

(Thanks to Escapee from the Meme Machine for the tip.)

religion as plague

David Horton’s piece at HuffPo comparing religion to a plague is, I suspect, exactly the sort of opinion that will fuel paranoid Christianist fantasies of persecution at their “War on Christians” conference. The fact that Horton’s opinion doesn’t cause the loss of their jobs, declare their marriages void, take away their children, or throw them to the lions doesn’t matter to the Christianists, though; what really fuels their ire is not the powerlessness of those who dissent, it’s the fact that dissent is allowed to exist at all.

That totalitarian impluse is what they have in common with Islamists, and one of the reasons that their demand for control of our nation must be resisted. They only want freedom of speech and freedom of religion for themselves and those who believe and act exactly as they do, which is to say that they don’t truly want freedom at all. They want total control, and they must not get it.

Paul Waldman comments on the “War on Christians” conference, highlighting the Christianist mentality:

That conservative blame-America-first crowd is really getting out of hand.

This is one big difference between the right and the left. Both sides have their nutballs. But on the left, the nutballs are ignored. The nutballs on the right are treated by some of the highest elected officials in the land as though they are reasonable people who deserve to be pandered to.


update (1:58 PM):

Bill Press concludes his piece on the conference over at HuffPo this way:

There's no war on Christians. Just the paranoia of a small band of right-wing Christians with a crucifixion complex. They're not happy unless they believe someone is nailing them to the cross. [emphasis added]

I’ll be using the phrase “crucifixion complex” in the future, and I hope Press doesn’t expect royalties.

The Palm Beach Post has some new information on Ann Coulter’s legal troubles:

Palm Beach County's elections supervisor has given the right wing's unofficial mouthpiece 30 days to explain why she voted in the wrong precinct. In a registered letter scheduled to be sent to her this week, Coulter is asked to "clarify certain information as to her legal residence," elections boss Arthur Anderson said.

"We want to give her a chance," Anderson said. "She needs to tell us where she really lives." Or else? He could refer the case to State Attorney Barry Krischer for criminal charges, Anderson said.

The only bad news in the article is that Coulter has a new book scheduled to be released in June.

(Thanks to Crooks & Liars for the tip.)

the tide is turning

Editor & Publisher mentions the latest Gallup survey of party identification:

In a (perhaps) historic shift, more Americans now consider themselves Democrats than Republicans, the Gallup organization revealed today.

Republicans had gained the upper hand in recent years, but 33% of Americans, in the latest Gallup poll, now call themselves Democrats, with those favoring the GOP one point behind. But Gallup says this widens a bit more "once the leanings of Independents are taken into account."

Independents now make up 34% of the population. When asked if they lean in a certain direction, their answers pushed the Democrat numbers to 49% with Republicans at 42%. One year ago, the parties were dead even at 46% each.

The full Gallup analysis is quite encouraging.

(Thanks to John at AmericaBlog for the tip.)


update (3/30 at 9:05AM):

Chris Bowers at MyDD says that these results are not quite as newsworthy as they seem:

… no matter how many people they poll (roughly 8,000 every three months), Gallup has consistently measured the country about 5% more in favor of Republicans than the other three major pollsters who conduct huge, national studies of partisan self-identification. Rather than trumpeting a historical shift that was only historic because their data from 2004 and 2005 disagreed with everyone else's, maybe Gallup should develop some sort of explanation as to why their random sampling methodology consistently turns up more Republicans than every other major public, political polling firm in the country.

All four firms, Harris, NAES, Pew and Gallup, are polling enormous sample sizes with minuscule margins for error, and yet somehow Gallup has consistently been the pro-Republican outlier. In fact, Gallup outlies so heavily from these other firms that margin of error in the different samples cannot by itself be the answer. What is the answer? Why is Gallup finding so many more self-identifying Republicans relative to self-identifying Democrats than other polling firms? [emphasis added]

Tom Krattenmaker’s “A War on Christians? No.” at Yahoo News is a good rebuttal to the persecution complexes of those behind the “War on Christians” conference that began yesterday in Washington. Krattenmaker notes that “the rhetoric of persecution from Scarborough and his fellows rings false. A war on Christians?” and continues:

It sounds more like an exaggerated scare tactic aimed at grabbing attention, rallying the troops and sowing deeper division between the opposing sides in the ongoing debate over the proper role of religion in the public square.

Worse, it trivializes the true persecution of Christians in the early history of the church and the real abuse unleashed on Christians today in some corners of the world. Christians in America are hardly being thrown to the lions.

[…]

So, for our domestic debates, let's find a more appropriate, more sober vocabulary. Many words might describe what's going on between conservative Christians and their political opponents today. "War"? That's not one of them.

(Thanks to Lya Kahlo at Escapee from the Meme Machine for the tip. She noted, in a perfectly apt description of Christianist paranoia, that “Whenever Goliath pretends to be David, it's pathetic and tragically funny.”)

The consistently sensible and inclusive United Church if Christ has had another ad rejected by the mainstream (corporate conservative) media. Check out this site to see the ad, and to read the message from Rev. Bob Chase, the UCC’s Director of Communication. Chase asks:

Why do James Dobson, Franklin Graham, Al Moehler, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell warrant seemingly endless coverage when ministries of the United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, among others, rarely receive a single mention?

That’s a good question; does anyone have an answer?

(Thanks to pastordan at Street Prophets for the tip.)

Eugene Volokh’s article on “Parent-Child Speech and Child Custody Speech Restrictions” (564KB PDF) talks about court-enforced prejudice against irreligious non-custodial parents.

Sullivan’s summary is to the point:

Of course, this is an outrageous attack on religious liberty. Imagine if Christian parents were denied custody because of their faith. O'Reilly would have weeks of programming. But atheists? Naah. When Christianists declare that they are fighting for religious freedom, bring this issue up. It will determine whether they are in good faith, so to speak, or not. [emphasis added]

(Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the tip.)

reflections on Schiavo

Here’s another complete post, this time from Think Progress:

Schiavo decision, one year later. A large majority of Americans still oppose the right-wing campaign over Terri Schiavo. Fully 64 percent say her husband’s decision to remove her feeding tube was the right one, including 70 percent of moderates, 53 percent of conservatives, and 61 percent of evangelicals.

The data, alas, are in a password-protected area at the National Journal website.

I rarely repost entire pieces from other writers, but I will make an exception for Andrew Sullivan’s “The Big Government Spending Party” today. It’s just too good:

Finally, Americans have grasped the fact that the Republicans have abandoned their role as the fiscally responsible party. In the new Time poll, we find the answer to the question: Which party would do a better job of managing government spending? Democrats get 46 percent; Republicans 31 percent. Yes, the GOP will as usual talk about "big-spending Dems" and "big government Dems." But this rhetoric may have made sense in the 1980s and early 1990s. We now have clear evidence that if you want bigger, more corrupt and more debt-laden government, you should vote Republican. Republican profligacy should be punished the only way they understand. Depending, of course, on your local representative or senator, your impulse as a fiscal conservative this fall must be to vote Democrat. They may not be much better; but they couldn't imaginably be worse; and punishing the GOP for betraying a fundamental principle is the only way they'll rediscover its importance. [emphasis added]

I have but one correction to make to Sullivan’s observations: “fiscal conservatism” as practiced by this administration is not synonymous with fiscal responsibility. If anything, the realities demoted by those phrases are diametrically opposed.

Sullivan’s larger point, that conservative rhetoric is mired in a decades-old conception—or misconception—of liberalism, needs to be understood by everyone who still defends Bushism against the bogeymen of “big-government liberalism.” Focusing on such a tendentious construct while ignoring the very real threat of unchecked conservatism is a very frightening type of ideological blindness, and one that will continue to do great harm until it is corrected.

Damon Linker reviews the latest book from Richard John Neuhaus, Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth in TNR. Linker describes Neuhaus's brand of Catholicism as “supremely a religion of credulity,” and observes that:

He claims that he can know that the Church's authority is worthy of his obedience in the same way that a bride can "know" that her "bridegroom will be faithful." Though Neuhaus does not employ the term, what he is describing is merely another leap of faith, a melodramatic form of cosmic confidence that derives its psychological strength from its aversion to philosophical thinking.

The key to making this foundational leap of faith a successful one (especially for a skeptical intellectual) is the exorcism of doubt.

[…]

Yet Neuhaus would have us believe that his own anti-liberal and anti-modern views are perfectly compatible with--no, synonymous with--the principles underlying modern American democracy.

We have considerable reason to doubt this. Take the crucially important issue of authority. Setting aside the question of whether an authoritarian outlook is harmful in religion, and there is a considerable religious and philosophical literature on the subject, an authoritarian outlook can certainly be destructive in politics. A nation in which such an outlook is explicitly encouraged and esteemed will be tempted to support political leaders who promise to shield us from the inherent complexity and difficulty of truth itself. This temptation is especially dangerous in liberal democratic nations, which depend on citizens informing themselves about exceedingly complicated issues, making use of alternative sources of information, doubting the assertions of public authorities, and thrashing out an inevitably tentative truth in open-ended argument and debate. This is the unavoidable price of citizenship in a free society. It is our citizenly duty to be suspicious, and to cultivate suspicion, of any and all who would rescue us from the rigors of our own freedom. [emphasis added]

Linker has a book this book due out in September called The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege. I look forward to it.

Chalmers Johnson interview

This two-part interview (“Cold Warrior in a Strange Land” and “Whatever Happened to Congress?”) with author Chalmers Johnson is a good read. He talks about the Cold War, imperialism, military Keynesianism, federal budgetary hijinks, and mentions Nemesis, the upcoming finale to his Blowback trilogy.

(Thanks to Eric Alterman for the tip.)

Controversy swirls around the Washington Post’s hiring of RedState blogger Ben Domenech—a plagiarist in addition to being a bigot, not that I’d expect anything more from an editor for Michelle Malkin and Hugh Hewitt—to balance their nonexistent left-wing blogger. Joe Conason has good summary in his “A Portrait of the Blogger as a Young Plagiarist” at Salon.

As all this attention is being paid to Box Turtle Ben (so called due to his speech written for Senator Cornyn comparing same-sex marriage to the “union of man and box turtle”) while one of the Post’s sensible voices is crying out in the wilderness. Bill Arkin writes in his “Early Warning” column about an exchange he had with a Marine Corps Brigadier General during a talk on information warfare:

General: 'Mr. Arkin, do you consider yourself a journalist or an American.'

I took a drink of water as my blood boiled.

Me: 'Well General, because I am an American, I cherish the fact that I can call you a f***ing idiot for asking the question.'

All hell broke loose: The general lodged a complaint up the chain of command to get me punished and my sponsors were reprimanded.

It was tough for the General to be faced with an inflammatory and insubordinate response that he could do nothing about. Too bad he learned nothing (happily for America, he has since retired).

I was punished as much as the military could punish me. I wasn't disappeared nor thrown in jail. In the America I cherish, I just was dropped from the speaker's list. And even then, it was only for awhile, until the dust settled, and then intellectuals and brave souls in the military who dare to stand up to the conformity machine agitated to get me invited back, knowing that if they were going to ponder the media and information warfare, they'd better listen… [emphasis added]

Of course, the mere act of publicly disagreeing with a general is enough to have Arkin branded a “liberal” by some, especially those who confuse dissent with treason, and conflate patriotism with blind sheep-like obedience. The rest of us recognize and celebrate the patriotism of people like Bill Arkin, who recognize that the right to speak freely means little if no one actually speaks.

(Thanks to John at AmericaBlog for the tip.)


update (3:12 PM):
Domenech was hired, according to WaPo executive editor Jim Brady, because "we were completely unrepresented by a social conservative voice." Does Brady not realize that his newspaper regularly publishes George Will and Charles Krauthammer?


update 2 (3:25 PM):
Box Turtle Ben has resigned, as Jim Brady recounts here. How will the Post ever find another conservative blogger of his caliber?

Bill Moyers’ “A Time for Heresy” at TomPaine.com is from a speech he gave last week when establishing a religious freedom scholarship at Wake Forest Divinity School. His tale of the Tom DeLay/Jack Abramoff/Ralph Reed brand of corruption in Washington is summed up simply: “American democracy is threatened by perversions of money, power, and religion.” Moyers continues:

For a quarter of a century now a ferocious campaign has been conducted to dismantle the political institutions, the legal and statutory canons, and the intellectual, cultural, and religious frameworks that sustained America’s social contract. The corporate, political, and religious right converged in a movement that for a long time only they understood because they are its advocates, its architects, and its beneficiaries.

Their economic strategy was to cut workforces and wages, scour the globe for even cheaper labor, and relieve investors of any responsibility for the cost of society. On the weekend before President Bush’s second inauguration, The New York Times described how his first round of tax cuts had already brought our tax code closer to a system under which income on wealth would not be taxed at all and public expenditures would be raised exclusively from salaries and wages.

Their political strategy was to neutralize the independent media, create their own propaganda machine with a partisan press, and flood their coffers with rivers of money from those who stand to benefit from the transfer of public resources to elite control. Along the way they would burden the nation with structural deficits that will last until our children’s children are ready to retire, systematically stripping government of its capacity, over time, to do little more than wage war and reward privilege.

Their religious strategy was to fuse ideology and theology into a worldview freed of the impurities of compromise, claim for America the status of God’s favored among nations (and therefore beyond political critique or challenge), and demonize their opponents as ungodly and immoral. [emphasis added]

[…]

This is the heresy of our time – to wrestle with the gods who guard the boundaries of this great nation’s promise, and to confront the medicine men in the woods, twirling their bullroarers to keep us in fear and trembling. For the greatest heretic of all is Jesus of Nazareth, who drove the money changers from the temple in Jerusalem as we must now drive the money changers from the temples of democracy. [emphasis added]

No one can deliver a speech quite the way Bill Moyers can. People of the religious left—as well as the rest of us—need to put him alongside Michael Lerner and Jim Wallis as examples of a religious-based morality that doesn’t surrender its principles to money and power. Moyers’ sentiments, coupled with rising frustration with the scandals of GOP Washington, can help turn the tide in November.

(Thanks to Peter at The Daou Report for the tip.)

As we near the second anniversary of Massachusetts’ extension of marriage equality, here’s a San Francisco Chronicle article on increasing support for LGBT civil rights. The latest Pew poll shows that more Americans are in favor of equality in the areas of marriage, adoption, and military service.

The Chronicle lays out the good news:

Opposition to same-sex marriage dropped sharply across the country during the past two years… […] The poll also showed increased support for allowing same-sex couples to adopt children, and substantial backing for the rights of gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

and the bad news:

Any shift toward support for same-sex marriage has yet to show up at the polls, however, Since 2004, voters in 13 states have passed constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. At least seven states will vote on similar measures in November.

Progress is sometimes impeded by reactionaries, but it continues nonetheless.

(Thanks to Patrick at TomPaine.com for the tip.)

Andrew Sullivan has a depressing piece on the Pew study showing the prevalence of American support for torture. One part that both he and I found interesting is that we secular American are less supportive or torture than Catholics and Protestants:

If you combine those Christians who think torture is either never or only rarely acceptable, you have 42 percent of Catholics and 49 percent of white Protestants. The comparable statistic of those who are decribed as "secular," which I presume means agnostic or atheist, is 57 percent opposition. In other words, if you are an American Christian, you are more likely to support torture than if you are an atheist or agnostic. Christians for torture: it's a new constituency. Another part of the Bush legacy. [emphasis added]

All this time, I thought that we were the immoral ones, but the data (excerpted by the National Catholic Reporter) show otherwise.

Jonah Goldberg whines—is there a more appropriate word?—about the whiny conservatives study. Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon corrects him:

Interesting that Jonah thinks that being a bully and a whiner are somehow opposed to each other. That says a lot more about his state of mind than reality–all grown-up, he’s still confusing real strength with bullying, which is a pretend strength that involves finding someone weaker than yourself and beating up on them. It’s been my experience that being a bully and being a whiner are strongly correlated personality traits…

I expected some kind of response to this letter about science and religion; someone obligingly penned—and the newspaper printed—this disastrously pathetic attempt at rebuttal:

To date earth, it's best to research both sides of debate

The author of a recent letter purports to debunk the Christian view of the world as a fable.

The writer bases his views on supposed scientific fact. Perhaps he should actually research his subject matter rather than simply repeating someone else's either biased or uninformed opinion.

For instance, if one asks a scientist how he determines the age of a fossil the answer is by the layer of rock in which it is found. Then if you ask how he determines the age of the rock, the reply is by the type of fossils found in it.

Um, what is wrong with this picture? How about a fossilized tree extending through many layers of rock? This must be the Methuselah of all trees!

If each rock layer were formed over eons of time the tree would have had to live thousands and thousands of years to have accomplished this feat!

[name redacted out of pity]

The fundamental issue here is that THERE IS NO SCIENTIFIC DEBATE! Against the expert consensus of the scientific community, there is only a collection of fables written by goat herders and fishermen. If any side in this debate is “biased or uninformed opinion,” it is that of biblical literalism.

To begin with the writer’s points, such as they are: the circularity alleged in the rock-and-fossil example is simply inaccurate. There are several dating methods (including morphological evidence and radiometric dating) that are mutually confirmatory. None of the results of any scientific analysis leads to the conclusion that the earth is only 6,000 years old, as a literal interpretation of biblical chronology. Some may consider the “fossils were planted by Satan to deceive us” belief to be a competing “side of the debate,” but it is a side unsupported by anything except conjecture.

I will spend a few sentences on the “Methuselah tree”—as much a fantasy as the 969-year-old biblical Methuselah—because it illustrates the vacuity of the attempts to create a controversy where none exists. (Explaining the basics in elementary language is important, because that is apparently where the writer’s education ended.) As a tree grows, it puts down roots in the soil below; it cannot be older than the soil, or it would have grown while miraculously suspended in mid-air as the soil was deposited around its roots. The process of fossilization, if it occurs, takes places after the tree has died and its growth has ceased. Any soil layers found above such a tree were, by logical extension, laid down post-mortem. The strata and their contents remain in chronological order, as common sense will show.

With examples like this, I no longer wonder at our nation’s poor educational standing compared to the rest of the world. Far too many people are obviously unacquainted with any books other than the bible.

Rolling Stone has a fine article by Jeff Sharlet on Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas. He is the Right’s new darling, as Sharlet details:

Pat Robertson has tapped the "outstanding senator from Kansas" as his man for president. David Barton, the Christian right's all-but-official presidential historian, calls Brownback "uncompromising" -- the highest praise in a movement that considers intransigence next to godliness. And James Dobson, the movement's strongest chieftain, can find no fault in Brownback. "He has fulfilled every expectation," Dobson says.

The “Constitution Restoration Act” —more accurately a “First Amendment Evisceration Act”—which Brownback co-sponsored, would remove the judicial check on legislative activism:

If passed, it will strip the Supreme Court of the ability to even hear cases in which citizens protest faith-based abuses of power. Say the mayor of your town decides to declare Jesus lord and fire anyone who refuses to do so; or the principal of your local high school decides to read a fundamentalist prayer over the PA every morning; or the president declares the United States a Christian nation. Under the Constitution Restoration Act, that'll all be just fine.

The rest of the profile is also excellent, and Sharlet should be proud; he gets deeper into Brownback’s scripturally based politcal opinions than anyone else I’ve seen to date. We would be better off as a nation with more in-depth articles like these, and far fewer soundbite-driven hit pieces.

(Thanks to Tristero at Hullabaloo for the tip.)

Al Gore is quoted in this story (AP, courtesy of the Washington Post) as saying:

"I'm not planning to be a candidate again. I haven't reached a stage in my life where I'm willing to say I will never consider something like this," he said. "But I'm not saying that to be coy; I'm just saying that to be honest _ that I haven't reached that point."

I imagine that many people are somewhat disappointed with his reluctance, particularly in light of the latest American Prospect cover story. Does anyone (except the Bushevik dead-enders) doubt that we would be far better off as a nation had the Supreme Court selected Gore in December 2000?

Jennifer Nix talks about the nascent progressive publishing movement on Glenn Greenwald’s blog:

A number of us have been saying that we need some kind of concerted, politically-connected and -driven effort to effectively usher progressive and other good ideas--in the form of books--onto bestseller lists and via special sales and distribution, if we are going to have a chance of competing with the right-wing message machine.

[…]

I urge you to realize the importance of supporting other important books, too. Like American Theocracy, Crashing the Gate and Hostile Takeover. The better progressive-minded books do in the marketplace, the further these ideas will spread. Right-wingers realized a long time ago the importance of controlling and beefing up sales of their books, so they reach bestselling numbers and dominate news coverage. We cannot stand by and let corporate- and right-wing media continue to control the debate.

[…]

If the media won't cover our ideas intelligently, we must create our own successful vehicles to generate discussion.

Her examples of what can be done with progressive books in the marketplace of ideas—such as it is—are spot on. For as much as I utilize my local university library, it’s equally important for us to patronize booksellers. Since small progressive publishers can’t pay to have their books stocked up front in the big chain bookstores, we need to do what we can to raise their public profile. If they don’t stock it, demand that they do. A few requests at each outlet can make a huge difference.

…it’s the whining, of course!

The Toronto Star article on a recent social-science study begins this way:

Remember the whiny, insecure kid in nursery school, the one who always thought everyone was out to get him, and was always running to the teacher with complaints? Chances are he grew up to be a conservative.

At least, he did if he was one of 95 kids from the Berkeley area that social scientists have been tracking for the last 20 years. The confident, resilient, self-reliant kids mostly grew up to be liberals.

[…]

In a society that values self-confidence and out-goingness, it's a mostly flattering picture for liberals. It also runs contrary to the American stereotype of wimpy liberals and strong conservatives. [emphasis added]

Although this was a small study, it does track well with the GOP’s stance as the “aggrieved majority” in so many instances: conservative whites whining about racism, conservative males crying about sexism, conservative Christians claiming persecution, conservative media personalities decrying “liberal media bias,” et cetera.

I’ll post details on the study when I find them.

(Thanks to Lya Kahlo at Escapee from the Meme Machine for the tip.)

update (3/21 at 2:51PM):
DemocraticUnderground has a funny take on this study, titled “Signs that your youngster might be a conservative.” It’s good stuff, especially these lines:

Shoots close friend in the face with Super Soaker. Graciously accepts apology from close friend, who is "deeply sorry for all the bad stuff that has happened this week."

Obsessed with wee-wee of a certain classmate from Arkansas.

In a post about Bruce Bartlett’s Imposter, Andrew Sullivan analyzes the Christianist/GOP nexus:

The key element that binds Christianism with Bush Republicanism is fealty to patriarchal leadership. That's the institutional structure of the churches that are now the Republican base; and it's only natural that the fundamentalist psyche, which is rooted in obedience and reverence for the inerrant pastor, should be transferred to the presidency. That's why I think Bush's ratings won't go much below 25 percent; because 25 percent is about the proportion of the electorate that is fundamentalist and supports Bush for religious rather than political reasons. They are immune to empirical argument, because their thought-structure is not empirical; it is dogmatic. If the facts overwhelm them, they will simply argue that the "liberal media" is lying. Bruce poignantly thinks the GOP is still the secular, empirical, skeptical party it once was. It's not: it's a fundamentalist church with some huge bribes for business interests on the side, leveraged by massive debts. So all criticism is disloyalty; and disloyalty is heresy. The facts don't matter. Obey the pastor. Or be damned. [emphasis added]

We’ve seen what happens when ideology trumps facts, and it’s not pretty.

HL Mencken

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Existentialist Cowboy has a post about the great HL Mencken, perhaps our nation’s greatest satirist since Mark Twain. EC notes that “Iconoclasts are always misunderstood; truth telling has become un-patriotic. Were he alive and writing today, Mencken would be assailed for telling the truth.”

Thomas Frank is perhaps the closest thing we have to a Mencken today, but he's not nearly prolific enough.

(Thanks to Mike at Crooks and Liars for the tip.)

Radical Russ has updated maps of Bush’s approval ratings. It’s worth a look, if for no other reason than to see clearly that even Jesusland isn’t as red as it once was:

20060320-bluemap.jpg

(Thanks to God Is for Suckers! for the tip. The reference to Dubya as “Pretzeldunce Chimpy McFlightsuit” alone is worth reading the post.)

Paul Waldman (Senior Fellow at MediaMatters) has a few comments about bias in the media, from the CBS News “Public Eye” column. Perhaps his best line is this one, where he discusses fact-based criticism rather than mere accusation of bias:

Go to our web site and look through the thousands of items we’ve produced in the last two years, and you’ll find the factual errors, misleading statements, and sins of omission we’ve documented. What you won’t find is relentless accusations that reporters, commentators, or news outlets are “biased.” When we do an item on something that appeared in the news media, it’s because we can demonstrate that it was false or misleading, not because we just don’t like it. [emphasis added]

That is precisely the problem with to much commentary on the media: too many imprecations and too few demonstrations. Don’t just tell me your opinion; back it up with some facts. Later in the piece, Waldman separates his organization from the right-wing AIMs and MRCs who continue to allege “liberal bias” in the media:

There may be no more profound difference between the left and the right on media issues than this: progressives believe in journalism. We don’t want news outlets to be shills for Democrats. We believe reporters have to be critical, aggressive, and unyielding in holding the powerful accountable and finding the truth, no matter who is in charge. Because without a courageous, independent press corps, democracy itself is impossible.

But in recent years the right wing has undertaken an assault not only on what they perceive as coverage unfavorable to their cause, but on the very idea of objective news. Conservatives have become the true post-modernists, arguing that any news presentation that reflects badly on Republicans must have a “liberal bias” – that there are no facts, only their (right) opinion and everyone else’s (wrong) opinion. [emphasis added]

(Thanks to Atrios for the tip.)

Josh Marshall takes on Peggy Noonan’s latest insipid invective. The money quote is in his conclusion:

Noonan actually tries to argue that President Bush has been a big spender on social programs and that this is somehow tied to his 'compassionate conservatism.' But that claptrap won't survive first contact with the budget numbers. President Bush has trashed the country's finances with three things -- big tax cuts, big defense hikes and whatever pork is necessary to win the next election.

Mr. Bush's mammoth deficit spending isn't some weird sort of ideological inversion. It's a character problem -- like spending money you don't have always is. And it's one Noonan and her ideological fellow-travellers are utterly on the line for.

Noonan’s attempt to blame Bush’s wastefulness on “liberal” tendencies is completely false, as liberalism is not synonymous with out-of-control spending: conservatism is. (Note that yesterday’s Senate vote to increase the debt limit was unanimously opposed by Democrats.) Bush’s wastefulness is the very archetype of contemporary conservatism, with all its concomitant excesses.

She speaks in the aggrieved tone of an ideological purist that “conservatism is hostile, for reasons ranging from the abstract and philosophical to the concrete and practical, to high spending and high taxing,” blinding herself that Washington is full of conservatives that are hostile to high taxes but fully in favor of high spending. That is the disastrous legacy of the Bush era.

Conservative cries that this isn’t their brand of conservatism deserve to be ignored—or ridiculed—because this corruption and incompetence is what they voted into office. It’s too late for buyer’s remorse: too late for them, too late for us, and too late for our kids—and their kids. As the saying goes, “When you’re in a hole, stop digging.” Censure would be a good first step.

Scott Shields at MyDD shows why the new Rasmussen poll on censure should be disregarded: their polling question is bogus. Here is what they asked:

Senator Russ Feingold has introduced a measure to censure, or publicly reprimand, President Bush for authorizing the NSA wiretapping program. Should President Bush be censured for authorizing the NSA wiretapping program?

Rasmussen didn’t bother to mention that Bush’s “authorization” of the warrantless wiretap program is—to put it most charitably—of questionable legality. It’s no wonder that, without that information, the results would differ from those of previous polls. Shields notes that:

Rasmussen is a Republican firm that regularly asks slanted questions and produces pro-Republican results through a questionable poll weighting method (I believe all national results are weighted based on the 2004 exit polls), and yet even they couldn't find a majority opposed to Feingold's censure resolution. [emphasis added]

That sounds like a description of one of Rupert Murdoch’s outfits.

Donald Wildmon, founder of the AFA, has a vested interest in lying about the LGBT community; without demonization as a source of his fear-based fundraising, much of his own income would evaporate. One of his favorite tactics is to portray non-straight Americans as economic elitists, creating envy and jealousy among those who don’t know better, despite reliable surveys that show no wide disparity between people of different sexual orientations.

Wildmon claims that “the average homosexual makes four times more than I do,” but MediaMatters shows that, once again, the facts aren’t on his side. (Are they ever?) Wildmon was paid over $97,000 by the AFA in 2004, not including over $13,000 in benefits. If he were correct in his comparison, that would put the income of the “average homosexual” at nearly $400,000 per year.

On what planet does Wildmon live?

Harry Reid has the quote of the day about GOP profligacy in Washington, in reference to this New York Times article on the debt ceiling’s increase to nearly $9 trillion:

"Any objective analysis of our country's fiscal history would have to conclude this administration and this rubberstamping Republican Congress are the most fiscally irresponsible in the history of our country," Mr. Reid said. "In fact, no other president or Congress even comes close."

This is the fourth time that the GOP has been unable to restrain its pork-barrel profligacy since Bush entered the White House. Will anyone remember this fiscally disastrous conservatism in November, or will they once again be distracted by gay-baiting and 2006’s version of the Swift Boat Liars?

Thanks to Glenn Greenwald for pointing out that most Americans support censuring Bush, as proposed by Russ Feingold. I suspect that the numbers would be even better if the media (you know, the one that’s supposedly liberal) were actually covering the censure movement accurately. Greenwald notes that the current plurality support exists:

with just one person -- Russ Feingold -- advocating it, and Democrats running away from it. Think of what those numbers will be if Democrats stand united, with some Republicans, and forcefully explain why we cannot allow the President to break the law with impunity.

update (2:53PM):
Chris Bowers writes at MyDD that the “SCLM [So-Called Liberal Media, Eric Alterman’s best phrase] probably won't even touch” this poll, because it shows that they’ve been off-base in their coverage to date. Bowers also notes the dearth of Google News hits for this poll, and then comments:

Let's see how many news outlets are willing to actually report on facts and scientific surveys of public opinion on this story, and how many are just willing to write stories filled with "truthiness" and anecdotes.

Joe at AmericaBlog writes about the GOP in Missouri working against access to birth control.
The details are at Fired Up Missouri!:

Yesterday, during debate on HB1010, the budget for the Departments of Health and Mental Health, House Republicans voted to ban county health clinics from providing family planning services.

[…]

The amendment, offered by Rep. Susan Phillips (R-Kansas City) removed "voluntary choice of contraception, including natural family planning" as one of the permissible services that county health clinics could provide with state funding.

I mentioned in reference to the South Dakota abortion ban that the GOP would soon be trying to turn back the clock on other reproductive rights; sometimes it’s not comforting to be correct.

According to the summary of the latest Pew poll:

The single word most frequently associated with George W. Bush today is "incompetent," and close behind are two other increasingly mentioned descriptors: "idiot" and "liar."

“Arrogant,” “ass,” “stupid,” “jerk,” and “selfish” round out the increasingly negative results, and “trustworthy” has been replaced with “untrustworthy.” Words like “excellent,” “determined,” “great,” and “honorable” have disappeared from the top of the list.

That’s not completely fair, though: Bush is still a determined man.

(Thanks to Atrios for the tip.)

Clooney update

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George Clooney apparently did not intend this as his first post; the words are his, but were compiled from interviews and ghostwritten by someone at HuffPo into a blog entry. As Clooney remarked to the LA TimesThe Envelope:”

I stand by my statements but I did not write this blog. With my permission Miss Huffington compiled it from interviews with Larry King and The Guardian. What she most certainly did not get my permission to do is to combine only my answers in a blog that misleads the reader into thinking that I wrote this piece. These are not my writings - they are answers to questions and there is a huge difference."

Arianna’s take on the situation is here.

[editor's note: fixed a typo.]

I know it’s not a surprise, but Bush is trying to dodge the GOP’s culpability for the “rocky start” of their Medicare drug plan. Here’s a passage from David Sanger’s New York Times article :

In an echo of speeches conceding errors in the responses to Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq reconstruction, and in which he insisted that the problems were being resolved, Mr. Bush told a group of pharmacists and Medicare participants here that he had expected that the program would have a rocky start.

"Any time Washington passes a new law, sometimes the transition period can be interesting," the president said. [emphasis added]

Memo to Dubya: “Washington” didn’t write the bill, pass the bill, or sign it into law. The GOP wrote it, the GOP voted for it, and YOU signed it into law. Whatever is wrong with it is YOUR FAULT, because YOUR PARTY controlled the process and YOUR PARTY determined the outcome. Its failure isn’t another “Washington” failure, it is another GOP failure.

Demanding personal responsibility from others and accepting responsibility for one’s own actions are two very different concepts, especially in (GOP) Washington. If the GOP wants to continue controlling Washington, they must atone for their failures.

(Thanks to John at AmericaBlog for the tip.)

Anonymous Liberal discusses the mythical “liberal media” in his “A Game Without Referees” post, as part of a lamentation about “the sorry state of modern political reporting.” He denounces the rise of he-said-she-said reporting and its

almost religious adherence to a reporting style in which accuracy is routinely sacrificed in the name of "balance," and neutrality is valued above even truth. The Karl Roves and Scott McClellans of the world can count on almost any talking point, no matter how ludicrous, being presented to the public in a dueling narrative format--free from any independent editorial judgment. And the beauty of this strategy for conservatives is that it is self-reinforcing: the more conservatives yell "liberal bias," the more rigid the balanced format becomes.

Now, don't get me wrong; balance and neutrality are important to political reporting, particularly in a two party system like our own. But they should always be subordinate to truth. When either side says something that is demonstrably false, journalists have an obligation to point this out and not simply leave their readers to sort through the mess on their own. The only way people are going to know which side is telling the truth is if reporters take this obligation more seriously. A demonstrably false statement should not simply be repeated without comment or balanced only by a partisan source. If journalists are uncomfortable calling a lie a lie, they should at least find neutral or non-partisan sources who are willing to do so. Citing only partisan sources all too often creates the impression that there is serious disagreement when, in reality, the facts are quite clear. [emphasis added]

It’s more important than ever for reporters to do actual journalistic work, and not simply transcribe the verbal effluvia emanating from Washington. Is critical thinking still taught in j-school, or is there really so little difference between the White House press corps and a room full of stenographers?

"Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible."

So said law professor Jamie Raskin, during debate in Maryland over a proposed anti-marriage amendment. Raskin was responding to this question from GOP Senator Nancy Jacobs: “My Bible says that marriage shall occur only between a man and a woman. What do you have to say about that?" I wonder if Jacobs had a reply for Raskin, or if she was stunned into silence at being publicly corrected.

The plainly correct observation that politicians swear to uphold the Constitution and not the bible should become a staple of every church/state discussion from this point forward. It’s that good—and that succinct—a statement of principle that it should be mentioned whenever appropriate as a prod to thought.

Raskin’s full statement is on his website. Here are some gems:

Because America is for all its citizens regardless of religion and because so many churches have so many different belief systems, we are governed here not by religious law but by secular law. The rules of civil marriage--the license that the State grants you to marry--must be determined with respect to the federal and state Constitutions, not particular religious claims, no matter how fervently held.

[…]

Our Constitution should not be an historical record of our prejudices and follies but, as much as possible, a covenant reflecting our devotion to expanding liberty and equality for all of our citizens. [emphasis added]

I’d like to see Raskin succeed in his run for the Senate; we need more people like him to displace people like Jacobs who are currently in office.

(Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the tip.)

Atrios’ post “On Religion and Politics” has this paragraph amidst his defense of Democrats against spurious accusations of irreligion:

Secularism has essentially no representation in our media or politics. I'm sure there are secular politicians and media types, but few discuss it. No one gets on tv or writes newspaper columns or in any way participates in our contemporary mainstream political discourse and praises secularism or atheism or anything similar, and certainly not in a way which denigrates religious beliefs generally. Advocates for the separation of church and state are not advocating secularism, aside from government secularism, they're simply trying to defend freedom of religion. [emphasis added]

Unfortunately, he’s correct. For all the bluster (and fear-based fundraising) from the Right about a massive secular humanist conspiracy, there is no such thing. (In that respect, it’s quite similar to their myth of a “mainstream liberal media.”) The non-religious minority in this country is almost completely without a public voice, at a time when one is desperately needed.

I’ve written before about the nascent movement for atheists to “out” themselves, and about how we could profitably follow in the footsteps of the LGBT movement’s successes over the past few decades. More of us need to be up-front about our non-status-quo beliefs (should I say “non-beliefs”?), or the false perceptions will not change through contact with reality. The mainstream perception of freethinkers/humanists/atheists/agnostics/pagans (we are in serious need of an acronym!) is defined by religious people, to their benefit but at the expense of accuracy. Every day that passes where their misunderstandings (and sometimes outright lies) about us (that we are all immoral or amoral, relativists, nihilists, hedonists, solipsists, etc.) are allowed to stand uncorrected is a step backward for our public representation.

Speak up!

My local paper printer this letter yesterday:

Cartoon showed ignorance of science and Christianity

I am appalled at your political cartoon on March 7. It shows your complete ignorance of mainstream Christian views. If you would open your eyes and ears, you would find that science and Christianity are coming more into agreement the more science understands what happened in the long history of this planet.

If I were one of those radical Muslims, I presume I’d be up there throwing stones and fireballs at your facilities. Since I am obviously not, I will try to help you understand Christianity better and pray that God’s Holy Spirit will work in you in that regard also.

[name redacted, emphasis added]


Since I refuse to cede discussions in the public square those who represent the lowest common educational denominator, I was compelled to correct the writer's primary error. Here is my response:

Christianity and science do not agree

One of Sunday’s letters to the editor stated that “science and Christianity are coming more into agreement,” but the evidence does not support that opinion.

For example, a majority of Americans believe that the creation fables from the book of Genesis are literally true. This belief requires such inanities as a universe and an earth only six thousand years (miscalculations of 12 billion and 5 billion years, respectively), humans who co-existed with dinosaurs (an error of a mere 65 million years), and our descent from a single pair of humans (also incorrect, according to genetics). The rest of the Bible, from Noah’s Ark onward, contains many more tales that vary from highly implausible to outright impossible.

A literal interpretation of biblical mythology is irreconcilable with current scientific understanding of our world and ourselves, from biology and geology to cosmology and elementary physics. “Coming more into agreement” with science would require that religion discard its unsupportable ideologies of literalism and inerrancy as being both erroneous and harmful. The fact that many Christians recognize the validity of science does not mean that science and religion agree; it means that Christians recognize the necessity of living in the real world and are forced by reality to eschew some aspects of their religion’s dogma.

Lest my comments seem too negative, I would like to commend the vast majority of Christians—even most fundamentalists—for leaving their bloody fanaticism in the past. Without the civilizing influence of secular ideas such as representative democracy and the separation of church and state, though, our political discourse would be as fraught with violence as that of the Middle East.

It’s not a surprise to anyone, but George Clooney has owned up to being a liberal over at HuffPo, saying “I am a liberal. And I make no apologies for it. Hell, I'm proud of it.” He defends the word “liberal” as best he can, and he also forcefully supports a questioning attitude toward government:

This is an incredibly polarized time (wonder how that happened?). But I find that, more and more, people are trying to find things we can agree on. And, for me, one of the things we absolutely need to agree on is the idea that we're all allowed to question authority. We have to agree that it's not unpatriotic to hold our leaders accountable and to speak out.

[…]

Bottom line: it's not merely our right to question our government, it's our duty. Whatever the consequences. We can't demand freedom of speech then turn around and say, But please don't say bad things about us. You gotta be a grown up and take your hits.

I am a liberal. Fire away.

Bravo!


update (4:27PM):
Greg Gutfeld makes a valiant effort to parody Clooney, but he’s less funny than he thinks he is.

Digby excerpts some of Paul Krugman’s column from Times Select, and it’s good stuff:

We should welcome the recent epiphanies by conservative commentators who have finally realized that the Bush administration isn't trustworthy. But we should guard against a conventional wisdom that seems to be taking hold in some quarters, which says there's something praiseworthy about having initially been taken in by Mr. Bush's deceptions, even though the administration's mendacity was obvious from the beginning.

According to this view, if you're a former Bush supporter who now says, as Mr. Bartlett did at the Cato event, that "the administration lies about budget numbers," you're a brave truth-teller. But if you've been saying that since the early days of the Bush administration, you were unpleasantly shrill.

Similarly, if you're a former worshipful admirer of George W. Bush who now says, as Mr. Sullivan did at Cato, that "the people in this administration have no principles," you're taking a courageous stand. If you said the same thing back when Mr. Bush had an 80 percent approval rating, you were blinded by Bush-hatred.

And if you're a former hawk who now concedes that the administration exaggerated the threat from Iraq, you're to be applauded for your open-mindedness. But if you warned three years ago that the administration was hyping the case for war, you were a conspiracy theorist.

The truth is that everything the new wave of Bush critics has to say was obvious long ago to any commentator who was willing to look at the facts. [emphasis added]

I would rather the Left had been wrong about Bush, but we were right—and the Right was wrong—virtually without exception.

Digby brings up some good points in "Knee-Jerk God-Baiting" over at Hullabaloo. In response to Amy Sullivan's Washington Monthly piece where she referred to Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) as "a religious candidate who actually deserves the scorn of the knee-jerk left", Digby doubts that there is no such thing as "knee-jerk" anti-religiosity among Democrats:

Every secular "knee jerk liberal" has voted for religious candidates their whole lives. Indeed, it is impossible not to. You cannot get elected in this country if you do not profess religious belief. We have enthusiastically backed candidates who are from every religious tradition and from every region. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were both born again, southern evangelicals. We do not scorn religious candidates, period.

Many of us knee-jerk leftists are hostile to those who want to use the state to dictate the proper social attitudes of its citizens and interfere in their most personal, private decisions, that's true. I would scorn Pat Robertson and Sam Brownback's ideas no less if they were secular. It's the lack of respect for the division of influence between the private and public sphere's that is causing the problem. [emphasis added]

Arianna Huffington’s “Rummy Flunks History” smacks down Donald Rumsfeld for trying to defend Bush’s disaster in Iraq—or, on a deeper level, his disastrous disapproval ratings—by blaming Americans’ knowledge of history:

"I think the biggest problem we've got in the country is people don't study history anymore. People who go to school in high schools and colleges, they tend to study current events and call it history... There are just too darn few people in our country who study history enough. […] …frankly, journalists ought to do a better job of providing context for what's taking place."

He then offered a number of rationalizations for the Iraq War’s unpopularity, which depended on an number of erroneous statistics. Huffington debunks Rumsfeld’s errors, and then responds:

So here's the context for what's taking place: Bush, Rumsfeld, and company misled us into an unnecessary war and have utterly botched the occupation. And the public is finally holding them accountable. So now Rummy is desperately trying to sell the idea that Iraq isn't an unmitigated disaster but rather just part of a historical norm. Even if it means making stuff up.

Huffington notes that the transcript of Rumsfeld’s talk has disappeared from the DoD website. This is a fine example of the Bush administration’s neo-Stalinist ability to lie in public and then scrub the record when it becomes in inconvenient. I’m sure that there will be a plausible explanation for the transcript’s disappearance, but I’m less and less inclined to give the Busheviks the benefit of the doubt about anything.

Noonan’s piece in OpinionJournal refers to George Clooney as a “Boy in a Bubble” and purports to discuss what he “doesn’t know about life.” She starts off with a generic right-wing rant:

Hollywood does…seem detached from the country it seeks to entertain. It is politically and culturally to the left of America, and it often seems disdainful of or oblivious to its assumptions and traditions.

When she starts to target Clooney, Noonan goes even further awry:

He doesn't even know he's not heroic. He thinks making a movie in 2005 that said McCarthyism was bad is heroic.

What Noonan so studiously ignores is the simple fact that if Clooney had tried to make a film about McCarthyism fifty years ago, he would have been all but burned at the stake. (At the very least he would have been blacklisted—along with the hundreds of others—and hauled before the House Committee on Un-American Activities for daring to express an opinion that called the status quo into question.) Clooney knows, and Noonan apparently does not, that the film industry was a prime target of the Red Scare and its McCarthyite purges. It is quite ironic that Noonan belittles Clooney as “a fellow who read an article and now wants to tell us the truth,” when his historical knowledge is obviously so much greater than hers.

In Noonanworld, utter tripe such as Coulter’s whitewash of the McCarthy era would likely become official history, while real instances of courage from heroes such as Edward Murrow and Joseph Welch would disappear down the Memory Hole. As a nation, we owe our artists—Arthur Miller, Dalton Trumbo, and even George Clooney—gratitude for preventing the Right’s revisionism from being treated as historical fact.

Peggy, if you want to sling mud at someone for being out of touch, you’re aiming at the wrong George.

This ThinkProgress note about Tom DeLay shows exactly the type of rat-scurrying-from-a-sinking-ship behavior that Abramoff’s sleazy GOP campatriots are so well known for. DeLay called Abramoff “one of my closest and dearest friends” in 1997; when the scandal broke, DeLay changed his tune to “The reality is, Jack Abramoff and I were not close personal friends.”

This Gadflyer piece talks about three other Republican rats—Newt Gingrich, John McCain, and Ken Mehlman—who are trying to erase their own pasts with Abramoff.

As I mentioned yesterday, Gingrich’s spokesperson commented, “Before his picture appeared on TV and in the newspapers, Newt wouldn't have known him if he fell across him,” but Ambramoff replied that “I have more pictures of him [Newt] than I have of my wife.” He also commented that "I'm surprised that Senator McCain has joined the chorus of amnesiacs." Ken Mehlman, not surprisingly, isn’t any better at owning up to his past.

Unless we’re paying attention, they’ll get away with it.

Vanity Fair’s expose on the GOP’s persona non grata Jack Abramoff is online. (906KB PDF) There are some choice bits where GOP bigwigs try to distance themselves from Abramoff, such as RNC chair Ken Mehlman, who lied by saying:

“Abramoff is someone who we don’t know a lot about. We know what we read in the paper,” even though, according to documents obtained by Vanity Fair, Mehlman exchanged e-mail with Abramoff, did him political favors (such as blocking Clinton administration alumnus Allen Stayman from keeping a State Department job), had Sabbath dinner at his house, and offered to pick up his tab at Signatures.

New Gingrich, who lied through his spokesman:

“Before his picture appeared on TV and in the newspapers, Newt wouldn’t have known him if he fell across him. He hadn’t seen him in 10 years,” Gingrich’s spokesman, Rick Tyler, tells me. That this especially rankles Abramoff becomes clear as he rummages through a box of old memorabilia with me. […] “I have more pictures of him than I have of my wife.”

and, of course, Dubya:

“I, frankly, don’t even remember having my picture taken with the guy,” he has said. But how about those10 or so photographs of him with Abramoff, or with Abramoff’s sons, or of Laura Bush with Abramoff ’s daughters, apparently taken during all of those meetings that never took place? […] “He has one of the best memories of any politician I have ever met,” Abramoff wrote of the president in yet another of his notorious e-mails… […] “Perhaps he has forgotten everything. Who knows.”

Abramoff summarizes this way: “Any important Republican who comes out and says they didn’t know me is almost certainly lying. […] This is not an age when you can run away from facts. I had to deal with my records, and others will have to deal with theirs.”

(Thanks to FDL for the tip.)

It’s been a good day so far: Andrew Sullivan critiqued the Bushevik strain of big-government conservatism at a Cato luncheon yesterday, along with fellow conservative writer Bruce Bartlett. This Washington Post article by Dana Milbank has the details. Bartlett, author of the newly released “Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy,” commented that "If Bush were running today against Bill Clinton, I'd vote for Clinton." Sullivan’s remarks weren’t gentle, either:

"You have to understand the people in this administration have no principles. […] Any principles that get in the way of the electoral map have to be dispensed with."

Sullivan blogged about the luncheon yesterday:

By hitching the Republican base to Christianism, and by legitimizing massive spending for a Republican, he [Bush] has been able to dispense with much of what conservatism once meant. Limited government? Yeah, right. Balanced budgets? A joke. Individual liberty? Only if you're in the Middle East. Huge tax increases? Just you wait. They're now inevitable. A welfare state bigger and more intrusive than Ted Kennedy could dream of? That will be Bush's legacy. It will take conservatism a generation to recover its bearings.

Atrios, while agreeing with Sullivan’s critique of Bush, demolishes his reminiscing about the “Thatcher-Reagan legacy that many of us grew up to love and support” this way:

I know the myth of the Reagan era is one of those consensus things impervious to fact but lets go to the numbers.

In 1981 when Reagan took office, as a percent of GDP federal outlays were 22.2% of GDP. When he left, in 1989, federal outlays were an incredibly shrunken 21.2%. Revenues went from 19.6% to 18.4%, which is why we were blessed with those lovely Reagan deficits. […] …the Reagan era was not a magical age of tiny government and ponies.

I suppose mentioning illegally trading arms for hostages, supporting nun-killing Central American death squads, the Marine incident in Lebanon, and of course the incredible number of Reagan administration officials who were indicted/convicted would be a wee bit too much.

That’s a lot of myth-busting for one day, and really whets my appetite for Sullivan’s upcoming book: The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It; How to Get It Back.

Based on their new anti-abortion legislation, South Dakota has unveiled a new logo:

20060307-southdakota.jpg

(This image was posted in the comments to a DailyKos post. Thanks to Atrios for the tip.)

Gene Stone’s “Hollywood Hardly Hearts Homosexuals” demolishes the “gay-friendly Hollywood” myth in short order:

The only people in the country who really truly seem to believe that Hollywood is pushing a gay agenda message the throats of Americans are the ultra far-right wing, the Michael Medveds, Ann Coulters, and Gary Baumans.

Think about it. Hollywood's homosexual agenda? Gay actors can't even come out of the closet. Gay executives and agents stay in the closet. There isn't a more closeted business in the country, except, perhaps, the National Football League.

Hollywood's homosexual agenda? Name the great gay-themed movies over the last thirty years? Let's see, Philadelphia (where the gay protagonist is dying) and... well that's it. That's Hollywood's gay agenda over the last thirty years. Two movies.

The movie business is always a decade or so behind the rest of the country. They can't afford to break ground. They are all owned by large conglomerates and have to make profits; thus their movies are always safe, bland, and homogenized. That's their agenda -- to bring in cash.

This is what has caused endless invective from the Right: Hollywood’s recognition that some small fraction of the country is willing to momentarily entertain the notion that gay men are human beings, and willing to buy tickets to view such a representation on the silver screen. The idea that Brokeback Mountain deserves honors instead of condemnation is simply, for them, beyond the pale. Stone ends his piece this way:

In the long run, Brokeback will win -- its esteem will grow and its message will spread. Keep in mind that the Academy seldom selects the best movie of the year for an Oscar. Citizen Kane lost to How Green Was My Valley, Grand Illusion lost to You Can't Take It With You, High Noon lost to The Greatest Show on Earth, and A Place in the Sun and A Streetcar Named Desire lost to An American In Paris. GoodFellas lost to Dances With Wolves. And in one year three of the greatest movies ever made -- All the President's Men, Taxi Driver, and Network -- were all nominated. They lost. To Rocky.

The disparity between the social commentary of Network versus the sentimentality of Rocky sums up the conservative-versus-liberal disagreement about Hollywood. While this may seem disheartening, just remember that the passage of time favors progress; it always has, and it always will.

You knew it was going to happen, didn’t you? Well, it has: South Dakota has beaten Mississippi in the race to challenge Roe v. Wade. Governor Mike Rounds just signed an anti-abortion bill declaring that every uterus in South Dakota is now state property. Kos has the story. Rounds’ signing statement is festooned with fine phrases like “We must help each mother to see the value of the gift that is a child,” but they ring hollow in light of the lack of exceptions for rape and incest victims. (Some pro-choice writers have already begun referring to this as a “Rapists’ Rights” law.)

It’s been 33 years since Roe, but the Right might now have a Supreme Court reactionary enough to turn back the clock on reproductive rights. After they repeal Roe, how long do you think it will take for the Court to overturn the 1965 Griswold decision that codified our right to privacy? What right will be stripped away after that?

This Escapee from the Meme Machine post recommends a Washington Post article on Bart Ehrman’s new book, Misquoting Jesus.

I especially liked Escapee’s closing:

It illustrates exactly what I've thought since my own "tour of study" - once you look close enough, it's not possible to buy it any more.

Perhaps that's why there's nothing in the bible in praise of intelligence.

The biblical tendency to treat knowledge as a dangerous thing, beginning when the Genesis “fruit of the tree of knowledge” tale, is troubling at best to those of us with inquisitive natures.

2006=1984?

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Irony and More ‘1984’” at Progressive Daily Beacon talks about the recent incident of Jay Bennish, a Colorado high school teacher who was suspended for having the temerity to notice rhetorical similarities between Dubya’s “State of the Union” speech and some of Hitler’s orations.

The LA Times notes that, after commenting about Bush’s foreign policy, Bennish told the students:

"I'm not implying in any way you should agree with me …. What I'm trying to do is to get you to … think about these issues more in depth."

No wonder David Horowitz and the other wingnuts are so worried about left-wing indoctrination in the classroom; Bennish sounds like a real enemy of free inquiry and independent thinking.

John at AmericaBlog has part of George Clooney’s acceptance speech from last night’s Oscars:

"And finally, I would say that, you know, we are a little bit out of touch in Hollywood every once in a while. I think it's probably a good thing. We're the ones who talk about AIDS when it was just being whispered, and we talked about civil rights when it wasn't really popular. And we, you know, we bring up subjects. This Academy, this group of people gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters. I'm proud to be a part of this Academy. Proud to be part of this community, and proud to be out of touch." [emphasis added]

Leaders aren’t often found in the middle of the herd; they’re the outliers, without whom no progress would ever be made.

All the faux populist outrage on the Right about Hollywood being “out of touch with mainstream Americans” does nothing but demonstrate how they view all art through a political lens. They decry the Oscar nominees (allegedly for their unpopularity in the heartland, but really because of their political content) and then do an about-face when launching tirades about “obscene” elements of popular culture (again, whatever they don’t like for political reasons).

As an example, imagine their outrage if the three most popular movies of 2005 (Revenge of the Sith, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and the Chronicles of Narnia, according to Box Office Mojo) had been the top Oscar contenders. They wouldn’t have tolerated an anti-Manichaean film like Sith, because some dialogue appeared to denounce “Dear Leader” Dubya, and Harry Potter would have been denounced for promoting interest in the occult; only Narnia would have been acceptable to them. If unpopular films receive critical acclaim, they denounce the critics; when films are popular, they denounce the audience. It’s always about the politics.

Is anyone still fooled by their anti-elitist façade?

AlternNet has poated Onnesha Roychoudhuri’s article “Impeaching George W. Bush” and an excerpt from the Center for Constitutional Rights’ new book Articles of Impeachment. Michael Ratner of CCR explains the four articles of impeachment as follows:

Article I concerns the warrantless wiretapping of Americans in the U.S. […]

Article II is the falsifications that were used to justify the Iraq war. […]

Article III deals with what the president has done in regard to the issues of torture, arbitrary long-term detentions, disappearances and special trial. […]

Article IV is a general article that puts all of the prior three articles together. If you look at these things together, you see that they are essentially destroying our republic and our democracy. They are destroying the constitutional structure of our government. Therefore, he should be impeached.

Roychoudhuri notes the following:

The Articles of Impeachment make clear that this is no longer just about President Bush. Rather, it is about preventing the executive branch from obtaining carte blanche to disregard the two other branches of government. This is a paradigm shift that has already gained substantial footing through this administration's steady erosion of legal precedent.

There is also Michelle Goldberg’s piece from Slate last Friday, “The I-Word Goes Public,” which observes:

former Nixon White House counsel John Dean called Bush "the first president to admit to an impeachable offense." Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, called for the creation of a select committee to investigate "those offenses which appear to rise to the level of impeachment." Twenty-six House Democrats have joined him.

Garry Trudeau’s take on “situational science” in today’s Doonesbury is priceless:

“Situational science is about respecting both sides of a scientific argument, not just the one supported by facts. That’s why I always teach the controversy! Like the evolution controversy, or the global warming controversy…”

This AlterNet article by Jordan Elgrably discusses Tim Robbins’ efforts to bring George Orwell’s classic 1984 to the stage. Sadly, this cautionary tale of surveillance, totalitarianism, and perpetual war is no less relevant today than when it was originally published in 1948.

I tend to find myself a member of multiple minorities; in this instance, I’m part of one that constitutes 0.1% of the American population.

This AP article talks about a study on Americans’ knowledge of the First Amendment compared to their knowledge of the fictional Simpson family:

The study by the new McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum found that 22 percent of Americans could name all five Simpson family members, compared with just one in 1,000 people who could name all five First Amendment freedoms.

The McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum has a press release and the full—and depressing--results.

(Thanks to The Daou Report for the tip.)

In case you haven’t seen yesterday’s Zogby poll of US soldiers in Iraq, it might surprise you to hear that 29% of them favor ending our occupation of Iraq immediately, and a total of 72% want to do so with a year. (I’m waiting for the GOP slime machine to start asking why our troops don’t support our troops…)

The bad news in this poll is that our armed forces have fallen for the administration’s deceptions. 85% believe that they’re in Iraq “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9-11 attacks,” and 77% believe that their purpose was “to stop Saddam from protecting al Qaeda in Iraq.”

Sean Aday of Gadflyer notes the tragedy that “soldiers are fed this nonsense to help recruit them, and to keep morale up while they are killed and maimed in droves -- about 20,000 to date.” All of this is due to Dubya’s bogus conflation of Saddam and terrorism, without noting the facts that “Saddam had as much of a role in 9/11 as the Easter Bunny, and that al Qaeda wasn't in Iraq until we replaced Saddam with anarchy and 130,000 American targets.” Aday ends by summarizing the positive:

The only good news I see in this is that the vast majority of soldiers, unlike the blowhards at Fox and far too many of those in its audience, realize there is no realistic plan for victory, and thus no point in continuing to die in Iraq. Now if members of Congress on both sides of the aisle would also wisen up, these poor saps might actually get the help they deserve.

Twelve people at Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten (including Bernard-Henri Levy, Ibn Warraq, and Salman Rushdie) wrote a “Manifesto against Islamism” which deserves to be widely read.

Here it is, in full:

After having overcome fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new totalitarian global threat: Islamism.

We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all.

The recent events, which occurred after the publication of drawings of Muhammed in European newspapers, have revealed the necessity of the struggle for these universal values. This struggle will not be won by arms, but in the ideological field. It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats.

Like all totalitarianisms, Islamism is nurtured by fears and frustrations. The hate preachers bet on these feelings in order to form battalions destined to impose a liberticidal and unegalitarian world. But we clearly and firmly state: nothing, not even despair, justifies the choice of obscurantism, totalitarianism and hatred. Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man's domination of woman, the Islamists' domination of all the others. To counter this, we must assure universal rights to oppressed or discriminated people.

We reject « cultural relativism », which consists in accepting that men and women of Muslim culture should be deprived of the right to equality, freedom and secular values in the name of respect for cultures and traditions. We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of "Islamophobia", an unfortunate concept which confuses criticism of Islam as a religion with stigmatisation of its believers.

We plead for the universality of freedom of expression, so that a critical spirit may be exercised on all continents, against all abuses and all dogmas.

We appeal to democrats and free spirits of all countries that our century should be one of Enlightenment, not of obscurantism. [emphasis addied]

(Thanks to The Daou Report for the tip.)

update (1:03PM):
Andrew Sullivan agrees that the manifesto is worth reading in its entirety.

Pam Spaulding at Pandagon discusses Divine Interventions, a company that manufactures Christian-themed sex toys.

Of course, the religious wingnuts are outraged. (I would suggest that they deserve some sort of accolade for not rioting, but doing so would risk setting the bar for civilized behavior far too low.)

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