May 2006 Archives

Bill Moyers’ address to the PBS Annual Meeting l is excellent, especially the section where Moyers laments “how corporate media pollutes the meaning of ‘fair and balanced’ with the pretense that two well-rehearsed sound bites by representatives of self-serving interests constitutes ‘analysis’ of the news:”

I believe in "fair and balanced."

I say let's be more fair than anyone else. Let's be as fair to Main Street as we are to Wall Street - to the working men and women of America as we are to the big corporations, big government, and big investors.

Let's be as fair to poor families as we are to the First Family and the Royal Family (Yes, I looked up one evening, as more deaths were occurring in Iraq, more suffering was being endured on the Gulf Coast, and more Americans were losing their healthcare, and there on my public television screen was a special on "The Royals and their Pets.")

Let's be as fair to the skeptic of official policy as we are to its spokesman, as fair to the commoner as to the celebrity, and as fair to the lived experience of ordinary people as we are to the calculated opinion of think tank experts.

I'm for balance.

Let's balance the spin with the evidence, the rhetoric with the record, and opinion with reporting.

Let's balance what we're told with what we know. […]

Let's balance the view from Washington with the view from the country. […]

We ought to hit close to home, too - no matter who's in power.


Let's balance the complaint of ideologues and their patrons in Congress and the press with the unarticulated pain and silent lament of the maid in the hotel room, the waitress in the coffee shop, and the clerk in the shopping mall - all struggling to make ends meet in an economy rigged against them. On second thought, let's give the maid, the waitress, and the clerk a voice. Let's give them a say. They deserve it. Their taxes pay for this system.

And let's balance programs written by the National Mining Association and Boeing with programs underwritten by the United Mine Workers, Consumer's Union, and Citizens for a Fair Economy. If they can't afford the underwriting, let's at least give them a hearing.

(Thanks to Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly for the tip.)

Philip Slater’s “The Great Fundamentalist Hoax” at HuffPo exposes the selective biblical literalism of the fundies, noting that their preference runs toward verses that reinforce their traditional views of social hierarchy:

It's startling, in fact, how rarely fundamentalist Christians mention the sayings of Jesus. 'Morality' to them means the sexual inhibitions of ancient Middle Eastern patriarchies. […]

The Bible becomes the 'Word of God' when a bigot wants to use it to bludgeon his neighbor, and a mere archaic relic when it would be inconvenient for him to take it seriously. Fundamentalists of all persuasions--Christian, Muslim, Jewish--often manage to find some sort of backing for their hatreds in their sacred texts; for these texts were written in societies that were misogynistic, militaristic, and rigidly authoritarian--written, furthermore, by men who believed the earth was flat.

He ends his post with this passage:

There ought to be a term that would designate those who actually follow the teachings of Jesus, since the word "Christian" has been largely divorced from those teachings, and so polluted by fundamentalists that it has come to connote their polar opposite: intolerance, vindictive hatred, and bigotry.

I think the term he’s looking for is “Christianist,” as Andrew Sullivan has so amply demonstrated.

I wrote about Sherman Yellen renaming Republicans “Republicants” here, and Thomas Schaller at Gadflyer has begun using the term as well. He suggests that Democrats

begin publicly referring to Republicans as the "Republican't Party." As in: Can't balance the budget; can't stop raising the national debt ceiling; can't manage federal emergencies; can't find Osama bin Laden; can't control our borders; can't stop smearing and leaking; can't answer tough questions from the media; can't find weapons of mass destruction... (I can't spend all day doing this, but you get the point.)

A meme like this can be invaluable, but only if it is propagated.

Spread the word!

Bruce Schneier’s article in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, “We’re giving up privacy and getting little in return,” estimates the false-positive and false-negative rates for the NSA telephone data-mining program, and concludes that it is “clearly ridiculous.”

The New York Times reported that the computers spat out thousands of tips per month. Every one of them turned out to be a false alarm, at enormous cost in money and civil liberties.

Finding terrorism plots is not a problem that lends itself to data mining. It's a needle-in-a-haystack problem, and throwing more hay on the pile doesn't make that problem any easier. We'd be far better off putting people in charge of investigating potential plots and letting them direct the computers, instead of putting the computers in charge and letting them decide who should be investigated.

By allowing the NSA to eavesdrop on us all, we're not trading privacy for security. We're giving up privacy without getting any security in return. [emphasis added]

(Thanks to The Progressive Daily Beacon for the tip.)

Karen Armstrong’s interview at Salon with Steve Paulsen has something to offend everyone, as Paulsen notes:

It's easy to understand her appeal in today's world of spiritual seekers. As an ex-nun, she resonates with people who've fallen out with organized religion. Armstrong has little patience for literal readings of the Bible, but argues that sacred texts yield profound insights if we read them as myth and poetry. She's especially drawn to the mystical tradition, which -- in her view -- has often been distorted by institutionalized religion. While her books have made her enormously popular, it isn't surprising that she's also managed to raise the ire of both Christian fundamentalists and atheists.

My only real disappointment with the interview was Paulsen’s erroneous assertion that Hitler was “secularist,” despite the fact that he was Catholic. This could have been an opportunity for Armstrong to refute this common misconception, as well as mention the church’s collaboration with genocide, but she let it slide.

(Thanks to Liberal Avenger for the tip.)

Color me surprised, but Bush lied—just like his father—about not raising taxes. During his first presidential campaign, Bush promised to “oppose and veto any increase in individual or corporate marginal income tax rates or individual or corporate income tax hikes.” As the New York Times observes, the tax cut bill he recently signed hikes taxes on Americans living abroad and on teenagers with college savings.

(Thanks to ThinkProgress for the tip.)

Star Parker’s diatribe against the “gay agenda” over at TownHall trots out the usual “behavior” boilerplate and wastes ink complaining about increasing social acceptance of the LGBT community: “although the majority of Americans are still opposed to legalization, they are a lot less opposed than they were in the a decade ago.” [sic] Parker then supposes that “Americans are increasingly confusing entitlement and political power with freedom and tolerance.” As much fun as it would be to tear this tissue-thin argument to shreds, Pam Spaulding has already done so here.

This section is the heart of Spaulding’s excellent rebuttal:

Your movement has embraced the bigots, the religious intolerants and socially backward misfits while demonizing gays for political gain and access to power. […]

It doesn’t mean that school choice or private social security accounts don’t hold appeal to gays as issues, they simply cannot be issues of primacy when gays:

  • can’t serve openly in the military

  • are threatened with legislation to prevent them from adopting or fostering children

  • cannot have the same partnership and legal benefits as married couples

  • can be fired from a job simply for being gay.
  • You’re not fighting to end that discrimination, Star — you believe in it. When you step up and truly believe gays and lesbians are equal citizens, then we’ll talk. Until then, stop whining about any group seeking political power when your goons on the right have plotted and planned for years to take control. They are not only attempting to legislate rights of gay citizens away, they are attempting to control the reproductive rights of women (from contraception to abortion), and obliterate the privacy rights of everyone.

    The social conservatives have had a stranglehold on government, and it’s clear that you feel the folks you have placed your trust in have squandered it because the public has not bought into the social control agenda. That isn’t our problem, that’s your problem. [emphasis added]

    Salon has the text of Bill Moyers’ commencement address at Hamilton College.

    His words, as always, are worth reading. That is particularly true of this passage:

    Frankly, I'm not sure anyone from my generation should be saying anything to your generation except, "We're sorry. We're really sorry for the mess you're inheriting. We are sorry for the war in Iraq. For the huge debts you will have to pay for without getting a new social infrastructure in return. We're sorry for the polarized country. The corporate scandals. The corrupt politics. Our imperiled democracy. We're sorry for the sprawl and our addiction to oil and for all those toxins in the environment. Sorry about all this, class of 2006. Good luck cleaning it up."

    (Thanks to LiberalAvenger for the tip.)

    O’Reilly is convinced that young Americans “have no idea what’s going on” because “they get their news form Jon Stewart” and other entertainers. Actually, Bill, the opposite is true. MediaMatters notes that

    studies have shown that viewers of Comedy Central's The Daily Show with John Stewart are consistently better informed about current events than consumers of other media, and Daily Show viewers are considerably better educated than viewers of The O'Reilly Factor. Further, consumers of Fox News in general have been found to be significantly more misinformed about current events than consumers of other mainstream media.

    Nielsen Media Research shows that "Stewart's viewers are not only smart, but more educated than O'Reilly's." The Annenberg Public Policy Center observed:

    "Daily Show viewers have higher campaign knowledge than national news viewers and newspaper readers -- even when education, party identification, following politics, watching cable news, receiving campaign information online, age, and gender are taken into consideration."

    I’m more worried about the older Americans who get their news from Faux News; they’re the ones who tend to be misinformed.

    Ira Winkler, a former NSA analyst, discusses the NSA domestic spying in this article at ComputerWorld. Winkler states flat-out that “[i]gnoring FISA's rules concerning warrants is illegal,” and observes that:

    This scattershot attempt at data mining drags FBI agents away from real investigations, while destroying the NSA’s credibility in the eyes of law enforcement and the public in general.

    Although the Right will probably try to slander him as someone who hates the NSA and its mission (due to statements like “The actions taken by the executive branch after 9/11 aren't protecting our freedom. They are usurping it.”), Winkler is not their caricature:

    Over the years, I have defended the NSA and its employees as reasonable and law abiding. I was all for invading Afghanistan, deployment of the Clipper Chip and many other controversial government programs. NSA domestic spying is against everything I was ever taught working at the NSA. I might be more for it if there was any credible evidence that this somehow provides useful information that couldn’t otherwise be had. However, the domestic spying program has gotten so massive that the well-established process of getting a warrant cannot be followed -- and quantity most certainly doesn't translate to quality. Quite the opposite.


    I think Sen. Jon Kyl, a strong supporter of the NSA domestic spying program, said it best: "We have got to collect intelligence on the enemy." I fully agree. But the enemy numbers in the hundreds at best. the NSA is collecting data on hundreds of millions of people who are clearly not the enemy. These numbers speak for themselves. [emphasis added]

    (Thanks to Bruce Schneier for the tip.)

    Glenn Greenwald has a nice piece on the joint Feingold/Specter proposal. Here are its three main provisions:

  • Re-state that FISA is the exclusive means by which our government can conduct electronic surveillance of U.S. persons on U.S. soil for foreign intelligence purposes;
  • Prohibit the use of federal funds for any future domestic electronic surveillance that does not fully comply with the law; and
  • Expressly state that there is no such thing as an “implied” repeal of FISA laws. In other words, no future bill can be interpreted as authorizing an exemption from FISA unless it expressly makes an exception.
  • When the Busheviks continue to break the law, as they no doubt will, the proposed bill “would also force them to find a way to fund any non-FISA eavesdropping activities notwithstanding a Congressional ban on such funding.” Mush like Reagan’s violations of the Boland amendment in his illegal gun-running escapades in Central America, there is little doubt that Bush will violate the law even if it is made more explicit. When he does so, however, we must not let his felonious administration escape justice under a fog of failures to recall. They must be held to account for what they have done.

    The bill is here. (60KB PDF).

    Rob Boston at AU’s “Wall of Separation” has the most detailed piece I’ve seen on Pat Robertson’s latest lie: to boost sales of his protein shake, Robertson claims that he can leg-press 2,000 pounds! Clay Travis writes on CBS SportsLine that:

    There is no way on earth Robertson leg presses 2,000 pounds. That would mean a 76-year-old man broke the all-time Florida State University leg press record by 665 pounds over Dan Kendra. 665 pounds. Further, when he set the record, they had to modify the leg press machine to fit 1,335 pounds of weight. Plus, Kendra's capillaries in his eyes burst. Burst. Where in the world did Robertson even find a machine that could hold 2,000 pounds at one time? And how does he still have vision?

    Boston rebukes Robertson this way:

    Here’s quick reminder to Pat Robertson: The Ten Commandments you so often laud mention lying – and they don’t recommend it.

    How much can economics change the dynamics of the “peak oil” debate? Raymond Learsy (author of Over a Barrel: Breaking the Middle East Oil Cartel) has penned an overview of the situation (“Oil Is Not Scarce”) for HuffPo. He talks about tar sands, oil shale, offshore drilling, and how technology can recover oil that was previously unavailable.

    Time will tell if this is the era of “peak oil,” or simply more profiteering.

    The New York Times has published a handy chart of some key GOP scandals in Washington.

    Let it be noted that the major only Democratic scandal in Washington (William Jefferson’s bribery, with video evidence) has resulted in calls for his resignation (see here, here, here, and this Salon article by Tim Grieve.) As Jonathan Singer notes at MyDD, Democrats call for ethics investigations of their own members; Republicans give the crooks on their side of the aisle standing ovations. That’s quite a contrast, and one that I hope is remembered in the voting booth come November.

    What does it say about congressional Republicans that, after barely a decade of control, have become far more corrupt than Democrats were after 40 years?

    (Thanks to TomPaine for the tip.)

    update (2:39pm):
    According to ThinkProgress, Pelosi has asked Jefferson to resign from the Ways & Means committee:

    Dear Congressman Jefferson:

    In the interest of upholding the high ethical standard of the House Democratic Caucus, I am writing to request your immediate resignation from the Ways and Means Committee.

    Nancy Pelosi
    Democratic Leader

    She should have asked him to give up his congressional seat, pack his bags, and return to his constituents to beg their forgiveness.

    ThinkProgress posted a clip of Bill O’Reilly getting his facts wrong again, and then telling his viewers that “All decent Americans should reject these haters.”

    MediaMatters and ThinkProgress aren’t “haters,” Bill; they would just like to see a little truth in advertising from you and your network. If you bill your show as a “No-Spin Zone” on the “Fair and Balanced” network, and claim that “liberal people get just as much time as conservative people on the Fox News Channel, and the commentators are pretty much split down the middle on their ideological bent,” then you should at least attempt to live up to those words. Maybe all your hate for those “left-wing smear sites” is because they expose your double-talk, as MediaMatters did again yesterday.

    Steve Young at HuffPo has posted a great parody, “The Sean Hannity Commencement Speech Liberals Won’t Let Him Give.” It’s a good laugh for everyone who’s ever suffered through his pompous displays of belittling and bombast at Faux News.

    NSA update

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    In response to the Wired article I mentioned yesterday about the NSA/AT&T spying nexus, Amanda Marcotte posted a response this morning. Here’s the clincher:

    This isn’t just the government or AT&T invading your privacy. This is part of a larger tendency of those in power to refuse to distinguish between corporate and government power. If AT&T has set up a room only for the use of government spies, then not only are they undermining your basic right not to be searched without a warrant but they are basically acting like an arm of the government. I no longer see any reason to refrain from describing a BushCo policy like domestic spying as a fascist policy. [emphasis added]

    I would like to be able to disagree with her assessment of fascism, but she’s right. Under Bush, the US is no longer the nation it once was.

    A group called Clergy for Fairness has sent an open letter to Bill Frist and Harry Reid denouncing the Federal [Anti-]Marriage Amendment. It reads, in part, that:

    The Marriage Protection Amendment raises alarming constitutional concerns. We do not favor using the constitutional amendment process to resolve the divisive issues of the moment. Loading down the Constitution with such amendments weakens the enormous influence it holds as the key document that binds our nation together.

    We are concerned that the Marriage Protection Amendment would mark the first time in history that an amendment to the Constitution would restrict the civil rights of an entire group of Americans. Misusing our nation’s most cherished document for this purpose would tarnish our proud tradition of expanding citizens’ rights by Constitutional amendment, a tradition long supported by America’s faith communities. These concerns alone merit rejection of the Marriage Protection Amendment.

    There is also a joint letter from several national religious groups, covering a variety of perspectives from Quakers and Sikhs to Unitarians and the UCC, here.

    Although we have differing opinions on rights for same-sex couples, we believe the Federal Marriage Amendment reflects a fundamental disregard for individual civil rights and ignores differences among our nation’s many religious traditions. It should be rejected.


    We are particularly concerned that this proposal to amend the Constitution would, for the first time, restrict the civil rights of millions of Americans. That concern alone merits rejection of the Federal Marriage Amendment.

    Saturday’s article in the Washington Post, “Religious liberals gain new visibility,” reminds readers that progressive activism in politics isn’t a new phenomenon, although it has been overshadowed for several decades:

    For most of the 20th century -- from the Progressive era through the civil rights movement -- religious involvement in American politics was dominated by the left. That changed in the 1970s, after the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights, the formation of the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, and, on the left, "the rise of a secular, liberal, urban elite that was not particularly comfortable with religion," said Will Marshall III, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington think tank.

    It’s heartening to see liberal believers standing up for values like justice and civil rights.

    (Thanks to Jeremy Learning at Wall of Separation for the tip.)

    Everyone simply must read this Wired article on the lawsuit against AT&T for their complicity with the NSA’s illegal surveillance. There are related articles here, here, and here. (Technically-minded people might want to download these documents for future reference before they disappear down the memory hole.)

    Read them now.

    It’s that important.

    (Thanks to John at AmericaBlog for the tip.)

    PZ Myers at Pharyngula does a great job of demolishing Rabbis Shafran's response to philosopher Slavoj Zizek's New York Times piece.

    In the face of religiously inspired violence and terrorism, Zizek called atheism "one of Europe's greatest legacies and perhaps our only chance for peace." He then repudiated Dostoevsky's dictum that "if God doesn't exist, then everything is permitted," observing that this platitude is a mirror image of reality:

    the lesson of today's terrorism is that if God exists, then everything, including blowing up thousands of innocent bystanders, is permitted -- at least to those who claim to act directly on behalf of God, since, clearly, a direct link to God justifies the violation of any merely human constraints and considerations. [emphasis added]

    This defense did not sit well with Rabbi Shafran, who stated that "atheism qua atheism presents no compelling objection" to "amoral or unethical behavior." He continued, opining that:

    To a true atheist, there can be no more ultimate meaning to good and bad actions than to good or bad weather; no more import to right and wrong than to right and left. To be sure, rationales might be conceived for establishing societal norms, but social contracts are practical tools, not moral imperatives; they are, in the end, artificial. Only an acknowledgement of the Creator can impart true meaning to human life, placing it on a plane above that of mosquitoes.

    This statement, however, hinges on his presupposition that "true" and "ultimate" are the exclusive province of religion. The atheist objection to this line of argumentation is that religion's extravagant claims of ultimate knowledge have borne no substantive proof. In the face of competing religious claims, one would be wise to examine them carefully rather than blindly accepting--as most religionists do--the claims of one's family or society. This foundational skepticism is a premise of most freethought.

    Perhaps most annoying was Shafran's tired recitation of the "Adolph Hitler was no believer in G-d" canard. I had thought that it has been debunked too many times to waste words on, but Meyers disagrees. He asks:

    The Hitler who said, "I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so"? Some might say he wasn't a very good Catholic (although the pope at the time didn't seem to have any major objections) and was just playing to the crowd, but it's interesting that he turned to religion when he needed to appeal to the people to support his agenda.

    The Rabbi's use of mafia hitman Richard Kuklinski as an example of atheist amorality was also quickly dismissed by Meyers:

    Mr Kuklinski was brought up as a Catholic, and sent his kids to a Catholic school, and he was affiliated with the Mafia, whose members are often (but not necessarily, of course) Catholic. I can't find anything to suggest he was an atheist. He was certainly a despicable character, but I don't see why he would be brought up as an example of the corrupting influence of godlessness. It would be easier, and just as fallacious, to use him as an example of the moral bankruptcy of Catholicism. [emphasis added]

    Does the Rabbi know that he has been bitch-slapped?

    ACLU v. NSA

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    The ACLU has filed complaints in twenty states (Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Washington) demanding investigations into the NSA’s wiretapping. Their newspaper announcement is here. Carol Rose, the ACLU’s Executive Director, said:

    “It’s time to shed light on this illegal invasion of privacy that could affect everyone in this country. […] The purpose of this effort is not to obstruct legitimate law enforcement activities, but to protect the basic privacy and due process rights of people whose telephone records have been divulged without a warrant, notice or consent.”

    Each of us has a dog in this fight; it’s time to start acting like it. This COINTELPRO-on-steroids operation is not just illegal, it’s indefensible.

    (Thanks to TalkLeft for the tip.)

    Glenn Greenwald’s post on freedom of the press under the Bush regime describes Alberto Gonzales’ remarks over the weekend:

    The administration's assault on a free and vital press took a huge leap forward this weekend, when Attorney General Alberto Gonazles announced on national television that the Bush administration has the power to imprison journalists who publish stories revealing conduct by the President which the administration wants to conceal (such as the warrantless NSA eavesdropping program, which he specifically cited). Gonazles went further and made clear that the administration is actively considering prosecution against journalists who publish such stories. [emphasis added]

    For those who would ask why this is so dangerous, Greenwald provides this explanation:

    Literally, if George Bush had his way -- if government sources were sufficiently intimidated out of disclosing classified information and journalists were sufficiently intimidated out of writing about it -- we would not know about any of these matters:
    * Abu Ghraib * The Bybee Torture Memorandum * The use of torture as an interrogation tool * The illegal eavesdropping on Americans without warrants * The creation of secret gulags in Eastern Europe * The existence of abundant pre-war information undermining and even negating the administration's WMD claims * Policies of rendering prisoners to the worst human rights-abusing countries


    There is not a single instance -- not one -- which reflects any harm to our national security as a result of any of these disclosures. [….] These disclosures trigger public debate over highly controversial matters and, as a result, often harm the President politically. But none of them is an example of gratuitous disclosure of secret information intended to harm national security.

    Greenwald then poses several questions:

    Why were we able to defend our national security throughout the 20th Century without imprisoning journalists? Why have we suddenly reached a point where our Government is too weak to defend our country without trying to stifle a free press by threatening journalists with imprisonment? Why can't George Bush defend the country without destroying almost every traditional institution and practice in our country to which presidential administrations of both parties have, for decades if not longer, managed to adhere?

    Why, indeed?

    Bruce Schneier’s article at Wired, “The Eternal Value of Privacy,” recognizes privacy as “a basic human need.” Schneier concludes:

    Too many wrongly characterize the debate as "security versus privacy." The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that's why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide. [emphasis added]

    A senior honors thesis at the University of Illinois, “Uncovering the Rationales for the War on Iraq,” details the 27 different reasons the Bush administration gave for invading Iraq. As the university describes, student Devon Largio:

    not only identified the rationales offered for going to war, but also established when they emerged and who promoted them. She also charted the appearance of critical keywords such as Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Iraq to trace the administration’s shift in interest from the al Qaeda leader to the Iraqi despot, and the news media’s response to that shift.

    It’s a long study, 212 pages, but it’s excellent work. As her professor, Scott Althaus, observed:

    “It is first-rate research…the best senior thesis I have ever seen – thoroughly documented and elaborately detailed. Her methodology is first-rate.”

    (Here are links to the abstract and TOC, the executive summary, and the thesis.)

    This BuzzFlash interview with author Eric Boehlert discusses his new book Lapdogs, about the media’s largely deferential treatment of Bush’s scandals. Boehlert refers to Bob Woodward, once a journalist, as “the ultimate symbol” of the media’s transformation “from watchdog to lapdog.” This comparison is telling:

    The press has been extraordinarily timid with Bush. If you just look back at the same press corps during the Clinton Administration you see that a titanic shift took place on inauguration day in 2001.

    During the Clinton years there was this mindset that we can print anything we want – any half-baked allegation – as long as it’s leaked from either a prosecutor or Republicans on the Hill. And two and three months later, when nothing pans out and it turns out to be complete fantasy, A, we don’t write about it again, or B, we pretend it wasn’t fantasy and we just keep writing about it as if it were a fact. That was the mindset during the Clinton era, and the mindset during the Bush era is the complete opposite. The mindset did a complete 180.

    Now you have just as unsettling and damaging a mindset as during the Clinton years. It’s a completely different standard that they have set down for the Bush Administration.

    Jonathan Rauch’s “Stoking the Beast” from the latest issue of The Atlantic demolishes Reagan’s “cut his allowance” tax-cutting mentality under which our nation’s deficit has grown to such obscene proportions. Rauch talks to Cato’s William Niskanen, who notes that—contrary to supply-side dogma—cutting taxes does not reduce government spending:

    judging by the last twenty-five years (plenty of time for a fair test), a tax cut of 1 percent of the GDP increases the rate of spending growth by about 0.15 percent of the GDP a year. A comparable tax hike reduces spending growth by the same amount.

    After noting that the sweet spot appears to be 19% of GDP (currently 17.8% due to Bush’s tax cuts), Rauch observes that:

    conservatives who are serious about halting or reversing the dizzying Bush-era expansion of government—if there are any such conservatives, something of an open question these days—should stop defending Bush’s tax cuts. Instead, they should be talking about raising taxes to at least 19 percent of the GDP. Voters will not shrink Big Government until they feel the pinch of its true cost.

    Restoring fiscal sanity to Washington will be quite and endeavor, requiring some long-overdue House-cleaning.

    cartoon Art

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    Art Spiegelman’s “Drawing Blood: Outrageous cartoons and the art of outrage” (it’s not online yet, but it’s from the latest issue of Harper’s) is the most comprehensive piece on the infamous Muhammad cartoons that I’ve seen. Spiegelman even analyzes the twelve original cartoons and rates them on a four-bomb scale, indicating their likelihood to draw violent attention to their makers. His attention to historical detail has been missing from both the gutless media who refused to print the cartoons and the wingnut commentators whose knees jerked at the chance to express their hatred of Islam.

    (As an aside, Borders is apparently carrying this issue of Harper’s. This is somewhat of a surprise, since they (along with WaldenBooks) refused to stock a recent issue of Free Inquiry for publishing the same cartoons. One could cynically assume that sales of the higher-circulation Harper’s meant more than the principle of “the safety and security of our customers and employees.” One would also, however, have to note that the conservative rag Weekly Standard also published the cartoons, but was not pulled from newsstands in fear.

    That’s bias, but it’s certainly not liberal.

    There’s a new Human Rights Campaign ad, urging resistance to the proposed Federal [Anti-]Marriage Amendment. (The HRC’s campaign webpage is here, the ad is here, and the text of the proposed amendment is here.)The Senate will vote on the proposed amendment is scheduled for 5 June, so there isn’t much time left to make your voice heard.

    Billmon at WhiskeyBar has posted another blue/red map. The blue areas are labeled “Reality” and the red ones “Bushlandia.” Check it out if you need a chuckle.

    David Neiwert’s long post on Christianism reveals some of the history of the term. In one of the quoted posts, Neiwert notes that our “culture war”

    is often presented as "secular vs. Christian," but that's patently false. The fundamentalists have managed to distort the public debate to the point that fundamentalist beliefs are identified in the media as "Christian" -- ignoring entirely the fact that there are large numbers of Christians who don't believe the same way as the conservatives.

    Read the whole piece; it’s well worth it.

    Salon has an interview with intelligence historian Matthew Aid. He discusses the surveillance programs Echelon and Carnivore, and makes observations about the current NSA phone scandal:

    The fact that the federal government has my phone records scares the living daylights out of me. They won't learn much from them other than I like ordering pizza on Friday night and I don't call my mother as often as I should. But it should scare the living daylights out of everybody, even if you're willing to permit the government certain leeways to conduct the war on terrorism.

    We should be terrified that Congress has not been doing its job and because all of the checks and balances put in place to prevent this have been deliberately obviated. In order to get this done, the NSA and White House went around all of the checks and balances. I'm convinced that 20 years from now we, as historians, will be looking back at this as one of the darkest eras in American history. And we're just beginning to sort of peel back the first layers of the onion. We're hoping against hope that it's not as bad as I suspect it will be, but reality sets in every time a new article is published and the first thing the Bush administration tries to do is quash the story.


    It's all coming out now in dribs and drabs, but when it all becomes clear, we'll find out that the key oversight functions -- those functions that were put in place to protect the rights of Americans -- were deliberately circumvented. Key components of the Justice Department that would have rightly objected to this were never consulted or told about the program. [emphasis added]

    Aid knows whereof he speaks; the first volume of his three-book history of the NSA goes to press next year. (Thanks to georgia10 at DailyKos for the tip.)

    Noted Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe has a blistering article in the Boston Globe about the NSA program’s danger to the Fourth Amendment:

    Privacy apart, this president's defiance of statutes by the dozens is constitutionally alarming. But the matter goes deeper still. Even if Congress were to repeal the laws securing telephone privacy, or if phone companies found loopholes to slip through when pressured by government, the Constitution's Fourth Amendment shield for ''the right of the people to be secure" from ''unreasonable searches" is a shield for all seasons, one that a lawless president, a spineless Congress, and a complacent majority of citizens -- who are conditioned to a government operating under a shroud of secrecy while individuals live out their lives in fishbowls -- cannot be permitted to destroy, for the rest of us and our children. [emphasis added]

    (Thanks to TalkLeft for the tip.)

    AlterNet has reprinted Laura Sheahen’s interview with Sam Harris from BeliefNet. After a comment from Harris about Old Testament barbarism, they had this exchange:

    LS: Doesn't the evidence show that people take their sacred texts with a grain of salt?

    SH: That's the point: in the West, we have delivered the salt. Obviously, people are no longer burning heretics alive in our public squares and that's a good thing. We in the West have suffered a sufficient confrontation with modernity, secular politics, and scientific culture so that even fundamentalist Christians and Orthodox Jews can't really live by the letter of their religious texts. [emphasis added]

    Michelle Goldberg’s “Saving secular society” at In These Times is another excerpt from her book Kingdom Coming. Here’s the money quote:

    It makes no sense to fight religious authoritarianism abroad while letting it take over at home. The grinding, brutal war between modern and medieval values has spread chaos, fear, and misery across our poor planet. Far worse than the conflicts we're experiencing today, however, would be a world torn between competing fundamentalisms. Our side, America's side, must be the side of freedom and Enlightenment, of liberation from stale constricting dogmas. It must be the side that elevates reason above the commands of holy books and human solidarity above religious supremacism. has a wealth of detail on the Patrick Henry story. As one of the departing professors stated, "I've been told there are things I cannot teach. There are things I cannot ask." A disappointed student is quoted as saying, "I didn't come here to go to Bible school. I came here for a liberal arts education from a Christian perspective," Morgan said. "I feel like I've been cheated."

    That doesn't sound like an environment that is very congenial to learning.

    (Thanks to Marc Fisher at WaPo for the tip.)

    This editorial by John Bice notes that “many readers equate my criticisms of Christianity with religious intolerance or dislike of Christians” and asks rhetorically, “Why have I focused on Christianity?” He answers this way:

    When any religion becomes thoroughly entangled with politics and social policy, as Christianity has, it becomes a fair target for criticism.

    Unfortunately, candid religious criticism is often met with shock and anger. Christianity is so prevalent in America, and its core myths so widely accepted, Christians are often blind to how absurd their beliefs appear to nonbelievers.


    Rationalists tend to see Christians, Muslims, Mormons, Hindus and assorted faithful as otherwise reasonable people with an odd penchant for the epistemological and ontological equivalents of the Tinfoil Beanie Brigade. We certainly don't "get it," but if believing makes people happy, who cares?

    However, when faith-based beliefs become a basis for public policy decisions we should have no qualms whatsoever in criticizing them and calling them what they truly are: wholly unsupported by evidence and irrational. [emphasis added]

    (Thanks to vjack at Atheist Revolution for the tip.)

    Chris Bowers at MyDD nails the whole red-state-blue-state-map issue in this “Blue nation” post. Everyone who was subjected to the flawed analyses of the “Red America” 2004 election maps should enjoy these new maps immensely.

    update (1:53pm):
    David Corn cracks wise in “Not time to move” that:

    I used to joke that Democrats in Blue State areas ought to consider secession. But these days it seems like they might want to shift gears and contemplate expulsion.

    According to this LA Times article, Patrick Henry College has lost five of its sixteen faculty members (one firing and four resignations) over an article in the college magazine that supported the value of truth:

    "There is much wisdom to be gained from Parmenides and Plato, as well Machiavelli and Marx. […] When we examine the writings of any author, professed Christian or otherwise, the proper question is not, 'Was this man a Christian?' but 'Is this true?' "

    That, in a nutshell, demonstrates the difference between liberal education and conservative indoctrination. For those of us in the reality-based community, the truth is paramount; for them, belief is more important than truth.

    (Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the tip.)

    The text of McCain’s commencement address at Liberty University is here. McCain reiterated his support for the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, but took pains to stress the caveat that “Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes war. Americans should argue about this war.” He then came out forcefully for dissent:

    Americans deserve more than tolerance from one another, we deserve each other’s respect, whether we think each other right or wrong in our views, as long as our character and our sincerity merit respect, and as long as we share, for all our differences, for all the noisy debates that enliven our politics, a mutual devotion to the sublime idea that this nation was conceived in – that freedom is the inalienable right of mankind, and in accord with the laws of nature and nature’s Creator.

    With barely a hint of pandering, except for his very presence at Falwell U, McCain has mostly acquitted himself for his visit to the belly of the fundamentalist beast. I wish he had been more pointed in his remarks, but instead he chose the unobjectionable moderate territory. Time will tell if this turns out to be a wise move for him and his presidential campaign.

    This CNN poll shows quite clearly that Americans recognize that Clinton did a better job as president than Bush by every measure; they also view Clinton as more honest than Bush.

    (Thanks to Glenn Greenwald for the tip.)

    Michelle Goldberg’s new book, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, has been excerpted at Salon. She talks about the “distressingly common” use of fascist “language and aesthetics” among Christianists, particularly the reconstructionists and dominionists so important to causes like Roy Moore’s “Ten Commandments” monument.

    Kingdom Coming looks to be a useful companion to Kevin Philips’ American Theocracy.

    (Thanks to Sean at God Is for Suckers! for the tip.)

    Cenk Uygur is tired of all the bravado and bluster from Smerconish calling liberals “sissies:”

    He says we're a country of sissies because we didn't execute Zacarias Moussaoui, who was involved with 9/11. You know what else happened on 9/11? Hundreds of brave firemen and police from liberal -- and hence sissy -- New York went into a burning building and never came out. The passengers on United 93 risked their lives and ultimately died to save their fellow Americans. One of the men who led the charge against the terrorist on board was a gay American. What a sissy!

    I'm so tired of hearing these big, bad conservatives try to characterize decent people who try to do the right thing as wimps - and worse yet, in their world - gay!

    His tactic is to publicly shame Smerconish into either a debate or a fight. Here’s the taunting:

    I think you're a little coward who is ready to give up all your rights at the first sign of trouble. You're so scared of big bad Al Qaeda, you're willing to cede your liberties to George Bush because he promises to protect your sorry ass. Millions of men have died protecting our freedoms, but you're so frightened by a bunch of guys in a cave in Afghanistan, you're willing to give up many of those freedoms they died for. I am repulsed by your weakness. [emphasis added]

    I wonder if this tactic would be useful with other GOP chickenhawks.

    The ACLU is sending an online “Don’t Spy on Me” petition to AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth about their cooperation with the NSA’s telephone surveillance:

    Dear AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth,

    Revelations regarding the Bush administration’s illegal and warrantless spying on Americans make it clear that your company is enabling illegal government spying by turning over private details about our telephone calls to the National Security Agency.

    As an American consumer, I expect you to treat my personal communications as totally private.

    This is my right under the U.S. Constitution. I do not intend to forfeit it and I don’t expect you to forfeit it for me.

    I am writing to demand that your company stop participating in the government’s illegal spying program.

    By helping the government track the calls and communications of millions of ordinary Americans, you are violating not only the law but the trust of the American consumer. And that’s just plain wrong.

    Please write me at the address below to let me know that you are reconsidering your cooperation with this un-American spying program.

    Sign up today!

    Bush at 29%

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    That didn’t take long at all: WSJ reports that the latest Harris poll puts Bush’s approval ratings (a rating of “excellent or pretty good”) at 29%, the lowest point of his presidency.

    The lowest point “so far,” I meant to say.

    USA Today has a sizeable article on the NSA's domestic spying, with a Q&A here.

    The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY. [...] With access to records of billions of domestic calls, the NSA has gained a secret window into the communications habits of millions of Americans. [emphasis added]

    Qwest is the only telecom firm to deny NSA access to its records; bully for them!

    According to multiple sources, Qwest declined to participate because it was uneasy about the legal implications of handing over customer information to the government without warrants.


    Qwest already had classified contracts and hoped to get more.

    Unable to get comfortable with what NSA was proposing, Qwest's lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA court. According to the sources, the agency refused.

    The NSA's explanation did little to satisfy Qwest's lawyers. "They told (Qwest) they didn't want to do that because FISA might not agree with them," one person recalled. For similar reasons, this person said, NSA rejected Qwest's suggestion of getting a letter of authorization from the U.S. attorney general's office. A second person confirmed this version of events.

    This entire program may be running afoul of the law:

    Under Section 222 of the Communications Act, first passed in 1934, telephone companies are prohibited from giving out information regarding their customers' calling habits: whom a person calls, how often and what routes those calls take to reach their final destination. Inbound calls, as well as wireless calls, also are covered.

    The financial penalties for violating Section 222, one of many privacy reinforcements that have been added to the law over the years, can be stiff. The Federal Communications Commission, the nation's top telecommunications regulatory agency, can levy fines of up to $130,000 per day per violation, with a cap of $1.325 million per violation.

    There is much about this surveillance program that we may never learn, given the NSA's penchant for secrecy. Just this morning, the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility had to terminate an investigation into another NSA domestic spying program because the NSA refused to grant investigators the necessary security clearance. As the head of the OPR wrote,

    "we have been unable to make meaningful progress in our investigation because O.P.R. has been denied security clearances for access to information about the N.S.A. program."

    Who watches the watchmen, indeed.

    update (12:47pm):

    Bush issued a defense of the NSA's telephone spying. The White House website has his full remarks, and USA Today has a summation.

    After his usual "war on terror" boilerplate, Bush claimed that "We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans," which--at least according to the USA Today article--is blatantly untrue.

    Bush then remarked that the program only targets "Al Qaeda and their known affiliates," but this doesn't square with the collection of data on tens of millions of Americans. If we have that many al Qaeda operatives, we're really in trouble. Bush also stated that:

    Our most important job is to protect the American people from another attack, and we will do so within the laws of our country.

    Dubya, you dipshit, you really need to re-read the Constitution. You were apparently so consumed with your Commander-in-Chief duties in Article II Section 2 that you forgot to read section 3, which states that you "shall take care that the Laws be faithfully executed," and the oath of office, which requires every president to:

    faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

    Bush's disdain for the Constitutional separation of powers and his inability--amply demonstrated by now--to stay within legal limits should give us all pause. I fully expect his poll numbers to be in the twenties before the end of the week.

    update 2 (3:02pm):

    Seventy-two members of Congress have files amicus briefs in two federal courts--ACLU v. NSA (1520KB PDF) and CCR v. Bush (49KB PDF)--seeking to stop Bush's illegal NSA wiretapping. It is to be expected that not a single member of the GOP has signed either brief.

    [fixed transcription error]

    Andrew Sullivan takes on two responses to his piece on Christianists: Ramesh Ponnuru at National Review and Hugh Hewitt.

    Ponnuru's condemnation of Sullivan as "self-righteous and overwrought" and "a voice for intolerance in our public life" is laughable given Ponnuru's own writings: his latest book refers to Democrats as "The Party of Death."

    Hewitt's rhetoric, similarly, is disingenuous when it isn't despicable. He slams Sullivan for issuing "a call to embrace hate speech" in what Hewitt calls "a hit and run column," which is about as far from the truth as one can get. Sullivan doesn't shy away from offering extended explanations of posts that are controversial, and frequently answers readers' emails in a thoughtful and considerate manner. The blogosphere would be a far better place with more writers like Sullivan and fewer like Hewitt. As an example of this, Sullivan's response concludes with this:

    I should stress: these people have every right to their views. They certainly have developed an arsenal of arguments and a body of thought to back them up. But this agenda, whatever else it is, cannot be described as mainstream Christianity. Its extremism, its enmeshment with partisan political power, its contempt for individual liberty, its certainty and arrogance and intolerance, demand that some other name be given to it. They have gotten away with too much for too long. It's time for mainstream Christians, in both parties, to fight back. And we are. [emphasis added]

    Hewitt tries in vain to malign Sullivan's support for same-sex marriage this way:

    Not once in the long history of this country, not at the federal level or in any state, has a legislative body backed by the signature of an executive, defined marriage as open to two people of the same sex. In fact, whenever the question has been presented to popular vote, same sex marriage has been rejected overwhelmingly.

    Bear in mind, though, that "the long history of this country" is irrelevant when the concept of homosexuality is barely a century old, and just over three decades have elapsed since it was considered a mental illness. Despite the widely disseminated disinformation from the Right about sexual orientation, progress among American attitudes has been astonishingly rapid: most Americans favor anti-discrimination laws as well as some sort of legal recognition for same-sex unions. Support is stronger among the young, which is a harbinger of continued success.

    Doug Elfman of the Chicago Sun-Times has written an article about how the media missed the Colbert story.

    Many liberals are furious at the White House press corps for virtually ignoring Stephen Colbert's keynote speech at the press corp's own White House Correspondents' Dinner last Saturday. To non-liberals, this may seem like an isolated complaint. To liberals, it further justifies their belief that the media, particularly TV news, is a big stinking cabal of conservatives.


    But ignoring a newsworthy keynote speech -- at an event the press corps itself set up -- doesn't go unnoticed anymore. Internet stables for liberals, like the behemoth, began rumbling as soon as the correspondents' dinner was reported in the mainstream press, with scant word of Colbert's combustive address.
    This is trouble for the media. It has been losing customers to bloggers and Web sites for years. This won't help. The media's implosion of silence could be one of the final reasons many liberals use to not turn on TV news. It's not like they feel a vested interest in the industry anyway, since it has been bought and parceled by conservatives. [emphasis added]

    (Thanks to John at AmericaBlog for the tip.)

    Andrew Sullivan responds to an email comment about his Time essay on Christianism. His defends the charge of hypocritical “intolerance” this way:

    My issue with Christianism is not "intolerance." In a free society, I'm quite happy to live among people who are intolerant of me, who decide not to associate with me, and generally disapprove of me, for whatever reason they decide. My point is that such intolerance not be enforced by the civil law; and that the civil law be restricted to reflect non-sectarian moral arguments that can be assessed and debated by Christian and non-Christian, Jew or Muslim, Mormon or atheist alike. If we can achieve a broad moral consensus, good. If we cannot, especially over divisive religious disagreements, then neutrality is the better option. And neutrality exists. A law that allows legal abortion or gay marriage as well as adoption and straight marriage is neutral with respect to its citizens' choices. It is not biased in favor of any one of them. If you have a moral objection, persuade and proselytize, don't legislate. [emphasis added]

    Sullivan concludes that “it is political toleration that is under threat in America right now. It's time Christians and conservatives brushed up on their John Locke and came to its defense.”

    That time would have a higher probability if more conservatives had any familiarity with Locke; unfortunately, they appear to be too busy absorbing the soothing inaccuracies of Coulter, O’Reilly, Hannity, and Savage to read any challenging political science texts.

    Sullivan’s new Time essay, “My problem with Christianism,” contains his take on the co-opting of faith by politicians. (It is largely from him that I began using the word “Christianist.”) He suggests that the burgeoning identification of many of his co-religionists with the “religious left” is a non-solution, and writes:

    So let me suggest that we take back the word Christian while giving the religious right a new adjective: Christianist. Christianity, in this view, is simply a faith. Christianism is an ideology, politics, an ism. The distinction between Christian and Christianist echoes the distinction we make between Muslim and Islamist. Muslims are those who follow Islam. Islamists are those who want to wield Islam as a political force and conflate state and mosque. Not all Islamists are violent. Only a tiny few are terrorists. […] It is the belief that religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike.

    That's what I dissent from, and I dissent from it as a Christian. [emphasis added]

    Every religious person who believes in religious liberty—rather than sectarian power, as many on the Right would prefer—should carefully ponder his words. Those who most need to hear them will, of course, dismiss them out of hand.

    Russell Shorto’s “Contra-Contraception” from the New York Times Magazine is a long article about how the Right’s war on abortion is becoming—as they wouldn’t admit, but we knew—a war on contraception. Shorto notes that:

    For the past 33 years — since, as they see it, the wanton era of the 1960's culminated in the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 — American social conservatives have been on an unyielding campaign against abortion. But recently, as the conservative tide has continued to swell, this campaign has taken on a broader scope. Its true beginning point may not be Roe but Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 case that had the effect of legalizing contraception.


    Peter Bearman, director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy at Columbia University, who has analyzed virginity pledge programs including Rector's, says: "The money being poured into these programs is out of control. And the thing is this is not about public health. It's a moral revolution. The goal is not stopping unwanted pregnancy but stopping sexual expression." [emphasis added]

    The Right’s preferred mode of abstinence-only “education” involves the usual parade of bogus statistics, stereotypes, and baseless paranoia about “sex-based cults.” Every year that passes shows us the continuing failure of their ignorance-only methodology, which is a major reason that “around the world, countries in which abortion is legal and contraception is widely available tend to rank among the lowest in rate of abortion, while those that outlaw abortion — notably in Central and South America and Africa — have rates that are among the highest.”

    It’s one more failure that they will try to blame on the sixties and—of course—on Bill Clinton. How much longer will we let them get away with it?

    Jonathan Weiler’s “True Colors” at Gadflyer weighs in on the “Bush-Is-a-Liberal” argument that has been making the rounds on the Right. It is a desperate attempt to paint GOP failures not as the implosion of an unworkable ideology, but as an ideology that has been completely failed by its adherents. Thus, every failure of the Bush administration is ascribed to incipient liberalism.

    What has bothered right-wing conservatives about "big government" was whom it was helping and how that help was, presumably, undermining the larger social fabric. But, the idea that conservatives really wanted to restrain the power of government per se is crap. Since 1980, dominant conservatism has whole-heartedly embraced government as an instrument to advance their preferred interests – corporations, the religious right, incarceration-based interests (and isn't support for the death penalty a certain kind of "faith" in the infallible judgment of government institutions?), the military-industrial complex and so on. [emphasis added]

    Digby’s “Real Conservatism Has Never Been Tried” follows up on this thread. He opines that Glenn Greenwald and Jonah Goldberg, the two main voices on this issue, are best analogized like this:

    Glenn Greenwald has been directly taking on Jonah Goldberg on this subject (which is something like my cat "taking on" his toy mouse)

    Digby concludes with this reductio ad absurdum parody of the Bush dead-enders:

    Today, the CIA is crawling with liberals. The military is crawling with liberals. The Bush administration itself is nothing but a bunch of liberals as must be the GOP congress since they signed off on everything Bush has proposed. The media are, needless to say, nothing but squishy liberals.

    The country is going to hell in a handbasket. The president and the congress and all their policies are dramatically unpopular. This, then, is just further proof of the failure of liberalism.

    The only thing that can save us is conservatism.

    Lew Rockwell’s “The Great Conservative Hoax” at HuffPo has this intemperate--but not entirely incorrect—passage:

    For my part, I'm hoping that the whole conservative movement will go down in flames with the decline and fall of the Bush administration. The red-state fascists have had their day and instead of liberty, they gave us the most raw and stupid form of imperial big government one can imagine. They have given America a bad name around the world. They have bamboozled millions. They have looted and bankrupted the country. They have killed tens of thousands.

    If they don't crack up on their own, we must do what we can to discredit them and their ideology forever.

    As the Washington Post notes, a German newspaper asked Bush about his time in the Oval Office. His worst moment was, of course, 9/11. When asked about his “best moment,” his answer surprised me:

    "You know, I've experienced many great moments and it's hard to name the best […] I would say the best moment of all was when I caught a 7.5 pound perch in my lake.” [emphasis added]

    Given the dearth of accomplishments during his presidency, I fully expected his answer to be something personal. I had no idea it would be so mundane. DemocraticUnderground contrasts this inanity with the best moments from Carter (“dealing with the Middle East issue at Camp David”) and Clinton (“the peace process in the Middle East and in Northern Ireland”).

    Quite a contrast, isn’t it?

    (Thanks to Kos for the tip.)

    This Daily Colonial article tells the story of a gay student expelled from a Kentucky university (University of the Cumberlands) for mentioning his boyfriend in his MySpace profile. After reading it, I had to wonder: isn’t this the twenty-first century? (Snarky answer: not in Kentucky.)

    The expelled student had this to say:

    "A lot of people were very scared," he said. "People have things on their MySpace pages which [could be incriminating]. They were all in a scramble to get rid of all this stuff on the Internet that had a possibility of pointing back at them. They were afraid Cumberlands was going to go on a witch hunt and start kicking people out right and left."

    (Snarky response: No, they’ll only be kicking people out left and left. Right-wingers won’t be targeted.) If a university dared to expel a student, and said that the student's fundamentalism didn’t live up to their “high standards,” we’d never hear the end of it. When it happens to a gay student, though, the mainstream (religiously correct) media won’t touch the story.

    It is unclear from the article whether the student actually violated the “no premarital sex” clause of the conduct code. It is clear, however, that such a code is de facto discriminatory in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage.

    Best wishes to everyone attempting to have the $11 million in state funding to the school rescinded. Under no circumstances should bigotry be rewarded with tax dollars.

    (Thanks to TalkLeft for the tip.)

    AC Grayling’s new article at the Guardian, “Can an atheist be a fundamentalist?,” examines the “fundamentalist atheist” slur, and suggests abandoning “atheist” in favor of “naturalist,” as in “one who takes it that the universe is a natural realm, governed by nature's laws.” Grayling then tackles the “no atheists in foxholes” fallacy from a similar angle:

    By the same token, therefore, people with theistic beliefs should be called supernaturalists, and it can be left to them to attempt to refute the findings of physics, chemistry and the biological sciences in an effort to justify their alternative claim that the universe was created, and is run, by supernatural beings. Supernaturalists are fond of claiming that some irreligious people turn to prayer when in mortal danger, but naturalists can reply that supernaturalists typically repose great faith in science when they find themselves in (say) a hospital or an aeroplane - and with far greater frequency.

    I have no problem with being called an atheist, a humanist, a naturalist, or a secularist; I’m not hung up on the nomenclature. The freethought community will never agree on a name, but that is only a problem when viewed from a marketing mindset.

    The concept of a “fundamentalist atheist” is laughable on its face; dogma is, after all, the problem that is being sidestepped when eschewing religion.

    (Thanks to God Is for Suckers! for the tip.)

    Paul Waldman’s “The Progressive Identity Complex” at talks about the use of ‘We’re all in it together” as “the core statement of progressive identity: it is, in fact, what progressives actually believe.

    It’s what progressives have in common, no matter where they live or how much money they make, even if they disagree on abortion or guns or the war in Iraq. It’s why people with health insurance still think we need a national health care plan, why parents whose children are grown are still willing to pay taxes to fund good public schools, why people who are economically comfortable believe we need to increase the minimum wage. It’s about how you look at your family, your community and your country. It’s what makes you a progressive, and makes you different from a conservative.

    I’m tempted to simply highlight the entire passage, because it does such a good job of delineating the progressive/conservative split on the importance of the common good. Use of words like “society” and “community” is problematic for the Left, because the Right would find some clever way to conflate them with socialism and communism. The concepts are still vitally important for progressives, especially in comparison to the self-centered egotism bordering on solipsism that passes for principled individualism on the Right these days.

    Anonymous Liberal has the best take on Stephen Colbert’s performance; he answers Colbert’s critics and provides what I suspect will be the lasting interpretation of the incident:

    Stephen Colbert was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime. Everyone who his life has been devoted to mocking (and justifiably so) was going to be in one room, and he was going to be the featured entertainment. He knew he had 20 minutes where all of these people would be a captive audience, including the leader of the free world seated just a few feet to his right. Sure, he could have delivered some light-hearted but forgettable Leno-esque performance and called it a night. But he knew he would have regretted it for the rest of his life. He knew that for the rest of his days he would be replaying jokes in his head that he wished he'd had the courage to say at the time.

    A lot of people--mostly conservatives--have accused Colbert of misjudging the audience. But the truth is, Colbert never intended to play to that stuffy self-important crowd. They, after all, were the butt of his jokes. I think Colbert's true target audience was himself in 20 years. He's going to look back on that performance and feel nothing but pride. He's going to know that he left it all out on the table, that he seized his opportunity and made the most of it. And, like me, he's going to laugh his ass off.

    So congratulations, Stephen Colbert, you may have become the first person in history to mock the most powerful person in the world--to his face, for over 20 minutes--and live to tell your tale. [emphasis added]

    The Plaid Adder has a parallel take on Colbert in her post over at DU:

    Colbert modeled for the press corps a form of courage that they have, by and large, miserably failed to demonstrate. He did his job the way he always does it without worrying about what the administration, his hosts, or his corporate sponsors were going to think of it. And he used those 10 minutes to tell the truth to people who certainly did not get themselves all dolled up for the purpose of sitting there and being forced to hear it. Having been offered the bone of insider status, Colbert, instead of scarfing it up and wagging his tail, bit the hand that fed him. It was uncomfortable, ungrateful, and ungracious; and it was exactly the kind of thing that the press should have started doing as soon as they realized what the crooks in the White House were feeding them.

    So yeah. People are going to be all over the cable airwaves and whatnot calling Colbert's speech inappropriate. It absolutely was inappropriate. And it was also fucking right on. It is about time someone showed these people that there are more important things in the world than being invited back.

    Thank you, Stephen Colbert. [emphasis added]

    If only reporters could be as courageous as comedians.

    YouTube has the video (parts one,
    two, and three) of Stephen Colbert’s fantastic monologue at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, and Kos has the full transcript.

    Watch the video; Colbert is flat-out hilarious.

    “Mission Accomplished,” three years later:

    U.S. Troops Wounded: 17,469 U.S. Troops Killed: 2,400 Size of U.S. Forces: 132,000 Size of Iraqi Security Forces: 250,500 Number of Insurgents: 15,000-20,000 Insurgent Attacks Per Day: 75 Cost to U.S. Taxpayers: $320 billion Approval of Bush’s Handling of Iraq: 37% Percentage of Americans who Believe The Iraq War Was “Worth Fighting:” 41% Bush’s Overall Job Approval: 38%

    That’s quite an accomplishment, all right.

    I’m sure his father is proud.

    (Thanks to ThinkProgress for the data.)

    Melinda Barton’s article at Raw Story, “The left’s own religious extremists,” has generated some online furor. PZ Myers has a pair of responses (here and here) that answer Barton by defending the bedrock progressive value of tolerance:

    Theists and atheists have mutually exclusive ideas about the afterlife, spirituality, deities, etc.—tolerance means learning to hold your nose and deal with people whose beliefs on intangible and irrelevant issues are incompatible with yours in order to make progress on other matters. Trust me on this, but atheists are quite used to holding their gorge back in the face of the daily, unthinking assault of religiosity we face in this country; it would be nice if the Christian majority would learn to return the favor. [emphasis added]

    Barton’s implication of a vast network of “atheist whackjobs” posing a danger to liberal society because of “intellectual laziness, dishonesty, and cowardice” is nothing more than a projection of theistic inadequacies in the intellectual realm.

    (Thanks to Ron at God Is for Suckers! for the tip.)

    Glenn Greenwald refers to two Boston Globe articles (here and here) about Bush’s use of “signing statements” that in effect state his interpretations of the laws and his intent to violate them as he deems appropriate.

    Far more than any predecessor, Bush has been aggressive about declaring his right to ignore vast swaths of laws -- many of which he says infringe on power he believes the Constitution assigns to him alone as the head of the executive branch or the commander in chief of the military.

    Many legal scholars say they believe that Bush's theory about his own powers goes too far and that he is seizing for himself some of the law-making role of Congress and the Constitution-interpreting role of the courts. [emphasis added]

    Numerous examples are cited in the article, from sending US troops into combat in Colombia, new regulations for military prisons, diverting money to start secret operations, withholding information from Congressional oversight committees, and using information collected on Americans in violation of the fourth amendment.

    Even the conservative Cato Institute recognizes the threat the Dubya poses to constitutional law, in their report "Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush." Their executive summary is here, and their full report is here. (319KB PDF).

    Vjack at Atheist Revolution has some comments on last week’s Newsweek piece on angry atheists. This is the best:

    As for the generalization about atheists having "uncomfortable personal histories,"” you forget that we are all born atheists and only arrive at religion through indoctrination. One does not need tragedy or bad experiences with clergy to arrive at atheism. The study of Western philosophy, history, and a close reading of the Christian bible was more than enough for me to rediscover natural atheism. [emphasis added]

    The Raving Atheist has extensive remarks that dissect Gellman’s piece section by section.

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