July 2006 Archives

unknowing

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SusanG has written a trenchant and poignant piece at Daily Kos titled “The Impossibility of Unknowing.” She speaks of the: “headlines and horrors and a screaming, driving voice in my head: There's something wrong! There's something very, very wrong! Learn about it! Fast!”

Some nights I go to sleep under this administration and wonder: What new horror am I going to have cram into my head tomorrow morning? What new form of torture? What unfamiliar town or province?

[…]

I find myself longing for ignorance, and that's a weakness and betrayal of everything I'd believed until George W. Bush came onto the scene. Again, this is a minor personal complaint and I'm sure I'll recover, eventually. My real concern is that this is less than you can say with certainty about the effects of this administration on this country and the rest of the world.

Paul Krugman rips the Bush administration a new one in the New York Times; read it here if you’re a TimesSelect customer, or here if you’re not. Krugman notes, using numerous examples, the corporate media’s ongoing complicity with the Bush administration. He observes that “if the facts fail to support the administration position on an issue — stem cells, global warming, tax cuts, income inequality, Iraq — officials refuse to acknowledge the facts.”

Meanwhile, apparatchiks in the media spread disinformation. It’s hard to imagine what the world looks like to the large number of Americans who get their news by watching Fox and listening to Rush Limbaugh, but I get a pretty good sense from my mailbag. […]

Whatever the reason, the fact is that the Bush administration continues to be remarkably successful at rewriting history. […] It’s all very Orwellian, of course. But when Orwell wrote of “a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past,” he was thinking of totalitarian states. Who would have imagined that history would prove so easy to rewrite in a democratic nation with a free press? [emphasis added]

(Thanks to Atrios for the tip.)

James Bamford writes about the neocons’ next war in Rolling Stone. Amid tales about eavesdropping going on in the FBI’s Washington field office and overseas intrigue with shady Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar—of Iran/Contra infamy—Bamford serves up some devastating data about Ahmad Chalabi:

The FBI suspected that Chalabi, a Shiite who had a luxurious villa in Tehran and was close to senior Iranian officials, was actually working as a spy for the Shiite government of Iran. Getting the U.S. to invade Iraq was apparently part of a plan to install a pro-Iranian Shiite government in Baghdad, with Chalabi in charge. The bureau also suspected that Chalabi's intelligence chief had furnished Iran with highly classified information on U.S. troop movements, top-secret communications, plans of the provisional government and other closely guarded material on U.S. operations in Iraq.

This, of course, means that the Pentagon had been duped:

If true, the allegations meant that they had just launched a war to put into power an agent of their mortal enemy, Iran. Their man—the dissident leader who sat behind the first lady in the president's box during the State of the Union address in which Bush prepared the country for war—appeared to have been working for Iran all along.

Oops.

(Thanks to Cenk Uygur at HuffPo for the tip.)

This “Ask Auntie Pinko” column at DU is one of the better things to come out of a column that is regularly a joy to read. She answers an inquiry about “the kind of nasty atheists who insult religion” with tact, humor, and insight:

A religious person shouldn’t expect an atheist to express respect for their religious symbols and certainly not accept or tolerate them in a sphere where religion doesn’t belong (such as in a public or government institution.) An atheist, on the other hand, shouldn’t expect people of faith to refrain from expressing their faith anywhere except hidden behind closed doors to avoid offending atheists. And both should try to compromise or find middle ground in integrating the historical and cultural role of faith into the larger context of contemporary life.

Bravo!

Richard Kim writes at The Nation about the ongoing same-sex marriage debate, and links to the BeyondMarrage website. Their full statement, “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision for All Our Families & Relationships,” does indeed try to broaden the debate while it also contain an obligatory slap at conservative political strategists and their “strategic marketing of fear and resentment that pits one group against another:”

The Right’s anti-LGBT position is only a small part of a much broader conservative agenda of coercive, patriarchal marriage promotion that plays out in any number of civic arenas in a variety of ways – all of which disproportionately impact poor, immigrant, and people-of-color communities. The purpose is not only to enforce narrow, heterosexist definitions of marriage and coerce conformity, but also to slash to the bone governmental funding for a wide array of family programs, including childcare, healthcare and reproductive services, and nutrition, and transfer responsibility for financial survival to families themselves.

Tobin Harshaw’s New York Times piece on David Sirota’s Hostile Takeover and George Lakoff’s Whose Freedom? is far from an accurate representation of the books reviewed. Harshaw derisively refers to recent strategic suggestions from several recent books as “magic formulas,” and follows that MO here. He writes of Sirota’s “immaturity” and contrasts his “take-no-prisoners mind-set” with Lakoff’s “grab-no-readers prose style," preferring invective to insight. Here is his conclusion:

While Sirota apparently never met an editor, Lakoff seems never to have met an actual conservative. His failure to paint his opponents as anything but the most risible of cartoons stems from a larger incapacity (one shared by Sirota): a refusal to believe that the other side might be making its case in good faith. Caricaturing your opponent’s stances is an easy way to win an argument, I guess, but it’s not going to sway many readers — or win many elections.

His imputation of “a refusal to believe that the other side might be making its case in good faith” is completely off-base. Liberals spend so much time debunking the Right not because we suspect them of consistently lying—although that is sometimes the case—but to show that, despite sincere belief, many of the Right’s arguments—earnest and otherwise—are incorrect.

Sincerity is insufficient for politics; the facts matter.

Excerpts are online from Sirota’s Hostile Takeover and Lakoff’s Whose Freedom? (Thanks to American Prospect for the tip.)

The LiberalAvenger has a nice post on the philosophical vacuity of the wingnuts who cry “nihilism” whenever they encounter a contrary morality:

Nihilism has always been less a philosophy than a term of accusement. And ever since I arrived at college the inverse of most of my classmates - raised in a liberal Christian household at least somewhat ignorant of the depth and width of fundamentalism - I’ve been aiming that accusation directly at the “religious right.” Nietzsche’s problem with Christianity was its rejection of the world in favor of God. This, he thought, allowed Christians to act with impunity - that the otherworldliness of the Christian’s moral code made the Christian’s responsibility to worldliness moot. Thus all a Christian has to do is claim a belief in God and all his or her actions are justified.

As noted by Anne Norton in Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire:

The charge of "nihilism" is flung about so freely that it rarely means more than "I don't like that" or "I wish those people did not exist." (p. 99)

LA points out that it’s far easier to write a misleading bumper sticker—or a cartoon—than it is to read and understand Nietzsche. Or Kant. Or Strauss. Or anyone else who can be glibly misrepresented to slander one’s opponent.

Everyone remembers the “moral values” voters who were such a big part of Bush’s 2004 “re”election; a new AP-Ipsos poll places them at 4% of the population.
Yahoo reports on the poll:

The problem mentioned most often by all the adults polled was the war — in Iraq and conflicts in general — 22 percent; economy at 14 percent; immigration and political leaders at 9 percent; the energy crisis at 8 percent and terrorism at 7 percent.

Other problems mentioned were: morality, 4 percent; education, 3 percent; crime and drugs, 1 percent and the environment, 1 percent.

That’s funny: I don’t see discriminating against gays and lesbians, abridging free speech, or restricting scientific research—the GOP’s priorities—anywhere on the list.

The full poll results are here. (Thanks to John at AmericaBlog for the tip.)

Wonkette has a transcript of Ann Coulter speculating—without evidence or logic, as usual—that Bill Clinton shows “some level of latent homosexuality.” The following comment, after allegations of sexual obsession and nymphomania, I found rather intriguing:

Well, there is something narcissistic about homosexuality. Right? Because you’re in love with someone who looks like you.

By the same logic, one could postulate that straight people secretly hate themselves. After all, they only have sexual relationships with people who look nothing like them.

What an idiot.

Molly Ivins suggests that Bill Moyers should run for president, although she concedes that it would be “a very long shot:”

Think about the potential Democratic candidates. Every single one of them needs spine, needs political courage. What Moyers can do is not only show them what it looks like and indeed what it is, but also how people respond to it. I'm damned if I want to go through another presidential primary with everyone trying to figure out who has the best chance to win instead of who's right. I want to vote for somebody who's good and brave and who should win.

John Nichols thinks Moyers should run a serious campaign, and says “I believe -- as someone who has covered my share of presidential campaigns -- that Moyers could be a contender:

Moyers would enter the 2008 race with far more practical political experience than Dwight Eisenhower had in 1952, far more national name recognition than Jimmy Carter had in 1976 and far more to offer the country than most of our recent chief executives.

[…]

Consider the fact that a professional body builder is the governor of the largest state in the union, and that the list of serious contenders for seats in Congress and for governorships this year is packed with retired athletes, former television anchorpersons and bored millionaires, and it simply is not that big a stretch to suggest that someone with the government and private-sector experience, the national recognition and the broad respect that Bill Moyers has attained across five decades of public life could not make a serious run for the presidency.

MediaMatters posted a transcript of Pat Robertson’s interview with Ann Coulter. I would hazard a guess, Ms. Coulter, that most liberals haven’t exhibited the desired amount of umbrage at being called “godless” because they’ve grown weary of responding to your slanders and libels. You have proven yourself to be such a dishonest commentator that it is only your deliberately inflammatory rhetoric that causes anyone to take your words seriously. I take some comfort in this exchange:

ROBERTSON: And you also, I will, I've got -- they are telling me we're out of time. I will end on this. You also point out, very cogently, that if same-sex beings tried to mate under natural selection, they should be automatically eliminated from the gene pool.

COULTER: That's right.

ROBERTSON: Yeah.

COULTER: Fortunately, the religion of liberalism believes in miracles, so they can hold together completely contradictory beliefs at one time.

ROBERTSON: So you can be biologically born that way, but at the same time the genetic code seems to indicate you would be automatically selected away --

COULTER: Right.

ROBERTSON: -- in the survival of the fittest just for the mere fact you do not reproduce.

COULTER: That's right.

We can be thankful that neither Robertson nor Coulter has reproduced, removing their worthless legacy from the gene pool. Would that their memes could suffer the same fate.

Glenn Greenwald reviews John Dean’s Conservatives without Conscience:

Dean contends, and amply documents, that the "conservative" movement has become, at its core, an authoritarian movement composed of those with a psychological and emotional need to follow a strong authority figure which provides them a sense of moral clarity and a feeling of individual power, the absence of which creates fear and insecurity in the individuals who crave it. By definition, its followers' devotion to authority and the movement's own power is supreme, thereby overriding the consciences of its individual members and removing any intellectual and moral limits on what will be justified in defense of their movement.

This is essentially a paraphrase of Lakoff’s “strict father” summation of the conservative mentality. Greenwald continues:

there is seemingly no limit -- literally -- on the willingness, even eagerness, of Bush supporters to defend and justify even the most morally repugnant abuses -- from constantly expanding spying on American citizens, to a President who claims and aggressively exercises the "right" to break the law, to torturing suspects, imprisoning journalists, and turning the United States into the most feared and hated country on the planet.

And as radical as the administration has become, it is clear that the administration has not even come close to reaching the level of extremism which would be necessary for its supporters to object -- if such a limit exists at all. If anything, on those exceedingly few occasions over six years when his followers have dissented from the Presidents's decisions -- illegal immigration, Harriet Miers, Dubai ports -- it has been not because the administration was too radical, extremist, militaristic and uncompromising -- but insufficiently so.

He writes later about the conservatives’ inability to tolerate dissent:

Virtually every political opponent of the administration's of any significance -- Howard Dean, Al Gore, John Kerry, the Clintons -- is relentlessly branded as a liar, mentally unstable, corrupt, seditious, and sympathetic to the Enemy.

And even those who devoted much of their adult lives to military service to their country (often in ways far more courageous and impressive than most Bush supporters), or even those who have been longtime Republicans and conservatives, have their characters relentlessly smeared and motives and integrity impugned as soon as they criticize the administration in any way that could embarrass the President -- Richard Clarke, Paul O'Neill, the war critic Generals, Joe Wilson, Scott Ritter, Wesley Clark, John Murtha, John Paul Stevens, and on and on and on.

It is a movement devoted to the destruction of its enemies wherever they might be found. And it finds new ones, in every corner and seemingly on a daily basis, because it must. That is the food which sustains it.

Greenwald’s conclusion, that “Dean's book is a uniquely valuable tool for understanding what the so-called "conservative" movement has become,” whets my appetite.

On the heels of Bush’s address to the NAACP last week, Charlie Savage wrote for the Boston Globe about new hiring practices at the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The Bush administration is “filling the permanent ranks with lawyers who have strong conservative credentials but little experience in civil rights:

The documents show that only 42 percent of the lawyers hired since 2003, after the administration changed the rules to give political appointees more influence in the hiring process, have civil rights experience. In the two years before the change, 77 percent of those who were hired had civil rights backgrounds.

[…]

in the fall of 2002, then-attorney general John Ashcroft changed the procedures. The Civil Rights Division disbanded the hiring committees made up of veteran career lawyers. […] Hing is closely overseen by Bush administration political appointees to Justice, effectively turning hundreds of career jobs into politically appointed positions.

Thanks to MyDD for the tip.)

The American Bar Association is critical of Bush’s signing statements, and ABA president Michael Greco notes, "We will be close to a constitutional crisis if this issue, the president's use of signing statements, is left unchecked." The Washington Post article includes this passage about the ABA task force:

Task force members said the nature of the challenges has also changed under Bush, with many objections being lodged under the "unitary executive" theory, the idea that congressional checks on the president's power are limited.

If the president has constitutional problems with a bill, the task force said, he should convey those concerns to Congress before it reaches his desk. The panel said signing statements should not be a substitute for vetoing bills the president considers unconstitutional.

"The President's constitutional duty is to enforce laws he has signed into being unless and until they are held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court or a subordinate tribunal," panel members wrote. "The Constitution is not what the President says it is."

The New York Times piece covering the ABA report notes that:

The bar association panel said the use of signing statements in this way was “contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers.” From the dawn of the Republic, it said, presidents have generally understood that, in the words of George Washington, a president “must approve all the parts of a bill, or reject it in toto.”

[…]

The issue has deep historical roots, the panel said, noting that Parliament had condemned King James II for nonenforcement of certain laws in the 17th century. The panel quoted the English Bill of Rights: “The pretended power of suspending of laws, or the execution of laws, by regal authority, without consent of Parliament, is illegal.”

update (3:01pm):
The ABA’s press release is here, and the full report—which has a great history of signing statements—is here (150KB PDF).

Bill Nemitz at the Portland Press Herald writes about the experience of being a victim of Ann Coulter’s plagiarism using a fictitious phone call:

I've tried and tried to reach you, but you haven't called back. (I got close once, but your publicist said you lost your voice from talking too much, which we agreed was ironic.) So I figured since this newspaper is already in the business of putting words in your mouth, we might as well have a little fun while we're at it.

It’s a good read.

(Thanks to The Rude Pundit for the tip.)

amazon.com

Wiesel, Elie. Night (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006)

I ordinarily avoid popular book club choices, but Oprah can be forgiven many faults for bringing this tale of the Holocaust to her audience's attention. After reading this slim volume, Wiesel's travels from Birkenau to Buna to Buchenwald are seared into my memory. Here is one passage that I found particularly moving:

The darkness enveloped us. All I could hear was the violin, and it was as if Juliek's soul had become his bow. He was playing his life. His whole being was gliding over the strings. His unfulfilled hopes. His charred past, his extinguished future. He played that which he will never play again. I shall never forget Juliek. How could I forget this concert given before an audience of the dead and dying? [...] I don't know how long he played. I was overcome by sleep. When I awoke at daybreak, I saw Juliek facing me, hunched over, dead. Next to him lay his violin, trampled, an eerily poignant little corpse. (p. 95)

Wiesel's determination to prevent such inhumanity from ever flourishing again is also remarkable:

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must--at that moment--become the center of the universe. (pp. 118-9)

Wiesel's Night is a tale full of sorrow, but you won't be sorry that you read it.

Damon Linker reviews two books about Leo Strauss under the title “Defending Leo Strauss’s Legacy” at TNR. Straussian critic Shadia Drury referred to Strauss as “a Jewish Nazi,” and Linker calls this “risible” and a “repulsive charge.” Repulsive is accurate enough, but solely because of its accuracy (see this post for details); calling her comment risible is, well, risible itself. Linker comments of Steven Smith’s Reading Leo Strauss that:

Smith deserves credit for injecting some much-needed sobriety and freshness into the discussion of Strauss's work and its legacy. Whether Smith's book deserves to be the final word on Strauss's ideas is another matter.

The “final word” on Strauss—like the immortal philosophers about whom he wrote—will not be written for decades, if not centuries. Linker’s conclusion strikes just the right note:

How has a thinker as radical as Strauss--a thinker so blatantly hostile to democracy and modernity, so deeply suspicious of political liberty and equality, so profoundly skeptical of moral and religious belief--managed to become the intellectual idol of contemporary American conservatism, with its clamorous moralism, its pious parochialism, its shameless populism, and its instinctual suspicion of doubt? Only when we have devised a satisfactory answer to that troubling question will we be capable of rendering a responsible judgment of Leo Strauss's ideas and their enigmatic legacy to the times in which we live.

I await his forthcoming book The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege.

MediaMatters has completed a study of Sunday talk-show guests from the second quarter of this year; not surprisingly, the guest list still tilts to the right. (I discussed the previous studies here and here.)

TIA lives!

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USA Today searched through public information on government contracts, reported that Bush’s “Total Information Awareness” program—supposedly killed by Congress in 2003—has survived:

At least five of the data-mining programs were developed under a Pentagon program, called Total Information Awareness (TIA), that Congress disbanded nearly three years ago because of concerns that it threatened personal privacy, according to government records and participants in the projects.

President Bush and administration officials say the searches for terrorists' trails follow the law and don't invade Americans' privacy.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of Electronic Privacy Information Center, observes that "The key problem here is the absence of accountability." Given Bush’s allergy to accountability, that’s quite a problem indeed.

(Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the tip.)

TalkLeft has the story on Conyers’ lawsuit against the illegal enactment of the Federal Deficit Act; the Senate version was signed by Bush, but was not approved by the House. Therefore, as Conyers notes, the Act is not valid.

It’s that pesky “rule of law” again, with which Bush has had repeated problems.

After five and one-half years in office, Dubya finally found time to address the NAACP. His full comments are here. As ThinkProgress notes, Bush used the occasion to push for repeal of the estate (not “death”) tax. This tax will be paid by only 59 African-Americans this year, while nearly a quarter live in poverty.

I’m so glad to see that Bush’s priorities, while they include—at least rhetorically—concern for the poor, still show that he hasn’t forgotten his base. (To be fair, he spent most of his time talking about slavery, Katrina, education, and home ownership.) It was amusing, in an odd way, that Bush made this claim: “I come from a family committed to civil rights.” Perhaps he doesn’t realize that, during his failed Senate campaign in 1964, his father opposed the Civil Rights Act. That’s commitment, all right.

Later, Dubya spoke about court challenges to his faith-based initiatives, and stated that “[w]e should not discriminate based upon religion.” This turns the issue exactly on its head, pretending that opponents of his faith-based funding are the ones practicing discrimination; that is the opposite of the truth. Legal challenges to Bush’s faith-based programs primarily center on the fact they, the recipients of our tax dollars, are discriminating: against gays and lesbians, against other religious groups, and against atheists.

If religious groups wish to discriminate, they should be free to do so—but not on my dime. Dubya spoke later of “a new founding that redeems the promise of our declaration and guarantees the birthright of every citizen,” but these are empty words unless they apply to all of us.

After over five years of helming the most profligate administration in history, Dubya has finally vetoed a spending bill. It wasn’t political pork, or wasteful weapons programs; it was only scientific research funding, so it won’t have any adverse consequences.

Bush stated that he believes in the “inherent dignity and matchless value” of each “unique human life.” Of course, this only holds true as long as they’re not living in Iraq, or on death row, or suffering from a disease that might benefit from scientific research such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or MS.

I’m not usually given to quoting polls, but 64% of Americans support federal funding of research using embryonic stem cells.

The remaining 36% are Bush’s base.

Michelle (Kingdom Coming) Goldberg was interviewed at AlterNet by Onnesha Roychoudhuri. She stated that Christianism, or “Christian Nationalism” in her words, “is a political ideology:”

It's less a religion than it is an ideology about the way America should be governed. It has this whole revisionist history claiming that America was founded as a Christian nation, that the separation of church and state is a fraud perpetrated by seculars. What follows from that are ideas about Christianization of institutions in American life, and that the courts have vastly overstepped their authority in the enforcement of the separation of church and state.

Goldberg identified mainstream-media deference to right-wing religious extremism as a major problem, in that it legitimizes their opinions in the public square:

There are all these voices on the right that can say almost anything without consequence. You would never see Kerry joining hands with someone from the Black Panther Party or someone from the ANSWER coalition. But there are people on the right who are calling for theocracy and almost nothing they say discredits them; they're still treated as respectable mainstream voices.

John Dean’s “Triumph of the Authoritarians” from last Friday’s Boston Globe has been reprinted by CommonDreams. Dean is appalled by contemporary conservatives and their “bludgeoning style of politics, their self-serving manipulation of the political processes, and their policies that focus narrowly on perceived self-interest.” Dean writes about his inquiries into the confluence of conservatism and authoritarianism:

Authoritarian conservatives are, as a researcher told me, "enemies of freedom, antidemocratic, antiequality, highly prejudiced, mean-spirited, power hungry, Machiavellian and amoral." And that's not just his view. To the contrary, this is how these people have consistently described themselves when being anonymously tested, by the tens of thousands over the past several decades.

Authoritarianism's impact on contemporary conservatism is beyond question. Because this impact is still growing and has troubling (if not actually evil) implications, I hope that social scientists will begin to write about this issue for general readers. It is long past time to bring the telling results of their empirical work into the public square and to the attention of American voters. No less than the health of our democracy may depend on this being done. We need to stop thinking we are dealing with traditional conservatives on the modern stage, and instead recognize that they've often been supplanted by authoritarians. [emphasis added]

Dean’s latest book, Conservatives without Conscience, expands on these observations.

The San Diego Union-Tribune is reporting that the anti-marriage amendment has just failed in the House, as it did in the Senate a few weeks ago. The vote of 236-187 has prevented the proposed Constitutional amendment from proceeding to the states.

(Thanks to ThinkProgress http://thinkprogress.org/2006/07/18/house-defeats-gay-marriage-ban/ for the tip.)

Scott Horton writes at Balkinization about the recent attempts by the “liberal” New York Times to rehabilitate the image of neo-con progenitor Leo Strauss:

In the last several months, the New York Times has run four pieces defending Leo Strauss from his critics. By comparison, the Times has run no pieces in which Strauss is actually criticized, which suggests an odd editorial posture. Indeed, the Times seems to have mounted a veritable campaign for the defense of the beleaguered Leo Strauss, which seems strange considering that he has been dead for over thirty years.

[…]

One thing consistent among these defenses of Strauss is either a remarkable ignorance of Strauss, the intellectual milieu from which he came, his life and his thinking, or conscious dissembling about them. Strauss is a fascinating figure, well worth reading today.

Horton translates a 1933 letter from Strauss that is especially illuminating. After being driven out of Nazi Germany, Strauss insisted that the “fascist, authoritarian and imperial principles” of the Right were preferable to the Left’s “ludicrous and despicable appeal” to the Enlightenment principle of "the inalienable rights of man."

Despite this stance, I still agree with Horton that Strauss is “well worth reading.”

(Thanks to Matthew Yglesias at American Prospect for the tip.)


update (11:04pm):
Of the “four pieces” mentioned by Horton, I have located the following:
• Robert Alter’s “Neocon or Not?” (a review of Steven Smith’s Reading Leo Strauss, an excerpt from which is here),
• Edward Rothstein’s “Democracy's Best Friend or Antidemocratic Elitist?”, and
• Harold Bloom’s review of Betraying Spinoza, which only mentioned Strauss in passing.

There is also Adam Kirsch’s “The Demonization of Leo Strauss” in the New York Sun.

Alter doesn’t get much beyond declaring that Smith’s book “sets the record straight on Strauss’s political views.” Smith himself labors to dissociate Strauss from the Bushevik Straussians: “The last few years have witnessed a virtual hostile takeover of Strauss by the political Right,” and calls it “a gross distortion to retrofit Strauss’s teachings to conform to the agenda of the political Right.” He also observes that:

Strauss did not bequeath a system, doctrine, or an "ism," despite what may be attributed to him. Rather, he presented a distinctive way of asking questions or posing problems that may have been loosely related but that scarcely derived from a single Archimedean point of view.

Rothstein lists his connections to the Bush administration, and opines that Strauss “has been called a cynical teacher who encouraged his students to believe in their right to rule humanity, a patron saint of neoconservatives, a believer in the use of "noble lies" to manipulate the masses.” He writes that “Strauss’s difficult and subtle arguments…bear little resemblance to the caricatures created by critics.”

This elides the oft-parodied absurd aspects of the “careful reading” that Strauss proposed, such as deriving significance from words not written, using frequency to resolve deliberately contradictory theses, and searching for esoteric meaning discernable only by the “wise.”

Kirsch’s piece alleges “ignorance and malice” on the part of Strauss’s critics, who look for “some secret message at the heart of Strauss's own work.” It is not surprising, though, that such a search has taken place; the means of Straussian textual interrogation should be applied to his own works. Kirsch may not like what they reveal, but does that indicate a flaw in the method or in the reader?

While testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, Alberto Gonzales admitted that Bush personally ordered that DOJ lawyers be blocked from investigating his illegal wiretapping program. ThinkProgress has the transcript and the video.

David Plotz has been reading the bible and blogging about its contents on Slate. He discusses the project here, with links to the beginning of his odyssey. This has the makings of a good book. (Pun intended.) It is nearly a cliché to lament ignorance of the bible among its most ardent proponents; as Harold Bloom noted in American Religion:

Neo-Fundamentalists want a densely substantial inerrancy, a truth beyond language, beyond ambiguity, beyond any possibility of refutation. […] Very few of them could pass the most elementary sort of Bible quiz, for the real meaning of “inerrant” is now “unread.” (pp. 229-230)

Plotz’s efforts look to be a useful supplement to the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible.

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

Glenn Greenwald posts twice (yesterday and today) on Specter’s proposals regarding the NSA spy programs. It’s simply appalling that Dubya might get away with this.

In essence, Specter's bill repeals each and every restriction on the President's ability to eavesdrop, all but forecloses judicial challenges, and endorses the very theory of unlimited executive power which Hamdan just days ago rejected…

[…]

… this is not a debate about whether to eavesdrop on Al Qaeda -- everyone is for that -- but is about whether George Bush should have the power to eavesdrop on Americans with no oversight, an awesome power which this country overwhelmingly decided 30 years ago, in the wake of decades of abuses, that we do not trust the President -- any President -- to have. This is yet another long-standing safeguard against abuses of executive power which the Bush administration is uprooting -- in the process, changing the kind of nation we are.

As a supplement, check out the ACLU’s Statement of Undisputed Facts in their motion against the NSA.

Eve at God Is for Suckers! is appropriately skeptical when writing about “Christian Persecution.” She notes that, at least since Constantine took the Roman reigns in the fourth century CE, Christians in the West have been the persecutors rather than the persecuted. Somehow, though, their persecution complex survives. Perhaps this problem would be alleviated if their knowledge of history included the centuries between the Pauline epistles and the present day.

Here is a great quote from JBS Haldane, the famed British geneticist:

My practise as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel, or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world. And I should be a coward if I did not state my theoretical views in public.

(Thanks to PZ Myers at Pharyngula for the tip.)

WaPo is asking for personal “spiritual stories” from readers, so PZ Myers submitted his own deconversion story. Here’s the highlight:

I also lived near the town library. I was there every day. […] I learned that the world was a wonder, and people could actually spend their lives trying to understand it. Science was like a laser that burned the superstition and empty rituals of the church out of my brain.

I suddenly realized something: in all the theological texts, in all the dogma I was committing to memory, there wasn't even the tiniest fraction of the beauty and joy and truth I could find in one short article on insect biomechanics, or cytoplasmic transport, or recreational mathematics.

I walked away from the church, unconfirmed, with no regrets, and happy that I'd replaced the burden of dusty, dead authoritarianism with participation in the living world. Apostasy tastes sweet and satisfying, and I can thank a local library…

If enough others submit their own “temple of reason” stories, maybe the Post will acknowledge the existence of atheists in America!

Bush vs. God

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Rel Davis, a retired Unitarian minister, has written “Bush vs. God” for the Progressive Populist. Here is his premise:

Anyone who maintains a public position as a religious person has a responsibility to live up to the standards of that religion.

George W. Bush, more than any previous president, uses his religion as both a mantle of authority and as justification for many of his actions, but how well does he really live up to the principles he claims to believe in? A close analysis of his actions as president and the Ten Commandments reveals that he has not broken one of them.

That one is the seventh commandment. His record on the other nine reveals a dismal failure.

I would have said “miserable failure,” but that’s quibbling.

Here is Bob Novak’s side of the Plame leak. He talks about the three leakers (“two senior Bush administration officials and an unspecified CIA source”), two of whom have been identified as Karl Rove and CIA Bill Harlow. Does anyone suppose that Novak’s “principal source in the Valerie Wilson column, a source whose name has not yet been revealed” is anyone other than Scooter Libby? David Corn analyzes Novak’s admission, and notes that “despite all this evidence, the Bush White House has not honored the vow made early on in the leak investigation: anyone involved in the leak would be dismissed.”

Rove still is gainfully employed as George W. Bush's top strategist at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There are no signs that he has even been disciplined or denied access to classified information. During the investigation, the president refused to say anything publicly about Rove and the probe. And after the investigation, the president has refused to say anything publicly about Rove's participation in the leak.

(Thanks to Crooks and Liars for the tip.)

Andrew Sullivan writes these words about same-sex marriage, but they’re applicable across a range of issues:

Never duck an opportunity to engage; never let a dumb argument go unchallenged; never be intimidated by those wanting you to be silent or talk about something else.

If we don’t speak up, we cede the public square and the media to others.

Harvey Cox writes about “Old-Time Religion” in the Boston Globe, and discusses “the rise of a younger and more moderate leadership among evangelicals” as a response to the “moral fundamentalism” of right-wing preachers like Falwell, Robertson, and Dobson. Cox writes that “as the religious right begins to lose its former vitality, something else has begun to emerge in the American evangelical world that could have even longer-lasting significance: the reappearance of a politically progressive evangelicalism.”

One reason the future may belong to these new evangelicals is that they take the life and teaching of Jesus more seriously than the religious right, which bases its positions not on the gospels, but on what they call “traditional values" and “family values." But Jesus himself had little to say about family values; rather, he emphasized love of neighbor, and even of the enemy. And he often criticized the “traditional values" of his own time so harshly that the anxious guardians of those traditions viewed him as a menace.

[…] The progressive social impulse of early 20th century evangelicalism appears to be making a comeback in an America sadly in need of a vision that is both spiritually vital and politically forward looking.

Jeff Sharlet has some questions about “Fundamentalism’s Power Principle” at The Revealer, noting that proximity to political power causes distance from theological purity:

Are there real changes in the ideology of the many mini-movements that comprise the Christian Right? Are ordinary believers seriously reconsidering their political commitments? Are they re-visiting scripture and changing their minds about what it means?

Those are questions we can't answer by following the fads of power preacher popularity.

Paul Waldman’s “It’s the Conservatism, Stupid” at TomPaine notes that there has been a “relentless campaign against liberalism by conservatives” and proposes that “liberals need to do the same thing to conservatism.” Waldman suggests that we offer “a sustained critique, not just of a particular politician or a particular policy, but of the entire ideology and worldview of conservatism,” and offers three points toward such a critique:

1. Conservatism has failed. The overwhelming majority of the American public now sees the Bush administration as a failure. […] …progressives should start talking about the Bush administration’s failures not as those of a president, but of an ideology.

2. Conservatism is the ideology of the past—a past we don’t want to return to. Liberals need to embrace the culture war, because we’re winning. […] …all the major advancements of freedom and justice in our history were pushed by liberals and opposed by conservatives, no matter the party they inhabited at the time. […]

3. Conservatives are cowards, and they hope you are, too. We’re afraid, they shout. […] Progressives need to frame their rejection of the fear campaign as an act of courage: Al-Qaida does not scare us, and we will not dismantle our democratic system because we are afraid. The America we love does not cower in fear, as the conservatives want it to.

Waldman concludes that “George W. Bush is not what they [liberals] need to fight. What they need to fight is conservatism.”

The New York Times is reporting that the US has rejoined the ranks of civilized nations by again pledging adherence to the Geneva Conventions:

In a sweeping change of policy, the Pentagon has decided that it will treat all detainees in compliance with the minimum standards spelled out in the Geneva conventions, a senior defense official said today.

The new policy comes on the heels of a Supreme Court ruling last month invalidating a system of military tribunals the Pentagon had created to try suspected terrorists, and just before Congress takes up the question of a replacement system in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today.

As part of its decision, the court found that a key provision of the Geneva conventions, known as Common Article 3, did apply to terror suspects, contradicting the position taken by the Bush administration. [emphasis added]

Andrew Sullivan comments:

…this is a great moment in a war we can now fight as honorably as the United States has fought every other war since the Geneva protocols were instituted. Much of the military, most of the CIA, almost all the JAGs, the Supreme Court and overwhelming majorities of both Senate and House disagreed with the torture policy. But the White House cabal prevailed. No longer - in the Pentagon, at least. As far as the military is concerned, America is America again. And this president's brutality has been reined in. […] Thanks go to all those, especially in the military, who never gave in to the demands of foolish expediency or the cult of the president-as-monarch. [emphasis added]

Robert Elisberg’s “50 Easy Questions to Ask any Republican” is a fun read. Here are my “Top Ten” highlights:

1. What are the Top Seven best things that the Bush Administration has done?

[…]

7. Do you believe in the President's call for an Era of Personal Responsibility?

8. Since Republicans control the White House, Senate and House of Representatives, how personally responsible are they for conditions in America today?

16. Do you like the government collecting personal data on you without a warrant?

17. How much money do you have in your bank account, stocks and investments?

18. What's your partner's favorite sex position?

19. If you have nothing to hide, why aren't you answering?

[…]

30. Is it fiscally responsible to cut taxes, increase spending and create a $9 trillion federal debt?

31. Are you glad liberals passed such programs as Social Security, Medicare, the Civil Rights Act, women's suffrage, federal deposit insurance, unemployment compensation, rural electrification, child labor laws, minimum wages and the 40-hour work week?

32. What are the Top Ten best things that conservatives have given to America?

Mark Isaak writes “The Larger Issue of Bad Religion” at Panda’s Thumb to differentiate “bad” religion from “good” religion. In doing so, he pens a simple definition of theocrats: “A person is practicing bad religion if he or she, uninvited, attempts to impose any of their religious beliefs on another. A bad religion is any religion which condones such behavior.” Later, he discusses the allies of “good” religious people:

Our allies are anyone who may be adversely affected by bad religion, and that includes very nearly everybody. We should encourage alliances with politicians, journalists, human rights advocates, popular writers, and anyone else who is willing to help. […] Others among the religious may object to working with atheists. To them, I suggest that they are approaching the criterion for joining bad religion. More generally, if you cannot cooperate with other decent people, the problem is not with the other people.

(Thanks to PZ Myers at Pharyngula for the tip.)

Jeff Sharlet writes at The Revealer about Philip Yancey’s piece from Christianity Today on “The Lure of Theocracy.” Yancey asks his fellow Christians “Will we turn toward our own version of the harsh fundamentalism sweeping Islam today?” I am glad that Yancey recognizes the “potential for moral coercion” in theocracy, but he apparently does not realize that some of his co-religionists (Dominionists and Reconstructionists in particular) dance around the subjects of executing gays, disobedient children, and believers in “foreign gods” because they realize that such barbarity—despite its biblical provenance—is simply unacceptable in a liberal democracy. As Sharlet writes:

For too long, the [evangelical] movement and its secular apologists have so vigorously fought against caricature by the know-nothing contingent within liberalism that they've turned a blind eye to overwhelming evidence of the growing enthusiasm for faith-as-muscle within the movement.

After a brief exchange with Ann Coulter (transcribed here) about her tardiness, host Adam Carolla told her to “get lost” and hung up on her. He then remarked to his audience (MP3 here):

“Listen, you bitch, don’t call in an hour and a half late and tell me you’re tight on time. Of course you’re tight on time, you’re an hour and a half goddamn late calling in to a radio show. Just take your crappy book and go pitch it to your stupid cable outlets.”

Steve Paulson interviews The End of Faith author Sam Harris at Salon. Harris has some harsh words in reference to the “diabolical books” of the Pentateuch, and about how Augustine “laid the foundations for the Inquisition.” When Paulson suggests that we should “stop reading sacred scriptures literally,” Harris replies, in part, that:

the fundamentalist is always on firmer ground theologically and -- I would argue -- intellectually than the moderate or the progressive. When you consult the books, you do not find more reasons to be a moderate or a liberal. You find more reasons to be a fundamentalist. I agree, it is a good thing to be cherry-picking these books and ignoring the bad parts. But we should have a 21st century conversation about morality and spiritual experience and public policy that is not constrained by superstition and taboo. In order to see how preposterous our situation really is, you need only imagine what our world would be like if we had people believing in the literal existence of Zeus. I defy anyone to come forward with the evidence that puts the Biblical God or the Quranic God on fundamentally different footing than the gods of Mt. Olympus. There are historical reasons why Zeus is no longer worshiped and the God of Abraham is. But there are not sound epistemological or philosophical or empirical reasons. [emphasis added]

(Thanks to The Revealer for the tip.)

Rob Boston has posted a useful list of the “Top 10 Power Brokers of the Religious Right” at AlterNet, based on their financial might and political clout. Boston lists the usual suspects, along with the bogeymen (such as “secular humanism” and the “radical homosexual agenda”) that sustain their fear-based fundraising. The list is adequate, but it could have been far more extensive.

The Washington Post has an article about the Right’s legal strategies to intrude upon private end-of-life decisions, protect Boy Scout bigotry, and restrict stem cell research through their legal arm, the Alliance Defense Fund. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, comments that:

"They're not for some form of generic religious freedom. They're for Christian superiority, that Christians take over the courts. […] They are living in this fantasy world where the majority religion, Christianity, is claimed to be literally under attack."

Gary S. McCaleb, who directs the ADF's litigation team, imagines a "clear hostility to Christian thought" that allegedly impairs "the fundamental ability of Christians to speak their minds on the issues of the day." Jeremy Gunn, director of the ACLU's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief notes that falsity of this paranoid mentality:

"There's no mugging of their free speech. […] They talk about freedom and liberty. What they really want is the government to endorse their version."

(Thanks to NoGodBlog for the tip.)

Jan Frel at AlterNet interviewed Benjamin Ferencz, a former chief prosecutor at Nuremberg, and asked the question, “Could Bush Be Prosecuted for War Crimes?” Ferencz referred to Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq as a "clear breach of law,” and commented that a "prima facie case can be made that the United States is guilty of the supreme crime against humanity, that being an illegal war of aggression against a sovereign nation."

Mike Ferner, a Navy corpsman, was arrested at a VA medical center. His crime: wearing a “Veterans for Peace” t-shirt. (The whole story is here.)

After informing me I could either pay the $275 fine on the citation or appear in court, Ousley escorted me off the premises, warning me if I returned with "that shirt" on, I’d be arrested and booked into jail.

I’m sure I could go back to officers Adkins’ and Ousleys’ fiefdom with a shirt that said, "Nuke all the hajis," or "Show us your tits," or any number of truly obscene things and no one would care. Just so it’s not "that shirt" again.

And just for the record? I’m not paying the fine. I’ll see Adkins and Ousley and Dubya’s Director of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, if he wants to show up, in United States District Court on the appointed date.

After musing about filing a lawsuit, Ferner observes that “This kind of behavior can’t be tolerated. It must be challenged.” He’s right, but that’s life in Dubya’s America. Free speech has a price.

(Thanks to Crooks and Liars for the tip.)

TPM Muckraker has a piece on the process of finding Ann Coulter’s plagiarism from her columns and her latest book: the investigator commented that “if I never read Ann Coulter again, it will be too soon.”

My sentiments exactly.

As MediaMatters observed, Coulter’s response to the New York Post article publicizing her plagiarism—which she called “constant harassment” was an evasive “I have sold a LOT of books -- more books, come to think of it, than any writers at the New York Post.” Ann, the issue isn’t how many books were sold with your name on the cover; the issue is how many words you stole from other writers and passed off as your own.

As always, her ability to excuse bad behavior stops with herself. MediaMatters notes her willingness to criticize others for the same offenses (“phony reporting, plagiarism, irresponsibility and fantastic lies”) that she commits with reckless irresponsibility.

It is disappointing that she couldn’t be bothered to plagiarize any scientific writings; doing so could have saved her from an incessant stream of embarrassing errors about elementary biology. (PZ Myers writes at Pharyngula about her “poor to nonexistent scholarship.”) Of course, plagiarizing scientific facts would have undercut her already-weak thesis that liberals are incapable of looking at the evidence and mounting a fact-based argument. Aren’t her fifteen minutes up yet?

This New Yorker article on Patrick Henry college, although a year old, is still worth reading. (I mentioned the college here and here back in May.)

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

Check out the latest Murray Waas article in the National Journal. Bush admitted to the special prosecutor in the Plamegate case that he:

directed Cheney…to disclose highly classified intelligence information that would not only defend his administration but also discredit Wilson

At least he didn’t lie about an extramarital affair; THEN the Republicans would demand impeachment!

Rob Hood’s piece at Conservative Voice listing “nine key things that conservatives and Christians believe” is one of the silliest pieces of nonsense I’ve read in quite a while. He calls evolution “anti-God junk science,” believes that abstinence-based education “WORKS,” and then writes this gem:

Diversity and tolerance are good things so long as they are not taken advantage of like the left do all the time. […] The tolerance and diversity that left wing groups want us to have is known as sin and cannot be tolerated - ever!

This is one of the Right’s pet tricks: state agreement with a core principle of liberal democracy—such as civil tolerance—and then create an arbitrary exception to it. A conservative can state that tolerance is a “good thing” and simply call whatever he doesn’t like “sin” to negate the need to actually practice tolerance. Thus, his tolerance and intolerance never come into conflict. (In this respect, it’s like their “obscenity” exception to free speech and their branding of all dissent as “treason.”)

I do agree with Hood on one point, where he writes: “The best things that can be done at this point is for all conservative public school teachers to get up and leave the classrooms.” GO back home, instruct your own children in whatever non-historical and non-scientific tales you wish, and then complain that the next generation doesn’t know how to function in the real world. That will teach us proponents of liberal education a lesson! Later in the piece, Hood has an even better suggestion: “Perhaps having your children watch Fox News and Hannity will ensure that conservatives and normalality will not go extinct.”

He then instructs his fellow conservatives that “all you have to do is tell them [liberals] nine key things that conservatives and Christians believe and they will lose their mind.” How right you are! Despite living in a majority Christian society, in which conservative voices dominate the media, we liberals (most of whom are Christian) had no idea what Christians and conservatives believe Now that I’ve read his list—filled with multiple errors, half-truths, and distortions—I have indeed lost my mind.

(Thanks to PZ Myers at Pharyngula for the tip.)

This New York Post article lists Coulter’s plagiarism in her most recent book, Godless. John Barrie, who created the iThenticate plagiarism-recognition system, discovered at least three cases of “textbook plagiarism” in Coulter’s latest book; he also found other instances from her columns. James Wolcott slams both Coulter and her mainstream media enablers here.

She's swiping other people's work not because she's trying to slip something past us but because she's sloppy, lazy, and arrogant. She just doesn't give a fuck. She's learned that the rules of journalism and public discourse don't apply to her, having cheerfully violated them so many times before only to be rewarded with the cover of Time, countless cable-news appearances, and bestselling success. Pisspoor Media will quote her sliming hyperbole no matter how much of a subliterary parasite she is revealed to be. She knows this. Her shampoo with its special conditioning agents knows this. Her spot in the green room is secure.

If we are stuck with her, the least we can do is not lend her credibility by pretending she's anything other than a freak attraction.

According to Bloomberg, the NSA and AT&T were in bed together seven months before 9/11. John at AmericaBlog observed that:

This is important because, if true, it negates Bush's entire argument that the spying was needed to fight the war on terror. There was no war on terror before September 11, so why did Bush reportedly decide to start the process enabling him to illegally spy on Americans?

Over at HuffPo, Michelle Goldberg asks the question, "What's Wrong with Barack Obama?" She discusses his address last Wednesday about religion and the Democratic Party, noting that:

The right has successfully convinced much of the country that the Democratic Party is hostile to people of faith, and speeches that work to counter that myth are valuable. Unfortunately, Obama's rhetoric ends up reinforcing Republic myths about liberal Godlessness instead of challenging them.

She debunks several of the Right's myths about the Pledge and the "war" on Christmas, and says this about the school prayer issue:

...when schools have stopped kids from engaging in religious speech -- say, in handing out religious tracts at lunch -- the ACLU has stepped in to defend them, and they've been correct to do so. Liberalism, at its best, stands for free speech, even when that speech is annoying.

[...]

The argument is not whether religion can do good things in people's lives. It's whether the government should fund religion. [...] The relevant debate is about government-financed religious discrimination. The rest is just a smokescreen to make it seem like defenders of the First Amendment are the ones on the offensive.

Of course, that rhetorical misdirection is the whole point of the "persecuted Christian" myth: to cast the aggressive majority as being under siege from a fanciful "secular humanist elite." As an atheist--but far from a member of any elite--I found little to complain about in Obama's speech. He notes the "gap" in party affiliation based on regular church attendance, and observes that

Conservative leaders have been all too happy to exploit this gap, consistently reminding evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their Church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage; school prayer and intelligent design.

Democrats, for the most part, have taken the bait.

Letting the Right frame the debate is as losing a proposition for church/state issues as it in every other area of concern. As an atheist, I nonetheless agree with Obama that "as progressives, we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse:"

Because when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations towards one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome - others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.

In other words, if we don't reach out to evangelical Christians and other religious Americans and tell them what we stand for, then the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons and Alan Keyeses will continue to hold sway.

Obama sidesteps the "moral values" minefield and notes that it is not only progressives who need to modify their political rhetoric. He notes three truths that conservative leaders need to acknowledge:

For one, they need to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice. [...]

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. [...]

Finally, any reconciliation between faith and democratic pluralism requires some sense of proportion. [...] Even those who claim the Bible's inerrancy make distinctions between Scriptural edicts, sensing that some passages - the Ten Commandments, say, or a belief in Christ's divinity - are central to Christian faith, while others are more culturally specific and may be modified to accommodate modern life.

He closed his speech with an anecdote about altering the phrasing of his pro-choice position due to a religious constituent's request for "fair-minded words" when discussing abortion rights. As an atheist, I agree with that as well. It may be personally satisfying to tweak the Christianists' tender sensibilities--a satisfaction I have succumbed to on occasion--but we need not offend fair-minded religious moderates in the process.

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