October 2006 Archives

Does everyone remember the GOP’s “Contract with America” from their 1994 takeover of Congress? You know, the one where they proposed to “restore the bonds of trust between the people and their elected representatives” and promised to bring about “the end of government that is too big, too intrusive, and too easy with the public's money.” The best part was when they pledged:

To restore accountability to Congress. To end its cycle of scandal and disgrace. To make us all proud again of the way free people govern themselves.

In 1994, the GOP opposed corruption; in 2006, they epitomize it.

Throw them all out.

(Thanks to John Amato at Crooks and Liars for the reminder.)

This letter appeared in my local newspaper this morning:

Why only outrage when Christians pray in public?

I've waited patiently now for a few days for the "outrage" to show up in the opinion pages regarding the recent front-page article showing a Muslim student exercising his right to pray on school property during Ramadan. The silence is deafening.

Where is the ACLU now? Where is the outrage by Christian-bashing families and atheists? If that were a Christian student reading the Bible on their own time at lunch hour in the cafeteria, the ACLU would have been filing lawsuits faster than we could say what happened. We'd also be hearing from atheists and anti-Christians about the indoctrination of their children, and how they are outraged that this unconstitutional act was allowed to take place on school property.

The silence is deafening, and their hypocrisy knows no bounds. The student shown was perfectly within his right to pray, just as any other child, including Christians, would be within their right to do the same. The Constitution protects all people of all faiths, all of the time, and in all places, no exceptions.

[name and address redacted]

My response follows:

ACLU: defending everyone’s civil rights

For the past several decades, it has been obvious that many Christian conservatives are far more comfortable denouncing false caricatures of liberalism and atheism than they are critically engaging actual liberals and real-life atheists. A recent letter writer serves as a case in point, complaining about the lack of reaction to a Muslim praying in school while setting up a series of straw men to distort his opponents’ principles.

I am proud to be a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union: not because the organization shares my atheism, but because it protects freedom of conscience for everyone. The ACLU, often viciously maligned by the Right, has filed and joined numerous suits to defend religions that few people practice and political positions that even fewer espouse. Like other liberals, I recognize the moral necessity of protecting the liberty of others to believe and practice as they choose; would that more conservatives felt the same.

Despite conservatives’ grotesque misrepresentation of the ACLU as anti-religious, the actual history of the ACLU shows their consistent defense of religious liberty. With help from the ACLU, public school students are free to: give religious performances at school talent shows, wear religious clothing, write religious yearbook entries, hand out candy canes with religious messages, and distribute religious literature at school. The ACLU, of course, defends religious expression outside the schoolhouse doors as well as the other freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights.

Although I cannot speak for either all atheists or all members of the ACLU, I know of no objections to anyone’s individual and uncompelled prayer. The problem with school prayer as practiced decades ago is that it involved coercion of minors. The state’s imprimatur belongs on no one’s prayer or religious practice; the First Amendment guarantees the separation of church and state in order to prevent the commingling of politics and piety.

Regarding public prayer, many Christians seem to be as poorly versed in their own Bible as they are in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. I would like to hear a defense of the Pharisaical practice of ostentatious public prayer—the crux of the school prayer controversy—from a Christian who is familiar with this passage from Matthew:

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

Atheists and the ACLU have been silent about the referenced Muslim praying in school because there is neither a violation of civil rights nor a restriction of religious freedom. There is also no hypocrisy, except on the part of those who expect special privileges for their own beliefs while disparaging those of others.


update
This letter was published on 10 November. The follow-up piece is here.

amazon.com

Ginsberg, Allen. Howl: Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript & Variant Versions, Fully Annotated by Author, with Contemporaneous Correspondence, Account of First Public Reading, Legal Skirmishes, Precursor Texts & Bibliography (Barry Miles, editor) (New York: Harper Perennial, 1995)

Barry Miles has done an excellent job with "Howl," a legendary poem now celebrating its golden anniversary. This large 9"x11" edition contains facsimile drafts, variants, annotations, and affords valuable insight into the editing and revision process (Ginsberg wrote up to eighteen drafts, depending on the section). The appendices (which, particularly the "Author's Annotations," could easily have been much lengthier) were also quite useful. Ginsberg quoted these lines from Whitman's "Song of Myself" as Howl's epigraph:

"Unscrew the lock from the doors ! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs !"

This is particularly appropriate, as "Howl" was prefigured a century earlier by Walt Whitman's odes to onanism and veiled references to homosexuality. Whitman wrote explicitly about masturbation--"The pulse pounding through palms and trembling encircling fingers" and the "limpid liquid" that he "toss[ed] carelessly to fall where it may" ("Spontaneous Me")--but was more guarded about his partners. In a poem set in New Orleans ("Once I Pass'd through a Populous City"), Whitman switched pronouns from the original manuscript in order to hide the gender of his (male) lover:

"Once I pass'd through a populous city imprinting my brain for future use with its shows, architecture, customs, tradition,
Yet now of all that city I remember only a man I casualy met there who detained me for love of me,
Day by day and night by night we were together -- all else has long been forgotten by me,
I remember I saw only that man who passionately clung to me,
Again we wander, we love, we separate again,
Again he holds me by the hand, I must not go,
I see him close beside me with silent lips sad and tremulous."

Where Whitman was circumspect, Ginsberg's "Howl" was celebratory: he boldly described his compatriots in terms of their ecstatic experiences:

"who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,
who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Carribean love,
who balled in the morning in the evening in rosegardens and the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their semen freely to whoever come who may"

As transgressively incendiary as the published version of "Howl" was in the repressed milieu of the 1950s, the first draft would have caused an ever larger imbroglio if it had been left unrevised. This section of the original draft of Part IV (pp. 98-9) is especially daring for its era:

Holy the lovers! Holy the fucking! Holy the Quers [sic] Holy Cocksucking.

[...]

Holy the rumblings in my gut! Holy the shit in my toilet!
Holy the come on the tip of my cock! Holy the Cock in my mouth
Holy the Cock in my asshole Holy the Cock in between my legs

In "Howl," Ginsberg sang a twentieth-century song of himself that is as celebrated as Whitman's Leaves of Grass was in the previous century. Read it and be mesmerized!

George Lakoff writes at HuffPo about how Bush is “Staying the Course Right Over a Cliff:”

"Stay the course" was for years a trap for those who disagreed with the president's policies in Iraq. To disagree was weak and immoral. It meant abandoning the fight against evil. But now the president himself is caught in that trap. To keep staying the course, given obvious reality, is to get deeper into disaster in Iraq, while not staying the course is to abandon one's moral authority as a conservative. Either way, the president loses.

Joshua Holland writes “Why Republicans Are Running from Bush At Election Time” at AlterNet about the “so-called principled conservatives—Bartlerr, Viguerie, Scarborough, et al—deserting the sinking Bushevik ship.

These "rebels" are enjoying a symbiotic relationship with the national media; writers love the intra-party feud -- usually the stuff of Democratic politics -- and the rogue conservatives get to brandish their "principles" and portray themselves as tip-toeing above the gutter of petty partisan politics in which the rest of us wallow.

But make no mistake: Underlying their dissent lies a massive deceit. Read between the lines, and you'll find that what really motivates them is a desperate attempt to save modern "conservatism" itself from going down with this administration.

[…]

Those "principled" conservatives don't hate Bush for his spending, they hate him because he is them -- the only kind of conservative who can win an election, a Republican peddling big government and low taxes without blinking. And if Americans get a clue that modern conservatism is nothing but a bunch of economic lies gilded with some bogus "family values" and softened with a bit of morphine for the terror junkies, he can bring the whole fetid house of cards down with him.

amazon.com

Eno, Brian, et al. Not One More Death (New York: Verso, 2006)

I can think of two good reasons to buy this little anti-war book:

1) All royalties go to the Stop the War coalition, and

2) You may never find Brian Eno, Richard Dawkins, and John le Carre between the same covers ever again.

Not One More Death won't change the world--or even your mind, most likely--but the writers have made an effort in the right direction. Here's my Quote of the Day:

We writers operate on the assumption that language matters. And then we're endlessly slapped in the face wit evidence that it doesn't. Actions speak louder. And violent actions speak loudest of all. (p. 63, Michael Faber, "Dreams in the Dumpster, Language Down the Drain")

DefCon has news of the NJ Supreme Court decision to afford same-sex couples “on equal terms the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples under the civil marriage statutes.” All in all, it’s a sad commentary that even a move forward to some sort of civil unions—the most likely legislative remedy—still leaves same-sex couples in a back-of-the-bus second-class citizenship with respect to their intimate relationships.

Glenn Greenwald dashes the GOP’s hopes for the pro-marriage ruling to become an “October Surprise” in the upcoming election:

It's possible that Republicans will attempt to seize on this ruling and try to exploit it for political gain. Less than two weeks before an election in which every poll shows them trailing, Republicans are presumably eager to find an issue with which to change the subject from the debacle in Iraq and pervasive corruption within their party.

He then decries conservative commentators’ ignorance of constitutional law:

It should surprise nobody that armies of "conservatives" have become overnight experts in New Jersey Constitutional law… […] But in issuing these condemnations, none of them mentions a single provision of the New Jersey State Constitution or any precedent applying it that supports their righteous conviction that the decision was legally erroneous; they just know intuitively, deep in their soul, that it is.

[…]

…it is always so ironic -- and more than a little contempt-inspiring -- when people who proclaim to oppose "judicial activism" condemn a judicial decision based not on what the relevant constitutional law requires, but instead based on their personal opinion of the policy outcomes (or based on some informal "belief" about what courts should and shouldn't be "involved in," independent of what the Constitution requires). Such individuals are engaged in the very crux of the crime of judicial activism which they claim to despise (that is, deciding legal questions based not on law and precedent but on their own personal preferences).

Rush Limbaugh’s slander that Michael J. Fox “[e]ither…didn't take his medication or he's acting” during a pro-stem-cell political ad is nothing short of disgraceful. So was the non-apologetic apology where Rush said:

I stand by what I said. I take back none of what I said. I wouldn’t rephrase it any differently. It is what I believe; it is what I think. It is what I have found to be true.

How, exactly, does one find something to be true that is a baseless accusation directly contradicted by the facts? How does the MSM spin this into an apology? Fox fired back at Limbaugh on CBS Evening News:

KC: In fact, Rush Limbaugh suggested you had failed to take your medication intentionally so when you did that ad you’d be more symptomatic and therefore, more sympathetic.

MF: The irony of it is, I was too medicated …The thing about being symptomatic is it’s not comfortable. Nobody wants to be symptomatic. It’s like you want to hit yourself with a hammer, you know, you want at all times to be as comfortable as you can be. And at this point now, if I didn’t take medication I wouldn't be able to speak. I’d have a mask face and I wouldn’t be able to speak and I'd lock up and freeze and not be able to move. So there's no time I'm not medicated. [emphasis added]

Rush should stick to what he knows best: ridiculing teenage girls, popping pills, getting divorced, and taking sex tourist vacations. Michael J. Fox is out of his league.

Hugh Hewitt slams Andrew Sullivan—and his new book, The Conservative Soul—at TownHall:

That Andrew Sullivan is read at all is a symptom of a fundamentally unserious country in a deadly serious age.

I would invert that statement, saying:

That Andrew Sullivan is not read far more than the pompous and pathetic talkshow gasbags—from Limbaugh and Savage to O’Reilly and Coulter— is a symptom of a intellectually incurious country in an age that cries out for intelligence and erudition.

Hewitt is another case in point, as his screed demonstrates.


update (10/27 @ 11:35am):
Sullivan responds to Hewitt’s “interview” of him, and the transcript that Hewitt posted. As a debate, which it more closely resembled than an interview, Sullivan is clearly the victor. Read it and decide for yourself.

It’s about time that the Democrats go on offense regarding Bush’s predilection to “staying the course” in Iraq; YouTube has the video.

Gary Wolf's "The Church of the Non-Believers" in Wired consists of sketches of the modern atheist triumvirate: Richard “God Delusion” Dawkins, Sam “End of Faith” Harris, and Daniel “Breaking the Spell” Dennett. Wolf castigates some atheists for their “prophetic attack on prophecy” and “extremism in opposition to extremism,” but doesn’t back up his rhetoric.

Wolf contends that the "New Atheists,” as he calls them, “condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God. Religion is not only wrong; it's evil. Now that the battle has been joined, there's no excuse for shirking.” Near the end of the piece, Wolf asks himself:

“Were I to declare myself an atheist, what would this mean? Would my life have to change? Would it become my moral obligation to be uncompromising toward fence-sitting friends? That person at dinner, pissing people off with his arrogance, his disrespect, his intellectual scorn -- would that be me?”

I suppose that depends on whether Wolf considers popularity or honesty more important. Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett have made their choice, as have many others of us. May Wolf find the courage to do the same.

Richard Dawkins, author of the bestseller The God Delusion, writes in "Why There Almost Certainly Is No God" that "Scientists, and intellectuals generally, are now waking up to the threat from the American Taliban:"

Scientists divide into two schools of thought over the best tactics with which to face the threat. The Neville Chamberlain 'appeasement' school focuses on the battle for evolution. Consequently, its members identify fundamentalism as the enemy, and they bend over backwards to appease 'moderate' or 'sensible' religion (not a difficult task, for bishops and theologians despise fundamentalists as much as scientists do). Scientists of the Winston Churchill school, by contrast, see the fight for evolution as only one battle in a larger war: a looming war between supernaturalism on the one side and rationality on the other. [emphasis added]

After discussing Einstein, Aquinas, and Darwin, Dawkins concludes:

Not only is the god hypothesis unnecessary. It is spectacularly unparsimonious. Not only do we need no God to explain the universe and life. God stands out in the universe as the most glaring of all superfluous sore thumbs. We cannot, of course, disprove God, just as we can't disprove Thor, fairies, leprechauns and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But, like those other fantasies that we can't disprove, we can say that God is very very improbable.

"stay the course"

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Bush lied again, claiming that his Iraq policy has “never been” one of “stay the course.” Billmon shows at Whiskey Bar why, as usual, Dubya is full of shit: he lists eighteen separate instances where Bush himself used the phrase “stay the course” in reference to occupation of Iraq.

update (10/24 @ 10:39am)
Here is a great YouTube clip putting the audio and video of Bush’s own recitations of “stay the course.” (Thanks to DU for the tip.)

update 2 (10/24 @ 11:05pm):
Tony Snow claimed that Bush only used the phrase “stay the course” eight times, but ThinkProgress has documented thirty instances.

amazon.com

Lakoff, George. Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006)

In a culture full of slogans and soundbites, how does a cognitive linguist like Lakoff differentiate his "thinking points" from the ubiquitous "talking points?"

Thinking points are the opposite of talking points, the opposite of slogans to parrot, funny bumper stickers, T-shirt mottos, and ad copy. Nothing wrong with them, but that is not what this handbook is about. (p. 151, Epilogue)

As in his previous works Moral Politics and Don't Think of an Elephant, Lakoff's "strict father" model is essentially a polite way of recognizing the authoritarian strain in modern conservatism. He writes that "Conservatives have worked hard to redefine our words--that is, change the frame associated with a word so that it fits the conservative worldview" and notes that:

In so doing, they have changed the meaning of some of our most important concepts [liberal, patriotism, rule of law, national security, family values, and life] and have stolen our language. (pp. 43-4)

Lakoff's work is substantive, not merely stylistic; he endeavors to change how we think about issues rather than simply which slogans we use to describe them. Such a task is somewhat beyond the reach of this important-but-concise book. In trying to replicate the success of the eminently readable Elephant, Lakoff's sketched-out ideas omit a few details that would have helped to make his points even more forcefully. For example, he missed an opportunity in this passage contrasting conservatives and liberals

Conservatives: [...] Courts have gone too far in letting criminals go free on "technicalities." [...] Liberals: [...] ...police and judges must respect the constitutional rights of all citizens. (p. 45)

to use these words from the great Justice William Brennan:

"Honestly, you in the media ought to be ashamed of yourselves to call the provisions and the guarantees of the Bill of Rights `technicalities.' They're not. They're very basic to our very existence as the kind of society we are. We are what we are because we have those guarantees, and this Court exists to see that those guarantees are faithfully enforced. They are not technicalities!" ("Profiles: The Constitutionalist," The New Yorker, 12 March 1990, p. 65)

Lakoff missed another easy opportunity with this passage

Reagan repeated the "welfare queen" example so often that this unusual, indeed unique, example was taken as typical. (p. 128)

to point out that Reagan's "welfare queen" was not an "example," but a political myth created to demonize welfare recipients. As noted at DailyKos:

The "Chicago Welfare Queen" got a lot of play during the 1976 Republican primary. Sometimes she had 12 names and 30 Social Security numbers, sometimes she was also an unwed mother on AFDC. Candidate Reagan never bothered to point out to his shocked small-town audiences that his story was largely allegation and rumor. The woman in question, Linda Taylor, had been officially charged with using 4 aliases - not 80 - and fraudulent collection of $8000--not $150,000. She had not, at the time of Reagan's statements, been convicted of anything.

Also, Lakoff's use of "sexual preference" (p. 56) rather than "sexual orientation" plays into the Right's frame of LGBT citizens making an incorrect/unnatural/sinful choice rather than simply accepting their innate sexuality; he should know better.

Despite these minor flaws, Lakoff has launched another powerful salvo in the liberal/progressive struggle to defend America in this important election year. May his words find their targets with both accuracy and effect.

Matt Taibbi’s latest Rolling Stone article, “The Worst Congress Ever,” eviscerates the GOP-dominated Congress:

These past six years were more than just the most shameful, corrupt and incompetent period in the history of the American legislative branch. These were the years when the U.S. parliament became a historical punch line, a political obscenity on par with the court of Nero or Caligula -- a stable of thieves and perverts who committed crimes rolling out of bed in the morning and did their very best to turn the mighty American empire into a debt-laden, despotic backwater, a Burkina Faso with cable.

[…]

The Republicans who control this Congress are revolutionaries, and they have brought their revolutionary vision for the House and Senate quite unpleasantly to fruition. In the past six years they have castrated the political minority, abdicated their oversight responsibilities mandated by the Constitution, enacted a conscious policy of massive borrowing and unrestrained spending, and installed a host of semipermanent mechanisms for transferring legislative power to commercial interests. They aimed far lower than any other Congress has ever aimed, and they nailed their target.

FDR on liberalism

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I have been thinking lately about this quote from FDR, which I found under the entry for “liberal” in William Safire’s New Political Dictionary: (p. 407)

"…say that civilization is a tree which, as it grows, continually produces rot and dead wood. The radical says: 'Cut it down.' The conservative says: 'Don't touch it.' The liberal compromises: 'Let's prune, so that we lose neither the old trunk nor the new branches.' "

FDR’s three-point scale (conservatives, liberals, and radicals) should perhaps become a five-point model, adding reactionaries on the far right end, moderates in the middle, and moving liberals toward the left. In trying to source this quote, I came upon these words from FDR’s Radio Address to the New York Herald Tribune Forum (26 October 1939), courtesy of the American Presidency Project:

I am reminded of four definitions:

A Radical is a man with both feet firmly planted— in the air.

A Conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward.

A Reactionary is a somnambulist walking backwards.

A Liberal is a man who uses his legs and his hands at the behest—at the command—of his head.

Conservatives have pretended that all liberals are radicals, with the aid of outdated sixties-era metaphors, to exaggerate their placement on the political spectrum. Liberals likewise rhetorically proclaim conservatives to be reactionary theocrats, as in the Religious Right. Political opponents may never agree on categorization, but they should at least consider a common conceptual framework.

Bruce Ackerman and Todd Gitlin’s “We Answer to the Name of Liberals” from The American Prospect is a manifesto of sorts for modern liberals. They note the administration’s “denial of reality,” its “contempt for science,” and observe that “When challenged, it responds with lies and distortions.” As much as I enjoy trenchant criticism of Bush, there is too high a proportion of it in a manifesto that purports to be about liberalism. The conclusion, however, is redemptive:

We love this country. But true patriotism does not consist of bravado or calumny. It resides in faithfulness to our great constitutional ideals. We are a republic, not a monarchy. We believe in the rule of law, not secret prisons. We insist on justice for all, not privilege for the few. In repudiating these American ideals, the Bush administration disgraces America and damages our claim to democratic leadership in the larger world.

It will take hard work to undo this damage. It will take more than defeating the hard-line right at the polls. We must engage in large acts of political imagination and inspire a new generation to take up liberal principles and adapt them inventively in a new century.

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

It is according to their ad in the Washington Post earlier this week. Who else fights as reliably to conserve both “our most precious liberties” and “the system of checks and balances” if not the ACLU?

Olbermann on Bush

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Keith Olbermann commented that the Bush administration has led us to “the beginning of the end of America” and blamed it on 9/11. He also has a question for Dubya that the Preznit can’t answer:

…did it ever occur to you once that in just 27 months and two days from now when you leave office, some irresponsible future president and a “competent tribunal” of lackeys would be entitled, by the actions of your own hand, to declare the status of “unlawful enemy combatant” for -- and convene a Military Commission to try -- not John Walker Lindh, but George Walker Bush?

YouTube has the video. Bravo, Mr. Olbermann!

Like all great satire, this piece from The Onion on “Christian Right Lobbies To Overturn Second Law Of Thermodynamics” is almost too close to reality for comfort:

“This is America…[a]nd in this country, we have the God-given right to change laws we don't think are Christian. We are united in our demands that the second law of thermodynamics be repealed, and our voice will be heard no matter what. That's just a plain fact, and nothing anybody says can ever change it."

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

I received this bit of “humor” via email today, a mere three-and-a-half years after the Busheviks began their Francophobic “freedom fries” bullshit, because the French wouldn’t give in to our Prevaricator-in-Chief’s fear-mongering about Iraq:

France

"France has neither winter nor summer nor morals. Apart from these drawbacks it is a fine country. France has usually been governed by prostitutes."
--Mark Twain

"I would rather have a German division in front of me than a French one behind me."
--General George S. Patton

"Going to war without France is like going deer hunting without your accordion."
--General Norman Schwartzkopf

"We can stand here like the French, or we can do something about it."
--Marge Simpson

"As far as I'm concerned, war always means failure."
--Jacques Chirac, President of France
"As far as France is concerned, you're right."
--Rush Limbaugh

"The only time France wants us to go to war is when the German Army is sitting in Paris sipping coffee."
--Regis Philbin

"The last time the French asked for 'more proof' it came marching into Paris under a German flag."
--David Letterman

"War without France would be like .. World War II."
--Unknown

"What do you expect from a culture and a nation that exerted more of its national will fighting against Disney World and Big Macs than the Nazis?"
--Dennis Miller

"It is important to remember that the French have always been there when they needed us."
--Alan Kent

"They've taken their own precautions against al-Qa'ida. To prepare for an attack, each Frenchman is urged to keep duct tape, a white flag, and a three-day supply of mistresses in the house."
--Argus Hamilton

"Somebody was telling me about the French Army rifle that was being advertised on eBay the other day --the description was, 'Never shot. Dropped once.'"
--Rep. Roy Blunt, MO

"The French will only agree to go to war when we've proven we've found truffles in Iraq "
--Dennis Miller

"Do you know how many Frenchmen it takes to defend Paris? It's not known, it's never been tried."
--Rep. R. Blount, MO

" Do you know it only took Germany three days to conquer France in WWII? And that's because it was raining."
--John Xereas, Manager, DC Improv

The AP and UPI reported that the French Government announced after the London bombings that it has raised its terror alert level from Run to Hide. The only two higher levels in France are Surrender and Collaborate. The rise in the alert level was precipitated by a recent fire which destroyed France 's white flag factory, effectively disabling
their military.

French Ban Fireworks at Euro Disney
(AP), Paris, March 5, 2003
The French Government announced today that it is imposing a ban on the use of fireworks at Euro Disney. The decision comes the day after a nightly fireworks display at the park, located just 30 miles outside of Paris, caused the soldiers at a nearby French Army garrison to surrender to a group of Czech tourists

Rather than fact-checking the “jokes,” I decided to reply with a few words from this Molly Ivins column:

One million, four hundred thousand French soldiers were killed during World War I. As a result, there weren't many Frenchmen left to fight in World War II. Nevertheless, 100,000 French soldiers lost their lives trying to stop Hitler. […] They were out-manned, out-gunned, out-generaled and, above all, out-tanked. They got slaughtered, but they stood and they fought. Ha-ha, how funny. In the few places where they had tanks, they held splendidly.

Relying on the Maginot Line was one of the great military follies of modern history, but it does not reflect on the courage of those who died for France in 1940. For eighteen months after that execrable defeat, the United States of America continued to have cordial diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany.

For a broader historical perspective, check out Gary Brecher’s article “The French.” Then try making ignorant cracks about “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.”

French courage appears to be more reliable than American knowledge of history.

the right-wing man

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In the latest issue of TNR, Peter Beinart's editorial "The Right Man" destroys the conventional wisdom (Bartlett, Buckley, Will, Viguerie, and Sullivan) that this administration's failures are due to Bush's personality rather than his conservative ideology. Beinart contrasts Bush with Reagan, noting that:

If conservatives were so angry with Reagan at the time, why do they worship him now? It's simple: Because his policies seemed to work.

And that's precisely why they are so scornful of Bush today. Think about it. Bush's second term has actually proved more conservative than his first. Since January 2005, he has nominated John Roberts and Samuel Alito, fought to privatize Social Security, and signed the two leanest budgets of his presidency--budgets in which domestic discretionary spending actually drops (when adjusted for inflation). And yet conservatives--who turned out for him in historic numbers just two years ago--now can't stand the guy.

Conservatives aren't turning on Bush because his policies aren't conservative. They are turning on him because his policies, from Iraq to Hurricane Katrina, have dramatically failed--and failed policies, by definition, cannot be conservative.

An even better summation of Beinart's argument comes from the pen of Jon Chait a few pages later, in "Rummyache:"

To be a loyal conservative during the last half-dozen years, you had to convince yourself to accept a series of propositions that ran the gamut from somewhat implausible to completely absurd. As those propositions collapse, one by one, conservatives are reacting much the same way as communists did following the fall of the Berlin Wall. There are the frantic efforts to rescue conservative orthodoxy by defining the party's leaders as apostates who deviated from the true faith. And there are the dazed true believers coming to grips with certain realities--Katherine Harris is a not a paragon of wisdom and fair-mindedness, after all; the administration's fiscal policies may not be completely sound; President Bush is not quite the visionary war leader we made him out to be; and so on. Only by revisiting the conservative propaganda in light of history's verdict can we see how delusional the movement had become. [emphasis added]

Glenn Greenwald’s review of Tom Tomorrow’s Hell in a Handbasket is stellar. More people should be aware of this wonderful cartoon, and a plug from a best-selling author can only help.

Time’s latest cover story, “The End of a Revolution,” observes that:

…after controlling both houses of Congress and the White House for most of Bush's six years in office, the party has a governing record that has come unmoored from those Grand Old Party ideals. The exquisite political machinery that aces the elections has begun to betray the platform. […] G.O.P. leaders are so desperate to find someone else to blame that they have been reduced--with no indication that they see the irony--to blaming a vast left-wing conspiracy.

The SCLM didn’t cause GOP corruption, but it can help to clean it up.

This article in Sunday’s New York Times should give pause to the “persecution complex” Christians in this country. Far from being discriminated against in a “war on religion,” religious people in the US—particularly Christians—are routinely subsidized in ways great and small. (How theists can claim persecution while cashing in is something I cannot understand.)

An analysis by The New York Times of laws passed since 1989 shows that more than 200 special arrangements, protections or exemptions for religious groups or their adherents were tucked into Congressional legislation, covering topics ranging from pensions to immigration to land use. New breaks have also been provided by a host of pivotal court decisions at the state and federal level, and by numerous rule changes in almost every department and agency of the executive branch.

[…]

These organizations and their leaders still rely on public services — police and fire protection, street lights and storm drains, highway and bridge maintenance, food and drug inspections, national defense. But their tax exemptions shift the cost of providing those benefits onto other citizens. The total cost nationwide is not known, because no one keeps track.

As the article notes, Bush’s Faith Based Initiative has only exacerbated the problem of special rights for religions:

Besides regulatory exemptions and special tax breaks, some of which have been in place for decades, religious organizations have recently become eligible for an increasing stream of federal grants and contracts from state and federal governments.

PZ Myers at Pharyngula has the best commentary:

I say we should revoke the tax-exempt status of all religious organizations. […] It's time to end the sacred scam.

(Thanks to Crooks and Liars http://www.crooksandliars.com/2006/10/09/what-seperation-of-church-and-state/ for the tip.)

Anonymous Liberal has suggested two campaign ads (here and here) for the Democratic Party. If only real ads were this forthright…

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Callahan, Bob. The New Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Stories: From Crumb to Clowes (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 2004)

Bob Callahan's The New Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Stories strives to be a worthy successor to the earlier highly-regarded Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics, but has a number of serious flaws that make it a second-rate effort. The fault lies not in the selection of material (Crumb, Steranko, Kirby, Ditko, Eisner, Spiegelman, along with chapters from Sandman, Watchmen, and Love & Rockets), but with several production errors.

The Gilbert Shelton "Fat Freddy" and Steranko "Captain America" stories have duplicated pages, and Steranko's double-page spreads are broken by page turns. (Mangling his art's presentation like this is analogous to having to change CDs in the middle of a song, and there's no excuse for it.) There is not nearly enough color in this book, either: of the nearly 400 pages of art, fewer than 40 are presented in color. Lynn Varley's wonderful coloring on the Frank Miller Dark Knight selection is perhaps the greatest loss.

Publishers Weekly calls the book "Neither a definitive anthology nor a helpful resource...a haphazard grab bag of some good comics, numerous dubious achievements and some downright mysteries." Anthologies are often uneven, but usually due to selection idiosyncrasies; the production failures in this volume are inexcusable, marring what could have be a far better book.

The former host of the PBS Sprout network, Melanie Martinez, is now speaking out publicly about her dismissal. Her interview at Feministing is great, particularly this passage:

…nothing has changed the way I feel about the videos. I think they are hilarious and still a relevant parody on what the kids are taught in school today.

The decision to be in the videos was made by a socially aware adult married actress, albeit a comedic one! Not as a “mistake” or a “poor decision made in college which should now be forgiven.” Definitely not a “skeleton in my closet”! It’s always been listed on my resume. I wanted to act in them because it was a funny smart parody of the abstinence-only teaching in schools that I am against. Not abstinence per se, but the popular federally funded abstinence-only curriculum. Children deserve to be taught a responsible comprehensive sex education curriculum. The spoofs were a way to get people to realize how absurd the notion is, particularly back when the video was made, the Not Me Not Now group. They base their teachings on scare tactics.

(Thanks to Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon for the tip.)

Harris, Sam. Letter to a Christian Nation (New York: Knopf, 2006)

Harris states his purpose succinctly, to "demolish the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms," but the book's brevity prohibits him from accomplishing so grand an objective. He does, however, score numerous points against "Christianity at its most divisive, injurious, and retrograde." (p. ix, Introduction) and the tendency of Christian moderates to be complicit in the acts of extremists.

As in The End of Faith, Harris objects to dogmatism of every stripe, and addresses the "atheist fundamentalist" bogeyman here:

It is time that Christians like yourself stop pretending that a rational rejection of your faith entails the blind embrace of atheism as a dogma. One need not accept anything on insufficient evidence to find the virgin birth of Jesus to be a preposterous idea. The problem with religion--as with Nazism, Stalinism, or any other totalitarian mythology--is the problem of dogma itself. I know of no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too desirous of evidence in support of their core beliefs. (pp. 42-3)

His gift for snappy one-liners remains undiminished, as when Harris writes that the creationists "are building a civilization of ignorance" (p. 70) with their anti-science influence on American education. Unfortunately, there is not enough room for any of his indignations to build into a sustained critique. It's another forceful salvo in the "Christian nation" battle, but it does not decisively end the war.

Yes, it’s a rhetorical question; what has changed is the control of the executive branch by a proto-fascist cabal with little or no regard for the rule of law in general and our Constitution in particular.

This Washington Post article by Walter Pincus notes that in 1947 the US charged a Japanese officer with war crimes for using waterboarding as an interrogation technique. The fifteen-year sentence he received stands in the starkest possible contrast to the Bush administration’s refusal to eschew such barbarity against suspected terrorists. Katrin vanden Heuvel writes in The Nation that:

There have been other periods in American history when torture has been committed, when habeas corpus has been suspended; when innocent civilians have been imprisoned; when secret prisons were created; when due process has been denied; when private records have been subpoened; when illegal domestic spying has been approved; when the President of the United States has repeatedly and consistently broken the law. But they have never all happened at the same time.

[…]

Every other chapter of excess and overreach in American history has been followed by a period of regret, and then reform. But what do we make of this President's claim that the war on terror is a war without end? Does that also mean that the war on our fundamental rights and liberties knows no end?

Andrew Sullivan, the conservative Catholic commentator, comes down especially hard on conservatives and Catholics for their part in creating and maintaining the closet from which Mark Foley recently emerged.

There is something deeply sick about a Republican elite that is comfortable around gay people, dependent on gay people, staffed by gay people--and yet also rests on brutal exploitation of homophobia to win elections at the base. These public homophobes, just like the ones in the Vatican, may even tolerate gay misbehavior more readily than adjusted gay people do. If you treat gay sex in any form as a shameful secret to keep concealed, the line between adult, consensual contact and the sexual exploitation of the young may not seem so stark. That's how someone like Speaker Dennis Hastert could have chosen not to know: He was already choosing not to know Foley was gay. In this way, Hastert is a milquetoast, secular version of Cardinal Bernard Law.

[…]

The closet tolerants--and they include both the president and vice president--exist in a party that has built its electoral machine on systematic intolerance and the fueling of populist fear of homosexuals. This edifice cannot stand indefinitely, and the sudden collapse of Mark Foley's career may be a portent of what is to come.

Glenn Greenwald has a perceptive take on the still-reverberating Foleygate scandal. Greenwald notes that, “this scandal is like the Cliffs' Notes version of a more complicated treatise on how the Bush movement operates. Every one of their corrupt attributes is vividly on display here:”

The absolute refusal ever to admit error. The desperate clinging to power above all else. The efforts to cloud what are clear matters of wrongdoing with irrelevant sideshows. And the parade of dishonest and just plainly inane demonization efforts to hide and distract from their wrongdoing: hence, the pages are manipulative sex vixens; a shadowy gay cabal is to blame; the real criminals are those who exposed the conduct, not those who engaged in it; liberals created the whole scandal; George Soros funded the whole thing; a Democratic Congressman did something wrong 23 years ago; one of the pages IM'd with Foley as a "hoax", and on and on. There has been a virtual carousel -- as there always is -- of one pathetic, desperate attempt after the next to deflect blame and demonize those who are pointing out the wrongdoing. This is what they always do, on every issue. The difference here is that everyone can see it, and so nothing is working. [emphasis added]

Markos Moulitsas wrote “The Case for the Libertarian Democrat” at Cato Unbound as a follow-up to this early post.

For too long, Republicans promised smaller government and less intrusion in people’s lives. Yet with a government dominated top to bottom by Republicans, we’ve seen the exact opposite. No one will ever mistake a Democrat of just about any stripe for a doctrinaire libertarian. But we’ve seen that one party is now committed to subverting individual freedoms, while the other is growing increasingly comfortable with moving in a new direction, one in which restrained government, fiscal responsibility and—most important of all—individual freedoms are paramount.

Bruce Reed, co-author of The Plan, responded with “Governing Well Is the Best Revenge:”

I’ll leave it to the civil libertarians in my party to explain why our side is less likely to spy on your library books, read your e-mails, or infringe upon your constitutional rights. My case for voting Democratic rests on three simple, comparative tests: Which party can provide smaller, more efficient government? Which party takes the responsibilities of government and limited government seriously enough to actually deliver it? Which party believes in competition enough to wean the country from its dangerous addiction to corporate welfare and make free enterprise work?

Reed has the best line:

Thomas Jefferson said, “That government which governs least, governs best.” After six years, we can now postulate the Bush corollary: “That government which governs worst, governs most.”

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Lebowitz, Michael. Build It Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006)

Lebowitz approvingly cited Che Guevara's opinion on "the importance of developing new, socialist human beings" (p. 64) during his discussion of socialism for the twenty-first century, and I was glad to see that he deplored the anti-democratic efforts of neoliberalism's "generalized assault on social programs, wages, and working conditions in the developed" (p. 36). As he explains later:

We need to understand that socialism of the twenty-first century cannot be a statist society where decisions are top-down and where all initiative is the property of state officeholders or cadres of self-reproducing vanguards. Precisely because socialism focuses upon human development, it stresses the need for a society that is democratic, participatory, and protagonistic. A society dominated by an all-powerful state does not produce the human beings who can produce socialism. (p. 71)

"In the end," writes Lebowitz, "the simple message of neoclassical economics (and the neoliberal policy it supports) is, Let capital be free!" (p. 33). This is contrasted with socialist efforts to set citizens free, in the sort of society that Lebowitz sees in our future.

Remember all the strenuus denials about the infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner? It was the White House’s idea after all, according to Rumsfeld. The phrase was even included in Bush’s speech, but was removed at Rumsfeld’s request.

What a bunch of liars.

ThinkProgress does its usually excellent job of debunking the GOP spin on disgraced-and-resigned Republican Congressman Mark Foley, listing six GOP excuses along with the conflicting facts.

A variation of excuse #4, that “Bill Clinton was worse,” was spouted by Sean Hannity, who claimed that Monica Lewinsky was a teenager during her affair with Clinton. John Amato points out at Crooks and Liars that Hannity was lying: Monica was 22 years old.

To expand to excuse #6, blaming the GOP cover-up on their alleged “sensitivity” to gays, check out Sarah Posner writing at Gadflyer. Pro-“family values” conservative Tony Perkins claimed that “the real issue” in Foleygate is “the link between homosexuality and child sexual abuse.” How a nonexistent link can be the “real issue” baffles me. Meanwhile, on the right-wing airwaves, Rush Limbaugh speculated about Democrats:

"In their hearts and minds and their crotches, they don't have any problem with what Foley did…They've defended it over the years."

If Limbaugh could come up with any examples of Democrats—or liberals—that have defended sexual predators, I would be astounded. Perhaps he believes that the Catholic hierarchy, those well-known enablers of sexual predation, is a bastion of liberalism? That concept is almost—but not quite—as ludicrous as Newt Gingrich’s statement years ago that Susan Smith murdering her children:

“vividly reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we need to change things. […] The only way you get change is to vote Republican.”

The shoe is clearly now on the other foot; yesterday’s Gerry Studds is today’s Tom Foley. Help end the GOP era of corruption (and coddling sexual predators) by voting out the Republican Congress. To use their own buzzwords against them, a vote for Democrats is a pro-values, pro-family vote.


update (4:00pm):
ThinkProgress has a collection of the GOP’s gay-bashing smokescreens. My favorite is Denny Hastert complaining to Rush about the story’s timing, and saying that they’re going to “go on offense” on Foleygate.

Hastert, you and your ilk are offensive enough already.

This “unauthorized autobiography” of Dubya, Destined for Destiny, is way too funny.

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

Rolling Stone has the appalling tale of a teenager tortured by the US military:

While he was at Guantanamo, Omar was beaten in the head, nearly suffocated, threatened with having his clothes taken indefinitely and, as at Bagram, lunged at by attack dogs while wearing a bag over his head. "Your life is in my hands," an intelligence officer told him during an interrogation in the spring of 2003. During the questioning, Omar gave an answer the interrogator did not like. He spat in Omar's face, tore out some of his hair and threatened to send him to Israel, Egypt, Jordan or Syria -- places where they tortured people without constraints: very slowly, analytically removing body parts. The Egyptians, the interrogator told Omar, would hand him to Askri raqm tisa -- Soldier Number Nine. Soldier Number Nine, the interrogator explained, was a guard who specialized in raping prisoners. [emphasis added]

The conclusion?

After the invasion of Afghanistan, the Bush administration effectively kidnapped hundreds of innocent people because they looked like Arabs and shipped them to a detention facility designed to torture them nonstop and in perpetuity. If the president were tried in the Hague, the prosecution would have an easy case. [emphasis added]

(Thanks to Crooks and Liars for the tip.)

Newsweek has a long article on Bob Woodward’s State of Denial. The site also discusses the White House going into “full damage-control mode” over the book. Newsweek notes that “the Bush team cannot easily dismiss Woodward's reporting skills outright. In his earlier two books—Bush at War and Plan of Attack—Woodward gained extensive cooperation from the White House, and Bush officials openly praised the quality of his reporting.” As soon as the truths become inconvenient, though, Woodward’s reporting is dismissed as “gossip.”

(Thanks to TalkLeft for the tip.)

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