November 2006 Archives

a few good liberals

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Byron William’s piece “What this Government needs is a few Good Liberals” at HuffPo notes that “one of the great victories of the post-conservative movement” has been “pushing the term ‘liberal’ into the outer fringes of political discourse.” He also observes that, “if history is any indicator, this country has changed for the better when led by liberal/progressive forces:”

Conservatives have the dubious historical distinction of being wrong on slavery, women's suffrage, this country's entrance into World War II and the Civil Rights Movement.

It was a conservative, strict constructionist Supreme Court ruling in the Dred Scott decision in 1856 that stated because Scott was black he was not a citizen and therefore had no right to sue. The decision also declared the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which restricted slavery in certain territories, unconstitutional.

Fifty years later, the same conservative notion held true in the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling that established the precedent for "separate" facilities for blacks and whites that ultimately provided the legal legs on which the Jim Crow laws allegedly stood. It was not until 1954 that the Supreme Court, engaging in "judicial activism," overturned Plessy.

Webb v. Dubya

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Check out this exchange between Bush and Senator-elect Jim Webb:

At a private reception held at the White House with newly elected lawmakers shortly after the election, Bush asked Webb how his son, a Marine lance corporal serving in Iraq, was doing.

Webb responded that he really wanted to see his son brought back home, said a person who heard about the exchange from Webb.

“I didn’t ask you that, I asked how he’s doing,” Bush retorted, according to the source.

Webb confessed that he was so angered by this that he was tempted to slug the commander-in-chief, reported the source, but of course didn’t.

Glenn Greenwald observes that:

It is difficult to fathom the hubris and self-indulgence required for someone to ask a parent of a soldier in Iraq how their son is doing only to then snidely tell the parent that the answer isn't what he wanted to hear.

Greenwald also lambastes Prager for his anti-Muslim bigotry and ignorance of the Constitution.

Dennis Prager wrote the following immensely inaccurate tripe at TownHall today about an impending swearing-in ceremony in Washington DC:

Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, has announced that he will not take his oath of office on the Bible, but on the bible of Islam, the Koran.

He should not be allowed to do so -- not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.

[…]

Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress. In your personal life, we will fight for your right to prefer any other book. We will even fight for your right to publish cartoons mocking our Bible. But, Mr. Ellison, America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath.

A tip of the hat to both Andrew Sullivan and to one of his readers, who pointed out that:

…there has never been, and is no, requirement that a member of Congress put his hand on anything when taking the oath of office. There is nothing in the law requiring a member to do anything in particular with his hands. A member is free to put his hand on a Bible, on any other book or for that matter, to keep his hands at his sides or in his pockets or to make bunny shadows with them during the taking of the oath.

Prager tries to portray himself as a thoughtful and reasonable commentator, but instances like this one reveal the theocratic fangs beneath his avuncular façade. He illustrated in this piece two of the primary flaws with the Right: its desire to conflate staged religious photo-ops with secular reality, and its efforts to mandate piety while claiming pluralism.

Kos takes Bill O’Reilly down a few pegs for his nonsensical slandering of “San Francisco values.” After lambasting BOR’s boycott mentality, Kos lists the Bay Area’s values (tolerance, entrepreneurship, and creativity) and its triumphs—everything from Intuit and the iPod to Pixar and the Palm—and then continues firing:

Yeah, those "San Francisco values" sure are dragging the region down. Making it weak as it falls behind the rest of the country -- the parts that don't share "San Francisco values" -- economically and socially.

Or, maybe -- just maybe -- it's made the region a magnet for the world's smartest, most innovative, most entrepreneurial individuals and an incubator of the world's most dramatic technological advances.

Also, Keith Olbermann disproved BOR’s claim to have coined the term “San Francisco values,” as MediaMatters showed.

Bravo to all!

Bush library

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This New York Daily News piece on Bush’s Presidential Library shows its orientation toward the future:

Eager to begin refurbishing his tattered legacy, the President hopes to raise $500 million to build his library and a think tank at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. […]

The legacy-polishing centerpiece is an institute, which several Bush insiders called the Institute for Democracy. Patterned after Stanford University's Hoover Institution, Bush's institute will hire conservative scholars and "give them money to write papers and books favorable to the President's policies," one Bush insider said.

Shelly Lewis comments at HuffPo:

Of course there will be a "think tank." Maybe that's where all the bitter neocons from the Project for a New American Century will go to write papers about how Bush screwed up their war and crushed their dreams.

I'm going to suggest the Karl Rove Center for the Study of Free and Fair Elections, and of course, there's got to be The Dick Cheney Institute for Constitutional Rights. And a Donald Rumsfeld "Known Unknown" research library. (Do you think it will be under-staffed and under-supplied?)

Maybe there'll be room on the public grounds for the Iraq Adventure Garden, a pool made of quicksand, oil and blood.

And how about a cakewalk in the museum cafeteria? No pretzels, though; they're a choke hazard.

I could go on and on (and you're welcome to if you like) but if I think about this much more I'll start to remember how much body armor a half billion dollars could have bought, or how many breakfasts for Head Start kids.

I like the sound of “legacy-polishing,” but gold-leafing Bush’s miserable failure of a presidency won’t be easy.

AfterDowningStreet.org is celebrating “Impeachment Day” on 10 December, which is also “Human Rights Day.”

(h/t: ima_sinnic at DU)

public discourse

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Richard Shweder complains in the New York Times about all the best-selling books written by atheists, and supposes that “the current counterattack on religion cloaks a renewed and intense anxiety within secular society.” He even quotes the old line from the otherwise-brilliant John Locke supporting intolerance toward atheists (ironically enough, from his “Letter Concerning Toleration”):

…those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of God. Promises, covenants and oaths, which are the bonds of human societies, can have no hold upon an atheist.

This imputation of immorality and untrustworthiness was used to justify discrimination against atheists until 1961’s Torcaso v. Watkins decision. Amanda Marcotte responds to Shweder at Pandagon:

…my question to Shweder and all others who think that it’s only fair of atheists to shut up and go away is this: Why are you so threatened? If your argument can’t win out in a free public discourse, that doesn’t speak much for it, does it?

This article in the New Haven Advocate asks “Are George W. Bush Supporters Certifiable?” and talks about a 2004 study of psychiatric outpatients. According to the study, “Bush supporters had significantly less knowledge about current issues, government and politics than those who supported Kerry,” and “[t]he more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.”

No surprise there…

(h/t: Tom Tomorrow)

There is an eight-part email debate (here or here) between Sam Harris and Dennis Prager (h/t: Shirley Setterbo at Atheist Exposed). The standard “angry atheists” snipe (here and here) is taken up by Harris in his opening salvo:

As an atheist, I am angry that we live in a society in which the plain truth cannot be spoken without offending 90% of the population. The plain truth is this: There is no good reason to believe in a personal God; there is no good reason to believe that the Bible, the Koran, or any other book was dictated by an omniscient being; we do not, in any important sense, get our morality from religion; the Bible and the Koran are not, even remotely, the best sources of guidance we have for living in the 21st century; and the belief in God and in the divine provenance of scripture is getting a lot of people killed unnecessarily.

Against these plain truths religious people have erected a grotesque edifice of myths, obfuscations, half-truths, and wishful thinking.

Prager opines that “we believers look at the evidence and believe that there is a God. In that sense, the atheist has considerably less intellectual honesty than the sophisticated believer. The atheist says he knows, despite the fact that what he ‘knows’ is unprovable. The believer believes because he knows that what he believes is ultimately unprovable.” He then slams Harris for “ignorance of intellectually sophisticated God-belief,” as if positing an unprovable deity to compensate for every lack of knowledge is somehow an intellectually sophisticated position. Harris parries this attack thusly:

Atheism does not assert that “it is all made by chance.” No one knows why the universe came into being. Most scientists readily admit their ignorance on this point. Religious believers do not. One of the extraordinary ironies of religious discourse can be seen in the frequency with which people of faith praise themselves for their humility, while condemning scientists and other nonbelievers for their intellectual arrogance.

He later asks Prager to explain “why it is more reasonable to believe in Yahweh than in Zeus:”

Your job is to either produce a rational argument for the unique legitimacy of the Judeo-Christian tradition (one that reveals why one billion Hindus are utterly in error about the nature of the cosmos), or to admit that you cannot do this. I am willing to bet the farm that you cannot.

After praising the “courage among the religious,” Prager admits that “Nothing can prove God’s existence.” His next assertion is a non sequitur: “If society cannot survive without x, there is a good chance x exists.” He is implying that his Judeo-Christian deity is x, but his argument is reducible via Occam’s Razor to belief in a deity being x. Harris responds:

…please keep your x’s straight. If humanity can’t survive without a belief in God, this would only mean that a belief in God exists. It wouldn’t, even remotely, suggest that God exists.

Prager asks in response, “Can you name one thing that does not exist but is essential to human survival?” Since Prager had the last word, Harris did not have the opportunity to point out that this question completely sidesteps the point Harris made regarding Prager’s unwarranted conclusion.

It’s nice to see the two of them discuss issues in greater depth than in the only previous debate I’d seen, from Prager’s radio show in August 2004. I would like to see them on a stage together sometime, because the immediacy of the exchange could be quite intriguing.

misadventures in Iraq

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Here are two views of the Bushite misadventures in Iraq: Mark Danner elucidates the near past (through a review of Woodward’s State of Denial, Suskind’s One Percent Doctrine, and Risen’s State of War) and the immediate past is covered by Glenn Greenwald. Danner writes of the ideological isolation of the Bush administration and the overwhelming desire to ignore inconvenient facts, which he calls the War of Imagination:

Anyone seeking to understand what has become the central conundrum of the Iraq war—how it is that so many highly accomplished, experienced, and intelligent officials came together to make such monumental, consequential, and, above all, obvious mistakes, mistakes that much of the government knew very well at the time were mistakes—must see beyond what seems to be a simple rhetoric of self-justification and follow it where it leads: toward the War of Imagination that senior officials decided to fight in the spring and summer of 2002 and to whose image they clung long after reality had taken a sharply separate turn. In that War of Imagination victory was to be decisive, overwhelming, evincing a terrible power—enough to wipe out the disgrace of September 11 and remake the threatening world.

[…]

…the War of Imagination draped all the complications and contradictions of the history and politics of a war-torn, brutalized society in an ideologically driven vision of a perfect future. Small wonder that its creators, faced with grim reality, have been so loathe to part with it. Since the first thrilling night of shock and awe, reported with breathless enthusiasm by the American television networks, the Iraq war has had at least two histories, that of the war itself and that of the American perception of it. As the months passed and the number of attacks in Iraq grew, the gap between those two histories opened wider and wider.[7] And finally, for most Americans, the War of Imagination—built of nationalistic excitement and ideological hubris and administration pronouncements about "spreading democracy" and "greetings with sweets and flowers," and then about "dead-enders" and "turning points," and finally about "staying the course" and refusing "to cut and run"—began, under the pressure of nearly three thousand American dead and perhaps a hundred thousand or more dead Iraqis, to give way to grim reality.

The idiocies of disbanding the army and de-Baathifying the government are in full view, but our inevitable exit from Iraq—amid the violent insurgency we helped to create—remains lost in the fog. (By the way, we have now been in Iraq longer than we were in World War II.)

Glenn Greenwald writes about the inability of some right-wing commentators to handle religious criticism directed at themselves (Glenn Reynolds and Ann Althouse, in this instance) and their compatriots. Reynolds whines about the use of the word Christianist, but, as Greenwald observes, "routinely -- meaning on a weekly basis, at least -- refers to whole groups of people as ‘Islamists’ and ‘Islamofascists.’” Greenwald goes on to note that:

People like Althouse and Reynolds love to complain about the supposed religious hostility which exists towards Christians -- a whine triggered so easily that the mere use of the word "Christianist" is sufficient for us to be subjected to it -- because feeling persecuted is an insatiable need they have.

And their "evidence" for anti-Christian "bigotry" consists of nothing more than statements and sentiments that are indescribably benign and innocuous, especially compared to the hostility and scorn that spews forth from them towards "Islamists," "Islamofascists," and similar terms. In their world, referring to people who believe that the law should comport to their Christian religious beliefs as "Christianists" is "sanctimonious," "snide" and "hostile" "bigotry" -- even though they are people who use exactly the same terms, and (in Reynolds' case) much worse, to refer to Muslims.

We are now headed into the season where this type of petulant hypocrisy flows abundantly -- it is, after all, the Season of the War on Christmas -- and it's good to see these two nonpartisan, above-it-all, "swing-voter"/professors are getting such an early start on the persecution festivities. [emphasis added]


update (11/26 @ 9:27am):
Greenwald has updated the original post five separate times, both to demolish several responses to his piece and to briefly discuss the history of the word Christianism.

Richard Dawkins has posted a piece called “I’m an atheist, but…” on his site. He answers the criticism of “intemperately strong language” this way:

…if you look at the language we employ, it is no more strong or intemperate than anybody would use if criticizing a political or economic point of view: no stronger or more intemperate than any theatre critic, art critic or book critic when writing a negative review. Our language sounds strong and intemperate only because of the same weird convention I have already mentioned, that religious faith is uniquely privileged: above and beyond criticism. […]

Book critics or theatre critics can be derisively negative and earn delighted praise for the trenchant wit of their review. A politician may attack an opponent scathingly across the floor of the House and earn plaudits for his robust pugnacity. But let a critic of religion employ a fraction of the same direct forthrightness, and polite society will purse its lips and shake its head…

h/t: God Is for Suckers!

Austin Bramwell's piece in American Conservative, "Good-Bye to All That," is a long and deeply felt eulogy for conservatism:

Whatever its past accomplishments, the conservative movement no longer kindles any "ironic points of light." It has produced fewer outstanding books even as it has taken over more of the intellectual and political landscape. This trend will only continue. Worse, no reckoning will be made: they hope in vain who expect conservatives to take responsibility for the actual consequences of their actions. Conservatives have no use for the ethic of responsibility; they seek only to "see to it that the flame of pure intention is not quelched." The movement remains a fine place to make a career, but for wisdom one must look elsewhere.

Digby comments that "After living with 'movement conservatism' for so long it's actually a bit disorienting to see a conservative under the age of 70 or so with intellectual integrity." Harold Meyerson's "Conservatives in Denial" from the Washington Post begins by observing that "On their journey through the stages of grief, conservatives don't yet seem to have gotten past denial," and states that "one way conservatives defend the faith is to argue that the conservatism of contemporary Republicanism isn't really conservatism at all:"

Holding conservatism blameless for last week's Republican debacle may stiffen conservative spines, but the very idea is the product of mushy conservative brains unwilling to acknowledge the obvious: that conservatism has never been more ascendant than during George Bush's presidency; that the Republican Party over the past six years moved well to the right of the American people on social, economic, and foreign policy; and that on November 7 the American people chose a more pragmatic course.

Beyond Belief

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This New York Times article on the recent "Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival" forum is very welcome indeed, as is the existence of the forum itself. Sam Harris was in attendance, but was eclipsed in rhetorical ferocity by Nobel laureate Dr Steven Weinberg:

“Anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization.”

On a less confrontational note, Dr Carolyn Porco made this delightful suggestion:

“Let’s teach our children from a very young age about the story of the universe and its incredible richness and beauty. It is already so much more glorious and awesome — and even comforting — than anything offered by any scripture or God concept I know.”

Bravo!

h/t: PZ Myers at Pharyngula

Salon's list of "The GOP's dirty deeds of 2006" notes that:

while this year might not have included any repeats of Palm Beach County or Ohio, that doesn't mean the midterm elections were squeaky clean. This November there were some old-school dirty tricks that had nothing to do with voting machines or secretaries of state. An unscientific sample seems to show that most were the product of a party that was desperate for something, anything, that would help it protect its doomed congressional majorities.

You can tell that a party is desperate when it has to rely on misinformation, intimidation, push polls, and robo calls to influence elections.

h/t: Raw Story

reverse evangelism

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John Safran got fed up with Mormons "bashing on my door on Saturday morning," and decided to retaliate. After this hilarious rant, he began knocking on doors in Salt Lake City in a kind of reverse evangelism. He and his director suited up in white shirt and black tie, and went around asking for "a moment of your time to talk about atheism" and explaining Charles Darwin's "amazing message to the world."

It's five minutes well spent.

h/t: PZ Myers at Pharyngula.

This post from Atrios is too funny. Or maybe not, considering that this sort of fear-mongering sucked us into the Iraqi quagmire.

Everyone has no doubt read this quote, attributed to proto-conservative Edmund Burke:

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

The quotation is bogus, as this essay by Martin Porter (parts one and two) shows. It’s a great read, and illustrates the primary shortcoming of the Internet as a research tool. Porter offers the following rules, which would greatly improve the situation:

I therefore formulate and offer to the world the following Principles for Quotations, two for quoters and two for readers, which, if universally followed, would make an immense improvement to the reliability of the information available on the world wide web.

Principle 1 (for readers) Whenever you see a quotation given with an author but no source assume that it is probably bogus.

Principle 2 (for readers) Whenever you see a quotation given with a full source assume that it is probably being misused, unless you find good evidence that the quoter has read it in the source.

Principle 3 (for quoters) Whenever you make a quotation, give the exact source.

Principle 4 (for quoters) Only quote from works that you have read.

(Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the tip.)


update (11/21 @8:49am):
One of Andrew Sullivan's readers pointed out that JS Mill said something quite similar:

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing."

...they’re not uniformly pro-administration, as this New York Times article illustrates:

…as to the contentious issue of the reach of presidential authority, the Federalist Society membership is not united. Professor Yoo, who wrote several memorandums while in the Justice Department arguing that the president’s power is expanded during a war on terrorism, represents one wing of the conservatives, while many in the group are smaller-government libertarians.

At a spirited panel discussion Friday with Professor Yoo, one of the revered figures of the group, Prof. Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago Law School, branded as dangerous the notion of expanded powers for the executive branch because of the continuing fight against terrorism.

“This is an issue which splits this group right down the middle,” Professor Epstein said. [emphasis added]

h/t: Andrew Sullivan

The Watcher at Fundie Watch ridicules this AFA article misrepresenting the ACLU while promoting Sam Kastensmidt’s book Indefensible. The Watcher takes the AFA’s anti-ACLU screed apart piece by piece, and states that “I'll thank you to stop telling people what I and other liberals think, because it's damned irritating, and you're wrong.”

In similar fashion, PZ Myers shreds Pastor Hellman’s whiny and wrong-headed op-ed response to Richard Dawkins, noting that it is “typical creationist dreck.” Hellman’s piece contains the standard creationist fabrications that evolution is mere randomness, that atheism is a religion (the absence of religion is closer to the truth), that communism was “based on” evolution (at least in the Soviet Union, it championed Lysenkoism) and that Hitler was an atheist (he was Catholic). Myers concludes:

I'm sorry, but seeing a pastor, one who doesn't understand science and has read nothing in the literature of biology, tell me that I need to read the Bible is unconvincing. I've read the gospels. I was brought up a Lutheran, just like Pastor Hellmann. I rejected the masturbatory cycle of reading the dogma of theologians because I opened my eyes and looked at the real world, and the rocks and trees and the milling multitudes of nature all cry out that the books of the religious are impoverished shadows of reality. Why sip from the recycled piss of Christianity when I can drink deep from the Pierian Spring? [emphasis added]

this might be the result.

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

Greenwald on Cheney

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Glenn Greenwald dissects Dick Cheney’s speech to the Federalist Society last night. After a sarcasm-heavy analysis, Greenwald concludes:

It is worth reminding ourselves -- as the Vice President just made quite clear again-- that the pathological individuals who occupy the White House do not recognize the power of the law or the power of the courts to limit what they can do. Therefore, the fact that Democrats now control the Congress will be of little concern to them, because the most the Democrats can do is enact little laws or issue cute, little Subpoenas --- but, as the Vice President just said, they think that nothing can "tie the hands of the President of the United States in the conduct of a war." And he means that.

I hope Democrats in Congress recognize that and are prepared to do something about it. This constitutional crisis will exist until it's confronted. [emphases added]

Impeachment may not be a politically expedient move for the incoming 110th Congress, but it is certainly warranted by the (soon-to-be) outgoing administration.


update (11/19 @ 7:33am):
Anonymous Liberal has posted his analysis of Cheney’s “deeply pathological” speech. It’s also worth reading, especially for this gem:

I know that Cheney (and Addington and Yoo) have a deep desire for the law to be something other than what it actually is, but I don't see what is to be gained by simply asserting, and with unmistakable condescension, that up is down.

Islamica Magazine’s interview with civil libertarian David Cole (230KB PDF here) has this nice exchange:

Islamica: You brought up the issue of domestic spying. What concerns you more about this practice: the actual substantive measure of warrantless wiretaps of American citizens on American soil or the aggrandizement of power by the executive branch?

Cole: I think it’s definitely the latter. We don’t know enough about the program to know how concerned we ought to be about invasions of privacy that are illegitimate. We don’t know how many taps there have been nor how widespread the program really is. At some point we may learn that and there may be serious concerns. But what we do know is what the Bush administration has put forth as its defense of the program, and they should give everybody pause. Because the argument is essentially that the president as commander-in-chief has the unilateral, “uncheckable” authority to select the “means and methods of engaging the enemy,” which is a quote from the Justice Department’s memo defending the program. And their claim is that when you’re talking about the means and methods of engaging the enemy, it is impermissible for either of the other branches of government, Congress or the courts, to restrict the president in any way, shape, or form. So that means that the president can spy on Americans in the face of any criminal statute that specifically prohibits it. […] So this is a view of unfettered executive power that I think all Americans ought to be concerned about.

Cole’s next book, Less Safe, Less Free: Why We Are Losing the War on Terror, is scheduled for release next May.

Atheist Exposed mentioned a piece titled “The Truth about Atheism Exposed” (part one and part two) by Sam Johnston at Shelley the Republican. It’s so inane that it must be a parody of ignorant Christianist wingnuts, right?

I hope so.

Jay Tolson's article "The New Unbelievers" at USN&WR (thanks to The Revealer for the tip) notes that "Books on atheism are hot" and asks, "But do they have anything fresh to say?" The answer to the question is yes, but one has to look beyond Tolson's "extremist atheist" angle to see it. For example, these two posts (here and here) at God Is for Suckers! mention interesting tidbits from a book not mentioned by Tolson, the Cambridge Companion to Atheism. The book describes the typical atheist as:

"less authoritarian and suggestible, less dogmatic, less prejudiced, more tolerant of others, law-abiding, compassionate, conscientious, and well educated. They are of high intelligence, and many are committed to the intellectual and scholarly life. In short, they are good to have as neighbors."

Moving from individual to societal analyses, we see that: "High levels of organic atheism are strongly correlated with high levels of societal health, such as low poverty rates and strong gender equality."

I'm fond of AC Grayling's piece "Faith's Last Gasp" in Prospect magazine. Grayling writes that "today's 'religious upsurge' ...is a reaction to defeat."

What we are witnessing is not the resurgence of religion, but its death throes. Two considerations support this claim. One is that there are close and instructive historical precedents for what is happening now. The second comes from an analysis of the nature of contemporary religious politics.

[...]

Millions died [in the Counter-Reformation], and Catholicism won some battles even as it lost the war. We are witnessing a repeat today, this time with Islamism resisting the encroachment of a way of life that threatens it, and as other religious groups join them in a (strictly temporary, given the exclusivity of faith) alliance for the cause of religion in general.

As before, the grinding of historical tectonic plates will be painful and protracted. But the outcome is not in doubt. As private observance, religion will of course survive among minorities; as a factor in public and international affairs it is having what might be its last--characteristically bloody--fling. [emphasis added]

Steve Cornell writes "It's not easy to be an atheist," but it's a wingnut piece of pro-religious propaganda rather than a serious effort. Cornell relies on the standard slurs that atheists are purposeless, illogical, immoral, and arrogant. PZ Myers declined to blog about Cornell's attack, but Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon and Southern Fried Skeptic do quite an admirable job. On the charge of atheist immorality, Marcotte observes that Cornell is "so lacking in empathy and common decency that he can't understand why murder is wrong without a fictional being telling his so," and writes that she:

"can't help but point out that it's really rich of a person who dismisses mountains and mountains of evidence about evolutionary theory to accuse others of being willfully ignorant. What is increasingly apparent is this guy is utterly unaware of the existence of thousands of years of philosophy."

Ignorance of history and science are also central to Cornell's screed, which is similar to the "Christian nation" crowd's plans to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement next spring. Joseph Conn at American United deplores their poor understanding of American history and exposes their shallow comprehension of pre-Constitutional religious establishment:

...Robertson and the other non-Anglican "dissenters" are, in fact, getting ready to celebrate a centuries-old religious establishment that would have fined, whipped, imprisoned or banished them - or maybe put them to death. Individuals of their religious stripe were persecuted minorities then; today they are politically powerful and they seek to persecute others who fail their religious test.

Peter Nuhn at NoGodBlog also has some great commentary:

If we are to truly celebrate the religious significance of the 400th Anniversary of Jamestown, I say we take all non-Anglicans, such as, Catholics, Baptists, etc. and have them thrown in jail without charges, tortured for their heresy of not being a member of the Church of England and maybe release them next year after the anniversary is over and see if they maybe can't learn a little humility, a little human understanding, and just a little toleration for their fellow humans.

The Christianists are once again conflating the settlement of the colonies with the founding of our nation, and ignoring the wisdom of the Founders in the process. Shame on them.

Yesterday, there was another response (of sorts) to my most recent published letter:

Liberals talk of tolerance but still disregard religion

A recent letter writer who was an American Civil Liberties Union member, a liberal and atheist, implied that religion was perfectly fine on public property as long as Christians went into a closet and shut the door before praying.

No God-fearing person of any religion should be placed out of sight just because a non-believer or those of other faiths may be offended by their exercising their religious rights.

Liberals talk of acceptance, equality, tolerance and protection of civil liberties. Their actions and words tell the true intent and mind-set of persons with obvious low regard for true civil liberties.

[name and address redacted]

This illustrates the problems engendered by the heavy editing that goes into the op-ed pages of many publications: in many cases, he was upset by things I did not say, did not mean, or had clarified in the follow-up posts on the newspaper’s website. Accordingly, I went easy on his potentially unintentional misinterpretations:

I made no implications about secret and closeted prayer except by quoting the words of Jesus from Matthew 6:5, which commanded such a practice. I would not wish to restrict individual or group worship, in either private or public; I wholeheartedly support our secular nation’s religiously pluralistic character, and its Constitutional protections. People are free—as they should be—to evangelize on streetcorners, gather around flagpoles, and even pray without ceasing if they wish. I would just like to know how Christians square such public prayer with Jesus’ straightforward injunction against it.

Public piety can often turn into a particularly ugly form of coercive indoctrination when the power of the state is co-opted to support religious opinion, as the practice of mandated prayer in public schools illustrated. Is the faith of some really so insecure that it requires constant affirmation by others, even when such affirmation must be coerced?

The caricature of liberalism that the writer puts forth is an inaccurate as the “War on Xmas” perennially hyped by Faux News. Liberals not only “talk of acceptance, equality, tolerance and protection of civil liberties,” we actually work for it through the lives we live and the organizations—such as the ACLU—that we support. “True civil liberties” may sometimes require state protection, but they should never lead to activities mandated and coerced by the state.

In explaining Ann Coulter’s potential voting fraud this past February, this Palm Beach Post article notes that Coulter registered with the Address Confidentiality Program. It then observes that:

The Address Confidentiality Program, passed by the legislature last year, is designed to keep private the addresses of FBI agents, police officers, correction workers and victims of domestic violence. Several people said Monday that Coulter claims to be in that last category, but her paperwork is not public record.

Developing…

(Thanks to El Fuego at DU for the tip.)

As one who tends to be exacting in responding to criticism, I cannot help but admire the lengths to which Andrew Sullivan went to defend his book The Conservative Soul from this review/attack by National Review’s Jonah Goldberg. Here is the money quote:

This is not a review of the book; it's a diagnosis of the closed mind of many movement conservatives. Notice how it conforms to an ideological mindset: dissecting the world into the outer heretics, the lesser heretics, the faithful and the heroes. It actually confirms my diagnosis that conservatives have stopped thinking and fallen into the trap of policing their own fixed ideology. That's their problem, and Goldberg is part of it. But I hope they recover. We need a thinking conservatism, not this brittle ideology. [emphasis added]

(For anyone unfamiliar with the verb “fisk,” Wikipedia has a definition here.)

a blue map

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Does everyone remember the triumphalist red-state maps that clogged the Internet after the 2004 election, claiming a mandate for Bush and the GOP? MyDD has some maps supporting the Democratic mandate (by a ten-point margin, remember!) from last week’s House midterms. Here is my favorite, showing the progress of Progressivism:

20061114-gopvotemap.gif

Time magazine’s latest cover story is a seemingly innocuous picture of the purple “center” that the midterm results supposedly indicate. MediaMatters compares the current tepid Democratic cover with the dramatic Republican cover from 1994.

Media bias, anyone?

Glenn Greenwald writes in “George Bush and GOP House Leaders: Conservatism Defined” about the meme claiming that the failure of the Bush administration’s failure is not a failure of conservatism:

It is the responsibility of journalists and, really, everyone, to preserve the basic truth that our country has been run exclusively by conservatives for virtually all of the last six years. It is true, as many (including myself, repeatedly) have noted, the Bush movement discarded "conservative principles" as they exist in text books. But it is equally true -- and far more important -- that all that has been done to this country has been done under the banner of "conservatism" and has been done by self-proclaimed "conservatives." There should be no debate about that because it is simply fact.

[…]

Semantic disputes over "real conservatism" are meaningless. In the only way that matters, "conservatives" are those who are responsible for the Bush presidency and everything it brought.

An anti-science kook emailed PZ Myers, and Myers let him have it with both barrels.

insults and apologies

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My previous post—which I had expected to be the last one in the thread—now has a reply of sorts. This was posted earlier today:

I don't recall insulting you...but if you say I did...my apologies. I hereby withdraw from any further discussion...on this particular letter to the editor. My point was that you lecture us. You talk down to us. You patronize and you condescend. You truly must step back and look at yourself. Every time I see your name on the Op-Ed page, my first reaction is to cringe, because you seem so angry and impatient with those of us who don't "deserve" your approval.

I tried to let “goldenrule” have the last word, but I just couldn't resist:

I find it interesting that you don’t consider “arrogant,” “self-important,” and “proselytizing” to be insults. (Or, apparently, “lecture,” “patronize,”, and “condescend.”) I suppose stating that you know of better uses for my time was meant constructively? Were the “learned credentials,” “cretins,” and “deserving approval” cracks not meant to impute a sense of superiority to me? If you say that none of these remarks was meant to be insulting, however, then I will apologize to you.

Perhaps you should step back and take a look at the emotional overreaction you have to my letters. I am at a loss about this, and about the emotions you project onto me and my motivation. I simply endeavor to make a contribution to the public discussion that exists on the letters page; an impatient person would surely have already given up both on that discussion and on this one.

In the spirit of discussion, I take issue with your opinions that I "talk down" and "condescend" in my writing. If anything, the opposite is true. I assume that others are literate, cognitively capable, and possessed of an appropriate vocabulary and an adequate sense of history. I am surprised to see that, throughout all your verbiage, you have studiously avoided addressing the content of my letter.

Were you so busy cringing at the sight of my name that you neglected to read what I wrote? (Since names are published at the end of letters, I'm curious about the timing of your cringes. Do you read the letter first and then cringe after seeing my name, or do you read my name first and cringe before reading what I have written? Neither scenario paints a very flattering portrait.)


update: A follow-up post is here.

suggested reading

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This piece on “Forthcoming books for the soul-searching Republican” at TNR is funny for everyone who’s read too many political books over the past few years. My favorite is this slap at yellin’ Zell Miller:

A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Liberal Republican

The 2006 elections proved one thing definitively: Today's Republican Party can no longer compete in all 50 states. Republicans were wiped out across the former slaveless states of the North, including once-solid parts of Ohio, upstate New York, and New Hampshire. In this rueful memoir, a folksy Yankee Republican tells of how he no longer feels at home in his own party--and offers advice for what the GOP must do to rebuild its presence across the nation.

I had thought this thread would be old news, but “goldenrule” responded:

"...but remember that it’s far easier to complain about a writer’s tone than to address his argument..."

"We’re far too individualistic for that, as the word “freethinkers” implies."

Again, your arrogance and self-importance rear their ugly heads. You could easily make your point in half the time and 25% of the verbiage you seem to love to share with all of us. We are not impressed. You would better use your time helping others instead of proselytizing. It must be so difficult for someone of your learned credentials to be surrounded by such cretins. How DO you manage?

I believe everyone has the right to pray in silence. Who cares?

As for the pledge of allegiance, your hard-earned money and their linking with "God"...can you really waste your valuable time on this earth worrying about such minutiae? History tells us that this nation was founded by people who came here to escape religious persecution. Have a blessed day.

My response:

You’re right: I could use significantly fewer words, particularly if I didn’t “waste my valuable time” responding to baseless attacks. Eliminating minutiae such as supporting evidence for my arguments would also help achieve the brevity you claim to value so highly. If I simply spit out ad hominem insults rather than contributing to the discussion, my comments could be even more succinct.

Thank you for the advice.


update: A follow-up is here.

Richard Dawkins defuses a common attack in “Why I Am Hostile Toward Religion:”

I might retort that such hostility as I or other atheists occasionally voice toward religion is limited to words. I am not going to bomb anybody, behead them, stone them, burn them at the stake, crucify them, or fly planes into their skyscrapers, just because of a theological disagreement. But my interlocutor usually doesn’t leave it at that. He may go on to say something like this: "Doesn’t your hostility mark you out as a fundamentalist atheist, just as fundamentalist in your own way as the wingnuts of the Bible Belt in theirs?" I need to dispose of this accusation of fundamentalism, for it is distressingly common.

[…]

I am no more fundamentalist when I say evolution is true than when I say it is true that New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere. We believe in evolution because the evidence supports it, and we would abandon it overnight if new evidence arose to disprove it. No real fundamentalist would ever say anything like that.

He reiterates his passion for scientific learning, and explains how fundamentalism threatens the capacity for critical thought:

As a scientist, I am hostile to fundamentalist religion because it actively debauches the scientific enterprise. It teaches us not to change our minds, and not to want to know exciting things that are available to be known. It subverts science and saps the intellect.

[…]

Fundamentalist religion is hell-bent on ruining the scientific education of countless thousands of innocent, well-meaning, eager young minds. Non-fundamentalist, "sensible" religion may not be doing that. But it is making the world safe for fundamentalism by teaching children, from their earliest years, that unquestioning faith is a virtue.

(Thanks to NoGodBlog for the tip.)

PZ Myers at Pharyngula mentioned Time’s “God vs. Science” cover story. The debate between Richard “The God Delusion” Dawkins and Francis “The Language of God” Collins is the article’s highlight. Here is the crux of their debate: and follows Ironically, Collins considers our existence “extremely improbable” and then ignores his own invocation of Occam’s Razor to sidestep the incomparably greater improbability of a creator god:

DAWKINS: I accept that there may be things far grander and more incomprehensible than we can possibly imagine. What I can’t understand is why you invoke improbability and yet you will not admit that you’re shooting yourself in the foot by postulating something just as improbable, magicking into existence the word God.

COLLINS: My God is not improbable to me. He has no need of a creation story for himself or to be fine-tuned by something else. God is the answer to all of those “How must it have come to be” questions.

Newsweek’s latest cover story, “The Politics of Jesus,” uses an image of the American flag wrapped around a cross. Not only is this photograph similar to the cover of Barry Lynn’s book Piety and Politics, but both images bring to mind these words (purportedly from Sinclair Lewis, although I have been unable to verify them):

“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

Given the authoritarian tendencies of fundamentalists and their continued grasping for political power, that sentiment is frighteningly relevant today. Sam Harris laments the damage done by religion in “The Case Against Faith,” and observes:

It is, of course, taboo to criticize a person's religious beliefs. The problem, however, is that much of what people believe in the name of religion is intrinsically divisive, unreasonable and incompatible with genuine morality.

[…]

Religion is the one area of our discourse in which people are systematically protected from the demand to give good evidence and valid arguments in defense of their strongly held beliefs. And yet these beliefs regularly determine what they live for, what they will die for and—all too often—what they will kill for. Consequently, we are living in a world in which millions of grown men and women can rationalize the violent sacrifice of their own children by recourse to fairy tales.

Paul Krugman’s column “The Great Revulsion” in today’s New York Times is a must-read piece:

The election wasn’t just the end of the road for Mr. Bush’s reign of error. It was also the end of the 12-year Republican dominance of Congress.

[…]

I do hope and believe that this election marks the beginning of the end for the conservative movement that has taken over the Republican Party.

[…]

Two years ago, people were talking about permanent right-wing dominance of American politics. But since then the American people have gotten a clearer sense of what rule by movement conservatives means. They’ve seen the movement take us into an unnecessary war, and botch every aspect of that war. They’ve seen a great American city left to drown; they’ve seen corruption reach deep into our political process; they’ve seen the hypocrisy of those who lecture us on morality.

And they just said no.

My letter on the ACLU’s defense of civil liberties was published today, and drew some interesting responses on the newspaper’s online chat page. One respondent wrote this:

[name redacted] is entitled to his opinion. I would suggest, however, that he temper his letters…with a touch of humility. His arrogance is palpable.

to which I responded:

I would respectfully ask for guidance, then, on how I should have reacted to the original writer’s demonstrably false charges of hypocrisy against two groups to which I belong. I did not deem it appropriate to defend myself against his attacks with meekness and modesty. The respondent is entitled to his own—humble, of course—opinion about the “palpable arrogance” of my letter, but should recognize that it’s far easier to complain about a writer’s tone than to address his argument.

Another respondent had this to say:

[name redacted], a proud ACLU member is to be complimented for his munificence. He readily admits that he has no qualms when it comes to religion, as long as it is done in secret. It would be of interest to know what he considers ostentious when it comes to religious matters. Does he believe that one should only pray in a closet? He brags about protecting the liberties of those with whom he disagrees--while he would most vigorously deny the "FREE" exercise of religion to those who try to practice it.

[name redacted], in case you overlooked it, the 1st Amendment clearly states that, CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION. One would search in vain to find where the Constitution grants to the judiciary the right to restrict or limit the free exercise of religion. Alexander Hamilton wisely said: "The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the Divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power." One could rightly speculate that this Founding Father anticipated the likes of the ACLU and its atheistic myrmidons. [name redacted] thanks for your advice--I will now go into the nearest closet to pray.

[name and affiliation redacted]

to which I replied:

Let me state once again that I have no qualms about religious expression either in private or in public. It is Jesus himself who commanded his followers to pray in secret; I have neither the power nor the inclination to make such a demand. As a (non)religious minority in this country, I have long resigned myself to other people’s public expressions of faith. I would deny none of them—vigorously or otherwise—although I wish they would not be inserted into my Pledge of Allegiance, printed on my money, and forcibly subsidized with my tax revenue. I consider each of those instances to be ostentatious violations of the first amendment.

My qualms revolve around the entanglement of church and state, delineated in the clause “respecting an establishment of religion” that the respondent conveniently overlooked while typing the first amendment’s free exercise phrase IN ALL CAPS into his response. One could rightly speculate that Jefferson and Madison anticipated the likes of tinpot theocrats who would eagerly attempt to use state power to advance their own religious agenda, and therefore took steps to codify church/state separation into the Virginia Statue on Religious Freedom, the Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, and the Bill of Rights. Thankfully, the first amendment—and its frequent defenders, the judiciary and the ACLU—wisely protects freedom of conscience for both the Christian majority and the myriad religious minorities in America.

I don’t mind the sarcastic comments about “munificence” and “bragging,” but the “myrmidon” reference is pure projection on his part [see note below]. If any group can be said to unquestioningly accept commands—and commandments—it is fundamentalists and other Biblical literalists. Expecting blind obedience from atheists would be less fruitful than herding cats. We’re far too individualistic a group for that, as the word “freethinkers” implies.

He has also not addressed my central point: that many Christians are ignoring the words of their own sacred text and contradicting Jesus’ own command that they not pray in public “that they may be seen of men.” I (humbly) await a justification, if anyone would care to attempt one.


update: A follow-up post is here.


update 2 (4/24 @ 2:02pm):
A series of studies, published as Atheists: A Groundbreaking Study of America's Nonbelievers (by Bruce E. Hunsberger and Bob Altemeyer), states that “atheists may be one of the least authoritarian groups you can find.” (p. 109) Atheists scored much lower on the following RWA (right-wing authoritarianism) attitudes than did religious believers:

…authoritarian submission (to established authorities), authoritarian aggression (against anyone the authorities target), and conventionalism (adhering to the social conventions thought to be endorsed by society and the established authorities). (p. 97)

As I suspected, the “myrmidons” comment was indeed a baseless slur on atheists.

Ann Coulter asserts in her latest column, “Historic victory for Diebold!,” that the 2006 midterm election represented “the death throes of a dying party.” Her statement may well be true, but it’s not the Democrats who are in trouble. The Libertarian-versus-Christianist rift is deepening, and may well split the GOP in two. It is unclear who will get custody of the shared corruption.

MediaMatters has already shown the falsity of her claim that the Democrats’ gains were “pathetic” by historical standards. Once again, Coulter is the “half-bright” with “absolutely no concept of yesterday.” (Of course, that’s not news to anyone who’s read her books.)

I agree with Rush

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Rush Limbaugh feels "liberated" by the election results, as do many Americans. Limbaugh, however, offered this tepid excuse for his pre-election support for the GOP:

I no longer am going to have to carry the water for people who I don't think deserve having their water carried. Now, you might say, "Well, why have you been doing it?" Because the stakes are high. Even though the Republican Party let us down, to me they represent a far better future for my beliefs and therefore the country's than the Democrat [sic] Party and liberalism does.

Andrew Sullivan nails Rush for intellectual dishonesty:

Awwww. I'm so sorry Limbaugh had to lie through his teeth to try and keep in the good graces of his Republican masters.

If only more people did the same, our political discourse would be greatly improved.


update (3:30pm):
Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice has a list of people who repudiate Rush's water-carrying.

I crunched some numbers (using CNN's vote totals for the Senate races) to figure out the Democrats' margin of victory yesterday. As the not-yet-finalized numbers show, Democrats (including Lieberman and Sanders) earned 30,669,125 votes to the Republicans' 24,998,639. This 10% margin of victory (53.7%-to-43.8%) was due to 5,670,486 votes.

By way of comparison, Bush's victory over Kerry in the 2004 election looked like this: Bush's 62,040,610 votes versus Kerry's 59,028,111 votes was a 50.7% to 48.3% victory, a 2% margin of 3,012,499 votes. This means that the Democratic mandate is significantly larger than the one claimed by Bush two years ago. (I'm not waiting for the SCLM to use the word "mandate," though.)

Donald Rumsfeld is the first rat to desert Bush’s sinking ship of state. As Dubya remarked at a press conference this morning, “after a series of thoughtful conversations, Secretary Rumsfeld and I agreed that the timing is right for new leadership at the Pentagon.”

Rumsfeld’s replacement will be Robert Gates, who may be familiar to careful observers from his peripheral role in Reagan’s Iran/Contra scandal. Lawrence Walsh noted in the sixteenth chapter of his Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters:

Like those of many other Iran/contra figures, the statements of Gates often seemed scripted and less than candid. Nevertheless, given the complex nature of the activities and Gates's apparent lack of direct participation, a jury could find the evidence left a reasonable doubt that Gates either obstructed official inquiries or that his two demonstrably incorrect statements were deliberate lies.

Who’s next?


update (8:18pm):
Glenn Greenwald observes at Crooks and Liars that Bush lied last week when he claimed Rumsfeld would remain as SecDef for the next two years:

What possible justification is there for the President to definitively assure the country that Rumsfeld is staying when he was actively in the process of replacing him? That a major election is about to be held is a reason which compels disclosure of such an important matter, not which justifies its dishonest concealment.

We've become so accustomed to being lied to in this manner by our political leaders that the President can just casually admit to this (just like he can casually admit to breaking the law), and it causes only the most minor of controversies, if that.

The polls taken yesterday paint this midterm election as being a referendum on GOP corruption. With that in mind, I was pleased to hear this part of Nancy Pelosi’s remarks, where she stated her intention to lead “the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history."

Remembering Sean Hannity’s statement that preventing Pelosi from becoming Speaker of the House was “worth fighting and dying for,” I wondered to myself, “This is the woman who the GOP painted as some sort of bomb-throwing radical? Why are Republicans so afraid of her?” Then it hit me.

Honesty, openness, and ethics; that’s why they’re afraid of her.

As Sara Robinson wrote in her piece “Liberals and the Vision Thing” this afternoon:

Today is a referendum -- not just on Bush and his regime, but on the whole four decades over which that post-Goldwater Republican juggernaut has been rolling. […] … the GOP has driven us into precisely the same ditch it ran us into in 1929, fueled by the same ignorance and graft, flaunting the same blatant disregard for any sense of the common good, pillaging our vast accumulated social capital for its members' own private enrichment. Now that the devastating results are coming clear to all but that last deluded 30%, we need to make the words "conservative" and "Republican" forever synonymous with this mess.

We need to teach it in our history classes, and tell the tales to our own grandchildren. This, children, is what happens when you abandon liberalism. This is what's happened every damned time we've ever handed conservatives the keys and let them drive.

[…]

We may vote them out of Congress today. We might even, with luck, take back the Senate. We can make George Bush's next two years a living hell (and I hope we do). But let's not forget that these are True Believers with 40 years already invested in a vision -- and no matter how badly we thrash them at the ballot box or on the floor of Congress, they will not be going away.

The Senate is still a nail-biter, but the House looks like a done deal. Congratulations to Speaker Pelosi!

no special rights

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AC Grayling’s piece at The Guardian, “Religions don’t deserve special treatment,” says several of those things about deference to religion that need to be said more often:

It is time to reverse the prevailing notion that religious commitment is intrinsically deserving of respect, and that it should be handled with kid gloves and protected by custom and in some cases law against criticism and ridicule.

It is time to refuse to tip-toe around people who claim respect, consideration, special treatment, or any other kind of immunity, on the grounds that they have a religious faith, as if having faith were a privilege-endowing virtue, as if it were noble to believe in unsupported claims and ancient superstitions. It is neither. Faith is a commitment to belief contrary to evidence and reason, as between them Kierkegaard and the tale of Doubting Thomas are at pains to show; their example should lay to rest the endeavours of some (from the Pope to the Southern Baptists) who try to argue that faith is other than at least non-rational, given that for Kierkegaard its virtue precisely lies in its irrationality.

On the contrary: to believe something in the face of evidence and against reason - to believe something by faith - is ignoble, irresponsible and ignorant, and merits the opposite of respect. It is time to say so.

Grayling concludes that:

…no organised religion, as an institution, has a greater claim to the attention of others in society than does a trade union, political party, voluntary organisation, or any other special interest group - for "special interest groups" are exactly what churches and organised religious bodies are.

No one could dream of demanding that political parties be respected merely because they are political parties, or of protecting them from the pens of cartoonists; nor that their members should be. On the contrary. And so it should be for all interest groups and their members, without exception.

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

Molly Ivins has a list of reasons to vote today:

May I remind you what this election is about? Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, unprecedented presidential powers, unmatched incompetence, unparalleled corruption, unwarranted eavesdropping, Katrina, Enron, Halliburton, global warming, Cheney's secret energy task force, record oil company profits, $3 gasoline, FEMA, the Supreme Court, Diebold, Florida in 2000, Ohio in 2004, Terri Schiavo, stem cell research, golden parachutes, shrunken pensions, unavailable and expensive health care, habeas corpus, no weapons of mass destruction, sacrificed soldiers and Iraqi civilians, wasted billions, Taliban resurgence, expiration of the assault weapons ban, North Korea, Iran, intelligent design, swift boat hit squads, and on and on.

This election is about that, but much more -- it's about honor, dignity and comity in this country. It's about the Constitution, which gives us this great nation. Bush ran on a pledge of "restoring honor and integrity" to the White House. Instead, he brought us Tom DeLay, Roy Blunt, Katherine Harris, John Doolittle, Jerry Lewis, Richard Pombo, Mark Foley, Dennis Hastert, David Safavian, Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed, Karl Rove and an illegal and immoral war in Iraq. People, it's up to you.

(Thanks to Tom Tomorrow for the tip.)

This is pathetic in a way that must be seen to be believed: the White House has edited the “Mission Accomplished” video from 1 May 2003 to crop the banner out of the image. YouTube has the video.

(Thanks to DU for the tip.)

tomorrow's the day!

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This “What Is at Stake” editorial from The Nation is worth re-reading in preparation for Election Day:

November 7 has taken on the shape and feel of a fateful election. We hope the results add up to repudiation--the beginning of the end of the disastrous, corrupt reign of George W. Bush. […] If the Democrats do succeed in winning a majority in the House of Representatives and possibly even in the Senate, then the country has a chance to begin the fundamental task of restoring democracy and the constitutional order that Bush & Co. did so much to desecrate.

[…]

Democrats could revive what used to be a staple of representative democracy--accountability, the power of Congress to question the chief executive and demand answers for misdeeds and misguided policies. A tall stack of outrages, lies and potentially criminal abuses awaits examination. Manipulation of intelligence. War profiteering. Energy policies that ignore global warming and fatten oil-industry hogs. The destruction of constitutional rights. The cynical neglect of citizens injured in New Orleans and elsewhere. The looting of the Treasury by lobbyist fixers and wholesale tax giveaways. A healthcare system that serves drug manufacturers and insurance companies instead of people. The list goes on and on.

Speaking of a list, this YouTube video shows that the list of corrupt Republicans can’t even be read in a single breath. (Thanks to John at AmericaBlog for the tip.) For a more comprehensive reminder of what we can expect if the GOP continues to control Washington, check out this list I wrote back in June. Since the GOP scandals haven’t abated since then, there are a few additions:

More heinous laws like the Military Commissions Act, more Mark Foley sexual predation, more Denny Hastert cover-ups, more lies about the “stay the course” policy in Iraq, more George Allen racism, more Don Sherwood payoffs to mistresses, and more Curt Weldon nepotism.

We’re the only ones who can make the GOP corruption stop, and our only weapon is the ballot. At Progressive Daily Beacon, A. Alexander explains “Why You Must Vote: Republican Abuse of Power:”

If on the other hand you, the American voter, sense a pattern of corruption and If on the other hand you, the American voter, sense a pattern of corruption and abuse of power - vote and cast your ballot for the Democratic ticket. Remember, the only power politicians have is that given to them through the generosity of your vote. Whether or not you, the American voter, believe it - you've got all the power. On Tuesday, November 7, 2006, consider using your power to take back your country. On the other hand, if you haven't had enough Republican abuse of power...

Brent Budowsky’s “The Issue Is Corruption of Conservatism and Damage to America” advances the claim—mistaken, in my opinion—that “the Republican government in Washington bears no resemblance to the core principles of conservatism:”

In many ways Bushism and Cheneyism have violated cardinal rules of principled conservatism with great harm to the nation and, I predict, great harm to true conservatism and the Republican Party.

Bushism involves a violation of the central tenet of conservatism and has become a new form of Big Government super-statism. In many respects Bushism is more akin to French style Gaullism than American style conservatism: big government with centralized power.

It violates classic conservatism and as well as liberalism, for an all powerful executive to claim the unilateral and inherent power to violate the constitutional and to violate Federal Statute.

Some conservatives, but far too few, have protested this extreme attitude which is an American version of neo-Gaullism, and threatens time honored notions of separation of powers and the rule of law that conservatives once held dear.

Bushism involves an extreme violation of the core idea of libertarian conservatism and the core notions of the right to protection against intrusion from the centralized super-state.

Whether or not one believes the ever-more-common claim that the Bush administration’s failures represent a betrayal of conservatism, the failures nonetheless exist. Whether or not the impending GOP implosion is a failure of unworkable principles or merely Acton’s Law in action, the corruption nonetheless exists. Whether it is Bushism or conservatism that has proven unworkable in the twenty-first century and brought our nation to this condition, a need for change nonetheless exists. This must-read New York Times editorial concludes that tomorrow’s election is indeed a referendum on Bush:

This election is indeed about George W. Bush — and the Congressional majority’s insistence on protecting him from the consequences of his mistakes and misdeeds. Mr. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 and proceeded to govern as if he had an enormous mandate. After he actually beat his opponent in 2004, he announced he now had real political capital and intended to spend it. We have seen the results. It is frightening to contemplate the new excesses he could concoct if he woke up next Wednesday and found that his party had maintained its hold on the House and Senate. [emphasis added]

To top it all off, even the latest issue of Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative magazine is titled “GOP Must Go:”

There may be little Americans can do to atone for this presidency, which will stain our country’s reputation for a long time. But the process of recovering our good name must begin somewhere, and the logical place is in the voting booth this Nov. 7. If we are fortunate, we can produce a result that is seen—in Washington, in Peoria, and in world capitals from Prague to Kuala Lumpur—as a repudiation of George W. Bush and the war of aggression he launched against Iraq.

[…]

On Nov. 7, the world will be watching as we go to the polls, seeking to ascertain whether the American people have the wisdom to try to correct a disastrous course. Posterity will note too if their collective decision is one that captured the attention of historians—that of a people voting, again and again, to endorse a leader taking a country in a catastrophic direction. The choice is in our hands.

Conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan says this in his comment on the AmCon editorial:

Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, we have to repudiate this administration's disastrous incompetence, or face even greater perils than we have been exposed to already. Tomorrow's the day. Do not be silent.

Sullivan’s column in the Sunday Times lambastes the “incompetent, reckless fanatics now in control:”

My own profound hope is for a resounding victory for the Democrats. That’s not because I agree with them on every issue. Far from it. But I can recognise incompetence, fanaticism and recklessness when I see them; and right now, all three have seized the White House and the Republican leadership. It will be good for the Republicans to lose this election. […]

Given the level of denial in the White House, this is not really an election. It’s more like an intervention. To save Republicanism from Bush, to save Bush from himself, and to save the world from impending crisis.

Protect My Vote, the American Center for Voting Rights, and the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project are useful resources against those who are attempting voter suppression and intimidation—as well as other dirty tricks— to influence tomorrow’s election.


update (1:39pm):
MediaMatters lists the “Top election falsehoods, myths, and talking points.” It’s essential reading, as usual.

This episode of “Battle-Action Bush and the Keyboard Kommandos” is a humorous break from the wall-to-wall seriousness of the soon-to-be-over election season.

Andrew Sullivan’s “quote of the day” is from disgraced evangelist Ted Haggard, who described his same-sex desires this morning as “repulsive and dark.” Sullivan responds, in part:

One day, he may realize, and I pray he does, that the only dark and repulsive thing is the closet, the betrayal of his wife and children, the destruction of a church, and the demonization of others in the same boat - all as a function of his own inability to face the truth. What is dark and repulsive is dishonesty.

There is no commandment not to be gay. There is a commandment not to bear false witness. Haggard bore false witness - to himself, to his wife, to his traumatized kids, to his fellow gay men and women. repeatedly, pathologically, self-destructively. The right response for Christians is compassion and forgiveness. But also hope: hope that this will help spread the truth about what being gay actually is.

Face it, Ted. Face the truth. It will set you - and so many others - free. [emphasis added]

Sullivan on doubt

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Andrew Sullivan’s latest essay in Time, “When Not Seeing Is Believing,” purports to discuss the significance of religious doubt in the current global clash of fundamentalisms. Unfortunately, he bogs down his argument in a swamp of semi-coherent sentimentality:

If we have never doubted, how can we say we have really believed? True belief is not about blind submission. It is about open-eyed acceptance, and acceptance requires persistent distance from the truth, and that distance is doubt. Doubt, in other words, can feed faith, rather than destroy it. And it forces us, even while believing, to recognize our fundamental duty with respect to God's truth: humility. We do not know. Which is why we believe.

You can do better, Andrew.

The debate at BeliefNet that I referred to here has concluded. Although I didn’t follow up at the time, I felt it appropriate to do so now.

Reed continues, Wallis responds, Reed closes, and Wallis ends the debate. As in the earlier parts of the exchange, Wallis clearly gets the better of Reed. Starting with drawing a distinction between charity and justice, Wallis criticizes Reed’s reliance on GOP talking points by suggesting that they should “look for policies that are grounded in biblical principles of justice rather than in Republican ideology.”

Reed makes a factual error concerning unemployment rates. The August unemployment rate—the most recent as of his post—was indeed 4.7%, it was not, as he claimed, the lowest rate in the past 30 years. In April 2000, during the Clinton era it hit a low of 3.8%. Wallis doesn’t point this out to Reed, but he does set Reed straight on the Reagan administration sucking up to Saddam Hussein, who later became the “great distraction” from Dubya’s war on terror.

Wallis’ coup de grace is the observation that “to continually cut effective programs for poor families…while cutting more taxes for the rich and making them richer every year…doesn’t sound like the economics of Jesus to me.” He concludes that we need a bipartisan “grand alliance:”

Liberals must start talking about the problems of out-of wedlock births, strengthening both marriage and parenting, and wealth creation programs such as Individual Development Accounts and homeownership. Conservatives must start talking about strategic public investments in child care, education, health care, affordable housing, and living family incomes.

I would enjoy seeing more discussions like this one, with perhaps a third party to do fact-checking.

If you haven’t heard the full story of Alyssa Peterson, here is your chance to catch up. It isn’t a Fox-style fabrication like the Jessica Lynch tale, but a real-life examination of heroism of a soldier making the best of an untenable situation.

Alyssa Peterson was serving in Tal-Afar, in northwestern Iraq near the Syrian border. Following the Rumsfeld vocal command, her unit was directed to begin the use of a series of brutal, highly coercive techniques, likely including physical assaults on prisoners. Alyssa reacted to this with shock and she refused to participate. […] After this conflict with her command authority, Alyssa was given training for suicide watch and sent to supervise Iraqi guards. An investigation concluded that on the night of September 13, she committed suicide using her service rifle.

Whether or not she actually took her own life is, in the opinion of many, still an open question.

(Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the tip.)

This video at YouTube of Richard Dawkins and Ted Haggard—from Dawkins’ The Root of All Evil documentary— is well worth viewing. There is a priceless exchange where Haggard accuses Dawkins of “intellectual arrogance,” as if anything were more arrogant than claiming that shallow knowledge of a single book makes one’s judgment intrinsically superior to the accumulated expertise of everyone who disagrees.

There is another, slightly longer, clip here.

(Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the tip.)

Mark Kleiman writes in “Beyond Kafka” at HuffPo:

Can you imagine a government so absurdly tyrannical, so brutally insane, that it forbids "enemies of the state" to complain about being tortured on the grounds that interrogation techniques are state secrets? [emphasis in original]

The Washington Post article, “US Seeks Silence on CIA Prisons,” tells an appalling tale of abuse:

The Bush administration has told a federal judge that terrorism suspects held in secret CIA prisons should not be allowed to reveal details of the "alternative interrogation methods" that their captors used to get them to talk. The government says in new court filings that those interrogation methods are now among the nation's most sensitive national security secrets and that their release -- even to the detainees' own attorneys -- "could reasonably be expected to cause extremely grave damage."

[…]

The government, in trying to block lawyers' access to the 14 detainees, effectively asserts that the detainees' experiences are a secret that should never be shared with the public.

I may have been too harsh in previously saying that “modern conservatism” is an oxymoron; the Busheviks has proven time and time again that they are drawing inspiration from somewhat rececnt sources. Unfortunately, those sources are the writings of George Orwell, Franz Kafka, and Lewis Carroll. They are laboring mightily to turn dystopian fiction into reality, and—all too often—they are succeeding.


update (5:39pm)
Kevin Frum at Washington Monthly has some comments:

This highlights the fundamental corruption of the human soul that torture causes. We know it's wrong, so not only do we torture prisoners, but we then do what we must to conceal what we've done. And then we try to conceal even that. Torture and secrecy, secrecy and torture, world without end.

That's not America. At least, it shouldn't be.

Daniel Dennett’s near-death epiphany should be required reading for the “no atheists in foxholes” crowd. After describing his experience surviving a dissection of the aorta, Dennett notes that:

…whereas religions may serve a benign purpose by letting many people feel comfortable with the level of morality they themselves can attain, no religion holds its members to the high standards of moral responsibility that the secular world of science and medicine does! […] This tradition puts its faith in the unlimited application of reason and empirical inquiry, checking and re-checking, and getting in the habit of asking "What if I'm wrong?" Appeals to faith or membership are never tolerated. Imagine the reception a scientist would get if he tried to suggest that others couldn't replicate his results because they just didn't share the faith of the people in his lab! And, to return to my main point, it is the goodness of this tradition of reason and open inquiry that I thank for my being alive today.

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

Garry Wills’ “A Country Ruled by Faith” at NYRB leads with this observation:

The right wing in America likes to think that the United States government was, at its inception, highly religious, specifically highly Christian, and even more specifically highly biblical. That was not true of that government or any later government—until 2000, when the fiction of the past became the reality of the present.

The reminder of the piece is a bracing examination of the role of “faith-based certitude” in the Bush administration’s many miserable failures.

Dale Carpenter writes at Volokh Conspiracy about the success of same-sex marriage in Scandinavia, as well as its (possible) positive effect on the institution as a whole. William Eskridge and Darren Spedale, co-authors of the book Gay Marriage: For Better or For Worse? What We've Learned From the Evidence, summarize their findings of Scandinavia's seventeen-year experience with same-sex marriage:

[T]here is no evidence that allowing same-sex couples to marry weakens the institution. If anything, the numbers indicate the opposite. A decade after Denmark, Norway and Sweden passed their respective partnership laws, heterosexual marriage rates had risen 10.7% in Denmark; 12.7% in Norway; and a whopping 28.8% in Sweden. [...] On average, divorce rates among heterosexuals remain lower now than in the years before same-sex partnerships were legalized. In addition, out-of-wedlock birthrates in each of these countries contradict the suggestion by social conservatives that gay marriage will lead to great increases in out-of-wedlock births and therefore less family stability for children.

[...]

It would be difficult, and suspect, to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between these trends in heterosexual marriage and marriage rights for gays and lesbians. But the facts demonstrate that there is no proof that same-sex marriage will harm the institution of marriage, or children. [emphasis added]

Andrew Sullivan asks, while slyly referencing his long-held support for marriage equality, "Who would have thought that encouraging marriage for everyone would do all that?" The joy of being able to say "I told you so" is tempered slightly by the recognition that the opponents of marriage--such as Rick "man on dog" Santorum will likely never admit that they were wrong. Eskridge and Spedale conclude that problems with society can't be realistically blamed on same-sex marriage:

Rather than scapegoating gay couples as the attackers from which marriage needs "defending," pundits and politicians alike should look to no-fault divorce, prenuptial agreements and legal recognition of heterosexual cohabitation as the real culprits of weakened marriage. As the evidence indicates, societies where gay couples have the rights of marriage seem to be doing just fine.

Chrish at NewsHounds rips Faux News host John Gibson for whining about the other networks’ coverage of GOP scandals. Gibson cited a stat about the big three broadcast networks’ recent coverage: “Midterms in 2006 got 167 stories, and 77 percent were pro-Dem” and concludes: “The mainstream media, typified by the ‘Big Three,’ is rooting for the Dems to win, and slant coverage to make it happen.” Chrish punctures Gibson’s “fair and balanced” shtick:

It doesn't occur to partisan Gibson that perhaps the news for Republicans just IS bad and the networks are reporting it straight. With Iraq a fiasco, Republicans being sentenced and investigated, the Foley page scandal and House leadership cover-up, and Congressional spending completely out of control there's really not much positive to say.

Gibson, indoctrinated by his network, seems to think that those numbers should be spun into something more "fair and balanced", that is, prop up Republicans somehow so at least half the stories are favorable to them, and talk down the Democrats to a comparable figure. But the coverage is fine. The Republicans really are a mess right now and compared to them Democrats are pretty appealing. Reality bites, huh?

Coulter update

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The South Florida Sun-Sentinel discusses the pending referral of Ann Coulter’s felonious voting case to state prosecutors, due to her refusal to cooperate with the investigation.

(Thanks to Proud2BAmurkin at DU for the tip.)

This animation at YouTube purports to list and describe “The Ten Types of Republicans.” Except for the use of “irregardless,” it’s an entertaining piece.

(Thanks to TomPaine for the tip.)

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