December 2006 Archives

Now that Saddam’s reign of terror can never be reconstituted, it is worth remembering “The Top Ten Ways the US Enabled Saddam Hussein.” Juan Cole reminds us at a highly appropriate time that while Saddam was unquestionably a monster, he was our monster.

Dahlia Lithwick lists the 10 most outrageous civil liberties violations in “The Bill of Wrongs” at Slate. It’s depressing to consider that we have 2007 and 2008 to endure before our long national nightmare of Bushism will be over.

The upcoming Underdog movie is using “One nation…under dog” as the tag line on the poster (h/t: Stupid Evil Bastard)


Like SEB, I’m also waiting for the wingnut heads to start imploding.

Hitchens on Ford

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Ever the contrarian, Christopher Hitchens savages Gerald Ford’s reputation in “Our Short National Nightmare” at Slate. Hitchens begins by bemoaning the “piety and hypocrisy” endemic in presidential passings—the exemplar of which was surely conservatives’ orgy of mourning over Saint Reagan in 2004—in our “sickly national farewell” to our thirty-ninth president, and then begins to set the record straight:

You may choose, if you wish, to parrot the line that Watergate was a "long national nightmare," but some of us found it rather exhilarating to see a criminal president successfully investigated and exposed and discredited. And we do not think it in the least bit nightmarish that the Constitution says that such a man is not above the law. Ford's ignominious pardon of this felonious thug meant, first, that only the lesser fry had to go to jail. It meant, second, that we still do not even know why the burglars were originally sent into the offices of the Democratic National Committee.


The Ford epoch did not banish a nightmare. It ended a dream—the ideal of equal justice under the law that would extend to a crooked and venal president. And in Iraq and Indonesia and Indochina, it either protracted existing nightmares or gave birth to new ones.

Nick Bromell reminisces about his friendship with Scooter Libby in the latest American Scholar, and criticizes Lynne Cheney’s fundamentalist mindset while defining his own liberalism:

Like Judge Learned Hand, I believe that “the spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right.” In short, I am a liberal by temperament, and Cheney is a fundamentalist.

A liberal, as I use the term, is someone who never gives up trying to see the other person’s point of view. A liberal never stops doubting himself, for self-doubt is precisely what allow us to make room in our minds for someone else’s views and to keep the possibility of communication between us alive. A fundamentalist, on the other hand, is someone to whom the very idea of point of view is immaterial, or worse—the foundation of relativism. A warrior who pledges fealty to the god of one Truth, a fundamentalist searches for personal conviction, not mutual understanding. So she regards skepticisms as apostasy, hesitations as heresy, and doubts as moral turpitude.


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Those who haven't yet read enough declarations of conservatism that are simultaneously declamations of Bushism should read Ethan Fishman's piece "Not Compassionate, Not Conservative" in the latest American Scholar. (Fishman quotes from two Richard Hofstadter essays, "The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt" from 1954 and "Pseudo-Conservatism Revisited" from 1965, and traces Hofstadter's use of the term "pseudo-conservatism" to Theodor Adorno, but James Bond writes here that it has an even earlier provenance.) Fishman uses the concept of pseudo-conservatism to distinguish the current standard-bearers of conservatism from their Aristotlean/Burkean forebears:

...what makes the Bush administration an example of pseudo-conservatism is its dogmatic commitment to laissez-faire policies that deny the relevance of universal ideals and that rely primarily on market forces to guide economic activities. In its pursuit of laissez-faire economic policies, the Bush administration has relaxed banking standards, introduced no-bid government contracts, allowed private corporations greater access to public lands, and refrained from limiting monopolistic practices. It has sought, furthermore, to reduce governmental responsibility for the welfare of its elderly citizens by advocating the privatization of Social Security accounts.


Consistent in its inconsistency, the Bush administration celebrates economic freedom while acting to curtail other basic American freedoms, such as privacy, religion, speech, and press. The same government that hesitates to apply explicit moral standards to economic behavior has had few qualms about restricting the Fourth Amendment right against warrrantless searches, loosening rules on the confidentiality of medical records, supporting faith-based initiatives that cause citizens to subsidize religions to which they do not belong, ordering librarians to divulge information on material checked out by patrons, and attempting to influence the content of National Public Radio and public television. Equally disturbing has been its approach to sexual issues.


Certainty in the face of strong evidence to the contrary is the hallmark of ideological thinking. Ultimately, it is the ideological quality of Bush administration policies that classifies them as pseudo-conservative.

The Washington Post / Newsweek “On Faith” series has had several interesting pieces to date, but Sam Harris’ “God’s Enemies Are More Honest Than His Friends” is the highlight. Along the way, he lists—and succinctly demolishes—the three arguments for theism: religion is true, religion is useful, and atheism is bad. Harris criticizes “Iron Age stupidity and horror,” noting that:

Our capacity for self-destruction is now spreading with 21st century efficiency, and yet our beliefs about how we should pass our days and nights on this earth still spring from ancient literature. This marriage of modern technology and preliterate superstition is a bad one, for reasons that I should not have to specify, much less argue for—and yet, arguing for them has taken up most of my time since September 11th, 2001, the day that nineteen pious men showed our pious nation just how beneficial religious certainty can be.

I recommend the entire site, as true dialogue on faith is something sorely lacking in our public discourse. As Harris himself observed previously:

If there is common ground to be found through interfaith dialogue, it will only be found by people who are willing to keep their eyes averted from the chasm that divides their faith from all others. It is time we began to wonder whether such a strategy of politeness and denial will ever heal the divisions in our world.

True dialogue requires a willingness to have one’s beliefs about reality modified through conversation. Such an openness to criticism and inquiry is the very antithesis of dogmatism.

update (10:26pm):
Speaking of dialogue, Cal Thomas makes a number of elementary mistakes in “The Atheist Wager.” James Hrynyshyn gives Thomas a good fisking in “Worst Columnist Ever” (h/t: PZ Myers):

Every now and then someone with a substantial public platform says or writes something that transcends the stupid to the realm of the genuinely idiotic. […] … it's not every day that every single phrase in a widely distributed, non-Ann Coulter column is so utterly wrong. Plus, the folks who syndicate Thomas describe him as "America's most widely syndicated op-ed columnist," so it's hard to let him go without a rebuttal.

The rebuttal that Hrynyshyn delivers is brutal, but no less than Thomas deserves.

Taibbi on hate

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Matt Taibbi writes in “Keep on Hatin’” at Rolling Stone about the trap which could befall Democrats: fighting the GOP so intently that they becoming too much like them.

It is amazing to me that people can walk into a bookstore, see a pair of books whose titles begin with I Hate... , and still believe that the two books are different, simply because the politics of one are conservative and the politics of the other are liberal. Even though it is astoundingly obvious, I'm beginning to think that the vast majority of Americans will not realize until it is too late that this is the same shit. Hating the other guy, it's the new racism. It's imposed from above, like racism, and it serves the same purpose. It keeps the population mesmerized by irrelevant passions and distracted from their natural business of tending to their own real political problems.

Dennis Prager writes at TownHall that "The Culture War Is About the Authority of a Book." He claims that those who "believe in the divinity and authority of the Five Books of Moses [...] line up together on virtually every major social/moral issue."

This observation is correct, and exactly illustrates the primary problem in America today: masses of people familiar with only a single book--and that one read uncritically--feel themselves qualified on the basis of their near-unsurpassable ignorance to dictate the manner and minutiae of everyone's lives. Sociology, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, history, archaeology, physics, biology, geology, astronomy, cosmology...the collected knowledge of humanity counts as nothing for those people who believe that ancient myths and monstrosities should rule the modern era as they did in the era of royalty, slavery, and tribal hatred.

I wouldn't want to be on Prager's side of that "dividing line."

(Incidentally, Prager manages to overlook--whether though ignorance or for rhetorical convenience, I will not speculate--the fact that Muslims also "believe in the divinity of the Torah." Would including Islam in the group of Western monotheistic religions have undermined Prager's argument?)

Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, has written an insightful piece about “The Real War on Christians.” The war is real elsewhere in the world, where actual persecution exists, in stark contrast to the persecution complex here. Haynes points out that “Christians in America never had it so good:”

Where else on Earth do Christians have more freedom to evangelize, organize, publish and worship – all without government interference?

What really bothers some American evangelicals is not the lack of freedom — it’s the loss of monopoly. Many of the conflicts in the so-called “war on Christians” appear to be about restoring the “good old days” when Protestant Christianity was semi-established as the national religion. [emphasis added]

Those are the facts which all the “war on Christianity” fantasies will never address.

Greg Laden posted this hilarious piece (h/t: PZ Myers at Pharyngula), which I am quoting in full:

A Prayer to the Faith Based

I’m sorry, and I don’t mean to offend you,
And you didn’t even ask for this but
I’m going to put in a plug for your beliefs
So that you won’t get too mad at me as I utter words
With which you or someone you know may not agree,
(No matter how utterly wrong you may happen to be)

It is good that you are religious
And I will personally defend your right to believe
Whatever it is you do in fact believe,
And I affirm that it is OK to put
Phrases regarding your beliefs on my money
And for you to assume that
I will swear to your god

when I am on jury duty
when I am drafted into the army
when I am elected to office
when I am in the witness stand
and whenever else I must affirm
that I am moral and will not lie.

i Will Capitalize Your Word for God
And the Name of Your Holy Book
And Other Entities and Documents
As You Dictate These Rules To me.

I offer this pandering to your particular beliefs,
regardless of what they may happen to be,
despite the fact that your cultural ancestors,
the mavens and leaders of one church or another,
burned at the stake or otherwise humiliated mine,
The early scientists and freethinkers,
I affirm this because I cannot at the moment
Remember where I put my spine.


defending Monica

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Libby Copeland’s WaPo article “From Thong to Thesis” expresses a sort of dumbfounded amazement that Monica Lewinsky could manage to both have an affair with a president and earn a master’s degree. I don’t understand Copeland’s surprise at Lewinsky’s erudition and the title of her thesis. After all, media interest in Lewinsky during the scandal was largely limited to her sartorial selections and involvement with the Clenis.

Amanda Marcotte has some comments at Pandagon, and concludes with this observation:

No matter how you slice it, this article really says more about Copeland’s intelligence than Lewinsky’s.

Sam Harris’ “Ten Myths—and Ten Truths—About Atheism” from the LA Times would make an excellent subject for his next book. In it, Harris attributes the following words to historian Stephen Henry Roberts:

“I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

Bay of Fundie makes an observation about the “Christian nation” mindset that might actually help the rest of us relate to their problem understanding the first amendment’s separation of church and state. Eskow suspects that the main stumbling block in their thinking is that “[s]omebody lied to them and told them this is a Christian country, so now they all believe that.” Upon that shaky foundation, an entire edifice of revisionism is built:

So that is the fundie-mental problem (yes, read that both ways). This insight allows us to change our tactics. You can quote the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to them all you want, but that doesn’t matter to them. They think they own the country. We need to change that misconception first.

RJ Eskow writes about the Goode-vs-Ellison row at HuffPo, calling Ellison an "American Hero:”

I don't "tolerate" Keith Ellison. I admire, respect, and appreciate hm.

Ellison is an American hero. Like other civil rights heroes before him, he knew he would face an onslaught of brutal attacks for being the first to break a barrier - and for doing so without shame or apology. But he did it anyway, like Rosa Parks at the front of the bus or James Meredith entering a segregated university. Like John F. Kennedy running for President while bigots claimed he would "take orders from the Vatican." That, folks, is heroism American-style.

We need more heroism in Congress, and less religious correctness.

I rarely reprint anything in its entirety, but this deserves to be read in full:

ACLU's stand on Christmas misunderstood by many

The American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware would like to extend a warm thank you to the many people who have sent us Christmas cards this year.

Although most of the cards conveyed messages of peace and blessings, some who sent greetings may be under the mistaken impression that the ACLU disdains both Christmas and Christians.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Many of our own members and staff are dedicated Christians, and since 1920, the ACLU has defended the rights of all Americans, including Christians, to worship as they see fit.

For example, we recently advocated on behalf of a student in a New Jersey elementary school who wanted to sing "Awesome God" in a school talent show.

And despite reports to the contrary, we believe people should be free to say "Merry Christmas" to one another.

In the United States, we have inherited a tradition, both legal and social, of religious liberty. We may hold whatever beliefs we like, or none at all, without fear of government intrusion.

As religious wars rage around the world, we should not take our religious freedom for granted.

The U.S. Constitution protects our right to practice our religion in our homes, in our houses of worship and in the public square.

Some claim this is not enough, and that the government should not only protect our religious rights, but should itself practice and endorse a particular religious tradition. Religion thrives when government stays out of the business of deciding how best to celebrate religious holidays.

Religion prospers in the hands of individuals, families and faith communities. When the government endorses religion, the government ceases to protect religious freedom.

This holiday season, I will give thanks for the freedom to celebrate any way I choose. Cheers!

Drewry Nash Fennell, Executive Director, ACLU of Delaware


a joke, or not?

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Tales about veneration of Jesus’ “Holy Foreskin” should make everyone laugh, but I’m not sure if it’s a joke or not. Can anyone shed some light on this story’s veracity?

Sadly, it’s too late to make the obligatory “second coming” joke…

(h/t: Mojoey at Deep Thoughts)

Sagan update

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Ann Druyan reminisces about Sagan’s decade-long absence from our lives.

I wish more than ever that I could have met him.

This piece from the Dartmouth Review about Jeffrey Hart is enjoyable, as is the response from Hart to the article’s author. I particularly like the anecdote about this conclusion being edited out of the published version of Hart’s book The Making of the American Conservative Mind: National Review and Its Times:

“Bush will be judged the worst President in American history, from both a conservative and a liberal point of view, finding a consensus on the bottom, at last, and so achieving a landslide victory that evaded him in 2004.”

Hart explains later that his premature assessment of Dubya has been amply vindicated:

[William F] Buckley did object to my conclusion that Bush had been the worst American president in that earlier draft. He thought it too categorical, and, at the time I was writing, he was right. That was soon after the 2004 election. But much of the evidence now is in. And I’m sure that somewhere James Buchanan is throwing a champagne party. He’s no longer the worst.

(h/t: Clive at Andrew Sullivan)

Carl Sagan "blog-a-thon"

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Joel Schlosberg is organizing a special memorial to commemorate Carl Sagan’s life and accomplishments on the tenth anniversary of his death. Sagan’s son Nick wrote:

I hope you'll join in and take some time on that day to share your thoughts, memories, opinions and feelings about my dad. And if you could help spread the word, it would mean a lot to me.

Bearing in mind that my comments may be very similar to innumerable others, I would like to reflect on the legacy of Carl Sagan.

For a quick overview of his life, the Wikipedia page on Carl Sagan is a great starting point. It covers everything from Stanford to SETI to the Planetary Society. For more detail one need simply read his numerous essays and books, or watch his delightful PBS series Cosmos. Cosmos is what cemented Sagan’s reputation as a popularizer of science for lay people, a skill at which he had no peers. The series is filled with the joys of speculating, of investigating, of learning and of sharing knowledge that are perhaps humanity’s most precious qualities. The rapture Dr Sagan expressed over the Library at Alexandria was a contagion to which I eagerly succumbed, and which cemented my lifelong affection for libraries. Although I did not choose to earn my living in a scientific field, Sagan helped to inspire in me a broad curiosity and a respect for rationality that has served me well. Sagan wrote rhapsodically in the preface to The Demon-Haunted World about the benefits of a liberal education:

At the University of Chicago I was also lucky enough to go through a general education program devised by Robert M. Hutchins, where science was presented as an integral part of the gorgeous tapestry of human knowledge. It was considered unthinkable for an aspiring physicist not to know Plato, Aristotle, Bach, Shakespeare, Gibbon, Malinowski, and Freud—among many others.

Even Sagan’s forays into speculative fiction were grounded in this love of continual learning. His novel Contact, the source for the celebrated movie starring Jodie Foster, was both enjoyable and thought-provoking. The film’s opening three-minute sequence is about the most arresting visual experience I’ve ever had, for which I must ultimately credit Sagan. The most memorable passage in the book—which did not make it to the screen—was a sequence on the last page involving pi. I sat there for several minutes after reading it, lost in contemplating the idea of a mathematical constant being used in such a fashion. If a mind could get goosebumps, mine had them at that moment.

Similar inspirational anecdotes are expressed by George Ricker in “Carl Sagan Remembered:”

Like many Americans, I first learned of Sagan when Cosmos began airing on PBS. I was captivated not only by the story being told but also by the exuberance of the man telling it. His love of science was infectious. It sent me off to the libraries and book stores, determined to correct some gaping holes in my own knowledge.


For me, as for many others, Sagan didn’t just rekindle a long dormant interest in science. He reminded me of the integration of all knowledge and the need to understand who we are and how we came to this time and place in the life of the cosmos. Sagan didn’t worship science, but he understood its value and saw clearly the dangers of scientific illiteracy in an age like ours.

Sagan’s collaborator (and third wife) Ann Druyan wondered aloud in “Where Would We Be With Carl” at the Carl Sagan Portal about his potential effect on us over the past decade had he survived his final illness:

We have traveled ten times around the Sun since Carl's death, and our little world is much changed. With his dazzling mind and vast knowledge, what would he have thought of the direction we, as a civilization, have taken in the years since? How might he have campaigned against the forces of darkness and brutality? How many minds might he have opened? During the last ten years, I have longed for the personal Carl of our love, family, and work together, but I have also keenly missed the man who was a global voice for science, exploration, reason, and democracy. Carl's ecological niche has remained tragically untenanted for all this time-and in my opinion, the consequences have been profound.

Her thoughts on saying goodbye to Sagan (which I blogged about here) are so breathtakingly beautiful that they deserve repetition:

Carl faced his death with unflagging courage and never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again. I don't ever expect to be reunited with Carl. But, the great thing is that when we were together, for nearly twenty years, we lived with a vivid appreciation of how brief and precious life is. We never trivialized the meaning of death by pretending it was anything other than a final parting. Every single moment that we were alive and we were together was miraculous… […] I don't think I'll ever see Carl again. But I saw him. We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful.

RIP, Dr Sagan. Your legacy is a remarkable one, and you are missed by many people who never met you.

worst. idiot. ever.

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Maybe it’s my sleep deprivation talking, but Bush is so far out of touch that words fail me. His comments on what Americans should do to alleviate an impending recession are so laughable that I have to assume he was drunk during Econ 101 (and every subsequent exposure to economic theory):

As we work with Congress in the coming year to chart a new course in Iraq and strengthen our military to meet the challenges of the 21st century, we must also work together to achieve important goals for the American people here at home. This work begins with keeping our economy growing. … And I encourage you all to go shopping more. [emphasis added]

Seriously, that’s all he has to offer: go shopping. It’s the perfect summation of the GOP attitude toward finances: spending more money than you have isn’t a problem, because your wealthy friends (or, in Dubya’s case, his father’s wealthy friends) are always willing to pony up some cash to stay in the good graces of the moneyed elite.

Actual economic reality isn’t a problem for him or for anyone he knows, so he assumes that it must not be a problem for anyone else. He doesn’t know anyone who is trying to raise a family on minimum wage, or living paycheck-to-paycheck, or uninsured, or unemployed, or being hounded by debt collectors, or bankrupt, or facing eviction, or homeless. He thinks everyone can piss away money they don't have like the GOP's drunken sailors in Congress.

“Go shopping more”…what a fucking idiot.

Andrew Sullivan writes about the inconvenient truth of Mary Cheney’s pregnancy in the latest issue of TNR, and how it is being discussed by “two rival conservative factions:”

…religious fundamentalists, who want to outlaw or deter homosexual love and sex on biblical or natural law grounds; and old-school conservatives, who want to treat the entire issue as a private matter--supporting public policy hostile to gay people and gay relationships while privately treating gay individuals with tact and respect. These two positions are increasingly untenable in modern America. They have been made untenable by the thing that is always most fatal to ideology: reality.

Sullivan notes the “strains and dissonances” that the two conflicting political ideologies are enduring in trying to mediate reality and Republicanism:

…it is into this incoherent ideological swamp that a new figure has walked. Mary Cheney is an unlikely person to catalyze this crisis--but there she is. Her very existence is an inconvenient truth. Usually, the architects of ideology can distance themselves from reality deftly enough to avoid embarrassment. But not this time.

Faced with the dilemma of two opposing stances, conservatives such as National Review’s Jonah Goldberg are attempting a third option: not taking a stand. Sullivan observes that:

In fact, it is now the only coherent conservative position on a matter made impossible to avoid by the living, breathing reality of a mother and her child. Their position is nothing at all. Neither for amending the constitution to bar gay marriage nor against it. Neither for gay marriage nor against it. Neither supportive of Mary Cheney nor hostile. After two decades of debate, discussion, state initiatives, lawsuits, protests, custody battles, and on and on, the last coherent conservative position is nothing. On Mary Cheney, they are forced to take a stand. But any stand either attacks the base of the party or attacks someone they know and love. So they have no alternative but to stand very still, say nothing, and hope that someone changes the subject. It is as close to intellectual and moral bankruptcy as one can imagine.

Ever the optimist, Sullivan speculates that even conservatives will eventually take a position on LGBT families that is “pro-family, pro-integration, pro-equality, and humane:”

One day, Mary Cheney's pregnancy may even come to be seen as a pivotal moment in that evolution. Derided by some gay activists, Cheney and her partner and their child may one day be seen as the real pioneers of a new world. Yes, this may be naïvely optimistic. But with a new life comes new hope--for Mary, Heather, and the rest of us. In the battle between ideology and reality, reality always wins. Eventually.

Jim Kunstler’s take on the classic Capra film It’s a Wonderful Life is devastating:

At a crucial point in the story, Clarence the guardian angel takes George Bailey on a tour of Bedford Falls as-if-George-had-never-been-born. Only the town is named Pottersville now. Main Street is lined with gin mills, strip clubs, and dance halls instead of wholesome banks, groceries, and pharmacies. (Oddly, casinos are absent, because in 1946 we lacked the vision to see how truly demoralized our nation could get.) Prostitutes ply the busy sidewalks. Now the weirdest thing is that Pottersville is depicted as a busy, bustling, lively place -- the exact opposite of what main streets all over America really became, thanks to George Bailey's efforts -- a wilderness of surface parking, from sea to shining sea, with WalMart waiting on the edge of every town like Moloch poised to inhale the last remaining vapors of America's morale. Frank Capra could imagine vibrant small towns turning their vibrancy in the direction of vice -- but he couldn't imagine them forsaken and abandoned, with the shop fronts boarded up and the sidewalks empty, which was the true tragic destiny of all the Bedford Falls in our nation.

Most ironically, today America's favorite main street town, Las Vegas, is Pottersville writ large, and most Americans see absolutely nothing wrong with it. How wonderful is that? [emphasis added]

(h/t: James Wolcott)

Not everyone at Southern Methodist University is not pleased about becoming associated with Dubya, via his impending presidential library. Texas Monthly has the text of a letter from SMU’s Perkins School of Theology:

"We count ourselves among those who would regret to see SMU enshrine attitudes and actions widely deemed as ethically egregious: degradation of habeas corpus, outright denial of global warming, flagrant disregard for international treaties, alienation of long-term U.S. allies, environmental predation, shameful disrespect for gay persons and their rights, a pre-emptive war based on false and misleading premises, and a host of other erosions of respect for the global human community and for this good Earth on which our flourishing depends. […] [T]hese violations are antithetical to the teaching, scholarship, and ethical thinking that best represents Southern Methodist University.

Is Bush’s base deserting him, or are the moderate religious elements within the GOP emboldened by the midterms?

(h/t: ThinkProgress)

Former congressman (R-GA) Bob Barr has left the GOP for the Libertarian Party. Barr’s strong pro-privacy stances—and his four-years-and-counting consultancy with the ACLU—have earned him the ire of many Busheviks. Barr announced to ABC News that:

"It's something that's been bothering me for quite some time, the direction in which the party has been going more and more toward big government and disregard toward privacy and civil liberties. […] In terms of where the country needs to be going to get back to our constitutional roots … I've come to the conclusion that the only way to do that is to work with a party that practices what it preaches, and that is the Libertarian Party.

Like I said, it’s not exactly surprising.

(h/t: Crooks and Liars)

Did George Washington append “so help me God” to his oath of office? Hardly a single “Christian nation” commentary is written without noting the alleged provenance of this extra-Constitutional phrase, but this anecdote might end up next to the fictitious Valley Forge Prayer and “Prayer Journals” in the dustbin of historical myths about our first president.

Jon Rowe has an excellent post on the subject, and suspects that—in the absence of any contemporary accounts—it appears that the practice did not begin until Chester A. Arthur’s inauguration in 1881.

I’ll have to look into this one a little more deeply, but it appears that another “Christian nation” myth has bitten the dust.

Randy Kennnedy’s “An Atheist Can Believe in Christmas” at the New York Times searches in vain for atheistic animus toward the winter holiday season of joy and goodwill. Kennedy quotes Sam Harris on the holidays:

“It seems to me to be obvious that everything we value in Christmas — giving gifts, celebrating the holiday with our families, enjoying all of the kitsch that comes along with it — all of that has been entirely appropriated by the secular world,” he said, “in the same way that Thanksgiving and Halloween have been.”

Richard Dawkins concurs:

“So divorced has Christmas become from religion that I find no necessity to bother with euphemisms such as happy holiday season. In the same way as many of my friends call themselves Jewish atheists, I acknowledge that I come from Christian cultural roots. I am a post-Christian atheist. So, understanding full well that the phrase retains zero religious significance, I unhesitatingly wish everyone a Merry Christmas.”

Kennedy gets a good dressing-down from Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon, who notes the competing mythologies: the Christian one, and the secular/cultural ones:

The stories aren’t competing so much as exist side-by-side. One is the story of the religious Christmas and one is the story of the secular Christmas. And I for one am thrilled that the biggest holiday in America and probably England has a central mythology that was written by a novelist, and not just any novelist, but one who was an early democratizer of literature. “A Christmas Carol” has resonance, despite many of its less than progressive elements, because it was a big step forward as a story down the right path.

PZ Myers writes in “Our War on Christmas” at Pharngula:

I take this holiday and turn it into a purely secular event, with family and friends and food and presents. I celebrate the season without thought of Jesus or any of the other myths so precious to the pious idiots who get upset when a Walmart gives them a cheery "Happy Holidays!".

For now, they have to pretend that this myth of the dour atheist, the sour old Scrooge sitting home alone because he refuses to bend his knee to Jesus, is actually true. Someday, though, they might just notice that there are an awful lot of secular folk having a good time in late December and early January. Maybe we need to get a children's book or a Christmas television special made…

Remember: Sol Invictus is the reason for the season!

Time magazine has announced their choice for 2006 Person of the Year, one that represents “another story, one that isn't about conflict or great men:”

It's a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It's about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people's network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.

The tool that makes this possible is the World Wide Web. Not the Web that Tim Berners-Lee hacked together (15 years ago, according to Wikipedia) as a way for scientists to share research. It's not even the overhyped dotcom Web of the late 1990s. The new Web is a very different thing. It's a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter. Silicon Valley consultants call it Web 2.0, as if it were a new version of some old software. But it's really a revolution.


America loves its solitary geniuses—its Einsteins, its Edisons, its Jobses—but those lonely dreamers may have to learn to play with others. Car companies are running open design contests. Reuters is carrying blog postings alongside its regular news feed. Microsoft is working overtime to fend off user-created Linux. We're looking at an explosion of productivity and innovation, and it's just getting started, as millions of minds that would otherwise have drowned in obscurity get backhauled into the global intellectual economy.


…for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME's Person of the Year for 2006 is you. [emphasis added]

Commentary, criticism, and collaboration are all made easier by the Internet, but so are isolation, illusion, and intellectual arrogance. We have yet to see toward which pole the online world will trend. Russell Shaw at HuffPo disagress with Time’s choice, and instead suggests:

My choices for Person of the Year would be Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel or New York Sen. Chuck Schumer. Working closely together, each man identified vulnerable Senate or House seats, traveled to states or districts where these vulnerabilities were detected, and then persuaded an electable candidate to run for that seat.

Enough of those candidates were elected who might just be able to make a difference in the new Congress.

And yes, while the collective "YOU" TIME honored voted these people into office, their availability was provisioned by Emanuel or Schumer. Or in some cases, both.

My runner-up choices?

Keith Olbermann, though I think his effect on the election was more of "speaking to the choir," or

Chad Hurley, co-founder of YouTube, the video sharing service where an East Indian-American attending a rally for Sen. George Allen (R-Virginia) took cell phone "footage" of Allen saying "macaca" and then uploaded it to the service.

But if he hadn't done that, we'd still be at 50-50 with Cheney the tie-breaker. It was Emanuel and Schumer who got us to the point where the YouTube "macaca" video mattered.

Shaw makes a good point, but is the Democratic midterm election victory indicative of America’s return to its liberal roots in the way that wikis, blogs, and open source software are of an online gift culture? How will each rank in significance? Time will tell.

Andrew Sullivan writes again about “Islamism and Christianism,” and sees “no essential political difference between the two:”

The counterpoint to both is secular constitutional democracy, premised on a non-denominational achievement of individual freedom. When that freedom collides with religious truth, an Islamist or a Christianist has few qualms in squelching freedom. I differ. That's the core of our "culture war". There is no freedom I would not grant a Christianist or Islamist in the exercize of his religious faith; but there are plenty of freedoms that he would seek to deny me in the simple living of my life.

I realize, after reading countless emails on the matter, that the real source of offense is my equating Islam and Christianity as interchangeable religious beliefs, for the purposes of politics. I see them as potentially equally threatening to freedom. History suggests that both have been deployed in the service of terrifying dictatorships, mass murder and religious war. In some ways, Christianity's record in this is actually worse than Islam's. This is not a reflection on the utterly peaceful intent of Jesus of Nazareth, but, then, he was also adamant on separating religion from politics. It is a reflection on the profound danger of fusing faith and power. If I'm right, the offense is mainly taken by Christians who simply refuse to see their faith as equally valid as Islam. They are offended that a Christian could even be equated with a Muslim. Which means, I believe, that they have not begun to understand the meaning of toleration at the core of Christianity, let alone the central insight of liberal constitutionalism. Hence our political and religious crisis. [emphasis added]

George Will’s “Faith Fills the Public Square” notes the many ways in which the vaunted public square is not naked in the Neuhausian sense, and suggests that:

…Christians should practice the magnanimity of the strong rather than cultivate the grievances of the weak. But many Christians are joining today's scramble for the status of victims. There is much lamentation about various "assaults" on "people of faith." Christians are indeed experiencing some petty insults and indignities concerning things like restrictions on school Christmas observances. But their persecution complex is unbecoming because it is unrealistic. [emphasis added]

h/t to Atheist Revolution, who notes:

As long as Christians continue to equate disagreement and criticism with persecution, they will continue to feel persecuted. Of course feeling persecuted is quite different from being persecuted, but this point is often overlooked.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has published “The A-to-Z Guide to Political Interference in Science,” laid out like the Periodic Table. It’s a depressing read, like so many others in the waning days of Bushism.

(h/t: Richard Dawkins)

Moore idiocy

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Christianist former judge Roy Moore penned a column for WingNutDaily (h/t: Andrew Sullivan) where he goes off the rails yet again, this time in an anti-Muslim tirade directed at incoming Senator Keith Ellison:

Our Constitution states, "Each House [of Congress] shall be the judge ... of the qualifications of its own members." Enough evidence exists for Congress to question Ellison's qualifications to be a member of Congress as well as his commitment to the Constitution in view of his apparent determination to embrace the Quran and an Islamic philosophy directly contrary to the principles of the Constitution. But common sense alone dictates that in the midst of a war with Islamic terrorists we should not place someone in a position of great power who shares their doctrine. In 1943, we would never have allowed a member of Congress to take their oath on "Mein Kampf," or someone in the 1950s to swear allegiance to the "Communist Manifesto." Congress has the authority and should act to prohibit Ellison from taking the congressional oath today!

Moore conveniently ignores this passage from Article VI of the Constitution:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States. [emphasis added]

Absent such a religious test, elected officials cannot be held to a “qualification” that is also a religious test. Moore surely knows this, yet cannot rally the faithful if he deigns to recognize the truth: our pluralistic nation cannot be controlled by Christianists.

He (correctly) observes that “Islamic law is simply incompatible with our law,” but is blind to the parallel conclusion that Judeo-Christian law is likewise incompatible. Given a choice between Deuteronomy or the Declaration, the Ten Commandments or the Bill of Rights, the decision is obvious.

AmTalibangelist James Dobson (founder and chair of Focus on the Phallus) doesn't like the idea of Mary Cheney and Heather Poe raising a child, and he's not afraid to shout his disdain from the pages of Time. Same-sex parenting--like same-sex marriage--is less a sign of political correctness than of recognition that civil equality is both a social good and a moral imperative. Anti-equality arguments such as Dobson's may be couched in reasonable-sounding language of an "untested and far-reaching social experiment," but his fears are not based on the facts.

The American Psychological Association reported in 2002 that:

...children who grow up with 1 or 2 gay and/or lesbian parents fare as well in emotional, cognitive, social, and sexual functioning as do children whose parents are heterosexual. Children's optimal development seems to be influenced more by the nature of the relationships and interactions within the family unit than by the particular structural form it takes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics concurred in 2004:

Gay and lesbian parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide healthy and supportive environments for their children. [...] Evidence also suggests that children of lesbian and gay parents have normal social relationships with peers and adults. Fears about children of lesbian or gay parents being sexually abused by adults, ostracized by peers, or isolated in single-sex lesbian or gay communities have received no scientific support.

The first researcher whose work was quoted in Dobson's screed, Yale Medical School's Kyle Pruett, has complained about right-wing distortions of his research, saying "There is to date no credible research that says children raised by gay and lesbian couples are at risk." The second one, NYU's Dr Carol Gilligan, wrote a cease-and-desist letter to Dobson, saying that she was "mortified to learn that you had distorted my work this week in a guest column you wrote in Time Magazine."

When actual science and Dobson's homophobia are placed side-by-side, the choice should be obvious.

(Thanks to MediaMatters and John at AmericaBlog for doing the legwork.)

update (12/14 @ 3:55pm):
Dr Pruett has also written to Dobson, specifically complaining about misrepresentation of his work: "There is nothing in my longitudinal research or any of my writings to support such conclusions." Is Dobson capable of honesty, or has he been blinded by faith?

update 2 (12/14 @ 4:35pm):
Jennifer Chrisler of Family Pride has posted a reply to Dobson on Time's website, "Two Mommies or Two Daddies Will Do Fine, Thanks," doesn't shy away from calling Dobson's op-ed for what it is:

To say that Dobson is misinformed here would be inaccurate. He is simply lying. The people who are misinformed by these untruths are the readers of his material and those who publish his work without appropriately verifying his assertions.

She also calls Dobson to account for his anti-marriage stance:

When people like Dobson profess "concern" for the welfare of children, while simultaneously attacking those very children's parents and family structures, their insincerity becomes evident. If their paramount focus is truly the health and well-being of children, then we invite Dobson and his colleagues to join our fight to ensure that all loving families are recognized, respected, protected and celebrated.


update 3 (12/14 @ 9:20pm):
It looks like Dobson plagiarized nearly an entire paragraph (h/t: John at AmericaBlog) of his essay.

What a wanker.

...I just didn't know what it was. CNN is reporting that the outgoing GOP-controlled 109th Congress was a resounding success at renaming buildings:

...members of Congress can boast significant achievements in at least one area of federal lawmaking -- naming post offices.

Of the 383 pieces of legislation that were signed into law during the two-year 109th Congress, more than one-quarter dealt with naming or renaming federal buildings and structures -- primarily post offices -- after various Americans.

(h/t: ThinkProgress)

RJ Eskow wrote “A St Francis Prayer in Reverse for the War on Christmas Whiners” at HuffPo. He nails the Christianists’ persecution complex, and pegs them as “a bunch of whiners:”

Here's your idea of martyrdom: Some business people asked their staff to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." You heard about it. And that made you feel bad.

As trials and tribulations go, it beats getting stoned to death like St. Stephen. These businesses are only trying to be considerate toward the feelings of others, but the airwaves are ringing with your howls of anguish.

The truth is you cynical hacks (yeah, you, O'Reilly and Gibson) are exploiting faith, getting political and financial mileage out of a faith you claim to follow. Yet I must admit you guys look genuinely aggrieved - even as your checks keep clearing the bank.


Even rich ministers like Jerry Falwell , the kind who like to bellyache about secular self-indulgence, want the whole country to be organized around their emotional needs.

Tell me: How is this"Happy Holidays" business making you suffer, exactly? Do you depend on the greeters at Wal-Mart for your theological guidance? Does the absence of the Savior's name in the Sears catalog leave you spiritually adrift in a hostile cosmos?

Nah. You're just falling back on the worst kind of Me-Generation, touchy-feely, self-pitying behavior. You're complaining because it makes you uncomfortable. It's Christian Dominionism for the "feel good" crowd.

Pinochet passes

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Christopher Hitchens eulogizes (h/t: Andrew Sullivan) recently deceased mass murderer Augusto Pinochet in Slate:

The death of Pinochet is an occasion, among other things, for a moment to remember the many victims of his state terrorism and international terrorism and the deplorable way in which he managed to outlive their claims.

Pinochet ended up like Spain's Gen. Francisco Franco, with a series of deathbed farewells that were obscenely protracted and attended by numerous priests and offerings of extreme unction. By the end, Chileans had become wearily used to the way in which he fell dramatically ill whenever the workings of justice took a step nearer to his archives or his bank accounts. Like Franco, too, he long outlived his own regime and survived to see his country outgrow the tutelage to which he had subjected it. And, also like Franco, he earned a place in history as a treasonous and ambitious officer who was false to his oath to defend and uphold the constitution. His overthrow of civilian democracy, in the South American country in which it was most historically implanted, will always be remembered as one of the more shocking crimes of the 20th century.

Marc Cooper has an excellent primer, “Pinochet is dead. His legacy lingers,” at The Nation, with this summation:

Pinochet's demise doesn't save him from the harsh judgment of history. He dies not only decrepit and politically abandoned in a Santiago hospital but also discredited and reviled. His very name has come to rightfully symbolize and encapsulate all of the horrors and fears associated with brutal, dictatorial regimes.

If there is retribution in an afterlife, Pinochet’s punishment will be among the worst ever meted out.

This article from the Charlotte Observer (an abbreviated version of this piece from the Colorado Springs Gazette) says that convicted bomber (the 1996 Olympics, plus a gay bar and two abortion clinics) Eric Robert Rudolph complains that he is being treated like a “terrorist.” Housed in the same SuperMax facility with Ramzi Yousef and Zacarias Moussaoui, Rudolph “refers to himself as a political prisoner and accuses the federal Bureau of Prisons of inhumane treatment for keeping him and other terrorists in their cells for 23 hours a day.”

Emily Lyons, a nurse maimed by one of his bombs, made this comment:

"This was the bargain he made," she said. "He knew where he was going. I have no sympathy that he doesn't get to go outside. I don't think he's been slighted. That's what he signed up for. He gave away his freedom when he set the first bomb."

This fact may not have occurred to Rudolph, but he’s being treated like a terrorist because he is one. Religious rationalizations for his actions don’t change reality.

(h/t: Pam Spaulding at Pandagon)

Lessig's latest

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Larry Lessig announced his latest book, Code 2.0, an update of his Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. As befits a principled defender of liberty, his book is available as a free download (4MB PDF) under a CreativeCommons license as well as in a dead-tree version from the usual booksellers. As he writes in the new Preface:

The genesis of the revisions found here was a wiki. Basic Books allowed me to post the original edition of the book in a wiki hosted by Jotspot, and a team of “chapter captains” helped facilitate a conversation about the text. There were some edits to the text itself, and many more valuable comments and criticisms.1 I then took that text as of the end of 2005 and added my own edits to produce this book. While I wouldn’t go as far as the musician Jeff Tweedy (“Half of it’s you, half is me”), an important part of this is not my work. In recognition of that, I’ve committed the royalties from this book to the nonprofit Creative Commons.

Lessig’s other books, Free Culture and The Future of Ideas, also contain incisive thoughts about technology and culture. I recommend his writing without hesitation.

Kevin McCullough’s “Why Would Gays Want Children?” from TownHall calls Mary Cheney and Heather Poe’s impending parenthood a “fake act” that is part of a “great deception” on behalf of “homosexual activists.” McCullough finds it “peculiar” that those who “shun” heterosexual sex can “deeply crave” children. Here is an absolutely stellar paragraph from his screed:

In normal relationships the privacy and intimacy of the act of procreation is a spiritual and beautiful thing. In the sexual acts of women who sleep together that adequacy will be something they always long for and never have the satisfaction of knowing, thus undermining the fidelity of what they believe their relationship to be.

There are so many mistaken presuppositions there that I hardly know where to begin. Straight people are “normal,” versus “woman who sleep together,” demonstrating the normative fallacy. Straight couples have “spiritual and beautiful” “privacy and intimacy” where lesbians only have “sexual acts,” and “believe their relationship to be”…what, exactly? One wonders which heterosexist prejudice remains unexpressed.
McCullough then wonders “whether sexual behavior should be considered moral that extends beyond moral boundaries,” and asks:

And since homosexuals insist upon desiring limitless sexual activity, not governed by provincial rules and traditions, why would they want children?

Children are the undeniable product of the superiority of heterosexual engagement. And since homosexual behavior in large terms wishes to throw off the weight of conventional sexuality, I am curious as to why they would desire to reinforce the inferiority of their sexual behavior.

And no amount of hate-mail from small minded radical activists will stifle the curiosity from which I seek to learn.

If McCullough truly has an “ever growing [sic] desire to know the truth” and seeks to learn, perhaps he could set aside his superiority complex and ask a few lesbian and gay couples why they want children. He might then realize that their reasons are very much the same as those of straight couples. He might even come to the conclusion that his small-minded bigotry is impeding his ability to appreciate the common humanity of the many lesbian and gay parents that are helping to raise the next generation of Americans.

anti-DRM movement

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Defective by Design is an anti-DRM campaign by the Free Software Foundation. The “About” page explains the problems with DRM software quite succinctly, and it’s important enough for everyone to spend a few moments reading it.

This t-shirt design from GoodStorm is a delightful parody of Apple’s iPod ads, and larger versions of the images can be viewed here at Flikr. (There are other designs referencing Microsoft’s Zune player, but they don’t have the instant visual recognition factor of the iPod.)

The report from the Iraq Study Group is available in PDF here (1.3MB). This is part of the executive summary:

The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating. […] Violence is increasing in scope and lethality. It is fed by a Sunni Arab insurgency, Shiite militias and death squads, al Qaeda, and widespread criminality. Sectarian conflict is the principal challenge to stability. […] If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences could be severe. A slide toward chaos could trigger the collapse of Iraq’s government and a humanitarian catastrophe. Neighboring countries could intervene. Sunni-Shia clashes could spread. Al Qaeda could win a propaganda victory and expand its base of operations. The global standing of the United States could be diminished. Americans could become more polarized.

Not to be excessively snarky, but haven’t some of those things already happened?

The ISG’s list of seventy-nine recommendations

In addition, there is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq. The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases. A murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack. If we cannot determine the source of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the database. A roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn’t hurt U.S. personnel doesn’t count. For example, on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence. Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals. (pp. 94-5, emphasis added)

That’s quite different from the administration’s persistent whine that the media focuses too much on the bad news from Iraq.

MediaMatters has a nice summary of the ISG Report, covering—as usual—the information left largely unmentioned by the media. The lack of analysts and fluent Arabic speakers is probably the most shocking indication of the administration’s poor planning.

Amid the many right-wing criticisms—such as the New York PostSurrender Monkeys” cover —the award for the most out-of-touch comment about the ISG report goes to Bill Bennett, Our nation’s premiere virtuecrat had this to say about the ISG’s report (h/t: Andrew Sullivan):

“In all my time in Washington I've never seen such smugness, arrogance, or such insufferable moral superiority. Self-congratulatory. Full of itself. Horrible.”

That’s actually kind of amusing, considering its source. Bennett approvingly quotes an attack against critics of the Iraq quagmire who “never made it out of the Green Zone.” While it is obvious that such limited experience should be accorded limited significance, is it not more important to make the larger observation that Iraq can’t be in very good shape if it’s not safe to step outside the US military compound?

Rob Boston tells a heartwarming tale of the holidays at Americans United. Jerry Falwell’s legal pitbulls (who go by the moniker “Liberty Counsel”) sued a school district to force it do distribute religious notices to students. A local Unitarian-Universalist church distributed a flier for an educational program about “the traditions of December and their origins, followed by a Pagan ritual to celebrate Yule.” The fundies blew a gasket: of course religious freedom shouldn’t apply to anyone but them! Boston wrote about “a conservative Christian blogger in the county complained about finding the flier in her child’s folder:”

Apparently unaware of Falwell’s role in bringing it about, the blogger who goes by the name Cathy, noted disclaimer language at the bottom of the flier noting that the event is not connected to the school and wrote, “They [the school officials] aren’t endorsing or sponsoring this? Then it shouldn’t have been included in the Friday folders. The Friday folders have never been used for any thing other than school work and school board and/or County sanctioned/sponsored programs.”

She then fumed that a “pagan ritual” is “an educational experience my children don’t need.”

Well, Cathy and Jeff, it’s a new day. Your pals Falwell and Staver have opened up this forum, and now everyone gets to use it. Isn’t that what you wanted all along – freedom of religion? That freedom means all religions – even ones you don’t happen to like.


Lakshmi Chaudhry’s piece from In These Times, “The Godless Fundamentalist,” slams Richard Dawkins for his “virulent form of atheism,” and claims that “the new atheists’ crusade:”

…does give aid and comfort to fundamentalists everywhere by affirming their view of faith: one, science and religion are mutually opposed and exclusive worldviews; two, religion is immutable and outside history; and therefore, three, the Bible (or the Quran, for that matter) must be taken literally, and is not open to interpretation.

Point one is essentially correct, though slightly overstated; the following two points are not confirmed by atheism. Religious fundamentalists may believe in unchanging revealed truths, but science—in contrast to religion—is nothing if not open to emendation.

Chris Bower writes “On Impeachment” at MyDD, and lays out his reasons for opposing it. Here is his main objection:

Even if we had the votes for conviction, that means we would almost certainly have a veto proof congressional majority on the following policy areas: universal health care, revoking authorization to conduct the war, public financing of campaigns, renegotiating all of our trade agreements for better standards, passing complete energy independence legislation, and on and on and on. Now you tell me, if we had the ability to do all of these things, where would impeachment rank on the list of legislation that would actually help Americans?

David Corn penned “Impeachment at Our Peril” at TomPaine, and made a similar observation: “Democrats must deliver legislatively and produce significant bills that connect with the concerns of Americans. That's job No. 1:”

Impeachment would eclipse the positive components of the Democratic legislative program that can actually help American families—such as boosting the minimum wage, lowering college student loan rate and fixing the alternative minimum tax.

While—as the polling data suggest—impeachment proceedings could be politically unwise, Democrats shouldn’t decide their agenda based on political considerations. After all, excessive and unseemly concern for maintaining political power is what brought down the GOP. That lesson should not be forgotten so quickly.

Rall, Ted. America Gone Wild: Cartoons by Ted Rall (New York: Andrew McKeel Publishing, 2006)

Daniel Okrent, ombudsman for the New York Times, said that "Rall, while ferociously partisan, can be absolutely brilliant"...before dropping Rall's cartoons in March 2004. Rall's work as a whole, and this book in particular, is both partisan and brilliant. America Gone Wild! contains his famously infamous cartoons (such as "FDNY 2011," "Terror Widows," and "Pat Tillman") as well as his comments on "Reagan in Hell" and numerous great cartoons that never received media attention.

For example: Rall's "Guide to Zoroastrian America" (p. 132, with a follow-up on p. 147) is a wonderful take on what America would be like if a different set of religious fundamentalists propagated a different mythology; the names are different--Ahura Mazdah instead of Jehovah--but the effect is otherwise quite similar. His "Redistribution of Wealth" cartoon (p. 128), with phrases like "730 Pell Grants" on the side of ordnance falling from a US bomber, is similarly caustic.

If you appreciate Rall's work, you'll enjoy this book.

Bob Burnett’s “Killing Conservatism” at HuffPo lists “the ten pillars of conservative political wisdom that liberals should attack.” The contrast between conservatives (worship of W, war, tax cuts, the military, and the market) and liberals (competence in government, protecting dissent, multinational alliances) is especially striking.

Paul Krugman’s article in the latest issue of Rolling Stone, “The Great Wealth Transfer,” examines the acceleration of income inequality under the Bushevik regime. Krugman notes the BLS statistics that “the hourly wage of the average American non-supervisory worker is actually lower, adjusted for inflation, than it was in 1970. Meanwhile, CEO pay has soared -- from less than thirty times the average wage to almost 300 times the typical worker's pay.” He observes that, according to a recent poll:

only a minority of Americans rated the economy as "excellent" or "good," while most consider it no better than "fair" or "poor."

Are people just ungrateful? Is the administration failing to get its message out? Are the news media, as conservatives darkly suggest, deliberately failing to report the good news?

None of the above. The reason most Americans think the economy is fair to poor is simple: For most Americans, it really is fair to poor. Wages have failed to keep up with rising prices.

GOP partisans will no doubt decry Krugman’s piece as “class warfare,” but the facts do not represent unwarranted aggression on behalf of the lower and middle classes; they are merely evidence that class warfare has already been waged—and won—by the wealthy and powerful. Like our lame-duck president, income inequality is s divider, not a uniter:

political corruption only worsens as economic inequality rises. Indeed, the gap between rich and poor doesn't just mean that few Americans share in the benefits of economic growth -- it also undermines the sense of shared experience that binds us together as a nation.

Neil Cavuto of Faux News attacked Krugman, saying that he is “lying to people.” Cavuto, of course, is the one who’s trying to hide the truth. Even the conservative Economist recognized the situation back in June:

The gap between rich and poor is bigger than in any other advanced country… […] …every measure shows that, over the past quarter century, those at the top have done better than those in the middle, who in turn have outpaced those at the bottom. The gains of productivity growth have become increasingly skewed.

The same article also noted how things improved (briefly) under Clinton:

America's rising inequality has not, in fact, been continuous. The gap between the bottom and the middle—whether in terms of skills, age, job experience or income—did widen sharply in the 1980s. High-school dropouts earned 12% less in an average week in 1990 than in 1980; those with only a high-school education earned 6% less. But during the 1990s, particularly towards the end of the decade, that gap stabilised and, by some measures, even narrowed. Real wages rose faster for the bottom quarter of workers than for those in the middle. […] The one truly continuous trend over the past 25 years has been towards greater concentration of income at the very top.

In addition, a recent UN study—the first of its kind—shows that 1% of the world’s population controls 40% of the wealth. While bearing in mind the distinction between income and wealth, it is not a surprising finding…except, perhaps, to Cavuto.

Nicholas Kristof wrote in “A Modest Proposal for a Truce on Religion” that “the tone of this Charge of the Atheist Brigade is often just as intolerant — and mean. It's contemptuous and even ... a bit fundamentalist:”

Now that the Christian Right has largely retreated from the culture wars, let's hope that the Atheist Left doesn't revive them. We've suffered enough from religious intolerance that the last thing the world needs is irreligious intolerance.

Richard Dawkins (along with Sam Harris and others) responded, in part:

Mr. Kristof has simply become acclimatized to the convention that you can criticize anything else but you mustn’t criticize religion. Ears calibrated to this norm will hear gentle criticism of religion as intemperate, and robust criticism as obnoxious.

(h/t: OneGoodMove)

Prager's response

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Dennis Prager scrambled to defend his previous remarks, but he wound up digging a deeper hole for himself. (h/t Fundie Watch) He peppers his piece with claims that Keith Ellison “rejected the Bible,” “is ending [a] tradition,” and is “engaged in disuniting the country.” Once again, any deviation from the status quo is a threat to some people; I had hoped Prager was made of sterner stuff. Of course, he blames the foot in his mouth on Ellison:

it was Keith Ellison who raised the entire issue of taking an oath on a Koran rather than a Bible. He did not make his announcement in the hopes that it would be ignored but to make a statement. I was responding to that statement. Critics who are unhappy with it becoming an issue should direct their ire at Mr. Ellison.

Is he saying that Ellison should be blamed for Prager’s error-filled emotional overreaction? Speaking of errors, here’s another one from Prager: “the Bible is the source of America’s values. […] America…derives its values from the Bible.” We are a nation with so many sources of values—from the Bible and the Code of Hammurabi to Common Sense, the Declaration, the Federalist Papers, and the Constitution—that one would need at least a library cart to hold them all. Since most oaths involve the Constitution, can’t we simply use it alone instead of dragging religious divisiveness into everything?

Prager complains that Ellison’s choice of the Koran is “used entirely to send a message to the American people,” and that is correct. The message—as stridently as the wingnuts decry it—is that we are a pluralistic (not a Christian, or a Judeo-Christian) nation. Prager’s demand to privilege his own Judeo-Christian religious tradition, “that the Bible should be present at any oath (or affirmation) of office,” is typical of the Right’s desire to edge ever closer toward an unconstitutional religious test for public office.

Prager seems to be correct that charges of racism against him are “absurd,” but—given his tirade against ceremonial use of the Koran—I think the allegation of Islamophobia is justified. He so proudly asserts “I am a non-Christian” but pillories Ellison for making mention of his religion. I smell hypocrisy. The “extraordinary Judeo-Christian value system that has been our civic religion” is hardly in danger by adding our Muslim citizens (also children of Abraham, by the way) to an already-hyphenated construct.

Bay of Fundie fisks his response quite admirably, and included this riposte:

You Judeo-Christians have had a stranglehold on our government since the beginning. Now that one Koran has appeared on Capitol Hill, you view it as the leak in the dam. Yes, one day, maybe the Pledge of Allegiance will indeed have “under God” removed. But rather than simply deleting the phrase, it will be replaced with “under Allah”.

Now aren’t you beginning to understand the importance of the separation of church and state?

atheist delusion

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The Atheist Delusion animation is sarcastic, snarky, and flat-out hilarious! (h/t: PZ Myers at Pharyngula)

Cenk Uygur demolishes “The Bipartisanship Myth” at HuffPo, and writes the words I’ve been waiting to hear since last month’s midterms. He notes that “the real proof is in the numbers:”

Twenty-nine House seats and six Senate seats changed from Republican to Democrat. None changed from Democrat to Republican. Not one.

That's not bipartisanship. That's a 35-0 blowout.

The American people spoke loud and clear - we want to go in the direction of the Democrats. There were no mixed messages about the Democrats going halfway to meet the Republicans. If anyone has to move towards the middle it is clearly the Republicans. [emphasis added]

Cory Doctorow’s piece at Forbes, “Giving It Away,” (h/t: Creative Commons) explains his rationale for making his writings available online. In it, he also penned this gem:

Most people aren't and will never be readers--but the people who are readers will be readers forever, and they are positively pervy for paper.

“Pervy for paper”…I love it!

dissent sells

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Daphne Eviatar’s appreciation of Keith Olbermann at The Nation is worth reading, especially for her observation that while Olbermann’s views:

may seem radical for mainstream television news, they turn out to be a pretty safe bet for him and his network. Which may prove that the American public does have a taste for serious, even high-minded, news--particularly when peppered with a sharp sense of humor. It's another unexpected Olbermann news flash: Dissent sells.


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Bruce Lindsey’s “Liberaltarians: A Progressive Manifesto” at TNR is an interesting piece on how Libertarians who are abandoning the GOP may find a hospitable place in the Democratic Party. Lindsey observes that:

Despite the GOP's rhetorical commitment to limited government, the actual record of unified Republican rule in Washington has been an unmitigated disaster from a libertarian perspective: runaway federal spending at a clip unmatched since Lyndon Johnson; the creation of a massive new prescription-drug entitlement with hardly any thought as to how to pay for it; expansion of federal control over education through the No Child Left Behind Act; a big run-up in farm subsidies; extremist assertions of executive power under cover of fighting terrorism; and, to top it all off, an atrociously bungled war in Iraq.


Conservatism itself has changed markedly in recent years… […] The old formulation defined conservatism as the desire to protect traditional values from the intrusion of big government; the new one seeks to promote traditional values through the intrusion of big government.

He also makes the case that “Liberals and libertarians already share considerable common ground, if they could just see past their differences to recognize it:”

Both generally support a more open immigration policy. Both reject the religious right's homophobia and blastocystophilia. Both are open to rethinking the country's draconian drug policies. Both seek to protect the United States from terrorism without gratuitous encroachments on civil liberties or extensions of executive power. And underlying all these policy positions is a shared philosophical commitment to individual autonomy as a core political value.

“Blastocystophilia” is the best neologism I’ve seen in quite some time.

The Washington Post ran five op-eds speculating on the eventual ranking of Dubya’s tenure in the White House. Historian Eric Foner called Bush’s presidency “The Worst Ever:”

It is impossible to say with certainty how Bush will be ranked in, say, 2050. But somehow, in his first six years in office he has managed to combine the lapses of leadership, misguided policies and abuse of power of his failed predecessors. I think there is no alternative but to rank him as the worst president in U.S. history.

Douglas Brinkley says much the same thing in “Move Over, Hoover:”

Clearly it's dangerous for historians to wield the "worst president" label like a scalp-hungry tomahawk simply because they object to Bush's record. But we live in speedy times and, the truth is, after six years in power and barring a couple of miracles, it's safe to bet that Bush will be forever handcuffed to the bottom rungs of the presidential ladder.


Oddly, the president whom Bush most reminds me of is Herbert Hoover, whose name is synonymous with failure to respond to the Great Depression. When the stock market collapsed, Hoover, for ideological reasons, did too little. When 9/11 happened, Bush did too much, attacking the wrong country at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. He has joined Hoover as a case study on how not to be president.

David Greenberg notes that “At Least He’s Not Nixon:”

Bush has two years left in his presidency and we don't know what they'll hold. They may be as dismal as the first six. Future investigations may bear out many people's worst fears about this administration's violations of civil liberties. And it's conceivable that the consequences of the invasion of Iraq may prove more destructive than those of Nixon's stubborn continuation of the Vietnam War. Should those things happen, Bush will be able to lay a claim to the mantle of U.S. history's worst president. For now, though, I'm sticking with Dick.

Michael Lind contends in “He’s Only Fifth Worst” that it’s “unfair” to refer to Bush as our worst president:

He's merely the fifth worst. In the White House Hall of Shame, Bush comes behind four other Oval Officers whose policies were even more disastrous: James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Richard M. Nixon and James Madison.

Vincent Cannato is much less inclined to take a stand in his piece, “Time’s On His Side:”

Today's pronouncements that Bush is the "worst president ever" are too often ideology masquerading as history.


No one expects historians to be perfectly objective. But history should at least teach us humility. Time will cool today's political passions. As years pass, more documents will be released, more insights gleaned and the broader picture of this era will be painted. Only then will we begin to see how George W. Bush fares in the pantheon of U.S. presidents.

ACLU Nativity

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Our holiday season is now filled with joy and mirth thanks to an “ACLU Nativity” courtesy of Young Conservatives of Texas:

“We’ve got Gary and Joseph instead of Mary and Joseph in order to symbolize ACLU support for homosexual marriage, and of course there isn’t a Jesus in the manger,” said Chairman Tony McDonald. “The three Wise Men are Lenin, Marx, and Stalin because the founders of the ACLU were strident supporters of Soviet style Communism. The whole scene is a tongue-in-cheek way of showing the many ways that the ACLU and the far left are out of touch with the values of mainstream America.”

Oh well…I guess they deserve credit for at least trying to be funny.

(h/t: underpants at DU)

Prager gets fisked

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The Watcher at FundieWatch gives Dennis Prager a good fisking for his inane comments about Keith Ellison.

ThinkProgress also notes the “glaring error” in Prager’s argument:

the swearing-in ceremony for the House of Representatives never includes a religious book. The Office of the House Clerk confirmed to ThinkProgress that the swearing-in ceremony consists only of the Members raising their right hands and swearing to uphold the Constitution. The Clerk spokesperson said neither the Christian Bible, nor any other religious text, had ever been used in an official capacity during the ceremony. (Occassionally, Members pose for symbolic photo-ops with their hand on a Bible.) [emphasis in original]

What a wanker.

Here’s the new GOP logo, courtesy of Tild~:


(h/t: PZ Myers at Pharyngula)

Robert Elisberg takes a swing at the Bush Library’s bloated budget:

Keep in mind that when Bill Clinton funded his Presidential library, Republicans went loony, their collective heads exploding at the exorbitant cost. That exorbitant cost was $165 million. And Bill Clinton actually owned books. The Bush Library will be $500 million. (You can never say that too many times.) To put this in perspective, you could build the Clinton Library and Madison Square Garden - and still have $135 million left over to try and find the WMDs.

Half a billion dollars for a library? Perhaps it's part of a new "No President Left Behind" program. Only this one clearly isn't un-funded.

For half a billion dollars, you don't expect just books at Libraryland, there'd better be fuzzy mascots, themed roller coasters and a laser light extravaganza.

Happily, the place already has an audio-animatronic President. It repeats, "Stay the course," all day.

Roy Moore—the former judge responsible for the Alabama “Ten Commandments” imbroglio—wrote a piece for the Moonie Times in which he blames the GOP’s midterm failures on a “widespread rejection of moral principles,” which, of course, coincide with Moore’s personal religious choice of right-wing Christianity. Joe Conn at AU criticizes Moore’s conclusion, noting that “his snake oil failed miserably when applied in his own race for public office:”

After Moore was bounced off the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to obey a federal court order to remove a 2.5-ton Ten Commandments monument from the State Judicial Building, the defrocked jurist decided to use his notoriety as a platform to seek the office of governor.

Moore ran in the GOP primary against incumbent Gov. Bob Riley. Riley is no liberal, but he had (shudder) sought to alter the state tax code to increase the tab for the wealthy and (horrors) lessen the burden on poor and working-class citizens. Riley’s plan failed, and the state’s political establishment had all but written his obituary. Surely, if there is any place in our fair land where the voters would be responsive to Moore’s brand of religio-political hooey, it would be demagogue-loving, Bible-Belt Alabama. Here was a tax-and-spend do-gooder running against a staunchly conservative Moral Giant with a Moses complex.

And what happened? On June 6 of this year, Alabama Republicans went to the polls and reelected Riley by a 67-33 percent margin. By 2-1, they gave Moore and his narrow-minded “moral values” crusade a good thumping-- as President Bush might put it!

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