January 2007 Archives

civil discourse

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Aside from the title “A Wingnut in Sheep’s Clothing,” Phyllis Eckhaus’ review of D’Souza’s The Enemy at Home is an eminently reasonable piece of writing.

I admire her efforts at civility toward the uncivil.

A century before Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, there was Robert Ingersoll. What’s God Got to Do with It?, a collection of excerpts from his speeches and essays, only scratched the surface of his thought. Barefoot Bum uses the following words from Ingersoll’s essay “The Gods” his quote of the day, as do I:

"We have heard talk enough. We have listened to all the drowsy, idealess, vapid sermons that we wish to hear. We have read your Bible and the works of your best minds. We have heard your prayers, your solemn groans and your reverential amens. All these amount to less than nothing. We want one fact. We beg at the doors of your churches for just one little fact. We pass our hats along your pews and under your pulpits and implore you for just one fact. We know all about your mouldy wonders and your stale miracles. We want a this year's fact. We ask only one. Give us one fact for charity. Your miracles are too ancient. The witnesses have been dead for nearly two thousand years."

Fellow freethinkers can find the entire essay here at Internet Infidels.

cretin on the couch

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Bush on the Couch” from New York magazine (h/t: Ron Chusid at Liberal Values) has an interesting assortment of quotes about Dubya’s psychological condition. Alan Brinkley writes:

as the political cost of his current path becomes increasingly apparent to almost any sentient person, Bush—who may still have time to redeem at least some part of his legacy—still appears to be oblivious both to the downward spiral of his presidency and to his own likely place in history.

how apropos

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The new pastry chef at the White House co-authored this book:

20070129-desserts4dummies.jpg

(h/t: ThinkProgress)

BeliefNet has brought together Sam (End of Faith) Harris and Andrew (Conservative Soul) Sullivan for a three-part (here, here, and here) discussion on religion. Harris and Sullivan are both extremely critical of Islamism (Sullivan’s “gravest threat” and Harris’ “pretty high on our list of humanity’s worst ideas”), but part ways—as expected—over the value of religious moderation.

When Sullivan states of his fellow religious moderates that “[w]e have read the scriptures not searching for gotchas, but for truth,” he both undermines a core doctrine of his Catholicism and misrepresents atheists’ intentions. True biblical inerrancy would preclude the many errors and contradictions (or “gotchas,” according to one’s preference) that plague both the old and new testaments. Recognizing the existence of textual flaws does not mean that atheists read religious texts in search of those errors, merely that we don’t overlook them. Atheists can—and often do—read religious texts seeking truth in the manner of Francis Bacon:

Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested…

When Sullivan reads his chosen holy text, there is “a voice that can clearly be heard” that has personal importance to him; atheists read the same words and clearly a different voice:

…the Creator who purports to be beyond human judgment is consistently ruled by human passions--jealousy, wrath, suspicion, and the lust to dominate. A close study of our holy books reveals that the God of Abraham is a ridiculous fellow--capricious, petulant, and cruel--and one with whom a covenant is little guarantee of health or happiness. (Sam Harris, The End of Faith)

Harris and Sullivan discuss imputations of intolerance, culminating in this full-throated defense (by Sullivan) of the modern secular state:

You ask legitimately: how can I, convinced of this truth, resist imposing it on others? The answer is: humility and doubt. I may believe these things, but I am aware that others may not; and I respect their own existential decision to believe something else. I respect their decision because I respect my own, and realize it is indescribable to those who have not directly experienced it. That's why I am such a dogged defender of pluralism and secularism - because I believe secularism alone does justice to the profundity of the claims of religion. The attempt to force or even rig laws to encourage others to share my faith defeats the point of my faith - which is that it is both freely chosen and definitionally dealing with matters that cannot be subject to common consensus. [emphasis added]

For an interesting series of comments on the entire debate, check out The Barefoot Bum. Here’s a note of optimism about Harris and the resurgence of atheism:

Not since Robert Ingersoll has the atheistic community had any sort of powerful spokesman delivering a compelling narrative that pointedly excluded God. Secular liberalism has lost its thread. But even Sullivan's sort of ecumenical conservatism is in serious trouble, having ceded considerable control over the conservative narrative to religious fundamentalists and neoconservatives. Atheists are becoming aware of the issue, but there is still no coherent narrative.

But give us time. It's still been only about 150 years since Darwin put the final piece of the puzzle in place to render atheism more than weakly-justified optimism; Christianity required almost 300 years to get real traction.

The Right makes incessant references to the President (except during Democratic administrations) as the Commander-in-Chief. In a post on the distinction between a civilian President and a military Commander-in-Chief, Glenn Greenwald quotes from his own How Would a Patriot Act? to note how this relates to the constitutional division of powers:

Moreover, while President Bush's supporters are fond of referring to him as the "commander in chief" -- typically to insinuate that he should be beyond criticism or that his authority cannot be questioned, particularly in "times of war" -- the president under our system of government holds that position only with regard to those in the armed forces (see Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution: "The president shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States"). With regard to Americans generally, the president is not our "commander" but instead our elected public servant, subject to the mandates of the law like every other citizen and subordinate to the will of the people.

He also blames, appropriately, the commonality of this usage on the Right's media echo chamber while quoting Teddy Roosevelt on the moral treason involved in blind support for the President:

Most media flaws are so fundamental and systemic that they will take a long time to resolve, if they can be at all. But one quick, easy and critical step would be to cease speaking of the elected civilian President as our military Commander and instead treat him as the public servant that he is. There is no obligation or duty to support the President, fully including matters relating to war. Quite the contrary: he "should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole."

Greenwald also quoted from a Garry Wills op-ed on the same subject:

We hear constantly now about "our commander in chief." The word has become a synonym for "president." It is said that we "elect a commander in chief." It is asked whether this or that candidate is "worthy to be our commander in chief."

But the president is not our commander in chief. He certainly is not mine. I am not in the Army. [...] The president is not the commander in chief of civilians.

David Neiwert writes yet another takedown of one of the Right’s slanderers of liberalism, Dinesh D’Souza and his book The Enemy at Home. The best part of Neiwert’s piece is D’Souza’s risible rationalization for penning his grotesque screed:

But if a book says things that are obviously untrue and can be disproved, then it is not dangerous -- it is merely fiction and should be ignored. A book is dangerous only if it exposes something in the culture that some people are eager to keep hidden.

Neiwert’s response draws an appropriate parallel:

You know, the people who still promote The Protocols of the Seven Elders of Zion also believe that it exposes "something in the culture that some people are eager to keep hidden." Like D'Souza, they conveniently overlook the fact that their text attracts critics because it is a grotesque hoax, based on a lie and riddled with them, and its entire purpose is only to foment bigotry against a hated minority. Unfortunately, neither of them can be ignored, because a lot of stupid and gullible people will buy it and believe that it's true.

But then, it's obvious that this Hoover scholar lacks either the integrity or the intellect to acknowledge that sometimes, ferocious criticism is fully and deeply earned.

BeliefNet has brought together Sam (End of Faith) Harris and Andrew (Conservative Soul) Sullivan for a three-part (here, here, and here.) discussion on religion. Harris and Sullivan are both extremely critical of Islamism (Sullivan’s “gravest threat” and “pretty high on our list of humanity’s worst ideas”), but part ways—as expected—over the value of religious moderation.

When Sullivan states of his fellow religious moderates that “[w]e have read the scriptures not searching for gotchas, but for truth,” he both undermines a core doctrine of his Catholicism and misrepresents atheists’ truth-seeking. True biblical inerrancy would preclude the existence of the many errors and contradictions (or “gotchas,” according to one’s preference) that plagues both the old and new testaments. Recognizing the existence of textual flaws does not mean that atheists read religious texts in search of errors, merely that we don’t overlook them.

Atheists can—and often do—read religious texts in the manner of Francis Bacon:

Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested...

When Sullivan reads his chosen holy text, there is “a voice that can clearly be heard” that has personal importance to him; atheists read the same words and clearly a different voice:


…the Creator who purports to be beyond human judgment is consistently ruled by human passions--jealousy, wrath, suspicion, and the lust to dominate. A close study of our holy books reveals that the God of Abraham is a ridiculous fellow--capricious, petulant, and cruel--and one with whom a covenant is little guarantee of health or happiness. (Sam Harris, The End of Faith)

Harris and Sullivan discussed imputations of intolerance, culminating in this full-throated defense (by Sullivan) of the modern secular state:

You ask legitimately: how can I, convinced of this truth, resist imposing it on others? The answer is: humility and doubt. I may believe these things, but I am aware that others may not; and I respect their own existential decision to believe something else. I respect their decision because I respect my own, and realize it is indescribable to those who have not directly experienced it. That's why I am such a dogged defender of pluralism and secularism - because I believe secularism alone does justice to the profundity of the claims of religion. The attempt to force or even rig laws to encourage others to share my faith defeats the point of my faith - which is that it is both freely chosen and definitionally dealing with matters that cannot be subject to common consensus.

grief without god

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This article on “Grief without God” is a beautifully moving story of grief in the absence of comforting religious tales:

I still miss Eric every day and maybe it would be easier to believe that he is safe and happy in a beautiful garden with a kind God and pretty angels. But it would be a lie. I try to be thankful that I had the love and support of such an amazing man as Eric, even if it was for such a short time. Maybe I was actually one of the lucky ones. I had the kind of love that people dream about. It was real and tangible, not a dream about some other world.

John Dean’s article at FindLaw about Alberto Gonzales is a good read for its position on the implied right of habeas corpus. Dean writes that Gonzales’ recent appearance “bordered on the pathetic” and “increase[d] his standing as one of the least respected Attorney Generals ever,” which is remarkable considering the low bar set by his predecessor John Ashcroft. Dean concludes, after discussing the Founders’ rejection of the Anti-Federalist interpretation of the Constitution:

With all due respect, Attorney General Gonzales needs to read an American history book - to avoid relying on arguments rejected in the 18th Century when offered by those who opposed the adoption of our nation's founding charter. Every time Gonzales testifies, he leaves the Constitution a bit more battered by his right-wing gobbledygook and revisionist dogma. We are fortunate he seldom appears before Congress.

Andrew Sullivan broadly echoes this sentiment in response to a reader’s comment:

No conservative can support this administration. Except those conservatives gripped by power, partisanship and pride.

Eskow on Bush

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RJ Eskow slams “the decider” (or is it “decision-maker” now?) for his vast ignorance of the Constitution (you know, the one that he has twice pledged to “preserve, protect, and defend.”):

In order to keep the job you have to follow the rules. And the rules say Congress makes the decisions about matters of war. You command, they decide. Now do you want to follow the rules and obey the law or not?

Decide that. That will determine where you live and work for the next two years.

Sure, it's not as neat and orderly as a dictatorship - or as your Vice President prefers to call it, a "unitary executive." But it's the law.

I’m not surprised by this, only dismayed, disappointed, and disgusted: John at AmericaBlog linked to an LA Times story pointing out that “FOX and far-right Republican activist Sean Hannity are planning on broadcasting the portions of the Disney/ABC "documentary" about 9/11, "Path to 9/11," that were deleted from the film because they were shown to be inaccurate.” Jay Carson, spokesman for Bill Clinton, observed that:

"This movie was a completely false piece of right-wing propaganda when it was on ABC, and it will be exactly the same on Fox if they make the unfortunate choice to air it, though it should be right at home."

For some reason, Disney isn’t asserting its copyright over the footage, and John also observes that “for some reason, YouTube isn't so zealous about enforcing its own policy about illegally broadcasting video when the target is a Democrat.” John concludes:

…this example perfectly illustrates how ethically corrupt Sean Hannity and FOX News really are. Conservatives simply can't stick with the truth because they know they don't win with the truth. This is what Republicans have become. And as for FOX News, we always knew they were simply a Republican propaganda organ, but it's still nice for them to publicly expose themselves as the hacks they really are.

A producer at Fox says, “We here at Fox — and myself personally — feel the American people deserve both sides.” Is it really fair to balance the truth with lies? It is at Fox.

Pelosi and Bush

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This exchange between the Speaker and the President is marvelous:

PELOSI: He's tried this two times — it's failed twice. I asked him at the White House, 'Mr. President, why do you think this time it's going to work?'

BUSH: Because I told them it had to.

PELOSI: Why didn't you tell them that the other two times?

The current issue of The Nation explores impeachment: Elizabeth Holtzman offers “The Case in Favor,” and Sanford Levinson offers “The Case Against.” (For a view from one year ago, check out Holtzman’s “The Impeachment of George W. Bush.”)

In my estimation, Holtzman’s case is the stronger one. She notes the public’s sentiment, largely unreported in the corporate media: “A Newsweek poll, conducted just before election day, showed 51 percent of Americans believed that impeachment of President Bush should be either a high or lower priority; 44 percent opposed it entirely. (Compare these results with the 63 percent of the public who in the fall of 1998 opposed President Clinton's impeachment.).” She concludes:

Failure to impeach Bush would condone his actions. It would allow him to assume he can simply continue to violate the laws on wiretapping and torture and violate other laws as well without fear of punishment. […] Worse still, if Congress fails to act, Bush might be emboldened to believe he may start another war, perhaps against Iran, again on the basis of lies, deceptions and exaggerations.

There is no remedy short of impeachment to protect us from this President, whose ability to cause damage in the next two years is enormous.

Levinson calls Bush’s potential impeachment and removal from office “wonderful,” as he is “quite possibly the worst president in our entire history.” He objects to impeachment proceedings as “a strategy doomed not only to fail but also to be perceived by most of the country as a dangerous distraction from the pressing problems facing the country.” Whether progressives’ impeachment efforts will be “entirely fruitless” remains to be seen.

update (1/26 @ 9:04am):
Despite Pelosi’s timidity, John Conyers has plans to begin Judiciary Committee hearings into Bush’s abuses of power (h/t: Dave Lindorff at Smirking Chimp).

August Berkshire of Minnesota Atheists has written a very useful list of “18 Unconvincing Arguments for God,” reprinted in full by Friendly Atheist. It’s not perfect, but it’s a nice common-language refutation of the spurious rhetoric used by religionists.

Berkshire’s comment in section 16 (Difficulties of Religion) that “if just anybody could be ‘saved,’ there would be no point in having a religion” is not accurate. The Universalists, believers in universal salvation, have been part of American religious life for more than two hundred years. They joined with the Unitarians in 1961 to form the Unitarian Universalist Association, and today represent over one thousand congregations in North America.

Greg Sargent at TPM has the scoop (h/t: Andrew Sullivan) on Barack Obama’s response to the right-wing smear job that he allegedly attended a radical Islamist madrassa while living in Indonesia as a child:

Insight Magazine published these allegations without a single named source, and without doing any independent reporting to confirm or deny the allegations. Fox News quickly parroted the charges, and Fox and Friends host Steve Doocy went so far as to ask, “Why didn’t anybody ever mention that that man right there was raised — spent the first decade of his life, raised by his Muslim father — as a Muslim and was educated in a Madrassa?”

All of the claims about Senator Obama raised in the Insight Magazine piece were thoroughly debunked by CNN, which, instead of relying on unnamed sources, sent a reporter to Obama’s former school in Jakarta to check the facts.

If Doocy or the staff at Fox and Friends had taken [time] to check their facts, or simply made a call to his office, they would have learned that Senator Obama was not educated in a Madrassa, was not raised as a Muslim, and was not raised by his father – an atheist Obama met once in his life before he died.

Later in the day, Fox News host John Gibson again discussed the Insight Magazine story without any attempt to independently confirm the charges.

All of the claims about Senator Obama’s faith and education raised in the Insight Magazine story and repeated on Fox News are false. Senator Obama was raised in a secular household in Indonesia by his stepfather and mother. Obama’s stepfather worked for a U.S. oil company, and sent his stepson to two years of Catholic school, as well as two years of public school.

[…]

To be clear, Senator Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim, and is a committed Christian who attends the United Church of Christ in Chicago. Furthermore, the Indonesian school Obama attended in Jakarta is a public school that is not and never has been a Madrassa. [emphasis added]

Maybe the Democratic Party will have a candidate in 2008 who refuses to be Swiftboated by the MSM smear merchants. As Sargent wrote:

This is exactly the right thing to do: Take these guys on very aggressively, and above all, single out by name the people who are lying about you. Wrap their lies around their necks.

Let's hope we see lots more of this. [emphasis in original]

MediaMatters has the backstory on the original (Moonie) Insight Magazine article, the CNN debunking, and Insight’s attempt to pin the blame on Hillary. The National Council of Churches has issued a statement on the smear attempt (h/t: StreetProphets) which is worth reading, especially where it condemns the “false and malicious attacks” on Obama as being a “despicable tactic” of “slash and burn politics.”

This delightfully sarcastic parody ad made my morning (h/t: O’Reilly Network)...enjoy!

This interview with Frank Luntz at Salon is just about what you’d expect. He smears Senator Boxer again, bashes the Democrats for their lack of ideological conformity, and exasperatedly wonders:

What was the Republican message for 2006? I've asked congressmen, senators. I even asked the people responsible for creating the message for 2006. What was the message for the Republican Party in 2006? Not a single person can give me an answer. None of them. No one at the Republican National Committee, no Republican senator, no Republican House member, no operative, none of the Democrats, can answer it either. Nobody knows. That's the failure.

The American people didn't reject the GOP because you didn't have a message; they rejected you because they know what your message is and no longer approve of it...or of you.

made to be broken

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This ThinkProgress article shows two things that Bush is in favor of recycling: proposals and promises. He makes many statements about “addiction” and “dependence”—concepts with which he should be quite familiar—but he and the Republican rubber-stamp Congress have done nothing for the past six years. Will tonight’s SOTU be more of the same, or will the spectre of oversight from the Democratic Congress force him to take action instead of relying on applause lines?


update (2:15pm):
David Roberts provides a Green Party perspective on the president and the upcoming SOTU at HuffPo:

Bush is reviled. His popularity is yet again at an all-time low in the polls. The American people have rejected him and overwhelmingly rejected his escalation of a disastrous war. His Congressional bootlickers are deserting him in droves. After six years he has no domestic accomplishments to speak of, only a foreign policy disaster of incalculable proportions.

His legacy to his party will be failure: Republicans are headed for a drubbing in 2008 that will make 2006 look like pattycakes. His legacy to the next president will be failure: whoever is elected will spend at least a term, possibly two, cleaning up the mess and managing fallout. His legacy to future generations will be failure: the U.S. is in every way less secure than when he took over, more vulnerable to everything from energy shocks to severe weather to terrorism.

He is a failure. A small, vain, vicious man backed into a corner. All his energy now is devoted to one thing: not being the guy who lost the Iraq War. He no longer hopes of winning it. He's just scrambling to stay afloat until he can dump it in his successor's lap. If he has to escalate to keep from losing, don't think he won't provoke Iran. That will be the story of the next two years. [emphasis in original]

judging religions

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Dennis Prager’s suggestion that religions be judged on the actions of their practitioners trots out the myth that Hitler “believed in no religion.” Sorry, Dennis, but Hitler was Catholic:

“I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so.” (Adolf Hitler to General Gerhard Engel, 1941)

As far as I know, Prager is correct about Stalin and Mao being atheists, although the relation between totalitarian statism and freethinking atheism remains as nonexistent as ever.

This atheist op-ed is getting some deserved attention online (h/t: Friendly Atheist).

Luntz on language

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Frank Luntz—yes, THAT Frank Luntz—has some linguistic suggestions for Democrats in HuffPo's "Words that don't work." I would advise the Democratic Party against taking his advice, however; it may not be like a wolf offering his opinion to sheep, but it’s close. A few observations:

Senator Barbara Boxer’s alleged “crude personal attack” on Rice is BULLSHIT, and Luntz knows it. The transcript clearly shows “exactly what she said;” Boxer put herself in the same category as Rice:

Now, the issue is who pays the price, who pays the price? I'm not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old, and my grandchild is too young. You're not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, within immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families, and I just want to bring us back to that fact.

Boxer was highlighting the sacrifices of military families, not attacking Rice or any other single and childless woman.

My favorite line is perhaps “Democracy is at its best when its practioners [sic] use language to unite and explain rather than divide and attack.” This, along with the phrases “childish sound bites” and “sound bite flippancy” are particularly odd coming from the supreme practitioner of soundbite attack politics. I suppose we should expect no better from someone who coined the misleading term “Healthy Forests” to describe expanded logging of national forests, and who sees a positive connotation to the term “Orwellian.”

I also noted his use of the phrase “Democrat majority.” For the last time, Republicant wingnuts: “Democrat” is a singular noun. If you’re looking for an adjective, use “Democratic.”

Alan Wolfe’s review of Dinesh D’Souza’s “The Enemy at Home” (see previous comments here) is no less harsh that D’Souza deserves, particularly Wolfe’s assessment of “how thoroughly indecent Dinesh D’Souza is:”

Like his hero Joe McCarthy, he has no sense of shame. He is a childish thinker and writer tackling subjects about which he knows little to make arguments that reek of political extremism. His book is a national disgrace, a sorry example of a publishing culture more concerned with the sensational than the sensible. People on the left, especially those who have been subjects of D’Souza’s previous books, will shrug their shoulders at his latest screed. I look forward to the reaction from decent conservatives and Republicans who will, if they have any sense of honor, distance themselves, quickly and cleanly, from the Rishwain research scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Ouch!

Shelley the [wingnut Christianist] Republican presumes that the three people in this photograph are going to hell for their irreverence:

20070121-ymca.jpg

Not if their deity has a sense of humor.


P.S. If anyone knows this photo's origin, please let me know. I would love to be able to give credit where it is due.

This TruthOut analysis of Bush’s psychological makeup (h/t: UTI) is interesting, if unsurprising:

At this point, the president seems to have entered a place in his psyche where he is discounting all external criticism and unpopularity, and fixing stubbornly on his illusion of vindication, because he's still "The Decider," who can just keep deciding until he gets to success. It's hard not to feel something heroic in this position - but it's a recipe for bad, if not catastrophic, decisions.

[…]

We don't dare to really confront the scale of his incompetent behavior, because then we would have to face what it means to have such an incompetent and psychologically disabled decision-maker as our president. It raises everyone's uncertainty. And that is, in fact, happening now.

despairing deists

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Chris Hedges writes at AlterNet about how “The radical Christian Right is built on despair.” Hedges calls the radical Christian Right “the most dangerous mass movement in American history,” and speculates that:

…another catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil, a series of huge environmental disasters or an economic meltdown will hand to these radicals the opening they seek. Manipulating our fear and anxiety, promising to make us safe and secure, giving us the assurance that they can vanquish the forces that mean to do us harm, these radicals, many of whom have achieved powerful positions in the Executive and legislative branches of government, as well as the military, will ask us only to surrender our rights, to pass them the unlimited power they need to battle the forces of darkness.

They will have behind them tens of millions of angry, disenfranchised Americans longing for revenge and yearning for a mythical utopia, Americans who embraced a theology of despair because we offered them nothing else.

Alberto Gonzales’ statements on habeas corpus yesterday left my head spinning (h/t: ThinkProgress for the transcript):

GONZALES: The fact that the Constitution — again, there is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution. There is a prohibition against taking it away. But it’s never been the case, and I’m not a Supreme — [emphasis added]

SPECTER: Now, wait a minute. Wait a minute. The constitution says you can’t take it away, except in the case of rebellion or invasion. Doesn’t that mean you have the right of habeas corpus, unless there is an invasion or rebellion?

GONZALES: I meant by that comment, the Constitution doesn’t say, “Every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right to habeas.” It doesn’t say that. It simply says the right of habeas corpus shall not be suspended except by —

SPECTER: You may be treading on your interdiction and violating common sense, Mr. Attorney General.

GONZALES: Um.

On an absolute textual level, Gonzales is correct: the Constitution does not directly state that a habeas right exists, merely that it cannot be taken away except as specified. (See Section I, Article 9: “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”) The existence of a habeas right can be assumed by reading the same text, unless Gonzales is trying to convince us that the Founders were worried about the procedure for suspending a right that they weren’t assuming existed. If our rights disappear during the Bush administration, Gonzales will simply declare that they weren’t taken away: they never existed in the first place!

Today’s GOP: building a bridge to the thirteenth century!


update (3:32pm):
Joel Balkin has a more measured and articulate response to Gonzales’ view of habeas, noting that these are “sad days for the American Constitution:”

What is most troubling about this view-- that habeas is not a right but a default rule rather easily dispensed with-- is that it undermines the very purpose of the Great Writ, both in the United States, and in Great Britain, where it originated: The possibility that the King could dispense with the rule of law and throw individuals in prison because he regarded them an enemy of the state is the very reason why we have a writ of habeas corpus. Substitute "George W. Bush" for "King" and you are rapidly approaching the Administration's desired position.

William Greider lays out some ideas for Democrats to reform out-of-control globalization. Amid the usual balance-of-trade and anti-sweatshop issues, Greider suggests handling offshoring this way:

As American companies move more and more of their manufacturing offshore, many take on the status of "free riders." They enjoy all the benefits of being "American"--government services and subsidies, the protection of the US military--while discarding reciprocal obligations to the country: jobs, economic investment and paying a fair share of the tax burden. […]

A "free rider" surcharge could be enacted on top of the corporate income tax, which would raise the tax liability for firms in proportion to how much their domestic production is declining because of offshoring. By itself, the special tax wouldn't reverse the dynamics driving the process, but it would change the incentives. The measure would inform corporate executives that the "free ride" is over and that "global companies" will begin paying a rising price for abandoning loyalty to the US economy.

James Bond has a great post on economic aspects of the American “rugged individualist” myth:

…in the very early history of America government was actively and positively supporting economic enterprise and pushing it away from the true individualism of natural persons who owned and managed their own businesses and farms, toward artificial and corporate forms. This is just as much government 'intervention' in the economy as today's interventions; the difference is that when government 'intervenes' to aid business there are fewer complaints; however, when government 'intervenes' to help naturally occurring individuals with workers compensation, unemployment, old age insurance, or health insurance--then the cries of those who have benefitted so greatly from previous government 'intervention' are heard complaining of government 'meddling', 'moral hazard', and the loss of our 'rugged individualism.' [emphasis added]

After noting that “legislatures passed limited liability laws protecting passive investors against any greater losses than the extent of their personal investment,” Bond wrote that:

The passage of limited liability laws was quite clearly government 'intervention' in the economy just as much as is legislation passed today that would place limits upon corporate power. The difference is that today's corporations were provided these legislative advantages as much as 150-200 years ago and have had this time to grow rich and fat and develop armies of mercenaries who will now come to their aid when any contemporary threat to their government-provided privileges is mounted; indeed, the business class has one whole political party, the Republican Party, devoted almost entirely to defending its privileges.

Free-market fundamentalists trumpet pro-investor interventions as a moral good, but they hardly pass up a chance to decry protecting people rather than capital as a moral hazard. Thus, one can see what their priorities truly are.

Jane Smiley’s psychological assessment of Dubya at HuffPo will no doubt become another example of what the Busheviks refer to as BDS (“Bush Derangement Syndrome”):

Bush is the worst possible president because he is simultaneously unusually ignorant for a president and unusually shallow, as well as desperate for a success he can call his own. […]The small pathologies of Bush the candidate have, thanks to the purposes of the neocons and the religious right, been enhanced and upgraded. We have a bona fide madman now, who thinks of himself in a grandiose way as single-handedly turning the tide of history.

Referring to Bush as “the worst possible president,” rather than (merely?) the worst to date, is too breathlessly hyperbolic even for me. As bad a president as Bush is, he’s not the worst possible president. There are ways in which a president could be worse than Bush, although I hope our country never has to experience them.

The graphic in this (brief) article at Wired News is an interesting perspective on our ongoing addiction to oil.

I should stop reading Dennis Prager. His latest column at TownHall, “Thoughts On My Vacation,” was a rumination on relaxation—he’s a cruise aficionado—that contained this obligatory swipe at liberals:

…the default position for those who know little history or think little about social issues is with the Left. All you need do is care for the poor or care about the environment.

Nice try, Dennis, but you’re full of it. If we turn your assertion on its head—and add a few supporting examples—we’ll see that it becomes far more accurate:

The default position for those who know little history or think little about social issues is with the Right. All you need do is blindly worship power and authority (religion, the military, the GOP, Faux News and the rest of the corporate media), be afraid of everything (imaginary WMDs, free and fair elections, open and accountable government, the rule of law, checks and balances, freedom of speech and of the press, civil equality, higher education, and especially science) that you don’t hate (liberals, lawyers, atheists, immigrants, Muslims, minorities in general and the LGBT community in particular), and care about micro-managing others’ personal lives (sexuality, reproductive issues, marriage, end-of-life decisions, recreational pharmaceuticals).

Ben Adler’s memorial piece about Martin Luther King Jr at Campus Progress mentions that:

Young people today are often accused of apathy. But perhaps they’d be more likely to rally if they were blessed with inspiring leaders like Dr. King to rally around. Though, because of his belief in civil disobedience, he was dismissed as a demagogue and even a thug by conservatives at the time, he is now hailed across the political spectrum as a member of the pantheon of American heroes. After years of conservative opposition to naming a day in King’s honor, we now have a national holiday to celebrate his legacy.

For those who think Adler’s assessment is inaccurate, what do you think of King’s association with liberal newsmagazine The Nation? That’s hardly something that a conservative would do, either then or now.

Rick Perlstein’s “Day of Reckoning” at TNR explains conservatives’ problem dealing with King’s legacy. King’s words in opposition to unjust laws and in favor of civil disobedience were misrepresented to imply support for moral relativism and worse:

What looks today obviously like transcendent justice looked to conservatives then like anarchy. The conservative response to King--to demonize him in the '60s and to domesticate him today--has always been essentially the same: It has been about coping with the fear that seekers of justice may overturn what we see as the natural order and still be lionized. But if we manage to forget that, sometimes, doing things that terrify people is the only recourse to injustice, there is no point in having a Martin Luther King Day at all.


update (4:35pm):
As Joseph Palermo writes at HuffPo, “The hollow tributes to King's legacy we will hear today by the enemies of everything King stood for must be tempered by a clear reading of the historical record.”

Sullivan on BDS

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Andrew Sullivan says this about the Right’s mis-diagnosis of BDS (Bush Derangement Syndrome) being applied to all critics of the administration:

At some point, someone will surely point out that "Bush Derangement Syndrome" is more accurately applied to those who still believe the president is even minimally competent.

Uh, Andrew? I think you just did.

PZ Myers at Pharyngula defends and expands upon his previous comments (from this post discussing this Science magazine study about disbelief in evolution) about the anti-science slant of the GOP:

The voice of conservatism in America is the Republican party, and the Republican party stands against evolution, against stem cell research, against reproductive rights, against education, against the environment, against alternative energy research, against pollution controls, against good science education, against universal health care, on and on and on. I appreciate that individual conservatives in good conscience may deplore the anti-science agenda and divorce themselves from rather large chunks of the Republican platform, and I understand that the party has not always been such a refuge for know-nothings and may someday reshape itself, but face it: conservatism in this country is tightly coupled to scientific ignorance. If you are a conservative, that is your problem (just as the ineffective, dithering dullards of the Democratic party are my problem, as an openly declared liberal). Buck up, accept the responsibility, and do something about it. Fight for reform of America's conservative political party. [emphasis added]

Myers sounds a hopeful note that “maybe you sensible people who believe in conservative values just need to found a new party and get out from the umbrella of what should be called the Insane Christianist party.” I doubt there will be many takers.

Brad Friedman at HuffPo has details on the latest wrinkle in Ann Coulter’s vote fraud case: the addition of another third degree felony charge.

It couldn’t happen to a nicer pundit.

Dinesh D'Souza's new book, The Enemy at Home, is upfront in blaming 9/11 on--who else?--American liberals. D'Souza says that "without the cultural left, 9/11 would not have happened," and claims:

"I realize that this is a strong charge, one that no one has made before."

Actually, this sentiment should be quite familiar for those with good memories for the right-wing tendency to blame America first--Jerry Falwell said something very similar just two days after 9/11:

The ACLU's got to take a lot of blame for this. [...] And, I know that I'll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen."

Believe it or not, D'Souza is being honored with a "Citizens' Constitutional Conversation about his provocative new book" and a signing at the National Constitution Center. James Wolcott noted last October after receiving an advance copy, "this is a special book, deserving special mistreatment:"

With The Enemy at Home, I prefer to do the irresponsible thing and declare war on Dinesh D'Souza and his stinking mackerel of a book starting now. I intend to pound this scurrilous piece of scapegoating at every convenient opportunity. It is long past due that the likes of Ramesh Ponnuru (Death Party A-Go-Go), Jonah Goldberg (Hillary Clinton Was Himmler's Mistress), and now D'Souza be put on notice that they are not going to get away with vilifying liberals, mainstream Democrats, radical thinkers, academics, and entertainers as traitors and terrorist sympathizers.

Timothy Noah at Slate and watertiger at FDL have more comments on D'Souza's inanity. Why is he given such a respectful hearing in the right-wing media?

Philosophoraptor at DU managed to make President Bush look like an idiot (h/t: Liberal Avenger) before Dubya did the job personally:

...I come before you tonight to tell you that I have thought long and hard about the results of the last election in 2006, and I have studied and contemplated the findings of the Iraq study group. I have heard the voice of the American people, loud and clear.

And after consulting with my new generals on the ground and in the theater of operation, and with my staff of experts, I want to announce this evening that I will go ahead and do exactly as I damn well please, and you can all go fuck yourselves, each and every single useless one of you. I am the president, I am the decider, you are beyond irrelevant to me and I utterly disregard you with the deepest contempt imaginable...

Seriously, though, Bush deserves kudos for owning up to his failure in Iraq:

Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me. It is clear that we need to change our strategy in Iraq.

Other than that moment of honesty, his address was the usual steaming pile of horse puckey we have come to expect from his bully pulpit. My favorite part was when he claimed that if we withdraw from Iraq, we’ll have to stay there longer:

Our new approach comes after consultations with Congress about the different courses we could take in Iraq. Many are concerned that the Iraqis are becoming too dependent on the United States - and therefore, our policy should focus on protecting Iraq's borders and hunting down al Qaeda. Their solution is to scale back America's efforts in Baghdad - or announce the phased withdrawal of our combat forces. We carefully considered these proposals. And we concluded that to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government, tear that country apart, and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale. Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer, and confront an enemy that is even more lethal. [emphasis added to point out the contradiction]

Someone mentioned this sentiment to me over the weekend, during a discussion of exorbitant CEO pay:

“The trouble with socialism is socialism. The trouble with capitalism is capitalists.”

After a little research online, I saw it attributed to Willi Schlamm in this National Review article by William F Buckley. It’s a nice aphorism, but sayings can be witty without being correct. I prefer this idea, often attributed to Yogi Berra:

“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is.”

which is a broader sentiment with no less applicability to the economic discussion I was having.

Each side in the communism/capitalism debate (and in many other debates) insists that its own pet theory is perfect, while always and everywhere being imperfectly implemented; the other side’s theory is simply wrong. In this way, one can try to salvage an ideal from its messy implementation while using a double standard to pillory his opponents. In the real world, where theories must be practiced to be studied, a theory is—in most people’s minds—nothing other than its practice.

Pure capitalism, in the sense of a completely free and unregulated economy and unlimited private ownership, is the dream of libertarians but a nightmare in reality; the era of robber barons and child labor of the early twentieth century demonstrated this quite adequately. The folly of pure communism, a completely planned and regulated economy with unlimited public ownership, also failed in similarly spectacular fashion. Ideologies unconstrained by reality—from Adam Smith’s invisible hand to Stalin’s five-year plans—are unworkable for the same reason all utopian ideals are: reality is more complex and unpredictable than any theory can be.

As Madison wrote in The Federalist 51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” This is no less true in the economic realm than in the political. Economies commonly called “capitalist”—such as our own—are invariably mixed economies in practice, as an admixture of liberty and law tempers both extremes: the individualistic unconcern for despoiling the commons and the authoritarian disdain for freedom.

Market failures are no less common than those of centralized planning; it’s just that we’ve had longer (a century or so) to incorporate the necessary corrections (unemployment insurance, Social Security, the right to unionize, environmental protections, consumer protections, health care, public education, etc.) into our economic mindset while still calling our mixed economy “capitalist.”

In the globalization realm, unrestrained “free trade” is gradually yielding to “fair trade,” a concept which recognizes that return on capital investment is not the highest goal to which a society can aspire. Take a look, as another example, at the thoroughly mixed economy of Denmark—often derided by market fundamentalists as “Socialist” for being too mixed for their liking—in this article from The New Republic:

Over the last decade, the Danes have turned the conventional wisdom on its head by boasting not only one of the world's most expansive welfare states, but also one of its most robust economies. Given the way average American workers' wages continue to stagnate even as their burden of risk--of losing a job, of losing medical insurance--continues to rise, it looks increasingly as though the conservative triumphalism has been misplaced: It may be that Europe has something to teach us after all.

The Pew Research Center’s report on ‘Generation Next’ (h/t: Andrew Sullivan) has some hopeful information about the up-and-coming generation. Here are some excerpts:

In their political outlook, they are the most tolerant of any generation on social issues such as immigration, race and homosexuality. They are also much more likely to identify with the Democratic Party than was the preceding generation of young people, which could reshape politics in the years ahead.

[…]

One-in-five members of Generation Next say they have no religious affiliation or are atheist or agnostic, nearly double the proportion of young people who said that in the late 1980s. And just 4% of Gen Nexters say people in their generation view becoming more spiritual as their most important goal in life.

[…]

Nearly two-thirds of Nexters (63%) believe humans and other living things evolved over time, while only 33% say all living creatures have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.

[…]

In 2006, 48% of young people identified themselves as Democrats or leaned toward the Democratic Party, while only 35% identified themselves as Republicans – the lowest number recorded by Pew in its nearly 20-year trend. This makes them the least Republican generation.

[…]

Gen Nexters also are more accepting of homosexuality generally. Nearly six-in-ten (58%) say homosexuality is a way of life that should be accepted by society. This compares with 50% of those over age 25. On balance, the public opposes allowing gays and lesbians to marry, but young people are evenly split on the issue. Nearly half of Gen Nexters (47%) favor gay marriage, and 46% are opposed to it. Among those over age 25, only 30% favor gay marriage while 64% are opposed. The public is more open to the idea of gay people adopting children, and here too young people take a more liberal position. About six-in-ten Gen Nexters (61%) favor allowing gays and lesbians to adopt, compared with 44% of those over age 25.

Apple’s new iPhone is the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time, introduced by master showman Steve Jobs. (Where does he get those wonderful toys?!?)

Congrats, Apple!

Despite the whines from supporters of Bush’s “unitary executive,” Congress is fully within its Constitutional rights to restrict funding for specific military actions. Center for American Progress has details on this web page, and in this PDF report: (h/t: ThinkProgress)

In sharp contrast to the 109th Congress, this new Congress will do more to exercise its powers and responsibility as a co-equal branch of government in shaping the future direction of the country’s Iraq policy. Such a policy will be successful only if it enjoys the informed consent of the American people. Unlike the previous Congress, the 110th seems to recognize the awesome responsibility they have to perform due diligence on our policy and on the President’s request for ever more resources to pursue that policy.

Bush’s upcoming escalation of the Iraqi occupation should be denied funding by the Congress, for all the obvious reasons.

Gulag Gitmo

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Thursday will mark the fifth anniversary of the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp. Witness Against Torture is running a campaign to shut down Gitmo. The hat tip for this one goes to Meteor Blades at DailyKos, who penned a depressing history of Gitmo and its legacy of torture and lawlessness under Dubya:

As has been learned little by little over the years as news trickled out from Guantánamo, prisoners were beaten, sexually humiliated, deprived of sleep, shackled for long periods in cramped positions, subjected to exceedingly loud music, forced to live under bright lights 24 hours a day, interrogated repeatedly under harsh conditions, waterboarded and otherwise cruelly mistreated.

The Red Cross, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the U.N. Committee Against Torture, the Center for Constitutional Rights and scores of ex-captives released from Guantánamo without charge after years of incarceration have a word for what happened there: torture.

[…]

Helped by its allies in North Africa and Asia and Europe, America still runs its very own gulag. We, the citizens of America, don’t know for certain where most captives in this secret archipelago of prisons are being held. Or their numbers. Or how many have "disappeared" permanently.

We cannot, however, plead ignorance about Guantánamo. Neither can our newly elected Democratic majorities. The House and Senate need to devote a few of their first hundred hours resolving to investigate and shut down this shameful violation of human rights and international law, and all similar prisons, known and unknown.

The word for the day isn’t “appalling,” or “illegal,” or “inhumane.” It’s “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Guantanamo is an impeachable offense.

…when you have photographic evidence?

Look what we have here: CREW has posted a photo of Dubya with disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, about whom Scott McClellan once said, “the President doesn't recall meeting him and he certainly doesn't know him.”

20070109-bush-abramoff.jpg

Moral of the story: photos don’t lie, but White House Press Secretaries do.

Wilfred McClay asks "Is conservatism finished?" in the pages of Commentary magazine (h/t: Suzanne Fields at TownHall) is interesting, although not completely for the reasons McClay might have intended. He refers to conservatism's "run of two decades or so," conveniently beginning his timing with "the conservative coalition that came to power with Reagan's election in 1980."

This is a common tactic on the Right, but it is simply inaccurate: Reagan was not the beginning of the latest conservative resurgence, but its apogee. Conservatism's run of nearly four decades in the Oval Office began with Nixon's victory. (When considering his presidency and Dubya's, I can understand why conservatives want to focus on Reagan; what else remains?)

McClay views the GOP's handwringing and finger-pointing this way:

Paradoxically, the profusion of books about the death-rattle of conservatism might be better understood as a sign of conservatism's continuing importance. It is no small matter when writers as diverse as Jeffrey Hart and Andrew Sullivan want to contend for the ownership of, or at least identification with, the label "conservative"...

Michelle (Kingdom Coming) Goldberg interviews Chris Hedges about his new book, American Fascists. Hedges carefully qualifies his use of the concept fascism this way:

there are enough generic qualities that the group within the religious right, known as Christian Reconstructionists or dominionists, warrants the word. Does this mean that this is Nazi Germany? No. Does this mean that this is Mussolini's Italy? No. Does this mean that this is a deeply anti-democratic movement that would like to impose a totalitarian system? Yes.

His take on Bush’s dysfunctional religious attitudes is equally harsh, and equally accurate:

I think he's a believer, to the extent that this belief system empowers his own arrogant sense of privilege and intellectual shallowness. When you know right and wrong, when you've been mandated by God to lead, you don't have to ask hard questions, you don't have to listen to anyone else. I think that plays into the Bush character pretty well.

I think there are probably other aspects or tenets of this belief system that he finds distasteful and doesn't like. But in a real sense he fits the profile: a washout, not a very good family life -- apparently his mother was a horror show -- a drunk, a drug addict, coasted because of his daddy, reaches middle age, hasn't done anything with his life, finds Jesus. That fits a lot of people in the movement.

RJ Eskow has written a conciliatory response to Cenk Uygur’s rebuttal of Eskow’s original piece on “militant atheists.” Eskow writes that his “quarrel is specifically with Harris and his weak argument against tolerance:”

Anyone who argues for the precedence of science and reason over religion should acknowledge counterarguments based academic research, even if it undercuts their position. They can challenge their data and conclusions, but they can't pretend the studies don't exist and still claim to represent "reason." That's my beef with Harris and Dawkins, and it's why I called them "fundamentalists."

Harris’ condemnation of religious moderates does not sit well with many people, Eskow included. Without the cover they provide for extremists, as Harris repeatedly points out, the extremists’ job would be much more difficult.

responses to Eskow

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Cenk Uygur responds to RJ Eskow’s piece on “militant atheists” with a straightforward thesis that “Religion Is Wrong:”

I don't know what other so-called "fundamentalist atheists" argue, but I am not concerned with how the world would be with or without religion. I care whether the religions are true or untrue.

And any non-insane, non-ignorant person can tell they are simply not true. Although I argue that we should start a war against fundamentalism (a war of ideas and culture), I am sure that RJ would call me a "fundamentalist" for my opinion that religion is indisputably wrong.

Am I also a fundamentalist for believing that 2+2=4? Or should I consider the idea that it might equal 5 because some people really have "faith" in that idea? I don't give a damn about their irrational faith in things that are clearly not true. And I don't have to respect it. It is dumb. More importantly, it is wrong.

PZ Myers also rebuts Eskow, particularly his “ranting against a nonexistent position, trying to tar atheists with the intolerance he is inventing:”

I'll make it simple for him. I'm a militant atheist, whatever that means. I do not believe that religion is the root of all evil, and I don't know any atheists who do. If religion vanished overnight, we would still have the same wars, the same petty differences inflated into reasons to destroy those who are different, the same tribalism. We would not usher in an atheist utopia (or as some are fond of whining, dystopia). These problems are built on human follies, of which religion is just one.

The Onion's piece "Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity Is Finally Over" made me laugh out loud when I first saw it six years ago. Little did any of us know how poor a president Bush would be, or how close to truth this parody would become.

RJ Eskow has some questions for "militant atheists" and their as-yet-unproven hypothesis that "the eradication of religion would improve humanity:"

Instead of pandering to prejudice, or to decent people's understandable frustration with fundamentalism, the militants should engage in the hard academic work of either proving their core hypothesis - or allowing it to be disproved.

In lieu of a new experiment designed to test that hypothesis, there are several studies comparing atheists to theists within mixed societies. (See this post about a study from the Journal of Religion and Society.) Atheists tend to fare quite well by comparison, and I see no reason why the results would be different in the absence of theism altogether.

Hiding criminal visitors to the White House is easy when you’re George W Bush: you just decide that the White House visitors’ logs are now your property rather than the Secret Service’s. (h/t: John at AmericaBlog) Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and ABC News have more details. CREW comments:

Of course the White House and the Secret Service declined to comment. This action is appalling. And, it begs the question: What is the White House hiding? Clearly, something big. The Bush Administration has gone to extreme lengths to prevent the public from seeing any information about Jack Abramoff's visits to the White House.

That’s Bush’s “unitary executive” in action, all right: plenty of secrecy and no accountability.

George Will berates Democrats for wanting to raise the minimum wage, and criticizes their “New Deal Nostalgia.” Joshua Holland not only points out the flaws in Will’s economic arguments, but also defends Democrats’ nostalgia for the days of FDR:

If we define the New Deal not only as a basketful of Roosevelt's policies in the 1930s but as a consensus that guided the hand of government during the period between the end of World War II and the rise of the new conservative movement in the 1970s -- as one should do -- then Will is saying that Democrats are nostalgic for a time when the very idea of corporate accountability was born; a period in which America experienced an unprecedented increase in shared prosperity; an era when a huge middle class was built and a single semi-skilled worker could afford to raise his or her (mostly his) family with a modicum of dignity; an era when people had the reasonable expectation that their kids would have an opportunity to do better than they did and a time when government attracted halfway intelligent people who believed in public service instead of the half-witted hacks that the Hart-Rudman Commission in 1999 found to be the ultimate cause of an "unprecedented crisis of competence in government."

Yeah, George, count me "nostalgic" for those days.

This NY Daily News story has gotten some play in the blogosphere yesterday and the media today: Bush has granted himself the power to tamper with—and read—our mail:

The President asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Bush then issued a "signing statement" that declared his right to open people's mail under emergency conditions.

That claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed, say experts who have reviewed it.

Bush's move came during the winter congressional recess and a year after his secret domestic electronic eavesdropping program was first revealed. It caught Capitol Hill by surprise.

"Despite the President's statement that he may be able to circumvent a basic privacy protection, the new postal law continues to prohibit the government from snooping into people's mail without a warrant," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the incoming House Government Reform Committee chairman, who co-sponsored the bill.



Another signing statement, another violation of privacy, another impeachable offense...it’s just another day in Bushworld.

This LA Times article on a work by Archimedes discovered underneath a 13th century prayer book text is fascinating. Who knows what other wonders of antiquity were defaced and erased in favor of medieval piety?

(h/t: Jim Downey at Unscrewing the Inscrutable)

Dubya had an op-ed in the WSJ today, “What the Congress can do for America,” that includes this jaw-dropping line:

If the Congress chooses to pass bills that are simply political statements, they will have chosen stalemate.

Would that be “political statements” such as—to pick a few from the last six years of a GOP-dominated Congress—criminalizing flag burning, prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages, demanding that monotheism remain in the Pledge of Allegiance, mandating public endorsement of religion, and meddling in Terri Schiavo’s end-of-life decisions? Calling these instrusive big-government measures “principles” may work for Dubya’s true believers, but they’re nothing if not political statements. The outgoing GOP Congress was so consumed with symbolism over substance that they couldn’t be bothered to finish most of the federal spending bills.

Bush’s call for a line-item veto was also rhetorically interesting. It might have some small shred of credibility if he had vetoed even one spending bill (vetoing stem cell research hardly counts) in the past six years, or if he weren’t the most profligate president ever.

John at AmericaBlog put the smackdown on Bush, and Jerome a Paris gave Bush a solid thrashing at DailyKos:

These are not the words of someone willing to be conciliatory. This is defiant, petulant, arrogant posturing - unfortunately backed by a lot of institutional power.

The challenge is clear. Bush will be a resolute obstacle to anything sane the Democratic Congress will try to do, and will continue to do his things as if nothing had happened in November - while using the opportunity of Democrats being "in power" to blame them for everything.

There can be no compromise. This is a declaration of war. Which should be good news, right? Bush is unable to win any war. Time to wage this one.

How about issuing some subpoenas and beginning impeachment proceedings against Bush and Cheney? That’s something Congress could do for America.

update (2:25pm)
Brent Budowsky at HuffPo suggests a response to Bush’s threat to cause a stalemate on Capitol Hill:

My advice is: Senate Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi should make it abundantly clear immediately:
* co-equal branches of government mean co-equal branches of government; * consultation requires consulting, not treating Congress like subordinates to be informed of what decisions are dictated; * bipartisan government means both parties collaborate before decisions are made, * elections are elections and the American people have spoken; * a lame duck President who has lost both houses of Congress and created a catastrophe in Iraq , is in no position to make threats. * here in America, we believe in democracy, not Deciders.

The President has laid down the law.

The Majority Leader and Speaker should lay it down, right back.

Ellison update

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Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts write at WaPo that Keith Ellison will use a Koran once owned by Thomas Jefferson in the ceremony which has caused so much hand-wringing in the wingnutosphere. Using Jefferson’s Koran, presumably as an entrée to discussing religious pluralism, is a brilliant move on Ellison’s part.

It’s also a nice slap-in-the-face to Rep. Virgil Goode, who has gone nearly apoplectic over Ellison’s impending use of the Koran. Goode’s screed in USA Today yesterday warned against “those who want to mold the United States into the image of their religion.” On that issue, I am far more worried about Goode and his Christianist cohorts than I am about Keith Ellison. (It is no small irony that Goode represents Jefferson’s birthplace in Congress, while Ellison represents Jefferson’s legacy.)

Bravo!

holy warriors

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Chris Hedges writes about “America’s Holy Warriors” at TruthDig (h/t: DefCon blog). The Christianists’ craven subservience to power and blind worship of military might goes hand-in-hand with their “muscular Christianity” obsession with firearms. Hedges talks about Blackwater, the private paramilitary company, and observes:

If the United States falls into a period of instability caused by another catastrophic terrorist attack, an economic meltdown or a series of environmental disasters, these paramilitary forces, protected and assisted by fellow ideologues in the police and military, could swiftly abolish what is left of our eroding democracy. War, with the huge profits it hands to businesses and right-wing interests that often help bankroll the Christian right, could become a permanent condition. And the thugs with automatic weapons, black uniforms and wraparound sunglasses who appeared on street corners in Baghdad and New Orleans could appear on streets across the U.S. Such a presence could paralyze us with fear, leaving us unable to question or protest the closed system and secrecy of an emergent totalitarian state and unable to voice dissent.

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