March 2007 Archives

Andrew Sullivan fisks David Brooks’ new column in a most delightful way. (I feel some trepidation at not having read the entire Brooks piece, but it’s behind the TimesSelect wall.)

Nice work, Sullivan.


update (4/2 @ 3:47pm):
Brooks’ statement that “Goldwater and Reagan were important leaders, but they're not models for the future” stuck in Glenn Greenwald’s craw as well, as the conclusion to his rebuttal illustrates:

On every front, the Bush administration has ushered in vast expansions of federal power -- often in the form of radical and new executive powers, unprecedented surveillance of American citizens, and increased intervention in every aspect of Americans' private lives. To say that the Bush movement is hostile to the limited-government ends traditionally associated (accurately or not) with the storied Goldwater/Reagan ideology is a gross understatement.

[…]

The terms "left" and "right" do not mean what they meant even ten years ago, though they still have meaning. At least for now, until this movement is banished to the dustbin, those terms have come to designate whether one is loyal to, or whether one opposes, this government-power-worshipping, profoundly un-American right-wing cultism that has been the dominant political faction in America for many years.

My seeming hiatus from blogging has not been time spent AFK. I have lost several weeks of posts due to a hardware failure, during a time when I was not making regular backups. I plan to be back at the keyboard in a few days, after reconstructing my bookmarks, RSS feeds, and perhaps some of the lost posts.

There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth about the lost data, but my backup scheme is now much more robust.

Harris again

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Sam Harris responds to Andrew Sullivan here, where he deals with "the question of whether a given religious doctrine-like the doctrine of the Resurrection-is true (or likely to be):"

As I've pointed out before, the truth or falsity of a proposition is one thing; the psychological/social effect of believing it is quite another. It seems to me that most religious people ignore this distinction. In fact, there is a powerful incentive to do so, because to focus on the plausibility of a doctrine, without being beguiled by its consolations, forces a person to confront just how dubious most religious propositions are. The long-range interest of maintaining one's faith (and reaping its consolations) generally overwhelms every present temptation to honestly evaluate whether or not a specific article of faith is likely to be true.

Harris ends his missive with a list of unanswered questions which Sullivan has either deftly sidestepped or outright ignored. I would be happy to see Sullivan--or any other believer--answer them, as they lie at the core of my own personal rejection of religion.

Scott Ritter calls out the members of "Idiot America" at TruthDig for our lack of understanding Islamic factionalism while insisting that we continue to occupy the nation currently at the center of the Sunni/Shiite religious conflict. Ritter sets up a question for us by framing it as our civic responsibility to understand the parts of the world in which we project our power:

The task of holding Congress to account is a daunting one, and can be accomplished only if the citizenry that forms the respective constituencies of our ignorant congressional representatives are themselves able to operate at an intellectual capacity above that of those they are holding to account. So rather than issue "pop quizzes" to our elected representatives, I've designed one for us, the people. If the reader can fully answer the question raised, then he or she qualifies as one capable of pointing an accusatory finger at Congress as its members dither over what to do in Iraq. If the reader fails the quiz, then there should be an honest appraisal of the reality that we are in way over our heads regarding this war, and that it is irresponsible for anyone to make sweeping judgments about the ramifications of policy courses of action yet to be agreed upon. Claiming to be able to divine a solution to a problem improperly defined is not only ignorant but dangerously delusional.

So here is the quiz: Explain the relationship between the Iraqi cities of Karbala and Baghdad as they impact the coexistence of Iraq's Shiite and Sunni populations. [emphasis added]

My own answer was less-than-satisfactory, as yours likely was.

We are long past the time where one could be intelligently conversant about Middle Eastern geopolitics without at least a basic understanding of Islamic history, much as one cannot comprehend Western--or American--history without knowledge of Christianity, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment. As Harold Bloom wrote in his 1994 book The Western Canon:

Whether for its aesthetic and spiritual power or the influence it will have upon all of our futures, ignorance of the Koran is foolish and increasingly dangerous.

This observation is truer than ever, as Ritter indelicately points out.

Read this article by Joshua Kors from The Nation.

Now ask yourself: Who really cares about the troops?

new Pew study

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The latest Pew study on "Trends in Political Values and Core Attitudes: 1987-2007" shows the political landscape becoming increasingly favorable to Democrats (h/t: Taegan Goddard's Political Wire). The study starts off with a bang, noting "the dramatic shift in party identification that has occurred during the past five years:"

In 2002, the country was equally divided along partisan lines: 43% identified with the Republican Party or leaned to the GOP, while an identical proportion said they were Democrats. Today, half of the public (50%) either identifies as a Democrat or says they lean to the Democratic Party, compared with 35% who align with the GOP. (p. 1)

The younger cohort in the study is both less religious

In Pew surveys since the beginning of 2006, 12% identified themselves as unaffiliated with a religious tradition. That compares with 8% in the Pew values survey in 1987. This change appears to be generational in nature, with each new generation displaying lower levels of religious commitment than the preceding one. (p. 4)

and less socially conservative than their elders,

The survey also finds steady - if slow - declining support for traditional or conservative social values, in such areas as homosexuality and the role of women in society. [...]The decline in social conservatism is being hastened by generational change, as each new age cohort has come into adulthood with less conservative views on the questions than did their predecessors. (p. 32)

both of which bode well for the future. Kevin Drum has an analysis at Washington Monthly, concluding with this:

The GOP isn't dead, and Democratic victories in future years are hardly assured. But there's not much question that Republicans are going to have to find a new schtick. The combination of Grover Norquist and James Dobson had its day, but that day is fading fast. If they want to stay relevant, they're going to need some new ideas.

The summary is here and the full report is here (460KB PDF).


update (10:59pm):
Cenk Uygur writes at HuffPo about "The Republican Party vs. George Bush," making this observation with an eye toward the next election:

This ship isn't going to hold, so the Republicans are soon going to be faced with a decision. Are they going to let Bush take them down with him or are they going to cut their losses? If they choose to keep defending the kind of corruption we see in the US attorneys scandal or the mess in Iraq or the endless subsidies and contracts for politically connected companies at home, there is going to be hell to pay.

If they thought 2006 was bad, wait till they get a load of 2008.

As CREW points out (h/t: AmericaBlog), the 18-day gap in the document dump coincided with Bush's vacation. On 15 November, Harriet Miers speculated that the firings needed "the boss's attention," and the decision had been made by 4 December.

Did "the decider" decide to fire the attorneys? You do the math.

Robert Elisberg posted an enjoyable fisking of Bush's Tuesday-evening snit. This translation/interpretation pair is especially nince:

"I will oppose any attempts to subpoena White House officials."

[I cite the precedent of the beloved Richard Nixon. And that worked out for him, didn't it? I missed a bunch of those classes in college, between cheerleading practice and keggers.]

Bravo!

Boxer's balls

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ThinkProgress has the video of Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) lecturing Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) about his rude interruptions during Al Gore's testimony today:

"You're not making the rules. You used to when you did this [gavel]. Elections have consequences. So I make the rules."

As Eli comments at FDL, "She can wave her gavel at me any time."

Jeffrey Feldman writes at HuffPo about "The Five Words Bush Wants Americans to Repeat." from Bush's temper-tantrum press conference yesterday about deflectng accountability for the executive branch in the prosecutor PurgeGate scandal:

... as is par for this President's course whenever the White House is faced with a crisis, the goal of Bush's press appearance was not to inform the American public of any facts, but to force the White House's carefully scripted keywords into the debate--with the hope that journalists and Democrats would repeat them.

The five keywords--and their real meanings--are below:

resignation = firing
leadership = loyalty
explanation & incomplete = deceit & lies
fishing = searching for the truth

Feldman summarizes:

Given that the scandal his about the Attorney General giving false testimony under oath, it is more than reasonable for Congress to reject President Bush's offer to interview the advisers implicated by this scandal not under oath. Since the goal is to find the truth that was obscured in a previous official testimony, any implication that finding the truth is "partisan" or is little more than an aggressive attempt by President Bush to attack his attackers as a way of creating political cover for himself.

[...]

The President has every right that comes with his office to speak to the American public. But unless we want to help President Bush to hide the truth in a smokescreen of PR tactics, it is our responsibility not to repeat the keywords he tried to force into the debate in his press appearance, yesterday.

It looks as if Congress has called Bush's bluff: CNN writes that the House Judiciary subcommittee voted this morning to authorize subpoenas for administration officials who don't volunteer to testify under oath. It's time to turn on the klieg lights that Bush fears so much and start questioning his cronies.

As Glenn Greenwald observes, Fox/White House spinner Tony Snow will no doubt support Bush's defensive claim of executive privilege, despite having attacked Clinton for making the same argument during Monicagate:

Taken to its logical extreme, that position would make it impossible for citizens to hold a chief executive accountable for anything. He would have a constitutional right to cover up. [...] Most of us want no part of a president who is cynical enough to use the majesty of his office to evade the one thing he is sworn to uphold -- the rule of law.

[...]

You know, the president could solve a lot of this problem if he wouldn't hide behind executive privilege, if he'd just come out and tell the American people the truth.

Conspiracy, obstruction of justice, lying to Congress...this scandal has the GOP trifecta, with Gonzales at the center of the maelstrom. Bush's statement "I do have confidence in Attorney General Al Gonzales" sounds suspiciously like his remarks about Michael "heck of a job" Brown in the wake of Katrina. If I were Gonzales, I wouldn't accept any hunting invitations from Dick Cheney. (Speaking of coincidences, the 18-day gap in Monday's 3000-page document dump is eerily reminiscent of the 18-minute gap in the Nixon tapes.) Will further parallels emerge? Is it time for a special prosecutor?) One can only hope.

For snark, check out TBogg's "Little Big President" (h/t: Atrios) analysis of "President Petulant Pissypants" and his little snit at the presser:

As bad a president as George W. Bush has been [...] he is a worse person and it shows whenever he is under pressure; he melts down into a greasy little puddle of glares and smirks and incipient panic. But tonight was special. Tonights performance lays to rest any notion other than the fact that he's not a very bright man who has nothing but contempt for a world that refuses to dumb down for him.

Michael Novak reviews several atheist books at AEI (h/t: Richard Dawkins) under the title "Lonely Atheists of the Global Village." Novak writes a calm and reasoned hit piece on three books (Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation, Dennett's Breaking the Spell, and Dawkins' God Delusion), but it is still a hit piece nonetheless.

Novak claims of the three authors that "none of them ever put their weak, confused, and unplumbed ideas about God under scrutiny," but those words ring truer of theists than of atheists. He goes on to claim that atheists are guilty of "misreading the literary form of the Biblical passages at stake, whether they be allegorical, metaphorical, poetic, or resonant with many meanings," but we atheists are merely examining fundamentalists' truth-claims. Novak writes that "The Bible almost never pretends to be science, or strictly literal history," but that is false; many believers still insist on a literal reading of the bible with no exceptions for allegory or metaphor:

We affirm that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses.

We deny that it is possible for the Bible to be at the same time infallible and errant in its assertions. Infallibility and inerrancy may be distinguished, but not separated.

We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

(Articles XI and XII of "The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy")

Novak criticizes Dawkins' attitude toward believers, saying that "He makes not a gesture of seeking to learn from them." I ask--tongue only slightly in cheek--what, exactly, can be learned from those who ask no questions about the only book they read? Novak complains that the three authors "present a quite primitive idea of God," but it is from Novak's bible that this primitive idea is derived.

When Novak attacks Dawkins for not writing a pro-religion book, his piece veers into the nonsensical. When Novak complains that "a word or two of praise from Dawkins might have made his tiresome lists of accusations seem less unfair," he is correct. What Novak ignores, however, is that Dawkins provides a counterweight to the tonnage of "Christian nation" revisionism that currently weighs down the modern mind. For all the "great religious communities founded for the express purpose of building schools for the free education of the poor," there are schools stunted by the mind-numbing recitation of dogma; for all the "thousands of monastic lives dedicated to the delicate and exhausting labor of copying by hand the great manuscripts of the past," there are erasures of scientific manuscripts and their overwriting with prayer-prattle; for every building of a Vatican Library there is a Library of Alexandria burnt to the ground by zealots; for all the "learned priests and faithful who have made so many crucial discoveries in science, medicine, and technology" there are enforced silencings, tortures, and murder of those who would not mouth the correct cant. Novak claims that "[t]he path of modern science was made straight and smooth" by religion, he somehow does not notice that its path was also confounded and misdirected by unthinking adherence to myths and metaphors.

Novak later parodies his opponents rather than dealing honestly with them, claiming that "the pretenses of atheism" require a universe where "everything is irrational, chancy, without purpose or ultimate intelligibility," and calls this "the self-contradiction at the root of their lives." Only a few paragraphs later, however, Novak glories in the randomness of a theistic worldview:

The world of His creation is riven through with absurdities and contradictions, species that die out, and the teeming, blooming, buzzing confusion of contingencies and chance.

He earns no points for consistency when he posits that:

Atheism is in the main for comfortable men, in a reasonable world. For those in agony and distress, Christianity has seemed to serve much better and for a longer time, not because it offers "consolation" but precisely because it does not.

Dies he seriously believe that a brief lifetime of struggle followed by an eternity of joy is not a belief of ultimate comfort and a claim of ultimate consolation? Does he not notice that his beliefs contradict his argument?

Later, Novak claims that atheism forces one to "limit one's attention and understanding" and "limit one's point of view, and the sorts of questions one asks." Atheism is not limiting; religion is. Instead of pretending that the more difficult questions in life are answered with an endless repetition of "god did it," atheists look for real evidence and real answers in the real world. This is hardly a limitation on one's attention, understanding, or point of view.

In a tired trope, Novak calls German Nazism a "self-declared atheist regime" in an effort to whitewash the Nazis' Christianity. Continuing his misrepresentation, Novak caricatures Harris as claiming that "delusional atheists are not really atheists." Catholics are not atheists, except when theists are trying to disclaim responsibility for Hitler. When trotting out the old imprecations of atheism's relativism, Novak observes that: "the most common argument against placing trust in atheists is Dostoevsky's: 'If there is no God, everything is permitted.'" I am compelled to state the obvious "naturalistic fallacy" rebuttal that evidently did not occur to Novak: Commonality does not equal correctness.

We atheists are indeed a minority, but that neither invalidates our atheism nor validates Novak's theism. Novak makes many errors in this piece, and puts forward many arguments that never approach a proof. Is this the best he has to offer?

If this isn't the perfect prank, it's close to it. I laughed, I cried...I resolved to attend the next anti-gay rally with an assortment of word signs and a camera-laden accomplice:

20070320-prank.jpg

Humor is indeed great medicine; parody and pride stand side-by-side in the fight against bigotry. Resistance can indeed be accomplished through ridicule, and subversion through sarcasm.

Bravo!

Time's cover story on "How the Right Went Wrong" has this gem of a quote from Ronald Reagan from 1985:

"The tide of history is moving irresistibly in our direction. Why? Because the other side is virtually bankrupt of ideas. It has nothing more to say, nothing to add to the debate. It has spent its intellectual capital."

My, how things have changed over the past 22 years.

great image

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This image of "Relationships among Scientific Paradigms" from Seed magazine (h/t: PZ Myers at Pharyngula) is a wonderful piece of information design. I am sorely tempted to spend $10 to get a print of it, although my lack of wall space prohibits it.

Frederick Clarkson's article "Why the Christian Right Distorts History and Why it Matters" at Public Eye notes that "Christian nationalist narrative has a fatal flaw: it is based on revisionist history that does not stand up under scrutiny:"

A running refrain in the revisionist narrative is that somehow the original intention of God and the Founding Fathers has been thwarted by some combination of liberals, judicial tyrants, the ACLU, secular humanists, and more. [...]

It is a powerful piece of political and religious mythology that feeds into another powerful myth - that Christians are persecuted in the United States by the very forces that have thwarted God's plan for America. [...]

But for all of the Christian revisionism that has gone into crafting this narrative, and as popular a notion as it is, there is a problem: the facts of history do not support the myth of Christian nationalism. That is why history has to be revised in the first place.

Joseph Conn writes "Falwell Foolishness" at AU to provide numerous examples that:

Jefferson and Madison loathed the kind of theocratic tyranny represented by Falwell, Pat Roberton, James Dobson & Company. They spent their lives trying to ensure that America never fell under the sway of a politicized reactionary clergy. [...] To suggest that Jefferson and Madison held the same church-state views as Falwell, Gingrich and Barton is beyond ridiculous.

Andrew Sullivan has posted his long-awaited response in his ongoing blogalogue with Sam Harris. Unfortunately, he retreats back to comfortable but empty platitudes about "God-as-love" and "when death is nearest, faith emerges most strongly." Sullivan's "spiritual humility" doesn't enable him to avoid concluding that "we have learned how to be human through religion." For all of Sullivan's astute political writings, his theological words are empty of cognitive calories.

How will Harris respond?

Ernest Partridge writes on impeachment, suggesting that Democrats can win even if they lose:

The Democrats must stop fretting about a likely failure in the Senate and put their eyes on the prize of the results of Congressional investigation, of testimony under oath, and of the unavoidable publicity that would result therefrom. Once the worm-can of Bushevik crimes and treason is opened, those worms will never be re-canned. And who knows, once the high crimes and misdemeanors are exposed to the sunlight of open and public Congressional hearings and debate, the "impossible" Senate conviction just might turn out to be quite possible.

[...]

So let the facts come out in Congressional hearings and debates - e.g., the illegal wire-taps, the Downing Street memos, the lies that led to war (Saddam's alleged WMDs, the non-existent African uranium shipments, Saddam's alleged ties to al Qaeda) , the violations of Constitutionally guaranteed rights, violation of oaths of office (failure to "protect and defend the Constitution of the US"), the Plame affair, etc. Then approval of Bush will likely fall below 20%, with an irresistible momentum in public opinion to throw the rascals out.

MediaMatters has published another study of the right-wing bias on the Sunday talkshows (I discussed their previous studies here, here, and here).

The latest study looks at total guest appearances, official sources, journalist guests, solo interviews, and the ideological tilt of panel discussions on the four major Sunday shows (Meet the Press, This Week, Face the Nation, and Fox News Sunday).

The 2006 midterm election fundamentally altered the political landscape in Washington, as Democrats took both houses of Congress. So did the Sunday shows alter their guest lists in response? The answer is that the overall ideological contours of Sunday-morning television did not change: Republicans and conservatives still hold the advantage. (p. 13)

While there are variations among Meet the Press, This Week, Face the Nation, and
Fox News Sunday
, all showed evidence of imbalance toward the right. All four programs featured more Republicans and conservatives than Democrats and progressives. All four hosted more conservative journalists than progressive journalists. All four gave more solo interviews to Republicans than to Democrats. All four were more likely to feature a panel tilted to the right than tilted to the left. (p. 28)

The summary is here, the HTML version is here, and the PDF (260KB) is here.

Mary Grabar is at it again (as if this piece weren't bad enough) with a multi-part series titled "Onward, Christian Soldiers!"

Here are my thoughts on the first part of her piece:

Her statement that "If it weren't for Christians, the atheists would be chanting into the fire and clubbing each other over the head for food and women" is the most stunningly ignorant thing I've read--even on a wingnut website--in quite some time. If it weren't for those dissenters who questioned religious dogma--no matter their personal identification as atheist, agnostic, deist, Unitarian, freethinker, or pagan--the Christians would be living on a 6,000-year-old immovable planet at the center of the universe.

When Grabar stated that "Evangelicals have retreated, refusing to read or listen to anything that engages the world or involves serious thought. They read their own literalist tracts and live circumscribed lives," though, she was more accurate than she realizes. It is in those home-school hothouses that Christianist children grow up with misrepresentations and persecution complexes. In Grabar's words, they may feel a need to "engage and fight the enemy," but they lack the knowledge and skill to do so. On the field of combat that is reality, biblical literalism is no match for the peer-reviewed scientific method.

Venn diagram

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This "Politics/Stupidity/Religion" Venn diagram by Saint Gasoline is great, as is its accompanying post (h/t: PZ Myers at Pharyngula) on the idiocy that is "intelligent design:"

20070312-unintelligentdesign.jpg

Bravo!

To hear the wingnuts' lamentations, one would think that Rep Stark declared himself a fetus-devouring Satanist earlier this week when he came out as a non-theist. Michelle Malkin's article at WingNutDaily (h/t: PZ Myers at Pharyngula) shows the sort of raving lunacy to which any non-religious dissident is subject to in our Christianist nation. Dredging up comments Stark allegedly made as long as 17 years ago does not demonstrate a principled interest in the comments' propriety; it demonstrates a totalitarian insistence on conformity that is the cancer destroying contemporary conservatism.


update (22:59pm):
Christian Seniors Association issued a persecution-complex press release (h/t: Richard Dawkins) about Stark's announcement, which it calls "A Sad First in the History of the Congress:"

The liberals in Congress want to throttle any school child who bows his or her head in prayer, but they want to establish a right for liberals to bash Christians and berate God around the clock.

The CSA should clearly cut back on whatever they're smoking; it's making them quite paranoid. They should also examine their "good book;" I believe they've overlooked a rather direct prohibition of bearing false witness.

Steven Warshawsky writes at The American Thinker about "Atheism, Conservatives, and Christianity," but is interesting primarily for his mention of Christopher Orlet's piece on "Skeptical Conservatives" in New English Review. Warshawsky calls Orlet's piece "a bit of an emotional rant, rather than a careful analysis of the issue," but Warshawsky is the one making unsupported (and unsupportable) emotional overstatements. For example, his comment about "the atheistic ideology[y] that motivated Hitler" is demonstrably false. Hitler's barbaric anti-Semitism was deeply rooted in his Catholicism. In another section, Warshawsky writes that:

Orlet, like so many other critics of the Religious Right, fundamentally fails to account for the central role of Christianity in Western and American history. Most, if not all, of the values and principles that we hold dear -- the dignity of the individual, freedom of conscience, political and economic liberty, representative government, and so on -- are inextricably intertwined with the Christian culture that produced, developed, and/or sustained them.

Christian culture--meaning everyone who comprises a society dominated by Christians--is largely responsible for those principles, but the religion of Christianity is not. Many of those principles, although refined and expanded by Christians, predate Christ by several centuries; just ask any scholar of Athenian democracy. Orlet had already answered this line of attack with his remark about the "fundie pundits" who:

...regard America primarily as a Christian nation and credit everything in Western Civilization from truth to beauty to the Christian tradition. Everything good, anyway. Some, like Wall Street Journal's Dan Henninger claims a religious provenance for the "American" virtues of "fortitude, prudence, temperance, justice, charity, hope, integrity, loyalty, honor, filial respect, mercy, diligence, generosity and forbearance," as if none of these existed before the Sermon on the Mount.

There is also Warshawsky's statement that "One of the hallmarks of American conservatism" is its rejection of "elitist, top-down interference in the daily lives of our citizens. Unlike liberals -- who claim to know how the rest of us should live -- conservatives respect the rights of individuals and communities to govern themselves. "

I suppose he is unaware of the wide range of "morals" legislation primarily--or exclusively--promoted by the Right: whether in the media (censorship by the FCC, abridgments of the First Amendment for "obscenity," "don't ask, don't tell," caterwauling about what's available on library shelves or on the Internet), the bedroom (anti-sodomy laws, campaigns against birth control and abortion, the global gag rule), the home (the anti-marriage "Defense" of Marriage Act, restrictions on same-sex adoption), schools (drives for mandated prayer, restrictions on education about sex and science), or society at large (tax-funded faith-based programs, enforced ceremonial deism, criminalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide, use of medical marijuana, and recreational drug use), the Right wants to interfere in our lives in myriad ways. The may claim it's all "for our own good," but this gives them neither the right nor the ability to make decisions on our behalf.

Thanks to FDL for this bit of humor on a Monday: "White House to reveal revised Constitution." Information about the "New Order Constitution" includes:

A new provision will make clear that "Congress shall have the duty to declare war and fully fund" war efforts whenever the President requests.

Revisions to Article II. Officials said a new provision will clarify that the President has "unilateral authority in all matters relating to waging war on terror" and to "abrogate treaties affecting the treatment of unlawful combatants." Other provisions will indicate that presidential "signing statements" have the force of law and must be recognized by the judiciary. Provisions relating to impeachment and removal from office will be deleted, one official said, "because no one has the courage to use them anymore."

The phrase "except in cases involving persons designated by the President as 'enemy combatants' or suspected unlawful immigrants" would be added to the language of Amendments V, VII and VIII. One official noted, "everyone agrees terrorists and aliens don't deserve the same protections as law abiding Americans."

Administration officials were asked to explain why the entire Fourth Amendment would be repealed. A senior official indicated, "given everything we're doing under the President's Terror Surveillance Programs, only some of which are known, there's virtually nothing left, so why keep it?"

The first member of Congress in the history of our nation, Representative Pete Stark (D-CA), has come out of the closet as a non-theist. The Secular Coalition of America has a press release on Stark's coming-out, but Stark's website has nothing.

It's about time that someone in Congress came out, but when is Stark himself going to comment on his beliefs and defend the "no religious test" clause? Who will be the next one to come out?

Most importantly, how long will it take for some Christianist wingnut to complain about the massive secular humanist conspiracy that is taking over the federal government? If the first-ever Christian Congresscritter had come out today, they might have a point--but they don't.


update (1:12pm):
The following quote of the day is from Thomas Jefferson (h/t: poputonian at Hullabaloo), writing about the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom:

"...it is comfortable to see the standard of reason at length erected, after so many ages during which the human mind has been held in vassalage by kings, priests & nobles: and it is honorable for us to have produced the first legislature who had the courage to declare that the reason of man may be trusted with the formation of his own opinions."
(16 December 1786 letter to James Madison, available online here)


update 2 (3:35pm):
According to Brian Flemming:

In a questionnaire submitted by the SCA, Congressman Stark answered "Yes" to the statement "I am a nontheist," a term the questionnaire defined as "a humanist, atheist or other freethinker who does not believe in a supreme being or beings." Stark also answered "Yes" to a question asking if the SCA could publicize his answers.

However, Stark does not identify with the term "atheist."

The NYT editorializes on Alberto Gonzales' tenure as "The Failed Attorney General," writing that "more than anyone in the administration, except perhaps Vice President Dick Cheney, Mr. Gonzales symbolizes Mr. Bush's disdain for the separation of powers, civil liberties and the rule of law." Here are a few examples:

It was Mr. Gonzales, after all, who repeatedly defended Mr. Bush's decision to authorize warrantless eavesdropping on Americans' international calls and e-mail. He was an eager public champion of the absurd notion that as commander in chief during a time of war, Mr. Bush can ignore laws that he thinks get in his way. Mr. Gonzales was disdainful of any attempt by Congress to examine the spying program, let alone control it.

The attorney general helped formulate and later defended the policies that repudiated the Geneva Conventions in the war against terror, and that sanctioned the use of kidnapping, secret detentions, abuse and torture. He has been central to the administration's assault on the courts, which he recently said had no right to judge national security policies, and on the constitutional separation of powers.

Who thought that the days of John Ashcroft could seem less dark by contrast?

One of Andrew Sullivan's readers has a less-than-complimentary take on Sullivan's comprehension of American politics, saying that he is "incredibly naive when it comes to the real, down-home nature of American conservatism:"

All this crap you complain about now - this is the real conservatism. This is the conservative id, broken through the conservative super-ego and run rampant. It's true there's some attempt by the super-ego to reassert some kind of control - you detailed several attempts last week, by Gates, Fitzgerald, etc. - but this is the real energy that underlies and animates much of American grassroots conservatism, and always has: a blend of intolerance, machismo, a cultural resentment stemming directly back to the Civil War, anti-intellectual no-nothingness, Christianism - with all its attendant arrogance, anti-democratic self-righteousness and hidden nihilism - and a just plain old blind pig-headedness, which GWB exemplifies in spades.

[...]

Bush and company are not the exception, they're the proof; they're not something new, some aberration, they're just the same old same old come bubbling up from underneath and finally to power. And that's why Bush's (s)election in 2000 was the best thing that could have happened to this country, a real blessing in disguise. Now we can see what's really down there in the dark. We can reject it, and go on - and we'd better go on, because with what we have to face nationally, internationally and globally, we don't have much more time to waste on this stupidity. "Conservatism", as we have known it, is over. [emphasis added]

Blogging can be an educational experience from either side of the keyboard, as Sullivan now knows.

This PBS article (h/t: Joe Sudbay at AmericaBlog) mentions two statements Bush made previously about the then-publicly-unidentified leaker in his administration. Bush said the following in September 2003:

There are too many leaks of classified information in Washington. And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of...

In June 2004, a reported asked Bush "[D]o you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found to have [who leaked the agent's name]?" and Bush responded, "Yes. And that's up to the U.S. Attorney to find the facts."

I suspect that Libby-the-Leaker will be pardoned, to avoiding the possibility that he'll flip in prison and finger "Big Dick" Cheney as the mastermind.

The latest Mother Jones has an excellent two-page graphic by Dmitry Krasny (320KB PDF) illustrating media consolidation. A similar chart should be included in the next edition of Ben Bagdikian's classic study Media Monopoly.

Amid all the blogosphere's pearl-clutching at Ann Coulter's bigoted slurs, Andrew Sullivan hits just the right tone. He observes that "for the slur to work, it must logically accept the premise that gay men are weak, effeminate, wusses, sissies, and the rest:"

A sane gay man has two responses to this, I think. The first is that there is nothing wrong with effeminacy or effeminate gay men - and certainly nothing weak about many of them. In the plague years, I saw countless nelly sissies face HIV and AIDS with as much courage and steel as any warrior on earth. You want to meet someone with balls? Find a drag queen. The courage of many gay men every day in facing down hatred and scorn and derision to live lives of dignity and integrity is not a sign of being a wuss or somehow weak. We have as much and maybe more courage than many - because we have had to acquire it to survive. And that is especially true of gay men whose effeminacy may not make them able to pass as straight - the very people Coulter seeks to demonize. The conflation of effeminacy with weakness, and of gayness with weakness, is what Coulter calculatedly asserted. This was not a joke. It was an attack.

Secondly, gay men are not all effeminate. In the last couple of weeks, we have seen a leading NBA player and a soldier come out to tell their stories. I'd like to hear Coulter tell Amaechi and Alva that they are sissies and wusses. A man in uniform who just lost a leg for his country is a sissy? The first American solider to be wounded in Iraq is a wuss? What Coulter did, in her callow, empty way, was to accuse John Edwards of not being a real man. To do so, she asserted that gay men are not real men either. The emasculation of men in minority groups is an ancient trope of the vilest bigotry. Why was it wrong, after all, for white men to call African-American men "boys"? Because it robbed them of the dignity of their masculinity. And that's what Coulter did last Friday to gays. She said - and conservatives applauded - that I and so many others are not men. We are men, Ann.

As members of other minorities have been forced to say in the past: I am not a faggot. I am a man. [emphases added]

There is something to be said for the LGBT(Q) movement reclaiming words of deprecation and Judo-ing them into badges of pride; there is also the direct method, as displayed by Sullivan, of simply exposing bullshit for what it is.

Bravo!

Mary Grabar's piece at TownHall on the supposed oxymoronic nature of "atheistic democracy" contains a typically inane claim that we atheists are "intent on...exclud[ing] all other, theistic, views" and "eliminat[ing] democracy," alongside her conflation of "the atheistic, secular view" with moral relativism, racism, and murder.

When she states that "The very notion of democracy is based on Christian principles," however, I have to ask: Where? Can she locate the concept of constitutional government in her bible? Are natural rights mentioned? How about freedom of speech? Prohibitions against slavery and torture? Protection of habeas corpus? Support for any type of government other than monarchy?

I thought not.

She then goes off the rails by opining that "The atheist, nonetheless, against all evidence, believes in the 'progress' of science." From (biblical) geocentrism to Copernicus to Galileo, from aether to Einstein to Hawking, the progress (without scare quotes) of science is obvious to all but the most blindly faithful. It appears that Grabar is in that camp.

She even claims that atheists "cannot do philosophy." Diagoras, Epicurus, and Lucretius prove the falsity of her statement, and that's only in antiquity. The Enlightenment produced many notables, including Meslier, de la Mettrie, Diderot, Helvetius, and d'Holbach. The nineteenth century provided the atheist philosophers Feuerbach, Bakunin, Marx, Engels, and Nietzsche; add to these Ayn Rand, Sartre, Camus, and Bertrand Russell from the twentieth. Currently, Grabar needs to contend with the examples of Michael Martin, Peter Singer, and Daniel Dennett.

Perhaps, given her tendency to ignore contrary evidence, Grabar will claim that none of them "did" philosophy.

It looks like I have some more writing to do. In the latest issue of Free Inquiry, Sam Harris invited his readers (h/t: Friendly Atheist) to supply 200-word refutations of the following "silly retorts to atheism:"

  1. Even though I'm an atheist, my friends are atheists, and we all get along fine without pretending to know that one of our books was written by the Creator of the universe, other people really do need religion. It is, therefore, wrong to criticize their faith.
  2. People are not really motivated by religion. Religion is used as a rationale for other aims--political, economic, and social. Consequently, the specific content of religious doctrines is beside the point.
  3. It is useless to argue against the veracity of religious doctrines, because religious people are not actually making claims about reality. Their claims are metaphorical or otherwise without real content. Hence, there is no conflict between religion and science.
  4. Religion will always be with us. The idea that we might rid ourselves of it to any significant degree is quixotic, bordering on delusional. Dawkins and other strident opponents of religious faith are just wasting their time. [emphases added]

Refuting those claims should not be a drawn-out endeavor, although the brevity requirement may be difficult to meet.

This Wired News article starts out scary, and just gets more frightening as it continues:

It could be a scene from Kafka or Brazil. Imagine a government agency, in a bureaucratic foul-up, accidentally gives you a copy of a document marked "top secret." And it contains a log of some of your private phone calls.

You read it and ponder it and wonder what it all means. Then, two months later, the FBI shows up at your door, demands the document back and orders you to forget you ever saw it.

By all accounts, that's what happened to Washington D.C. attorney Wendell Belew in August 2004.

Read the whole thing.

Andy Borowitz is funny:

Just days after former Vice President Al Gore received an Academy Award for his global-warming documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," the United States Supreme Court handed Mr. Gore a stunning reversal, stripping him of his Oscar and awarding it to President George W. Bush instead.

For Mr. Gore, who basked in the adulation of his Hollywood audience Sunday night, the high court's decision to give his Oscar to President Bush was a cruel twist of fate, to say the least.

But in a 5-4 decision handed down Tuesday morning, the justices made it clear that they had taken the unprecedented step of stripping Mr. Gore of his Oscar because President Bush deserved it more.

"It is true that Al Gore has done a lot of talking about global warming," wrote Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority. "But President Bush has actually helped create global warming."

Bravo!

Liberal Avenger writes about recent developments in the Walter Reed scandal:

It wasn't overzealous regulation that led to soldier's rooms being filled with mold and infested with mice and cockroaches. It was lack of oversight that led to those conditions. And it wasn't government bureaucracy that led to the deterioration of the hospital staff. It was privatization.

The Pentagon gave the contract to handle operations at Walter Reed to a company called IAP Worldwide Services, and conditions at Walter Reed immediately began to go downhill. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform recently found that the decision to privatize Walter Reed led to an exodus of skilled personnel from the facility, and that IAP failed to replace these professionals... [emphasis added]

The fact that the President and CEO hails from Halliburton subsidiary KBR makes the whole profiteering-over-patriotism situation that much more odious. Here's my suggestion for their new logo:

20070304-halliburton.gif

It's no secret that Ann Coulter enjoys using bigoted slurs against Democrats and liberals, as when she called Al Gore a "total fag" last year. Her reference to John Edwards as a "faggot" at yesterday's Conservative Political Action Conference event was different for its calculated vulgarity in front of the ever-compliant MSM. Anonymous Liberal calls it her "Borat moment:"

Coulter intentionally and gratuitously used a hateful slur to describe a major Democratic presidential candidate at a major Republican event. . . and the crowd laughed. In any sane universe, that would be a really big deal and an enormous embarrassment to the Republican party.

[...]

Coulter is, without question, a vile festering sore on the face of our political discourse. But, in one sense, she serves a valuable purpose. What's remarkable is not that she strays so often from the bounds of sanity and decency. It's that whenever she does so, legions of conservatives follow her into the abyss. They buy her books and line up for autographs. They cackle at her bigoted remarks and nod their heads in agreement as she spreads her hate-filled delusions. And the more outrageous she gets, the more books she sells and more invitations come her way. In a very real sense, her outlandishness helps illuminate what much of the modern Republican party has become. And it isn't pretty. Like Borat, Coulter has a way of getting those around her to reveal some of the not so flattering aspects of their character and belief system. If only she were funny, it might actually be entertaining to watch.


update (11:25am):
Auguste has some great comments in "Civility, Coulter-Style" at Pandagon, anticipating the Right's whining about the "PC police:"

The conservative myth is that they oppose "political correctness" for free speech reasons, to throw off the strictures of the liberal thought police and open communication without talking past each other.

The truth is, a certain subset of them - the subset who cheered Ann Coulter - just want to be free to call people "faggots." They already lost all the good racial slurs, they're not going to stand still while they lose their homophobic ones too. And they want there to be some sort of natural consequences when we tell them to go fuck themselves?

Fuck them, and fuck Ann Coulter too.


update 2 (12:07pm):
Glenn Greenwald has a few words on the Right's hate-mongering:

This is a movement propelled by an insatiable hunger for more slaughter and more wars. It is centrally dependent upon hatred of an Enemy, foreign or domestic -- the Terrorist, the Immigrant, the Faggot, the Raghead, and most of all, the Liberal. As John Dean brilliantly documented, that is the only real feature that binds the "conservative" movement at this point, the only attribute that gives it identity and purpose. It does not have any affirmative ideas, only a sense of that which it hates and wants to destroy. So to watch as the crowd wildly cheers an unapologetic hatemonger is perfectly natural and not at all surprising.

[...]

This is not about a single comment or isolated remark. The more Ann Coulter says these things, the more popular she becomes in this movement. What this is about is that she reflects exactly what sort of political movement this is. She reflects its true impulses and core beliefs. If that were not the case, why would she continue to receive top billing at their most prestigious events, and why would she continue to be lavished with rock star-adoration by the party faithful?

Unless the Right repudiates Coulter, they'll receive another well-deserved thumping in 2008.

One of Andrew Sullivan’s readers upbraids another for supporting the odious don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy of excluding out-of-the-closet LGBTs:

Look what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah. The biggest strength any army has is its spirit. A joyous, unified, spirit to win, knowing they're doing the right, just and moral thing.

You're right, actually. The best asset of the army is its spirit - of comradeship, brotherhood, and unity. It is a spirit which overrules, or at least ought to overrule, all the taxonomies of civilian life: race, politics, class, region, and even, one might hope, sexuality. But if you actually believe our men and women in uniform can stand up to the most maniacal, barbaric, ruthless, and vile killers in the world, and still be flustered by - gasp - a gay person, then you have officially exiled yourself from the frontier of reason. [emphasis added]

The coming-out of Eric Alva (see HRC and SLDN for details) and countless others in the military explodes the wingnut fears about “unit cohesion” into a million pieces of bigoted bullshit. Has no one on the Right had ever heard of Leonidas, or Alexander the Great, or the Sacred Band of Thebes?

queer 101

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Cameron Scott has an excellent piece at AlterNet, “Queer 101: A Guide for Heteros,” where he dissects the “San Francisco values” slur, nothing that:

Blindness to difference has allowed the right wing to invent a sinister stereotype of "homosexuals" that has only tenuous links to reality. […] The right gets away with their smears because they have persuaded Americans that sex and desire have no role in polite society.

Scott’s “primer to help understand the people behind the values and what they stand for” deals with some of the gender issues, while Violet Blue’s piece on “San Francisco Values” observes that “When someone says, ‘San Francisco values,’ they mean sex.” She lists some of the sex-positive aspects of San Francisco, and concludes:

So that's fine by me if Bill O'Reilly and Gingrich (and all the rest) want to wallow in their homophobic male fantasy of San Francisco values. Sex between two men is normal. Sex is normal. Pundits and politicians want to scare people with San Francisco values because they don't fundamentally believe sex is healthy. They're the dinosaurs, and we're the meteor.

The fact that most straight people are completely ignorant of queer culture is a shame (and no, a passing familiarity with Queer Eye and Brokeback Mountain is insufficient!). Reflecting my bibliomania, I would suggest that curious straights begin by reading Martin Duberman, Randy Shilts, and Lilian Faderman for history; Andrew Sullivan, Bruce Bawer, Paul Monette, Camile Paglia and Michelangelo Signorile for commentary; Larry Kramer for anger; and Dan Savage for humor. (For those into comics, you can’t go wrong with Howard Cruse, Roberta Gregory, and—especially!—Alison Bechdel.)

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