April 2007 Archives

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Huberman, Jack. The Quotable Atheist: Ammunition for Non-Believers, Political Junkies, Gadflies, and Those Generally Hell-Bound (New York: Nation Books, 2007)

Jack (Bush-Hater's Handbook, Bushit!) Huberman's collection of atheist quotations is a unique item on bookstore shelves; only with the very recent flourishing of atheist-positive books have mainstream publishers figured out that some of us clamor for something deeper than cherubs and chicken soup. Alphabetized by authors' last names, these quotations from famous atheists (and others) fill a definite need.

These two selections in particular are definitely--as the subtitle puts it--ammunition for atheists, as they illustrate the worst aspects of fundamentalist religion:

"From the polluted fountain of that absurd and erroneous doctrine, or rather raving, which claims and defends liberty of conscience for everyone...comes, in a word, the worst plague of all: liberty of opinions and free speech" (p. 134, Pope Gregory VI; quoted by Lyman Beecher in Plea for the West, pp. 142-3, p. 156)

"Burn the libraries, for their value is in this one book [the Koran]... If these writings of the Greeks agree with the word of Allah, they are useless and need not be preserved; if they disagree, they are pernicious and ought to be destroyed." (p. 229, Omar ibn al-Khattab)

This pair of parallel quotations, however, strikes me as dubious:

"All religious are equally sublime to the ignorant, useful to the politician, and ridiculous to the philosopher." (p. 192, Lucretius)

"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful." (p. 272, Seneca)

Huberman has made a good effort with this collection, and it is one that I anticipate returning to again. As with any unsourced quotations, though, remember: caveat quotor.

Patrick Robotham has an interesting post on “Godless Pride” at Daylight Atheist’s Humanist Symposium. Sometimes it seems as if the atheist movement is at about the same point the LGBT movement was a quarter century ago: the point where the words “I am proud to be an atheist” still have an aura of daring about them, as if a deity-free existence were somehow shameful or pitiable.

Amanda Marcotte's review of Alison Bechdel's Fun Home at Pandagon is excellent. Marcotte's perceptiveness is fully revealed in this passage:

The book is thick with themes and tangents, like most good novels, which is all the more remarkable if you consider the economy of language that's a function of the comic book form. It's probably not easy to get to the point where you're telling more story with the juxtaposition of words and images than you could tell simply by filling the page with words, but Bechdel at this point is a master of the form.

Bechdel is indeed a master, as those of us who have admired her "Dykes to Watch Out For" series will eagerly proclaim. Her work has the depth and multilayered meanings that are the hallmarks of fully-realized creative efforts; it has been a joy seeing Fun Home (which I reviewed here, by the way) bring her incredible talents some long-overdue recognition.

The comments thread is quite nice as well.

This laughably ludicrous screed from TownHall is typical of conservative misrepresentation of liberalism. Thankfully, it received a proper rebuttal from Ron Chusid at Liberal Values.

The New York Times has, not surprisingly, an excellent obituary for master cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. After being charmed by recordings of his performances of the Dvorak and Shostakovich concertos today, this passage from his famous 1970 open letter is my Quote of the Day:

“Every man must have the right fearlessly to think independently and express his opinion about what he knows, what he has personally thought about and experienced, and not merely to express with slightly different variations the opinion which has been inculcated in him.”

An IED planted by terrorists was successfully defused (h/t: Lindsay Beyerstein at Majikthise). The unusual aspects of this situation are:

• the IED was planted at a women’s clinic
• the clinic is located in Austin TX

Not all terrorists are Middle Eastern Islamists; some are Midwestern Christianists.

Moyers is back!

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Over at The Nation, John Nichols reviews Bill Moyers’ latest work for PBS. “Buying the War,” the first episode of Bill Moyers’ Journal, examines media complicity with the Bush administration’s rush to invade Iraq. Nichols comments that:

Moyers is still practicing the craft of journalism in the manner intended by the rebels against empire who wrote a "freedom of the press" protection into America's founding document.

In other words, he is refusing to be a stenographer for the powerful.

"Buying the War" highlights that refusal.

Glenn Greenwald comments here that Moyers’ work will remain invisible to the mainstream media, because it is their fecklessness that is skewered so thoroughly:

Moyers' documentary is a superb piece of journalism and makes inescapably clear how profoundly corrupt our dominant political and media institutions were prior to the invasion. But most national "journalists" will simply ignore the whole program (as Digby notes, The New York Times, one of the principal culprits, did not even review it).

They will almost certainly dismiss Moyers as a liberal partisan, not a real journalist, and continue to insist that they are doing a superb and even-handed job. They will continue to revere the most guilty parties responsible for the deceit and destruction of the last six years.

And, worst of all, the sicknesses documented so potently by Moyers will continue to pervade our dominant media and political institutions.

For those who missed the program, the transcript and video are available here; this interactive timeline is a nice feature.

The Guardian article “Fascist America, in 10 easy steps” by Naomi Wolf is no mere rhetorical flourish. She addressed skeptics in this passage:

Most Americans surely do not get this yet. No wonder: it is hard to believe, even though it is true. In every closing society, at a certain point there are some high-profile arrests - usually of opposition leaders, clergy and journalists. Then everything goes quiet. After those arrests, there are still newspapers, courts, TV and radio, and the facades of a civil society. There just isn't real dissent. There just isn't freedom. If you look at history, just before those arrests is where we are now.

Wolf also includes this call-to-arms, exhorting all of us to support our fellow patriots:

Right now, only a handful of patriots are trying to hold back the tide of tyranny for the rest of us - staff at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who faced death threats for representing the detainees yet persisted all the way to the Supreme Court; activists at the American Civil Liberties Union; and prominent conservatives trying to roll back the corrosive new laws, under the banner of a new group called the American Freedom Agenda. This small, disparate collection of people needs everybody's help, including that of Europeans and others internationally who are willing to put pressure on the administration because they can see what a US unrestrained by real democracy at home can mean for the rest of the world.

Wolf’s upcoming book, The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, is due in September. H/t: Ron Chusid at Liberal Values, who observed:

It is obviously an exaggeration to claim that Bush is turning this into a fascist state, but for those of us concerned with the need to limit the power of government to preserve liberty, many of these actions are alarming. It is especially disappointing that most conservatives, who claim to distrust the power of government, can safely be predicted to respond to this article with support for Bush’s policies.

There will, of course, always be political apologists; they usually don’t have to apologize for quite so much.

Sam Harris has written his final response to Andrew Sullivan here at BeliefNet, with this powerful indictment of faith:

You want to have things both ways: your faith is reasonable but not in the least bound by reason; it is a matter of utter certainty, yet leavened by humility and doubt; you are still searching for the truth, but your belief in God is immune to any conceivable challenge from the world of evidence. I trust you will ascribe these antinomies to the paradox of faith; but, to my eye, they remain mere contradictions, dressed up in velvet.

Harris’ conclusion is the very model of modern atheist conversational civility:

I do share your feeling of gratitude for this conversation. It has been a great pleasure to correspond with you. I very much admire your writing, your candor, and your willingness to put your beliefs on the line.

What’s that about “angry atheists” again?

Here is the video of Bill O’Reilly versus Richard Dawkins from Fox last night; here is a transcript. BOR gave far too little time to Dawkins, most likely because O'Reilly would have fared much worse if the discussion had extended beyond the exchange of a few soundbites. I feared for a moment that Dawkins was going to let BOR get away with calling Hitler an atheist, but he returned after a moment to observe:

DAWKINS: Hitler, by the way, was a Roman Catholic.

O'REILLY: He never was. He was raised in that home. He rejected it early on.

Once again, O’Reilly needs to get his facts straight: Hitler denounced atheism during a 1993 speech in Berlin

“We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.”

and also reaffirmed his Catholicism as late as 1941, when he was in his early fifties:

“I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so.”

Better luck next time, Bill.

Dinesh D’Souza, undeterred by the effluence emanating from his keyboard, has chosen to compound his original screed against atheists with more of the same:

My point was that atheism has nothing to offer in the face of tragedy except C'est la vie. Deal with it. Get over it. This is why the ceremonies were suffused with religious rhetoric. Only the language of religion seems appropriate to the magnitude of tragedy. Only God seems to have the power to heal hearts in such circumstances. […] I'm not being facetious here. I really want to hear what the atheist would tell the grieving mothers.

He followed up that piece with this one, where he commented that:

One atheist wrote to say that rather than rely on idle promises of fantasies of life after death, what atheists would say is that we need gun control laws and a better health care system. Fair enough, but is this what you tell a crying mother? "Madam, you should feel much better because new gun control laws and mental health reforms are on their way."

Following D’Souza’s line of argumentation, one is led to this type of theistic response:

“Madam, you should feel much better because an eternal life with your dead loved one is on the way. It will begin as soon as you are also dead, leaving your remaining loved ones in the same agony which you are now experiencing.”

No one would say such a thing to a grieving person, but D’Souza—and other theists—offer little else besides platitudes like “your loved one is in a better place” and “god works in mysterious ways.” Sentiments such as this boil down to “I don’t know why god demanded that your loved one had to die—or why he refused (or was unable to) prevent it, but his ways are beyond our understanding.” At root, theists pretend that such meaningless tripe is freighted with ultimate meaning. They then, like D’Souza, pretend that atheists have nothing meaningful to say. To further disprove this thesis, I offer the following remarks:

Mapantsula responds to D’Souza as “an atheist professor at Virginia Tech and a man of great faith. Not faith in your god. Faith in my people:”

We can accept a description of this man as evil. We just don’t think that is an explanation. That is why we are exasperated at your mindless demonology. […]We don't believe these people have died for anything: God's plan, as a beacon to the rest of us, to be a vivid memento mori for all. We just believe they have died, brutally and without mercy. We refuse to lie to grieving mothers out of some patronising sense that a pleasant myth is more respectful than a terrible truth.

PZ Myers, as usual, minces no words:

God will do nothing. He did nothing during the killings, he will not be at the funeral, he won't come to parents weeping home alone. People will come together and cope, but those are wounds that will never really heal. There are no magic words that will make the loss of someone we cared about go away…

Daylight Atheist is fed up with theists’ misrepresentations:

Truly, I am sick and tired of being accused of lacking a belief in goodness and evil because I am an atheist. Has it ever occurred to any religious apologist that they are the only ones saying that atheism makes this claim? No atheist I have ever met, known or heard of has ever said anything like this or anything close to it. It is the lowest depths of mendacity for apologists like this to continue bandying about the lie that atheism denies morality, when all the actual atheists are saying completely the opposite.

[…]

Those pundits who trumpet the evil act of a sick and disturbed young man as proof of their own views, in reality, prove nothing but the painfully shallow and circumscribed limits of their own compassion.

D’Souza is no match for any of them.

John Hinderaker of the wingnut blog PowerLine is trying to resurrect the reputation of 2004’s infamous Swift Boat Liars for Bush, claiming that “Most of what the Vets said in their ads has never been disputed, let alone discredited.” Eric Boehlert shows why Hinderaker’s claims are false, and asks “Can conservative bloggers tell the truth?

It’s a good question.

This response to my latest letter about Bush is quite possibly the most asinine attempt at a rebuttal that I have ever witnessed:

It keep on getting worse and worse Sat Apr 21, 2007 10:31 am

The liberal idiots who get printed on here get worse and worse each god damn day. Mu opinions, and they are correct ones, are this.

Were you born clueless or did you just become a liberal hymie? The only thing you said that was even partly true was the foreclosures being up, and they are up but its becasue of the morons in the lending institutions kowtowing to the civil liberties commies and relaxing their loan criteria so more loser ethinics could get loans that could not pay them back. So basically its another failed left wing bleeding heart idea. Your babble about the Dow makes no sense. So its still 14 percent below 2000 levels, whats your point. The real news is that its still going UP moron, and we even had the 9/11 disaster happen along the way since 2000, and it still recovered faster than expected. As for civil liberties, I for one am sick and tired of this pathetic excuse you liberals keep using to inflict the guilt trip onto people who are trying to exercise an ounce of common sense. Something it is obvious that you lack severely. No one is messing with your god damn civil liberties so get off the scare tactics wagon. Lastly, maybe you need to also learn to read or is it where your reading to get slanted information for your tripe thats the problem. The deficit is at its lowest point in decades as is unemployment. So lets not go mistaking resolve for stubborness, it is a sign of strength, but you wouldn't know it because your a gutless liberal.

[name redacted]

Calling opinions "correct" does not make them so; acting as though it does is either lazy argumentation or a craven refusal to learn from one's mistakes. In your case, I suspect both are true. Your repetitious ad hominem attacks ("liberal idiots," "clueless," "morons," "civil liberties commies," "loser ethinics," [sic] and "gutless liberal") do nothing to prove your error-ridden rhetoric, although they do illustrate your hatred for factual dissent from conservative media disinformation.

Senator Specter recently observed that Alberto Gonzales' testimony was "significantly if not totally at variance with the facts," and the same can be said of your ill-informed opinions. You allege "cluelessness" on my part, but that is purely projection on yours. The following facts will demonstrate that I'm not the one who subsists on "slanted information."

The onerous lending practices behind the interest-rate-driven foreclosure boom have generated large profits for lending institutions, but not without risk. One cannot simultaneously claim that the high rate of home ownership is an unalloyed good (as Bush does) while ignoring the unsustainable economics upon which that rate is built. To do so is disingenuous as best and deliberately deceptive at worst.

My "babble" about the Dow average merely pointed out the fact that inflation erodes the dollar's purchasing power; thus, the stock market is not now at "an all-time high." I am well aware that the market continues to improve, but the original letter writer made a much more extravagant--and false--claim.

I am ecstatic to hear your proclamation that "no one is messing with" our civil liberties...or, rather, I would be ecstatic if you were correct. The restoration of habeas corpus, the repeal of the Patriot Act's Section 215, and the end of numerous other Bush practices (restrictive "free speech zones," illegal spying on Americans in violation of FISA, military tribunals and other violations of the Geneva Conventions, and the "extraordinary rendition" and torture of detainees) would go a long way toward restoring our nation's moral standing. In addition, the elimination of the TSA's secretive "no-fly list" will someday enable untold numbers of Americans (many of whom had the temerity to exercise their freedoms of speech and association) to travel freely again. None of these corrections has happened yet, and none is likely to during this administration.

As far as the "scare tactics wagon" is concerned, the Bush/Cheney/Rove reign of fear is its most fervent proponent (today's Homeland Security fear level is yellow, for example). Have you forgotten their constant fear-mongering about Saddam's (non-existent) WMDs and the horrible specters of mushroom clouds over American cities that they conjured from nothing? The Bush administration's fever dreams did nothing to help secure Russian stocks of plutonium, instead preferring to draw specious parallels between a neutered Saddam Hussein and Hitler's burgeoning war machine. When GOP fear propaganda--paranoid fantasies about same-sex marriage, immigrants, Muslims, feminists, minorities, and the ACLU combining to destroy Western civilization--fails, as it did in the 2006 election, they have nothing left to offer.

Barely a month after taking office, Bush promised to pay down the deficit by $2 trillion over a decade; instead, his fiscal recklessness has helped to explode the deficit by several more trillion dollars...and you believe it's "at its lowest point in decades?" Even in relative--as opposed to absolute--terms, the federal debt-to-GDP ratio has risen consistently under Bush (see table B-79 on page 324 of the Economic Report of the President on the White House website). Given his disastrous business career--except for the taxpayer-financed Texas Rangers--it's no surprise that Bush's management of our economy has been so lackluster.

Unemployment is also not "at its lowest point in decades." March's seasonally-adjusted rate of 4.4% was equaled or bettered 28 times during Clinton's tenure, including each and every month from November 1998 through December 2000. (Please feel free to avail yourself of the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.) Unemployment reached lows of 3.9% in April, September, and October of 2000; by my reckoning, those months are considerably less than "decades" ago.

As far as calling me a "hymie," I will borrow a line from Robert Downey's portrayal of Charlie Chaplin when Nazi sympathizers accused him of being Jewish:

"I'm afraid I don't have that honor."

Another commenter suggested that I: "forgot the most imprtant [sic] issue in the Clinton administration, failing to take actions to prevent September 11, 2001, oh thats [sic] right most Liberals want to forget that date."

I find it interesting that conservatives are quick to bring up 9/11, but very slow to remember (or admit) that 9/11 HAPPENED ON BUSH'S WATCH. Considering his refusal to take any steps against bin Laden, or even hold a meeting on the subject of terrorism before it happened, the primary responsibility for it rests securely on Bush's shoulders. It is unarguable that Clinton's actions to stop bin Laden before 9/11 were insufficient; let us not forget, however, that Bush's actions were nonexistent.

the big con

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Campaign for America’s Future has put up a progressive website, “The Big Con.” Their “On Message” page lays out the basics, followed by a brief explanation of how conservatism is “Flawed by Design,” and a short list of several “Conservative Failures.”

The site’s only shortcoming is its lack of an RSS feed.

Sam Harris dissects Rick Warren’s reliance on Pascal’s Wager (h/t: Richard Dawkins):

While Pascal deserves his reputation as a brilliant mathematician, his wager was never more than a cute (and false) analogy. Like many cute ideas in philosophy, it is easily remembered and often repeated, and this has lent it an undeserved air of profundity. If the wager were valid, it could be used to justify any belief system (no matter how ludicrous) as a "good bet." Muslims could use it to support the claim that Jesus was not divine (the Koran states that anyone who believes in the divinity of Jesus will wind up in hell); Buddhists could use it to support the doctrine of karma and rebirth; and the editors of TIME could use it to persuade the world that anyone who reads Newsweek is destined for a fiery damnation.

But the greatest problem with the wager—and it is a problem that infects religious thinking generally—is its suggestion that a rational person can knowingly will himself to believe a proposition for which he has no evidence.

Once again, Dinesh D’Souza has publicly proven that he is clueless about atheism and atheists. In his screed about the Virginia Tech massacre, he wondered “where is atheism when bad things happen?” The answer, of course, is that we are everywhere…just as we are on every other day.

D’Souza observes that “Every time there is a public gathering there is talk of God and divine mercy and spiritual healing,” but doesn’t consider the possibility that he doesn’t hear us because we don’t get much of an opportunity to speak. With the incessant god-talk, we probably couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Besides, atheists generally do not have the habit of loudly proclaiming their (dis)beliefs in every public situation, no matter how inappropriate; we prefer to leave that annoying tendency to theists.

I was going to fisk D’Souza’s hateful little rant, but Brent Rasmussen already did the job:

D'Souza's a delusional bigot, but he aptly demonstrates the fundamental misconception that most theists have about atheism. That misconception is that they think that atheism is a religion.

It's not. It is a description. It describes a person in which god-belief - of any kind - is absent.

Atheism does not have a rulebook, a set of instructions, relief organizations, a hierarchy, a meeting hall, or scriptures.

Individual people are atheists individually. The only thing they share is a lack of god-belief.


update (8:54pm):
PZ Myers at Pharyngula has some trenchant remarks as well. Read them.


update 2: D'Souza demonstrates his cluelessness again and again.

Stupid Evil Bastard has a nice post about correcting a female customer’s comments about “that damned ACLU” and how she believed it wants to “stamp out god.” Rather than meekly agree with her wingnut commentary, he chose instead to give her some facts about the ACLU’s defense of religious freedom:

“Ma’am, as a card carrying member I can honestly tell you that the ACLU doesn’t care if we’re selling stepping stones with religious passages on them or if you buy them and put them on your lawn. They’re only concerned with improper promotion by the government. They actually have taken on suits in defense of believer’s rights to religious expression.”

Her reaction to being corrected is typical: she got upset and walked away. She probably still believes that the ACLU is “trying to stamp out god.”

is this a joke?

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The following letter-to-the-editor ran in my local newspaper:

Bush deserves praise and support for his leadership

Thank President Bush for the strongest economy we have ever had. The Dow is the highest it has been in history.

Thanks for protecting us. We have not had another 9/11. Thanks for keeping nuclear bombs from terrorists. They are trying to get them and have not succeeded.

I am not persuaded by liberal media propaganda. I am a free thinker and the facts speak for themselves. We should all sleep well knowing we have strong leadership at the helm.

[name and address redacted]

Here is my response:

Bush deserves condemnation and scorn for his failures

Praising the Bush administration for offering “strong leadership at the helm” of our nation, as a recent reader did, is nothing short of delusional. He is correct that “the facts speak for themselves,” but instead of facts he spouted the pro-Bush spin common in the corporate media. Bush’s ill-informed stubbornness is not strength, and his penchant for photo-ops is not leadership.

The Dow Jones Average’s recent high is about 14% below its peak in 2000 after adjusting for inflation, and the stock market wasn’t the only thing that did better during the Clinton boom. Unemployment was lower, home foreclosures were less frequent, our civil liberties were more secure, our balance of trade was healthier, the economy was stronger, and the federal government hadn’t yet been driven into deep deficits by Bush’s budget-busting tax cuts and poorly planned wars.

Instead of ending the threat posed by Osama bin Laden, the culprit behind 9/11, Bush foolishly chose to sap our military might by invading and occupying Iraq. Far from protecting us, this compound failure has caused thousands of additional American deaths (a greater death toll than on 9/11) and fostered the growth of another generation of Islamist terrorists. The endemic corruption of the Bush administration and its GOP cohorts in Congress and the courts has weakened us domestically as well.

We should all sleep well knowing that Bush’s “strong leadership”—reflected in the miserable failures of his presidency—has only a limited time remaining in which to further damage our great nation. In only 21 more months, our long national nightmare will be over.


update: I received a response to this letter; the exchange is here.

This Rockridge Institute essay on progressive taxation is a useful read for anyone bemoaning the presence of the IRS in our lives and wallets. Investment in infrastructure on a societal level is analogous to R&D expenditures on a corporate one: seemingly expensive in the short run, but a bargain over time:

America's government has at least two fundamental functions, protection and empowerment. Protection includes the police, firefighters, emergency services, public health, the military, and so on. Empowerment includes the infrastructure needed for business and everyday life: roads, communications systems, water supplies, public education, the banking system for loans and economic stability, the SEC for the stock market, the courts for enforcing contracts, air traffic control, support for basic science, our national parks and public buildings, and more. We are usually aware of protection. But the empowerment infrastructure, provided by taxes, is usually taken for granted, hidden, or ignored. Yet it is absolutely crucial, a fundamental truth about America and why America provides opportunity. [emphasis added]

The concept of progressive taxation is justified here:

The wealthy have made greater use of the common good—they have been empowered by it in creating their wealth—and thus they have a greater moral obligation to sustain it. They are merely paying their debt to society in arrears and investing in future empowerment.

This is the fundamental truth that motivates progressive taxation.

It is a truth that undercuts conservative arguments about taxation. Taxes provide and maintain the protecting and empowering infrastructure that makes our income possible.

Our tax forms hide this truth. They do not indicate the extent to which taxes have created and sustained the common wealth so you could earn what you have. They make it look like the empowering infrastructure was just put there by magic and that the government is taking money out of your pocket. The most likely truth is that, through the common wealth, America put more money in your pocket than it took out — by far.

Fred Thompson had a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, “Case Closed: Tax Cuts Mean Growth,” Thompson’s piece is summarized by P M Carpenter in “Thompson’s Thundering Thickness” as “frightening and pathetic -- laughably ahistorical but ominously effective. People actually buy this crap.” Carpenter’s piece concludes:

Thompson ends with this red baiting: "Are you really interested in tax rates that benefit the economy and raise revenue -- or are you interested in redistributing income for political reasons?" As I said earlier: frightening and pathetic.

But at least Fred Thompson does offer us a choice: Which would you like to see in a presidential candidate? Stunning ignorance or staggering effrontery? Well happy days and this year and next are your lucky ones, because he delivers both.

Phoenix Woman wages a personal “War on Bullshit” at FDL, referring to Thompson’s op-ed as “the vanguard of a renewed attempt to push this particular bullshit meme so hard and so often it becomes accepted as fact by the lazy.”

In light of the furor over taxes, my quote of the day comes from these words attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes:

"Taxes are the price we pay for civilization."

Thompson should think about that before issuing his next complaint.

subpoenas

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On the heels of Monday's subpoena of AG Albert Gonzales comes news that the Bush administration has preemptively deleted emails in anticipation of impending Congressional investigations. As Dan Froomkin writes in today's Washington Post:

Countless e-mails to and from many key White House staffers have been deleted -- lost to history and placed out of reach of congressional subpoenas -- due to a brazen violation of internal White House policy that was allowed to continue for more than six years, the White House acknowledged yesterday.

The leading culprit appears to be President Bush's enormously influential political adviser Karl Rove, who reportedly used his Republican National Committee-provided Blackberry and e-mail accounts for most of his electronic communication.

Until 2004, all e-mail on RNC accounts was routinely deleted after 30 days. Since 2004, White House staffers using those accounts have been able to save their e-mail indefinitely -- but have also been able to delete whatever they felt like deleting. By comparison, the White House e-mail system preserves absolutely everything forever, in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.

The White House yesterday said it has no idea how many e-mails have been lost.

Pat Leahy (D-VT) had the best remark about the latest Bush scandal:

Like the famous 18-minute gap in the Nixon White House tapes, it appears likely that key documentation has been erased or misplaced. This sounds like the Administration's version of 'the dog ate my homework.'

Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington), concurs:

"It's clear that the White House has been willfully violating the law, the only question now is to what extent? The ever changing excuses offered by the administration - that they didn't want to violate the Hatch Act, that staff wasn't clear on the law - are patently ridiculous. Very convenient that embarrassing - and potentially incriminating - emails have gone missing. It's the Nixon White House all over again."

CREW published "Without a Trace," (executive summary here and full report here) a report explaining the administration's violations of the Presidential Records Act of 1978:

1) The administration failed to implement adequate record-keeping systems to archive presidential email records; 2) two confidential sources independently informed CREW that the administration abandoned a plan to recover more than five million missing emails; 3) emails were not adequately preserved.

This is not an issue of a few dozen or few hundred emails, but of millions. That's not an oversight or an accident, that's conspiracy and obstruction of justice. In a just world, computer forensics investigators would already be on the job. (Glenn Greenwald provided a handy list of the Bushites' previous instances of dog-eaten homework, lest anyone believes this to be an isolated occurrence.)


update (3/22/2008 @ 2:21pm):
According to the AP, the White House destroyed the hard drives.

Noted writer, humanist, and social critic Kurt Vonnegut died last night at the age of 84. For factual overviews of his life and work, the New York Times obituary is here, and the Washington Post's is here. For a more personal take, try RJ Eskow's comments at HuffPo:

I mean no slight to the depth or profundity of Vonnegut's work when I say that I, like many others, was most struck by his novels between the ages of 13 and 15. That doesn't mean he wrote young people's books. It means he wrote books that dealt with issues that were big, deep, and profound. And for some reason, in our warped culture it's mostly young people who choose to deal with those big issues. "Adults" (as they're commonly known) seem to stop caring about them after a certain age.

Perhaps the finest way Vonnegut influenced me was by encouraging me to keep on thinking about those big issues as I moved through adulthood. And I mean the big ones: Why are we here? How will our race die? Can we be a good species?

In These Times magazine published Vonnegut's commentaries over the past few years, much of it collected in his 2005 book A Man Without a Country. That book features an essay entitled "Do You Know What a Humanist Is?" which contains this wonderful anecdote:

I am, incidentally, Honorary President of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in that totally functionless capacity. We had a memorial service for Isaac a few years back, and I spoke and said at one point, "Isaac is up in heaven now." It was the funniest thing I could have said to an audience of humanists. I rolled them in the aisles. It was several minutes before order could be restored. And if I should ever die, God forbid, I hope you will say, "Kurt is up in heaven now." That's my favorite joke.

Accordingly, I will just say that "Kurt is up in heaven now."

So it goes.

This selection of Einstein’s remarks on religion is delightful (h/t: God Is for Suckers!). The depth and profundity of Einstein’s thoughts have rarely been equaled, and his insights into religion are no less valid than his scientific thoughts. Accordingly, here is my Quote of the Day:

“A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hopes of reward after death. It is therefore easy to see why the churches have always fought science and persecuted its devotees.”

(from Alice Calaprice, ed., The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000, pp. 205-206.)

The 2007 “Muzzle” award winners from the Thomas Jefferson Center have been announced, and the Bush Administration has claimed first place for its:

unprecedented efforts of discouraging, changing, and sometimes censoring the reports and studies of government scientists in order to make them more supportive of political policies. […] Over the course of the past five years, government scientists have felt an unprecedented degree of political interference in communicating their research to the public thereby making the Bush Administration a deserving recipient of a 2007 Jefferson Muzzle.

Fifth place goes to the Department of Defense for “launching and sustaining a program, ostensibly aimed at counter-terrorists, that gathered and stored extensive information about lawful anti-war demonstrators and other citizen groups that posed no national security threat.” Attempting to soften the blow, TJC director Robert M. O’Neil notes that:

“threats to free expression come from all over the political spectrum and are not the byproduct of a particular outlook or ideology. The presidential administrations of George Bush and Bill Clinton, former Attorney Generals John Ashcroft and Janet Reno, and both the Republican and Democratic national parties are among those who can claim the dubious honor of receiving a Muzzle.”

As true as this comment is, the Bush Administration has an unparalleled history of threatening, restricting, or otherwise abridging free speech. In addition to their first-place showing this year, the Bush Administration has won in various capacities numerous times during their disastrous time in Washington:

2000: first place to The George W. Bush Presidential Campaign
2002: first place to The United States Department of Defense and Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
2003: first place to United States Attorney General John Ashcroft
2004: second place to The U.S. Department of Defense and third place to The United States Secret Service
2005: eighth place to The United States Department of State and The United States Department of Homeland Security
2006: first place to President George W. Bush, second place to The U.S. Department of Justice, and eight place to The U.S. Department of Homeland Security

At least we know that they’re good at something.

As a follow-up to this post on the Bush economy, here’s some information on CEO pay (h/t: Ezra Klein at American Prospect): “while CEO pay rose 298.2% by 2005, and corporate profits by 106.7%, the average worker pay has only risen by 4.3%.” Here’s the graph:

20070410-ceopay.jpg

298%, 106%, and 4%...cui bono?

preaching evil

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Chris Hedges writes at AlterNet about how the “Radical Christian Right Preaches Liberal Evil” by examining Tim (Left Behind) LaHaye’s “theology of despair:”

America, the crowd is told, is being ruled by evil, clandestine organizations that hide behind the veneer of liberal, democratic groups. These clandestine forces seek to destroy Christians. They spread their demonic, secular humanist ideology through front groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, People for the American Way, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood, the Trilateral Commission and "the major TV networks, high-profile newspapers and newsmagazines," the U.S. State Department, major foundations (Rockefeller, Carnegie, Ford), the United Nations, "the left wing of the Democratic Party" and Harvard, Yale "and 2,000 other colleges and universities." All of these groups have joined forces, LaHaye has warned, to "turn America into an amoral, humanist country, ripe for merger into a one-world socialist state."

As paranoid and delusional as Hedges’ fundagelical subjects are, the political power they wield is undeniable.

Several notable conservative political figures (Bruce Fein, Bob Barr, David Keene, and Richard Viguerie) have proposed an “American Freedom Agenda” for consideration in our political arena. The “Freedom Pledge” they recommend to candidates for public office could be a great leap toward restoring the separation of powers and driving a stake through the heart of Bush’s imperial presidency.

Chris Bowers has a new post at MyDD about the GOP’s now-ineffectual “constant drumbeat of fear:”

Starting in 1968, the Republican fear agenda has proven to be electoral gold time and time again.

However, starting in 2005, something interesting began to happen in this country that has, for two years, made the Republican fear agenda utterly ineffective at winning elections, moving poll numbers, or shaping the national consciousness in any meaningful way. Americans are still afraid, but the nature of that fear has shifted. Instead of being afraid of what Republicans have traditionally told people to be afraid of, now most people are just afraid of Republicans. The devastation that is Iraq is at the root of this fear, but the attempt to destroy Social Security, the Terry Schaivo affair, the nightmare that is and was Hurricane Katrina, the revelations that everyone is being spied on, the drumbeat to war with Iran, and increasing awareness of global warming--I think the last two years have combined to create a national mood where most Americans are literally afraid of the Republicans running their lives.

We have nothing to fear but the GOP’s fear agenda.

This Skeptical Enquirer article (h/t: Rude Pundit http://rudepundit.blogspot.com/2007/04/ann-coulter-taken-apart-by-swedish.html ) on Coulter’s book Godless advances the idea that her support of “intelligent design” [sic] is a hoax, mush like Alan Sokal’s infamous “Transgressing the Boundaries” prank:

Coulter has written a biting satire over the trend of anti-intellectualism that clouds part of the conservative ideology, which is otherwise based on principle and reason. If I have any objection to Coulter’s piece, it would be that it is a bit lengthy, but perhaps this too is part of the satire, as some antievolution pieces tend to be pretty verbose. There are also some things I don’t fully understand, for example several references to bestiality and some seemingly nonsequitur remarks about Cher and Elton John. Considering how wonderfully multilayered Coulter’s writing is, I am sure there is a perfectly logical explanation.

Larry (Wag the Dog) Beinhart has some comments on Bush’s Presidential “Library,” noting that “This institution will be used to keep presidential papers from real scholars, historians and researchers:”

Bush's goal is to raise $500,000,000 (five hundred million) for his memorial to himself.

Where could $500,000,000 possibly go? Part of it will pay for lawyers to keep real scholars out of the records. The bulk of it will go to paid political hacks who will churn out papers and books that will rewrite reality. Just as the Bush White House has done his entire administration.

That's why professors and students at SMU oppose it. Nobody opposes libraries. They are opposing a propaganda mill. They are opposing an institution intended to be the enemy of truth.

Every time anyone in the media uses the word library in reference to this project, they aid and abet the confusion and delusion.

It should be referred to as the George W. Bush Propaganda Mill.

For everyone who hasn’t seen this quote already, try to guess the speaker:

The [GOP] base isn't interested in Iraq. The base is for Bush. If Bush said tomorrow, we're leaving in two months, there would be no revolt.

A tip of the proverbial hat goes to Phoenix Woman at FDL, who observed:

Hey, Republican primary voters! Grover Norquist just called you a bunch of sheep! Have some more Kool-Aid with your grass clippings.

First Freedom First ran a “Blog Against Theocracy” over the weekend. I had intended to make a contribution, but ran out of time to review American Fascists or comment on the Monica Goodling/Regent University story, the two ideas which I had been considering. I’ll try to join in next year’s festivities.

Did Nancy Pelosi narrowly escape being sworn in as President today? Did Dubya come close to killing himself and Cheney with an electricity-meets-hydrogen explosion? Check here for details.

Maybe next time...

[link changed]

So did this:

Happy Easter! May the big, fluffy divine Easter Bunny deliver unto you colored eggs from His own body saying, "Eat of these tasty hard-boiled treats, for this is My flesh."

This made me laugh out loud:

20070408-72virgins.jpg

EJ Dionne’s “Answers to the atheists” column in the Washington Post this morning claims that Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and other “neo-atheists:”

…like their predecessors from a century ago, are given to a sometimes-charming ferociousness in their polemics against those they see as too weak-minded to give up faith in God.

What makes them new is the moment in history in which they are rejoining the old arguments: an era of religiously motivated Islamic suicide bombers. They also protest the apparent power of traditionalist and fundamentalist versions of Christianity.

Dionne claims to “welcome the neo-atheists' challenge,” but he provides none of the promised answers to us in the process. That is precisely my complaint about theists in general: they promise answers but never deliver.

Joe Klein recounts for Time magazine the “epic collapse” of the Bush administration (h/t: John at AmericaBlog):

The three big Bush stories of 2007--the decision to "surge" in Iraq, the scandalous treatment of wounded veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys for tawdry political reasons--precisely illuminate the three qualities that make this Administration one of the worst in American history: arrogance (the surge), incompetence (Walter Reed) and cynicism (the U.S. Attorneys).

[…]

When Bush came to office--installed by the Supreme Court after receiving fewer votes than Al Gore--I speculated that the new President would have to govern in a bipartisan manner to be successful. He chose the opposite path, and his hyper-partisanship has proved to be a travesty of governance and a comprehensive failure. I've tried to be respectful of the man and the office, but the three defining sins of the Bush Administration--arrogance, incompetence, cynicism--are congenital: they're part of his personality. They're not likely to change. And it is increasingly difficult to imagine yet another two years of slow bleed with a leader so clearly unfit to lead.

Newsweek hosted a debate between Sam Harris and Rick Warren, mediated by Jon Meacham. The introduction led me to hope for the best, but the debate itself was a disappointment. Its topic, "Is god real," was answered by Harris and dodged by Warren; the discussion went downhill from that point.

Warren pressed the overused angry/dogmatic/arrogant atheist slur into service, but it fails just as it always has. He complained that "a lot of atheists hide behind rationalism," but it's more accurate to say that Warren and other theists hide behind an impermeable-to-reason faith.

When Warren (inevitably) brought up Mao and Stalin, Harris responded this way:

This really is one of the great canards of religious discourse, the idea that the greatest crimes of the 20th century were perpetrated because of atheism. The core problem for me is divisive dogmatism. There are many kinds of dogmatism. There's nationalism, there's tribalism, there's racism, there's chauvinism. And there's religion. Religion is the only sphere of discourse where dogma is actually a good word, where it is considered ennobling to believe something strongly based on faith. [...] The killing fields and the gulag were not the product of people being too reluctant to believe things on insufficient evidence. They were not the product of people requiring too much evidence and too much argument in favor of their beliefs.

That isn't "hiding behind" rationality, it's relying on it. What would Warren offer in its place other than more dogma?

Later, Warren stated that "In 1974, I spent the better part of a year living in Japan, and I studied all the world religions." This would be sufficient, I suppose, if one wanted merely to establish that all religions make truth claims. If one desires to privilege one religious claim above all others--and above all knowledge created since the texts were written, translated, and compiled--then Warren should hit the books again.

This exchange was quite telling:

WARREN: Why isn't atheism more appealing if it's supposedly the most intellectually honest?

HARRIS: Frankly, it has a terrible PR campaign.

WARREN: [Laughs] It's not a matter of PR.

HARRIS: It is right next to child molester as something you don't want to be. But that is a product, I would argue, of what religious people tell one another about atheism.

The misrepresentation of atheists by theists is one factor, as are people's unwillingness to be outsiders and their general reluctance to think. Rather than follow up on this line of debate, though, Meacham chose to change topics. Pity.

I wondered briefly if perhaps Warren and Harris should have a blogalogue along the lines of the Harris/Sullivan one, but Warren's unsuitability to the task was made clear by his reliance on Pascal's long-defunct Wager. If its weaknesses had not been repeatedly demonstrated over the past 350 years, Warren might have had a point. As it was, he was still foundering after being bested numerous times by Harris.

EPI has a handy chart showing the key effects of the current economic recovery (h/t: Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly):

20070404-recovery.gif

Drum’s comments perfectly summarize the problem with Bushite economics:

Basically, everything sucks. GDP growth has been mediocre, employment growth has been terrible, and investment in equipment and software has been pitiful. And of course, we already know that median wages have been completely flat. The average worker has gained exactly nothing from five years of economic growth.

But guess what? One sector of the economy has gone like gangbusters: corporate profits. Even skyrocketing executive pay hasn't been enough to make a dent. Good times indeed.

If you're a corporation, that is. If you're not, then not so much. And if you think this is just a coincidence, you haven't been paying attention. [emphases added]

Our problem is that too few people have been paying attention

Francis Fukuyama has some enlightening remarks for the neo-cons who torture his End of History thesis to fit their god-demands-that-we-conquer-the-middle-east mentality (h/t: Digby at Hullabaloo). Among other gems, Fukuyama writes that “…the road to liberal democracy in the Middle East is likely to be extremely disappointing in the near to medium term, and the Bush administration's efforts to build a regional policy around it are heading toward abject failure:”

While the End of History thus was essentially an argument about modernisation, some people have linked my thesis about the end of history to the foreign policy of President George Bush and American strategic hegemony. But anyone who thinks that my ideas constitute the intellectual foundation for the Bush administration's policies has not been paying attention to what I have been saying since 1992 about democracy and development. […]

The End of History was never linked to a specifically American model of social or political organisation. Following Alexandre Kojève, the Russian-French philosopher who inspired my original argument, I believe that the European Union more accurately reflects what the world will look like at the end of history than the contemporary United States. The EU's attempt to transcend sovereignty and traditional power politics by establishing a transnational rule of law is much more in line with a "post-historical" world than the Americans' continuing belief in God, national sovereignty, and their military. [emphases added]

300 remix

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There has been much grumbling about Tyler Bates’ score to 300 being inspired by (or ripping off, depending on one’s perspective) Elliot Goldenthal’s score to Titus. Someone has taken to remixing the undeniably homoerotic trailer with alternate music (h/t: Andrew Sullivan).

Enjoy!

Yesterday’s New York Times op-ed tells the tale of former Bush campaign strategist Matthew Dowd, who is now openly critical of the Bush administration:

In speaking out, Mr. Dowd became the first member of Mr. Bush’s inner circle to break so publicly with him.

He said his decision to step forward had not come easily. But, he said, his disappointment in Mr. Bush’s presidency is so great that he feels a sense of duty to go public given his role in helping Mr. Bush gain and keep power.

[…]

His views against the war began to harden last spring when, in a personal exercise, he wrote a draft opinion article and found himself agreeing with Mr. Kerry’s call for withdrawal from Iraq.

The opinion article’s title: “Kerry Was Right!”

Andrew Sullivan deplores the GOP’s disdain for basic civil rights:

Those of us who care about liberty, whether we choose to fight for it inside the GOP or as Democrats or outside as non-partisan freedom-lovers, need to understand that this idea of conservatism as an ally of freedom is currently in eclipse in the GOP. […] …the Republican party has lost not only its own soul; it is busy mortgaging the soul of America and the West as a whole. On this, there can be no compromise. Until a leading Republican commits to the full restoration of habeas corpus for American citizens, whether the executive considers them an "enemy combatant" or not, no one who loves freedom can support the GOP. In fact, any lover of freedom should consider it a duty to defeat them.

Is this hyperbole? Is it histrionics? Is it, perhaps, an honesty that is deeply needed by—and resolutely rejected by—those on the right side of the aisle? Time will tell.

Cenk Uygur writes at HuffPo that “Islamic Countries Can Suck Jesus's Chocolate Covered Cock.” He comments on the controversy over ChocoChrist (AKA “My Sweet Lord”) this way:

By the way, if Jesus never had an orgasm the whole time he was alive (no premarital sex, no masturbation), he must have walked around with the biggest hard on in creation. How do you depict blue balls in chocolate?

Considering that Easter is just around the corner, I wonder: does one nibble off the ears first?

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