June 2007 Archives

Eric (What Liberal Media?) Alterman’s two-part piece (here at The Nation and here at HuffPo) on media reactions to Al Gore’s book The Assault on Reason—or, as he puts it, “mainstream media's continuing character assassination campaign against Al Gore”—following their similar behavior in the 2000 election:

…the media made Al Gore out to be a liar because so many reporters chose to misreport his remarks or take them out of context. To top it off, they made a joke of their maliciousness, mocking Gore for alleged mendacities that were largely the results of their carelessness and deliberate misrepresentation.

Andrew Ferguson of the conservative Weekly Standard even claimed that Gore didn’t footnote his book, and asked rhetorically: “I'd love to know where he found the scary quote from Abraham Lincoln that he uses on page 88.” Tom Schaller at Tapped replied:

Well, Mr. Ferguson, the answer to that is quite easily to be found on p. 282 of the book where, in the endnotes, Gore provides the citation. (The Lincoln Encyclopedia, Macmillan: 1950, Andrew Ward, ed., page 40.) Is Ferguson so manipulative that he is using the endnote/footnote difference to mislead the readers into believing there is no sourcing whatsoever in Gore's book? Or is Ferguson so damn lazy he didn't even bother to notice that Gore's book includes endnotes?

I wouldn’t characterize it as an either/or situation; the media in general are both too lazy to read carefully and too manipulative to admit this to their audiences.

Bill Scher at Campaign for America’s Future discusses the specter of Conservative Activism that is haunting our judiciary, as evidenced by several atrocious rulings earlier this week. As he puts it:

Way too many folks rolled over when John Roberts and Sam Alito were nominated for the Supreme Court. And now we're seeing the consequences.

[…]

The conservative activists on the Supreme Court decreed in a series of 5-4 decisions:

* Individuals, who believe their tax dollars are being unconstitutionally misused by the White House to promote religious beliefs, aren't allowed to enter a courthouse to make their case.

* The Environmental Protection Agency can avoid its responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act, even though it's a law reflecting the public will as passed by the democratically-elected Congress.

* Corporations can once again use their checkbooks to flood the public airwaves with political ads during election season, again overruling Congress.

FFRF comments on the Hein case here:

"This means we have a constitutional separation between church and state, but no way to enforce it if the executive branch chooses to violate it with 'discretionary' actions," added Dan Barker, a plaintiff and Foundation co-president. The Foundation is the largest association of atheists and agnostics in the U.S., whose 10,000 members work to keep church and state separate.

[…]

The Supreme Court in effect ruled that the Bush Administration may use taxpayer money to support religion without complaint by taxpayers. The decision makes the violation impervious to court review, since no one besides taxpayers could have standing to challenge the appropriations.

"The only remedy left, since individual Americans are being barred from challenging this violation, is for Congress to defund the Office of Faith-based Initiatives at the White House and Cabinets," said Barker. "Let Congress provide the oversight that the Court is refusing to give!"

Mkfox from Progressive Historians has comments from Justice Stevens on the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case:

"In my judgment, the First Amendment protects student speech if the message itself neither violates a permissible rule nor expressly advocates conduct that is illegal and harmful to students. This nonsense banner does neither, and the Court does serious violence to the First Amendment in upholding - indeed, lauding - a school's decision to punish Frederick for expressing a view with which it disagreed." [emphasis added]

This skewed-right judiciary is another of the Bushian catastrophes that will take years—if not decades—to rectify. Anyone who still claims that there is no substantive difference between Republicans and Democrats needs to pay closer attention to SCOTUS decisions.

amazon.com
Konner, Joan. The Atheist's Bible: An Illustrious Collection of Irreverent Thoughts (New York: HarperCollins, 2007)

Joan Konner's The Atheist's Bible is a useful companion to Jack Huberman's The Quotable Atheist, although the two volumes do share some material. Konner organizes her book by topic, and it is helpfully cross-indexed by author (each of whom has a brief biography). The book goes by far too quickly, though--a tribute to both the subject matter and Konner's choice of material. Its only flaw of note is her inclusion of these two quotations that I flagged as questionable in the Huberman review:

"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the philosophers as false, and by rulers as useful." (p. 74, Seneca the Younger)

"All religious are equally sublime to the ignorant, useful to the politician, and ridiculous to the philosopher." (p. 79, Lucretius)

They both appear to be misattributions from Edward Gibbon:

"The policy of the emperors and the senate, as far as it concerned religion, was happily seconded by the reflections of the enlightened, and by the habits of the superstitious, part of their subjects. The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord."

(History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter II)

what a Dick

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Last Thursday, Josh Meyer of the LA Times broke the story about Dick Cheney claiming an exemption from oversight because “his office is not fully part of the executive branch:”

For the last four years, Vice President Dick Cheney has made the controversial claim that his office is not fully part of the Bush administration in order to exempt it from a presidential order regulating federal agencies' handling of classified national security information, officials said Thursday.

Cheney has held that his office is not fully part of the executive branch of government despite the continued objections of the National Archives, which says his office's failure to demonstrate that it has proper security safeguards in place could jeopardize the government's top secrets.

According to documents released Thursday by a House committee, Cheney's staff has blocked efforts by the National Archives' Information Security Oversight Office to enforce a key component of the presidential order: a mandatory on-site inspection of the vice president's office. [emphasis added]

On Friday, Meyer reported that, due to Cheney’s demand for exemption from the law:

the National Archives has been unable to review how much information the president's and vice president's offices are classifying and declassifying. And the security oversight office cannot inspect the president and vice president's executive offices to determine whether safeguards are in place to protect the classified information they handle and to properly declassify information when required.

Peter Baker’s article at WaPo on Saturday includes this delightful tidbit:

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said he plans to propose next week, as part of a spending bill for executive operations, a measure to place a hold on funds for Cheney's office and official home until he clarifies to which branch of the government he belongs. Emanuel acknowledged that the proposal is just a stunt, but he said that if Cheney is not part of the executive branch, he should not receive its funds.

This could be a very interesting week.

As the bumpersticker says: IMPEACH CHENEY FIRST!

According to this Baltimore Sun story, the NSA’s problems with electricity supply (mentioned here) have gotten worse:

As part of its short-term effort to redirect power use and upgrade systems, the NSA has had to resort to partial, rolling brownouts at its computer "farms" and scheduled power outages, the senior intelligence official said, adding that these have become more frequent in recent months.

Among the most significant electrical issues was a series of outages in several buildings at NSA headquarters April 30 and May 1, which caused computers to unexpectedly restart and triggered blackouts that lasted between 45 minutes and four hours in some offices, according to the government source.

amazon.com

Sullivan, Andrew. The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back (New York: HarperCollins, 2006)

I'll begin my review of Andrew Sullivan's The Conservative Soul by noting other reviews of the book, and follow up with some further comments of my own. Glenn Greenwald referred to Sullivan's book as the "hollow conservative soul," and--title aside--his assessment parallels my own:

I think Sullivan is an excellent writer and a commendable and insightful political thinker. As is evident from his book and his blog, he explicitly examines and frequently re-visits the first principles underlying his beliefs, which is why he is open to rational opposition and to changing his mind about his political views, even on fundamental questions. That is a trait that is all too rare.

That is what makes The Conservative Soul worth reading. It highlights the true philosophical and psychological roots of the Bush movement -- its first principles -- and reveals just how rotted those fundamentalist roots are. It does this as well as, if not better than, any other book has done. And it makes a unique and compelling case for the virtue of doubt, something from which anyone with strong political convictions would probably benefit.

(Sullivan's response to Greenwald is here.) David Brooks reviewed The Conservative Soul for the NYT Book Review last fall, and Sullivan responded with a piece about Oakeshottian doubt.

Bryan Burrough reviewed the book here at the Washington Post, describing it as "not only too polite but too high-minded to galvanize anyone without a graduate degree in philosophy," and referring to it as "a fine intellectual effort that, for all Sullivan's clear thinking and clear prose, probably won't change any minds that fundamentalist beliefs haven't already ossified."

Burrough underestimates Sullivan's audience, the broad American citizenry that worships at the altar of neither Fox News nor Air America; this expansive middle of the electorate is willing to think about deep subjects, if a helpful voice--such as that provided by Sullivan--can speak with vision rather than vitriol.

As valuable as I consider Sullivan's book, The Conservative Soul is marred by several logical and factual errors of the types that are ubiquitous is other pundits' work, but unexpected and jarring in Sullivan's. A few examples follow:

* When Sullivan argues that adults "look around them in the twenty-first century and they increasingly see no stable cultural authorities to tell them what values to instill in the next generation," (p. 12) he unintentionally identifies a primary difference between liberals and conservatives: we do not need a "cultural authority" to tell us "what values to instill" in our children. There is certainly no shortage of people telling us what to do--from Dr Spock to NAMBLA to unhinged wingnut James Dobson--but we aren't about to kneel down before yet another would-be authority whose values (blind obedience, blind faith) are anathema to ours. Sullivan softens the authoritarian-leaning implications of this stance a few pages later in discussing the media:

The truth was once delivered daily to our doorsteps in a single newspaper or declaimed in the authoritative tones of Walter Cronkite or Alastair Cooke. Now there is a cacophony of bloggers and podcasters and viral videos and cable channels and indie movies and online petitions. Each has its meaning and small piece of authority; and in response, we each have to try to develop our own. (p. 15)

* He argues that "conservatism is ascendant as a political philosophy and cultural force in the West," (p. 15) but I would respond that, after a retrenchment and reevaluation beginning in the Clinton era, American liberalism is poised to utter a few polite words at the graveside of Nixon/Ford/Reagan/Bush/Bush conservatism before returning to the task at hand: competent governance of our great nation.

* On page 41, Sullivan describes James Dobson as "the most influential fundamentalist in America;" ten pages later he refers to Dubya as "the most powerful Christian fundamentalist in the world." Is he drawing a distinction between influence and power, given that both men are Christian fundamentalists?

* When discussing Thomas Paine, Sullivan writes: "The man who actually came up with the name of the new nation, the United States of America, was, after all, an atheist." (p. 131) Actually, Paine was a deist; the following passage from Part II, Section 16 of The Age of Reason illustrates this:

...the only true religion is Deism, by which I then meant, and mean now, the belief of one God, and an imitation of his moral character, or the practice of what are called moral virtues--and that it was upon this only (so far as religion is concerned) that I rested all my hopes of happiness hereafter. So say I now--and so help me God.

* This passage, while it makes a good point about the secular nature of marriage, also contains a potentially confusing error:

Bush formally met with no openly gay people in his term of office, said that such individuals would not share his philosophy, and publicly described civil marriage as a "sacred institution," conflating any distinction between the secular and the religious. (p. 153)

That's a clear misuse of "conflating;" I suspect Sullivan meant "erasing." He used the word correctly a few pages later:

But again this doesn't fully explain the rigidity of the Bush White House, its imperviousness to empirical criticism, its insistence on the inerrancy of its leader, and its ruthlessness toward critics. What does help explain it is the fundamentalist mind-set. A strong inerrant leader is typical of such religious groupings; deference is regarded as the natural response to such a hierarchy; criticism is immediately conflated with sin or weakness or treachery. (p. 163)

* Sullivan opens Chapter 5, titled "The Conservatism of Doubt," with a quote from Montaigne and this definition: "The defining characteristic of the conservative is that he knows what he doesn't know." (p. 173) He repeats a similar formulation later, claiming that "A conservative is defined primarily by his profound grasp of the limits of human understanding." (p. 250) This is quite a surprise to me, as most conservatives I see and hear are filled not with doubts but with certainties. They are certain not just about how to order every aspect of their own lives, but ours as well. Perhaps all those conservatives are really fundamentalists--at least in Sullivan's formulation.

* Continuing to discuss Montaigne, Sullivan writes:

Montaigne, mind you, isn't asking us to disparage the past from the comfortable certainty of the present. He is asking us to question all of it, to ask each question anew, to take nothing for granted, to be careful of generalizing, and suspicious of dogma. (p. 190)

Not only does Sullivan sound as if he's describing liberalism, his remark is also quite similar to this statement from Bertrand Russell from his 1950 essay "Philosophy and Politics:"

"The essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment. This is the way in which opinions are held in science, as opposed to the way in which they are held in theology. [...] Science is empirical, tentative, and undogmatic; all immutable dogma is unscientific. The scientific outlook, accordingly, is the intellectual counterpart of what is, in the practical sphere, the outlook of Liberalism."

* I was astounded to hear Sullivan describe jazz as a "conservative" genre in this passage: "There are even rough and ready rules for jazz, the most purely conversational and therefore conservative of musical forms." (p. 202) Next to the often contrived anarchism of punk, I can think of no musical form less conservative than jazz. The spontaneity of jazz--and the individual freedom upon which its foundation rests--necessitates an outlook at odds with contemporary conservatism. On the basis of conservative policies, excellence would be judged by its adherence to an unchangeable musical score: the most conservative musical form would be something thoroughly regimented, such as the Gregorian chant.

* This passage also raised my hackles:

The point [of the Constitution] was to stop anything collective from being done too easily. And the premise of this intended frustration was the founders' grasp on the limits of human wisdom. In that critical sense, they were conservatives. And in that sense, American is a conservative nation. (pp. 250-1)

Let's look at the details, shall we? No monarchy; no aristocracy; no alliance between church and state; an egalitarianism (except for slavery and some property requirements) and small-r republicanism radical for their time; and strict limits on governmental power. In all these senses, America's founders--and America herself--are profoundly liberal. A conservative Constitution would have had Houses of Commons and Lords, presided over by King George Washington the First.

* This statement on the post-9/11 moment also went astray in the second sentence:

The spontaneous outburst of patriotism and resilience after 9/11 showed that a secular, liberal democracy knew what it stood for and what it stood against. It took the toxic combination of religious fundamentalism, leftist anger, and political incompetence to tear the country apart over Iraq. (p. 264)

Any anger borne by the Left is not some free-floating, amorphous animus; it is a response to the religious fundamentalism (and political incompetence) of the GOP's conservative misrule. Had the Bush administration been less disastrous, we liberals would have had much less to be angry about.

* When he gets into fiscal policy, Sullivan goes off the rails again:

So a conservative will favor as simple a tax code as possible, and will be suspicious of any government's decision to tax some people at different rates than others. Such "progressive" taxation is better described as unequal taxation, the treatment of some citizens as inferior to others and therefore subject to higher levels of taxation. The fact that their inferiority is related to their success or enterprise makes the whole enterprise look remarkably fishy. (p. 272)

This is a weird parallel to the "death tax" trope; there is, of course, nothing particular about the person of Bill Gates (to choose one example) that is singled out for higher taxation. People are not taxed, although their incomes, capital gains, purchases, estate transfers, properties (etc.) are subject to taxation. Sullivan may not consider this an adequate distinction, but I do.

I don't with to overemphasize such relatively minor flaws in a largely rewarding book; Sullivan has done an excellent job and is to be commended for doing so. His book will outlive the other election-season volumes whose relevance is limited to their particular moment in time; The Conservative Soul tackles larger themes of longer-lived significance. When Sullivan's book was discussed in the New York Review of Books, Jonathan Raban had this to say:

What is so timely about Sullivan's book, and why it should be read closely by liberals as well as conservatives, is its embedded firsthand report on the widening ideological cracks in the house that Rove built--a building that Rove used to boast was permanent and impregnable, and that Sullivan now makes look like a tottering fixer-upper.

Sullivan responded to Raban's review, observing that "in general, a writer could not ask for a smarter, fairer or more engaged review:"

I have a feeling the book's actual moment was not its pre-election publication date - but now, as the implosion of conservatism becomes steadily more apparent, and people are beginning to ask themselves far more seriously why.

Sullivan is probably correct: When 2006's electoral embarrassment for the GOP becomes 2008's landslide, I suspect that his book will be diligently examined. As more conservatives try to understand how their dream of a permanent majority was so thoroughly dashed on the rocks of reality, a look into the substantive past of conservatism--rather than its degenerated present--will do us all some good.

The sheer volume of information about the numerous ongoing Bush/GOP scandals doesn’t permit me to go into great detail on any of them; cataloging conservative corruption could easily be a full-time job.

First, there is the House Oversight Committee’s report (164KB PDF) on the RNC email scandal and possible violations of the Presidential Records Act (h/t: Carpetbagger Report). Tony Snow(job) tried the “Clinton did it too” defense, but—surprise!—he was lying. Think Progress has the details:

In 1993, President Clinton’s then-Assistant to the President John Podesta issued a staff memo clearly stating that all administration e-mails dealing with official business had to be “incorporated into an official recordkeeping system,” stressing that no “e-mail document that is a Presidential record should be deleted.”

The Clinton administration’s policy also made clear that personal and political e-mail accounts — which are generally exempt from the Presidential Records Act — could not be used for official business. Indeed, the Bush administration has seemingly implemented a policy opposite of the Clinton administration’s.

Second, the “signing statements” scandal is not going away. Charlie Savage’s expose in the Boston Globe discusses the new GAO study (549KB PDF):

Federal officials have disobeyed at least six new laws that President Bush challenged in his signing statements, a government study disclosed yesterday. The report provides the first evidence that the government may have acted on claims by Bush that he can set aside laws under his executive powers.

[…]

Bush's signing statements have drawn fire because he has used them to challenge more than 1,100 sections of bills -- more than all previous presidents combined. The sample the GAO studied represents a small portion of the laws Bush has targeted, but its report concluded that sometimes the government has gone on to disobey those laws.

White House spokesperson Tony Fratto, in arrogance all-too-typical of this administration, comments, "The signing statements certainly do and should have an impact. They are real." Are Bush’s interpretations—of bills he decided to sign instead of veto—more real than the words written by Congress?

Finally, Seymour Hersh has some incendiary information from Major General Taguba about the imbroglio over “integorration” at Abu Ghraib. Hersh describes an early meeting with Rumsfeld and others, where they strived to minimize the import of the nascent scandal:

…the officials professed ignorance about Abu Ghraib. “Could you tell us what happened?” Wolfowitz asked. Someone else asked, “Is it abuse or torture?” At that point, Taguba recalled, “I described a naked detainee lying on the wet floor, handcuffed, with an interrogator shoving things up his rectum, and said, ‘That’s not abuse. That’s torture.’ There was quiet.”

Later in the article, Taguba describes being “appalled” at Rumsfeld’s claim to Congress that he hadn’t seen the Abu Ghraib photographs until the night before his testimony:

He believed that Rumsfeld’s testimony was simply not true. “The photographs were available to him—if he wanted to see them,” Taguba said. Rumsfeld’s lack of knowledge was hard to credit. […] “The whole idea that Rumsfeld projects—‘We’re here to protect the nation from terrorism’—is an oxymoron,” Taguba said. “He and his aides have abused their offices and have no idea of the values and high standards that are expected of them. And they’ve dragged a lot of officers with them.”

One week and three more deepening scandals: That’s quite enough lawbreaking for a while, even for the most corrupt administration ever.

conservatism

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Robert Borosage writes in American Prospect about the problems with “Conservatism Itself,” noting that “Conservatives now react to the debacle that is the Bush administration with two general strategies -- denial and disavowal:”

Each of the signature Bush follies -- Iraq, Katrina, Enron, privatization of Social Security, the Terri Schiavo case, trickle-down economics that didn't trickle -- can be traced directly to conservative ideas and the conservative think tanks and ideologues that championed them. In every case, conservatism failed, not simply because of corruption or incompetence, but because of original conception. Sensate conservatives have, in the words Irving Kristol once applied to liberals, "been mugged by reality." Actual existing conservatism fails because it gets the world wrong. And invoking Reagan offers not salvation but confirmation of that failure, for Reagan championed many of the same ideas and inflicted similar debacles on the nation.

[…]

The problem isn't incompetence or deviation from the conservative course. The problem is actual existing conservatism itself. It celebrates military prowess when the threats to our security -- stateless terrorists, catastrophic climate change, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the growing gulf between rich and poor -- have no military solution. It offers no answer to a corporate sector shredding the private social contract that guaranteed many workers healthcare, pensions, job security, and family wages. It opposes the very reforms vital for our economic future -- the transition to clean energy and conservation, support of a world-class education system, and provision of affordable health care and retirement security.

After a quarter century of conservative dominance -- from Reagan to Gingrich to Bush and DeLay -- the verdict is in. Conservatives cannot be trusted to guide the government they scorn. Not because they are incompetent or corrupt (although incompetence and corruption abound), but because they get the world wrong. Their policies foster an America that is weaker and more isolated abroad, divided and more unequal at home. That was as true for Ronald Reagan, who helped give birth to this conservative era, as for George Bush, whose failed presidency should bury it. [emphases added]

Susan Douglas enumerates “The Enduring Lies of Reagan” at In These Times, similarly observing that “the current crop of candidates scramble, quite understandably, to distance themselves from the walking disaster that is George W. Bush.” Douglas lists several of the GOP myths about Saint Ronnie, with this summation:

Fabrication, lying, cruel and counterproductive policies at home and abroad, bloating of the deficit, widening the gap between rich and poor: These are the Reagan legacy. As Republican candidates seek to wear his mantle, their Democratic opponents need to remind Americans exactly what they are putting on.

The Edge magazine article “Why the gods are not winning” by Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman (h/t: Daylight Atheism) examines arguments from some articles in Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, and Commonweal. Paul and Zuckerman cite some overlooked information from the World Christian Encyclopedia:

The number of nonreligionists…. throughout the 20th century has skyrocketed from 3.2 million in 1900, to 697 million in 1970, and on to 918 million in AD 2000…. Equally startling has been the meteoritic growth of secularism…. Two immense quasi-religious systems have emerged at the expense of the world's religions: agnosticism…. and atheism…. From a miniscule presence in 1900, a mere 0.2% of the globe, these systems…. are today expanding at the extraordinary rate of 8.5 million new converts each year, and are likely to reach one billion adherents soon.

Amid the article’s numerous typos, the authors speak of “a great polarization” occurring “as increasingly anxious and often desperate hard-core believers mount a vigorous counterrevolution via extreme levels of activism to the first emergence of mass apostasy in history.” Their summation is that, in general, a country’s spirituality:

…is actually the result of social, political and especially economic conditions (please note we are discussing large scale, long term population trends, not individual cases). Mass rejection of the gods invariably blossoms in the context of the equally distributed prosperity and education found in almost all 1st world democracies. There are no exceptions on a national basis.

US exceptionalism in this regard is due to our “substandard socio-economic conditions and the highest level of [economic] disparity.” The authors observe that:

Every time a nation becomes truly advanced in terms of democratic, egalitarian education and prosperity it loses the faith. It's guaranteed. That is why perceptive theists are justifiably scared. In practical terms their only practical hope is for nations to continue to suffer from socio-economic disparity, poverty and maleducation. That strategy is, of course, neither credible nor desirable. And that is why the secular community should be more encouraged.

This rhetorical Q&A is particularly succinct:

Assuming America continues to secularize towards the 1st world norm then what can we expect? The decline in faith-based conservative ideology is predicted to allow the country to adopt the progressive policies that have been proven to work in the rest of the west, and vice-versa.

One wonders if the current “great awakening”—as theists like to call the intellectual somnolence of blind faith—is in fact a great coma.


Quote of the Day:

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people." (Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right)

Hank Fox at UTI wrote to Bruce Fein of the conservative pro-freedom website American Freedom Agenda (previously mentioned here). It’s one of the snarkier responses I’ve seen to conservatives who suddenly discover a conscience now that the clock is finally running out on Bushism:

I read your site, and it all sounds good, except for this one teeny thing: Conservatives were the ones who GOT us here.

Collectively, you clowns helped elect Bush and Cheney, you empowered (and continue to empower) venomous freaks like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter, you demonized every person who even thought about speaking out against the war or the president, you sneered at straw-man "liberals," and you sat back and let America and its freedoms go to hell.

[…]

Where was your voice when Bush and Congress were runaway horses with nothing but naked power in mind? Why weren’t you working to stop them 6 years ago? What are you doing NOW to stop them? Nothing, most likely.

Michael (Blood and Oil) Klare’s piece at AlterNet discusses our military’s use of petroleum, and how this has led to its transformation into:

a "global oil-protection service" for the benefit of U.S. corporations and consumers, fighting overseas battles and establishing its bases to ensure that we get our daily fuel fix. It would be both sad and ironic, if the military now began fighting wars mainly so that it could be guaranteed the fuel to run its own planes, ships, and tanks -- consuming hundreds of billions of dollars a year that could instead be spent on the development of petroleum alternatives.

Klare suggests a possible “sinister approach” to the DoD’s response to the “unexpected challenge” to peak oil:

To ensure itself a "reliable" source of oil in perpetuity, the Pentagon will increase its efforts to maintain control over foreign sources of supply, notably oil fields and refineries in the Persian Gulf region, especially in Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. This would help explain the recent talk of U.S. plans to retain "enduring" bases in Iraq, along with its already impressive and elaborate basing infrastructure in these other countries.

The potential circularity of necessities—needing a powerful military to secure access to oil, which is needed to fuel that very same military might—should be lost on no one.

The editorial "A good day for marriage" in the Boston Globe (h/t: vastleft at CorrenteWire) has some great words about yesterday's defeat of a proposed anti-marriage ballot measure:

After weeks of intense lobbying and endless speculation about who might vote how, a joint session of the Legislature made blessedly quick work yesterday of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. In a State House mobbed with revved-up campaigners on both sides of the issue, lawmakers took a quarter hour to dispatch the proposal by a decisive margin. The vote was a victory for decency and civil equality, and underscored Massachusetts' long history of protecting individual rights.

[...]

Supporters of marriage equality should be proud of this Commonwealth, where a three-fourths majority of lawmakers recognizes that committed same-sex couples, like their opposite-sex counterparts, deserve the protection of the laws.

[...]

Time is on the side of equality. The state's first same-sex married couples have already celebrated their third wedding anniversaries. With each year that passes, it becomes ever clearer that the sky will not fall; that the institution of marriage has been strengthened, not weakened; and that giving everyone the right to marriage makes Massachusetts a happier place overall. [emphases added]

Over at Talk 2 Action, Frederick Clarkson commented that "The religious right lost a big one today in Massachusetts:"

Today's vote on marriage equality in Massachusetts was a crushing defeat for the religious right and all who pander to them.

The dark cloud of bigotry that has long loomed on the political horizon has been dispersed; Beacon Hill has lived up to its name -- and now stands as a shining example to the nation and to the world.

[...]

Meanwhile, the fog generated by antigay activists notwithstanding, marriage is a civil matter, licensed by the state. There are both religious and non-religious ceremonies and officiators. No religious group is required to perform any marriage, gay or strait, so the question then becomes -- why should the state recognize the marriages of one religious group and not others? Religious freedom, freedom of conscience, and equality of all citizens stands clearly on the side of equality in marriage.

The defeat of the amendment is a tremendous victory for religious freedom and separation of church and state. [emphases added]

I would just like to say "Mazel tov!" to all the happy couples; may you be joined by many, many more.


update (12:34pm):
Andrew Sullivan has some wise words for the occasion:

Two decades ago, marriage for gays was a pipe-dream. Some of us were ridiculed for even thinking of the idea. And yet here we are. Past the vicious attack from the president, past the cynical manipulation by Rove, past the cowardice of so many Democrats, past the rank hypocrisy of the Clintons, past the inertia of the Human Rights Campaign, past the false dawn in San Francisco, and the countless, countless debates and speeches and books and articles and op-eds. Yes, we have much more to do. Yes, we still have to win over those who see our loves as somehow destructive of the families we seek merely to affirm. Yes, we don't have federal recognition of our basic civic equality. Yes, in many, many states, we have been locked out of equality for a generation, because of the politics of fear and backlash. But look how far we've come. From a viral holocaust to full equality - somewhere in America, in the commonwealth where American freedom was born. In two decades. This is history. What a privilege to have witnessed it.


update 2 (3:53pm):
Paul Waldman writes at American Prospect about how public opinion on gay rights is "Marching Left," observing that "there is simply no doubt which direction opinions will continue to move:"

...issues like these show a strong "cohort effect," meaning a divide between generations that results in steady change over time. The most socially conservative Americans are the oldest, those who are now in retirement. Each successive generation is more progressive than the one before it, down to today's young people, for whom a racially and sexually diverse environment is a given. I graduated from a public high school in New Jersey in the mid-1980s, and there was not a single out gay person in my class of 500. Today, there are gay-straight alliances in schools all over the country. Those kids aren't going to become more conservative when they get older - this country is simply not going back. [emphasis added]

Hatred and fear are powerful motivators, but--eventually--an unclouded view of reality will win out. As more same-sex couples get married, more straights will see that the wingnut fear-mongering is untenable; they will see through the Right's lies, and will support the marriages of their LGBT friends and family members.

Dean, John. Conservatives Without Conscience (New York: Viking, 2006)

Dean began working on this book with the late Barry Goldwater, but was forced by circumstances to carry on alone. Even on his own--as with his previous book--Dean makes his points well. He uses Burke, de Maistre, Milgram's obedience experiment, the Jost study on "Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition," and Bob Altemeyer's RWA (Right-Wing Authoritarianism) analyses to support his conclusion that the GOP has lurched rightward into dangerously authoritarian territory. In a reversal of Reagan's famous quip about the Democratic Party, Dean didn't leave the GOP; the party left him:

Senator Goldwater's conservatism was sensible and straightforward, and therefore appealing. Given the influence he had on my thinking, as well as my admiration for him, it is not surprising that I still consider myself to be a "Goldwater conservative" on many issues. Be that as it may, while my own core beliefs have not changed significantly in the past forty years, the Grand Old Party to which I once belonged has moved so far to the right, that on the contemporary political spectrum I now often fall to the left of the Republican center. (pp. xxxii-xxxiii, Preface)

He tries to extricate conservatism from its instantiation within the GOP, writing that

Conservatism is not inherently moralistic, negative, arrogant, condescending, and self-righteous. Nor is it authoritarian. Yet all of these are adjectives that best describe the political outlook of contemporary conservatism. I make these observations not as an outsider, but as a conservative who is deeply troubled by what has become of a treasured philosophy. Conservatism has been co-opted by authoritarians, a most dangerous type of political animal. (p. xxxvii, Preface)

and dating the conflation of authoritarianism and Republicanism from about 1990:

While authoritarian conservatism was growing in force in Washington for a decade before Bush and Cheney arrived at the White House, their administration has taken it to its highest and most dangerous level in American history. (p. 117)

If one starts the clock on authoritarian conservatism with the Nixon era, as is more accurate, the single decade posited by Dean stretches four decades from then to the present. Thus, conservatism's era of dominance in Washington is about to draw to a close (and not a moment too soon). Despite being on the political pendulum's return swing, there is still great potential for damage; this description of the RWAs that make up Bush's remaining base of supporters:

"Probably about 20 to 25 percent of the adult American population is so right-wing authoritarian, so scared, so self-righteous, so ill-informed, and so dogmatic that nothing you can say or do will change their minds," Altemeyer told me. He added, "They would march America into a dictatorship and probably feel that things had improved as a result. [...] And they are so submissive to their leaders that they will believe and do virtually anything they are told. They are not going to let up and they are not going to go away." (p. 184)

Since we're stuck with them, perhaps our best course of action is to provide the conscience that they so conspicuously lack.

Media Matters and Campaign for America’s Future have released a report on American political attitudes: “The Progressive Majority: Why a Conservative America is a Myth.” The full report is here (686KB PDF), and shows that:

Media perceptions and past Republican electoral successes notwithstanding, Americans are progressive across a wide range of controversial issues, and they’re growing more progressive all the time. […] …the movement of public opinion, particularly on social issues, seems to be in one direction: to the left. O pinion on issues such as homosexuality and the role of women has grown steadily more progressive for the last few decades, while it is difficult to find an issue on which the public is more conservative now than it was 20 years ago. [emphasis added]

On general opinions about the role of government to specific economic issues (trade, taxes, unions, raising the minimum wage), liberal opinions predominate. Social issues (primarily abortion and gay rights) are often considered automatic wins for the Right, but this report shows otherwise:

The conventional wisdom poses a traditionalist “heartland,” where “mainstream” Americans reside, against a modernist, secular, liberal coastal elite out of touch with the beliefs of the real America.

Domestic issues such as gun control, energy policy, immigration, and health care follow the same general trend. The report’s conclusion looks at the disparity between Americans’ liberal attitudes and our reluctance to use the label “liberal” to identify those attitudes:

the term “liberal” has been victim of a relentless conservative marketing campaign that has succeeded at vilifying liberals and liberalism. The consequence is that only strong liberals are willing to identify as such. But many people who hold liberal issue positions call themselves moderates, or even conservatives.

CAF’s research director Eric Lotke suggests at TomPaine that, given the number of issues on which the broader public support the Left/liberal position, “It’s time for mainstream media to question whether movement conservatives, not coastal liberals, are out of the mainstream.”

Barna has issued a new report titled “Atheists and Agnostics Take Aim at Christians.” It begins with an image of a church in crosshairs, and is careful to note Christians’ fear-based claim that “the nation is becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity” due to the increasing numbers of “evangelical atheists.” This un-debunked persecution complex aside, the report does observe the following interesting data point:

One of the most fascinating insights from the research is the increasing size of the no-faith segment with each successive generation. The proportion of atheists and agnostics increases from 6% of Elders (ages 61+) and 9% of Boomers (ages 42-60), to 14% of Busters (23-41) and 19% of adult Mosaics (18-22).

Paul Waldman’s “Religion and the Threat Effect” at American Prospect takes up the thread of religious xenophobia, nothing that “even when you control for factors like party identification, the more secular people there were within a county, the more likely that people from evangelical denominations living there would vote Republican:”

The idea of religious conservatives as a surrounded minority, bravely holding the battlements of morality against an onrushing tide of cultural barbarism, is more than a convenient message that conservative pastors offer to their flocks. It is a key part of how the group defines its identity. And, critically, telling people they're under assault not only serves to keep them within the tribal borders -- it lends the entire enterprise an emotionally satisfying, even epic feel. You're not just a plumber or an insurance adjuster or a bond trader; by the very fact of believing what you do, you become a heroic warrior fighting a grand struggle against the enemies of all that is right and good.

Ask the Atheists is a fledgling site seeking to provide information about atheism and atheists (h/t: Vjack at Atheist Revolution). I would ordinarily suggest a wiki as the best way to leverage communal information of this sort, but in this case the respondents’ individual idiosyncrasies are part of the site’s charm.

Check it out!

This painting (h/t: PZ Myers at Pharyngula) almost made me spit out my coffee:

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Pekar, Harvey. The Best American Comics 2006 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006)

As guest editor of the inaugural volume of The Best American Comics, Harvey (American Splendor) Pekar chooses one page each from Rick Geary and Alison Bechdel (a DTWOF strip), some pages by Jaime Hernandez, Joe Sacco, and Gilbert Shelton, and a few longer pieces such as Justin Hall's "La Rubia Loca" and Crumb's "Walkin' the Streets." The single-page strips from Ivan Brunetti are my favorites, along with Rebecca Dart's "RabbitHead" story (pp. 105-129). She wrote "I desperately wanted to create a comic that could only be a comic and couldn't be translated into another visual form" (p. 281), and has done so quite successfully.

BAC 2006 may not quite stand up to Brunetti's Anthology, but the medium's breadth and depth continue to impress--even when limited to North American works published in English during a single year.

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Brunetti, Ivan. An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006)

For this anthology, cartoonist Ivan Brunetti chooses excerpts from classic comics both older (Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary and Maus) and newer (I Never Liked You, It's a Good Life if You Don't Weaken, and Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth). There's plenty of underground/alternative work, as well: Lynda Barry, Mark Beyer, Peter Bagge, Charles Burns...and that's just the Bs.

Art Spiegelman's rumination on Peanuts in "Abstract Thought Is a Warm Puppy"--one of several tributes to Charles Schulz--is one of the book's highlights, along with Robert Crumb's ever-delightful "A Short History of America." Jaime Hernandez's "Flies on the Ceiling" may be the best piece in the book, which is quite a compliment given the other contributions.

This collection is perfect for that empty spot on your bookshelf next to McSweeney's #13.

Robert Bork sued the Yale Club for a slip-and-fall injury he had last year. CarpetBagger Report has this to say:

Of course, what makes this precious is that Bork is a long-time advocate of “tort reform,” which would limit the right of injured people to file exactly these kinds of suits.

It’s also a reminder that the key to social progress in the United States is to get conservatives to have more life experiences. They’re against gay rights, until someone close to them is gay. They’re against separation of church and state, until they feel like the minority faith. They’re against rights for the accused, until they’re charged with a crime. They’re against personal-injury lawsuits, until they get hurt in an accident. They’re against…

Gordy Slack looks “Inside the Creation Museum” at Slate. Ken Ham, the force behind the museum, claims that “belief in every word of the Bible can be defended by modern science,” but his quote appears to be missing a word:

“Belief in every word of the Bible can be defended by ignoring modern science.”

Slack notes that “Astronomy, geology and evolution, as they are commonly understood in mainstream science, have no place here,” a point taken up by this Ars Technica review (h/t: Devilstower at Daily Kos), which deplores “the US creationist movement and its attack on science.” The Ars Technica photos are interesting, especially the image of a saddled Triceratops!

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Ronald Aronson’s “The New Atheists” at The Nation calls the recent deluge of atheist books “a remarkable intellectual wave,” noting that “the four [Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens] have become must-read writers:”

Each man is at war, writing as if no others had preceded him, and with a passion that can only be described as political.

Above all, each sees himself as breaking a taboo. This explains not only the vigor and urgency of these books, their mainstream character and their publishing success but also the common refrain in reviews that they have "gone too far." Of course they have, because their many faults are often inseparable from their strengths.

Stephen Benjamin was an Arabic translator for the Navy until he was discharged for being gay; he has an op-ed entitled “Don’t Ask, Don’t Translate” in today’s NYT where he takes aim at the legacy of Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” compromise:

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” does nothing but deprive the military of talent it needs and invade the privacy of gay service members just trying to do their jobs and live their lives. Political and military leaders who support the current law may believe that homosexual soldiers threaten unit cohesion and military readiness, but the real damage is caused by denying enlistment to patriotic Americans and wrenching qualified individuals out of effective military units. This does not serve the military or the nation well.

Consider: more than 58 Arabic linguists have been kicked out since “don’t ask, don’t tell” was instituted. How much valuable intelligence could those men and women be providing today to troops in harm’s way?

In addition to those translators, 11,000 other service members have been ousted since the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was passed by Congress in 1993. Many held critical jobs in intelligence, medicine and counterterrorism. An untold number of closeted gay military members don’t re-enlist because of the pressure the law puts on them. This is the real cost of the ban — and, with our military so overcommitted and undermanned, it’s too high to pay.

This IHT article about the integrated British armed forces reminds us that:

At least 24 countries - many of them allies of the United States, and some of them members of the coalition forces fighting alongside Americans - now allow gays to serve openly in their armed forces.

John at AmericaBlog asks the pertinent question:

What matters more to you - keeping gays out of the military or stopping the next September 11?

We know what the GOP’s answer is: They are unwilling to compromise their bigotry.

Will the Democrats in Congress finally end DADT?

Jon Weiner interviewed Christopher Hitchens at TruthDig, but there’s nothing much worthwhile there other than Hitchens’ reference to the Old Testament god as a “permanent, unalterable dictatorship.”

Nancy Greggs has written “Why I Don't Believe in the GOP's God” at DU (h/t: Sarah at Corrente Wire), a poignant reminder that the real moral divide in American isn’t between theists and atheists. We share a moral commonality that is both unexpected by and all-but-incomprehensible to the Christianist Right extremists.

Glenn Greenwald writes about how the GOP faithful are distancing themselves from Dear Leader Bush for his failures. Try as they do to paint the Bush travesty on an insufficient fealty to conservative principles, it is those principles that have led to the worst presidency in our history:

The great fraud being perpetrated in our political discourse is the concerted attempt by movement conservatives, now that the Bush presidency lay irreversibly in ruins, to repudiate George Bush by claiming that he is not, and never has been, a "real conservative." This con game is being perpetrated by the very same conservatives who -- when his presidency looked to be an epic success -- glorified George W. Bush, ensured both of his election victories, depicted him as the heroic Second Coming of Ronald Reagan, and celebrated him as the embodiment of True Conservatism.

[…]

There is really only one thing that has changed about George W. Bush from the 2002-2004 era when conservatives hailed him as the Great Conservative Leader, and now. Whereas Bush was a wildly popular leader then, which made conservatives eager to claim him as their Standard-Bearer, he is now one of the most despised presidents in U.S. history, and conservatives are thus desperate to disassociate themselves from the President for whom they are solely responsible. It is painfully obvious there is nothing noble, substantive or principled driving this right-wing outburst; it is a pure act of self-preservation.

As with everything Greenwald writes, it’s worth reading the whole thing. Also look for his upcoming book, A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, to be released on June 26.

Dennis Prager issued an extended whine about seeing a “BUCK FUSH” bumpersticker, spinning slightly humorous wordplay into a rant about liberals’ offensiveness.

He contradicts himself, however, in stating that “you almost never hear a conservative say ‘I am offended’ when reacting to a liberal speaker or writer.” Although Prager never uses the words “I am offended,” his entire piece is nothing more than a long-winded claim of offense against another driver’s political opinion. Prager wants his version of propriety obeyed, but eagerly claims to be oppressed by “political correctness” when the situation is reversed. See this vintage whine (discussed here, here, and here) for one such example.

In the eyes of liberals, anti-Clinton bumperstickers were ignored as simply offensive idiocy; when conservatives’ delicate sensibilities are challenged, however, the downfall of civilization itself is feared to be imminent. Prager objects to “narcissism,” “contempt for society,” and “defacement of the public square,” but never notices the contradiction at the heart of his complaint.

Cenk Uygur wonders how Bush can sleep at night, given the chaos he has created in Iraq. Uygur lists Bush’s “hideous combination of conceits:”

He has the ego that drives him to want to be the top man. He has the arrogance to think that he his qualified. But he has the laziness that makes him not want to actually do the job. He has the insecurity that makes him want to cover up his faults. He has the smallness of character that will not concede his weaknesses and seek out help. He has the hubris to think that he could cover up all this, run the world into the ground and think that people won't notice. How has the world fallen into the grasp of this tiny, tiny man?

George W. Bush is the perfect storm of character flaws. Not only does he bring all of these horrible traits together at once, but he does at the worst possible time in the worst possible position. The president of the United States of America has to be the most competent person on earth. And somehow the exact opposite has snuck in to that role.

For the love of all that is holy and important, let us please pick the most competent person next time for this position. I don't want to have a beer with our next president. I want him or her to be intellectually superior to me. They should be the best among us, not appeal to the worst in us. They have to be smart, hard working, full of character and perhaps, above all, be someone that cares about the job.

With even many Republicans recognizing the last two elections’ errors, one hopes we will not make a mistake of that magnitude again.

Christopher Hitchens’ brother Peter, playing contrarian to the contrarian, has a piece in the Daily Mail (h/t: Friendly Atheist). Peter accuses Christopher of “circular absolutism,” states that a conscience without god is impossible, and contends that atheists “worship […] self and power.” In each case, his drive to defend faith leads him astray. If that weren’t bad enough, he’s as pedestrian a writer as his brother is an intriguing one.

Doug Giles has written one of the most inane pieces I’ve ever seen at TownHall, and that’s quite a feat. His piece “Why God Needs the Atheists” tries to be folksy and funny, but his attempt to stretch comments about the alleged “nihilistic existence of the atheists” and our “incredible, though non-religious, belief and zeal” never gets beyond parody and pandering.

When Giles remarks that atheists’ “full throttle defiance of the Creator helps me to shore up aspects of my Christianity that are illogical, insipid and inconsistent,” one wishes he would take a similar look at his inability to compose an op-ed piece. Giles mentions Christopher Hitchens and Bill Maher, observing that:

“these men and their provocative questions, egregious and oft times’ erroneous assaults and merciless diatribes drive me to take stock of what I supposedly believe and what I do as a believer.”

He then issues his own erroneous assault by denouncing atheists’ “old and already-been-answered questions” and “their tired quips.” In fact, our main questions remain unanswered and our quips can only be considered “tired” by virtue of their remaining unaddressed.

Giles has a great deal more “shoring up” to do if he ever intends to “run circles around the anti-God crowd;” continuing to relying on Pascal’s Wager is intellectual laziness, not rigor.

Robert Spencer has begun Blogging the Koran at Hot Air, modeled after David Plotz’s Blogging the Bible feature at Slate. Spencer’s work appears to be both well-informed and well-written. I plan to follow along with my edition of Pickthall’s translation, which is online here.

For all those who still remember the statement from geometry that an angle cannot be trisected with a compass and straightedge, there is good news: it can be done via origami (h/t: One Good Move).

Campaign to Defend the Constitution has a Café Press store mocking the recently opened Creation Museum; here is my favorite image:

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Good stuff!

George Will attempts to explain “why America has two parties and why the conservative one is preferable,” but he fails on both counts. Greg Anrig deconstructs Will’s arguments at TPM Café, and succeeds where Will fails. Anrig not only proves that liberalism is preferable to conservatism by countering Will’s rhetoric with facts, but has enough snark left to note that Will:

…is reciting exactly the same rigmarole that he and other conservatives have repeated since before Reagan was president, as though the failures of conservatives to deliver on their promises while in power during most of the interim somehow isn’t germane to the discussion.

Bravo!

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