August 2010 Archives

The furious fulminations of the Teabagger movement [about which I'll have more to say later] demonstrate their passionate intensity, to be sure--but to what end? Certainly not either knowledge or the desire to obtain it--more like a rabid determination to maintain their myths at all costs, fervently praying to keep the reality-based community at bay. The Onion's take on the anti-intellectual know-nothings demonstrates yet again the power of satire:

When told that the proposed "Ground Zero mosque" is actually a community center two blocks north of the site that would include, in addition to a public prayer space, a 500-seat auditorium, a restaurant, and athletic facilities, Gentries shook his head and said, "I know all I'm going to let myself know."

Gentries explained that it "didn't take long" to find out as much about the tenets of Islam as he needed to. [...] "All Muslims are at war with America, and I will resist any attempt to challenge that assertion with potentially illuminating facts," said Gentries, who threatened to leave the room if presented with the number of Muslims who live peacefully in the United States, serve in the country's armed forces, or were victims themselves of the 9/11 attacks. "Period."

[...]

Over the past decade, Gentries said he has taken pains to avoid personal interactions or media that might have the potential to compromise his point of view. He told reporters that the closest he had come to confronting a contrary standpoint was tuning in to the first few seconds of an interview with a moderate Muslim cleric before hastily turning off the television.

"I almost gave in and listened to that guy defend Islam with words I didn't want to hear," Gentries said. "But then I remembered how much easier it is to live in a world of black-and-white in which I can assign the label of 'other' to someone and use him as a vessel for all my fears and insecurities."

Added Gentries, "That really put things back into perspective."

The more you know, the more you realize that wingnuts are full of shit--but the less believable you are to them because, on a fundamental level, they don't trust intellectuals. Any of the associated trappings--formal education, intellectual curiosity, basic erudition, or a willingness to research dubious assertions rather than accept them as gospel--are likely to make their minds snap shut faster than a Venus Flytrap.

Paul Waldman looks at today's know-nothings, writing in "They're with Stupid" that Teabaggers need constant reminders that "the elite at whom they need to be angry is not the economic elite:"

No, the elite scorned by the blue-collar poseurs is the cultural elite, the college professors and cosmopolitan urban dwellers, the know-it-alls who are insufficiently contemptuous of foreigners and insufficiently devoted to your religion. [...] Experts and the highly educated can and do make plenty of mistakes, of course. But the anti-intellectual stance presumes that those with detailed knowledge of things like policy are morally inferior to those who would rather feel things than know things.

Their privileging of revelation over reason is but one of the problems to which they succumb--but one that affects many of their interactions.

Koch's suckers

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NYT's Frank Rich exposes "The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea [Baggers'] Party" notes that "There's just one element missing from these snapshots of America's ostensibly spontaneous and leaderless populist uprising: the sugar daddies who are bankrolling it." Jane Mayer's exposé of the Koch brothers and their Teabagger Astroturf efforts in the New Yorker is a must-read explanation of these sibling sugar daddies (not quite unknown, but relatively obscure). Mayer opens with a vignette of David Koch at a black-tie gala, observing that "In Washington, Koch is best known as part of a family that has repeatedly funded stealth attacks on the federal government, and on the Obama Administration in particular:"

With his brother Charles, who is seventy-four, David Koch owns virtually all of Koch Industries, a conglomerate, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, whose annual revenues are estimated to be a hundred billion dollars. [...] Forbes ranks it as the second-largest private company in the country, after Cargill, and its consistent profitability has made David and Charles Koch--who, years ago, bought out two other brothers--among the richest men in America. Their combined fortune of thirty-five billion dollars is exceeded only by those of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry--especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers' corporate interests. [...] Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies--from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program--that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.

Their father Fred was a founding member of the rabidly anti-communist John Birch Society, and the sons became activists as well. Mayer was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air, noting that "in the past 30 years, they've funneled more than $100 million into dozens of political organizations." As noted in the article, Koch funding got the libertarian Cato Institute off the ground, and their current front groups [Citizens for a Sound Economy, now known as FreedomWorks; Americans for Prosperity; the anti-healthcare-reform Patients United Now] are mainstays of the Teabagger movement. This passage is an example of ideological blindness at its most ironic:

An advertisement cast the event [a Teabagger training session in Texas] as a populist uprising against vested corporate power. "Today, the voices of average Americans are being drowned out by lobbyists and special interests," it said. "But you can do something about it." The pitch made no mention of its corporate funders.

ThinkProgress notes that the Koch brothers are not unique, as conservative groups plan to spend $400 million on the midterm elections. The results of the 2006 and 2008 elections were disliked by various segments of the plutocratic oligarchy, and they're using the Citizens United one-dollar-one-vote maxim to regain control. Americans for Prosperity (one of the Koch front groups) is being sued for violation of non-profit electioneering laws, although the article notes that complaints about tax-code violations "are not uncommon" because "the line between overt political campaigning and 'voter education' under the law is notoriously fuzzy."

Fuzzy...just like Astroturf.

QOTD

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I don't think any of my reading today is going to produce a gem of greater brilliance than this, so I'm posting an early Quote of the Day:

"Only in our lifetime has running become associated with pain and injury; if you search history, folklore, and mythology, you'll find that prior to our generation, running was always associated with freedom, vitality, and enduring youth."
Christopher (Born to Run) McDougall

Jonny Thakkar writes at The Point that "Conservatives Should Read Marx" (h/t: Arts & Letters Daily) suggesting that "conservatives can be stupid by not taking Marx seriously."

"If they want to be consistent," writes Thakkar, "conservatives ought really to be anti-capitalist" because "to the degree that technological change is built into capitalism, so must institutional change be. In every single generation certain institutions will become obsolete, and with them their attendant practices and values." As defenders of the status quo, conservatives should be particularly wary of the rapid change driven by capitalism, but this obvious observation seems to have been buried by their reliance on market fundamentalist theory. Thakkar makes the point that, Republican rhetoric aside, our life experiences with unaccountable bureaucracies stem more from corporations than from government:

"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help'," Ronald Reagan famously said. He must have led a sheltered existence, but in any case it is worth asking when this has ever happened to anyone. The closest most of us come to opaque, arbitrary and unwieldy bureaucracy is with insurance or telecommunications companies. The scariest nine words might actually be spoken by the faceless operatives of my far from local and earth-sprung health insurer: "I'm going to transfer you to the correct department."

I'm surely pushing my luck with two reading lists in a single day, but the number of pro-communist books that have appeared since the crash suggests that we should all try to understand non-capitalist economics:

Badiou, Alain. The Communist Hypothesis

Bensaid, Daniel. Marx for Our Times

Harvey, David. Companion to Marx's Capital

Zizek, Slavoj. The Idea of Communism [8 November]

Of course, some will prefer to avoid learning out of fear that they'll have to change their current opinions. They can continue calling everything they don't like (or don't understand) "socialism" or "communism," demonstrating their lack of comprehension with every ALL-CAPS rant and misspelled sign. I suspect that today's Teabagger rally will provide numerous examples.

Jillian Rayfield mentioned at TPM that some Teabaggers plan to read the Constitution. (The president of Let Freedom Ring, Colin Hanna, said he expects that "90% to 95% of the people who attend will not have read the Constitution before.")

So many possible jokes, so little time...You can even visit their I've Read It! page to fill out a form to receive "a certificate that identifies you as a Constitutional Patriot."

It will be wonderful for them to find out that our Constitution is vastly different from O'Reilly's rants, Coulter's screeches, and Beck's scribbles. (I wonder how many Teabaggers will get through the Preamble without calling the Founders closet socialists..."All that stuff about 'We the People' and 'the general Welfare' doesn't sound like anything I've heard on Fox Noise!")

And yes, I'm just obnoxious enough to suggest some supplementary reading

Rakove, Jack. The Annotated U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence

Monk, Linda. The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution

Lipsky, Seth. The Citizen's Constitution: An Annotated Guide

to counteract their obvious choice of either the Heritage Foundation's Guide to the Constitution or Regnery's Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution. (Offering extra credit for reading the Federalist Papers would probably indicate an unrealistic optimism.)

Crooks and Liars points out one area in which the GOP is a strong proponent of recycling--their economic rhetoric:

With Democrats proposing to set the top two income tax rates at 36% and 39.6% respectively, Republican leaders waged a ferocious battle on behalf of the wealthiest American taxpayers. Former House Majority Leader and current Tea Party moneyman Dick Armey warned, "This program will not give you deficit reduction." Ohio's John Kasich cautioned, "It's our bet that this is a job killer." And for his part, 2012 White House hopeful Newt Gingrich promised, "This is the Democrat machine's recession, and each one of them will be held personally accountable."

As it turns out, the year was 1993, not 2010. At issue was President Bill Clinton's $496 billion program of stimulus and upper income tax increases. And what Republicans then decried as disaster ushered in the longest economic expansion in modern American history, a period which produced 23 million new jobs and a balanced budget.

Like a malfunctioning cuckoo clock that squawks "Tax cuts! Tax cuts!" in both good times and bad, the GOP is recycling their old inaccurate rhetoric. They were wrong then, they're wrong now, and we shouldn't let them forget it.

blasphemy!

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Streetwear design firm Eshe Brand has a series of "Religion Is Garbage" images (h/t: PZ Myers at Pharyngula) that many people will find offensive:

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As a Pastafarian, I have to say that this yet-to-be-released image is especially bothersome:

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Blasphemy!

Turn Off Fox

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A new campaign called Turn Off Fox (h/t: James Rucker at Crooks and Liars) to get public TVs turned away from Fox's GOPropaganda, and hopes to "reduce Fox's ability to poison our political conversations and divide our country:"

And we will send a powerful message: that this country will support media that informs us, sheds light on the problems we face, and inspires us to solve them together -- not deceptive propaganda that plays on fear and paranoia, spreads confusion and falsehoods, exploits our divisions, and pits us against each other.

Passing out their "Case Against Fox" flyer (PDF) to local businesses and having discussion about media issues may have an effect--give it a try!

Grantbridge Street reprinted this spectacular image from Superman-Batman #75:

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(Brian Azzarello/Lee Bermejo)

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Hitchens, Christopher. The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (London: Verso, 1995)

Tomorrow would have been Mother Teresa's 100th birthday, a fact that is widely evident in our religion-friendly society. Not only does Time magazine have a special commemorative issue in her honor, the USPS will issue a postage stamp featuring her. Amid the adulation, voices of dissent are nonetheless occasionally evident. With the 1995 publication of Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, iconoclastic writer Christopher Hitchens aimed a book-length broadside at the Catholic nun who had been all but free from critical examination.

From the first sentence, Missionary Position strives to justify its very existence, asking "Who will be so base as to pick on a wizened, shriveled old lady, well stricken in years, who has consecrated her entire life to the needy and the destitute?" (p. xi, Foreword) The average person will wonder just what is objectionable about Mother Teresa, who has been all but sanctified in the corporate media for her charity work. In the not-quite-100 pages of Missionary Position, Hitchens borrows heavily from his three-part "Hell's Angel" video (parts one, two, and three) in laying out a case against MT not just for her counter-productive crusades against abortion and contraception, but for providing substandard medical care (especially when it comes to pain-relief medication), accepting vast financial donations that are hoarded instead of used for their intended purpose, and associating with an assortment of dictators (Haiti's notorious Duvalier family) cultists (John-Roger) and other crooks who were willing to offer indulgence-like donations to MT's operations. Here is a photo of her with a million-dollar donor:

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In the book, this photo is captioned: "Mother Teresa with Charles Keating, the convicted Savings & Loan swindler from whom she received over a million dollars. In return, she sent a personal plea for Keating's clemency to the trial judge." More devastating than her letter was the reply from a District Attorney:

"Ask yourself what Jesus would do if he were given the fruits of a crime; what Jesus would do if he were in possession of money that had been stolen... [...] I submit that Jesus would promptly and unhesitatingly return the stolen property to its rightful owners. You should do the same. [...] If you contact me I will put you in direct contact with the rightful owners of the property now in your possession." (p. 70, Deputy DA Paul Turley)

Mother Teresa declined to either respond to the letter or to return the stolen money, but her money-hoarding appears to have been a consistent problem. Susan Shields (who was quoted by Hitchens) worked for Mother Teresa for nearly a decade, before becoming disillusioned enough to leave. She wrote in "Mother Teresa's House of Illusions" (Free Inquiry) that "there are many who generously have supported her work because they do not realize how her twisted premises strangle efforts to alleviate misery. Unaware that most of the donations sit unused in her bank accounts, they too are deceived into thinking they are helping the poor." Hitchens addresses this point several times in the text:

Without an audit, it is impossible to say with certainty what becomes of Mother Teresa's hoards of money, but it is possible to say what the true purpose and nature of the order is, and to what end the donations are accepted in the first place. (p. 47)

Nobody has troubled to total the amount of prize money received from governments and quasi-government organizations by the Missionaries of Charity, and nobody has ever asked what became of the funds. It is safe to say, however, that if all the money had been used on one project it would have been possible, say, to give Calcutta the finest teaching hospital in the entire Third World. (p. 63)

Dr Robin Fox wrote in Lancet on 17 September 1994 that "Along with the neglect of diagnosis, the lack of good analgesia marks Mother Teresa's approach as clearly separate from the hospice movement." (p. 39) Despite "immense quantities of money and material," Hitchens observes that Mother Teresa's Calcutta operation "is as he [Fox] described it because that is how Mother Teresa wishes it to be. The neglect of what is commonly understood as proper medicine or care is not a superficial contradiction. It is the essence of the endeavor, the same essence that is evident in a cheerful sign which has been filmed on the wall of Mother Teresa's morgue. It reads 'I am going to heaven today'." (p. 39) The preference for proselytization over palliative care was endemic under MT's rule. As noted by Susan Shields, this extended to surreptitious religious ceremonies:

"In the homes for the dying, Mother taught the sisters how to secretly baptize those who were dying. [...] The sister was then to pretend she was just cooling the person's forehead with a wet cloth, while in fact she was baptizing him, saying quietly the necessary words. Secrecy was important so that it would not become known that Mother Teresa's sisters were baptizing Hindus and Moslems." (p. 48)

I was somewhat disappointed with the book's brevity; I wasn't expecting Missionary Position to provide equivalent argumentative rigor to Hitchens' The Trial of Henry Kissinger, but some of the arguments were lacking in depth. Even in its diminutive form, this book drove Bill (Catholic League) Donohue to near apoplexy. In "Hating Mother Teresa," Donohue asks, "Why does Hitchens hate Mother Teresa?" and suggests that "because he is a determined atheist, he cannot come to terms with Mother Teresa's spirituality and the millions who adore her. More than this, it is her Catholicism that drives him mad." Donohue makes much of MT's letter to Charles Keating's judge, but doesn't mention the DA's request that MT return the stolen money. (Also interesting is Donohue's excoriation of Hitchens for allegedly making "cheap ad hominem attacks" when his own critique was filled with such attacks against Hitchens--but ideologically-induced blindness seems to be one of Donohue's strengths.) Among many others, this complaint stands out:

An unrelenting secularist, [Hitchens] cannot comprehend how Mother Teresa can console the terminally ill by saying, "You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you."

That statement would only qualify as consolation if the dying person in question is Christian--a religion that comprises about 2% of Calcutta's population. I suspect that medical care--or at least adequate use of painkillers--would have been far more a consolation for this person, who responded that MT should "please tell him to stop kissing me." Hitchens continued, in a passage that Donohue is assuming his flock won't read:

There are many people in the direst need and pain who have had cause to wish, in their own extremity, that Mother Teresa was less free with her own metaphysical caresses and a little more attentive to actual suffering. (pp. 41-42)

Donohue is also annoyed that the Empire State Building wouldn't add a MT tribute to their lighting schedule. It's nice to see that not everyone complies when Catholic groups issue demands for special treatment for Mother Teresa--although they are free to do so within their own ranks. In 2003, Hitchens wrote in "Mommie Dearest" (Slate) that Mother Teresa's fast-tracked beatification was "the elevation and consecration of extreme dogmatism, blinkered faith, and the cult of a mediocre human personality:"

Many more people are poor and sick because of the life of MT: Even more will be poor and sick if her example is followed. She was a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud, and a church that officially protects those who violate the innocent has given us another clear sign of where it truly stands on moral and ethical questions.

While not specifically addressing Mother Teresa, this paragraph by Ebonmuse at Daylight Atheism sums up my attitude toward both the Catholic Church in general and its more notorious apologists:

Whatever humanitarian work [the Church] performs, it's more than counterbalanced by the real and serious harm that Catholic teachings do: teaching medieval, misogynist notions of female inferiority; exacerbating poverty, overpopulation and AIDS by opposing contraception; opposing abortion even for raped children, or when the alternative is the near-certain death of the mother; battling tenaciously against civil rights for gay and lesbian couples; trying to dictate to parishioners how they should vote; trying to stifle life-saving stem-cell research; and last but certainly not least, the conspiracy of silence among the hierarchy to protect and shelter child rapists and abusers worldwide. There are plenty of secular groups that do just as much good for the needy without spreading these poisonous memes.

Keith Olbermann parodied the breathless bullshit of right-wing exposés with this take on their latest manufactured mendacity: Obama's "secret Islamic faith."

The most on-target satire in the video is the assertion that Obama "engineered the divorce of his own parents to prevent people from learning that his father was Muslim:"

To keep up appearances, Obama cleverly violated his Islamic faith whenever he could, fooling everyone by: never going to Mecca, breaking the fast of Ramadan, eating pork and drinking alcohol, having a Christian wedding, baptizing his children, worshipping at Christian churches--for decades.

Remember: one American in five believes claims like this when they come from talk radio, or Fox Noise, or the op-ed pages.

Today is National Trail Running Day; I've participated already (a little 8-mile jaunt through a park, a few detours onto some nice single-tracks through the woods, and along a utility road) and I'd like to suggest that others do the same.

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Here are the NTRD's "8 Reasons to go Trail Running:"

1. Strengthens your leg muscles that road running does not.
2. Improves balance and agility from running on uneven surfaces.
3. Increases your mental toughness.
4. Biophillia - humans want to be close to nature. Trail Running increases your time in nature.
5. The primal thrill of using your body for what it was made to do, be a long distance, all-terrain vehicle.
6. Reduces injury because running on soft surfaces is better for you joints. Also, the differing steps do not put as much stress on certain parts of your body.
7. Less traffic and cleaner air.
8. Running in the shade is cooler, allowing you to run longer distances and get a better overall work out.

Don't wait--get out there!

TPM has a brief look at the "Plato Code" hypothesis. "Scholarly reaction has been cautious but far from dismissive," noting that "The debate, already lively on scholarly blogs, looks set to continue."

There will be an analysis in the next issue of TPM; I can't wait!

DailyMash has a great piece on "Outrage over plans to build library next to Sarah Palin" (h/t: EvanHurst at Truth Wins Out):

PLANS to build a state-of-the-art library next to Republican catastrophe Sarah Palin are causing outrage across mainstream America.

Campaigners have described the project as insensitive and a deliberate act of provocation by people with brains.

The issue is forming a dividing line in advance of November's mid-term congressional elections with candidates being forced to declare whether they have ever been to a library or spoken to someone who has books in their home.

Meanwhile President Obama has caused unease within his own Democratic party by endorsing the library and claiming that not everyone who reads books is responsible for calling Mrs Palin a fuckwit nutjob nightmare of a human being.

But Bill McKay, a leading member of the right-wing Teapot movement [...] added: "Our founding fathers intended for every building in this country to be a church containing one book, written by Jesus, that would be read out in a strange voice by an orange man in a shiny suit who would also tell you who you were allowed to kill.

"Building a library next to Mrs Palin is like Pearl Harbour. Or 9/11."

Alexander (Common Nonsense) Zaitchik's AlterNet piece on "Top 10 Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories" notes that "[s]cholars continue to debate the psychological and sociological origins of conspiracy theories, but there is no arguing that these theories have seen a revival on the extreme right in recent years:"

Here is a compilation of 10 of the most popular conspiracy theories currently circulating on the radical right and, increasingly, on points of the political spectrum much too close to the center for comfort.

1. Chemtrails

2. Martial Law

3. FEMA Concentration Camps

4. Foreign Troops on U.S. Soil

5. 'Door-to-Door' Gun Confiscations

6. 9/11 as Government Plot

7. Population Control

8. HAARP

9. The Federal Reserve Conspiracy

10. The North American Union

The Rashomon Republicans are bringing the craziness, calling Park51 "Obama's mosque" and generally cranking up their alternate-reality rhetoric to 11 as they prepare for the midterm elections. In "The Bare Minimum for Public Discourse," Steve Benen takes aim at a recent Newsweek cover, captioned "A Mosque at Ground Zero?"

Of those five words, four are wrong -- it's not a mosque, and it's not "at" Ground Zero. American news consumers who only casually keep up on current events very likely walked by Newsweek at the check-out aisle and started to form an opinion, unaware that the only accurate word in the headline was "a."

It's a reminder of one of the most painful aspects of our discourse: we're constantly having debates over issues that exist only in the imagination of deceptive conservative hacks, who happen to excel at propaganda. There are, for example, no "death panels." "Terror babies" don't exist. There's no such thing as a "death tax."

Benen points out of the "Ground Zero Mosque" that "it's not at Ground Zero, it's not a mosque, and even characterizing it as two blocks away is generous:"

The community won't be "in the shadow" of Ground Zero; it won't even be visible from Ground Zero. [...] Everything about this debate is largely a sham, cooked up by conservatives who hope to pit Americans against each other in advance of an election cycle.

The bare minimum of a sensible, constructive public discourse is a base of reality to build upon. At this point, we're not even close.

Today's example of this problem is the Pew study "Growing Numbers of Americans Say Obama Is a Muslim" (PDF) which notes, depressingly, that "nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) now say Obama is a Muslim, up from 11% in March 2009:"

The view that Obama is a Muslim is more widespread among his political opponents than among his backers. Roughly a third of conservative Republicans (34%) say Obama is a Muslim, as do 30% of those who disapprove of Obama's job performance. [...] The belief that Obama is a Muslim has increased most sharply among Republicans (up 14 points since 2009), especially conservative Republicans (up 16 points).

Brendan Nyhan examines this problem at HuffPo, adding a note that:

Time conducted a survey this week (August 16-17) which found similarly disturbing results. Using different question wording and response options, they found that 24% of Americans believe Obama is Muslim...


update:
In his piece "'The Other' in the White House," Will Bunch asks:

Just as happened several years ago with the bogus conflation of Iraq and the 9/11 attacks, we are seeing misinformation grow in a nation with the most pervasive if not the most sophisticated news media in the world. So how does this happen?

Perhaps his memory is short, because he answered that question in his previous post "America's war on 'the other':"

Let's face it: This country has long had its Know-Nothings and its Birchers and its McCarthyites, but it never had gizmos like Fox News or Sarah Palin's Twitter feed to fuel toxic ideas so far so fast. It's time we admit these seemingly disconnected battles over "anchor babies, mosques, and a black man in the Oval Office are all part of the same war against "the Other," and that we are in the fight of a lifetime.

Paul Rosenberg's piece "Blaming the victims for market failure" at OpenLeft takes a hard look at Newt's misrepresentation of unemployment insurance as "welfare," and how he misdirects culpability from systemic economic problems to those who have suffered the ill effects of the Great Recession:

Cold-hearted narcissists like Gingrich will never be capable of walking a mile in the shoes of the millions of Americans facing the reality of unemployment, or other forms of real economic hardship. Nor will simple-minded moral fantasists like Ginrich ever be convinced by arguments that point to complex causality. But many of those taken in by their fairy-tale economic fantasies could be wooed away to a more realistic point of view if they were made aware of how fundamentally flawed the "free market" mythology actually is...

Orthodox conservatives seem unable to understand that things such as speculative bubbles, lax lending standards, widespread bankruptcies, a foreclosure crisis, and high structural unemployment exist BECAUSE THE MARKET HAS FAILED. Keynesian stimulus, extended unemployment benefits, and welfare programs are necessary BECAUSE THE MARKET HAS FAILED. Pretending that liberals are expanding the federal government's efforts without justification is simply ludicrous: government must pick up the economic slack BECAUSE THE MARKET HAS FAILED. Claiming that the market is perfect and will solve our economic problems is a willful denial of reality in favor of theory--and MARKET FUNDAMENTALISM HAS FAILED, TOO.

In case you haven't heard, Right Wing News surveyed a bunch of conservative bloggers for their input on The 25 Worst Figures in American History. Here are the results:

23) Saul Alinsky
23) Bill Clinton
23) Hillary Clinton
19) Michael Moore
19) George Soros
19) Alger Hiss
19) Al Sharpton
13) Al Gore
13) Noam Chomsky
13) Richard Nixon
13) Jane Fonda
13) Harry Reid
13) Nancy Pelosi
11) John Wilkes Booth
11) Margaret Sanger
9) Aldrich Ames
9) Timothy McVeigh
7) Ted Kennedy
7) Lyndon Johnson
5) Benedict Arnold
5) Woodrow Wilson
4) The Rosenbergs
3) Franklin Delano Roosevelt
2) Barack Obama
1) Jimmy Carter

The idea of listing a traitor, an assassin, and a few mid-century [alleged] spies on a list largely populated by liberal politicians is ludicrous. That they included Tim McVeigh [but not other right-wing domestic terrorists such as Ted Kaczynski and Eric Rudolph] and Richard Nixon as token conservatives is another (very slight) nod toward reality. David Weigel at Slate writes that "if this small list and small sample size reveal anything, it's...that these bloggers have a sort of cartoonish view of history." Jonathan Bernstein notes the Southern bias:

What strikes me as odd isn't the elected officials; it's the traitors: Benedict Arnold, the Rosenbergs, Aldrich Ames, and Alger Hiss all show up on the list, although not Jefferson Davis.

Professor Bainbridge writes that the list is "pretty much of a joke. It reflects the partisan passions of the moment, not anything resembling a serious verdict of history." Bainbridge recognizes the Civil War as "the worst act of collective treason in our history," and "gave it high priority" in his own far more sensible--although still biased--list (which even includes Confederate traitors Jefferson Davis and Bedford Forrest). There was also a partial rebuttal (or should that be a "refudiation"?) from National Review, where Jim Geraghty notes that "most of the modern political figures look ridiculous when we compare their actions to some of America's most really notorious figures:"

No Al Capone? No Machine Gun Kelly or the Lindbergh baby kidnappers?

No Jefferson Davis or anyone else associated with the Confederacy beyond John Wilkes Booth? Speaking of presidential assassins, no Lee Harvey Oswald? (Oh, I know, I know, he was the fall guy for the big conspiracy.) Aaron Burr gets a pass for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel?

Isn't Johnny Walker Lindh or Robert Hanssen a more clear-cut case than Jane Fonda or either of the Clintons?

No Charles Manson? Come on. You're really telling me Al Sharpton and Michael Moore outrank somebody like Jeffrey Dahmer, who ate people? Race-baiting and rabble-rousing outrank cannibalism?

No Jim Jones (cult leader, not national security adviser) or David Koresh?

Not one villain from America's business world? No ruthless layoff king like "Chainsaw Al" Dunlap? No Ken Lay? Bernie Madoff couldn't reach the top 20?

Ed Brayton points out that the list "reveals much about the hyper-partisanship of those bloggers. While there are a few obvious bad guys on the list, much of it is made up of Democratic politicians and liberal thinkers with whom they disagree." Brayton goes on to decry the absence of "a single vote for those who ordered the Ludlow massacre or any of the other shocking examples of union-busting violence by corporations and the government," but that sounds like the raving of some pinko who has read too much Howard Zinn. (Speaking of Zinn, why isn't he on the list? He even has the taint of Hollywood liberalism due to that mention in Good Will Hunting. Wouldn't an academic with a celebrity affiliation be like a two-bagger for the Teabaggers?)

I'm not inclined to try putting together a more realistic list, but that doesn't mean I haven't thought about it. Benedict Arnold is a good choice, but he should be joined by Civil War traitors (Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee), mass murderer Henry Kissinger, media titans Rupert (Faux) Murdoch, Rev Sun Myung (Washington Times) Moon, along with some hyper-paranoid Cold-War-era anti-Communists (Robert Welch, Joe McCarthy, and J Edgar Hoover), and failed presidents (James Buchanan, Herbert Hoover, W).

Thoughts?

satire of the day

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With the brilliant piece "Please forgive me for the actions of extremists I have never met who commit acts of violence that I have never advocated," Slacktivist has provided my Satire of the Day. Or month. Maybe year. (Yes, it's that good.)

Go read it right now; you can thank me later.

...as to have a groupie like this (h/t: Edan Lepucki at The Millions):

This video from incendiary infidel Pat Condell (h/t: Atheist Oasis) is just what I needed this afternoon. Condell eviscerates the fundie credo "God said it, I believe it, that settles it" while praising it as "a masterpiece of concision:"

"Acres of impenetrable theological bullshit have been whittled down to a simple, pithy definition of what faith actually is. When you strip away all he pretentious hogwash about transcendence and all the other film-flam, that's what you're actually left with: those nine little words of final judgment--beyond reason and beyond doubt. [...] No offense, but those of us who don't believe that Jesus rode around on a dinosaur would be more inclined to the view that God didn't say it, that you're a complete moron, and that that settles it...if you don't mind me saying so--and even if you do."

Columbia is at it again. 2009 saw the release of an enormous (70 CD, 1 DVD) Miles Davis box set from late last year called The Complete Columbia Album Collection:

20100816-completecolumbia.jpg

They've announced an even more elaborate set due to drop on 14 September. At a cost of $1200, the limited-edition Genius of Miles Davis collection will contain all eight of the metal-spine "Complete Columbia Edition" box sets, and is packaged in a trumpet-style case along with an art print, a t-shirt, and a reproduction of Miles' favorite trumpet mouthpiece.

20100816-genius.jpg

The music in these sets (all of which I've listened to repeatedly) is fabulous, but why hasn't Columbia remastered some of the Miles Davis live discs instead of repackaging these box sets? Agharta and Pangaea belong together in a remastered set, and the 1965 Plugged Nickel box set is long overdue for similar treatment. Instead of remastering those rare gems, Columbia has chosen to repackage the more readily available ones.

The 50th anniversary set for Kind of Blue and the upcoming 40th for Bitches Brew have some enticing extras, but the "Genius" set is just marketing run amok.

What would Miles do?


update:
Dogfish Head, a boutique brewery in Delaware, is producing a Bitches Brew beer as a tribute to the legendary Miles album:

In honor of the 40th anniversary of the original release of Bitches Brew, Miles Davis' 1970 paradigm-shifting landmark fusion breakthrough, we've created our own Bitches Brew - a bold, dark beer that's a fusion of three threads imperial stout and one thread honey beer with gesho root, a gustatory analog to Miles' masterpiece.

20100818-bitchesbrew.png

I've enjoyed several of the Dogfish brews, and this one sounds like another winner!

Joel Stein, who earned my ire for last year's claim that kids' allergies are phantasms of yuppie parents, has since backtracked somewhat due to having nut allergies show up in--you guessed it!--his own child. Stein writes that his one-year-old son Laszlo

...started sneezing, then breaking out in hives, then rubbing his eyes, then crying through welded-shut eyes, then screaming and, finally, vomiting copiously at the entrance of the Childrens Hospital emergency room an hour after eating his first batch of blended mixed nuts.

I'm inclined to suggest that only an imbecile would feed an infant tree nuts like this, but at least Stein knows better now:

Six weeks later, a blood test showed that Laszlo was very allergic to pistachios and cashews, pretty allergic to a bunch of other nuts and seeds...

Laszlo has seen an allergist and immunologist, and Stein issued this mea culpa: "I realize that the more I understand of other people's difficulties, the less funny they are." I'm sorry to hear about Laszlo's allergies, but it sounds as if his father has learned a valuable lesson. May his future columns be tempered by this experience.

Ezra Klein wonders to what extent Obama's economic policies should be blamed for the catastrophic job losses we've seen since the end of 2007, and posits an answer:

Economist Rob Shapiro dug into some Bureau of Labor Statistics data and came back with the best numbers I've seen on the subject. He separated job losses into two buckets: Those that happened before the stimulus, which was Obama's major effort to deal with joblessness, and those that happened after the stimulus.

Klein used Shapiro's numbers to create a simple chart that should be required reading for the economic illiterates [yes, Teabaggers, I'm looking at you] who complain about Obama's fiscal policies while giving Bush a pass:

20100813-joblosses.png

Klein continues:

We can argue about how much of the job losses should really be pinned on Republicans or Republican policies, of course. Financial deregulation happened under Bill Clinton, for instance. And it's hard to hold George W. Bush solely responsible for a global financial crisis. But insofar as the job losses go, it's hard to credibly blame this White House for the vast, vast majority of them.

CA wedding bells

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According to recent polling, Nate Silver mentions at 538 that support for marriage equality appears to be "shift[ing] at an accelerated pace:"

20100812-polling.png

It's kind of a follow-up to his post last Spring (which I mentioned here) about the state-by-state situation and his analysis that "Marriage bans...are losing ground at a rate of slightly less than 2 points per year:"

...by 2012, almost half of the 50 states would vote against a marriage ban, including several states that had previously voted to ban it. In fact, voters in Oregon, Nevada and Alaska (which Sarah Palin aside, is far more libertarian than culturally conservative) might already have second thoughts about the marriage bans that they'd previously passed.

By 2016, only a handful of states in the Deep South would vote to ban gay marriage, with Mississippi being the last one to come around in 2024.

Silver finds "acceleration in the rate of support for gay marriage," noting "a 4-point gain over the past 16 months, faster than the long-term rate of increase, which has been between 1 and 1.5 points per year:"

Something to bear in mind is that it's only been fairly recently that gay rights groups -- and other liberals and libertarians -- shifted toward a strategy of explicitly calling for full equity in marriage rights, rather than finding civil unions to be an acceptable compromise. [...] ...it seems that, in general, "having the debate" is helpful to the gay marriage cause, probably because the secular justifications against it are generally quite weak.

Generational differences are a consideration in this analysis (see page 11 of this CAP report, h/t: DemFromCT at DailyKos):

20100812-generations.jpg

As younger (and LGBTQ-positive) voters replace the Fred Phelps generation, progress toward marriage equality seems destined to continue. Conservatives' attempts to smear Judge Walker as "openly gay" [smearing only works if the alleged characteristic is a negative one, which homosexuality clearly isn't--but that's a point for another time] is a tactic which will continue to lose effectiveness. By the way, there is some disagreement over Walker's alleged openness, in addition to the appropriateness of the revelation:

Shay Aaron Gilmore, an associate attorney at a San Francisco law firm, said, "The entire line of inquiry is pretty offensive. What the question suggests is that it's impossible for a gay judge to render an unbiased opinion because the only judges who are qualified are the 'normal' ones -- and those would be the straight ones." The only reason Walker's sexuality is up for debate now, he argues, is that "the right wing isn't happy with shining the light of justice on their bigotry."


update (4:35pm):
Judge Walker has extended the stay until next Wednesday evening, allowing more time for an appeal.

Esquire's interview with the second Mrs Newt Gingrich, Marianne, is surely more revealing that Newt would have wanted. "He was impressed easily by position, status, money," she says. "He grew up poor and always wanted to be somebody, to make a difference, to prove himself, you know. He has to be historic to justify his life." Richardson chronicles Newt's political rise and fall, nothing that a recent resurrection has seen "a revivified Gingrich... atop the early polls of Republican presidential contenders:"

...leading the field in California, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Texas and polling strongly in Illinois and Pennsylvania. This year he has raised as much money as Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee combined. He is in constant motion, traveling all over the country attending rallies and meetings. He writes best sellers, makes movies, appears regularly on Fox News.

Richardson is less than enamored, saying that Newt is "the first person you've ever met who speaks in bullet points:"

In fact, he sometimes more resembles a collection of studied gestures than a mere mortal, so much so that he gives the impression that everything about him is calculated, including the impression that everything about him is calculated. Which can make him seem like a Big Thinker but also like a complete phony -- an unsettling combination.

This phoniness surfaced after some verbal sparring during an interview, where Richardson stated that Gingrich "is known for his rhetorical napalm and is not accustomed to acknowledging that he often deploys it for its own sake, facts and gross exaggeration be damned." Richardson writes that Gingrich displays "a startling trait...as he meets with different groups of conservative activists:"

When Gingrich -- the godfather of the leveling attack and the politics of apocalypse -- is surrounded by doomsayers and radicals, he takes the long view and becomes the very soul of probity. But a reasonable and sober Newt Gingrich would never have gotten anywhere. Hence his ability to be scandalously extreme with great ease. This incoherence is at the heart of today's conservative movement, and no one embodies it more than Gingrich. He is both sides of the divided Republican soul in a single man.

Nowhere, perhaps, is this more evident than in his popular books full of boilerplate BS about "the Obama secular socialist machine" and other phantasms that pass for substantive intellectualism on the Right these days. Newt's craving for validation, however, seems to be leading him down the path that ensnared him into a record-setting $300,000 fine for violating Congressional ethics. Richardson notes that Gingrich's "American Solutions for Winning the Future" is a 527 PAC "which can accept unlimited contributions as long as it doesn't promote the interests of a specific candidate." There is also Gingrich's "Center for Health Transformation" and his involvement in Citizens United, which Richardson mentions is "the fourth-largest political-advocacy organization in America." All of which is background for Rich Galen (a former Gingrich advisor) to observe that Gingrich is "making more money than he ever thought possible, and doesn't have to tell everybody where it's coming from."

Perhaps he's planning an expensive upgrade to Wife 4.0?

more Hitch

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Christopher Hitchens calls the Faux controversy over the (not at) Ground Zero mosque an object lesson in how not to resist intolerance. "I don't like anything much about the Cordoba Initiative or the people who run it," writes Hitchens, but "The dispute over the construction of an Islamic center at 'Ground Zero' in Lower Manhattan has now sunk to a level of stupidity that really does shame the memory and the victims of that terrible day in September 2001:"

We need not automatically assume the good faith of those who have borrowed this noble name [Cordoba] for a project in lower Manhattan. One would want assurances, also, about the transparency of its funding and the content of its educational programs. But the way to respond to such overtures is by critical scrutiny and engagement, not cheap appeals to parochialism, victimology, and unreason.

Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic has a few well-chosen words for the proponents of "Christian love" who are hoping for Hitch's demise:

As for the few of you who wrote to Goldblog to say they were praying for Hitch's death, I can say that he does not care one way or another what you do or think or pray, but on behalf of myself and the entire team here at The Atlantic, let me just say, Go fuck yourselves.

I believe God will forgive me for that one.

Certain anti-Islamic wingnuts are proposing that the (not at) Ground Zero mosque be welcomed into its Manhattan neighborhood with the opening of various other business establishments. Faux's Greg Gutfield suggested a gay bar:

I am planning to build and open the first gay bar that caters not only to the west, but also Islamic gay men. To best express my sincere desire for dialogue, the bar will be situated next to the mosque Park51, in an available commercial space.

This is not a joke. I've already spoken to a number of investors, who have pledged their support in this bipartisan bid for understanding and tolerance.

As you know, the Muslim faith doesn't look kindly upon homosexuality, which is why I'm building this bar. It is an effort to break down barriers and reduce deadly homophobia in the Islamic world.

National Review's Jonah Goldberg followed up with pork products and free puppies:

Numerous readers say they wanted to open a strip club across the street. Others: A pork store (like Satriales in the Sopranos). I for one don't see why you have to pick just one. A strip club/gay bar with many pork dishes on the menu (and elsewhere) might work just fine. Bonus: They could give away puppies!

Andrew Sullivan (usually a voice of reason on the Right) has begun a Name That Bar contest, calling the idea not facetious, but "fantastic:"

That's exactly the right response to an expression of religious freedom: the expression of freedom for gay people as well. In fact, it's such a great idea that it could be followed across the country: gay bars right next to churches and mosques that condemn homosexuality

The alliterative punster in me suggests "Burqas, Booze, & Bacon" or "Eat Pork and Get Porked" as suitable--if snarky--names.

The idea that we could build Planned Parenthood clinics next to Catholic cathedrals or a brewery next to some Baptists brings to mind a recent news story where the Columbus Dispatch reports that strippers are counter-protesting a bunch of busybody Bible-thumpers. Pastor Bill Dunfee of the New Beginnings Ministries church offers the conciliatory declaration that "The word of Jesus Christ says you cannot share territory with the devil."

Every weekend for the last four years, Dunfee and members of his ministry have stood watch over [Tom] George's [strip] joint, taking up residence in the right of way with signs, video cameras and bullhorns in hand. They videotape customers' license plates and post them online, and they try to save the souls of anyone who comes and goes.

One hopes that New York's Muslims will be more agreeable to living in a pluralistic society than Ohio's Christians.


update (8/11 @ 9:46am):
Pandagon's Amanda Marcotte points out that there are already gay bars in the vicinity of Park51, although it's unclear whether or not they cater specifically to an Islamic clientele:

If you look at this picture, and you're not too stupid to breathe (sorry, wingnuts!), you should immediately see two things that make this whole "let's put a gay bar by the Cordoba House and see liberal heads explode!" wishful thinking look even stupider than it is on its surface: 1) There are three gay bars within .1 mile of the Cordoba House and 2) They are all as close or closer to the Cordoba House than the WTC is.

So, wingnuts, remember this when trying to craft "jokes" in the future. Just because you're so uptight and repressed that the mere idea of seeing the front door of a gay bar makes your blood pressure rise in a combination of bigotry and sexual excitement that you fear ever speaking aloud doesn't mean that everyone else shares your freakishness. Especially not in New York.

Two great TV clips of the Prop H8 lawyers are making the rounds today (Thanks to Pam's House Blend for the transcripts). The first is Ted Olson being interviewed by Faux News' Chris Wallace:

Wallace: ...where is the right to same-sex marriage in the Constitution?

Olsen: Where is the right to interracial marriage in the Constitution, Chris? [...]

Wallace: Mr. Olsen, you are against judicial activism, how do you define what is judicial activism and what isn't?

Olsen: Well, most people use the term "judicial activism" to explain decisions that they don't like. [...] ...what the court decided here, what the Supreme Court, as I said, of the United States has 14 times decided the right to marry is an important constitutional right. The judge applied that right, that existing right, that fully determined and repeatedly determined constitutional right, to some tens of thousands of those in California who are being harmed by discrimination. That is not judicial activism, that is judicial responsibility.

The second features David Boise squaring off against Tony Perkins of the (Anti-) Family Research Council:

Perkins: ...he ignored a lot of the social science in--in his opinion. [...] So there is certainly not only based upon the social empirical data that's out there, but on the legal basis this is a flawed decision. And, and, as I said, it's far from over. [...]

Boies: Well, it's easy to sit around and debate and throw around opinions appear-- appeal to people's fear and prejudice, cite studies that either don't exist or don't say what you say they do. In a court of law you've got to come in and you've got to support those opinions. You've got to stand up under oath and cross-examination. And what we saw at trial is that it's very easy for the people who want to deprive gay and lesbian citizens the right to vote, to make all sorts of statements and campaign literature or in debates where they can't be cross-examined. But when they come into court and they have to support those opinions and they have to defend those opinions under oath and cross-examination, those opinions just melt away. [...] We put fear and prejudice on trial, and fear and prejudice lost.

[...]

Perkins: ...we hope that sanity will reign when it does make its way to the United States Supreme Court.

So do we, Mr Perkins--and this is what sanity looks like:

20100809-libertyjustice.jpg
(Clay Bennett/Chattanooga Times Free Press)

Liberty and Justice belong together, and no man should put them asunder.

Ted Olson's Newsweek piece on "The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage" is worth reading; I'm glad to see conservatives making sensible arguments, as this pretty much leaves any opposition in the reactionaries' hands. Andrew Sullivan gets this much, at least, right in his response to anti-marriage activist Maggie Gallagher. "If this ruling is upheld," writes Gallagher:

...millions of Americans will face for the first time a legal system that is committed to the view that our deeply held moral views on sex and marriage are unacceptable in the public square, the fruit of bigotry that should be discredited, stigmatized and repressed. Parents will find that, almost Soviet-style, their own children will be re-educated using their own tax dollars to disrespect their parents' views and values.

Sullivan ignored the "Soviet-style repression" hyperbole and pointed out that "Unlike the far right, we gays believe in total freedom of religion:"

You are free to tell your children that the earth was created 6,000 years ago and that they must not eat shell-fish or mix fabrics and that gay people are condemned to hell. You are free to preach this from the rooftops. You can encourage your children, even the gay ones, to marry opposite-sex wives and husbands; you can disseminate information that stigmatizes gays; etc etc. But you cannot disenfranchise your fellow citizens in a civil institution because of your religious beliefs.

You cannot erect a Christianist legal version of Dhimmitude vis-a-vis gay people. Not in America.

Not that they won't try--but in the long run, they will lose. Marriage equality is coming.


update (8/10 @ 8:27am):
Here's an earlier version of the same idea, from illustrator Mirko Ilić (h/t: digby at Hullabaloo):

20100810-libertyjustice.jpg
(Village Voice, 2004)

In "Professor Newt's Distorted History" (h/t: Andrew Sullivan), a medieval-studies grad student named Carl Pyrdum debunks the right-wing historically ignorant [sorry for the redundancy] smearing of the Park51/Cordoba House project (that I let slide here) for its very name. Here's part of Newt's claim:

"Cordoba House" is a deliberately insulting term. It refers to Cordoba, Spain - the capital of Muslim conquerors who symbolized their victory over the Christian Spaniards by transforming a church there into the world's third-largest mosque complex. [...] ...every Islamist in the world recognizes Cordoba as a symbol of Islamic conquest. It is a sign of their contempt for Americans and their confidence in our historic ignorance that they would deliberately insult us this way.

Pyrdum calls this "an egregious and purposeful misreading of medieval history" and impressively supports his arguments with actually facts (you know, the ones that have a liberal bias):

Notice how carefully he's phrased his claim to give the impression that during the medieval conquest of Spain the Muslims charged into Cordoba and declared it the capital of a new Muslim empire, and in order to add insult to injury seized control of a Christian church and built the biggest mosque they could, right there in front of the Christians they'd just conquered, a big Muslim middle finger in the heart of medieval Christendom. Essentially, they've done it before, they'll do it again, right there at Ground Zero, if all good Christians don't band together to stop them.

The problem is, in order to give that impression of immediacy, Newt elides three-hundred years of Christian and Muslim history. [...] Far from "symboliz[ing] their victory" the Mosque was held up by Muslim historians a symbol of peaceful coexistence with the Christians--however messier the actual relations of Christians and Muslims were at the time. [...]

So it's easy to see why a group of Muslims creating a community center in the heart of a majority Christian country in a city known for its large Jewish population might name it "The Cordoba House" They're not, as Gingrich hopes we would believe, discreetly laughing at us because "Cordoba" is some double-secret Islamist code for "conquest"; rather, they're hoping to associate themselves with a particular time in medieval history when the largest library in Western Europe was to be found in Cordoba, a city in which scholars of all three major Abrahamic religions were free to study side-by-side.

It's all but impossible for a Christianist like Newt to see peaceful coexistence as anything but a threat; since his religious view demands control over government and society, he projects that attitude onto everyone else, and uses this projection to justify his fears. Newt's homophobia is similarly attired, and his "one-man-and-one-woman" http://www.newt.org/newt-direct/statement-ca-marriage-ruling marriage statement attracted some negative attention from commenters. Tom Scocca at Slate has a selection of the comments, of which these are my favorites:

Newt you cheated on your first wife then dumped her when she was in the hospital with cancer. Later you cheated on your second wife with a 27 year old congressional aide. Maybe you should pipe down about defending marriage.

I want to hear more from the twice-divorced man about how marriage has to be reserved for one man and one woman. I wonder if the two former Mrs. Gingriches would testify as to Newt's reverence for marriage.

I'm not sure which is less appealing: Newt's deceitful representation of historical events, or the shameful history of his own life.

PDB Day

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It's the tenth anniversary of a certain historically-infamous President's Daily Brief, shown here being handed from (eventually failed Supreme Court nominee) Harriet Miers to (already a miserable failure of a president) George W Bush:

20100806-bushmiers.jpg

The significance of this PDB, for those who've forgotten, is its title: "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US." (a PDF of the PDB is here). Bush's response to this warning? He told the CIA briefer "All right. You've covered your ass, now" and then went to clear some brush on his "ranch."

As far as the results of Bush's inaction, we all remember what happened (See here for more details. The PDB story is recounted in Ron Suskind's The One-Percent Doctrine.) Here's an annotated version of the photo:

20100806-bushmiers2.jpg

As tempting as it is to simply mock wingnut pundits for wanting to deny same-sex couples the right to marry, the Right's anti-marriage forces do occasionally make something that appears (on the surface, at least) to be an actual point. (For example, serial adulterer/divorcee Newt Gingrich wrote: "In every state of the union from California to Maine to Georgia, where the people have had a chance to vote they've affirmed that marriage is the union of one man and one woman," but neglected to add the personally relevant codicil "at a time.") Another observation, trumpeted far and wide in allegations of judicial bias, is that the judge in the Perry case, Vaughn Walker, is gay.

The laughably-named Christian Anti-Defamation Commission railed that "Judge Walker cannot comprehend the self-evident rational basis for prohibiting homosexual marriage" [which is neither self-evident nor rational] and then cowers in fear over the idea of "homosexual marriage [being] forced on us by a despotic judiciary." [OH NOES...we're all going to get GAY MARRIED whether we want to or not!!1!!!!]

Even more frightening, the CADC wrote about "Sexual anarchists" who "won't rest until, like in Sodom, they can surround your house and demand you offer up your children to be abused." [Hilariously, he gets the Biblical reference (Genesis 19:1-8) wrong. The mob outside Lot's doors didn't demand his daughters, but rather his visitors (who were angels in disguise, although Lot didn't know this). Lot offered his daughters to the rapists as a compromise in an early example of religious family values.]

John Avlon from The Daily Beast points out that, far from being a stereotypical "judicial activist," Judge Walker "is a Republican who was first nominated to the bench by President Ronald Reagan:"

The unexpected ironies do not stop there. His nomination was stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee over accusations that Walker was too conservative. [...] Walker's defenders included Ed Meese and Strom Thurmond. The outcry at the time was so considerable that it fell to Reagan's successor, George H. W. Bush, to re-nominate Walker to the federal bench.

ThinkProgress has a few examples of conservative over-reaction. According to some on the Right, Judge Walker has "declare[d] the Constitution unconstitutional" and "should have recused himself from this case, because his judgment is clearly compromised by his own sexual proclivity." Even more outrageously, one wingnut said that "The majority of Californians...have just had their core civil right -- the right to vote -- stripped from them" Cato's David Boaz supplies the hyper-hyperbole winner: Coral Ridge Ministries' Robert Knight, who is worried about "the criminalization of not only Christianity but of the foundational values of civilization itself."

Marc Ambinder says that "the facts, not the law, matter" in Walker's ruling, and Paul Rosenberg discussed facts-vs-fears at OpenLeft:

Proposition 8 was overturned because of the facts--including the facts surrounding the resort to unfounded fears, which do not provide a rational basis for discriminatory state action under our Constitution (about which, the right as a whole understands virtually nothing).

(He also quotes Andrew Koppelman from the NY Times: "Proposition 8 lacked a rational basis, because the 'facts' that were invoked in its defense were manifestly false.") Slate's Dahlia Lithwick calls the ruling not simply "brilliant," but also "factual, well-reasoned, and powerful." She continues, "It's hard to read Judge Walker's opinion without sensing that what really won out today was science, methodology, and hard work:"

Had the proponents of Prop 8 made even a minimal effort to put on a case, to track down real experts, to do more than try to assert their way to legal victory, this would have been a closer case. But faced with one team that mounted a serious effort and another team that did little more than fire up their big, gay boogeyman screensaver for two straight weeks, it wasn't much of a fight. [...]

Is that the end of it? Oh, no. Judge Walker is already being flayed alive for the breadth and boldness of his decision. The appeals road will be long and nasty. Walker has temporarily stayed the ruling pending argument on a stay. [...] Any way you look at it, today's decision was written for a court of one--Kennedy--the man who has written most eloquently about dignity and freedom and the right to determine one's own humanity. The real triumph of Perry v. Schwarzenegger may be that it talks in the very loftiest terms about matters rooted in logic, science, money, social psychology, and fact.

Paul Waldman looks ahead to the case's probably destination after the appeal to the Ninth Circuit, writing that "We can say for sure that there will be four solid No votes on the Supreme Court against marriage equality - Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia:"

We're less certain about the Yes votes, but let's assume that the Court's four liberals - Breyer, Ginsberg, Sotomayor, and Kagan - come around. That leaves Kennedy, something trial judge Vaughan Walker seemed to be well aware of. As Dalia Lithwick noted, Walker's decision included "seven citations to Justice Kennedy's 1996 opinion in Romer v. Evans (striking down an anti-gay Colorado ballot initiative) and eight citations to his 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas (striking down Texas' gay-sodomy law)."

Congratulations to California's LGBT couples! May the decision's stay be uneventful, followed by successful rulings by the Ninth Circuit and the Supreme Court--and, at long last, equality before the law.

California's anti-marriage law Proposition 8 (called "Prop H8" for its attempt to enshrine bigotry in the state constitution) has been declared invalid. Here's part of the ruling by US District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker:

Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

Amid a flurry of posts on the ruling, Andrew Sullivan writes that he is "increasingly confident that when this case eventually gets to the Supreme Court, the logic of equality will win:"

Once you have conceded that gay people are a class, and that their sexual orientation is integral to their lives and immutable, and that they are not defined by sex acts that can be performed by gays and straights alike, then the ban on marriage equality is left without anything but an amorphous claim to heterosexual supremacy - or a judicially irrelevant appeal to simple custom (already invalid in five states and many countries) - to support it.

Walker is right. What this comes down to is whether gay people are inferior to straight people, and whether their citizenship is thereby to be deemed inferior as well. The entire weight of the American tradition stands athwart the imposition of a second-class group of people and declares: No!

In congratulating the California couples, I'd like to quote Dr Martin Luther King Jr:

"Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." ("Where Do We Go from Here?" 16 August 1967)


correction:
The "arc of the moral universe" quote from King is actually a paraphrase of these words from Theodore Parker in 1853:

"I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one. . . . But from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice."

See here for more details.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's speech in defense of religious liberty (video is here) in NYC's approval of the Park51 Islamic Center (you remember, the one which sent Newt into paroxysms of paranoia) is the best speech I've heard in quite some time from a Republican. (If more Republicans defended freedom and civil rights, I'd gladly mention them positively as well.) Bloomberg states outright that New York City "is the freest city in the world" and proclaims that this freedom is "what makes New York special and different and strong:"

Our doors are open to everyone. Everyone with a dream and a willingness to work hard and play by the rules. New York City was built by immigrants, and it's sustained by immigrants -- by people from more than 100 different countries speaking more than 200 different languages and professing every faith. And whether your parents were born here or you came here yesterday, you are a New Yorker.

We may not always agree with every one of our neighbors. That's life. And it's part of living in such a diverse and dense city. But we also recognize that part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance

Bloomberg schools the political whiners on NYC's pluralist history, and then makes the argument--based on religious freedom and property rights--that other Republicans seem unable to fathom:

The simple fact is, this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship, and the government has no right whatsoever to deny that right. And if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.

James Fallows at The Atlantic concurs:

Nothing is more admirable about this country in the rest of the world's eyes than the big-shouldered unflappable confidence demonstrated in that speech. Nothing is more contemptible than the touchy, nervous, intolerant defensiveness we [or, more specifically, our conservative brethren] sometimes show.

Michael Stickings at The Reaction calls the whole brouhaha "a silly controversy drummed up by conservative bigots, most of whom are not New Yorkers and yet who want to tell New York what to do (e.g., Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich)." (As the Southern Poverty Law Center points out, "Gingrich may have a doctorate in history, but the former college professor doesn't seem to understand the principles of American democracy at all.") Stickings continues by noting that "The conservatives attacking the 'Ground Zero mosque' -- which is neither at Ground Zero nor a mosque -- do not honour those who died on 9/11, nor the Constitution, nor America itself:"

Rather, they spew bigotry, anti-Muslim bigotry, and seek to divide the country into "us" and "them," in so doing playing right into the hands of those who question America's commitment to its long-held values, proving America's enemies right. And in opposing the construction of the community center, these conservatives are proving to be a lot like al Qaeda and bin Laden, intolerant religious extremists who reject religious conciliation and understanding. [...] ...the Islamic cultural center will be proof that America actually lives up to its values and principles -- to freedom -- even in the face of uncompromising adversity.

Alan Jacobs at American Scene calls it "remarkable that people who invoke the Founders so regularly and in such tones of devotion could be utterly deaf to the Founders' concern to ensure freedom for mistrusted minority religions:"

Moreover, the Gingrich-Palin view of the matter is as blind to the future as it is to the past. No one would make such an argument who did not anticipate that his or her own religious preferences will forever be enshrined as the socially dominant ones. Having endorsed the principle that minority religions can be policed by the state, Gingrich and Palin may well be unpopular figures to their descendants, if Christianity continues to decline as a force in American culture. [...]

The approach Gingrich and Palin take to the proposed lower Manhattan mosque has nothing to do with conservatism in this sense. It is neither conservative, nor liberal, nor anything else worthy to be called "political thought." It is an infantile grasping after a fleeting and elusive cultural dominance.

Paul Waldman notes at American Prospect that "conservatives who fancy themselves tough-talkin' terror fighters do a great deal of service to al-Qaeda when they do things like oppose an Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan:"

They validate all the arguments al-Qaeda makes, particularly the one that says that America is engaged in a clash of civilizations with Islam, and that Americans think all Muslims are their enemies. Whether out of stupidity or cynicism, people like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich who are leading this charge are telling Muslims all over the world that Osama bin Laden is right about America.

He concludes by asking, "Is there not a single prominent Republican out there" who truly believes in religious freedom:

Isn't there a governor, or a senator, or even a congressman, who is willing to go on television and say, "This is America, and we believe in freedom of religion. And freedom of religion means freedom for all religions"? Is there not a single bigshot Republican who actually believes in the First Amendment and is willing to say so? Anyone? Anyone?

CH on the big C

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Christopher Hitchens writes that his "first raw reactions to being stricken" by cancer include the sense of being "badly oppressed by a gnawing sense of waste:"

I had real plans for my next decade and felt I'd worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read--if not indeed write--the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity. [...] To the dumb question "Why me?" the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?

Best wishes, Hitch.

Rand Paul's profile in Details contains this gem:

"The bottom line is I'm not an expert, so don't give me the power in Washington to be making rules. You live here, and you have to work in the mines. You'd try to make good rules to protect your people here. If you don't, I'm thinking that no one will apply for those jobs." [emphasis added]

Does Paul believe that, especially in an era of high structural unemployment (a prime example of Marx's "reserve army of the unemployed"), workers have the ability to just wait until a better job offer comes along? That the roof over their family's head, the food on their table, and the clothes on their back will pay for themselves in the meantime? That powerful corporations (sitting on trillions of dollars) will suddenly become more responsible if, instead, they can make higher profits via cost-cutting and exploitation?

Such blindly libertarian dogma, so stupendously ignorant of reality, makes one almost hope that Paul is given a wider stage on which to expound his views--the results could well taint such plutocratic elitism for years to come.

Matt Zoller Seitz discusses his appreciation for "vicious, anonymous, online comments" at Salon, writing that "anonymity -- or pseudonymity -- brings out the worst in some people:"

They say things they would never say in the presence of flesh-and-blood human beings. You see this phenomenon all over the Internet... [...]

When a person comments anonymously, we're told, they're putting a mask on. But the more time I spend online the more I'm convinced that this analogy gets it backward.

The self that we show in anonymous comments, the fantasy self, the self we see in the mirror when we fantasize about being tough and strong and feared, the face we would present to the world if there were no such thing as consequences: That's the real us.

The civil self is the mask.

I moderate the comments here, but do not censor them. (There have been several people with whom I've disagreed--at length, ad nauseam--but almost always with civility on both sides.) My spam-to-comment ratio is about 100-to-1; if I didn't moderate, my real commenters (to whom I am grateful) would never be heard amid the din. Amanda Marcotte states at Pandagon that "it's hard to have scientific distance from the people spilling vitriol online:"

It's because it's unreasonable to think that it stays online, that it is just a matter of people who act right in the world living out a power fantasy online.

My first impulse was that it's a stretch to consider commenting on someone else's site a "power fantasy," but then I reconsidered. If my blog were besieged by hordes of Freepers or Teabaggers intent on wasting my time with Faux News rants and GOPropaganda, what little power they have would be magnified by the turd-in-the-pool effect. A disruptive minority can ruin an online community with a relatively small amount of effort, wasting valuable resources in the process.

Absent such a threat, though, I'm going to continue muddling through.

General JC Christian of Jesus' General posted one of his practically trademarked sarcastic ideas: burning Confederate flags on "that most holy of Teabagging days, September 12:"

It's a symbol for all we hold dear: the right of a state to allow men to own other men, the right to apportion water fountains according to skin tone, the right to spread the word that being darkly hued is an act of subversion, and the right to point out that Obama is an African, just like all those black people.

He has set up a Burn the Confederate Flag Day website for the desecration of the traitors' symbol:

20100803-burntraitorsflag.png

You already know what I think of the Confederate swastika, and I'd love to see some of those symbols of institutional bigotry going up in smoke at a Teabagger rally:

20070728-confederateswastika.jpg

TPM picked up the story, writing that General JC Christian "hopes that progressives across the country will show up to tea party rallies on September 12 and -- if it's legal -- light up a confederate flag so tea partiers can watch it burn:

"I think that it would start a great conversation about race and about how it's being used for political gain right now," the blogger, who preferred to be identified by his online handle, "General J.C. Christian," told me Monday. "I can imagine people showing up at the tea parties, which I'll do at my local one, and the tea party backers will start explaining why [the flag] is about state's rights, not slavery, and all that and basically hang themselves."

At least they'll only be (metaphorically) hanging themselves, rather than (literally) hanging the victims of their wrath...

Now available under the Freedom of Information Act, the FBI released some 400-odd pages detailing its surveillance of the late historian Howard Zinn from 1949-1974. [For a refresher, I eulogized Zinn here and posted more comments here.] The FBI made the interesting admission that Zinn was targeted due to his politics:

In the 1960s, the Bureau took another look at Zinn on account of his criticism of the FBI's civil rights investigations. Further investigation was made when Zinn traveled to North Vietnam with Daniel Berrigan as an anti-war activist.

Salon's Justin Elliott writes that the FBI spied on Zinn for a quarter-century "despite having apparently no evidence that he ever committed a crime." (Probable cause? What's that?) TPM's Megan Carpentier notes that the files not only "detail the FBI's somewhat absurd practice of collecting newspaper clippings, public speeches and publicized speaking dates for people it declared dangerous to the country," but "also contained some interesting details about the official's plans to end Zinn's academic career at Boston University" by collaborating with university officials who wanted Zinn out.

Over at The Progressive, where I read many of Zinn's essays, Matthew Rothschild mentions a curious incident in November 1953 where the FBI tried to coerce Zinn into becoming an informant:

Zinn told them "he was a liberal and perhaps some people would consider him to be a 'leftist.' Zinn said that he had participated in the activities of various organizations which might be considered Communist fronts but that his participation was motivated by his belief that in this country people had the right to believe, think, and act according to their own ideals. . . . According to Zinn, he was not ashamed of his past activities and did not believe that he or his activities constituted a threat to the security of this country or Government."

Two months later, the files describe another refusal:

Again, Zinn denied that he or his wife had ever been a member of the Communist Party. And again, Zinn refused to name names. "He stated under no circumstances would he testify or furnish information concerning the political opinions of others."

This didn't sit well with the FBI's hierarchy:

On January 10, 1964, Hoover wrote a memo ordering Zinn's name to be "included in Reserve Index, Section A," a classification that would mean he could be rounded up if an emergency were declared. In this memo, Hoover says Zinn "has continued to demonstrate procommunist and anti-United States sympathies."

The files later described Zinn as "a dangerous individual who may commit acts inimical to the national defense and public safety of the United States in time of an emergency." Rothschild quotes Zinn's daughter, Myla Kabat-Zinn, as being unsurprised:

"We all expected this...Anybody who was active in protesting and speaking out at that time kind of expected to have an FBI file. My father always knew they had a file on him."

Chris Hedges explained the FBI's fear of Zinn as "an example of how genuine intellectual thought is always subversive:"

It always challenges prevailing assumptions as well as political and economic structures. It is based on a fierce moral autonomy and personal courage and it is uniformly branded by the power elite as "political." Zinn was a threat not because he was a violent revolutionary or a communist but because he was fearless and told the truth. [...] The file exposes the absurdity, waste and pettiness of our national security state. And it seems to indicate that our security agencies prefer to hire those with mediocre or stunted intelligence, dubious morality and little common sense.

Hedges concludes that "one walks away with a profound respect for Zinn and a deep distaste for the buffoonish goons in the FBI who followed and monitored him " and amplifies this point beyond Zinn:

There is no reason, with the massive expansion of our internal security apparatus, to think that things have improved. [...] We are amassing unprecedented volumes of secret files, and carrying out extensive surveillance and harassment, as stupid and useless as those that were directed against Zinn. And a few decades from now maybe we will be able to examine the work of the latest generation of dimwitted investigators who have been unleashed upon us in secret by the tens of thousands. Did any of the agents who followed Zinn ever realize how they wasted their time? Do those following us around comprehend how manipulated they are? Do they understand that their primary purpose, as it was with Zinn, is not to prevent terrorism but discredit and destroy social movements as well as protect the elite from those who would expose them?

The FBI didn't much appreciate Zinn or his efforts to make the US a more open nation, and the dislike was mutual. Zinn's piece "Federal Bureau of Intimidation" is available (among other places) at the History Is a Weapon website. In it, Zinn not only called the FBI "one of the creeping hands of totalitarianism running through the democracy," but also stated that he had read a large portion of his FBI file (other content in the speech dates it to between the 1992 and 1996 elections):

I sent away for whatever information the FBI had on me, through the Freedom of Information Act. I became curious, I guess. I wanted to test myself because if I found that the FBI did not have any dossier on me, it would have been tremendously embarrassing and I wouldn't have been able to face my friends. But, fortunately, there were several hundred pages of absolutely inconsequential material. Very consequential for the FBI, I suppose, but inconsequential for any intelligent person.

David Klinghoffer's "From neocons to crazy-cons" (LA Times) asks "What has become of conservatism?" and notes that, in contrast to preceding conservative intellectuals, "more characteristic of conservative leadership are figures on TV, radio and the Internet who make their money by stirring fears and resentments:"

With its descent to baiting blacks, Mexicans and Muslims, its accommodation of conspiracy theories and an increasing nastiness and vulgarity, the conservative movement has undergone a shift toward demagoguery and hucksterism. Once the talk was of "neocons" versus "paleocons." Now we observe the rule of the crazy-cons.

Picking up where Klinghoffer left off Professor Bainbridge's "It's getting to be embarrassing to be a conservative" (h/t: Ron Chusid at Liberal Values) provides a ten-part list of "things that make this conservative embarrassed by the modern conservative movement:"

1. A poorly educated ex-sportwriter who served half of one term of an minor state governorship is prominently featured as a -- if not the -- leading prospect for the GOP's 2012 Presidential nomination.
2. Tom Tancredo calling President Obama "the greatest threat to the United States today" and arguing that he be impeached. Bad public policy is not a high crime nor a misdemeanor, and the casual assertion that pursuing liberal policies--however misguided--is an impeachable offense is just nuts.
3. Similar nonsense from former Ford-Reagan treasury department officials Ernest Christian and Gary Robbins, who IBD column was, as Doug Marconis observed, "a wildly exaggerated attack on President Obama's record in office." Actually, it's more foaming at the mouth.
4. As Doug also observed, "The GOP controlled Congress from 1994 to 2006: Combine neocon warfare spending with entitlements, farm subsidies, education, water projects and you end up with a GOP welfare/warfare state driving the federal spending machine." Indeed, "when the GOP took control of Congress in 1994, and the White House in 2000, the desire to use the levers of power to create "compassionate conservatism" won our over any semblance of fiscal conservatism. Instead of tax cuts and spending cuts, we got tax cuts along with a trillion dollar entitlement program, a massive expansion of the Federal Government's role in education, and two wars. That's not fiscal conservatism it is, as others have said, fiscal insanity." Yet, today's GOP still has not articulated a message of real fiscal conservatism.
5. Thanks to the Tea Party, the Nevada GOP has probably pissed away a historic chance to out=st Harry Reid. See also Charlie Crist in Florida, Rand Paul in Kentucky, and so on. Whatever happened to not letting perfection be the enemy of the good?
6. The anti-science and anti-intellectualism that pervade the movement.
7. Trying to pretend Afghanistan is Obama's war.
8. Birthers.
9. Nativists.
10. The substitution of mouth-foaming, spittle-blasting, rabble-rousing talk radio for reasoned debate. Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Hugh Hewitt, and even Rush Limbaugh are not exactly putting on Firing Line. Whatever happened to smart, well-read, articulate leaders like Buckley, Neuhaus, Kirk, Jack Kent, Goldwater, and, yes, even Ronald Reagan?

At Washington Monthly, Steve Benen decries "the radicalism, the lack of intellectual seriousness, the immaturity" that is endemic to movement conservatives, but remains hopeful that "the more those on the right decry the pathetic state of modern conservatism, the more likely we'll see the 'crazy-cons' lose some of their influence." Chusid is less optimistic:

With anti-intellectualism, hostility towards science, and belief in conspiracy theories becoming dominant views within the conservative movement, it has become increasingly common to see the more sane conservatives either leave the movement or point out its many faults.

Will the last conservative intellectual leaving the GOP please turn out the lights?

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