Mack Evans And The End Of The World

Preaching and believing apocalyptic doom is not limited to crazy people in surplus uniforms playing God’s Army in the woods of Michigan, like the Hutaree were until the FBI put the kibosh on their alleged plans to kill government agents, better known as the police.

Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, and countless other Christians have made a decent (some would say, indecent) living warning of our impending destruction, the end of the world.  We even have such folks here in Joplin.

Ironically, on the Sunday the FBI moved in and foiled the alleged plot of the Hutarees, Central Christian Center’s weekly television broadcast featured a guest appearance by former and much-beloved pastor, Mack Evans, whose sermon focused on “the last days.” 

For those who don’t know, Central Christian Center is one of the area’s largest churches and occupies the former Fox Theater in downtown Joplin.  Our current mayor, Gary Shaw, serves as Executive Administrator, Elder, and Trustee of the church.

Anyway, Pastor Mack’s sermon, which was actually recorded the previous Sunday, included themes similar in nature to those one might find on sites like Hutareewithout the accompanying affection for violence, however.  Repeat: Mack Evans’ sermon did not advocate or even suggest that Christians take up arms against the government.

The main theme I am referring to is the “end times” meme that permeates much of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity in America, which then is amplified by people like those in Michigan, who put on uniforms and strap on guns and practice fighting the government in preparation for some kind of apocalyptic convulsion.

On the Hutaree site, you will find this statement:

…the people with enough faith to last as long as it might take are the wise ones. They know and believe in the testimony of Christ, even through the darkest and most doubtful of times. This day is soon.

Now, Pastor Mack’s sermon also touched on a similar theme of “the darkest and most doubtful of times.”  He said,

…you do not have to be a Christian to know that things are accelerating out of control…on a gut level, you talk to anybody—you talk to anybody—and on a gut level they know that things are not right…You know that the spiritual pressure is increasing and the end time events are moving faster and faster.  The spiritual war in the heavenlies is intensifying and the closer we get to the last days, there will be a rapid acceleration of events—signs in the heavens and on the earth and men’s hearts failing them for fear…

The pastor was just getting started:

…there’s also going to be social, political, economical, and spiritual unrest and destruction.  Now, right now, Church, economically and politically, governments are beginning to reach crisis stage.  You have Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Spain, France, and the United States—right now—that is on the verge of bankruptcy—all of them.

If you are sufficiently scared by now, but still yearn for more details, he continued:

Now, the United States, whether you know it or not, is in critical mass right now.  We’re gonna pass, apparently, the health care bill—I think everybody deserves health care—but I think this may be one of the final blows to bring down the finances and the political—politics—of this country. [A boisterous "Amen" shouted at this point.]

While I have heard many similar pessimistic sermons in my time as an evangelical Christian, I don’t think I ever heard one that involved relating the passage of a universally acknowledged bill of good intentions (whatever one thinks of its economic assumptions) to our demise as a country.  In my experience, our doom was connected to such horrid things as sexual permissiveness or abortion or homosexuality—or simply because our “time” was up.

In any case, the point of citing Pastor Mack’s ominous message to the faithful at Central Christian Center, is that this kind of Bible-based cynicism about our future—that pollutes the minds of millions of our fellow citizens, including children—is a dangerous and possibly ultimately self-destructive feature of American culture.*

Not only does this end-times theology put fear in the hearts of our youth and promote unhealthy cynicism about our government and our civilization, it makes the world a little safer for folks like the “Christian Warriors” of Michigan, who take seriously the implications of such radically morbid theology.

It’s much like the way fundamentalist and evangelical rhetoric and teaching about the “sin” of homosexuality makes the world a little safer for the hateful members of Westboro Baptist Church—whose URL includes, godhatesfags.com, and who claim they have conducted nearly 43,000 “peaceful demonstrations opposing the fag lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth.”

It’s much like the way the extreme anti-abortion and anti-choice rhetoric—”babykillers” and “murderers“—makes the world a little safer for domestic terrorists like Scott Roeder, who murdered Dr. George Tiller and remains unrepentant and defiant to this day.

Admittedly, it’s a long way from Pastor Mack’s sermon on the end times to strapping on semi-automatic weapons and picking a fight with the government, but the message of both Mack Evans and the Hutaree begins with an apocalyptic vision written a long time ago in an age of considerable ignorance and superstition.

And it really has no place in the modern world.

I’ll end with a final quote from Pastor Mack’s sermon, which may sound strange to secular ears, but is fairly typical of fundamentalist and conservative evangelical biblical exegesis:

…He [Jesus] said the day’s gonna come when there’s gonna be some overcomers—times are gonna be so tough and so hard they’re gonna have to have a new authority. And when that comes, just relax: “I’ll give you a new name. I’ll give you a new authority.  And with that name and that authority, no enemy will be able to stand.”

Reverend Wright anyone?

__________________________________

*Sam Harris and others have pointed out that some of the so-called end time “prophecies” may be fulfilled by religious zealots seeking their fulfillment and thus may have dangerous political implications.

“Political Violence” Has A Right-Wing Father

Eugene Robinson, Op-Ed columnist for the Washington Post, wrote this today about the Christian militia arrests yesterday: 

The episode highlights the obvious: For decades now, the most serious threat of domestic terrorism has come from the growing ranks of paranoid, anti-government hate groups that draw their inspiration, vocabulary and anger from the far right.   

He is exactly right.  And Robinson points out the myth of moral equivalence that seems to qualify much of the coverage of the Hutaree case:  

It is disingenuous for mainstream purveyors of incendiary far-right rhetoric to dismiss groups such as the Hutaree by saying that there are “crazies on both sides.” This simply is not true. 

Admitting that a generation ago the “political violence” came from the far left, Robinson says these days, “it is hard to identify any kind of leftist threat.” 

 He continues: 

By contrast, there has been explosive growth among far-right, militia-type groups that identify themselves as white supremacists, “constitutionalists,” tax protesters and religious soldiers determined to kill people to uphold “Christian” values. 

If you have listened to any conservative pundits on television or radio the past two days, you have heard a steady diet of “both sides do it.” To which Robinson says,

It is dishonest for right-wing commentators to insist on an equivalence that does not exist. The danger of political violence in this country comes overwhelmingly from one direction — the right, not the left. The vitriolic, anti-government hate speech that is spewed on talk radio every day — and, quite regularly, at Tea Party rallies — is calibrated not to inform but to incite.

Demagogues scream at people that their government is illegitimate, that their country has been “taken away,” that their elected officials are “traitors” and that their freedom is at risk. They have a right to free speech, which I will always defend. But they shouldn’t be surprised if some listeners take them literally. 

As for the issue of Obama’s “legitimacy,” the president himself had the following to say about it and the Tea Party phenomenon, and notice how this dangerous radical who wants to destroy America has a hard time containing his utter hatred for teapartiers:  

 

Christian Warriors: Keeping “The Testimony Of Jesus Alive”

A man who organized a rally of gun-toting “Christians” outside the state capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky, in support of Second Amendment rights, had this to say on Saturday, according to Fox “News“:

Rex Bartley, state coordinator for the march, said bearing arms is a “God-given right,” and said gun rights supporters are a “silent majority” who need to speak out.

Now, the Erstwhile Conservative’s best researchers scoured the Bible for gun-references in both the Old and New Testaments, but so far no verse has surfaced that could reasonably be interpreted to include God-given rights to own any kind of Glock, Colt Combat Commander, or even a Mossberg, but we’ll keep looking. 

God’s taste in weapons seems to run toward stones, knives, and swords for small-scale killing, and fire and brimstone for those times when the killing must be done wholesale.

In any case, there is no conceivable way one can claim that gun-toting, gun rights supporters are a “silent majority.”

In the news today are reports that an anti-government Christian militia group is currently under siege by their—our—government, and despite stockpiling weapons under an offensively expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment, the militiamen and women either submitted peacefully or fled in fear.

At the heart of the latest FBI assault on piece-loving Christian gangsters, is a group called Hutaree, whose website homepage is decorated in some killer camouflage.  The raison d’être of the group is, naturally, biblically based:

“Preparing for the end time battles to keep the testimony of Jesus Christ alive”

On the “Christian warrior” website the following video is posted, which presumably shows Hutaree warriors practicing their considerable gun-toting skills in an assault against the government.*  I couldn’t find the video on their site that shows them running scared from the FBI, so this one will have to do:

The point of all this is that, frequently, I hear gun rights fanatics argue that the purpose of the Second Amendment was and is to allow citizens to arm themselves so the government couldn’t and can’t ride roughshod over their individual rights.

Oh, yeah?

A line from “About Us” on the Hutaree site says,

The Hutaree will one day see its enemy and meet him on the battlefield if so God wills it.

Looks like that “battlefield” will be a courtroom, and I’m pretty sure the Christian warriors can’t carry their guns in there—at least, not yet. 

Don’t underestimate the power of teabaggers, as they sweep across the country with their Bibles, their Constitutions, and their guns.

________________

*It could also be auditions for the newest Rambo installment, “God’s Army: Defending The Almighty Using An Old Car, Smokebombs and Creepy Music.”

The Pope: “A Prima Facie Suspect”

On the issue of pedophilia and the Pope, what he knew and when he knew it, the waters are a little murky at the moment. But Christopher Hitchens has written an article for Slate that summarizes nicely my general problem with the Catholic Church:

Almost every week, I go and debate with spokesmen of religious faith. Invariably and without exception, they inform me that without a belief in supernatural authority I would have no basis for my morality. Yet here is an ancient Christian church that deals in awful certainties when it comes to outright condemnation of sins like divorce, abortion, contraception, and homosexuality between consenting adults. For these offenses there is no forgiveness, and moral absolutism is invoked. Yet let the subject be the rape and torture of defenseless children, and at once every kind of wiggle room and excuse-making is invoked. What can one say of a church that finds so much latitude for a crime so ghastly that no morally normal person can even think of it without shuddering?

Hitchens also has a comment about the Pope:

The supreme leader of the Roman Catholic Church is now a prima facie suspect in a criminal enterprise of the most appalling sort—and in the attempt to obstruct justice that has been part and parcel of that enterprise.

If it turns out that the Pope–also a head of state–is guilty of a quasi-criminal offense, Hitchens asks what should happen if the Pope travels away from the Vatican: “Does he have immunity? Does he claim it? Should he have it?

[AP photo]

Conservative Pundit Loses Job For Telling Truth

In a sign that right-wing fanatics will continue to dominate the brain trust of American conservatism, David Frum has lost his job—and his health insurance to boot.

The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative groupthink tank, has apparently given Mr. Frum, George Bush’s former speechwriter, the left foot of fellowship, and he “resigned” from his job as a “resident fellow.”  Whether the resignation was related to donor complaints, as Frum alleges, or whether it was his lack of interest in taking the “resident” part of his job seriously, as Charles Murray claims, is in dispute.

But judging from the reaction on the right, Frum’s initial sin was in correctly labeling as a failure (“our Waterloo”) the Republican strategy to disengage from the legislative process on the health care reform issue:

…we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

Apparently, though, the kicker happened a couple of days ago when Terry Moran of ABC interviewed Frum, which included this:

Moran: “It sounds like you’re saying that the Glenn Becks, the Rush Limbaughs, hijacked the Republican party and drove it to a defeat?”

Frum: “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we’re discovering we work for Fox. And the balance here has been completely reversed. The thing that sustains a strong Fox network is the thing that undermines a strong Republican party.”

That “thing” is the anger of the mob of malcontents who watch Fox “News” and make people like Beck, Hannity, and Limbaugh rich men for keeping their listeners—including Republican politicians—pissed off and hysterical.  Frum told Moran:

The anger trapped the leadership. The leadership stoked the anger and then discovered they had no maneuvering room as a result of the anger.

As he had said earlier,

How do you negotiate with somebody…whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?

Whatever the reason for Frum’s departure from the American Enterprise Institute, one thing is certain.  The Institute, which provided the foundation for much of W. Bush’s public policy, will continue to regale us with future intellectual contributions from such luminaries as John Bolton, Lynne Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and the brilliant Newt Gingrich.

Maybe that’s why Frum resigned.

To Glenn Beck: “You Can’t Just Pull The Bodies Out Of The River”

Liberal evangelical Jim Wallis and conservative Mormon Glenn Beck are in a feud.  Actually, it’s not much of a feud.  Even though Beck has the Fox “News” Empire behind him and is willing to bear false witness against Wallis, Beck is no match for a man who has spent nearly forty years working on behalf of real social justice, not the kind caricatured by the king of kindergarten theology on his daily television show.

Wallis wrote yesterday (emphasis mine):

…while social justice begins with our own lives, choices, and sacrifices, it doesn’t end there. Those of us who have actually done this work for years all understand that you can’t just pull the bodies out of the river, and not send somebody upstream to see what or who is throwing them in. Serving the poor is a fundamental spiritual requirement of faith, but challenging the conditions that create poverty in the first place is also part of biblical social justice.

As for Beck’s emphasis on “voluntary” charity—he managed to tell his audience that he gives plenty of money to his church and the poor—Wallis explained to him what really shouldn’t have to be explained:

…voluntary church action can’t provide health care for millions who don’t have it, or fix broken urban school systems, or provide jobs at fair wages, or protect our kids from toxic air, water, and toys, or fix a broken immigration system that is grinding up our vulnerable families, or keep banks from cheating our people. All that requires commitments to holding governments accountable to social justice, and advocating for better public policies.

At the end of his piece, Wallis urged his own “supporters” not to attack Glenn Beck.  

No way, Jim.  In the spirit of the pissed-off Jesus, who made a whip and drove out first-century Wall Street bankers from the Jerusalem temple two thousand years ago, calling them “thieves” because they were exploiting the poor, I will continue to attack Beck and his exploitation of frustrated, pale-faced folks who turn to him in hopes the cultural changes swirling about them can be thwarted.

NOklahoma Senator Conspires To Protect Sex Offenders’ Rights To Viagra

In a spasm of low-classed, cynical, crass politics, Sen. Tom Coburn, Republican from NOklahoma,  introduced yesterday an amendment to the health care reform LAW that would ban sex offenders from getting Viagra and other “Erectile Dysfunction Drugs.”

In a perfect world, which means one that doesn’t include Oklahoma, Coburn’s too-cute-by-half stratagem to embarrass Democrats would backfire on him, since if the limp Senator were worried about the distribution of Viagra to sex criminals and other mental misfits, he would have inserted his flaccid amendment when it would have done some good.

Of course, “good” is exactly not what the drooping doctor and dangling deacon from Muskogee is up to.  Using my best Beckerhead analysis, in my conspiracist-minded opinion, because Bleeping Tom failed to offer his amendment at a point in the process when it certainly would have become law, he is a friend and abettor of sex offenders everywhere.

In other words, because he held back his amendment for strategic political reasons, he favors giving Viagra to those who commit sex crimes.

In fact, now that I have my Reynolds Wrap, Beckerhead cap on, I will say that Coburn’s actions constitute, “irresponsible sexual behavior.”*

 

*Sen. Coburn once accused NBC of “irresponsible sexual behavior” for daring to air Schindler’s List on television because of the “full-frontal nudity, violence, and profanity.”

Toyota, Highway Safety, And “How Conservatives Ruined Government”

Back in February, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the Obama administration had to “push” Toyota “to take measures to protect consumers.”  Presumably, if there had been no push, there would have been no massive recall and Toyota’s customers would still be at risk driving their cars.

But they may still be at risk despite the recall “fix.”

CNN reports that Toyota released a Technical Service Bulletin way back in 2002 that suggested  the problem with unintended acceleration was possibly an electronic problem and not faulty floormats or sticking gas pedals.

In the CNN report, Clarence Ditlow, of the Center for Automobile Safety, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was given a copy of the Service Bulletin in 2002 and kept it from the public.

As an attorney suing Toyota pointed out, the reason for hiding such information comes down to the billions it would have cost the company to recall the millions of vehicles involved, something it ended up doing anyway.

A Congressional committee investigating the mess concluded that NHTSA “conducted only one cursory investigation in 2004 into the possibility that defects in electronic controls could be responsible for these incidents.” 

And the Detroit News obtained a document that shows although Toyota hadn’t yet figured out the acceleration problem, it nevertheless “negotiated” a deal with NHTSA:

Toyota safety officials bragged that they had saved more than $100 million by conducting a limited recall in 2007 of just 55,000 floormats — rather than a costly mechanical fix.

So, let’s look back at 2002, when the Service Bulletin was released, and ask, “Who was in charge?”

The head of NHTSA was Dr. Jeffrey W. Runge, appointed to the post by George W. Bush in August of 2001. We know Dr. Runge has already admitted his agency was influenced by politics in 2003, when it did not release research indicating the growing danger of cell-phone use and driving. According to the New York Times:

The former head of the highway safety agency said he was urged to withhold the research to avoid antagonizing members of Congress who had warned the agency to stick to its mission of gathering safety data but not to lobby states…At the time, Congress had warned the agency not to use its research to lobby states. Dr. Runge said transit officials told him he could jeopardize billions of dollars of its financing if Congress perceived the agency had crossed the line into lobbying.

That Congress—the one that didn’t believe it was the job of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to lobby states on behalf of public safety—was controlled by conservative Republicans.  There is a consequence and a price to pay for electing people to public office whose philosophy of government is hatred of government.

As Thomas Frank pointed out, in The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Ruined Government, Enriched Themselves, and Beggared the Nation, the right-wing does not want a useful and competent government:

Conservatism…seems actively to want an inferior product. Believing effective government to be somewhere between impossible and undesirable, conservatism takes steps to ensure its impotence. The result is predictable enough: another sour truckload of the mother’s milk of conservatism, cynicism toward government.

Believing that effective government oversight of businesses—like Toyota—reduces profits, conservatives don’t dare object to such oversight on that basis.

Instead, conservatives claim that government bureaucracy reduces individual freedom, thus they frame all debates about government in terms of “liberty versus tyranny.”  Naturally, with such thinking comes the necessary corollary of staffing government agencies with people hostile to their missions or with otherwise ineffective administrators, whether that ineffectiveness is the result of incompetence or top-down pressure.   

The point is that when conservatives are in charge, certain things follow from their government-is-evil philosophy. 

But, as Charles Merriam pointed out many years ago*, effective government doesn’t have to be a “menace to liberty“:

…some of those who declare that our liberties are lost seem to be thinking of liberty as if it were a shield for private rather than public welfare…Our democratic system is based upon the principle that the gains of civilization are essentially mass gains and should be diffused throughout the people as promptly and equitably as possible.

The problems for Toyota are unfortunate.  What is more unfortunate is that there are doubtless some folks who would be alive today, if NHTSA had done its job nine years ago.  That job, defined on its website as a “mission” to “save lives, prevent injuries, reduce vehicle-related crashes,” was seriously compromised not just in 2002, but beginning in 1981, when Ronald Reagan took office. 

The Reagan Revolution’s hostility to government has been well documented, since it wasn’t a secret.  Reagan’s—and subsequent Republican administrations’—first loyalty was to business and its consequent mission was to undermine the public’s confidence in government, often casting government regulators—whose job it is to protect the public interest—as enemies of liberty.

The effects of years of anti-government philosophy, as it relates to Toyota and the NHTSA, was best illustrated by Clarence Ditlow’s testimony before Congress:

In 1980, there were 146 million vehicles on the road. Today there are 256 million. In 1980, there 119 people in enforcement, today there are only 57. In 1980, NHTSA had 2 cents per vehicle for enforcement, today it has less than a penny. The agency doesn’t have its own test facility and must rent space from Honda in East Liberty OH. Anyway one looks at it, the agency is underfunded. In terms of safety, the best way to look at it is motor vehicles are responsible for 95% of the nation’s transportation deaths but only 1% of the Transportation budget.

Conservatives and their libertarian cousins may rejoice over the fact that NHTSA is grossly underfunded, unable to effectively do the job it was designed to do. They may rejoice that under the Bush administration the agency’s lax regulatory enforcement benefited Toyota and other companies.

But make no mistake, in the case of Toyota and who knows how many other cases, if NHTSA had fulfilled its mission—”save lives, prevent injuries“—a number of Americans would be alive today to enjoy their individual liberty.

Here is the CNN report:

 *The American Political Science Review, Vol. 29, No. 2 (Apr., 1935), pp. 197-211

Obama: Alien Socialist Muslim Who May Be The Antichrist As He Acts Like Adolph Hitler

The Erstwhile Conservative is always looking for a new ways to measure Republican intelligence, and fortunately, a Harris poll provided the latest, via The Daily Beast’s John Avlon:

67% of Republicans believe Obama is a socialist.

57% of Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim.

45% of Republicans are birthers.

38% of Republicans say Obama is “doing many of the things Hitler did.”

24% say Obama “may be the Antichrist.” 

So, somewhere between 24% and 67% of Republicans are idiots.

This stuff used to make me laugh.  Now, it’s getting scary.

 

This picture was taken with a special Republican lens. —>  

“Conservative Entertainment Industry” To Blame For Republican Waterloo

David Frum used to put the words on paper that George W. Bush subsequently mangled, before they dribbled from his lips.

Today, the conservative Frum is a columnist and blogger, who doesn’t always subscribe to the know-nothing philosophy that passes for conservatism these days.  For instance, last year he said Rush Limbaugh was a “a walking stereotype of self-indulgence,” after considering “his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history.”

You have to like a guy who would dare attack Attila the Hun like that.

About the health care reform bill last night, Frum’s blog began,

Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s.

It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster.

Even as presidential hopefuls like Mitt Romney are going all-in on a “campaign” to “repeal” the newly-passed reform bill,  some thoughtful folks like David Frum have a different view. Blaming “conservatives and Republicans” for the “disaster,” he writes:

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994…This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

As for repealing the new law, Frum has some advice for Romney and other Republicans who are talking big now:

No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

Those radical voices, Frum says, included “conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio” who “trapped” Republican leaders into a position from which they could not deal with the Democrats.  Echoing President Obama when he schooled Republicans in Baltimore, Frum asked,

How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?

Obama had said earlier in the year at a Republican retreat:

…we’ve got to close the gap a little bit between the rhetoric and the reality. I’m not suggesting that we’re going to agree on everything, whether it’s on health care or energy or what have you, but if the way these issues are being presented by the Republicans is that this is some wild-eyed plot to impose huge government in every aspect of our lives, what happens is you guys then don’t have a lot of room to negotiate with me.

I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable in your own base, in your own party. You’ve given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you’ve been telling your constituents is, this guy is doing all kinds of crazy stuff that’s going to destroy America.

Frum ended his piece with a trenchant observation about the dynamics of the right-wing media:

…today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours.

My guess is that Republicans will eventually have to retreat from their repeal strategy, if Democrats successfully communicate the attributes of their bill, including the popular insurance reforms.  Republicans will likely opt for something a little more nuanced than simply trying to “kill the bill.”

The trouble is that their teabagging supporters, targets of the “conservative entertainment industry,” aren’t that in to “nuance.”

Homogeneous

178 minds?  178 souls?

There are 178 Republicans in the People’s House, the U. S. House of Representatives.  Just out of pure chance, you would think there would be one—just one—member of the Republican caucus who would have some desire to side with the 32 million Americans who will eventually have insurance coverage under the bill passed last night. 

Or side with we the people against insurance monoliths who deny coverage to the sick and discard those who have paid premiums for years when they dare get sick.

You would think that among 178 conservative men and women at least one of them would have a conscience that leaned toward a reform bill so conservative that liberals had to hold their nose while voting for it.

But no.  Not one.

On the Democratic side, more than 13% of the caucus voted against the bill.  Being a diverse party, naturally there was no way that every single Democrat was going to support the bill. There are many reasons one becomes a Democrat, from a deep concern for the natural environment to a Kennedy-like focus on the social environment, and all points in between.

But the Republican Party these days is a little different. It’s fairly easy to corral 178 people when your collective raison d’être is primarily about protecting the interests of the affluent. 

While using the language of individual liberty, Republicans support social structures that confine—not liberate—large swaths of Americans.

Using “family values” issues, Republicans—often failing to practice those same values—persuade decent, dedicated working folks to vote against their own economic interests. 

Using anti-government hate speech, Republicans convince agitated and fearful citizens to put Republicans in power in the government.

What Republicans have managed to pull off in the House seems like an amazing thing.  But when you think about it, and when you consider that they will do the same thing in the U.S. Senate, what it really says about the Republican Party is that nothing—absolutely nothing—trumps its historical love affair with business and the moneyed class.

So, there really isn’t 178 Republican minds or 178 Republican souls in the People’s House.

There is only one mind and no soul.

“The Civil Rights Act Of The 21st Century”

Just minutes after the long-awaited health care reform votes in the House, the Democratic leadership held a press conference. 

James Clyburn, Democratic Majority Whip and an African-American, said this:

I consider this to be the Civil Rights Act of the 21st century.  Because I do believe that this is the one fundamental right that this country has been wrestling with now for almost a hundred years.  I think tonight we took a giant step toward the establishment of a more perfect union.

Unfortunately, not one Republican out of 178 had the guts to buck their ultra-right-wing conservative leadership and vote for what will soon become a fundamental right in America.

Democrats Can’t Afford To Rest

Just a few highlights from the pre-vote mania on Capitol Hill:

From Ryan Grim at HuffPo:

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) came to the defense of the racists and bigots who shouted slurs at members of Congress Saturday. The Tea Party protesters shouted the ‘n’ word at African-American members of Congress the ‘f’ word at an openly gay member.

Rather than condemn the anachronistic behavior, Nunes blamed the Democrats, saying that they make people do and say crazy things with their tyrannical behavior.

Sam Stein reported on Karl Rove’s bizarre appearance on This Week, which personally I found more than a little off-putting, not because of Rove’s theatrics, but because he was allowed to virtually filibuster the entire segment:

The most dramatic fireworks of all, came on ABC’s This Week, where former Bush strategist Karl Rove deployed a white board and flew into mild hysteria at the mere thought of legislation passing.

“We will fight the election on this and the Democrats will have significant losses in the House and Senate as a result of this bill,” he said.

“Well listen,” replied David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s campaign manager, “if Karl and a lot of Republicans want to call the election already, they ought to break out that ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner they put on the USS Lincoln.”

All of which drew Rove into a particularly heated rage: “That’s cheesy, David. … You should not denigrate the mission of the USS Abraham Lincoln.”

Although certainly President Obama deserves and will get much credit for his efforts to pass health care reform, the often-ridiculed NancyPelosi has frequently shown more guts than any two men in Congress. From the New York Times:

Scott Brown, the upstart Republican, had just won his Senate race in Massachusetts, a victory that seemed to doom Mr. Obama’s dream of overhauling the nation’s health care system. The White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, once Ms. Pelosi’s right hand man on Capitol Hill, was pushing Mr. Obama to scale back his ambitions and pursue a pared-down bill.

Mr. Obama seemed open to the idea, though it was clearly not his first choice. Ms. Pelosi scoffed.

“Kiddie care,” she called the scaled-down plan, derisively, in private.

In a series of impassioned conversations, over the telephone and in the Oval Office, she conveyed her frustration to the president, according to four people familiar with the talks. If she and Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, were going to stick out their necks for Mr. Obama’s top legislative priority, Ms. Pelosi wanted assurances that the president would too. At the White House, aides to Mr. Obama say, he also wanted assurances; he needed to hear that the leaders could pass his far-reaching plan.

“We’re in the majority,” Ms. Pelosi told the president. “We’ll never have a better majority in your presidency in numbers than we’ve got right now. We can make this work.”

Finally, I watched today various anti-abortion Republicans cynically use the abortion issue as a wedge to divide Democrats, pretending the Hyde Amendment issue trumped all considerations for them and should for Democrats, too.  The problem was, of course, that the Hyde Amendment had nothing to do with their fierce opposition to the reform bill.

The phony sadness with which they came to the microphone at their press conference–after it was clear that Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak was satisfied with Obama’s pledge to sign an Executive Order that would ensure that no federal funds would be used to pay for abortions–merely served to trivialize their “principled” stand on the abortion issue. 

These days the Republicans have only one solid principle from which they will not budge: Tell outrageous lies as often as possible and hope a few of them will resonate with enough of the American people to regain power.

After the historic vote tonight, the battle for the truth will have just begun. Democrats can’t afford to rest for a minute, as the Republican Machine will be cranked up another notch, and its message will be, in the words of House Minority Leader John Boehner, “This bill will ruin the country.”

 

Lost In Science: Quantum Weirdness

My qualifications to write about science are based on the fact that, as a kid, I used to religiously watch Lost in Space every week.  Damn, I loved that robot.

Anyway, my mom also bought me a set of Young People’s Science Encyclopedias (as well as a small version of the robot) when I was about nine, so coupled with my devotion to Lost in Space, I think my scientific bona fides are pretty clear.

As a true friend of science, no matter my qualifications to write about it, I am a sucker for science books written for “general readers,” which try to make difficult concepts like relativity theory and quantum mechanics understandable (to the extent they  can be understood) to folks who don’t have a background in science.  

Many years ago, while waiting in the doctor’s office, I happened upon an article in Time magazine about John Bell’s theorem, and off I went into quantum weirdness.  I have tried ever since to wrap my head around the strange world of quantum theory, which has proven very difficult.  Just when I think I am beginning to see through a glass darkly, some new concept pops up, and complete ignorance once again returns.

Anyhow, on Thursday Scientific American published an article, “Macro-Weirdness: ‘Quantum Microphone’ Puts Naked-Eye Object in 2 Places at Once.”  Now, that title may sound counter-intuitive to those unfamiliar with the “new science” (which is about 100 years old now), but trust me, the idea that things can be in more than one place at the same time is pretty common in quantum theory.

What’s news in the article is that researchers working at Los Alamos National Laboratory have shown that an object larger than a molecule, in this case only “the width of a hair” and “made up of about 10 trillion atoms,” “acts as if it exists in two places at once.”

Admittedly, at first glance the feat doesn’t sound that impressive.  After all, each individual atom in the object in question “only moves by an extremely small distance“—which turns out to be less than the size of one of the individual atoms—thus in the so-called “superposition of states” the object “is never really in two totally distinct places.” 

To physicists, however, the feat was quite impressive: “The experiment showed that a large object…can display just as much quantum weirdness as single atoms do.”

The real problem, though, is much bigger:

As to how the day-to-day reality of objects that we observe, such as furniture and fruit, emerges from such a different and exotic quantum world, that remains a mystery.

Mystery, indeed.  The point of this short excursion into the bizarre world of the small is to hopefully encourage a few people—who have no technical training—to explore the large world of science, which is at least as stimulating and exciting as, well, reruns of Lost in Space

Baby Jesus Accused of Scam

Baby Jesus, also known as Sean Hannity, has a problem.

A fellow conservative, Debbie Schlussel, who is a radio talk show host, columnist, and attorney, yesterday slammed Hannity and his “Freedom Concert Scam.”

For the last several years, Sean Hannity and the Freedom Alliance “charity” have conducted “Freedom Concerts” across America. They’ve told you that they are raising money to pay for the college tuition of the children of fallen soldiers and to pay severely wounded war vets. And on Friday Night, Hannity will be honored with an award for this “Outstanding Community Service by a Radio Talk Show Host” at Talkers Magazine’s convention.

But it’s all a huge scam.

In fact, less than 20%–and in two recent years, less than 7% and 4%, respectively–of the money raised by Freedom Alliance went to these causes, while millions of dollars went to expenses, including consultants and apparently to ferret the Hannity posse of family and friends in high style.

Accodrding to Schlussel, 2006 tax returns for Freedom Alliance, which Hannity promotes endlessly on his radio and television shows,

…reported revenue of $10,822,785, but only $397,900–or a beyond-measly 3.68%–of that was given to the children of fallen troops as scholarships or as aid to severely injured soldiers.

Whoops!

Particularly egregious, for anyone who has ever heard Hannity brag about the good Freedom Alliance does, is Schlussel’s claim that the group gives relatively small sums to the injured soldiers it is supposed to support, including the following:

  • $200 to a serviceman who “was involved in a roadside bomb incident in Iraq, which caused loss of both legs and left arm.” As Schlussel says, “Freedom Alliance gave this brave soldier roughly $67 per limb.”
  • $200 to a serviceman who “was wounded in Iraq by an IED explosion” and “lost right arm” and had “severe shrapnel wounds to upper body and face.”
  • $165 to a serviceman, “a bilateral amputee with 30% facial burns sustained during IED blast.”

Schlussel writes that in 2006,

…while fat-cat consultants and expenses took millions of Freedom Alliance’s money, seriously wounded troops to whom Freedom Alliance donated received a pathetic average of $785 each and the college student kids of the fallen got a paltry average of $2,943 toward tuition. Yes, out of millions raised that year by Sean Hannity at his Freedom Concerts, only $309,000 was given out in scholarships to 105 students, and only $110,703.82 was given to the wounded soldiers.

There is plenty more in Schlussel’s exposé, but I wanted to end with something Hannity may have a hard time spinning:

To make matters worse, Hannity deliberately lied to his radio audience about how much money was going to the kids of the fallen American soldiers. On May 28th of last year, Hannity told his listeners, “Our new sponsor, Boca Java, just pledged $30,000 to the Freedom Concerts. That will provide a full one-year college scholarship for a kid of a fallen soldier.” In fact, Freedom Alliance’s tax forms indicate it has never given any student more than $6,000 in a school year, and usually it’s been far less. Many students only get $1,000, which will barely cover anything at most colleges, today.

I can’t wait for Baby Jesus’ explanation, if he ever bothers to respond. When your followers tend toward hero worship, often you can get away with mere silence.

[Photo: SPC Ryan Price at: http://www.506infantry.org/projects/ryanpricetrust.html]

Republicans Don’t Mind Sleeping With Willing Teabaggers, But They’re Married To Money

As if there were any doubt, and despite spooning with gullible teabaggers, the Republican Party’s first love is the moneyed class.

As Democrats attempt to hammer out some kind of effective financial regulatory reform legislation, John Boehner, House Minority (read: MINORITY) Leader, has assured nervous bankers that reform is a long way away. 

From Think Progress:

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) told “an enthusiastic crowd of bankers” today that, even if the Senate passes a bill, reconciling it with the House version will take another year. “If the Senate is able to produce a bill, I think it’s just as likely that we’ll be talking about the same issue a year from now as we are right now,” Boehner said at the American Bankers Association government relations summit.

Boehner then added that the bankers should be standing up for themselves against “those little punk staffers” trying to write new regulations:

“Don’t let those little punk staffers take advantage of you and stand up for yourselves,” Boehner said.

The website also reported:

In February, Boehner met “over drinks” with JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, where he “made a pitch” for Wall Street support by explaining that “Republicans had stood up to Mr. Obama’s efforts to curb pay and impose new regulations.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, “said he visited New York about twice a month to try to tap into Wall Street’s ‘buyers remorse’” with Democrats. These pitches had some effect too; last year, “major Wall Street players began sending an increasing share of their donations to Republicans.”

If it’s true that “major Wall Street players” are throwing in with Republicans, that’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time.  The Democratic Party should unmistakably be the party of “major Main Street players.”

Come See The Results Of Right-Wing Media

Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy, a Columbus, Ohio, Democrat, is undecided about whether she will vote for health care reform.  Outside her district office, this is what she faced, as reported by the Columbus Dispatch:

The kind of anger that would make these conservatives—yes, they are conservatives; what else could they be?—behave in such a way is a product of months and months of right-wing media feeding hate and fear to soul-starved people.

On Chris Matthews’ show, I listened to Mike Pence meekly condemn what he saw on this video, even as he made the case that it just shows how angry people are out there.

I can’t believe I share a planet with such people, not to mention a country.  

Grizzly Baier Versus Teddy Baier

I have seen Bret Baier’s “news” hour many times.  It’s normally a platform where conservative advocacy can get all dressed up and pretend it’s real journalism.  It’s not.

But tonight I watched Bret Baier’s interview of President Obama and I have read the transcripts.  The truth is I thought Baier did a pretty good job of interviewing the president.  Really, I did.

Sure, he interrupted him repeatedly and often unnecessarily, attempting to force Obama to answer the questions the way Baier wanted him to.  But he didn’t want Obama to give him unresponsive, evasive answers.  He tried to zero in on some points of contention that many on the right-wing have frequently made, and he wanted Obama to provide answers to those points.  (I am sure that the right-wing is ecstatic over the interview, probably certifying Baier as a first-class, Fox “News” kind of journalist, if you know what I mean.)

But the problem with Baier’s interview of Obama was not his aggressive approach;  it is just that I have never before seen him be so aggressive against anyone on the right, say, George Bush II for instance, whom Baier interviewed in December, 2008. 

The truth is that Baier is simply not a bi-partisan journalist.

I challenge anyone to compare the transcript of Baier’s interview of Obama, which can be found here, with the transcript of his interview of an outgoing George Bush, which can be found here.  You will notice many interruptions of Obama, very few of George Bush.  You will find many leading questions of Obama, and almost all, “what is your opinion,” “how do you feel” types of questions of Bush.

You would think that after eight years of a problematic and controversial presidency, that ended with Bush being about as unpopular as possible, that Baier would have some serious charges to fire off at him.

How about, for instance, a question about spending and non-taxing the country into bankruptcy, Bret? Nope.

You will find that Teddy Baier tossed softball after softball to the former president in a journalistically pitiful performance. But to be fair, had Baier questioned Bush the way he did Obama, the people on the right who are praising Baier today would have demanded his head then.

Now, as far as the Obama interview, Grizzly Baier came at him with high and inside pitches, designed to back him away from the plate, the way journalists should question our public officials, as long as those journalists are not engaged in advocacy while doing so. 

Certainly, Baier works for a right-wing network and his audience is made up mostly of hard-core conservatives (which is what made Baier’s use of the e-mails he received from Fox viewers troubling and close to advocacy).  And naturally his questions were designed to make Obama squirm, if not provoke him into a gaffe of some kind.

But  I don’t have a problem with making politicians squirm.  I just wish conservative politicians would have to squirm on Fox “News.”  But they don’t.  They go there to get rubbed down by mink-gloved fellow-travellers.  Fox journalists wait until someone left of Sean Hannity appears on the network so they can apply their reporting skills.

Here are a couple of samples from the Obama and Bush transcripts, both interviews conducted by Bret Baier. Notice the confrontational approach to Obama and the no-controversy, no-confrontation approach to Bush.  Toward Obama, Baier was acting as a journalist; toward Bush he was acting as a right-wing patsy:

BAIER: Couple more process things, quickly.

You said a few times as Senator Obama that if a president has to eke out a victory of 50 plus one, that on something as important as health care, “you can’t govern.” But now you’re embracing a 50 plus one reconciliation process in the Senate, so do you feel like you can govern after this?

OBAMA: Well, Bret, the — I think what we’ve seen during the course of this year is that we have come up with a bill that basically tracks the recommendations of Tom Daschle, former Democratic senator and leader, but also Bob Dole, former Republican leader, Howard Baker, former Republican leader. The ideas embodied in this legislation are not left, they’re not right, they are — they are —

BAIER: I understand what you’re — I know you don’t like to talk about process, but there are a lot of questions in these 18,000 that talk about process.

OBAMA: I understand being —

(CROSSTALK)

BAIER: And there are a lot of people around America that have a problem with this process.

OBAMA: Bret, I —

BAIER: You called it an ugly process just last month.

OBAMA: I’ve got to tell — I’ve got to say to you, there are a lot more people who are concerned about the fact that they may be losing their house or going bankrupt because of health care.

BAIER: OK, so we have —

OBAMA: And so — so the — look —

BAIER: Deem and passed, Senate reconciliation and we don’t know exactly what’s in the fix bill. Do you still think —

OBAMA: No, we will — by the time the vote has taken place, not only I will know what’s in it, you’ll know what’s in it because it’s going to be posted and everybody’s going to be able to able to evaluate it on the merits.

But here’s the thing, Bret, I mean, the reason that I think this conversation ends up being a little frustrating is because the focus entirely is on Washington process. And yes, I have said that is an ugly process. It was ugly when Republicans were in charge, it was ugly were in Democrats were in charge.

BAIER: This is one-sixth of the U.S. economy, though, sir. One-sixth.

OBAMA: And, Bret, let me tell you something, the fact of the matter is that for the vast majority of people, their health care is not going to change because right now they’re getting a better deal. The only thing that is going to change for them is is that they’re going to have more security under their insurance and they’re going to have a better situation when it comes to if they lose their job, heaven forbid, or somebody gets sick with a preexisting condition, they’ll have more security. But, so—so—

BAIER: So how can you —

OBAMA: — the notion that —

BAIER: — guarantee that they’re not going to —

OBAMA: — so but —

BAIER: — they’re going to be able to keep their doctor —

OBAMA: Bret, you’ve got to let me finish my answers —

BAIER: Sir, I know you don’t like to filibuster, but —

OBAMA: Well, I’m trying to answer your question and you keep on interrupting…

December 17, 2008

BRET BAIER: Today you were talking about keeping America safe. Do you believe that there hasn’t been a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in more than seven years because of the policies your administration has implemented?

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: I believe that we’ve got a lot of brave men and women who are keeping the pressure on the enemy. I– I know we’ve got a lot of people that are listening– for signs of attack. And I– I– yeah, I believe the policies that we worked with Congress– on to better protect America are paying off. Now, the problem is, is that there’s still an enemy and they still wanna attack. And– but we have been successful, thanks to a lot of people.

BRET BAIER: I mean, you’ve heard the critics of the administration [my emphasis] who say the policies on interrogation techniques were– amounted to torture. And the policies– for surveillance amounted to illegal wiretapping. And that–

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Yeah.

BRET BAIER: America’s image was hurt around the world. And that made us less safe.

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Yeah.

BRET BAIER: How do you respond now, looking back to all of that?

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH:  Well– I would respond and say that– we always stay within the law, that we consulted with members of Congress, and that we have an obligation to put tools in place– so the future Presidents can better protect the country…

[...]

BRET BAIER: Do you worry at all that the incoming administration will undo some of the things that you say have kept America safe?

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Well, I think the incoming administration’s gonna have to fully analyze the risks and the tools and– come to their own conclusion…

[...]

BRET BAIER: What’s your take on President-elect Obama’s national security team?

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Solid. Solid team. I mean, for example, Secretary Gates, he’s a– I know him well. I trust him. I admire him. He’s agreed to– stay on at the President-elect Obama’s request. And– I’m impressed.

BRET BAIER:  Is that comforting to you?

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Well, it’s impressive to me…

A stunning contrast, but given who it was and where it was, not the least bit surprising.

Friends Don’t Let The Israelis Drive Drunk

For those interested in our troubles with the Israelis, who threw dirt in the face of the Vice President last week when the Interior Minister okayed additional settlements in East Jerusalem, here is a nice summary of our relations with Israel, as well as what we should expect from them, by Tom Friedman:

 

Journalism 101—And In Joplin, Too!

Today’s front page of the Globe carried a story titled, “Group pushing for smoke-free establishments,” which reported on an effort by a local group to “make all local bars and restaurants tobacco-free.” 

Now, I’m not arguing the merits, one way or the other, about the case for banning smoking in public places, like Kansans have done recently.  What I want to highlight from the story is something the reporter, Roger McKinney, did that I find much too rare in local reporting. 

Willie Edwards, a professor at MSSU and co-chairman of Smoke-Free Joplin, the group waging the anti-smoking campaign, said the following, as reported by McKinney:

“In every state where they pass smoking bans, the busi­nesses have not suffered,” Edwards said.

That’s a definitive statement, no?  “In every state,” Edwards said, “businesses have not suffered.”  There’s no doubt what Edwards meant. He was clear.  So, what came next?  McKinney wrote:

But there are published statis­tics to the contrary.

Voilà! McKinney committed journalism in one short and powerful and underappreciated sentence: But there are published statistics to the contrary.

He then went on to cite a report connected to a reputable source, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, that at least offered real evidence that what Willie Edwards said is not true.

That, my friends, is what journalists are supposed to do:  Check the statements and claims of those they are covering and see if there is credible evidence that might contradict them—and then report it.  

Reporters shouldn’t just report what public officials or issue advocates say—as is often done on local television and sometimes in the Globe itself—without offering a counter view, if one is available. 

Sure, Willie Edwards probably didn’t like the fact that Roger McKinney bothered to check out his claim and offer evidence that it might not be true. But we should expect nothing less from real reporters, as they do their job of informing the public.

Admittedly, in the scheme of things, McKinney’s story on a local group’s efforts to persuade locals to ban smoking in their businesses is not going to shake the foundations of Joplin society, nor will it win him a Pulitzer Prize.

It’s just an example of a journalist practicing his craft the way he should, a way that ensures that public officials or civilian activists will be held accountable for the things they say and do.

Christian Zealots Love Big Government

It’s funny how conservatives love to talk about free markets and less government—except when they wield power themselves.

The Texas State Board of Education, now mostly in the hands of Christian zealots, has made changes to curriculum standards that would ensure that our kids learn about “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s” but not about Thomas Jefferson’s influence on revolutionary thinking in his time and after—the New York Times points out that conservatives on the board dislike Jefferson’s coinage of the phrase, “separation between church and state.”

Thus, students can look forward to a paragraph or two each about “Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.”

No doubt, these “small government” conservatives suffered no cognitive dissonance when they made more than 100 changes to the 120-page curriculum standards originally proposed by real, honest-to-goodness teachers of history, sociology and economics.

Academia is skewed too far to the left,” according to Republican board member Don McLeroy via the Times.  Mr. McLeroy, whom the paper called the leader of the conservatives on the board, is a dentist, and, of course, that makes him an expert on academia. 

Or maybe it’s his position as fourth-grade Sunday school teacher at Grace Bible Church or his affiliation with the Boy Scouts that makes him qualified to judge whether the Founders really wanted a secular Republic or a theocracy that only Pat Robertson could love.

No. What makes him qualified is that he was duly elected—by the people—and he is a member of a government bureaucracy that conservatives say they loathe, except when they get their hands on it and in it.

Fortunately, the Times reports that the effect of this Texas nonsense on the rest of the country is not as onerous as it used to be:

…the state is one of the largest buyers of textbooks. In the digital age, however, that influence has diminished as technological advances have made it possible for publishers to tailor books to individual states.

Thank dentist Don’s deity for that.

Beware Of Conservatives Bearing Gifts

Much is made by the right-wing of the so-called “Fair Tax,” designed to eradicate all federal income taxes and replace them with a consumption tax, in the form of a sales tax, “at the point of purchase on all new  goods and services for personal consumption.”  The plan includes a provision for a monthly payment—a “prebate”—to all, so that those unfortunate enough to be spending most of their income on food and necessities could catch a break.

This isn’t the time or place to debate the merits of the Fair Tax idea, and make no mistake there is plenty of controversy surrounding it.  But for a couple of years, I listened to Neal Boortz, yet another Righty heard across the nation on Reactionary Radio, extol the virtues of the Fair Tax plan he, along with Rep. John Linder (R-Georgia), promoted through their books, The Fair Tax Book and Fair Tax: The Truth.

Now, as much as I can, I try to avoid committing logical fallacies, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.  And at the risk of committing the genetic fallacy in the case of the Fair Tax, I will say that because the Fair Tax idea is touted by people whose judgment I otherwise know to be suspect, like Neal Boortz, I am inclined to be at least slightly skeptical of the plan. 

Fair Tax supporters, including Boortz and Linder, claim that the new tax plan is neither a “conservative” nor a “liberal” idea, that it is “revenue neutral” and in terms of its effect on those in the lower-income brackets, it is not regressive. 

But I find that hard to believe.

Forget for a moment that the idea is almost exclusively promoted by people on the right—that in itself doesn’t make it a bad idea.  But let’s look at what such people actually say, when they criticize others in the context of the Fair Tax plan.

Clay Bowler, whom I have mentioned before regarding his Billy Long Is Wrong website, recently criticized the Springfield, Mo., city council for its desire “to vote on a motion last week that would discourage the Fair Tax in Missouri.” Bowler wrote:

The council was ready to send a few opinions to Jefferson City without giving true representation to the residents of Springfield, MO. Mayor Jim O’Neal readied his pen to sign his name to the motion, but the momentum of the council’s action began to slow as word spread and Fair Tax advocates crammed into the third floor of Springfield’s City Hall, and the city council pulled it off the agenda for now to be heard at a later date. There is no doubt, the Springfield City Hall is the most liberal it has been in years.

Now, that last line, “There is no doubt, the Springfield City Hall is the most liberal it has been in years,” is a little troubling, if you want to maintain that the Fair Tax is not only revenue neutral but politically neutral.

Again, Bowler complained about Billy Long’s $300 donation to “flaming liberal” Springfield Mayor, James O’Neal, by relating it to the Fair Tax:

…it appears Mr. Long’s lack of judgement helped further liberalize [sic] City Hall, while helping to make this battle at City Hall happen through campaign contributions to one James E. O’Neal. What was that you said about being a fiscal conservative who supports the fair tax Mr. Long? Are you sure about that?

Bowler continued to attack Long’s alleged lack of interest in battling those on the Springfield city council who opposed the Fair Tax, but notice his language in doing so:

When you consider Long’s claim that he will go to Washington to fight the liberals, I have to ask why isn’t he fighting the liberals here in Springfield first? Does he not understand the issues from the views of the right and the left and actually know which side he stands on?

It is language like this that makes me a little suspicious of the right-wing’s otherwise neutral sales pitch, when trying to get us to buy into their Fair Tax scheme. 

Okay, I’ll admit it makes me damned suspicious. If conservative Republicans, who hate liberals and liberalism, come selling me a tax plan designed, they say, to be “fair” and “neutral,” I aint buying it.

Genetic fallacy or not.

 

[Boortz photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images]

Women Of Color Way Behind White Women

I heard a story on NPR this morning discussing a report released this past week by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development on the personal wealth gap between white women and women of color in America.  The news release announcing the report began:

Single black and Hispanic women are particularly hard hit, owning only a penny of wealth for every dollar owned by their male counterparts and a fraction of a penny for every dollar owned by single white women, according to the report released by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development at a Capitol Hill symposium on the economic security of women.

That “fraction of a penny for every dollar owned by single white women” translates into a median of $5 of wealth or net worth for black and Hispanic women under 50 years of age compared to $40,000 for white women. “Wealth” is simply defined as “assets minus debts.”

Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but I was shocked by that $5 to $40,000 wealth disparity between women of color under 50 and white women.  I know there are several reasons for this inequality, including historical, structural, and cultural, but the report argues that “structural inequities are the primary cause of the gap for women of color.”  Whether that’s true, I don’t know, but there isn’t any doubting the fact that in America in the 21st century, it matters what color you are (in addition to what sex you are) in terms of both your income and your ability to accumulate wealth. Here is a graph that demonstrates it (click on it for a better view):

Now, my point is this: even if some white folks are not interested in this untenable disparity, or not interested in figuring out how to begin to fix it, here is something that should interest such otherwise disinterested white folks, from an AP story last week:

Minorities make up nearly half the children born in the U.S., part of a historic trend in which minorities are expected to become the U.S. majority over the next 40 years.

The AP points out the potential political ramifications of the inevitable fact of white minority status:

The numbers highlight the nation’s growing racial and age divide, seen in pockets of communities across the U.S., which could heighten tensions in current policy debates from immigration reform and education to health care and Social Security.

Does anyone doubt that the politics of communities change when, as the story highlights, Gwinnett County, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, goes from a 16% minority population in 1990 to a 58% minority population in 2008?  Do you think Republicans who run for office in that county can get away with sounding like Tom Tancredo at the National Tea Party Convention earlier this year?

And can anyone doubt that no matter what success the pale-faced party of conservatives, also known as the Republican Party, has this November or in 2012, that rapidly changing demographics will eventually dictate a change-or-die attitude among Republicans?

In other words, by 2050*, the date most cited when whites will lose their majority status, it won’t matter too much if white teabaggers at de facto “whites only” rallies are still saying, “We want our country back!” 

Our country” will have a whole new meaning by then.

_________________________________________________________

*Here is a table on the projected population of the U.S. up to 2050, as provided by the Census Bureau (click on for better view):

UPDATE:  On Monday, according to Sam Stein, Dick Armey, the hard-core conservative and “corporate personification of the Tea Party movement,” told the National Press Club that his party had some problems to overcome:

Armey noted earlier that the GOP had “frustrated [him] to tears on immigration” noting that leadership was alienating the “fastest-growing voting demographic in America.”

Armey also said that he saw “how destructive” Tom Tancredo was and that the issue of immigration should be handled “with some sense of compassion and some sense of civility.”

…these guys are trying to blow it. Just do it right… There is room in America. If you love America, if you love freedom, love work, are willing to pay your way, pay your taxes and obey the law, you should be welcome in America.

Good luck, Dick, reining in the monster you helped to create.

Dear Senator McCaskill

Sent this e-mail today, hoping against hope:

Dear Senator McCaskill,

As D-day approaches for health care reform, I urge you to ignore the fear mongers and support not just the current, modified version advanced by President Obama, but I also urge you to sign the letter circulating among your Senate colleagues pledging to vote for the public option, as a way of keeping honest the insurance industry.

I realize this is a tough vote, since Missouri is one of those states that isn’t wild about Obama or the reform effort at the moment, but a public-option reform bill, once it is explained, will become popular over time.

And even if it doesn’t become all that fashionable here in Missouri, it’s my belief that once in a political generation politicians like you get to cast votes that really mean something, historically speaking.

Now, is your time.  It’s not the time to worry about the politics of your vote, as many are likely urging you to do.  Now is the time to begin the process of wrestling control of our health care system from the profiteers and make America—including Missouri—a better place to live.

Thanks,

Duane Graham

Joplin, MO.

Colbert: “Nothing Moves Product Like The Hot Stink Of Fear”

Now, for a moment of comedy, at the expense of Glenn Beck and the sad, sad suckers followers who watch his show, not for the unintended comedy, but because they believe Glenn is telling them the “truth” and trying to “wake up” America to the “reality” that our country is on the brink of extinction.  Thank God for nonhybrid seeds.

Beck’s cynical advertisers no doubt know how to make a dollar or two by exploiting the devoted Beckerheads, and Stephen Colbert has a little fun with one of those advertisers:

 
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