How Old Is The Earth? And Other Tests Of Republican Rationality

I am weary of homeschoolers, most of whom are homeschooling because they want to indoctrinate their children into the ways of some form or other of fundamentalist Christianity.

While I support religious freedom, I’m not sure our country can afford to support the freedom to isolate children from the intellectual lifeblood of the nation, so their parents can condition them to believe that the Bible, a book two to three thousand years old, is a greater source of scientific knowledge than modern science itself.

But that’s for another day.

Today, I want to point out how powerful the fundamentalist-evangelical voter is in the Republican Party and suggest a question the Joplin Globe could put to all local candidates for political office.

A Kentucky blogger, Barefoot and Progressive, posted a video of Rand Paul‘s appearance at a conference of Christian Homeschool Educators last Friday.  The Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate was asked a question by one of his Christian brothers as to how old the libertarian-conservative believed the earth was:

Paul:  I’m gonna pass on the age of the earth. I think I’m just gonna have to pass on that one.

Obviously, the questioner put Paul in a political dilemma—no matter what his views are.

If he believes the earth is only 6000-10,000 years old—the typical fundamentalist belief—then he certainly can’t say so and risk losing what little intellectual credibility he has left with the rational world.

If he doesn’t believe the earth is about the same age as Joan Rivers, but instead believes it is 13.7 billion years old, then he certainly can’t say so at a conference of homeschool educators, especially in Kentucky, where conservative Christian voters make up a large chunk of the electorate.

So, what does he do?

Paul:  I’m gonna pass on the age of the earth. I think I’m just gonna have to pass on that one.

Well, I’m not going to let him pass.  I’m going to assume, since he won’t defend Reason—remember, he is supposedly a rational libertarian?—that he is a boneheaded fundamentalist fool, who believes  Adam and Eve were real folks who lived about 6,000 years ago.

All of which leads me to suggest something to the Joplin Globe, currently running a weekly Sunday feature called the 100 words project, in which the paper solicits questions from local folks (so far, local conservatives) to ask the zillion candidates running to replace Roy Blunt, who are supposed to answer in 100 words or less.

Here’s my simple question suggestion, the same one which Rand Paul was asked:

How old is the earth?” 

Or, how about one I use as a test of rationality:

Were the biblical Adam and Eve real people who lived less than 10,000 years ago?

The answer to either one of those questions would tell me more about the candidates than a thousand questions like,What specific steps will you take, if you are elected, to make sure you are responsive to your constituents back home?

What say you, Joplin Globe?

 

The Afghanistan War: “This Is Going To End In An Argument”

I realize that the Rolling Stone article that doomed General McChrystal is old news now, but the most disturbing thing in it, now that McChrystal is gone, is this:

Even those who support McChrystal and his strategy of counterinsurgency know that whatever the general manages to accomplish in Afghanistan, it’s going to look more like Vietnam than Desert Storm. “It’s not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win,” says Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville, who serves as chief of operations for McChrystal. “This is going to end in an argument.”

If Mayville is right, it ought to end today.

 

Spend, If You Love Democrats

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”

                                                            —Rousseau

Consumer spending, experts tell us, represents about 70% of the Gross Domestic Product.  The bottom line is that if folks are spending money, the economy will grow.  If they’re not, it won’t.

During the 1960s, the personal savings rate—the amount of personal disposable income not spent on current consumption—was in the 7 to 10% range; during the 1970s it was in the 8 to 12% range.  During the late 1980s and 1990s, the rate began to decline, and after 2000, the average rate began falling to less than 2%.

See for yourself [click on for better view]:

The source of most consumer spending is, of course, wages.  And since median wages—in inflation-adjusted dollars—have declined over the last 10 years (I will refrain from pointing out who was in charge during that time), a lot of the money consumers spent was borrowed, just to keep up with “normal” rates of consumption. (By the way, there is no doubt that the rich got richer during this same period, wealth becoming more concentrated at the top than at any time since the 1920s.) 

This seemingly irrational continuance of credit-fueled spending may have been based on what smart people call the “wealth effect,” a condition in which consumers assume continued appreciation of their assets, primarily their homes and other investments, most of those investments residing in their employer-sponsored 401(k)s.

The economic crisis of 2007-2008 changed all that, obviously.  There no longer is a sense of stability—of certainty—that the expectation of rising asset values brings, since folks lost a lot of value in both their houses and their 401(k)s.

Thus, there may be what some are calling a “new normal” in play these days, based on doubt and uncertainty, which breeds caution, which results in less consumption, which retards economic growth, which slows the recovery.

The savings rate is on the rise.  In 2009 it was over 4%, the highest rate since 1998. That translates into hundreds of billions of dollars not contributing to the GDP.

Much of the increase, I believe, can be attributed to employment fear: fear that workers are just a pink slip away from personal disaster, and employers can either openly or subtly threaten them with economic extinction.

In May of this year, consumer spending increased, but only at a rate of 0.2 percent compared to April, which showed no increase over March.  Historically, the current recovery’s increase in consumer spending is less than half of that which followed the crippling recession during Reagan’s first two years in office, 1981-1983.

Add to all that the fact that in order to keep pace with population growth, the economy needs to create about 130,000 jobs every month, over and above that needed to put folks back to work who were victims of Republican economic and regulatory policies.

See here:

No doubt, a powerful argument can be made that over the long term, an increase in the savings rate, even though it means a slow recovery, will be good for us.

Unfortunately for Democrats, all of the above is not easily explainable to impatient voters, and November is on the horizon.

No Chicken Dances For Sodomites

I know conservatives won’t see it this way, but the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision today in applying the Second Amendment to states and municipalities is a blatant example of selective activism. 

I say “selective” because if the conservatives on the Court—who once again joined together to essentially overturn Chicago’s gun law—had wanted to demonstrate what Jonathan Turley has called, “a more deep-seated jurisprudence,” they could have overturned what is known as the Slaughter-House Cases.

The issue in the 1873 Slaughter-House Cases was,

Whether the 13th and 14th amendments guarantee federal protection of individual rights of all citizens of the United States against discrimination by their own state governments.

The answer in 1873 was NOPE.

The Los Angeles Times summarized the issue today:

In the 19th century, the court limited the reach of the Bill of Rights and said it put limits only on the federal government. Most protections in the Bill of Rights — such as the right to freedom of speech or the right against unreasonable searches — were extended to states and localities in the middle of the 20th century.

Essentially, over the years the Court has not incorporated to the 50 states the entire Bill of Rights, but has retained discretion to apply its protections as it sees fit.

In today’s ruling on the Second Amendment, the Court did not overturn the Slaughter-House Cases, missing a chance for the conservative justices to, again in Jonathan Turley’s words,

…prove that they have a broader vision of individual rights that goes beyond the barrel of a gun.

Well, apparently they don’t.  Justice Sam Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, specifically addressed the Slaughter-House Cases:

We see no need to reconsider that interpretation here. For many decades, the question of the rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment against state infringement has been analyzed under the Due Process Clause of that Amendment and not under the Privileges or Immunities Clause. We therefore decline to disturb the Slaughter House holding.

So, in effect, the conservatives on the Court have selectively incorporated gun rights to all states and municipalities without expanding the reach of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause, and as a result, it still matters where you live, in terms of enjoying Constitutional rights.

Astute readers will ask, why?  Why wouldn’t the Court just go the whole way and make the Bill of Rights—the entire enchilada—applicable in every way to the states and thereby establish once and for all, “a unified base of rights for all citizens“?

Hint: Homosexuality is a SIN.

Huh?

Conservatives fear that if the Court were to overturn the Slaughter-House Cases and make the entire Bill of Rights forever binding on state governments, that future “liberal” courts might discover that homosexuals enjoy equal protection of the law under the Bill of Rights and thus the states would not be able to prohibit those nasty sodomites from doing the Chicken Dance at their wedding receptions.

Now, doesn’t that make conservative sense?

 

[The chicken dancer photo (which is not a picture of a “nasty sodomite” by the way) courtesy of: http://bwunderground.wordpress.com/ and Bush/Alito photo: Reuters]

Chuck Purgason Has Kidnapped God!

While in Springfield this weekend, I was lucky enough to stumble upon KSGF News Talk’s Nick Reed, a right-wing talk show host.

Wow!  A conservative talker right here in the Ozarks!  Just what we need. There just aren’t enough of those guys around to suit me.

In any case, one caller to his weekday show (thoughtfully rebroadcast on Sunday evening, it being such a wonderful example of Bransonesque political chic) happened to be a self-proclaimed campaign worker for State Sen. Chuck Purgason. 

In case you don’t know, Purgason is a follically-challenged conservative who has dumped his toupee and is hoping to upset Roy Blunt in the Republican primary this summer, as the Republicans hope to hold on to Kit Bond’s senate seat this fall.

Mr. Purgason, who has portrayed Roy Blunt as a Washington insider (which, of course, he is, having been instrumental in passing the unfunded Medicare Part D and TARP), was term-limited out of the Missouri House in 2004, and he simply moved on to the Missouri Senate, just like our own Ron Richard is going to do. 

So much for the philosophy of term limits, which in Missouri means you move from one legislative body to the next and hope at some point a chance to run for governor, or for a seat in either the House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate, materializes.

Nick Reed, the host of the extremely boring talk show—this guy is no Rush Limbaugh, I tell ya—was gently asking the gentleman caller and Purgason campaigner if he thought the grossly underfunded Purgason (apparently he has something over $1000 to run his campaign, compared to over $3 million for Blunt) had a snowball’s chance of beating Blunt.

To which the earnest campaign worker replied that in order to keep them positive, Purgason told him and other campaign workers:

“We’ve got God.”

We’ve got God“?

Well, that answers one of the most perplexing questions in the history of man: Where’s God when you need Him?  The answer appears to be that either Chuck Purgason has kidnapped Him and is holding Him hostage, or God is busy secretly convincing reluctant Tea Party conservatives—as they say their daily prayers—to vote for the former West Plains native.

Either way, I would have thought that the news would have spread far and wide by now.  But I couldn’t find a word about it in the Springfield paper or our own Joplin Globe, not to mention the New York Times or the Washington Post, papers that might be interested in knowing that God was here in Southwest Missouri, either imprisoned at Purgason’s campaign headquarters or busy on the campaign trail clandestinely campaigning for the anti-choice, fair tax-loving, conceal-and-carry gun advocate and confirmed Baptist.

And we all know that God, being a Republican, is also anti-choice on abortion, loves the fair tax, and carries a rather big gun.

What he thinks about the Baptists is still a matter of contention.

Shame on Republicans, Shame On Those Who Support Them

It’s so easy to govern, when you’re not governing.

Today’s Joplin Globe (way back on page A-7) carried this relatively tiny headline:

Republicans killed it.  Killed it dead:

The 57-41 vote fell three votes short of the 60 required to crack a GOP filibuster, delivering a major blow to President Barack Obama and Democrats facing big losses of House and Senate seats in the fall election.

Not to mention a “major blow” to those who have already been victimized by previous Republican mismanagement of the economy:

The demise of the bill means that unemployment benefits will phase out for more than 200,000 people a week. Governors who had been counting on federal aid will now have to consider a fresh round of budget cuts, tax hikes and layoffs of state workers.

The Democratic-sponsored bill that went down to defeat had already been scaled back to appeal to those mythical “moderate” Republicans, who, in the end and as they almost always do, joined the Obama-haters in their party and refused to give Obama and the Democrats a “victory.”

If you buy any of the dook coming from the lips of Republicans who say they support such benefits but want them paid for, then you were not only born a sucker, you will die one.

The bill they defeated, with yet another in a long line of filibusters, was essentially a way to keep the slowly but steadily improving economic recovery from stalling;  in effect, the legislation was another way to stimulate the economy so we don’t slide into another recession.

And Republicans know that, too.  That’s why most of them opposed it. I’m sadly confident that a large number of Republicans wouldn’t mind seeing the economy tank again, power—and defeating Obama—meaning so much more to them than unemployed ingrates on the public dole.

I think back to the two massive tax cuts passed by Republicans in 2001 and 2003, when they controlled the White House, Senate and the House.

The cost of the Bush tax cuts has been about $1.8 trillion.  Yes, that is a “tr” on the front of “illion.” Those tax cuts—which benefited disproportionately the wealthy—are due to expire on January 1, 2011, and Republicans, of course, are demanding that they not be allowed to expire (at a 10-year cost of $2.2 trillion).  How to pay for them has not been proposed, naturally.

At the time of passage of the 2003 tax cut law, Republicans claimed that passing tax cuts would stimulate the economy and cause it to grow. Here are George W. Bush’s words at the signing on May 28, 2003:

By insuring that Americans have more to spend, save and invest, this legislation is adding fuel to an economic recovery. We have taken aggressive action to strengthen the foundation of our economy so that every American who wants to work will be able to find a job.

My how things change when you’re not responsible for governing the country.

The Bush tax cuts, which cost so much then and now, were never offset by spending cuts or paid for in any way.  They were funded by unprecedented borrowing, leading to many of the problems we have today, and hamstringing the current administration as it tries to deal with our economic troubles.

And today, when folks need it most, there isn’t one Senate Republican—many of whom voted for the 2001 and 2003 deficit-financed tax cuts—who could find it within themselves to help the more than 200,000 people who will lose their benefits each week or keep states from having to kill jobs and services.

Shame on Republicans, but more than that: shame on anyone who would put them back in power.

Obama, Carter, And The Chipper Gipper

Realizing I am but a lowly blogger and Paul Greenberg is a mammoth Pulitzer-totin’ columnist, I will nevertheless attempt yet again  to criticize the opinion of a man who seems to have (well, his columns read like he seems to have) a firm grasp of “What It Means To Be An American.”

In today’s Joplin Globe appeared Greenberg’s already out-of-date commentary on Barack Obama’s oil speech last week.  But maybe a chance to resurrect Jimmy Carter once more was just too tempting for our fair newspaper to resist printing a column whose stale-by date had come and gone. 

Here is Pultizer Paul’s opening paragraph today:

Surely it’s just my fallible memory, but I can’t recall a presidential address that has fallen as flat as Barack Obama’s last week, at least not since Jimmy Carter gave his (in)famous malaise speech back in the dismal summer of 1979.

Poor President Carter.  He hasn’t been president for 30 years—thirty years!—but conservatives rarely miss an opportunity to scratch his eyes out anew, usually with a view to tainting a current Democratic president.

The usual mode of attack is to bring up that “(in)famous” Malaise Speech.  The one that supposedly doomed Jimmy Carter’s presidency and put him forever in the pantheon of pathetic presidents.  Greenberg writes that in the speech, Carter’s message was easy to discern:

…that beleaguered president got his message across clearly enough: He was the victim of a crisis of confidence on the part of the American people.

Sorry, your Southern Highness, but that wasn’t the message of the speech at all.  Read it for yourself right here.

The message of the speech—which had as its backdrop the “energy crisis” of the time—no matter what you think of the wisdom of it, was to honestly express to the American people what their president thought was a major problem going forward:

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

He continued:

The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.

As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.

Carter’s message in the 1979 speech was not one which attempted to blame the American people for his own problems, as the myth about the speech—told and retold by conservatives—would have it.

How about this paragraph, which could have been written yesterday:

What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends.

Again, folks, that was 1979.

In any case, the speech itself was very well received at the time. Americans initially responded positively to Carter’s call to renew their “strength in the struggle for an energy secure nation,” and his poll numbers went up 11 points. 

That solidly contradicts Greenberg’s—did I mention he has a Pulitzer Prize?—claim that such honest talk from our presidents “just doesn’t seem to get it done…in flyover country, where introspection may be taken as just an early symptom of constipation.”

Notwithstanding Greenberg’s uninspiring vision of the common folk, the real reason the American people abandoned the sentiments in the speech is because Carter, only two days after the speech, fired his Cabinet, understandably causing the public to lose confidence in his leadership.

As Ezra Klein wrote last year,

The real lesson of that period is that presidents shouldn’t abruptly fire their cabinet and signal that their government has fallen into chaos. Voters, it turns out, have a quirky tendency to find that sort of behavior unsettling.

So, our Pulitzer winning writer from Arkansas, who just doesn’t like Barack Obama’s un-Arkansan—and by subtle implication, un-American—demeanor, has it all wrong about Jimmy Carter’s speech.

But for conservatives, particularly those who feign an unassailable acquaintance with the sensibilities of the American people, the truth doesn’t often get in the way of an opportunity to denigrate a Democratic president, past or present.

Finally, commenting on the American people’s penchant for the positive, for leaders who exude confidence no matter the circumstances, Greenberg said, “we like our leaders chipper, especially when the roof is falling in,” like, he continued,

Ronald Reagan when he inherited the Carter Malaise but acted as if he had just been handed the lead in a musical comedy co­starring Jimmy Cagney — and the happy ending was waiting in the very next reel.

Like any good conservative, Greenberg can’t resist a tip of the cap to the patron saint of deficit spending, Ronald Reagan, especially when attacking a Democrat, whether it be Carter or Obama.

But the truth—there’s that nasty word again—is that on January 28, 1983, Reagan’s approval rating was at 35%, and if an election had been held at that time, Greenberg’s philosophy-hating, non-introspective, flyover-country nobles would have sent the Chipper Gipper back to Hollywood.  As it turned out, the economy improved and so did Reagan’s approval ratings.

You see, it’s not cheery, starry-eyed optimists we want, Mr. Greenberg, it’s results. Carter didn’t bring us any and Reagan did.

And Obama has only been in charge about a year and a half.

Obama Acts, But Doubt Remains

Now that Obama has made his decision—delivered with characteristic aplomb—about General McChrystal, and now that he has put the towering figure of General Petraeus in charge of and reaffirmed our commitment to the McChrystal/Petraeus/Obama strategy in Afghanistan, perhaps things will improve there.

But I remain highly skeptical (as do most liberals) of not just the strategy itself, which appears to require a much longer engagement than Americans will support, but of the overall goal: essentially creating an Afghanistan with sufficient strength to keep out the Taliban forever.  That doesn’t seem possible to me, unless we are prepared to stay engaged on the ground for many, many years at greater and greater cost.

Obama will be faced with a crucial decision next summer, one that will possibly determine his presidential fate.  Either he will continue with the counter-insurgency strategy and thus extend our commitment, or he will begin a substantial withdrawal and pursue the Biden course of air strikes on strategic targets, occasional special ops incursions, and other less costly (and less visible) tactics.

Either way is fraught with political difficulties from the left and right, but after listening to his speech today, I am confident that whatever he does, it will not involve the dynamic of politics.

Obama just doesn’t seem to be built that way.

What Conservatives Believe

Globe blogger Kaje ask me in the comments section yesterday if I had read the platform statement of the Texas Republican Party

Well, sadly, I hadn’t.   But now I have, and it is wonderfully descriptive of the lofty goals of utopian conservative thought and representative of Tea Party Republicanism everywhere.

First, the preamble of this 25-page, 16,174 word document begins:

The embodiment of the conservative dream in America is Texas.

Now, who could argue with that?

Here are some of their can’t-miss principles:

4. We Believe in…The sanctity of human life, created in the image of God, which should be protected from fertilization to natural death.

Since most abortions are nature- or God-induced, Texas Republicans have one hell of a task “protecting” the fertilized egg from the hands of the Almighty, but it is a worthy goal, right?

6. We believe in…Self-sufficient families, founded on the traditional marriage of a natural man and a natural woman.

I’m so glad I’m a self-sufficient “natural” man, even though I’m really not sure what “natural” means. And I”m glad I don’t live in Texas where I just might find out. 

9.  We believe in…A free enterprise society unencumbered by government interference or subsidies.

Let’s talk about this one, after a formerly-unencumbered BP gets that damn hole plugged up.

Other notables from the Cro-Magnon wish list:

 … We further support abolition of federal agencies involved in activities not originally delegated to the federal government under a strict interpretation of the Constitution.

Wait a minute…they stole that one from Southwest Missouri Republican candidates for the 7th District House seat, didn’t they?

We urge our national leadership to protect our Constitutional rights and swiftly wage successful war on terrorists… to reasonably use profiling to protect us…

I’m guessing a “reasonable” use of profiling in Texas would amount to suspecting anyone not wearing a big-ass cowboy hat and dook-stomping boots, while driving a pickup truck with a “Obama Is A Socialist” bumper sticker slapped across the tailgate.

One of the philosophically dumbest declarations in the document is this one:

…we urge Congress to withhold Supreme Court jurisdiction in cases involving abortion, religious freedom, and the Bill of Rights.

Oh, my. They also want to restrict the Court’s jurisdiction to rule on “cases involving family law” and “cases involving sodomy.”  After that’s done, we can get rid of the Supreme Court, since it won’t have enough work to keep it busy.  But beyond that, how can a Constitution-loving political party basically write out of existence the Supreme Court?

Texas Republicans are also concerned about “The Symbols of Our American Heritage,” and, by God, they mean business:

Ten Commandments – We oppose any governmental action to restrict, prohibit, or remove public display of the Decalogue or other religious symbols. 

This, of course, does not apply to Islamic religious symbols or to those Longhorn hood ornaments so popular in certain parts of the Lone Star State. 

But perhaps the most offensive, as opposed to philosophically dumbest, statements in the document are related to homosexuality: 

We believe that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God… 

We oppose the legalization of sodomy. We demand that Congress exercise its authority granted by the U.S. Constitution to withhold jurisdiction from the federal courts from cases involving sodomy. 

Now, since the breathtakingly detailed Texas GOP platform does not bother to define “sodomy,” I took it upon myself to find out what it could possibly mean.  Here is a definition from Wikipedia

Sodomy (pronounced /ˈsɒdəmi/) is a term used in the law to describe the act of “unnatural”[1] sex, which depending on jurisdiction can consist of oral sex or anal sex or any non-genital to genital congress, whether heterosexual, or homosexual, or with human or animal.

Wow!  I’m betting that many of the Texas Republicans who stand behind (sorry) their platform are serial sodomites, as defined by Wikipedia. 

But more than that, to place the blame on homosexuals for the “breakdown of the family unit,” when Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich have had SEVEN wives between them is, well, more than a little brazen. 

In any case, you get the idea about Texas Republicans and the calcified conservatism sweeping through the national GOP. Their comprehensive platform—which demands fealty from potential candidates—just about covers every facet of life.  

Not only do they hate sodomy and abortion and the Supreme Court, they also want to privatize Social Security and repeal “ObamaCare.”  

They want to exclude from the Americans with Disabilities Act those who have “learning disabilities.” 

They equate the theory of evolution and Intelligent Design. 

They oppose “government-sponsored programs that deal with early childhood development.”

They oppose gambling.

They oppose “sex education other than abstinence until heterosexual marriage.”

They oppose “all laws that infringe on the right to bear arms” and “reject any monitoring of gun ownership,” and they oppose “Gun Free Zones.”

They support state militias and believe County Sheriffs should assist them.

They believe the separation of church and state is a “myth.”

They “resist making Workers’ Compensation mandatory for all Texas employers.”

They want Congress to repeal the Federal Reserve Act of 1913.

They want the government to “clarify” the Fourteen Amendment’s granting of citizenship to anyone born here and limit it to only those born to American citizens—all without recourse to a Constitutional Amendment.

They want the government to take us “back to the moon.”

They support strong relations with Israel, “based on God’s biblical promise to bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel.”

They want us to pull out of the United Nations.

Oh, yeah.  I almost forgot. They support the Boy Scouts.

 

 

God Kills Man Using Leviticus-Loving Grizzly Bear

Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish led me to this bit of Americana:

Commenting on an AP story on the death of a man in Yellowstone National Park, who was killed by a grizzly bear, Bryan Fischer, a man with fundamentalist poison gurgling through his veins, said this:

God said a curse would fall on a land which turned its back on him, and one consequence would be more tragic deaths at the hands of predatory animals. The truly sad thing here is that we are bringing this curse upon ourselves.

No, the truly sad thing is that people like Bryan Fischer are so comfortable canoeing down the mainstream of conservative thought, as demonstrated by his status as an invited speaker at this year’s Values Voter Summit, sponsored by America’s preeminent bullshit disseminators, the Family Research Council.

Here is the webpage, promoting the Festival of Intolerance, featuring America’s finest reactionaries, including Mr. Fischer, right next to thrice-married, family-values man, Newt Gingrich:

Goodbye General McChrystal

Now we know why the effort in Afghanistan isn’t going so well. 

The architect of the latest (and troubled) plan to do what no one else has ever done in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has apologized for what amounts to his insubordination—expressed, no less, in Rolling Stone magazine—and his profound disrespect not only for President Obama but for the concept of civilian command of the military.

Reportedly, a profile in Rolling Stone on Friday will contain many nasty and snide comments about various players in the Obama administration—including the President and Vice President—some made by McChrystal himself, others made by his aides under the General’s auspices.

About the disgusting comments, the failing General said:

I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened. Throughout my career, I have lived by the principles of personal honor and professional integrity.  What is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard.

It’s much too late for apologies.  This loud-mouthed commander, who has flirted with this kind of stuff before, has gone too far this time. If the Obama administration is to maintain any semblance of authority, McChrystal won’t even be given a chance to resign.  He must be fired, and fired fast.

He has not only revealed himself as a careless and thoughtless human being, he has put his troops at greater risk today by emboldening the enemy, who by noon today will understand that an already tenuous war strategy will become even more fragile.*

Sickening.  And if his conduct hasn’t broken any military rules, then the rules need to be rewritten.

____________________________

* Aljazeera posted on its homepage this morning: 

 US general apologises over article

McChrystal, the commander in Afghanistan, is quoted denouncing the Obama administration.

 

Is Our Love Of The First Amendment Greater Than Our Hatred Of Terrorism?

The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 ruling today, sided with the Obama administration and said that the government can prohibit all forms of aid to foreign terrorist groups, including material support for non-terrorist activities, like legal training and other forms of “peaceful” activities.

The dissenters—Breyer, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor—essentially said the First Amendment guarantees of free speech and association should be respected even if the state has an important interest in curbing resources to terror groups. 

The statute in question, as relayed by the Court, says:

It is a federal crime to “knowingly provid[e] material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.

To which Justice Breyer, actually reading his dissent, said:

…I cannot agree with the Court’s conclusion that the Constitution permits the Government to prosecute the plaintiffs criminally for engaging in coordinated teaching and advocacy furthering the designated organizations’ lawful political objectives. In my view, the Government has not met its burden of showing that an interpretation of the statute that would prohibit this speech- and association-related activity serves the Government’s compelling interest in combating terrorism…Not even the ‘serious and deadly problem’ of international terrorism can require automatic forfeiture of First Amendment rights.

Personally, I will have to think about this one some more.  But my first reaction is to side with the dissenters and against the Obama administration.

Shouldn’t we protect the most precious part of our Constitution, even if it means not criminally prosecuting people who give non-lethal advice and aid to foreigners who hate us and want to do us harm?

Seems so, but there also seems to be good arguments on both sides.

How Do We Keep The Lights On?

TED debates, for those unfamiliar with them, are fast and furious, but normally quite thought-provoking.

Since the focus these days seems to be on energy, and what a national energy policy should look like, here is a very good (and short) debate on nuclear energy, the support for which seems to be growing:

Southern Baptist Socialists

You know times are changing when the Southern Baptists are starting to sound like wild-eyed liberals.  Regarding their convention in Orlando last week, it was reported:

Noting that the Bible teaches that those who harm the vulnerable should be held accountable, the convention called on “governing authorities to act determinatively and with undeterred resolve to end this crisis; to fortify our coastal defenses; to ensure full corporate accountability for damages, cleanup, and restoration; to ensure that government and private industry are not again caught without planning for such possibilities; and to promote future energy policies based on prudence, conservation, accountability, and safety.”

I, for one, welcome these born-again socialists to the Obama team.

Claire McCaskill, The Unheralded Reformer

Our own Claire McCaskill is not getting enough credit for something she is trying to do in the U.S. Senate, something that most serious observers of the way Washington works are calling “a significant step toward reform.”

McClatchy posted a story yesterday detailing McCaskill’s efforts on ending the practice in the Senate in which any member—anonymously—can put a “hold” on Senate business, whether it be a nominee awaiting confirmation or a piece of legislation:

Whether they’re in the majority or minority doesn’t matter. They also don’t even have to explain why… So blame Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri if pretty soon it’s just not as much fun as it used to be.

McCaskill has, so far, managed to get every Democrat in the Senate to support her, and a handful of Republicans, but she is cautiously optimistic:

“We have 67 people who said they want to abolish the rule,” she said. “Now we have to translate 67 people into 67 votes. I haven’t been here very long, but long enough to know this is going to be the hard part.”

The unwritten practice prevents voters from knowing who is gumming up the works, and as Paul Blumenthal of the Sunlight Foundation said,

Citizens across the country should know not only who’s sponsoring a bill, but who’s blocking it from coming to the floor.

And Missouri citizens should know that one of their Senators, a Democrat, is trying like hell to make the system more transparent and thus more effective, even as the Senate Republican strategy of obstruction ambles on.

[photo credit: Jeffrey MacMillan for USN&WR)

Utah Commits Homicide Today

Early this morning, the state of Utah shot and killed Ronnie Lee Gardner.

Here’s just a part of a story written by Jennifer Dobner, an AP reporter who was permitted to witness the execution:

A twice-convicted killer who had a troubled upbringing, the 49-year-old Gardner was executed by firing squad shortly after midnight on Friday. I was one of nine journalists selected to observe his death…

…A white cloth square — maybe 3 inches across — affixed to his chest over his heart bore a black target.

Seconds before the impact of the bullets, Gardner’s left thumb twitched against his forefinger. When his chest was pierced, he clenched his fist. His arm pulled up slowly as if he were lifting something and then released. The motion repeated…

The state classifies executions as homicides. But this hadn’t been like other homicides I had covered over my 15-plus years in journalism. In those instances, the media showed up after the death, not before.

Accompanying this story on MSNBC, was the following graph, which all Americans ought to consider, especially when we are tempted to throw stones at the rest of the world:

Only China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia had more executions than the United States.  And right below us was Yemen, Sudan, Vietnam, Syria, and Egypt. 

Is this a list we even want to be on?

[image captured from a Today Show video]

Remember In November

As I watched BP honcho Tony Hayward testify before a House subcommittee today, by far the most outrageous moment so far was when a conservative Republican, Joe Barton of Texas, channeled Rush Limbaugh and apologized to Mr. Hayward and BP for being “subject to some sort of political pressure,” that “amounts to a shakedown.”*

Barton-Limbaugh was referring, of course, to the $20 billion fund established—at the behest of Obama—to give comfort to those damaged by BP’s negligence by assuring them there is money available to make them whole.

Naturally, the outrage is reverberating across the Internet.  But it certainly is no surprise that many conservative Republicans are siding with BP against our government, particularly against President Obama. That is just what they do. That is their philosophy. 

And that’s what made this mess more likely than not in the first place.

Joe Barton, before entering Congress in 1984, was a consultant for Atlantic Richfield Oil and Gas, according to Wikipedia.  And that same article claims that Barton “has taken $1.4 million in campaign contributions from the oil industry since 1989.”

Surprise! Surprise!

Hardly.

Those people injured by BP’s malfeasance in the Gulf, many of whom vote for Republicans like Joe Barton, should remember this November that ideological conservatives make the world safe for catastrophes like the one they are enduring.

As for Barton’s claim that he is not speaking for other Republicans, as Sam Stein pointed out today, “Barton was far from alone.”

The Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative members of the House, was even less diplomatic with a statement describing the Obama administration’s actions as a “Chicago-style political shakedown.”

“These actions are emblematic of a politicization of our economy that has been borne out of this Administration’s drive for greater power and control,” wrote chairman Tom Price (R-GA).

Price was echoed later in the evening by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who said during an appearance on CNN that the president appears to be using BP as a “permanent ATM card,” with eyes on taking over “private industry.”

None of the critiques, however, matched the more philosophical pushback offered by Mississippi Governor Hailey Barbour, who objected to the idea of forcing BP to invest money for the purpose of paying out claims when the company could simply use that money to expand offshore drilling so that they could make money to pay out claims.

No doubt, after the blowback hits them, the Republican establishment will distance itself from Barton’s comments, as well as others made by extremists.  But it will not move far enough. 

Rush Limbaugh, the Grand Poobah of the Tea Party Lodge, will make sure of that.

Here are Barton’s pathetic comments, in case you missed them:

*Interestingly, under later questioning, CEO Hayward denied that the $20 billion fund’s creation was the result of a “shakedown.”

Why Liberals Lose

So much for the Republican-created myth of the mainstream media’s love affair with Barack Obama.

I watched President Obama’s address to the nation last night, and while he tried to give everyone what they wanted, the analysis that followed was breathtakingly negative.

Naturally, the We-Hate-Obama Network did its usual nut-cracking of the President, with conservatives criticizing him for a slow response and for “politicizing” what manifestly is a political issue.  Everyone expected that.

But before Obama had made it back to the living quarters in the White House, Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, and Howard Fineman of MSNBC—which is falsely understood to be our nation’s “liberal” network—began ripping him, and ripping him good.

Olbermann blabbered:

It was a great speech if you were on another planet for the last 57 days. Nothing specific at all was said… I don’t think he aimed low, I don’t think he aimed at all. It’s startling to have heard this, isn’t it?

And here’s the way the “liberal” Huffington Post—which has sometimes virulently and oftentimes sarcastically attacked Democrats and Obama for the crime of pragmatism—reported on the speech:

“We will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long it takes,” declared Obama, whose own presidency has been stumbling because of the gushing oil.

Obama offered no immediate remedies for a frustrated nation.

Stumbling? Obama offered no immediate remedies for a frustrated nation?  Are you kidding? Doesn’t the writer really mean frustrated liberals?  And did the writer even listen to the speech?  Or has the Obama-is-not-sufficiently-pissed-off meme made such inroads that sober analysis is no longer possible, even from supposedly friendly journalists?

As far as there are “immediate remedies“—”immediate” defined as, “as soon as possible”—Obama offered this one:

…we have directed BP to mobilize additional equipment and technology. In the coming days and weeks, these efforts should capture up to 90% of the oil leaking out of the well.

The President spoke as an adult last night.  That’s who he is.  He was sufficiently stern, but characteristically realistic about what is going on, something his critics on both ideological sides are not:

Already, this oil spill is the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced. And unlike an earthquake or a hurricane, it is not a single event that does its damage in a matter of minutes or days. The millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico are more like an epidemic, one that we will be fighting for months and even years.

But make no mistake: we will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long it takes. We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused. And we will do whatever’s necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy.

He then went on in detail about the federal commitment to clean up the mess, including the authorization of more than 17,000 National Guard members—most of which the Republican Governors of the states involved haven’t got around to activating.

He assured the people around the Gulf that he would see to it that they were fully compensated by BP for their losses and said he would “inform” the chairman of BP,

that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company’s recklessness. And this fund will not be controlled by BP. In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent, third party.

And BP complied today by agreeing to set aside $20 billion.

Besides the short-term compensation and cleanup issues, he spoke of the,

long-term plan to restore the unique beauty and bounty of this region…

and he pledged to find out why the disaster happened and discussed,

steps we’re taking to ensure that a disaster like this does not happen again.

Finally, he talked about the need to “move our country towards energy independence,” and, like an adult, mentioned that “there are costs associated with this transition.”  How refreshing to hear that these days.

“[T]he one approach I will not accept is inaction,” he said, and continued:

The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is too big and too difficult to meet. You see, the same thing was said about our ability to produce enough planes and tanks in World War II. The same thing was said about our ability to harness the science and technology to land a man safely on the surface of the moon. And yet, time and again, we have refused to settle for the paltry limits of conventional wisdom. Instead, what has defined us as a nation since our founding is our capacity to shape our destiny – our determination to fight for the America we want for our children. Even if we’re unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don’t yet know precisely how to get there. We know we’ll get there.

I thought the President’ speech addressed the American people like we had brains.  Like we could understand that try as he might, the problem with the busted well was taxing even the best minds in the country.  He gave us reason to believe that he would be there to make sure that BP made all the folks around the Gulf whole, that the environment would be restored, that he would find out what happened and why, and that he would direct the country toward a future free of the tyranny of crude oil.

Almost from the beginning of this crisis, liberals have been racing to criticize Obama for not being the liberal they want him to be.  He’s too friendly with Big Oil, they say, too unwilling to attack BP and essentially destroy it, not realizing that the company has to survive, if only to pay off all of the claims against it.

Unlike establishment conservatives—who will rally around their own in a time of crisis—liberals are too willing to give Obama-doubters the benefit of the doubt.  They are too willing to shoot the troops on their own side, before all the facts are in.

It’s one thing to criticize your own team, after the game is over.  It’s quite another to take shots at teammates while they are still on the field.

I’m starting to see why conservatives—no matter how many times they fail—always can count on liberals to make a way for them to come back.

Local Legislators Lack Leadership

No matter what position one takes on Governor Nixon’s efforts to give tax incentives to Ford Motor Company, as a way of enticing the company to update and expand its Claycomo assemby plant, the lack of local Republican leadership on the issue is noteworthy.

From Susan Redden’s story today in the Joplin Globe, which concerned Nixon’s possible call for a special session of the legislature to take up the issue, we have passive responses from three local legislators, Ron Richard and Gary Nodler of Joplin, and Jack Goodman of Mount Vernon.  All three Republicans are running for higher office, keep in mind:

Richard on Tuesday said he favors “trying to figure out if there is a consensus for a special session.”

He said he had instructed the leaders of House committees that would be involved in the legislation to talk with their counterparts in the Senate “to see if there is common ground.”

Now, that’s leadership, Ron.

Nodler reportedly said,

…residents of Southwest Missouri strongly opposed the federal auto bailout, and I’m not sure I see any indication they would be more enthusiastic about a state bailout.

That’s the way to lead on the issue, Gary.

And finally:

Goodman said he opposed the incentive package when it was before the Senate in regular session “because people see it as a taxpayer bailout.”

What about you, Jack?  How do you see it? 

These, my friends, are definitely the kind of leaders Southwest Missouri–an overwhelmingly Republican redoubt–deserves.

Are Some Abortions More Humane Than Others?

On Thursday, a panel of outside experts will make a decision as to whether to recommend that the Food and Drug Administration approve a new “emergency contraceptive” pill called ella, which reportedly is effective up to as many as five days after unprotected sex.

The pill, which was approved for use in Europe last year, is guaranteed to start yet another fight over the issue of abortion, still very much a radioactive topic in America and one with a very long half-life.

My interest is not in whether the drug is an abortifacient (as anti-abortion folks claim) or whether it does not affect an existing pregnancy (as the reproductive-freedom folks claim). 

I will grant for the sake of argument that it is indeed an abortifacient.  Now what?

Surely, we can all agree that, even if ella or any similar drug actually induced an abortion, aborting a pregnancy within a few days of fertilization is better than waiting longer. 

If late-term abortions are axiomatically reprehensible, then surely abortions in the earliest possible stages are less reprehensible, right?  Who could argue with that?

Here is a color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph of a 2-3 day old human embryo, the cells of which are about 33 micrometers in diameter*:

And here is a color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph of a human embryo at 6 days and beginning to implant into the uterine lining:

[Credit for both images: Yorgos Nikas, Wellcome Images]

If abortion is a fact of life—and it is no matter the legality of it—then certainly it’s better if women who want to end their pregnancies have access to drugs that work early on to abort a small group of undifferentiated cells, rather than use other methods that work later, when there are recognizable human attributes.

The argument over the morality of abortion can go on despite women having access to what even anti-abortion advocates would have to concede is a more humane way of terminating pregnancies, assuming their claim about the abortifacient nature of the drugs is correct.

In fact, maybe that gesture of humanity would go a long way in convincing all of us of the righteousness of their cause.

_____________________________

*One strand of human hair is about 100 micrometers wide.

ACORN Vindicated, Fox “News” Guilty

Remember ACORN?

Remember how Fox “News” and talk radio successfully destroyed the nation’s largest anti-poverty organization?

Remember how the right-wing accused ACORN of stealing the 2008 election?

Remember those misleading videotapes—made by discredited conservative activists—supposedly showing ACORN employees helping a couple who wanted to engage in prostitution but were really carefully edited to smear the group’s employees? 

Remember how the “liberal” media—the New York Times and the Washington Post—made false assertions about ACORN workers, apparently based on the claims of conservatives bent on destroying ACORN?

Remember how the California Attorney General investigated ACORN and found it had done nothing wrong?  How about the District Attorney in Brooklyn who found the same thing?

Remember how Congress cut ACORN’s funding—essentially killing it because other sources of funding then dried up—and initiated a Government Accountability Office investigation of ACORN to see if it fraudulently obtained government grants or inappropriately used the approximately $40 million in government funds it received?

The GAO’s preliminary report is now finished and guess what?  No problems were found by the nine government agencies who handled the grants to ACORN.  None.

But that doesn’t change the fact that conservatives and Republicans—with the help of both faux and real journalists—were able to destroy an organization that, as the GAO described it,

…had 500,000 members and had expanded into a national network of organizations involved in the development of affordable housing, foreclosure counseling, voter registration, and political mobilization, among other things.

The truth is that ACORN’s involvement in voter registration is what made it a target of conservatives and Republicans and thus made it worth the effort to sully.  The fact that Fox “News” was heavily involved in that effort should forever brand it as the phony news channel it is.

It’s just too bad that the New York Times and the Washington Post and other mainstream news outlets continue to treat the Fox “News” Channel like it is practicing real journalism, which in the end only harms the real journalists—the few there are left.

Drink Up! While You Still Can

Given what we know about American society, how could it be that a mere 90 years ago, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified that banned the “sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol for consumption“?* 

The amendment stood until its repeal in 1933, thirteen years after it was effective. 

In the following segment, Rachel Maddow illustrates very adeptly the political methods of the single-minded, many of whom in the end don’t really care about the larger goals of any one political party. The segment features Daniel Okrent, who has written a book (Last Call) about the era of Prohibition, a seemingly impossible achievement, but one which had a logical foundation: 

 
*And contributed to the popularity of Jazz and gave us the southern cultural phenomenon of stock-car racing and NASCAR.   

Energy Independence: Obama’s Apollo Mission?

Some of the discussion on Morning Joe this morning involved President Obama’s upcoming speech to the country on the BP oil disaster.

Joe Scarborough, former right-wing Republican but now a little more thoughtful conservative, suggested that Obama turn the Gulf crisis into a vehicle to push America—like John Kennedy pushing the country to the moon in the 1960s—to world-wide energy dominance by the end of this decade:

I would make the John Kennedy speech that by the end of the decade, we will go to the moon. This president can say, thank god it’s the beginning of the decade, by the end of a decade, America will break its dependence on foreign oil. By the end of the decade, we will control our own destiny. By the end of the decade, we will be positioned to dominate the world in energy for the next century. We will do it because we must do it…We know what the president needs to say tomorrow night, but he will not say it because that is not the type of president he is.

Well, although I agree with Scarborough that Obama should aggressively push the country toward energy independence (he’s already begun a modest push), if he doesn’t use the present crisis as a springboard for that race-to-the-moon effort, it’s not because of Obama’s reluctance to fight for controversial legislation.  After all, despite his native pragmatism, he just pushed Congress to pass a highly controversial health care reform bill that may cost many of his fellow Democrats their jobs, and may cost him his own job in 2012.

We have to remember that the space race that began under Kennedy and Johnson was an extension of the Cold War and thus enjoyed great popularity.  It just wasn’t that controversial when the President of the United States decided to create the Apollo program in order to kick a little Soviet ass in space—not to mention the increase in relative military strength that accompanied it.  Having such a common enemy made it easier to do big things like Kennedy proposed and Johnson made happen.

These days, Obama would have a monumental fight on his hands from recalcitrant Republicans who want nothing to do with working with Obama on much of anything—he is the enemy, remember?—let alone something highly controversial like a total revamping of our energy policy.  Such a remake would lend itself to much demagoguery from the other side—”Obama’s plan to raise energy taxes” would just be the nice way the right-wing would characterize it.  The not-so-nice way would be, “Obama’s communist plan to take over the oil business.”

Having said all that, and understanding that Obama is at bottom a pragmatic man, I hope the president does go to the people in the country and ask them to override the political decisions of their legislators and demand that those legislators—mostly, but not all, Republicans—back a national energy policy that will, as Scarborough said, leave us in a position to “dominate the world in energy for the next century.”

Obama went to Washington to do big things.  This is one of those big things.

If it costs him his job in two years, then so be it.

[photos: NASA and U.S. Coast Guard]

 

Let Obama Be Reagan

I don’t blame Republicans one bit.  Naturally, they want folks to forget their governance malfeasance.

With the help of sympathetic journalists, the cry is, “When are Obama and the Democrats going to stop blaming Bush for everything?

Well, Obama has only been in office about 17 months.  Certainly, by now he should have either have fixed all our problems or at least stopped reminding people that many of those problems are attributable to the prior administration’s conservative political philosophy and policies.

Having said that, let’s look back at 1984.  Ronald Reagan had been in office for about 44 months—almost a full term.  Certainly, this conservative icon was all about taking responsibility for the country and wouldn’t stoop to blaming a prior Democratic administration or liberal philosophy, right?

Wrong. From his acceptance speech at the Republican convention in Dallas—in 1984:

Our opponents began this campaign hoping that America has a poor memory. Well, let’s take them on a little stroll down memory lane. Let’s remind them of how a 4.8-percent inflation rate in 1976 became back-to-back years of double-digit inflation…

Under their policies, tax rates have gone up three times as much for families with children as they have for everyone else over these past three decades. In just the 5 years before we came into office, taxes roughly doubled…

The Census Bureau confirms that, because of the tax laws we inherited

For the 26 years prior to January of 1981, the opposition party controlled both Houses of Congress. Every spending bill and every tax for more than a quarter of a century has been of their doing…

And while we have our friends down memory lane, maybe they’d like to recall a gimmick they designed for their 1976 campaign…

The biggest annual increase in poverty took place between 1978 and 1981… And 1983 was the first year since 1978 that there was no appreciable increase in poverty at all…

In the 4 years before we took office, country after country fell under the Soviet yoke…

We’ve heard a lot about deficits this year from those on the other side of the aisle. Well, they should be experts on budget deficits. They’ve spent most of their political careers creating deficits. For 42 of the last 50 years, they have controlled both Houses of the Congress. And for almost all of those 50 years, deficit spending has been their deliberate policy…

They call their policy the new realism, but their new realism is just the old liberalism

It’s what they’ve done to America in the past. But if we do our job right, they won’t be able to do it again…

I say Obama and the Democrats should model themselves after Ronaldus Magnus and the Republicans and keep strolling down memory lane,  just in case folks forget “what they’ve done to America in the past.” 

Only this time, the “they” is them.

 

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