Heretic Hunters And The Hunted

Steve Schmidt, who was the senior campaign strategist for John McCain in 2008, made an insightful comment this morning on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown about the unexpected retirement of a frustrated Olympia Snowe:

The Republican Party I think is inarguably stronger with its moderates in the party. Is the Republican Party a stronger party with Olympia Snowe a member of the United States Senate? I think the answer is yes.

We’ve heard so much talk over the last couple of years, purging the party of its RINOs, purging the party of its moderate members.  And there are just two types of churches. One that tries to go out and bring in converts and one that goes out and hunts heretics. And we have been a party that’s done a lot of heretic hunting over the last couple of years.

Ronald Reagan talked about the fact that someone who agrees with me 80% of the time is not my political opponent, you know, they’re my ally. And it was a stronger party with Olympia Snowe in it, and what the likely result’s gonna be now is that it is gonna be harder for Republicans to get the majority in the U.S. Senate and almost impossible for Republicans to serve the state of Maine in the United States Senate.

All I can say to that is,

Thank you, Olympia Snowe!

I am not one of those who celebrated Senator Snowe’s so-called moderation, since she was a part of nearly all Republican obstructionism in the Senate over the last three years.

I remember her saying she urged President Obama to “take the public option off the table” in his address to Congress in September of 2009, implying that she could support the bill without it. She said back then,

I don’t support a public option and none of my Republican colleagues do.

Well, there was no public option and Senator Snowe still did not vote for the health care reform bill, a piece of legislation largely crafted (and weakened) to get votes from Republicans like her.  You may remember that she famously supported the bill in the Senate Finance Committee, using the now-ironic words,

Is this bill all that I would want? Far from it. Is it all that it can be? No. But when history calls, history calls. And I happen to think that the consequences of inaction dictate the urgency of Congress to take every opportunity to demonstrate its capacity to solve the monumental issues of our time.

Apparently, when history came calling for a vote on final passage of the Affordable Care Act, Snowe was in her garage painting a Tea Party placard. She knew then that uber-conservatives would excoriate her for a “yes” vote and raise up a candidate to challenge her in this year’s primary.

How sad that Ms. Snowe, who gets a lot of credit—only some of it deserved—for being a reasonable, moderate Republican, chose to say no to history, when history came not just calling, but begging for her support.

And given her behavior related to one of the most significant pieces of legislation in recent memory, and given her support for Republican filibusters during Obama’s first term, how strange for her to say about her pending retirement:

Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term…I see a vital need for the political center in order for our democracy to flourish and to find solutions that unite rather than divide us. It is time for change in the way we govern…we must return to an era of civility in government driven by a common purpose to fulfill the promise that is unique to America.

To repeat what Steve Schmidt said,

…there are just two types of churches. One that tries to go out and bring in converts and one that goes out and hunts heretics. And we have been a party that’s done a lot of heretic hunting over the last couple of years.

And there are those, like Olympia Snowe, who herself never hunted heretics in her party, but who sat in the pews keeping the seats warm for those who did.

______________________

Here is Olympia Snowe’s “take the public option off the table” moment:

Republican Lies In Triplicate

Apparently, Republican presidential campaign lies come in threes.

Rick Santorum said last night during his post-loss falsehood-fest in Michigan:

…we have a government that is crushing us every single day, with more taxes, more regulations, and the idea that they know better than you how to run your life.

Let’s count ‘em up: Obama’s government is crushing us with (1) more taxes (2) more regulations and (3) run-your-life superiority, a trifecta of untruths.

Mitt Romney said last night during his post-win lie-fest in Michigan, that Barack Obama,

put us on a path toward debt and deficits and decline.

Admittedly, Romney’s unholy trinity of falsehoods sounds good to Obama-hating ears, but the only way it could be true is if it were said about George W. Bush.

Romney engaged in another tall-tale threesome:

We’ve seen enough of this president over the last three years to know that we don’t need another five years of President Obama—he thinks he’s unchecked by the Constitution, he’s unresponsive to the will of our people, and in a second term he would be unrestrained by the demands of reelection. If there’s one thing we can’t afford, it’s four years of Barack Obama with nothing to answer to.

Let me reiterate: Obama (1) “he thinks he’s unchecked by the Constitution” (2) “he’s unresponsive to the will of our people” (3) “he would be unrestrained by the demands of reelection.”

Keep all that stuff in mind as you read on.

Remember the controversy at the end of last year over the National Defense Authorization Act and the provision that allows the indefinite military detention of terrorist suspects—including Americans?

For now, thanks to Obama—who did what he promised when he signed the bill—apparently there is at least some reason to relax, if only while Mr. Obama is in office:

WASHINGTON — The White House released rules Tuesday evening waiving the most controversial piece of the new military detention law, and exempting U.S. citizens, as well as other broad categories of suspected terrorists…

Naturally, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham (and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire) are not exactly excited about the waiver and the temporary protection of our civil liberties:

“We are particularly concerned that some of these regulations may contradict the intent of the detainee provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act passed by Congress last year.”

All three senators were adamant that all terrorism suspects — American citizens or otherwise — should be taken into military custody.

Now, what we have here is an Administration, headed by a man who is supposedly “crushing us every single day” and who “thinks he’s unchecked by the Constitution” and is “unresponsive to the will of our people,” trumping three Republican senators whose disregard for the Constitution and the will of the people may one day be legendary.

Another Way To Think About Iran

Here is a headline from today’s Wall Street Journal:

Clearly, coordinated sanctions are putting pressure on Iran, but no one knows what that increased pressure will ultimately bring. In the mean time, we have the political dynamics here at home to digest and to understand and quite possibly to fear.

Michael Brenner, Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, began a piece on The Huffington Post last month with this line:

The drums are sounding for war on Iran.

He noted that “Republican presidential candidates pledge military action as soon as they cross the threshold of the White House,” and that the Obama administration accompanies its policy of “coercive sanctions” with sharp rhetoric and pressure on our allies to join us “in confrontation.” Israel, he says, is pushing “the United States into war mode.”  The media is working hard “to stoke fears in a manner reminiscent of the build-up to the Iraq invasion.”

All true, as far as I can see. What is missing, Brenner argues,

is a sober assessment of the problem and what are suitable approaches to addressing it.

The following is a brief outline of his assessment and the approaches he suggests. I would urge all readers to follow the link for more details, because what Brenner says, right or wrong, is not a point of view on the Iran dilemma that you will encounter very often, especially on television news:

1) “Iran will never forego the option of developing a nuclear capability that is crucial to their objective security needs.”

2) “Therefore, sanctions and other means short of war will not work.”

3) “The undeclared war by other means that we are conducting confirms the security imperative and solidifies a national consensus [in Iran] on the nuclear issue.

4) “Somehow neutralizing the potentially destabilizing effects of the Iranian nuclear program requires reaching a set of understandings and putting in place arrangements that satisfy the basic security interests of all parties in the Gulf region.”

5) “Talks on the nuclear question that ignore the above are doomed to failure.”

6) “To paint the Islamic Republic as the epitome of evil and to pursue a veiled strategy of regime change makes serious negotiation impossible.”

7) “This logic holds despite the Islamic Republic being a noxious regime that has abused its citizens.”

8)  “Consequently Washington’s tiptoeing to the brink of conflict puts us in the position of either backing away and thereby losing face and credibility (along with votes for Mr. Obama in November) or taking military action whose effects would be disastrous.”

Conclusion: if you feel it is imperative to deny Iran a nuclear capability, then get ready for a costly war and chaotic aftermath. More and more aggressive coercion short of military action has no hope of resolution; it could bring on war unintentionally, however. Let’s be honest about what we want and the full implications of going after it.

American post-9/11 imperial ambitions have been driven by the belief in absolute and total security. That has meant military and political domination of the Greater Middle East. In reckless pursuit of this delusional goal, our schemes have founded against the harsh realities of international life. It would be tragic if the curtain falls on a scene of a cataclysmic failure of our own making.

Get Serious About Getting Serious

I had high hopes when I saw this editorial in Sunday’s Joplin Globe:

Ah, I thought, the paper is finally coming around to the truth about Republicans. The editorial even included this paragraph about our future debt to GDP ratio under the various budgets proposed by the presidential players:

Under Obama’s proposal, it will rise to 80 percent by 2021. Mitt Romney’s policies would push that to 86 percent of GDP through 2021. Rick Santorum’s policy would take it to 104 percent and Newt Gingrich would have us at 114 percent, the group concluded…

In this group, Obama is the fiscal hawk, which should at least earn him some drive-by love from the Globe, which endorsed him in 2008. But nope. No love for Big O was forthcoming. But what was forthcoming was something that made the title of the editorial—”Get serious!”—seriously ironic:

Cutting taxes is the right medicine, if for no other reason than to keep it out of the hands of the spending junkies in Washington. Still, that won’t be enough — deep cuts are called for, too.

Now, it is hard to overstate the utter unseriousness behind these two sentences. The paper is saying that we should cut taxes—even though federal revenue is already at a 60-year low—andStill, that won’t be enough…” What? Without argument, without evidence, the writer, enchanted by some sort of supply-side fantasy, assumes that cutting taxes automatically results in increased revenue.

Haven’t we seen that movie enough times to know by now how it ends? Does anyone watch Gone With The Wind thinking that maybe this time Rhett and Scarlett will live happily ever after together?

In any case, the government is starving for additional revenue. We are in fact a low-tax country. Here are total federal receipts and total federal outlays as a percentage of GDP for the years 2009-2011:

YEAR               RECEIPTS            OUTLAYS

2009                 15.1                          25.2

2010                 15.1                           24.1

2011                 15.4                          24.1

Since WW II, only the years 1949 (14.5%) and 1950 (14.4%) saw years in which receipts were less than any of the above three years. And those years saw outlays of only 14.3% and 15.6% respectively.

The Globe editorial suggested that a “fundamental change” is needed “in the vision the American people have for their federal government.” No, it is not. People already have a vision for their federal government, much of which they like. What they lack is a second vision of how to pay for their first vision, and unserious editorials from the Joplin Globe won’t help them form one.

If tax increases are off the table, if tax cuts and the necessarily drastic spending cuts they would necessitate are instead offered as “the right medicine,” then the patient will never get well.

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Here are some helpful charts from the Center for American Progress:

Mitt Is No Massachusetts Moderate

Everyone by now has heard that when he was asked if he followed NASCAR, Mitt Romney said:

Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans, but I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners.

Now that, along with his comment that his wife drives “a couple of Cadillacs,” is how Romney appeals to everyday Joes (without the six-pack, since Mittens doesn’t drink). He may not take a lunch bucket to work, but he has some great friends who own lunch bucket factories.

While I know that no one is going to actually believe Mitt Romney is Joe the Plumber, what I fear may end up happening, particularly since Rick Santorum is hell-bent to run as an unelectable theocrat, is that Romney comes off looking like a political moderate. I heard him so referenced twice in one hour on Monday morning—on MSNBC!

Sure, compared to Santorum, he appears slightly more reasonable. And by slightly I mean, well, slightly. The difference between them is like the difference between a humid 100-degree day here in the Midwest and a humid 99-degree day. Both days make you miserable, and it would take a person with preternatural discernment to meaningfully distinguish the two.

The biggest difference is Romney’s unwillingness to openly discuss his fondness for policies inspired directly by his so-called Christian faith. And the reason for that is clear: he understands that a goodly number of GOP voters think he is only a “so-called” Christian, so why bring it up at all?

Other than the religious angle, there just isn’t that much to convincingly argue that Romney’s political philosophy is significantly less wacky than Santorum’s, especially since Mittens hasn’t gone out of his way to distance himself from Santorum’s journey into social-issue theocracy.

The truth is that Mitt Romney has somewhat clumsily adapted his politics to appeal to a very narrow range of voters in that orgy of absurdity known as the GOP primaries.  And I am convinced that he means it this time, even though he is having a hard time convincing a majority of right-wingers.

But I’m not the only one who believes that Romney’s heavy petting of the far right-wing of his party would result, should he be elected president, in policy children that only a teapartier could love.

None other than Ann Coulter, who is one of the most vile conservatives in the history of the breed, is a Romney enthusiast. She famously told Sean Hannity, a fellow vile conservative who refers to Mr. Obama as “the Anointed One“—without a peep of criticism from falsely pious Christians like Coulter—that she recently spoke to Romney at a fundraiser and said,

You owe me! And you’d better be as right-wing a President as I’m telling everybody you’re gonna be!

She told Hannity that Romney laughed and said, “Don’t worry.”

And if Ann Coulter isn’t worried, that means the rest of us should be.

Stomp The Roaches

Emerging from three days of near-isolation from politics, I woke up today to this:

And this:

And this:

You know, normally when you turn on the light the roaches scatter and head for the cover of darkness.  In this election cycle, the roaches of extremism, nesting in the brains of GOP candidates, not only don’t scatter when the lights come on, they send for their friends.

I have found quite disgusting most of what Republicans have said and done this campaign season, much of that disgust registered on this blog since campaigning began. But I don’t think I have been more disgusted by anything said so far as I am by the attacks on President Obama for trying to protect American soldiers, via his apology to the president of Afghanistan for inadvertently burning Qurans.

It is almost beyond words.  Hillary Clinton, our Secretary of State, apparently has learned diplomat-speak very well, since she totally understated the problem:

I find it somewhat troubling that our politics would inflame such a dangerous situation in Afghanistan.

Somewhat troubling“?  She finds it somewhat troubling that candidates for the highest office in our land would “inflame a dangerous situation“—thus putting our troops at even greater risk? Well, I find it somewhat troubling that we should use such mild language to call out Republicans for their cynical exploitation of this issue.

Obama is the Commander-in-Chief, for Allah’s sake. His responsibility in this matter is to do all he can to calm nerves and not expose our soldiers to even more danger than they already face. To criticize him for doing his job is really unbleepingbelievable.

When the roaches are out running around in the light, you don’t just find it “somewhat troubling.” You stomp your rhetorical foot on them—no, both rhetorical feet—crushing them, knowing that the uncomfortable crunch is the first step in stopping the infestation because, if you don’t do it now, they will simply go back to their conservative nests and breed more extremist ideas.

When Rick Santorum says, “I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,” you don’t just find that “somewhat troubling” either.
We all should find that disturbing, frightening, terrifying.  And we should say so. Loudly. And often.

When Rick Santorum, playing to the weird crowd that makes up his base, says, “President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob,” he should be mocked endlessly, until his extremist ideas aren’t even comfortable nesting in the brain of the host.

Santorum said to Glenn Beck, the father of a lot of extremist roaches, the following:

I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely … The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country.

Now, what do you do with such fanaticism but crush it? What do you do with such zealotry but turn on the light and start stomping your feet?

The Truth About Gas Prices

Steve Benen tries to inject a little reality into the veins of Americans, now that Republicans are demagoguing higher gasoline prices:

Republicans aren’t just demanding expansive drilling. They’re also pushing a talking point that’s quickly become ubiquitous on the right.

“The president would like everyone to forget that gas prices have doubled over the past three years while he consistently blocked and slowed the production of American-made energy,” a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, Brendan Buck, said in a statement.

The second part of this is just silly; oil production has increased every year under Obama’s presidency, and is now higher than it was at any point in Bush’s second term.

Benen goes on to explain the reason gas prices were so low when Bush left office:

there was a global economic catastrophe. GOP officials may not understand this — or they may chose not to — but gas was cheap because the economy had fallen off a cliff. As the economy improved, demand went up, and the price of gas started climbing. It’s Economics 101.

He then quotes Matt Yglesias, who gave George Bush credit for engineering cheaper gasoline this way:

If you manage to orchestrate a situation in which millions of people lose their jobs, retail sales plummet, stores close, and economic activity generally grinds to a halt, this frees up a lot of extra oil. Cheap oil leads to cheap gasoline..

Touché.

The Armor Of God: The Republican Party

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”

—Ephesians 6:11

Once again, those ungodly, evolution-drunk scientists have got it all wrong. From Scientific American:

Earth is the planet of the plants—and it all can be traced back to one green cell. The world’s lush profusion of photosynthesizers—from towering redwoods to ubiquitous diatoms—owe their existence to a tiny alga eons ago that swallowed a cyanobacteria and turned it into an internal solar power plant.

But that can’t be. Because, as most conservatives would have us believe, evolution is not a fact and the true story of how plants came to be was written long ago:

And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so…

And the evening and the morning were the third day.

One problem with the Genesis account, which resourceful defenders of creationism can explain away, is that for plants to exist at all they must, as molecular bioscientists say (but what do they know?), be able to synthesize sunlight. And the sun wasn’t in business until the next day:

And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also…

And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

Now, lest you think my sarcasm is wasted on a dead issue, I present some headlines from stories posted on the National Center for Science Education website over the last two months:

Conservative Christians, using the GOP as their theological weapon, will not stop pushing their religious agenda, just as they will not stop attacking reproductive rights and gay rights. They will lose fight after fight and then get up and start swinging again, faithfully believing that incrementally and eventually they can bend the country’s will towards righteousness.

You won’t find a better description of what has happened to the Republican Party, as we watch its integrity die on the vine of fundamentalism, than this one presented by Steve Benen:

The Republican hostility for science, scientists, the scientific method, scientific inquiry, and empirical research in general has already been solidified as part and parcel of the party’s identity. The GOP mainstream rejects scientific evidence on everything from global warming to stem-cell research to evolutionary biology to sex-ed — in part because they find reality inconvenient, and in part because, as David Brooks put it, many Republicans simply “do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities.”

The reason they don’t accept their legitimacy is because they believe there is an even higher and older authority, One who conveniently blesses their politics and is conveniently beyond the scrutiny of man, especially scholars and intellectuals and scientists.

And it is their version of the Almighty—only one version among many in the world—to which they hold fast, and molecular bioscientists, who discover “tiny alga eons ago that swallowed a cyanobacteria,” be damned.

Kansas: Where Seldom Is Heard An Encouraging Word

As a former Kansas boy, I like to keep tabs on the reactionaries back home:

From the Kansas City Star:

TOPEKA | Republicans on Thursday pushed a bill through the Kansas House requiring potential voters to prove their U.S. citizenship ahead of this year’s election, although GOP senators are divided on whether the state will be ready to enforce the rule.

The House approved the bill 81-43, with all of the votes for it coming from Republicans. It would impose the proof-of-citizenship requirement for people registering to vote for the first time in Kansas starting June 15, more than six months ahead of schedule and in time for the normal surge before a presidential election…

Legislators approved a proof-of-citizenship rule last year but — at the Senate’s insistence — it’s not scheduled to take effect until Jan. 1, 2013.

Now, judging from this bill, and the big hurry these Republican legislators are in, one would think that Kansas, in the middle of the country, is plagued with lots of non-citizens voting. Well, of course, there is no such plague.

Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State* who was the primary drafter of Arizona’s infamous anti-immigration bill, SB 1070, identified a whopping “32 non-citizens on the voter rolls” in 2011.  That’s out of a total of 1.7 million registered voters, the Star notes.

That’s 32 out of 1,700,000.

So, let’s do the math:

32 divided by 1.7 million = .0018823% 

You can see why Republicans are in such a hurry to stop this electoral travesty.

The truth is that Kansas Republicans, like Republicans all over the country, are trying to suppress the votes of minorities, the elderly, and the poor, many of whom lack the ability to comply with these nonsensical and unnecessary laws.

There is no evidence that voter fraud is a problem—anywhere in America. Yet Republicans, who apparently have little confidence in their message, are going to a lot of trouble to fight this non-existent problem.

It is shameful, but not surprising.

_____________________________

* Kobach also works for the legal arm of a group called Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), whose founder, John Tanton, has said,

I’ve come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.

White power!

“We’ve Got A Different Vision”

Mr. Obama, campaigning in Florida, made his case to the American people in three paragraphs, versions of which we will hear—thankfully— from now until November:

They make no secret about what they want to do. They want to go back to the days when Wall Street played by its own rules. They want to go back to the days when insurance companies could deny you coverage or jack up your premiums without reason. They want to spend trillions more on tax breaks for the wealthiest individuals, for people like me, who don’t need it, weren’t even asking for it—even if it means adding to the deficit, even if it means gutting our investments in education or clean energy, or making it harder for seniors on Medicare. Their philosophy is simple: We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves, everybody makes their own rules, a few do very well at the top and everybody else is struggling to get by. That’s their core vision for America.

We’ve got a different vision. We see America as a bigger, bolder place. I’m here to tell them they are wrong about America. Because in America, we understand—yes, we’re rugged individuals—yes, we don’t expect a handout—we are going to do everything we can to make it and fulfill our dreams—but we also understand we are greater together than we are on our own. We’re better off when we keep that basic American promise that if you work hard, you can do well, you can succeed, that you can own that home and send your kids to college and put away something for retirement.

And that’s the choice in this election. This is not just a political debate. This goes to who we are as a people, because we are in a make-or-break moment for the middle class and people who are trying to get in the middle class. We can go back to an economy that is built on outsourcing and bad debt and phony financial profits. Or we can build an economy that lasts. An economy that’s built on American manufacturing, skills and education for American workers, and American-made energy, and, most importantly, the values that have always made America great: Hard work, fair play, shared responsibility.

Mormonism, Mitt, and Medicine

Mormonism, let’s be honest, is a strange faith.

Now, I don’t think it is substantially weirder than most of the religions we are used to, what with their talking animals, virgin births, and dead folks popping up here and there and eventually everywhere. But because it is a relatively modern faith, born in the 19th century, one would have expected it to be, well, a little more sophisticated.

And because a devout—is there any other kind?—Mormon has a good chance of becoming president this year, it is fair to note just how odd are some of the beliefs of Mormons, especially since there are only about 14 million of them in the world (there were only about 1 million when Mitt Romney was born) and they constitute a rather unique group of believers.

It is also fair to examine Mormonism because Romney has been a Mormon missionary, was partly educated in Mormon schools, has served as a Mormon bishop in Massachusetts, and gives a great deal of money to the Mormon Church.

While there are plenty of places on the web where one can check out the various bizarre beliefs tied to Mormonism—like Jesus making a pit stop in the Americas after his resurrection—I want to focus on one that I think reveals not only how creative Mormons can be, but how useful one of their doctrines can be for we liberals. It is called “baptism of the dead.”

Yep, that’s right. They do it. It is a religious ritual of the church, even though some non-Mormon folks want them to stop:

The point, I gather, of proxy baptism is to cut some long-distance slack to those unfortunate souls who passed away without the benefit of a real-time dip in the drink. You see, without that brief immersion in water, one cannot visit the Kingdom of God, or in the case of Mormonism, the Kingdoms of Gods. Apparently, our Higher Power(s) is (are) fond of folks who have taken the plunge, whether they actually took the plunge or conveniently had a descendant do it.

In any case, there is available a handy list of “Prominent People Mormons Have Baptized by Proxy,” should you want to know if your favorite hero of history got his or her belated bath. I am happy to report that Albert Einstein is on the list, although Elvis Presley is not, an oversight that perhaps Mitt Romney can help with, since he has actually done him some post-death baptizin':

When asked by NEWSWEEK if he has done baptisms for the dead—in which Mormons find the names of dead people of all faiths and baptize them, as an LDS spokesperson says, to “open the door” to the highest heaven—he looked slightly startled and answered, “I have in my life, but I haven’t recently.”

I just want to say that I think there is a kind of charm associated with baptizing people long dead, in hopes that they can get out of the nosebleed section in the hereafter. It is at least thoughtful of others, a kind of baptismal salute to socialism. As we discover in the Journal of Discourses:

The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead.

Or how about the following socialistic spirituality, as expressed by founder Joseph Smith:

And now, my dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect.

You see how nice that is? It’s like saying, “If everyone can’t be saved, then none of us can be,” or “All for one and one for all.” Charming, caring, civilized.

And this is where this sentiment can prove useful to liberals: All we have to do is get Mitt Romney—who has baptized people on behalf of the dead—to take that same idea—”their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation“—and apply it to universal health care: if all can’t get coverage, then none of us gets it!

That ought to go over well in the GOP primary, don’t you think?

Vagina-less Legislators May Explain Probing

Perhaps there is an easy answer to why women’s reproductive rights are under assault and why Republicans in places like Virginia have been eager to use the power of government to snoop around in the vaginas of their womenfolk of childbearing age.

While women make up almost 51% of the population in the United States, can you guess the percentage of women in the U.S. Congress?

That’s right, less than one in five, which ranks the United States 71st in the world, just behind, uh,Venezuela.

And it is not much better in state government:

Of the 7,382 state legislators around the country, only 1,744 of them are women. And of those women, 1,054 are Democrats. Which leads me to my next big number:

Only 9% of state legislators are Republican women.

Now, obviously, if more Michele Bachmann types end up in the various legislatures, the assault on women’s rights will continue. But there is strong evidence to suggest that women, including Republican women, are starting to push back against GOP-ordered vaginal probing, which is already the law in seven states (Kansas, Texas, Arizona, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi).

There has been so much push-back that Virginia governor and conservative extremist Bob McConnell is having second thoughts about signing that state’s infamous bill, which has yet to be brought up for a final vote in the Virginia Assembly (only 18% women), so scared are mostly vagina-less Republicans of this now-nationalized issue.

All of which leads me to my last big number:

This is the year to stop the Republican War on Women’s Rights and at least try to bring some sanity to America’s conservative politics.

Faith Without Republican Works Is Dead

But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

—James 2:20

You couldn’t turn on a cable channel on Tuesday without seeing it: Franklin Graham, Billy’s boy, famously exposing his oh-so-gentlemanly spiritual suspicion of President Obama on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Graham, apparently God’s Prostestant arbiter of the Christian faith (the Pope has the rest covered), isn’t sure Obama is a Christian, but he is positive Rick Santorum is, and he thinks Newt Gingrich is, and as for Romney, well, he’s a Mormon, which is Christianity with a twist of lemon, and everybody knows that a Mormon lemon will ruin a good evangelical cocktail.

And while it is proper for journalists to expose Graham’s metaphysical booshwa and his bearing false witness against a Jesus Bro, who happens to be President of God’s Country, the truth is that this is not at all surprising.

There is only one brand of Christianity that evangelicals like Graham are obliged to acknowledge as genuine. And that is the kind that has an “R” after it, as in “Jesus (R-Heaven)”— Romney’s Savior’s I.D., bless his Mormon heart, might read: “Jesus (R-Kolob)”

Democrats cannot be Christians by contemporary evangelical standards, unless they change their views on, say, abortion and homosexuality and guns and, as has been the case lately, laissez-faire economics. Of course, if Democrats changed their views on all those things then they would be Republicans, and thus by default Christians. Get it?

It’s all so easy when you have G-O-P stamped on your forehead like a political Mark of the Beast.

Unable to confidently confirm Obama’s Christianity and “categorically deny” that the President is a Muslim, Graham said,

Islam has gotten a free pass under Obama.

Free pass? Yep, that’s right, and Mr. Graham can confirm his claim by strapping on an aqualung and visiting the bottom of the North Arabian Sea, where what’s left of Osama bin Laden rests courtesy of a free pass from Mr. Obama.

In any case, what may go unnoticed in Graham’s appearance on Morning Joe is his utterly contradictory definition of Christianity, which is a perfect example of what has bedeviled the Christian church since God first emailed parts of the New Testament to the Apostle Paul and James the Just.

Graham first defined Christianity this way:

A Christian is a person who believes that Jesus Christ is God’s son, who died on the cross for our sins, who God raised to life, and that if we put our faith and trust in him, then God will forgive us of our sins. Now, that’s the definition of a Christian.

Then later, responding to the skepticism of journalist John Heilemann, who offered to Graham’s face that the preacher was exhibiting an “amazing double standard” in regards to being certain that Rick Santorum was a Christian and uncertain that Obama was, Graham said,

You have to look at what a person does with his life. Anyone can say that he’s a Christian. You look at—do they live—where do they go and act?

And later,

…you have to go by what a person says and how they live their life and where they go to church. Are they faithful church goers? Or do they just go when the camera’s are on them? That sort of thing.

It’s the old “faith versus works” thing. If Obama says he has the faith, then having works to go with it becomes essential. And the works in this case are defined by mostly white guys with non-exotic names.

Now, it is true that Mr. Graham said, “Obama is a nice man…and his wife is a class act and their kids are classy; you can’t help but like them,” but it was clear that he realized he had dug himself a rather deep theological hole and he was attempting to climb out and hide the shovel before anyone noticed.

Look, I am sure that Franklin Graham is in his normal life a wonderful human being and an outstanding citizen.  But he, like most evangelical leaders, has so grafted his Christian faith on the Republican tree that he can’t help what happened to him on Morning Joe on Tuesday.

And what happened to him was an embarrassment not only to him, but to his father and his faith and his political party, and most important, to his country.

Why Ron Paul Is An Intellectual Drunk

I know Ron Paul will never sit in the White’s House as president, but just to demonstrate how indefensible is his weird brand of libertarian-conservatism, I direct you to an interview Candy Crowley did with Ron Paul on CNN’s State of the Union.

Here is the pertinent exchange and I have highlighted the parts that need further explanation:

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about a couple of your rivals. Rick Santorum has had quite a ride in the polls. Do you believe from what you see today that Rick Santorum can beat President Obama in November?

PAUL: Well, I don’t see how that’s possible. And this whole idea about that talking about the social issues and who is going to pay for birth control pills, I’m worried about undermining our civil liberties…he wants to, you know, control people’s social lives

CROWLEY: …certainly Rick Santorum is the one who has been in the forefront of some of this talk on social issues…Are you uncomfortable with this talk about social issues? Do you consider it a winning area for Republicans in November?

PAUL: No. I think it’s a losing position. I mean, I talk about it because I have a precise understanding of how difficult problems are to be solved. And they’re not to be at the national level.We’re not supposed to nationalize these problems. The founders were very clear that problems like this, if there needs to be legislation of sorts, the state has the right to write the legislation that they so choose. And that solves a lot of our problems…

Now, let’s get this straight:

Paul, a libertarian Republican, says he is “worried about undermining our civil liberties” because Santorum wants to “control people’s social lives.” And Paul says his “precise understanding” of problem-solving convinces him that they are not supposed to be solved at the “national level,” not supposed to be “nationalized,” that the states have “the right to write the legislation that they so choose.”

Okay, now that we understand what Paul is saying, we can look at how phony it all is. This man signed a “Personhood Pledge,” which commits him to,

supporting “the unalienable personhood of every American, from the moment of conception until natural death,” and with the Republican Party platform in affirming that I “support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment protections apply to unborn children.”

The pledge also commits him to defending the following:

I believe that in order to properly protect the right to life of the vulnerable among us, every human being at every stage of development must be recognized as a person possessing the right to life in federal and state laws without exception and without compromise…

I oppose assisted suicide, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, and procedures that intentionally destroy developing human beings.

I pledge to the American people that I will defend all innocent human life. Abortion and the intentional killing of an innocent human being are always wrong and should be prohibited.

Now, remember that this is the same man, Ron Paul the libertarian Republican, who is “worried about undermining our civil liberties,” and criticized Santorum for wanting to “control people’s social lives.” Yet there he is proclaiming that he will:

oppose a woman’s reproductive rights,

oppose an individual’s right to make an end-of-life decision,

oppose scientific research involving certain kinds of stem cells,

and essentially oppose in vitro fertilization, which sometimes involves destroying unused embryos. (The Catholic Church, by the way, officially opposes all forms of in vitro fertilization.)

It is true that Paul wrote an “addendum” to the Personhood Pledge, which he thought, I suppose, cleared up the matter for his fellow libertarians, who might be alarmed that he is pledging to do the same thing Rick Santorum wants to do (Santorum, as well as Gingrich, also signed the pledge).

But to show you how convoluted—and superficial—is his thinking, I will quote the relevant part in full:

A Human Life Amendment should do two things.  First, it should define life as beginning at conception and give the unborn the same protection all other human life enjoys.  Second, it must deal with the enforcement of the ruling much as any law against violence does – through state laws.

To summarize my views – I believe the federal government has a role to play.  I believe Roe v. Wade should be repealed.  I believe federal law should declare that life begins at conception. And I believe states should regulate the enforcement of this law, as they do other laws against violence.

I don’t see the value in setting up a federal police force on this issue any more than I do on other issues. The Fourteenth Amendment was never intended to cancel out the Tenth Amendment. This means that I can’t agree that the Fourteenth Amendment has a role to play here, or otherwise we would end up with a “Federal Department of Abortion.”  Does anyone believe that will help life?  We should allow our republican system of government to function as our Founders designed it to: protect rights at the federal level, enforce laws against violence at the state level.

Here we have Paul affirming his support for both a Human Life Amendment that gives “the unborn the same protection all other human life enjoys,” as well as a “federal law” declaring “life begins at conception.”

He also declares that although these two methods would impute personhood to a seconds-old product of conception, the enforcement of “any law against violence” should be left to the states and not the federal government. This is his way of preserving the Tenth Amendment, he believes.

But the problem here is obvious: What if, say, New York state decides not to enforce the federal law declaring life begins at conception? What if the citizens of that state wanted to keep abortion legal, as most certainly would happen?  Would a Justice Department run by a Paul Administration simply ignore such flouting of the law? Would a man who pledged that,

every human being at every stage of development must be recognized as a person possessing the right to life in federal and state laws without exception and without compromise…

not seek to at least enforce the “civil rights” of those human beings who were victims of violence in New York state? And let’s not mince words: “violence” would be murder under any interpretation of the law. Murder.

And if Paul were to successfully remove “abortion from the jurisdiction of the federal courts,” as he said he would do in his addendum, then what would be the meaning of any Human Life Amendment to the Constitution or any federal statute, if either could not be interpreted by federal courts and enforced by the federal government?

The truth is that Paul’s libertarian philosophy, mixed with his desire to annihilate reproductive rights, renders him intellectually drunk. He says, using capital letters:

We CAN both fight for life AND liberty.  We can remain true to our principle of following the Constitution while also fighting for our moral values.

No, you can’t, Mr. Paul. Sober up.

A Diabolical Conspiracy From The Mind of Rick Santorum

As a former evangelical Christian, all of the following sounded very familiar to me.  It is an excerpt (presented by Right Wing Watch) from an address given at Ave Maria University in 2008 by Rick Santorum, front-running candidate of the Republican Party for, gasp, the presidency of the United States.

The university’s website noted that Santorum’s speech,

shed light on the spiritual warfare manifested in politics, media, and culture.

Perhaps now we all can understand, after reading the following, why Santorum sincerely believes that federal and state involvement in education is “anachronistic,” that home-schooling the nation’s kids would be preferable to public schools.  Perhaps it is clear why Santorum so zealously opposes homosexuality and abortion and can obliquely indict the Christianity of President Obama or slyly compare him to Hitler.

I have exactly no doubt that Mr. Santorum, who has an outside chance of becoming the leader of the free world in the 21st century, believes every word of the following (corrected) transcript, which is very, very scary.

A helpful outline of the diabolical conspiracy that follows: The devil, a real person, first attacks academia, then the church, then culture, then politics and government. And the people, the “body politic” is next:

This is not a political war at all. This is not a cultural war. This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies—Satan—would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country—the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age? There is no one else to go after other than the United States, and that’s been the case now for almost two hundred years, once America’s preeminence was sown by our great Founding Fathers.

He didn’t have much success in the early days. Our foundation was very strong, in fact, is very strong. But over time, that great, acidic quality of time corrodes away even the strongest foundations. And Satan has done so by attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity, and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition.

He was successful. He attacks all of us and he attacks all of our institutions. The place where he was, in my mind, the most successful and first successful was in academia. He understood pride of smart people. He attacked them at their weakest, that they were, in fact, smarter than everybody else and could come up with something new and different. Pursue new truths, deny the existence of truth, play with it because they’re smart. And so academia, a long time ago, fell.

And you say, well, “what could be the impact of academia falling?” Well, I would make the argument that the other structures that I’m going to talk about here had the roots of their destruction because of academia. Because what academia does is educate the elites in our society, educates the leaders in our society, particularly at the college level. And they were the first to fall.

And so what we saw, this domino effect, once the colleges fell and those who were being educated in our institutions, the next was the church.  Now, you’d say, well, “wait, the Catholic Church?” No. We all know that this country was founded on the Judeo-Christian ethic, but the Judeo-Christian ethic was a Protestant Judeo-Christian ethic. Sure the Catholics had some influence, but this was a Protestant country and the Protestant ethic, mainstream, mainline Protestantism, and of course we look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it. So they attacked mainline Protestantism, they attacked the church, and what better way to go after smart people who also believe they’re pious than to use both vanity and pride to also go after the church.

After that, you start destroying the church and you start destroying academia, the culture is where their next success was. And I need not even go into the state of the popular culture today. But whether its sensuality or vanity of the famous in America, they are peacocks on display, and they have taken their poor behavior and made it fashionable. The corruption of culture, the corruption of manners, the corruption of decency is now on display, whether it’s the NBA or whether it’s a rock concert or whether it’s on a movie set.

The fourth, and this was harder—now, I know you’re going to challenge me on this one—but politics and government was the next to fall. You say, well, “You would think they would be the first to fall, as fallible as we are in politics,” but people in political life get elected by ordinary folks from lots of places all over the country, where the foundations of this country are still strong. And so while we may certainly have had examples, the body politic held up fairly well up until the last couple of decades. But it is falling too.

Greed, Evangelicals, And The Environment

You see we have a president, on the energy sector of our economy, who is doing everything possible—everything possible—to crush energy production in this country.”

Rick Santorum in Oklahoma City, February 9, 2012

From a report on Rick Santorum’s visit to Oklahoma City recently:

Santorum found a receptive crowd of nearly 1,000 people in an Oklahoma City hotel Thursday by giving an unflinching endorsement to hydraulic fracturing. That’s the controversial method for extracting natural gas using pressurized chemicals to break open gas-bearing rock.

Santorum says environmental concerns are unfounded. He called them “the new boogeyman” meant to scare the public.

Here is what led up to the boogeyman comments:

The left is always looking for a way to control you. They’re always trying to make you feel guilty so you’ll give them power so they can lord it over you…and they try to distort the truth…Now, they’re trying to do it again: hydrofracking.  Something like 800,000 wells have been hydrofracked in this country. And all of sudden since now we’ve seen natural gas prices go from thirteen bucks to two dollars and fifty cents, well now this is a problem.

And we have to have all sorts of government regulations now because of the threats of hydro—it’s the new bogeyman. It’s the new way to try to scare you…They’re preying on the northeast, saying, “Look what’s gonna happen, oooh, all this bad stuff’s gonna happen, we don’t know all these chemicals and all this stuff, what’s gonna happen.” Let me tell you what’s gonna happen: nothing’s gonna happen (loud cheers).

But they will use this to raise money for radical environmental groups who then go out and continue to try to pervade their reign of environmental terror on the United States of America.  We will stand up for the truth. We will stand up for making sure that we drill and that we keep those energy prices low…

I quoted all that because it is important to keep in mind just how reactionary Santorum’s (as well as the rest of the Republican presidential field) views are on the environment, and because it reminded me of a book I read many years ago, while still an evangelical Christian.

The book, written by the late evangelical guru of the Religious Right, Francis Schaeffer (and he remains a guru as far as his stance on abortion is concerned), was titled, Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology.

Oddly, or maybe not so oddly given what evangelical Christianity has become, I never heard one sermon or one Sunday school lesson in my long evangelical life based on Schaeffer’s environmental views,
but I did hear a lot of talk about his anti-abortion views. And for good reason: his views on the environment would not pass orthodox muster in the man-has-dominion-over-the-earth, pro-business Republican, evangelical church today, as you will soon see.

But he did state the problem very concisely:

The simple fact is that if man is not able to solve his ecological problems, then man’s resources are going to die.

Schaeffer’s solution to those ecological problems began with what he considered a proper view of man’s status:

Man was given dominion over creation. This is true…but as a fallen creature he has used that dominion wrongly. Because he is fallen, he exploits created things as though they were nothing in themselves, and as though he has an autonomous right to them.

What has brought about the ugly destruction of the environment?” asks Schaeffer. “There is one reason: man’s greed.”  He continues:

It is always true that if you treat the land properly, you have to make two choices. The first is in the area of economics. It costs more money, at least at first, to treat the land well…

The second choice that is involved is that it usually takes longer to treat the land properly. These are the two factors that lead to the destruction of our environment: money and time — or to say it another way, greed and haste. The question is, or seems to be, are we going to have an immediate profit and an immediate saving of time, or are we going to do what we really should do as God’s children?

Now, it is impossible to imagine hearing Rick Santorum or any other contemporary conservative Republican talking like that. Nor is it possible to imagine them saying anything like the following, as Schaeffer pressed his point:

What we, the Christian community, have to do is to refuse men the right to ravish our land, just as we refuse them the right to ravish our women; to insist that somebody accepts a little less profit by not exploiting nature.

Compare that to what Santorum—the hope of evangelical America—said in Oklahoma City ten days or so ago:

We will stand up for the truth. We will stand up for making sure that we drill and that we keep those energy prices low…

Victim of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the surf at East Grand Terre Island, Louisiana.

[Photo taken by Charlie Riedel of the Associated Press]

Theology On The Brain

For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”

—Romans 8:22

Because Rick Santorum has religion on his brain, apparently full time now, he says strange and, if you don’t mind, unchristianly, things about a fellow Christian, who happens to be President of the United States and, of course, only “says he’s a Christian.

He told a crowd of teapartiers about Mr. Obama’s motives:

It’s not about you. It’s not about your quality of life. It’s not about your jobs. It’s about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible—a different theology.

Saint Santorum said later:

He is imposing his values on the Christian church. He can categorize those values anyway he wants. I’m not going to.

And then he responded on Sunday’s Face the Nation, after Bob Schieffer played the “phony theology” quote:

BOB SCHIEFFER: So, Senator, I’ve got to ask you. What– what in the world were you talking about, Sir?

RICK SANTORUM: Well, I was talking about the– the radical environmentalists. That’s why I was talking about energy, this– this idea that– that man is– is not– is here to serve the Earth as opposed to husband its resources and be good stewards of the Earth. And I think that is a– a– is a phony ideal. I don’t believe that that’s what– that’s what we’re here to do. That– we– that– that man is here to– to use the resources and use them wisely, to care for the Earth, to be a steward of the Earth. But we’re not here to serve the Earth. The Earth is not the objective. Man is the objective. And– and I think a lot of radical– a– a– a lot of radical environmentalists have it upside down.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, how does that translate into some sort of theology that the President’s theology–

RICK SANTORUM (voice overlapping): Well, it’s– it’s a world view.

BOB SCHIEFFER: –is not based on the Bible. I mean that suggests that he’s not a Christian.

RICK SANTORUM: No, I wasn’t suggesting that President’s not a Christian. I accept the fact that the President is a Christian. I– I just said that when you have a– a– a world view that– that elevates the Earth above man and– and– and says that, you know, we can’t take those resources because we’re going to harm the Earth by– by things that are– that– that frankly are just not scientifically proven, for example, that politicization of the whole global warming debate, I mean, this is just all– all– all an attempt to, you know, to centralize power and to give more power to the government. And– and it’s not questioning the President’s beliefs in– in Christianity. I’m talking about, you know, his– the– the belief that– that man is– should be in charge of the earth and should have–

BOB SCHIEFFER (voice overlapping): No, but once–

RICK SANTORUM: –dominion over it and should be good stewards of it.

BOB SCHIEFFER: I– I don’t want to just spend the whole program on this, but was your–

RICK SANTORUM (voice overlapping): Good.

BOB SCHIEFFER: –use of the word theology, perhaps, you could have had a better word than that? I mean, don’t you know that– that–

RICK SANTORUM (voice overlapping): It–

BOB SCHIEFFER: –or do you wonder that– that might lead some people to suggest that you were questioning the President’s faith?

RICK SANTORUM: Well– no, because I’ve repeatedly said I don’t question the President’s faith. I’ve– I’ve repeatedly said that I believe the President is a Christian. He says he is a Christian. But I’m talking about his world view or his– the– the way he approaches problems in this country and I think they’re– they’re different than how most people do in America.

I presented the entire conversation just to demonstrate how an extremist interpretation of religion has infected Santorum’s brain.

So, let’s see how this works:

♦ Obama’s brand of environmentalism, which is simply that mankind should not go about fouling up posterity’s home unnecessarily, is a “phony theology.”

♦ But Santorum’s brand—”the Earth is not the objective. Man is the objective“—is the real theology, apparently the proper Christian theology.

So, let’s follow the two theologies to their proper conclusion:

♦ Obama’s theology leads to an earth that is habitable in some distant future.

♦ Santorum’s theology, to the extent it has any intellectual coherence, leads to an earth that will not be happily habitable in some distant future.

Now, which one has the most godly theology?

The obvious truth is this: Obama’s environmentalism, which is centrist in every way, is not theological but rational, not short-sighted but cognizant of our obligations to those who come after us.

But Santorum’s environmentalism is indeed theological. It comes straight from the pages of Genesis:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

Apparently, Santorum’s theology includes no limits on “drill, baby, drill” and “burn, baby, burn.” If it does include limits, then how does it differ so radically from Mr. Obama’s?

Thus, apparently in any dispute between man and the earth—like, for instance, the effect fossil fuels are having on global temperatures—Santorum sides with the short-term interests of mankind and against the long-term interest of the earth, which, of course, ultimately means against the interests of future earthlings.

And if this particular theological view should ever prevail, those future earthlings will have to figure out how to live on a planet that has been governed by the religious zealotry of folks like Rick Santorum.

“It’s Time To Send A True Conservative To Washington, DC”

When you play with the fire of right-wing social issues, and your personal life is full of kindling, then, well, you just might go up in flames:

One of Arizona’s rising Republican stars is facing allegations he threatened to deport a Mexican resident who claims to have been his gay ex-lover.

The Phoenix New Times is reporting that Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, who has become one of the faces of the anti-illegal immigration fight in Arizona and nationwide, threatened a 34-year-old man identified only as Jose with deportation if he disclosed details of their years-long affair. Jose had previously been asked to sign paperwork that he would never breathe a word about the affair.

Babeu, who is was co-chair of Mitt Romney’s Arizona campaign and is may be running for a U.S. House seat, has said that he supports Romney’s far-right, inflexible stand on immigration because,

he will not give amnesty; they will not be given voting rights; they will not be given citizenship…

No, but apparently “they” will be given a little tender loving care only a closeted gay Republican can provide:

Here’s a peek at Babeu’s campaign website that I think complements the above photo very well:

During a speech at CPAC this year, Sheriff Babeu, a true Obama-hater, said his campaign for Congress would be,

a fight to define the Republican Party. Are we conservatives? Are we gonna use those bold, bright colors…that define us?

Bold, bright colors“? Hmm. I’ll have to think about that one.

In the mean time: During a press conference on Saturday, Sheriff Babeu admitted that he was gay and that he had a relationship with the man identified as “Jose,” although he denied he or anyone connected to him threatened the man with deportation.

He also said this,

We’re gonna complete our four-year term as sheriff with a bang.

Uh-oh.

In any case, I found this photo on Sheriff Babeu’s website. See if you can find the subliminal message (I cropped it to make it easier for my more conservative readers):

And here is a special photo of the man who would represent the “bold, bright colors” of Republican conservatism in Washington (courtesy of Phoenix New Times):

Perhaps the photogenic conservative meant that instead of completing his “four-year term as sheriff with a bang,” he meant “with a flash.”

Secular Rally Doesn’t Exactly Welcome All Secularists

Even though I am not an atheist, I am a secularist, and I am pleased that a bunch of secularists are getting together on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on March 24.

But before I go on, let’s look at two meanings for the word “secularism“:

sec·u·lar·ism

1. secular  spirit or tendency, especially a system of political or social philosophy that rejects all forms of religious faith and worship.

2. the view that public education and other matters of civil policy should be conducted without the introduction of a religious element.

I am a secularist in the second sense, not the first, and that is why I was disappointed that the organizers of the celebration of secularism chose to focus on the first definition. They announced the event—called “The Reason Rally“—this way:

Across America, in every city, every town, and every school, secularism is on the rise. Whether people call themselves atheists, agnostics, secular Humanists, or any of the other terms used to describe their god-free lifestyle, secularism is coming out of the closet.

By this definition, one of the greatest religious skeptics in modern American history—Martin Gardner—would not be technically qualified to attend this gathering. Gardner was a philosophical theist, but highly critical of miracle-based religions.

In The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener, in a chapter titled, “Why I Am Not an Atheist,” he wrote:

Let me speak personally. By the grace of God I managed the leap when I was in my teens. For me it was then bound up with an ugly Protestant fundamentalism. I outgrew this slowly, and eventually decided I could not even call myself a Christian without using language deceptively, but faith in God and immortality remained.

He added,

I am quite content to confess…that I have no basis whatever for my belief in God other than a passionate longing that God exist and that I and others will not cease to exist.

By this admission, Gardner, who died almost two years ago, would have to sit out The Reason Rally in March.  And that would be a damn shame.

Pat Buchanan Will Have To Find Another Enabler

MSNBC has given Pat Buchanan the left foot of fellowship, finally.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind Mr. Buchanan appearing on MSNBC as a guest, as a spokesman for the reactionaries in our society, where he can be properly confronted.  But he shouldn’t be paid by a reputable network, particularly one that is trying to attract rational, reality-based viewers.  My guess is he will end up on Fox “News,” where he will feel right at home with a commentator who feels comfortable enough on god-awful “Fox and Friends” to tell a black congresswoman to “step away from the crack pipe.”

Buchanan’s affection for a white-dominated culture is obviously shared by a lot of American whites. His belief that diversity is not a strength but a weakness is also popular among a narrower swath of folks with pale faces.  His conviction that homosexual acts are “unnatural and immoral” is standard stuff for evangelicals, fundamentalists, and conservative Catholics.

But most people, I believe, prefer to see sponsored the idea that our country is, in the words of none other than Ronald Reagan,

the one spot on earth where we have the brotherhood of man.

Fittingly, Buchanan’s commentary on the dismissal was defiant, calling some of his critics’ demands “un-American” and referring to them as “blacklisters” and “thought police.”  He also accused them of “demanding that my voice be silenced,” and seeking “systematically to silence and censor dissent.”

That’s kind of odd, since nobody I know of is demanding that he be silenced at all—he certainly remains free to write and speak all he wants, as well as sign a contract with Fox or even CNN.  The point is a news network is not obligated to pay him to promote views that are not only increasingly disdainful of an evolving America, but grossly offensive to a large number of Americans.

So, is anyone trying to “silence” him? No. But compensating him for espousing such views has become unseemly, much like it would be unseemly to compensate someone for, say, arguing that American women should remain barefoot and pregnant.  As outrageous as that sounds, it is no more outrageous than many of Buchanan’s views on our diverse culture.

Finally, I don’t know any employer in America that is duty-bound to keep paying a person no matter what he says or does.  MSNBC is a commercial enterprise.  And if a large number of its viewers no longer want the network to subsidize Buchanan’s reactionary message, it is making at the very least a business decision.

But I, for one, would like to see him back as an occasional guest, where the MSNBC host would not feel obligated to pretend that his views were in the mainstream, or politely ignore some of his most outrageous assertions.  That way his views could be aggressively challenged, without the blessing of a paycheck.

Our Naked History

A great nation cannot forget its history, good or ill.

Just over three years ago, Barack Hussein Obama, whose African father was born on the shores of Lake Victoria in the British-controlled Colony and Protectorate of Kenya, was sworn in at the U.S. Capitol’s West Front, his hand atop the 1861 Lincoln Inaugural Bible.

Yesterday, this blurb appeared in the U.S. Senate’s Daily Digest:

The concurrent resolution included this language:

…enslaved African-Americans performed the backbreaking work of quarrying the stone which comprised many of the floors, walls, and columns of the Capitol;

…enslaved African-Americans also participated in other facets of construction of the Capitol, including carpentry, masonry, carting, rafting, roofing, plastering, glazing, painting, and sawing;

…slave-quarried stones from the remnants of the original Capitol walls can be found in Rock Creek Park in the District of Columbia;

… the Statue of Freedom now atop the Capitol dome could not have been cast without the pivotal intervention of Philip Reid, an enslaved African-American foundry worker who deciphered the puzzle of how to separate the 5-piece plaster model for casting when all others failed;

…no narrative on the construction of the Capitol that does not include the contribution of enslaved African-Americans can fully and accurately reflect its history;

Yes, it is good from time to time to officially remember how we began and how far we have come, if only to remember there is still work to do.

A Lesson In Tolerance

A weird conversation took place on Morning Joe this morning about Rick Santorum’s extreme position on contraception—Santorum is famously against it essentially because he believes sex should be about the begetting not the buzz.

Conservative Joe Scarborough actually played the role of sensible commentator, suggesting that Santorum’s position was way outside the mainstream, and sidekick Mika Brzezinski decided to wander off to the right of Scarborough and defended the extremism of the GOP’s current frontrunner.

After playing a couple of clips of Santorum expressing his fifth-century opinions on the matter—the most recent clip coming from last year—Brzezinski, a Catholic like Santorum, was asked about his views. She replied:

I just don’t think there is anything wrong with believing that. I really don’t.  I don’t think that means he’s gonna ban birth control across the board. Those are his personal beliefs. And I think as a father and a man who has held public office, he’s lived up to them, it appears, which makes it interesting for the conversation and it’s a conversation every family should have about birth control and its role in society with their own kids.

He’s got his own and he stands by them and I think he’s an interesting part of the national conversation in terms of where our society is going. And there is a lot of risky behavior that happens to be connected to birth control. But there’s a whole other side to this conversation and not once did I say, “should it be banned?” or “should it not be covered by health insurance?” but I think it’s okay to have those beliefs and those concerns.

At first hearing, one might think Brzezinski sounds reasonable. Santorum is, indeed, entitled  to his beliefs on contraception and in a strange and limited sort of way is to be respected, if he (with the consent of his wife) lives by them. But the real question is not Santorum’s fealty to his extreme doctrines, but the doctrines themselves.

Just to illustrate, let’s look at a different kind of belief that I think it is fair to say that nearly all Americans would find repulsive:

Imagine if there were a presidential candidate today saying that he personally follows the teachings of his church, especially that African-Americans should not be able to marry white Americans because their “dark skin” is a “curse,” since God chose to put them on the earth “in the lineage of Cain.”

Such a candidate might express agreement with a prominent leader of his church that “the Negro seeks absorption with the white race,” and “he will not be satisfied until he achieves it.”

And such a candidate might agree with that same church leader when he said he “would be willing to let every Negro drive a Cadillac if they could afford it,” but that they should “enjoy these among themselves.”

Now imagine if there were a video clip of this candidate saying,

I think the Lord segregated the Negro and who is man to change it?

With all that in mind, let’s go back to Morning Joe and Mika Brzezinski. Of such beliefs would she say,

I just don’t think there is anything wrong with believing that. I really don’t.  I don’t think that means he’s gonna ban interracial marriage across the board. Those are his personal beliefs.

Would she say that on television and expect her career to survive?

Or would she say,

I think he’s an interesting part of the national conversation in terms of where our society is going.

Of course she wouldn’t. Not in a million years.

But perhaps because she is a Catholic, or simply because she has some other reason to believe that birth control is somehow “cursed,” in terms of what perceived negative effects it has on society, she feels no social discomfort in stating that Santorum’s antiquated, offensive, and socially perilous views present “a whole other side to this conversation.”

Perhaps the day will come when Santorum’s extremist views on contraception will be as socially unacceptable to defend as the views of my imaginary candidate’s views are today. But obviously we have a long way to go.

Finally, and for the record, my imaginary candidate’s opinions were based on the teachings of an honest-to-goodness, high-ranking apostle of the Mormon Church, Mark E. Petersen, who expressed his beliefs in a speech in 1954, “Race Problems—As they Affect The Church.”

That such abhorrent ideas, expressed not that long ago, are no longer prevalent in civil society is because people of all races began to push back against them and ridicule them, not politely welcome their promotion, or in Brzezinski’s language, deem them an “interesting part of the national conversation.”

_________________________

Here are the two Santorum clips played this morning on Morning Joe followed by Mike Barnicle’s and Mika Brzezinski’s comments:

Women Beware: Republicans Will Probe Your Privates

The Republicans in Virginia—seriously—want a government so big that it can literally get inside individual citizen’s genitals, by force and without their consent.

—Rachel Maddow

Transvaginal” is not a word one comes across routinely on a blog about politics. But it is a word women had better get used to, if what is happening in Virginia—which has already happened in Texas—makes its way across the country.

It isn’t enough that extremist legislation—with Missouri Republican Roy Blunt’s fingerprints all over it—has been proposed in the U. S. Senate that would, in the words of The Huffington Post:

amend the Affordable Care Act to allow any employer to exclude any health service coverage, no matter how critical or basic, by claiming that it violates their religious or moral convictions.

Get that? “Any health service coverage” can be denied to women because of her boss’s—frequently a man—religious or moral sensibilities. That is preposterous. But it is not as preposterous as what has happened in Texas and what is going on in Virginia.

From NARAL:

On the last day before bills crossover between the House and the Senate for this General Assembly session, the House of Delegates passed H.B. 1 a bill granting personhood status and rights to fertilized eggs by a vote of 66-32.

The House also passed a bill to force women to have an ultrasound — and potentially an invasive transvaginal ultrasound — 24 hours before an abortion regardless of if it is medically necessary or if a woman wants it.

This isn’t a joke. This is really happening. In America.

First, granting personhood status to fertilized eggs—which would annihilate abortion rights and have implications for contraception—has been tried in Colorado and Missisippi, both efforts failing by a vote of the people (failing in Colorado twice).

Second, the bill requiring ultrasounds will in fact require that many of the ultrasounds be transvaginal because most abortions occur early on in gestation and the invasive procedure would be needed for, as the law requires, the woman to see the fetus or hear its heartbeat.

Just for your information, the following is how one source, Ovarian Cancer Facts, describes the beginning of the transvaginal procedure—which Big Brother in Texas requires and Virginia soon will. Read this and keep in mind that this is mandated—mandated!—by government:

Your bladder must be empty in order for the test to be accurate. For this reason, the physician may ask that you not drink anything for several hours before undergoing the sonogram. Once the time for the test arrives, you will be asked to undress from the waist down and lie on a table. During the process, the feet are placed in stirrups and the knees are bent.

With you in place, your physician will initiate the process by preparing a transducer for insertion into your vagina. Commonly referred to as a probe, this device uses waves to create images that help your doctor assess the current condition of the reproductive system. A monitor that is attached to the probe allows your doctor to view the images in real time. After placing a condom over the probe and lubricating the device with a gel, it is inserted into your vagina and begins to transmit the images.

That, my fellow Americans, is what Republicans mean by “limited” or “small” government—probing its female citizens as part of a theological or moralistic crusade.

In Virginia, the Senate has already passed an ultrasound bill identical to that passed by the General Assembly and Governor Bob McDonnell—a conservative Catholic—has indicated he will sign the final product, and Virginia, like Texas, will begin Big Brother’s foray into Virginia women’s vaginas.

Here is part of St. Rachel Maddow’s jaw-dropping segment from last night’s broadcast:


Economic Confidence And Encouragement

If presidential election outcomes depend on trend directions, this is encouraging, though way too shallow at this point to give President Obama overconfidence:

From Gallup:

“Americans’ economic confidence, though still in negative territory, is now near its highest levels of the past four years.”

The Fall Of Mittens And The Rise Of, Uh, Santorum?

One of my favorite pundits in Pundikistan is Ezra Klein.

Last night, filling in for St. Rachel Maddow, Klein got all wobbly about the inevitability of Mitt Romney as the eventual GOP nominee. He has been a steadfast claimant that the other candidates opposing Romney are pretenders, with no real chance to beat him. Klein’s argument, accompanied by the following image, makes sense. There is real dissatisfaction among independents with the Romney brand:

Granted, Mittens has been a weird candidate, mostly afraid to talk about two things that have served him well in his life: religion and money.  He has lately taken to bringing up these handicaps/attributes, but maybe it is too late.

Maybe his authenticity has taken too many blows, what with the Gingrich attacks on his fondness for and enrichment by practicing predatory capitalism, and with Santorum’s slightly more subtle, but perhaps more effective, attacks on his once-palpable political moderation.

I have predicted for months now that Romney will be the Republican nominee, and I still think the best bet is on him, but there won’t be anyone in the country who would be more glad to see a Santorum nomination than I.

From the moment he stepped foot in the United States Senate, this extremist former senator has attempted to fashion America in the image of his ancient theological views, and if the contrast is between him and a much more restrained and modest and modern Christian like President Obama, then let’s get on with it.

Santorum successfully added an amendment to the No Child Left Behind bill in 2001 that would have allowed the teaching of a kind of creationism—intelligent design—in the public schools. Fortunately, his amendment was jettisoned during the conference between the House and Senate.

For obvious political reasons, he later distanced himself from the religiously motivated movement to get creationism in the schools via so-called intelligent design, but last year I saw him on Chris Matthews’ show and he, like most conservative Christians, could not bring himself to embrace modern science:

I believe that we are created by a living, loving God…for evolution to explain the creation of the human species from nothing to human beings, absolutely not I don’t believe in that.

Okay, that’s not so bad I suppose for a Republican candidate, or even a Democratic one. There are a lot of folks who agree with him. But it is his sincere and fanatical embrace of a full-throated theological conservatism, tainted by homophobia and a strange disdain for contraception, that will be his undoing, should he upset Romney.

Consider the following, from The Seattle Times on Monday:

OLYMPIA — Within an hour of Gov. Chris Gregoire signing a same-sex-marriage bill into law Monday, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum was meeting with a group of gay-marriage foes at a church minutes away, offering a message of support for their efforts to repeal the law.

The paper reported on the closed-door meeting of “more than 100 pastors and other ‘values voters‘” this way:

“I told them to keep up the fight, that this is an important issue for our families; it is an important issue for religious liberty,” the former Pennsylvania senator said of his meeting with church leaders, during a news conference Monday afternoon.

Arthur Banks, pastor of Eastside Baptist Church in Tacoma, said he appreciated Santorum’s visit and that the group was determined “to stand for right and righteousness against what we feel is an injustice because God’s word speaks against it — same-sex marriages.”

You see, that stand for “right and righteousness” and “God’s word” is what Santorum is tapping into on the extreme right-wing—really, the only wing that now matters—of his party. And while that may give him an outside chance of wresting the nomination from Mittens’ hands, it will only serve the interests of President Obama, who by contrast appears, in his execution of public policy, sober and sane and comfortingly secular.

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