Monday, December 31, 2007

Top Ten Bush administration legal fictions

Dahlia Lithwick's "Legal Fictions"

This time last year, I offered up a top 10 list of the most appalling civil-liberties violations by the Bush administration in 2006. The grim truth is, not much has changed. The Bush administration continues to limit our basic freedoms, conceal its own worst behavior, and insist that it does all this in order to make us more free. In that spirit, it seemed an opportune moment to commemorate the administration's worst legal justifications and arguments of the year. And so I humbly offer this new year's roundup: The Bush Administration's Top 10 Stupidest Legal Arguments of 2007.
Read the list and marvel that this administration has avoided impeachment.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Brayton on Ron Paul

I still plan on writing something about Ron Paul eventually - if for no other reason than to sort out my own thoughts on him - but in the meantime Ed Brayton has written a post reflecting views on Paul that are similar to mine. I added my three cents here and here and here.

Lies, damned lies, and Reagan speeches

Ronald Reagan is remembered as a great speech giver, but one thing that seems to get overlooked is that he had a habitual habit of including in said speeches figments of his own imagination. Reagan's gift (if you wish to call it that) was that he was able to then believe it 100%. Reading Reagan's America by Gary Wills, one is left with the impression that Reagan spent most of his life inhabiting a fantasy world of his own making.

In The Conscience of a Liberal, Paul Krugman reminds us that Reagan was fuzzy with the truth from the start. On Oct. 27, 1964, Reagan gave a speech for the Goldwater campaign that is considered his break-out perfomance. It was full of b.s.

Reagan's speech might best be described as a rant - a rant against the evils of big government, based not on logical argument but on a mix of gee-whiz statistics and anecdotes.

The statistics were misleading at best, and the anecdotes suspect. "Federal employees number 2.5 million, and federal, state, and local, one out of six of the nation's work force is employed by the government" declared Reagan, conveying the impression of a vast, useless bureaucracy. It would have spoiled his point if people had known what those useless bureaucrats were actually doing: In 1964 almost two-thirds of federal employees worked either in the Defense department or in the postal service, while most state and local employees were schoolteachers, policemen, or firemen. He attacked Aid to Families with Dependent Children with a story about a woman with seven children who wanted a divorce because here welfare check would be larger than her husband's paycheck - a story he claimed to have heard from an unnamed judge in Los Angeles.
The argument by pretty-obviously made up anecdote has become a conservative movement staple, leading to Al Franken's hilarious mockery of the tactic in chapter 15 of Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

It just keeps getting worse

Seven years into this administration, and yet everyday that passes seems to bring forth another example of how Team Bush has worked tirelessly to gut democracy out of our government. Now we see another non-partisan government official has been become a casualty of the conservative movement's drive to politicize every aspect of the federal government under the guiding light of the Fuhrer principle.

Minimal blogging until ?

Thanks to the exceptional cable service of Comcast, I'm getting about 30 - 45 minutes of internet connection a day.

I've got several posts I'd like to get up before the end of the year, but there's no telling when this ongoing problem will be fixed. Obviously, Comcast is motivated by its virtual monopoly over the cable market to finish as soon as possible.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Youtube of the day

"Put a little love in your heart" by Al Green and Annie Lennox (from the motion picture Scrooged)

Biggest Asshole on the Planet Today Award goes to ...

... Dinesh D'souza for saying this: "Many libertarians are basically conservatives who are either gay or druggies or people who generally find the conservative moral agenda too restrictive."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Liars for Exxon strike again

Senator James Inhofe, possibly the most intellectually dishonest man in the senate, is now claiming that a minority report debunks the claim that there is no scientific debate over whether or not anthropogenic global warming is occurring. Why? Because it has a list of scientists who are skeptics of AGW.

Except if you look at the list, most of those included are not climatologists, and many aren't even scientists! (the list includes economists.) But worse, a number of those included do not dispute that AGW is happening, but have disputed some particular related detail.

But guess what - that's not the end of the dishonesty. It's not even really a minority report.

This is more evidence of the similarities between global warming denialism and creationism, given as using a list of skeptic "scientists" is a standard creationist tactic (pay attention to point 3 - the similarity in style of intellectual dishonesty is remarkable.)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

J. Edgar Hoover - worse than you thought

It's scary to think this man was in charge of the FBI for decades.

A newly declassified document shows that J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had a plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison some 12,000 Americans he suspected of disloyalty.

Hoover sent his plan to the White House on July 7, 1950, 12 days after the Korean War began. It envisioned putting suspect Americans in military prisons.

Hoover wanted President Harry S. Truman to proclaim the mass arrests necessary to “protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage.” The F.B.I would “apprehend all individuals potentially dangerous” to national security, Hoover’s proposal said. The arrests would be carried out under “a master warrant attached to a list of names” provided by the bureau.

The names were part of an index that Hoover had been compiling for years. “The index now contains approximately twelve thousand individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven per cent are citizens of the United States,” he wrote.

“In order to make effective these apprehensions, the proclamation suspends the Writ of Habeas Corpus,” it said.

Habeas corpus, the right to seek relief from illegal detention, has been a fundamental principle of law for seven centuries.
Of course, the Bush administration is itself currently seeking to undermine one of the fundamental principles of western democracy, as Weiner goes on to point out.

Quote of the day

"There is plenty of news for consumers but too little for citizens." - Bill Moyers

Hindsight as foresight

"The abuse of buying and selling votes crept in and money began to play an important part in determining elections. Later on, however, this process of corruption spread to the law courts and to the army; and, finally, even when the sword became enslaved by the power of gold, the republic was subject to the rule of emperors." - Plutarch (46 - 120 CE)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

What he said


Mediaocracy watch

The FCC has voted to allow more media consolidation. Wonderful. Splendid. I look forward to our Silvio Berlusconi esque future.

Huckabee holds fundraiser in the home of a Christian Reconstuctionist


Helps to make sense of the subliminal floating cross commericial, doesn't it? (And don't get give me any of that unintentional hogwash. The window is perfectly lighted to create a cross, and its shot to perfectly fit next to Huckabee and the Christmas tree as Huckabee is slowly superimposed over it ... these folks know exactly what they're doing). I think Ron Paul gets it about right in his response to the commericial.

The greatest Christmas song of all time

"Christmas in Hollis" by Run DMC

More S-Ps who are willing to let Americans die because of their Bush hate

Obviously, these are more far leftists who think that anything other than name, rank, and jihad number is torture.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Anti-Semitic zionism

When Debbie Schlussel argued that Ann Coulter isn't anti-semitic because she "supports" Israel, I pointed out that this does not rule out anti-semitism given that there is a fundamentalist tradition of supporting the existence of Israel so that it can fulfill anticipated biblical End Times prophesy.

Gary Wills points out in Head and Heart, Dispensationalist evangelicals were issuing proto-zionist iniatives in the late 19th century before a zionist nationalist movement even began, and that the evangelical leader William Blackstone had presented a petition to the president of the United States in 1891 calling for the establishment of a Jewish nation, five years before the father of modern Zionism - Theodore Herzl - called for creating a Jewish state. Then, after noting a prominent Zionist who did not care that evangelicals had an ulterior motive for the establishment of a new Israel, Will writes:

Yet it was hard to overlook the fact that many if not most of these first Christian champions of Israel were anti-Semites. The proof is that all but one of them accepted as true the forged slanders of Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Some Premillennialists even reprinted the Protocols in their journals.

Premillennisalists followed the claims of Darby and Scofield that the present age, the "parenthesis" or gap to which no prophesies apply, had happened because the Jews killed the Messiah at his first coming, diverting the whole course of history and putting the Bible promises on hold. Since the Tribulation is to be an entirely Jewish matter (saved Christians having been rapt away), strict Dispensationalists departed from the long Protestant tradition of identifying Antichrist with the pope. As [Israeli scholar Jaakov] Ariel says, "Since the early nineteenth century, and until the publication of Left Behind, dispensationalist writers have routinely characterized the Antichrist as a Jew." Jerry Falwell was widely denounced for saying that Antichrist will be a Jew.

Quote of the day

"The Right Wing in America likes to think that the United States goverment was, at its inception, highly religious, specifically highly Christian, and - and more to the point - highly biblical. This was not true of that or any later government - until 2000, when the fiction of the past became the reality of the present." - Gary Wills, Head and Heart

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The glory of Jesus (according to Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins)

In a section of Head and Heart dealing with the brutal worldview of Dispensationalist fundamentalists and their casual acceptance of 9/11 as God's deserved wrath and eager anticipation of nuclear war, Gary Wills provides this charming passage from Glorious Appearing, one of the books in LaHaye's apocalyptic "Left Behind" series.

Rayford watched through the binocs as men and women soldiers and horses seemed to explode where they stood. It was as if the very words of the Lord had superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their veins and skins.

Tens of thousands of foot soldiers dropped their weapons, grabbed their heads or their chests, fell to their knees, and writhed as they were invisibly sliced asunder. Their innards and entrails gushed to the desert floor, and as those around them turned to run, they too were slain, their blood pooling and rising in the unforgiving brightness of the glory of Christ ...

The riders not thrown leaped from their horses and tried to control them with the reins, but even as they struggled, their own flesh dissolved, their eyes melted, and their tongues disintegrated. As Rayford watched, the soldier stood briefly as skeletons in now baggy uniforms, then dropped in heaps of bones as the blinded horses continued to fume and rant and rave. Seconds later the same plague afflicted the horses, their flesh and eyes and tongues melting away, leaving grotesque skeletons standing, before they too rattled to the pavement.
Wills recounts that after Jesus returns, he "slays millions by the power of his words, staining the hem of his robe crimson as he wades through the oceans of blood he sheds."

This isn't just fiction to these folks. They:
1.Expect that this will happen
2.Believe that this is how a god worthy of worship and devotion should act.

In other words, you must interpret the Bible the way they interpret it, or that's what you have coming to you.

American fascists, indeed.

Anatomy of a democratic moment

Glenn Greenwald summarizes what it took to get retroactive immunity for telecom companies that helped the U.S. government engage in warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens taken off the table until at least January.

Every citizen who believes that the 4th amendment and the rule of law are still vital components of American democracy should continue to assist Senator Dodd in proctecting the Constitution by contacting the offices of their Senators (or perhaps Democratic senators, seeing as Republicans are pretty much a lost cause) and explaining the importance of this issue. Contact local media and ask them why this is issue is not being covered. Do the same with national media. If you know of media figures who you believe to be sympathetic to the issue but who are not covering it, write them and urge them to do so.

Contact the offices of Vichy Dems like Senator Harry Reid and (respectfully) ask why the senator is working to undermine the 4th amendment. Express your dissapointment and/or outrage (again, respectfully.) Emphasize that granting retroactive immunity for lawbreaking for profit would legistate an incentive for goverment and corporations to conspire to circumvent and subvert our Constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties. Tell them that this legislation says that our rights are not inalieanable but, in fact, very much alieanable - that they are subject to the personal fiat of a Ruler.

Nothing could be more foreign, more poisonous and antithetical to this nation's history and purpose than that.

The Dodd campaign was looking for material to use during a filibuster. Citizens should continue to research the matter and look for historical rhetoric to contrast what the Bush administration and Vichy Dems are doing with this nation's most basic and founding principles. I'm thinking of things along the lines of this which make the difference stark and apparent.

It should also be emphasized that the 4th amendment wasn't primarily written with the policing of criminal activity in mind. It was written with the the policing of dissident activity in mind. It can hardly be imagined that the founders would have intended for the goverment and corporate entities to have legal immunity to survey every communication that citizens partake in.

Indeed, the Republic of Letters from which this nation was born would not have been possible had such a tool been at the disposal of the monarchy.

Monday, December 17, 2007

No more excuses

I recall hearing some lamentation from some pundits that the Daily Show tends to make people cynical. If you can read something like this and not be cynical, I submit that there might be something wrong with you.

Once again our country's most basic principles of liberty - as enshrined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights - have been betrayed by the Democratic leadership's shell game of pretending to oppose President Bush's assault on democracy.

Senator Dodd deserves every bit of support for his Sisyphean effort to prevent the contemptible and cowardly Vichy Democrats from helping President Bush and the conservative movement turn America into a banana republic.

Update: Help Senator Chris Dodd defend the Constitution. It is a sad irony that the candidate who is willing to suspend his campaign to prevent the retroactive legalization of criminal activity has zero chance of becoming the nominee. Acting presidential on the campaign trail is apparently more important than actually taking a leadership role and being presidential.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Towards 1984

Greenwald: "Ultimately, what is most significant about all of this is how the most consequential steps our government takes -- such as endless expansion of its domestic spying programs with literally no oversight and constraints of law -- occur with virtually no public debate or awareness"

Orwell (in 1984): "It was not desirable that the proles should have strong political feelings. All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism, which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary ..."

Another book to look out for

After yesterday's post about the estate tax, investigative journalist and author of the absolutely essential reading Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich--and Cheat Everybody Else, David Cay Johnston alerted me that his latest book - Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and StickYou with the Bill) - will be released December 27.

Book Description
The bestselling author of Perfectly Legal returns with a powerful new exposé

How does a strong and growing economy lend itself to job uncertainty, debt, bankruptcy, and economic fear for a vast number of Americans? Free Lunch provides answers to this great economic mystery of our time, revealing how today’s government policies and spending reach deep into the wallets of the many for the benefit of the wealthy few.

Johnston cuts through the official version of events and shows how, under the guise of deregulation, a whole new set of regulations quietly went into effect—regulations that thwart competition, depress wages, and reward misconduct. From how George W. Bush got rich off a tax increase to a $100 million taxpayer gift to Warren Buffett, Johnston puts a face on all of the dirty little tricks that business and government pull. A lot of people appear to be getting free lunches—but of course there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and someone (you, the taxpayer) is picking up the bill.

Johnston’s many revelations include:
• How we ended up with the most expensive yet inefficient health-care system in the world
• How homeowners’ title insurance became a costly, deceitful, yet almost invisible oligopoly
• How our government gives hidden subsidies for posh golf courses
• How Paris Hilton’s grandfather schemed to retake the family fortune from a charity for poor children
• How the Yankees and Mets owners will collect more than $1.3 billion in public funds

In these instances and many more, Free Lunch shows how the lobbyists and lawyers representing the most powerful 0.1 percent of Americans manipulated our government at the expense of the other 99.9 percent. With his extraordinary reporting, vivid stories, and sharp analysis, Johnston reveals the forces that shape our everyday economic lives—and shows us how we can finally make things better.

Ten T-Warriors win another battle for Christmas ...

... by physically assaulting four Jewish men who wished them Happy Chanukah on a subway train. What were those stinking Jews thinking? Don't they know this is a Christian nation? How dare they rub "Hanukkah ... the day that the Jews killed Jesus" in these brave T-Warriors' faces.

Of course, we don't condone physical assault, but when Christians are being brutally persecuted by being wished Happy Holidays or Happy Chanukah, it's understandable that they lash out. It's kinda like when Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn said that he understands why people kill judges.

Now, that I think of it ... it reminds me of the way a Muslim fanatic I talked to told me it was understandable that Theo Van Gogh was killed.

What say you, General O'Reilly? T-Warriors can't make an omellette without breaking a few eggs?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

T-Warriors think alike

"I'd just like to say to the good citizens of Dover, if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city. And don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city." - Pat Robertson, in response Dover, Pennsylvania voting out its IDCreationism school board

"And if Al Qaeda comes in here and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it. We're going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco. You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead." - Bill O'Reilly, in response to San Francisco passing a resolution to prohibit on-campus military recruiting.

Yep, nothing more "traditional" than fantasizing about death and destruction being visited upon an entire people.

The Hatter wants to cut "your" taxes

After just wondering a few days ago if the country had fallen through the rabbit hole into WonderLand, I'm now certain it has. Yesterday, I spoke with someone who wants the estate tax (which he will only refer to as the "death tax") eliminated. Why? Because the estate tax unfairly burdens the middle class. In fact, the estate tax doesn't really apply to the rich and primarily targets the middle class. So says he.

This is the sort of thing that makes me want to go live in solitude in a cave on an island somewhere.

As it turns out, this person has had his head filled with the lies of this website* and the propaganda of the Heritage Foundation. Those websites are to economics what the Discovery Institute is to science. It takes a special kind of villainous dishonesty to turn the elimination of a tax that affects almost exclusively a handful of the super rich into a populist cause.

But it's working.

During the 2006 campaign, both the Democratic and Republican candidates for the House in my district promised they would end the "Death tax." I'm betting the number of their constituents to whom the tax applied is zero, yet I also know that a substantial number of them were certain it did apply to them.

Our tax system has been rigged to flow wealth upwards to the richest 1 percent of the country like Niagra Falls in reverse, yet the middle class, feeling the squeeze of an increased tax burden, votes to restore a system of wealth transferance that harkens back to feudal aristocracy. I expect that in the future anthropologists are going to look back on this "Death tax" craze like we look back on witchcraft crazes. Funny thing is those served as a means of redirecting people's attention away from the source of their troubles, too. In the words of anthropologist Marvin Harris:

The principal result of the witch-hunt system was that the poor came to believe that they were being victimized by witches and devils instead of princes and popes. Did your, roof leak, your cow abort, your oats wither, your wine go sour, your head ache, your baby die? It was the work of the witches. Preoccupied with the fantastic activities of these demons, the distraught, alienated, pauperized masses blamed the rampant Devil instead of the corrupt clergy and the rapacious nobility.
The conservative movement's Devil is the "tax and spend" Liberal. The Limbaugh's Youth I was talking to calls them Socialists. Saint O'Reilly, savior of Christmas, prefers S-P.

Speaking of which, a couple of nights ago, I flipped by The O'Reilly Factor and saw Bill saying that Hillary Clinton and Warren Buffet are engaging in class warfare because they want to prevent the repeal of the estate tax. Yep, I mean, just look at this list of far left, anti-capitalist, anti-business, communists S-Ps who are leading the war against the rich ... Warren Buffet, Bill Gates Sr., Rockefellers, Susan Packard - those folks are to the left of Lenin.

Let's take a look at how this "class warfare" works out. Democrats had proposed raising the exemption for the estate tax up to 5 million. Paul Krugman crunched some numbers:

An estate tax with an exemption of $5 million would affect only a handful of very wealthy families: in 1999 only 3,300 estates had a taxable value of more than $5 million. The average value of those estates was $16 million. If the excess over $5 million were taxed at pre-2001 rates, the average taxed family would be left with $10 million - which doesn't sound like harship to me - and the government would collect $20 billion in revenue each year
Republicans, who had marketed the elimination of the estate tax as "relief" for the average American, voted against the exemption in favor of complete elimination. Senator Russ Feingold then proposed a $100 million dollar exemption. Guess what? That didn't pass, either.

In the past, O'Reilly has called the "death tax" socialism and asserted that it's unconstitutional. This doesn't make me want to go live in a cave. It makes me want to tell every person on the planet what an incredible idiot O'Reilly is.

Our government is now running massive deficits thanks to President Bush's tax cuts for the megawealthy. The children and the grandchildren of the poor, middle class, upper middle class, and moderately rich are going to pay for that. Bush's tax cuts will constitute a birth tax on future generations.

As far as I know, we're the only society in the history of human civilization that has cut taxes for the wealthy - 40% of the cuts went to the wealthiest 1% - in a time of war. To make up the difference we've been cutting out spending that actually helps the people O'Reilly claims to be a champion of. As former Secretary of Labor and author of Supercapitalism Robert Reich put it on his blog last summer

Right now, the [estate] tax only hits families with more than $4 million to give to their heirs. That's the richest one-half of one percent of American families. Families can leave their children up to $4 million without any tax at all. But because this small group of families has so large a fortune, repeal would cost the U.S. Treasury $1 trillion in its first ten years. That's about equivalent to what's needed to save Social Security over the next 75 years. Put another way, the yearly loss to the Treasury is almost exactly equal to the amount the U.S. spends each year on homeland security. If the super-wealthy won't pay, the middle class will have to pay more taxes to make up the difference. Or the national debt will expand, and we'll all be paying more interest on the resulting borrowing (mostly from wealthy Americans, along with China and Japan).
But Bill O'Reilly being able to take his fortune with him into the grave is more important.

That the estate tax constitutes some kind of socialist oppression of the rich is an insane belief. Look around, the existence of the estate tax since 1916 has not exactly prevented the wealthy from passing on their wealth. Robber-baron money is still making its mark on the country. (Hello, Richard Mellon Scaife bankrolling the impeachment of a president anyone?) From American Dynasty:

Between 1937 and 1999, four of America's richest families - the Rockefellers, Mellons, du Ponts, and Phippses - increased their combined net worths from between $2 billion and $4 billion to roughly $38 billion without enjoying ownership of any new, cutting edge industry ...

... 120 years after the death of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, the forty-three descendents of one of his great-great grandsons, William A. M. Burden, were reported to enjoy a comforting half billion dollars ...
"An equality of property, with a necessity of alienation, constantly operating to destroy combinations of powerful families, is the very soul of a republic."

What S-P said that? Give up? ... It was Noah Webster. He was a Federalist.

"[T]he transmission from generation to generation of vast fortunes by will, inheritance, or gift is not consistent with the ideals and sentiments of the American people."

You hear that Bill O'Reilly? Franklin Delano Roosevelt thinks you're un-American.

Kevin Phillips has written that the income, inheritance, and gift taxes were designed to prevent the rebirth of the old European standard of primogeniture. It was a meant to keep America a meritocracy and not a plutocracy. Now the pseudo-populist revolt is changing all that. Economic extremists have captured the national discourse and shifted policy ever rightward. As Thomas Frank put it in What's the Matter With Kansas?

Like a French Revolution in reverse - one in which the sans-culottes pour down the streets demanding more power for the aristocracy - the backlash pushes the spectrum of the acceptable to the right, to the right, father to the right. It may never bring prayer back to the public schools, but it has rescued all manner of right-wing nostrums from history's dustbin. Having rolled back the landmark economic reforms of the sixties (the war on poverty) and those of the thirties (labor law, aggricultural price supports, banking regulation), its leaders now turn their guns on the accomplishments of the earliest years of progressivism (Woodrow Wilson's estate tax; Theodore Roosevelt's antitrust measures). With a little more effort, the backlash might repeal the entire twentieth century.
In the 80s and 90s, the Wall Street Journal was running editorials declaring that we were now a "Republic of Shareholders", but Kevin Phillips points out that the news section told the real story. He quotes the Sept. 13, 1999 WSJ article, "Wealth Gap."

For all the talk of mutual funds and 401(k)s for the masses, the stock market has remained the privelege of a relatively elite group. Nearly 90% of all shares were held by the wealthiest 10% of households. The bottom line: that top 10% held 73.2% of the country's net worth in 1997, up 68.2 in 1983. Stock options pushed the ratio of executive pay to factory worker pay to 419:1 in 1998, from 42:1 in 1980.
But's that nothing. Take a look at these numbers from David Cay Johnston (via Jim Lippard who saved me the trouble of having to break out my copy Johnston's book)

As Johnston's book shows (p. 31), the top 10% of American taxpayers saw their average income rise 88.6% between 1970 to 2000, from $119,249 to $224,877 (inflation-adjusted); their percentage of the total U.S. income increased from 33% to 48%. The bottom 90% of American taxpayers saw their average income go from $27,060 in 1970 to $27,035 in 2000, and their percentage of total U.S. income dropped from 67% to 52%. Within the top 10%, those at the 90-95th percentile saw a 29.6% increase in income between 1970 and 2006, those from the 95th to 99th percentile saw a 54.2% increase in income during that period, those from the 99th to 99.5th percentile saw an 89.5% increase in income, and those in the 99.5th to 99.9th percentile saw a 144.8% increase in income (p. 34). Those in the 100th percentile saw a 558.3% increase in income from 1970 to 2000 (p. 36).

The result of Bush's 2001, 2002, and 2003 tax cuts by 2010 will be an increase in the share of taxes paid by the bottom 95% of taxpayers by 3.8%, and decrease the share of taxes paid by the top 5% by 3.8%. The top 1% will see a decrease in their share by 2.7% (p. 94).Looking at it another way, the percentage of income paid as taxes by the top 20% of taxpayers in 2001 was 19%; the percentage of income paid as taxes by the bottom 20% of taxpayers was 18% (also p. 94). That's practically a flat tax today, yet the relative burden on the poorest is much greater than on the richest, since a smaller percentage of their income is discretionary.
If this is class warfare, who seems to be winning? [Hint]

Back to Phillips. His bottom line on the estate tax elimination: "Given that fully half of the federal estate tax was paid in 1999 by the 6.6 percent of estates over $5 million and a quarter by the 467 estates worth more than $20 million, its full elimination promised to be the ultimate enabler of wealth dynasticzation."

Meanwhile, our government has been financially crippled by Bush's tax cuts for the super rich

From 2002 to 2011, forgone revenue from the cuts will account for 37 percent of the federal budget’s descent into the red, according to the Congressional Budget Office. War and defense spending come next, producing 30 percent of the deterioration, followed by domestic spending at 11 percent.

With revenue falling short year after year, federal borrowing from the public has mushroomed since 2001, by 53 percent, to $5.1 trillion, compared with a 2 percent increase during the Clinton years. American taxpayers must repay the borrowed money with interest, which means fewer federal dollars to spend on everything else for decades to come, including health care, infrastructure repair, emergency response, chemical plant security and alternative energy.
The Republican presidential candidates' solution to the government being finacially crippled by Bush's tax cuts for the super wealthy is to extend Bush's tax cuts for the superwealthy. Democratic candidates are afraid to challenge Republicans on the issue of taxes for fear of being labeled "tax and spend" Democrats.

Here's a clue: they're going to do it anyway. And unless the Democrats stand up and start developing a narrative explaining what's happening to the country, we're going to have economic mad Hatters like Grover Norquist telling the public that the principle behind the estate tax is the same one that was behind the Holocaust.

And as things get tougher for the average American, with the Democrats having failed to explain to them what's happening, they're already going to know which witches to burn.

*That site was created by the Frank Blethen, owner of the Seattle Times. Eliminating the estate tax is a personal crusade for Blethen. He is worried that his family will not be able to keep possession of their business because of it (although they've managed to retain ownership for three generations despite the existence of the estate tax.) I am sympathetic to that concern. However, what I am not sympathetic to is a deceptive p.r. campaign pretending to be a populist cause in order to hide the reality that it is really about the financial interest of a handful of superwealthy families.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Neal Boortz versus the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Neal Boortz: "[T]he Earth has actually cooled somewhat during the last three years, and considering the fact that there has been no appreciable warming for ten years."

The global annual temperature − for combined land and ocean surfaces – for 2007 is expected to be near 58.0 F – and would be the fifth warmest since records began in 1880. Some of the largest and most widespread warm anomalies occurred from eastern Europe to central Asia.

Including 2007, seven of the eight warmest years on record have occurred since 2001 and the 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1997. The global average surface temperature has risen between 0.6°C and 0.7°C since the start of the twentieth century, and the rate of increase since 1976 has been approximately three times faster than the century-scale trend.

The greatest warming has taken place in high latitude regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Anomalous warmth in 2007 contributed to the lowest Arctic sea ice extent since satellite records began in 1979, surpassing the previous record low set in 2005 by a remarkable 23 percent. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, this is part of a continuing trend in end-of-summer Arctic sea ice extent reductions of about 10 percent per decade since 1979.


Severe to exceptional drought affected the Southeast and western U.S. More than three-quarters of the Southeast was in drought from mid-summer into December. Increased evaporation from usually warm temperatures, combined with a lack of precipitation, worsened drought conditions. Drought conditions also affected large parts of the Upper Midwest and areas of the Northeast.
That one is particularly of relevance seeing as Neal Boortz is located in Atlanta, Georgia, which happens to be experiencing a severe drought. So while Atlanta is running out of water as a result of a drought exacerbated by warming, Boortz is on the radio telling his Atlanta audience that global warming is a socialist hoax.

As Neal Boortz likes to point out, he is very well paid to run his mouth on the radio about things of which he has no clue what he's talking about. No one fact checks him. He is under no obligation to be factually accurate. This is considered balancing the "liberal media"? Only in the sense that lies "balance" truth.

Island of Doubt has more info on the 2007 temperatures.

Another far left S-P blame America first group of Bush haters who don't care if Americans die

From Armed Forces Journal (h/t The Vanity Press)

Waterboarding is a torture technique that has its history rooted in the Spanish Inquisition. In 1947, the U.S. prosecuted a Japanese military officer for carrying out a form of waterboarding on a U.S. civilian during World War II.

Waterboarding inflicts on its victims the terror of imminent death. And as with all torture techniques, it is, therefore, an inherently flawed method for gaining reliable information. In short, it doesn’t work. That blunt truth means all U.S. leaders, present and future, should be clear on the issue.
Obviously, these far left sophists are just "talking theory."

Quote of the day

"I am convinced that a vivid consciousness of the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and ennoblement of life does not need the idea of a law-giver, especially a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and punishment." - Albert Einstein, letter to M. Berkowitz, Oct. 25, 1950

Thursday, December 13, 2007


In this post on the estate tax, I cited Drew Westen's The Political Brain as a source that Abraham Lincoln established the estate tax. I'll have to recheck the book when I get a chance to see where my confusion came from, but the current estate tax wasn't established until 1916. There was an estate tax during the Civil War, but it was repealed in 1870. I've changed the post to reflect this. The sentence "The estate tax was established ..." now reads "An estate tax was established..."

Proving a negative

From the Dec. 5, 2007 eSkeptic

You Can Prove a Negative
by Steven D. Hales

A principle of folk logic is that you can’t prove a negative. Skeptics and scientists routinely concede the point in debates about the possible existence of everything from Big Foot and Loch Ness to aliens and even God. In a recent television interview on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, for example, Skeptic publisher Michael Shermer admitted as much when Stephen Colbert pressed him on the point when discussing Weapons of Mass Destruction, the comedian adding that once it is admitted that scientists cannot prove the nonexistence of a thing, then belief in anything is possible. Even Richard Dawkins writes in The God Delusion that “you cannot prove God’s non-existence is accepted and trivial, if only in the sense that we can never absolutely prove the non-existence of anything.”

There is one big problem with this. Among professional logicians, guess how many think that you can’t prove a negative? That’s right, zero. Yes, Virginia, you can prove a negative, and it’s easy, too. For one thing, a real, actual law of logic is a negative, namely the law of non-contradiction. This law states that that a proposition cannot be both true and not true. Nothing is both true and false. Furthermore, you can prove this law. It can be formally derived from the empty set using provably valid rules of inference. (I’ll spare you the boring details). One of the laws of logic is a provable negative. Wait … this means we’ve just proven that it is not the case that one of the laws of logic is that you can’t prove a negative. So we’ve proven yet another negative! In fact, “you can’t prove a negative” is a negative — so if you could prove it true, it wouldn’t be true! Uh-oh.
Continue reading ...

Through the rabbit hole

I was listening to the FM radio while driving yesterday and an advertisement came on for a button that read "I don't mind being wished Merry Christmas," itself part of some larger wish me a Merry Christmas campaign or something. I honestly had to question my sanity at the moment: was I having an auditory hallucination?

Who are these lunatics who walk around feeling persecuted, who believe that saying Merry Christmas is an act of civil disobediance and a fuck you to the evil S-Ps that Bill O'Reilly hates so much? In the past I would consider it wrong to pejoratively describe such people as "lunatics" but at a time when the United States Congress just passed a resolution calling me a second class citizen, I've lost about all my patience for the Christians among us who suffer from sort of persecution complex pathology.

You want to talk persecution? Lets weigh on the scales of justice being wished Happy Holidays by the Wal-Mart bag boy versus having your kid taken away from you because you're not a Christian or becaue you're not Christian enough.

And if you didn't know better, wouldn't you swear this was parody? Shit, since Bill O'Reilly single-handedly saved Christmas and thus the Christian faith, we're gonna have to have some kind of national holiday honoring his memory. He is to Christians what MLK was to blacks.

Welcome to WonderLand. I think I see the Hatter approaching for tea...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It ain't rocket science

Yesterday on the Radio Factor (or maybe the day before, I forget), Bill O'Reilly explained that he doesn't consider water boarding torture because it doesn't leave a mark. Hold on to this, I'll return to it in a moment.

During last night's episode of the O'Reilly Factor I watched as some Democratic strategist feebly attempted to answer Bill's question of whether or not she would use water boarding if it would save the lives of her children I became frustrated. Frustrated because it ain't that hard to punch a hole in the reasoning of the cartoon character that is O'Reilly.

Let's walk through this.

The strategist answered yes, as a mother she would do anything in her power to save her kids lives, but as president a decision made in a specific moment might have implications for lives in the future. At this point O'Reilly cut her off and said she's talking theory, and theory walks when lives are at stake. She might have pointed out the incoherance of saying that to her after asking hypothetically about using waterboarding to save her kids.

But a more appopriate response would have started with pointing out that the Gestapo shared O'Reilly's reasoning for not calling waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation" torture. Then she could have pointed out that the claim that waterboarding generated actionable intelligence is dubious. Finally, she might have rebutted O'Reilly's "it saves lives" line of reasoning by reminding him that hundreds of thousand of people are dead in Iraq partly as a result of the United States goverment acting on faulty intelligence it obtained via torture.


Now, in fairness to the strategist, O'Reilly isn't really giving her much room to make the points I raised. As you can see in the video, he asked her if she would waterboard to save her children and then demanded a yes or no answer. This is where you have to in return demand to be allowed to explain your position or walk from the show. Otherwise, O'Reilly will do what he always does - he will treat you like a prop. The purpose of the question is to not to discuss or debate, but to set up a gotcha moment: if she says yes then O'Reilly will use that as a vehicle to project his opinion; if she says no O'Reilly will use that as a vehicle to project his opinion. In neither case does the guest get an opportunity to actually put forth and defend a position.

Realistically speaking, this is illustrative of why no one should go on O'Reilly's program in the first place. He has removed himself from the realm of reasoned discourse. He is not going to provide a fair forum and he behaves unprofessionally.

If the guest were actually given the space to respond to the question she could raise all kind of questions like where would the line be drawn? You'd be willing to cut someone's fingers off with scissors to save your kids lives, right? Then why isn't that an option? Or why isn't it an option for the police to use waterboarding? If it saves lives why shouldn't they use it? Why is it that people who are vastly more informed on the subject than Bill O'Reilly are opposed to its use.

Having to respond to these sorts of questions would mean O'Reilly would actually have to think and to defend and explain his own position, however. It would mean an honest an open discussion. And that's something Bill's ego won't let him do.

Update 2: Racists used to waterboard confessions out of blacks in the South. Good company Mr. O'Reilly has there.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Three more far left S-Ps who hate America

Michelle Malkin-sphere bloggers Patterico and Rick Moran, and former chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay Morris Davis.

Obviously, they all hate American because they are radical communists far left S-Ps.

Update: Some of the comments at Patterico's and Moran's are truly heartwarming. They include advocating summarily executing terrorist suspects, endorsement of torture, and approval of Stalinesque show trials. So much for human rights (as well as the foundational concept of this nation.)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Cut from the same cloth

From time to time, Neal Boortz likes to take calls from creationists and ridicule, scorn, and deride them for their ridiculously wrong beliefs about evolution. There is great irony in the fact that his global warming denialism is structurally similar. Indeed, the form of argumentation he engages in is virtually identical to that of creationists.

For example, a common creationist claim is that there is not one fact supporting evolution, that there is no evidence of it. The creationist thus waves his hand at a consilience of evidence from multiple scientific disciplines; he refuses to even acknowledge the facts in support of the theory. This denial is tantamount to dismissing entire scientific fields.

Neal Boortz does the same thing. He says that there is no evidence supporting global warming. He waves his hand at the work of the IPCC, calling it a corrupted body. According to Boortz, global warming is a socialist plot, a scam and a hoax dreamed up to bring down capitalism. This sounds very much like the creationist who believes that evolution is an atheist plot to attack religion and morality

In Junk Science, Dan Agin explains what goes into the IPCC's report:

Organized under the auspices of the United Nations, the IPCC periodically presents a voluminous report on global climate change to the public. Every five years, approximately one hundred member governments propose the names of their own selected climate scientists, and from the thousands of nominations, the scientist leadership of the IPCC then selcts several hundred scientists for each of three working groups, the selection based on the publication of these scientists in scientific journals. Each scientist is assigned responsibility for the entire scientific literature on a particular aspect of the problem. Other scientists are drafted as reviewers and critics, and by the end of the five-year cycle, at least 1,500 experts, including nearly every important climatologist on the planet, is involved in one way or another in the process of creating the final report.
That means if Boortz is correct, the entire planetary discipline of climatology has been corrupted by socialists who have conspired to fabricate a global warming hoax in order to overthrow capitalism. But like the creationist who refuses to see the absurdity of his own ideological thinking, Boortz accuses scientists of being the ideologues.

Creationists protest that evolution is a controversial subject within science, that there are scientists who dispute it. Neal Boortz does this, too, saying that the IPCC has blackballed scientists who dispute global warming. Both the creationist and Neal Boortz ignore that there is no dispute in the scientific literature.

Here's an example of Boortz in action. Don't let the production notes fool you, his actual on air performance is much, much worse. And nothing written can capture the dripping contempt and scorn he has for the global warming hoaxers and alarmists (i.e. the entire discipline of climatology and people who are vastly better informed than him about the subject.)

Like the creationist, Boortz throws out all kinds of incoherent and contradictory arguments. Global warming is a hoax. Global warming is real but its heliogenic. Global warming is just erroneous alarmism like global cooling. Global warmings is happening but its unstoppable (the Fred Singer argument.) Boortz has his favorite global warming denialist myths that he likes to toss out such as the assertion that its warming on Mars or that global warming isn't real because polar bear numbers are increasing, equivalent to creationist myths like evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics or information never increases and such. Etc.

Then in the grand tradition of creationism, he just plain makes shit up.

The corrupt United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued a summary for action on climate change. This summary says that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal." Quite odd, really, since the Earth has actually cooled somewhat during the last three years, and considering the fact that there has been no appreciable warming for ten years.

The summary also says that "human activity" is behind the problem, and that we're facing "abrupt or irreversible changes" on Earth. Again .. a bit odd, considering that humans are only responsible for about three percent of the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.
Say what?
If you look at the graphic on the left (Source: Met Office/Univ of East Anglia/Hadley Centre) it's pretty obvious what the temperature trend is. No appreciable warming in the last ten years and the Earth has cooled over the last three years? 2005 is the warmest year on record, followed by 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, and 2004. In fact, eleven of the last twelve years are the warmest on record, and 2007 is predicted to be the new warmest year on record.

Then the moronic bit about humans only being responsible for 3% of atmospheric CO2. Boortz doesn't give a source but a google search turns up an article by the industry interest propagandist Steven Milloy at Fox News saying the same. New Scientist has done us the favor of explaining why Milloy and Boortz are idiots (and if you click back to the front page of that link they rebut most of their idiocy.)

There's more moronity at the Boortz link, but I'm not going to spend anymore time with it. It looks like the Liars for God are cut from the same cloth as the Liars for The Market.

Quote of the day

"We have not inherited the world from our ancestors, we have borrowed it from our children" - Native American saying

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Recommended reading

I've said before that I consider reading literature a means of democratizing oneself. Another benefit of reading is it facilitates communication by providing a resource of shared knowledge to refer back to. For instance, if you say that permanent war is a bad idea because its too 1984 for your tastes, anyone who has read the book will know what you mean.

With that in mind I'm making another book recommendation. Being a fan of dystopian fiction, I finally got around to starting The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I first heard of this book when I made a passing remark at the retired blogger John Lombard's blog that someone really needed to write a dystopian novel about a future in which women are subjugated to men as an applied consequence of Christian nationalism (or something like that ... the original post is no longer on the web and my memory is fuzzy). Lombard pointed out to me that Atwood had already done that.

I'm only about half-way in, but I can already say that this is a book that should be added to the arsenal of means to innoculate people against the dangers of authoritarian patriarchal fundamentalism. Specifically, Atwood drives home forcefully the importance of not granting but guaranteeing women control of their own reproductive fates as a fundamental human liberty.

Upcoming book reviews

Courtesy of the ACLU, I've got a copy of Bill of Wrongs: The Executive Branch's Assault on America's Fundamental Rights that I'll do a review of as soon as I can read it (which will be probably later this week after I finish up the books I've already started.) In her final work, Molly Ivins, along with coauthor Lou Dubose, explain the danger democracy faces from an executive run wild by personalizing the threat with specific instances of abuses that have already occurred.

Next, I'm going to try something different and serialize a review of The J Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall by Ian Bremmer. Not sure when I'll get started on that.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Science Friday's top books for 2007

You may need to register (it's free) to see the list.

Thanks for saving us the trouble

Here's a rule of thumb for the nation: If a candidate announces in advance his intention to violate the Constitution, don't elect him.

So sorry, Mitt Romney, you're out.

"Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests." - Mitt Romney

"[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." - Article 6, Clause 3 US Constitution

For more analysis of Romney's plea for religious bigotry, see here.

P.S. Romney is also a liar. He's now got commercials running where he promises hard-working Americans he'll end the "Death Tax." I'm sure the 2% of the population who are effected by a tax on the transfer of their multi-million dollar estates will be thrilled to hear that their great-grandchildren will be born wealthy and never have to work a day in their life.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Mistakes were made (but not by Joe Klein)

If you haven't been following Glenn Greenwald's exposure of Joe Klein as an individual who seems to lack the capacity to say "I was wrong" and move on*, here is a quick recap: Klein wrote an article for Time saying that Democrats are in favor of legislation requiring warrants for foreign surveillance targets. Klein was uncritically "reporting" as fact what he had been told by GOP Rep. Pete Hoekstra. It was untrue, but Klein has not been willing to admit error, rather, he engages in what is becoming his trademark ad hoc rationalization for incompetence. Worse, the "correction" issued by Time was nothing more than a relativistic non-correction (e.g. some say, others dispute). For further evidence of Klein's difficulty admitting error, you can read this post at Think Progress in which Klein offers an absurd rationalization for another error.

You know, there are so many books out there that I want to read that I have a difficult time deciding what to read at any particular time, but because of Klein I'll be sure to read Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson as one of my next books.

Book Description
Why do people dodge responsibility when things fall apart? Why the parade of public figures unable to own up when they screw up? Why the endless marital quarrels over who is right? Why can we see hypocrisy in others but not in ourselves? Are we all liars? Or do we really believe the stories we tell?

Renowned social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson take a compelling look into how the brain is wired for self-justification. When we make mistakes, we must calm the cognitive dissonance that jars our feelings of self-worth. And so we create fictions that absolve us of responsibility, restoring our belief that we are smart, moral, and right—a belief that often keeps us on a course that is dumb, immoral, and wrong.

Backed by years of research and delivered in lively, energetic prose, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) offers a fascinating explanation of self-deception—how it works, the harm it can cause, and how we can overcome it.

Thanks for helping me make up my mind, Mr. Klein.

*Greenwald has written multiple posts on the subject. For the sake of convenience I'll just number the links: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

Thank them for their patriotism

In the Oct. '06 issue of Harpers, Daniel Ellsberg - the former State Dept official who leaked the Pentagon Papers which revealed that the US government had been lying to Americans about the war in Vietnam for years - wrote an article entitled "The Next War" in which he urged government officials with insider knowledge of plans to start a war with Iran to come forward in time to prevent the Bush administration from repeating what it did with Iraq.

Ellsberg recounts how if he had the courage to leak the Pentagon Papers sooner he might have been able to prevent the escalation of the Vietnam war and then compares that to Richard Clarke revealing after the fact in Against all Enemies that the Bush administration has been secretly plotting to invade Iraq well before it began it marketing campaign with the American pubic.

Instead of writing a memoir to be cleared for publication in 2004, a year after Iraq had been invaded, Clarke could have made his knowledge of the war to come, and its danger to our security, public before the war. He could have supported his testimony with hundreds of files of documents from his office safe and computer, to which he then still had access. He could have given these to both the media and the then Democratic-controlled Senate.

“If I had criticized the president to the press as a special assistant” in the summer of 2002, Clarke told Larry King in March 2004, “I would have been fired within an hour.” That is undoubtedly true. But should that be the last word on that course? To be sure, virtually all bureaucrats would agree with him, as he told King, that his only responsible options at that point were either to resign quietly or to “spin” for the White House to the press, as he did. But that is just the working norm I mean to question here.

His unperceived alternative, I wish to suggest, was precisely to court being fired for telling the truth to the public, with documentary evidence, in the summer of 2002. For doing that, Clarke would not only have lost his job, his clearance, and his career as an executive official; he would almost surely have been prosecuted, and he might have gone to prison. But the controversy that ensued would not have been about hindsight and blame. It would have been about whether war on Iraq would make the United States safer, and whether it was otherwise justified.
Clarke points out that it is too late for Vietnam and Iraq, but that if brave officials are willing to come forward with information now, that the nation might avert repeating the same mistake for a third time. But it takes a brave soul to be willing to put his career and possibly his freedom on the line in when (s)he realizes that being party to secrecy is conflicting with an oath to defend and uphold the Constitution.

Which is precisely why we should acknowledge and honor the patriots within the intelligence community who were willing to go to prison in order to ensure that the NIE finding that Iran ceased progress on its nuclear program in 2003 was released.

Their honorable actions stand out in even greater contrast when compared with the members of Congress who have and continue to enable and facilitate the Bush administration's continuous assult on this nation's most fundamental principles.

One nation, white ...

Over at Atheist Ethicist, Alonzo Fyfe has juxtaposed white supremacism onto the Pledge of Allegiance in order to demonstrate the wrongness of the phrase under God in it. A truly excellent post that should be read by any justice preparing to rule on the Pledge being recited in schools.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Quote of the day

"I am a man; I consider nothing human alien to me." - Terence

Michael de Montaigne, inventor of the essay and progenitor of the modern blogger, had this quote carved on one of the ceiling beams in his library.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

James Madison on faith based initiatives

"Because the bill vests in said incorporated church an authority to provide for the support of the poor and the education of poor children of the same, an authority which, being altogether superfluous if the provision is to be the result of pious charity, would be a precedent for giving religious societies as such a legal agency in carrying into effect a public and civil duty." - James Madison, explaining his opposition to a bill to sponsor faith based welfare

In other words, Madison believes that such a bill would respect an establishment of religion. You'll remember that today's liars for Jesus like to state that the first amendment's establishment clause - "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" - should be read as "Congress shall not establish a national religion". Examining Madison's own use of the clause demonstrates their error.

While president, Madison - the father of the first amendment - vetoed the incorporation of the Episcopal Church in D.C. on the grounds that it would be "making a law respecting a religious establishment." He feared that since the corporate contract contained terms regarding the appointement of church figures, if the government became involved in disputes over corporate property it would be potentially entangled in religious matters, which be believed the state should have no cognizance of.

It is clear that Madison is using the clause in the sense that Congress should not be in the business of giving legal recognition to any religion in particular or in general. Of course, that much was clear to anyone who has read his "Memorial and Remonstrance" (1785): "We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man's right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society, and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. "

"Replete with references to God"

I'm still a bit astonished that someone who has claimed to have read the Constitution - such as Ron Paul who has made adherence to the Constitution the backbone of his presidential campaign - could in sincerity say that the document is full of references to God when in actuality the complete opposite is the truth.

It's even stranger when we remember that at the time of its creation there were critics who lamented the godless nature of the Constitution. Gary Wills gives two excellent examples of this in Head and Heart

The first is from Timothy Dwight in 1812:

We formed our Constitution without any acknowledgement of God, without any recognition of His mercies to us as a people, of his government, or even of his existence. The Convention by which it was formed never asked, even once, his direction or his blessing upon their labors. Thus we commenced our national existence, under the present system, without God.
And the second is from Chauncy Lee in 1813:

Can we pause and reflect for a moment, with the mingled emotions of wonder and regret, taht that public instrument which guarantees our political rights and freedom and independence - our Constitution of national government, framed by such an august, learned and able body of men, formally adopted by the solemn resolution of each state, and justly admired and celebrated for its consummate political wisdom - has not the impress of religion upon it, not the smallest recognition of the goverment or the being of God, or the dependence and accountability of men - be astonished, O Earth! -- nothing by which a foreigner might with certainty decide whether we believe in the one true God; or in any God.
It appears that today's figures who wish for their government to give sanction to their personal belief in God have created an imaginary past in which such was the case, and created a scapegoat to blame for the loss of that mythical Halcyon age - liberals aka secularists aka the collectivst Left (aka communists). What's more impressive is that they are able to believe their own lies inspite of reality.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Persecution complex

One of the most pathetic things that has always struck me when listening to white supremacists speak is their sense of being persecuted by an oppressive minority and/or the forces of liberalism. It is difficult to make sense of the assertion that white males in the USA are disadvantaged unless you consider that supremacists are 1)scapegoating an Other they are prejudiced against for perceived societal failings and 2)that their definition of being persecuted amounts to not being allowed to persecute others.

Another group that shares the same persecution complex is that of the religious right. More specifically, the dominionist or Christian nationalist elements of the religious right which similarly consider the failures of society to stem from an oppressive minority and also feels that not being allowed to enforce religious orthodoxy on others amounts to being persecuted. I suspect, however, that it is easier to see the bigotry underlying the persecution complex of the white supremacists than it is from the Christian supremacists, for the obvious reason that we've as a nation already rejected the ideology of white supremacism.

For example, if one were to hear someone say the following, it would be fairly obvious that the person making the statement is a bigot:

You can be any race you want and PROUD of it... except white. I watch tv and flip around and you've got networks for gays, for women, for Spanish speakers ... There's even BET a network just for blacks. Obviously, the owners of the network are black and are proud of it, but if the owners were white and tried to create a White Entertainment Television channel all Hell would break loose.
Is that really that different than this comment agreeing with Ron Paul's view that Christmas is under siege?

You can be ANY faith you want and PROUD of it... except Christian. I walk around one of the largest malls in California, during the holidays, festive colors everywhere, and what is directly in the center of the mall? A massive menorah. Obviously, the owners are Jewish and expressing their faith. Were the owners Christian and tried to do the same with a crucifix, Hell would've broken loose.
Again, we see the same absurd sense of persecution. I suspect that virtually every single mall in this country right now is featuring both a Christmas tree and an on-duty Santa ... the idea that a furor would ensue were a mall to feature some Christmas symbol in it is ridiculous.

I responded to the above saying that it appeared to be a case of casual anti-semitism. I expect that some will object that is unfair of me to make that speculation, but if you have listened long enough to the sort of things that persecution complex bigots say you get a feel for it when you see it. I could be wrong about the commenter, but the above is exactly the sort of thing you can expect to hear such a person say (and his belief that Democrats are anti-Christian communists is another indicator that we're hearing from someone who travels in the intellectual circles of the "far right.")

As a case in point, Dave Neiwert posted something today about a Christian Identity church (which is both white and Christian supremacist) today which contained the following quote from a leader of the church:

"It's become apparent in today's society that you can be proud of any other nationality other than European heritage and be applauded for standing up for your flag or your nation or your race."

Now compare that to our commenter:

"You can be ANY faith you want and PROUD of it... except Christian."

I mentioned not too long ago that a sense of victimhood is a part of a fascist aesthetic. If we take a look at Robert Paxton's list of nine mobilizing passions of fascism it should become apparent why I said that:

A sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions;

The primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether universal or individual, and the subordination of the individual to it;

The belief that one's group is a victim, a sentiment which justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against the group's enemies, both internal and external;

Dread of the group's decline under the corrosive effect of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences;

The need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary;

The need for authority by natural leaders (always male), culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group's destiny;

The superiority of the leader's instincts over abstract and universal reason;

The beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group's success;

The right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, right being decided by the sole criterion of the group's prowess in a Darwinian struggle.
This is why I respond harshly to Bill O'Reilly or Ron Paul when they speak of a war on Christians (vis-a-vis Christams). It helps to covertly push the agenda of extremists (whether they mean for it to do so or not) while simultaneously whipping up the kind of passion that may lead to dangerous anti-democratic sentiment.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Quote of the day

"Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them" - Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, July 30, 1816

451 - The temperature at which thought burns

Firefighters encouraged to police for terrorist activity - by looking for such signs as "discontent with the the United States" - while on the job ... with the "benefit" of being able to enter homes without a warrant.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

A taste of their own medicine

It's not uncommon to hear the religious right say that atheism is immoral and then cite Hitler (a figure who became hostile to organized religion but who was not an atheist) as proof that atheism is inherently dangerous. Given that the religious right also likes to argue that public schools are indoctrinating children in the atheistic "religion" of secularism, you might want to have the following quote handy the next time someone says that secular public education is the road to Evil:

"Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith ... we need believing people." - Adolf Hitler, April 26, 1933 in a speech prior to the Nazi-Vatican Concordat

The Nazis, however, turned their education system first and formost into a means of inculcating the ideology of National Socialism. This is hardly a goal of either secular or religious education.

Ron Paul and the War on Christmas

Before Bill O'Reilly and John Gibson were marketing the anti-Semitic anti-Communist anti-S-P/liberal War on Christmas meme (which still conveniently doubles as cover for anti-semitism), Ron Paul was leading the charge against the "collectivist left" in the halls of Congress.

As we celebrate another Yuletide season, it’s hard not to notice that Christmas in America simply doesn’t feel the same anymore. Although an overwhelming majority of Americans celebrate Christmas, and those who don’t celebrate it overwhelmingly accept and respect our nation’s Christmas traditions, a certain shared public sentiment slowly has disappeared. The Christmas spirit, marked by a wonderful feeling of goodwill among men, is in danger of being lost in the ongoing war against religion.

Through perverse court decisions and years of cultural indoctrination, the elitist, secular Left has managed to convince many in our nation that religion must be driven from public view. The justification is always that someone, somewhere, might possibly be offended or feel uncomfortable living in the midst of a largely Christian society, so all must yield to the fragile sensibilities of the few. The ultimate goal of the anti-religious elites is to transform America into a completely secular nation, a nation that is legally and culturally biased against Christianity.

This growing bias explains why many of our wonderful Christmas traditions have been lost. Christmas pageants and plays, including Handel’s Messiah, have been banned from schools and community halls. Nativity scenes have been ordered removed from town squares, and even criticized as offensive when placed on private church lawns. Office Christmas parties have become taboo, replaced by colorless seasonal parties to ensure no employees feel threatened by a “hostile environment.” Even wholly non-religious decorations featuring Santa Claus, snowmen, and the like have been called into question as Christmas symbols that might cause discomfort. Earlier this month, firemen near Chicago reluctantly removed Christmas decorations from their firehouse after a complaint by some embittered busybody. Most noticeably, however, the once commonplace refrain of “Merry Christmas” has been replaced by the vague, ubiquitous “Happy Holidays.” But what holiday? Is Christmas some kind of secret, a word that cannot be uttered in public? Why have we allowed the secularists to intimidate us into downplaying our most cherished and meaningful Christian celebration?
Paul goes on to state that rigid church/state separation has no basis in either the Constitution or the writings of the Founders (news that would be to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison) and that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are "both replete with references to God." Replete? That's an interesting word choice ... there is one reference in the Declaration to "Nature's God" and ZERO references in the Constitution.

Paul also holds the erroneous belief that the first amendment only prohibits the establishment of a national church, rather than serving the more comprehensive goal of guaranteeing freedom of religion as a fundamental natural right (remember "Nature's God", Congressman Paul?) that can not be infringed upon.

Consider this a teaser for an upcoming post later this week.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Naturalism explained

The Secular Web is currently featuring its library section on Naturalism on its front page. It is an excellent resource.

As defined by philosopher Paul Draper, naturalism is "the hypothesis that the physical world is a 'closed system' in the sense that nothing that is neither a part nor a product of it can affect it." More simply, it is the denial of the existence of supernatural causes. In rejecting the reality of supernatural events, forces, or entities, naturalism is the antithesis of supernaturalism.

As a substantial view about the nature of reality, it is often called metaphysical naturalism, philosophical naturalism, or ontological naturalism to distinguish it from a related methodological principle. Methodological naturalism, by contrast, is the principle that science and history should presume that all causes are natural causes solely for the purpose of promoting successful investigation. The idea behind this principle is that natural causes can be investigated directly through scientific method, whereas supernatural causes cannot, and hence presuming that an event has a supernatural cause for methodological purposes halts further investigation. For instance, if a disease is caused by microbes, we can learn more about how microbes interact with the body and how the immune system can be activated to destroy them, or how the transmission of microbes can be contained. But if a disease is caused by demons, we can learn nothing more about how to stop it, as demons are said to be supernatural beings unconstrained by the laws of nature (unlike natural causes).

In utilizing methodological naturalism, science and history do not assume a priori that, as a matter of fact, supernatural causes don't really exist. There is no conceptual conflict between practicing science or history and believing in the supernatural. However, as several of our authors argue below (e.g., Augustine, Forrest, and Oppy), methodological naturalism would not be as stunningly successful as it has in fact been if metaphysical naturalism were false. Thus the de facto success of methodological naturalism provides strong empirical evidence that metaphysical naturalism is probably true.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The "psychic" powers of Sylvia Browne

Here's a paraphrased exchange I watched the other day between Sylvia Browne and a guest on the Montel Williams program.

Guest: I'd like to know what the future holds for my 22 year old son who is in law school.

SB: He's going to be a lawyer.

Amazing! How can anyone doubt her powers of prognostication?

When I get a chance I plan on writing a longer post about this despicable charlatan.

The vileness of Dinesh D'souza exposed

"[T]he left is waging an aggressive global campaign to undermine the traditional patriarchal family and to promote secular values in non-Western cultures." - Dinesh D'Souza, explaining why the "cultural left" is responsible for causing 9/11 in the introduction to The Enemies at Home.

In Sudan

Hundreds of Sudanese Muslims, waving green Islamic flags, took to the streets of Khartoum on Friday demanding death for the British teacher convicted of insulting Islam after her class named a teddy bear Mohammad.

"No one lives who insults the Prophet," the protesters chanted, a day after school teacher Gillian Gibbons, 54, was sentenced to 15 days in jail and deportation from Sudan.

Damn those secular values of not killing someone for "insulting" a religious figure. Obviously, the next time there is a terrorist attack in the UK, it will be the fault of the "leftists" there who have pressured the Khartoum government to overturn the conviction of Gillian Gibbons, who is at fault for undermining the traditional patriarchal values of Sudan.

Quote of the day

"All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind." - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

Thursday, November 29, 2007

80s video of the day

"Radio Ga Ga" performed by Queen at Live Aid

This is one of the all time greatest live performances, and it was for a good cause.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Paid to be dumb

This morning I flipped to the Glenn Beck radio program to hear him in the midst of a bizarre anti-scientist rant regarding some news item about scientists having possibly shortened the life of the universe by observing dark matter. The entire segment was actually an attack on global warming.

Beck was saying that scientists blame him for destroying the planet for driving an SUV but they're destroying the universe and other such nonsense. Then he shifted into feeble mockery, rambling about scientists thinking the universe is expanding, now shrinking; too big, now too small, which is obviously based on the global warming denialist myth of a global cooling scare. Maybe they can call it dark matter change (climate change ... hah ha ... get it?) etc.

I did a google search on the subject and Rush Limbaugh - the Idiot-in-Chief of the conservative movement - turned up. As you can see from the link, Beck is echoing Limbaugh's moronity. What is common to both is that they admit that they don't understand quantum physics, yet then go on to talk about it anyway - using it as a jumping off point to bash climate science. And, as usual, they are once again wrong: "Krauss, in the interviews, took care to abjure the headline's notion that humankind was somehow responsible for shortening the universe's life. But Drudge picked up the Telegraph headline, and then it was off to the races."

So to recap: Beck and Limbaugh took a paper by two scientists about cosmology that was completely unrelated to global warming, read a news item that got the conclusion of the paper wrong, and then used that wrong conclusion to say that "scientists" are wrong about global warming because they have an ideological desire to bash humanity.**

This is not atypical. It is what Limbaugh and Beck and other such figures do an a daily basis. They are paid to talk about issues that they know nothing about, to offer their ignorant opinions as authoritative rebuttal to "liberal" misinformation/bias (read: reality). Their salaries are not dependent on being right or having any professional integrity ... they can lie or mislead as much as they like without ever having to give it a second thought.

It is fairly disturbing that not only can someone get rich by working within the noise machine spreading stupidity, but that a figure like Beck can also do so working for in the mainstream media. Of course, Beck works for CNN Headline Prime, which is an abomination: a network which pretends at being a news channel but is in reality is an effort of CNN to capitalize on the worst elements of both Fox and MSNBC. Which is why Glenn Beck and the reprehensible Nancy Grace* are the flagship programs of the network.

It does not bode well for the future of democracy that CNN feels the need to trade its credibility for the ratings that someone like Beck can draw in. Nevermind the ideological affirmative action.

*I mentioned before that I would not spend much time responding to specific arguments of consevative movement figures and instead offered a reference book to demonstrate the intellectual bankruptcy of the movement. I don't know that Grace is a movement conservative, but she is a hack, and I offer this book as a reference of that. And, no, I don't approve of the book's title.
**Sentence edited 11/29/07

Update: I just noticed that Wired also responded to Limbaugh's nonsense. Yeah, sure ... scientists have demonstrated that elevated levels of CO2 from human sources are the primary cause of the Earth's current warming, but that's the truth ... it's not truthiness. Truth comes from the head, but truthiness comes from the gut. And Limbaugh's gut tells him that mankind can't affect the Earth's environment.

It's like Stephen Colbert explained:

We go straight from the gut, right sir? That's where the truth lies, right down here in the gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up. I know some of you are going to say "I did look it up, and that's not true." That's 'cause you looked it up in a book.

Next time, look it up in your gut. I did. My gut tells me that's how our nervous system works. Every night on my show, the Colbert Report, I speak straight from the gut, OK? I give people the truth, unfiltered by rational argument.
So does Limbaugh (and Beck to a lesser extent, which isn't saying much.)