Friday, July 31, 2009

I think this might be sort of what Bill Maher meant

Bill O'Reilly has spent a couple of nights now criticizing Bill Maher for saying America is a stupid country. I'm guessing that this is the sort of thing Maher had in mind.

Does no one at Fox News care that Glenn Beck is deranged?

From The O'Reilly Factor, here is Glenn Beck attempting to explain to Bill O'Reilly why Beck jumped up on his desk wearing lederhosen to recite a pledge of Americorps earlier on the Glenn Beck program.

O'REILLY: So AmeriCorps, you volunteer to help your community or another community. I did that in college. I never had a problem with it. I was in Kentucky and (UNINTELLIGIBLE), help the poor people.

BECK: I have never had a problem with AmeriCorps. Never.

O'REILLY: Nobody forced me to wear short pants but I went, and it was good.

BECK: I want to know when you're in AmeriCorps, are you going to get — because we're going to make them. Do they get little badges? Do they get, like, this badge I got for harassing a bank?

O'REILLY: What's wrong with that? What is wrong with a bunch of people signing up to help other people?

BECK: Because you've got a community organizer as president of the United States.
There you have it. An insane person sitting there staring O'Reilly in the face, telling him that "community organizer" equals Nazi brownshirt and he jokes around about it.

Why O'Reilly bothered playing dumb and asked him about the costume is beyond me: Beck did it because he's saying that President Obama is creating a fascist army of Obama's Youth. I'm sure if someone had said/done something similar with President Bush O'Reilly would have brought him/her on the show to joke around about it. What's more, O'Reilly does in fact know exactly what Beck is doing but chooses to act like its in doubt

O'REILLY: No. 2 — No. 2, I said to myself, is this the Hitler Youth thing he's doing?


O'REILLY: You know, because the Hitler Youth had the little short pants.

BECK: Yes, but that's lederhosen there. That's completely different.

O'REILLY: Are you sure it wasn't the Hitler Youth thing that you were doing with the AmeriCorps stuff?

BECK: I think people — I think people — that would confuse people. I think they might — just saying.

O'REILLY: Beck, I think it was the Hitler Youth thing.

BECK: I don't know what you're talking about, Bill O'Reilly. And I am offended by that and confused.
Har har, very funny. The more Beck does this nonsense, the less of an ability he has to claim seriously that he doesn't have anything to do with creating an environment conducive to more extremist "far right" violence motivated by hatred/fear/paranoia of the Obama administration.

And as Newshounds points out, President Bush himself sought to encourage volunteer public service with the creation of USA Freedom Corps which included Americorps under its umbrella, yet Beck - who continues to tell his audience that this isn't a Republican/Democrat issue for him - wasn't telling his audience that the government is creating a fascist shadow army to install a totalitarian state straight out of 1984.

Funny how that works.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Jon Stewart nails the anti-Obama hate-mongers

I've never seen Dora the Explorer sound so scary!

And for the record, remember when Glenn Beck got all upset that anyone might suggest his anti-government, anti-Obama paranoid delusions might make hate-based murders like those of James Van Brunn more likely? Well, when Glenn Beck says that Obama is a black Marxist who hates white people he's saying exactly the sort of thing that you routinely hear from white supremacists like James Van Brunn.

Glenn Beck isn't a white supremacist, but it certainly is disturbing that the hatred of "liberals" that Beck has leads him to a confluence of conspiracy theory with white supremacists motivated by a hatred of blacks, Jews, and others they consider non-"white." And more disturbing than that is the fact that Fox News is willing to profit from Beck's daily and on-going promotion of lunatic hatred of Obama.

Why is Howard Dean hosting Countdown?

One of the most obvious means we have of telling that Fox News is not a news network is its revolving door between Republican politics and and Fox "news." The network is run by Republican operatives and employs Republican politicians, strategists, operatives, and hacks as hosts, commentators, and analysts. The line between what is supposed to be journalism and Republican propaganda is blurred out of existence.

So when Howard Dean steps down as DNC chair and moves on a few months later to guest host two episodes of MSNBC's Countdown I'm not exactly thrilled with another network deciding to create a revolving door between Democratic politics and what is supposed to be objective journalism. Sure, having Dean guest host might generate ratings, but it's not worth sacrificing your credibility.

There ought to be a distinct line between politics and journalism, and having someone so heavily and currently involved in Democratic politics fill a spot that is supposed to be reserved for a journalist blurs that line beyond distinction.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Everything you need to know about Bernard Goldberg in under 3 minutes

Bernard Goldberg is the designated "expert" in the conservative movement when it comes to saying that the mainstream press is "liberally biased." Everything you need to know about the sort of process of critical thought (or lack there of) that Goldberg employs towards this end is on display in the clip above, where Goldberg concludes that Lou Dobbs is right to promote Birther conspiracy and speculates that Obama is deliberately keeping the conspiracy alive by not releasing his birth certificate so that he and his "Chicago mafia" can make conservatives look bad.

I guess he didn't watch it because it's the "liberal media," but Chris Matthews has already shown that it ain't all that hard to find Obama's birth certificate. Nevermind that Goldberg is white-washing Dobbs promoting the idea that Obama isn't really a citizen or that Goldberg is himself helping to promote it by stupidly saying that Obama's birth certificate has yet to be produced.

How much more of cartoonish clown can Bernard Goldberg become?

Stephen Colbert figures out how Sarah Palin writes her speeches

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"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." - F.D.R., Second Inaugural Address

How right-wing propaganda poisons the well of democracy

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Watching that video, it's not just a party of villains that the Republican party is becoming, but a party of kooks. Kook villains who have no respect for truth.

Does this mean that I'm saying that all Republicans are kooks and dishonest villains? No, of course not. But what is quite apparent from that video and well, actually observing the Republican party and its politics, is that there is a culture of dishonesty, kookiness, and extremism that is rewarded and cultivated within the party.

When you have an elected Republican member of Congress talking to Alex Jones about President Obama planning to kill people like Mao and Hitler there is something seriously wrong with the Republican party.

Voluntary public service equals scary totalitarianism. Plotting to use the military to void sections of the Constitution? Silence.

If you've been watching Glenn Beck lately - and I would understand if you haven't, since it takes some degree of masochism to subject oneself to such undiluted idiocy - he's grown increasingly paranoid that President Obama and his sinister, secret shadow army of community organizers -in Beck-speak, "community organizer" seems to be synonymous with Nazi brownshirts - are getting closer and closer to installing their nefarious liberal fascist Marxist capitalist/anti-capitalist environmentalist one world regime.

Tuesday's "The One Thing" segment was particularly exquisite in tying together a delusional conspiracy about Obama and his dark forces of community organization, but I suppose that it's grown so routine that Media Matters didn't even put the clip on their site, so I'll just give a segment from Monday's show which is nearly as demented.

And from the same episode, there is Glenn Beck seeing the creation of a fascist army of community organizers in Obama calling for the expansion of the Peace Corps, Americorps, and the Foreign Service.

Yet meanwhile, we now know that during the administration of the previous president, Vice President Cheney argued for actually using the United States military to end Constitutionally guaranteed liberties.

[T]he Yoo memoranda were almost certainly prepared in order to support a case for the domestic use of the military and in the hopes that by deploying the military, the Constitutional limitations on police action and arrests could simply be avoided. The Yoo memoranda set the stage for a military dictatorship, following exactly the sort of phased introduction that occurred in the cone of South America in the seventies and eighties. As Yale law professor Jack Balkin puts it, “This is not a debate about whether the army would have to read Miranda rights to suspects captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan. It was a plan to have the military arrest people in the United States in order to get around civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution.” A large number of memoranda written by Yoo appear to be a quest for a “state of exception” to the Constitution. Effectively, he was looking for a way to make the president into a dictator.
And as Scott Horton point out in that link, President Obama is still contemplating claiming some of the same powers of detention that were argued by Yoo (and others) and put into practice by Cheney and Bush.

What Beck is doing with his fear-mongering distracts his audience from the issues they ought to actually be concerned about when it comes to their liberties. As I've said before, this kind of cultivation of reality-detachment is destructive to the democratic process.

Having citizens criticize and denounce Obama for continuing Bush policies that endangered civil liberties is invaluable. Having citizens view Obama as Hitler because of some imaginary world that Glenn Beck lives in, not so much.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bill O'Reilly doesn't understand the 1st Amendment

I see that Dave Neiwert has beat me to the punch in responding to Bill O'Reilly's bizarre interpretation of the 1st Amendment last night on The Factor in regards to the SPLC calling for CNN to fire Lou Dobbs.

Bill O'Reilly seems to have a little trouble understanding how the First Amendment works.

Free-speech rights mean the government can't stop citizens from saying things it doesn't like. Every citizen has that right.

But having a radio show or a network anchor's job is not a right. It's a privilege, one that people work very hard to achieve, and only a relative handful actually get. Who gets the privilege is decided by people holding the media pursestrings.

Nonetheless, O'Reilly seemed to think last night on his Fox News show that the Southern Poverty Law Center not only was "overreacting" to Lou Dobbs' promotion of the "Birther" conspiracy theories, but that they were attacking Dobbs' First Amendment rights in demanding that CNN remove him.
Right. Bill O'Reilly seems to think that network stars have a First Amendment right to their jobs, which they do not. They have a First Amendment right to free speech and to be a part of a free press, but that does not mean that they get to keep their jobs no matter what they say or do, or that citizens who call on the management of news organizations to adhere to journalistic standards of professional behavior are infringing on Dobbs' rights.

If a station's meteorologist routinely told viewers that it was going to snow on days when it was 100 degrees outside, or that it would be sunny and bright as a hurricane approached, viewers would justifiably have a legitimate reason to demand that individual lose his/her job. And no one is going to suggest that the meteorologist's First Amendment rights are being infringed upon or that viewers should leave it "to the market" to settle the matter.

That's actually the second reason that O'Reilly gives that the SPLC shouldn't ask CNN to fire Dobbs. That "the market" will sort it out and CNN's ratings will suffer because of Dobbs promoting such stupid conspiracy theory. Let's count the problems with this line of reasoning:

1. "The market" does not sort out truth value claims. Anyone watching an episode of Glenn Beck's Fox program will be confronted by this fact.

2. Even if the ratings suffered because of Dobbs promoting conspiracy, citizens still are justified in being concerned with a major network star promoting and legitimizing a hate-based conspiracy theory about the president.

3. As the authors of The Elements of Journalism point out, journalism is "a discipline of verification" with the journalist's "first obligation [being] to the truth." When Lou Dobbs gets on the air and helps promote malicious lies that have long since been debunked he is committing journalistic fraud and derelection of duty. CNN's audience have a right to expect that CNN not betray this duty and that they be provided with a more reliable source of information. And by interacting with the network, voicing their concern and even demanding that an anchor spreading misinformation lose his/her job, citizens are serving a vital role. Indeed:

10. Citizens, too, have rights and responsibilities when it comes to the news.

Citizens must set aside prejudice and judge the work of journalists on the basis of whether it contributes to their ability to take an informed part in shaping their society. Citizens control the market for news - they must hold its practicioners to higher standards of reliability, timeliness, proportionality, and comprehensiveness.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The oh-so oppressed American mega-rich

A while ago I summarized some of the numbers from David Cay Johnston pointing out that despite Republican mythology otherwise, the "rising tide" of mega-wealth in the United States did not raise all boats.

The Wall Street Journal recently had an item that really accentuates this point.

The nation's wealth gap is widening amid an uproar about lofty pay packages in the financial world.

Executives and other highly compensated employees now receive more than one-third of all pay in the U.S., according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Social Security Administration data -- without counting billions of dollars more in pay that remains off federal radar screens that measure wages and salaries.
Now he's the part that your mainstream "liberal" media likes to forget to tell the public

The growing portion of pay that exceeds the maximum amount subject to payroll taxes has contributed to the weakening of the Social Security trust fund. In May, the government said the Social Security fund would be exhausted in 2037, four years earlier than was predicted in 2008.

The data suggest that the payroll tax ceiling hasn't kept up with the growth in executive pay. As executive pay has increased, the percentage of wages subject to payroll taxes has shrunk, to 83% from 90% in 1982. Compensation that isn't subject to the portion of payroll tax that funds old-age benefits now represents foregone revenue of $115 billion a year.
Let's recall that Reagan's tax cut for the rich was itself financed with a regressive tax increase on the middle class; done in the name of paying for Social Security. Great scam, really. Cut taxes for the rich, see them suck up the nation's wealth like Niagra Falls in reverse while concomitantly calling for the abolition of Social Security on the grounds that it's "bankrupt," forgetting to mention where that shortfall in Social Security taxes came from.

I previously noted how insane it is that Republicans try to sell their supply-side religion of the mega-rich as populist politics at a time when the tax payers are paying to subsidize the markets that the mega-rich profited from crashing.

David Sirota has written a fantastic piece saying the same thing.

According to government figures, 1-percenters' share of America's total income is the highest it's been since 1929, and their tax rates are the lowest they've faced in two decades. Through bonuses, many 1-percenters will profit from the $23 trillion in bailout largesse the Treasury Department now says could be headed to financial firms. And, most of them benefit from IRS decisions to reduce millionaire audits and collect zero taxes from the majority of major corporations.

But what really makes the ultra-wealthy so fortunate, what truly separates this moment from a run-of-the-mill Gilded Age, is the unprecedented protection the 1-percenters have bought for themselves on the most pressing issues.

To review: With 22,000 Americans dying each year because they lack health insurance, Congress is considering universal health care legislation financed by a surcharge on income above $280,000 -- that is, a levy almost exclusively on 1-percenters. This surtax would graze just 5 percent of small businesses and would recoup only part of the $700 billion the 1-percenters received from the Bush tax cuts. In fact, it is so miniscule, those making $1 million annually would pay just $9,000 more in taxes every year -- or nine-tenths of 1 percent of their 12-month haul.
Sirota goes on to point out that this mythology can only exist with the help of plutocrat Democrats and a millionaire media whose stars seem to think that this modest tax proposal on the rich constitutes punishing the mega-rich or saddling them with an unfair tax burden.*

It bears repeating: a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans has nothing to do with punitive or unfair taxation. What it has to do with is the people who have benefited the most from the society they live in paying back into that system so that the system can continue to function. (Try getting rich in Zimbabwe.)

*That such taxes are unfair is laughable in light of the middle class being asked to sacrifice the Social Security system they paid into so that the rich could see their wealth skyrocket. (Those numbers [in that link] appear to be somewhat different from Johnston's. Trying to figure out the discrepancy makes my head hurt, so take that for what it's worth.)

Why sane Republicans should get involved in local politics

Otherwise, these looney tunes take over. That's more craziness from the same meeting which was taken captive by a Birther.

And when those sorts of persons drive the party politics, you get elected officials like Sen. James Inhofe promoting the barely hidden racist conspiracy theory that the country's first president of non-"white" background isn't really a citizen of America.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

"Based on true events"

There are few things that annoy me more than to see a preview for some movie depicting fantastical and supernatural happenings and then to see the trailer end with based on a true story or based on true events. These movies aren't based on "true events" - they're based on someone saying these are true events. The "truth" is that someone said it happened, not that it happened.

False marketing combined with promoting anti-reality based beliefs for profit just bothers me. Which is why I'm so annoyed with the commercials currently playing for the DVD of The Haunting In Connecticut.

It was bad enough the first time that this fraud was dreamed up, but to reward the hucksters with a movie based on their scam is just rotten.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Office of religion still endangering church/state separation

Via Frederick Clarkson, Sarah Posner reports on President Obama's expanded and re-named (Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships) version of President Bush's faith based initiatives.

During the presidential campaign, Obama said he would expand George W. Bush's faith-based initiatives because "the challenges we face today...are simply too big for government to solve alone." But he also promised to end the constitutional violations of Bush's faith-based programs by requiring that federal dollars that go to churches, temples and mosques "only be used on secular programs" and by forbidding programs that accept federal money from proselytizing or discriminating against people in hiring on the basis of religion.

Since he has taken office, however, Obama has backtracked or stalled on these pledges. Perhaps more disturbing, Obama's OFBNP, while still a work in progress, is plagued by a lack of transparency and accountability and has seemingly already been exploited as a tool for rewarding religious constituencies with government jobs--exactly the problems that marked Bush's faith-based initiative.

Today's discount book purchase

Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (hc) by Daniel Dennett for six dollars.

I've read this but didn't have a copy.

Of the so-called "New Atheists" books, this is one which I find most baffling to be lumped in with the others. Unlike the work of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, Breaking the Spell is not a polemical attack on religion in general or religious belief but a call for critical, scientific inquiry regarding religion and its pros/cons; and a survey of what science can, might, and has tell/told us about it.

The review at Majikthise does a good job of explaining what Dennett's critics have misunderstood about the book.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Greta van Susteren still providing "liberal balance" at Fox News

If you were to ask any invididual what amount of lies, misinformation, and generally malicious/false statements someone has to make before they lose all credibility, I'm fairly certain whatever mean number you were to get from such a survey, Rush Limbaugh would be well beyond it.

Certainly, his having recently stated that President Barack Obama has not proved he is a US citizen casts a tiny bit of doubt on his credibility. But even setting that aside, it's not exactly a secret that Limbaugh is a partisan hack, a propagandist for the Republican party.

Which is no doubt why one of the "liberal" voices at Fox News, Greta van Susteren, featured on her program last night part one of a two part "interview" with Limbaugh. Susteren played the role of interviewer the way the "interviewers" in infomercials do: she set up Limbaugh and then listened attentively while he bashed Obama and opined on health care for long stretches of time.

If Susteren actually was a liberal voice at Fox rather than just another Stepford employee mindlessly selling Republican propaganda then she might bring on an actual guest with some kind of expertise on the subject of health care reform who would say something other than the Frank Luntz inspired Republican line about it. Someone like, say, Wendell Potter.

Trivia of the day

Question: What was the first planet to be discovered other than by direct observation?

Answer: Neptune.

From Nasa

Neptune was discovered by means of mathematics before being seen through a telescope. Astronomers had noticed that Uranus, which they thought was the most distant planet, was not always in the position they predicted for it. The force of gravity of some unknown planet seemed to be influencing Uranus.

In 1843, John C. Adams, a young English astronomer and mathematician, began working to find the location of the unknown planet. Adams predicted the planet would be about 1 billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) farther from the sun than Uranus. He completed his remarkably accurate work in September 1845. Adams sent it to Sir George B. Airy, the Astronomer Royal of England. However, Airy did not look for the planet with a telescope. Apparently, he lacked confidence in Adams.

Meanwhile, Urbain J. J. Leverrier, a young French mathematician unknown to Adams, began working on the project. By mid-1846, Leverrier also had predicted Neptune's position. He sent his predictions, which were similar to those of Adams, to the Urania Observatory in Berlin, Germany. Johann G. Galle, the director of the observatory, had just charted the fixed stars in the area where the planet was believed to be. On Sept. 23, 1846, Galle and his assistant, Heinrich L. d'Arrest, found Neptune near the position predicted by Leverrier. Today, both Adams and Leverrier are credited with the discovery.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cretinous Republican politics

Liz Cheney, taking a momentary break from her role as designated media defender of her father's complicity in war crimes, took some time to say that Birther conspiracy kooks - specifically like this one - have a legitimate reason to question whether President Obama is a real American.

CHENEY: But setting that aside, I think that — you know, one of the reasons I think you see people so concerned about [whether or not Obama is a US citizen], I think that, you know, this issue is people are uncomfortable with having, for the first time ever, I think, a president who seems so reluctant to defend the nation overseas; a president who sits through completely venomous screed by Daniel Ortega and then his only response, when the United States has been hostilely attacked, is to say, hey, you know, basically, I was only there at the time.
Is there anything too malicious for prominent Republicans to say? The Republican Party, by not ostracizing and denouncing persons like Cheney, or Dobbs, Hannity, Limbaugh and others for spreading and kindling such hate, is really turning into a party of villains.

And as to Obama being "a president who seems so reluctant to defend the nation overseas," as Joan Walsh points out, I guess not everyone can be such a bad ass chickenhawk warrior like Liz's dad, who himself got 5 deferments from the Vietnam war, but as VP was more than willing to send thousands of US soldiers off to die in an unnecessary war sold with his lies.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"Journalists" who heart Mark Sanford

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Gotta love that last line about Cronkite telling "Jonesey" that he is digusted by what he does. See Greenwald for more on that topic.

Resolved: Beck's "common sense" equals shrieking lunacy

Matthews obliterates Birther nonsense

I'm not a fan of Chris Matthews (look through the archive of Daily Howler for reasons why I'm not) but occasionally he does something I can get behind. Like today, for instance, when he lambasted Rep. John Campbell (R-CA) for cosponsoring a bill requiring presidential candidates to prove they are US citizens (something they already have to do.) Matthews was not having any of this fellow's bullshit, and repeatedly called him out on pandering to the "wacko wing" of the Republican party. It was fantastic.

I was going to look for the video but I see that Think Progress has already linked and summarized it. Take a look.

It really is amazing that this level of insanity has such a mainstream megaphone. Sean Hannity is promoting this conspiracy. So is Lou Dobbs and Rush Limbaugh.

And while Hannity's fellow Fox News anti-intellectual Glenn Beck worries about stuff like imaginary progressive "brownshirts" having intimidated Wal-mart into developing a green line of products (rather than assuming like a sane person that Wal-mart found doing so to be profitable) an actual fascist has gone out and killed because his hatred for America's first black president was legitimized and rationalized in part by his belief in the Birther conspiracy since it gave him an excuse to believe that Obama is not a "real American."

Quote of the day

"If [captured US soldier] Bergdahl left his post, the usual punishment (even in war time) is not execution and we tend to insist on a trial before any punishment occurs. That is what distinguishes us from the enemy — and certain Fox News analysts." - Johnathan Turley, responding to Fox News Analyst Lt. Col. Ralph Peters' suggestion that the Taliban could do the United States a favor and go ahead and kill Bergdahl

This is the same Peters who has argued that the US military should ignore laws of war and kill journalists and that the persons held at Gitmo should be killed because because "they aren't human any more."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sieg heil (the Pledge of Allegiance)

(image borrowed from this Dispatches from the Culture War post on anti-flag burning amendments)

When I read this article by Shadia Drury about American style fascism I thought she was generally correct but overstated her case. Specifically, here

John McCain and Sarah Palin represent the newest faces of American fascism. Like everything American, the face of American fascism is stylish and dashing. With her Valentino clothes, Sarah Palin combined the wholesomeness of motherhood with the glamour of a beauty queen and the fanaticism of the Christian Right. John McCain was the war hero with all the scars of battle. His favorite slogan in the presidential campaign of 2008 was “Stand up and defend our country from its enemies! Stand up and fight! Fight! Fight with me, my friends.” His message was devotion to the nation and struggle against its enemies—external and internal.
McCain and Palin are not fascists (McCain more so that Palin, who actually has a history of involvement in proto-fascist politics*) but made pseudo-fascist appeals (also see here) in their campaign which play upon the sentiments that have historically fueled fascist movements. I find this to be an important distinction; and in fairness to Drury, I think it's inherent in the context of her article, but she doesn't quite make it explicitly.

In the 2008 campaign, McCain and Palin relied heavily on innuendoes regarding the treachery of their political opponent. Robo-calls informed voters that Barack Obama had a close association with Bill Ayers—a terrorist enemy of America. Then there was his relationship with Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who believed that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, were a divine punishment for the evils of American foreign policy. Palin could not understand how anyone could stomach Reverend Wright’s raucous denunciations of America. To the radical nationalist, all criticisms of the nation smack of treason. The upshot of the matter was that Obama was allied with the enemies of America, and he was about to weasel his way into the White House! It is no wonder that the crowds at her rallies were crazed. They shouted: “Kill him!”

When a few brave journalists noted the ugliness of the Republican rallies, McCain defended his supporters, saying that they were sincere, patriotic Americans. They were indeed sincere, but they were not patriotic. They were rabid nationalists wedded to a dream and a fantasy that Palin called “the real America.” Palin’s “real America” is on the side of God and his angels. It respects the rule of law. It fights only just wars against evil enemies. It does not bomb unarmed civilians. It does not torture prisoners of war. It does not imprison innocent people without charge or trial. In truth, the “real America” is as fictitious as Sleeping Beauty. A life dedicated to this fiction can only be characterized by lies, cover-ups, and an interminable struggle to destroy the “enemies” of the “real America” at home and abroad. If the Republican Party hopes to become a civilized governing party again, it must suppress the fascistic nationalism of its “base” that it has so cynically and slyly nurtured in order to attain and hold on to power.
Keep that last sentence in mind as you watch the video of a local Republican townhall below, courtesy of David Weigel.

Weigel summarizes the video as such:

A woman gets up, holding a baggie containing her birth certificate, and unleashes a rambling, minute-long tirade tirade about how the president is a “citizen of Kenya.” The crowd hoots and cheers when she’s done. Castle responds, diplomatically: “Well I don’t know what comment that invites. If you’re referring to the president, then he is a citizen of the United States.” That elicits roars and boos from the crowd, so Castle presses on. “You can boo, but he is a citizen of the United States.”

So here’s one of the least conservative members of the House GOP conference, in a state that gave the Obama-Biden ticket 62 percent of the vote, and he has to deal with the angry howling of birthers.
Weigel left out the creepiest part, however. At the end of the video, the same woman stands up and "suggests" they say the Pledge of Allegiance. I put "suggests" in scare quotes because when you actually see the footage you'll notice by her tone that she's suggesting nothing, she's demanding the Pledge be said as some sort of magical litmus test of patriotism to distinguish themselves from un-American usurpers like Barack Obama - she actually takes over the meeting at that point. I suspect, also, that she had her suspicions about Rep. Castle, too. Maybe she thought he'd burst into flames or something if he wasn't a "real American" and tried to recite the Pledge.

I couldn't help but recall this passage from Robert Paxton in The Anatomy of Fascism.

No swastikas in an American fascism, but Stars and Stripes (or Stars and Bars) and Christian crosses. No fascist salute, but mass recitations of the pledge of allegiance. These symbols contain no whiff of fascism in themselves, of course, but an American fascism would transform them into obligatory litmus tests for detecting the internal enemy.
*And Christian nationalist associations which have to be seen to be believed (e.g here and especially here.)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Science sarcasm (with pictures)

Tim Lambert does a pretty humerous visual take-down of some climate change misinformation from Roger Pielke Sr.

More discount books

The Big Con: The True Story of How Washington Got Hoodwinked and Hijacked by Crackpot Economics (hc) by Jon Chait for $3.

The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder (hc) by Vincent Bugliosi for $3.

Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII (pb) by John Cornwell for $4.

The First Scientific American: Benjamin Franklin and the Pursuit of Genius (hc) by Joyce Chaplin for $8.

I'd already and reviewed The Big Con but I didn't have a copy.

Although Bugliosi's book is a former library book, I doubt it's been checked out more than once, if that - it still has that new book smell. There are several copies of it at my local library, and I don't think those ever get checked out, either. It must be something about the title that intimidates readers, I suppose.

I'd previously read Cornwell's Hitler's Scientists: Science, War, and the Devil's Pact and thought it was excellent so I couldn't pass up on seeing Cornwell writing about familiar territory in Hitler's Pope.

With Chaplin's book, it's been at the book store in the discount section sitting there for a while now (a few months) but I hadn't felt all that inclined to read it. The tipping point, I think, was watching too much Glenn Beck and listening to too many Republicans say stuff like this, which led me to want to read about a time when our great statesmen were informed by the findings of science and were revered for it. Plus, the book seemed like a good follow-up to The Invention of Air (which I excerpted here.)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Better than I expected

I finished the three Potter books I got a few weeks ago and am now a third of the way through the Deathly Hallows. I'd seen all the movies previous to reading the books (with the exception of Half-Blood Prince) but hadn't realized how blatantly allegorical the books are about hate-based supremacism, with the last book pretty obviously drawing inspiration from what happened in Nazi Germany.

So in addition to being entertaining pop literature, the book's have a pretty important message that any youngish reader could benefit from encountering.

Another book that wants to be read

Almost three years ago I wrote a brief plug for Julian Baggini's The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: 100 Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher.

The book is comprised of 100 brief yet stimulating thought experiments that introduce various aspects of philosophy to the reader. Baggini bases the experiments on famous philosophical ideas from popular culture and philosophy (the title of the book is an allusion to a meal in Douglass Adams' Hitchhiker series that could talk and requested to be eaten), and poses the questions to engender thinking about the topic rather than to tell anyone what the proper answer might be (although Baggini suggests ways to approach the problem in the comment section that follows each experiment.)

This book would make an excellent introduction to philosophical thought.
Well, Baggini has written a sequel: The Duck That Won the Lottery: and 99 Other Bad Arguments. This book shares the same general structure as the previous one, but, as the title suggests, focuses more on examination of common errors in reasoning.

As was the case with The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten, the book is valuable both as an introduction to philosophical thought and a means of demonstrating the practical importance of philosophy to everyday life. For example, one of the chapters deals with common misconceptions surrounding proving a negative (also see here) and how they factored into the war in Iraq and claims about weapons of mass destruction.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fox News still legitimizing Obama birther conspiracy theory

High school graduate Sean Hannity, one of the shining stars of Republican anti-intellecutalism, had this to say about the army reserve soldier who refused to follow his deployment orders on the grounds that President Obama isn't a citizen

Hannity: Now we told you yesterday about and Army Reserve soldier who challenged his deployment orders on the grounds that president Obama has not proven that he is a U.S. citizen. Now that soldier, Maj. Stefan Frederick Cook, who was supposed to deploy to Afghanistan in the coming days, has now had his orders revoked. According to his lawyer, quote, "They just said order revoked. No explanation, no reasons, just revoked."

Now, Major Cook and his lawyers expressed joy at this outcome, and they took it as an admission on the part of the military that the president is not, in fact, a legitimate citizen by birth.
It really defies description how insane Fox News is. Here we have Sean Hannity uncritically repeating the kook claim (see the link) of Orly Taitz that the military has acknowledged that President Obama is not a US citizen. It has done no such thing (again, see the link.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How not to argue

Peter Singer, one of the world's most eminent philosophers, has written a 5 page article for the New York Times arguing the necessity and value of planned, public health care rationing in contrast to the form of ineffective, inefficient and costly private health care rationing that we already have. You may disagree with him, but to do so would require grasping the argument he is making, following the logic, and having some type of understanding of how our health care system currently works and the way proposed alternate systems might function.

Which is why I'm picking out at random one of the voices from AM radio world to highlight just how far that parallel universe is from the sort of process of constructive debate I just described. Here's AM radio host and regular O'Reilly Factor guest Tammy Bruce responding to Peter Singer's article on her website

Obama moral relativist begin making fascist argument for rationing health care which is what this has been about from the beginning–eliminating “costs” from the budget. For fascists, people are the budget.
One, Peter Singer is not a moral relativist, but a preference utilitarian. (I suppose we can assume that one of the qualifications required to run one's mouth for hours a day on the AM dial isn't to actually know anything about philosophy.) Two, Singer isn't saying we should "eliminate 'costs'" in some sort of Nazi eugenics program. He's saying that we already necessarily make choices - yes, life and death choices -about the type of health care we provide, and bad ones. His point is that we should strive to at least get the best possible outcome by applying some rational consideration to the process. Like I said, you can disagree with his ideas, but at least bother to indicate you know what they are.

No matter how many times I see something like this I just really marvel that we have a significant political movement in this country which operates at such a juvenile level. (i.e., Bruce isn't capable of engaging Singer's argument, so she calls him a "fascist.")

Update: It's also worth pointing out the utter incomprehensibility of this sort of reasoning. If you're opposed to providing public health care, the conditions that might be left to the private market under the type of prioritizing of public funds Singer is talking about still wouldn't be funded in a completely privatized system.

Stick a fork in the Washington Post

I see that the Washington Post has given energy policy wonk and all around polymath Sarah Palin an op-ed about cap and trade in which she has the nerve to write early on, "Those who understand the issue ..." as if she is one such individual. On top of turning its op-ed page into a megaphone for failed and disastrous neoconservative ideas, allowing George Will to invent his own "facts" in the service of global warming denialism, firing one of its best and most popular journalists, and its attempt to host a "salon" to sell its services to corporate interests in complete violation of the most fundamental and basic tenets of journalism, I think it's time to consider that the Post's editorial page has gone the way of the Wall Street Journal's.

That is to say, it's lost all credibility.

Update: Joe Romm says what I just said, but with links and stuff to accentuate the point. I recommend reading the whole thing, but this bit here captures so perfectly how laughable the Post's editorial content has become

In fact, Palin is so ignorant of energy, so practiced at repeating falsehoods, that in September, during the campaign, the Washington Post itself gave her its highest (which is to say lowest) rating of “Four Pinocchios” for continuing to “to peddle bogus [energy] statistics three days after the original error was pointed out by independent fact-checkers.”

Monday, July 13, 2009

My latest discount book purchases

The Prairie by James Fenimore Cooper (pb) for 5 dollars.
Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking by William James (pb) for 3 dollars
Middlemarch by George Eliot (pb) for 3 dollars.

I'm now one book short of having the whole run of the Leatherstocking Tales (missing The Pioneers) although I've had the rest for two decades now and haven't gotten around to reading them yet.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Update for the New American newspeak dictionary

Today's update for the New American newspeak dictionary is:

Presidential post-acquittal detention power: Un-Constitutional "power" of imprisoning someone indefinitely after that person has been aquitted of the charges that are supposed to justify their being held indefinitely

See Unclaimed Territory for more on this "power" being asserted by the Obama administration (recalling that the Bush administraton, too, claimed extra-Constitutional authority to detain persons indefinitely as "enemy combatants" even if cleared of charges.)

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Taking land from Palestinians = anti-ethnic cleansing

George Orwell continues to turn in his grave

Columnist Douglas Bloomfield reports that The Israel Project (TIP) — a Washington- based group that describes itself as “devoted to educating the press and the public about Israel while promoting security, freedom and peace” — advocates accusing those who support removing illegal Israeli settlements of promoting “a kind of ethnic cleansing to move all Jews” from the West Bank.
Meanwhile, the state of Israel itself is concerned with the public relations fall-out resulting from bombing the heck out of Gaza, killing about 1400 Palestinians at a rate of about 100:1 of the rockets launched by Hamas terrorists. Instead of, say, changing Israel's deleterious and counter-productive strategy, the prime minster's communications chief wants to spend more money on pr, explaining that critics of such military actions are anti-Semitic.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Light blogging this week

I'll be pretty busy this week, so there will be few posts.

Friday, July 03, 2009

More "liberal" balance at Fox News

I saw Juan Williams hosting the O'Reilly Factor the other day, reading off the Republican spin on the news just like you'd expect any other guest host to do. I didn't feel like bothering posting about it though. But since John Amato saved me the trouble, I'll just link to him.

Bill O'Reilly never has liberals fill in for him when he takes a vacation, so I was surprised to see Juan Williams in the anchor chair Wednesday night. And then I asked myself: Self, why am I surprised? Williams is BillO's chief apologist night in and night out and he would make a good little conservative talk show host in a pickle. And he did. Well, there were none of the Talking Points Memo segment that opens up The Factor every night because they probably didn't trust Juan to deliver them with the proper hateful spin, but he easily tried to do a BillO imitation the rest of the show.

It was quite hilarious listening to him stiffly yell about taxes being raised by the evil Obamanites. And then came Bernie Goldberg. They were both so appalled that CBS' Scott Pelley wouldn't invite any global warming deniers on his Global Warming special. Juan said: Not a single one. The horror, I say.
In fairness to Mr. Williams, it should be noted that it's usual for the guest hosts not to do a Talking Points segment. The only exceptions that I know of are Michelle Malkin and Laura Ingraham, who were allowed to do one everytime they hosted, as far as I can remember. (Now that I type this out, I'm not sure it contradicts what Mr. Amato has posited, however.)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Want to know what a smug idiot sounds like?

Like this

I've blogged before about Neal Boortz's belief that global warming is a communist conspiracy to destroy global capitalism (see here and here) and how moronic the "evidence" he provides for such a belief is (here and here, for example), but you can't really appreciate how absurdly smug Boortz is despite the enormity of his wrongness without actually hearing him rant about the "global warming scam."

I mean, really, is the NOAA in on the conspiracy? NASA, the NAS, virtually every major scientific organization on the planet, the journals, science magazines ... these are all left-wing commies out to destroy capitalism? Somehow the "Left" was able to infiltrate and take over all these groups and scientific disciplines at a global organization level after having come up with the idea that regulating carbon emisssions and improving fuel efficiency and other such actions would magically "destroy capitalism" by requiring the developed world to spend about 1-2% of GDP on such measures?

Glenn Beck ACORN paranoia still growing

Yesterday, on his Fox News program, Beck said that "I fear for my country" because of ACORN (so that's in addition to fearing for his life.) His guest was one of the hacks from some kind of Republican lawyer group that has been doing the Karl Rove strategy of endless trumped up litigation against the organization. After Beck stated his fear of ACORN because it's so vast and what not, the guest went on to describe its nefarious activities: registering people to vote, encouraging them to then vote.

The horror!

Kidding aside, if you want to fully appreciate how demented it is that Fox News is employing someone who appears to be going insane with paranoia, you should understand within the context of the program and his worldview that Beck seems to consider ACORN to be a harbinger of this (i.e. Beck believes that ACORN is facilitating a global, violent liberal fascist communist revolution.)

And while we're at it, if this post some how catches the attention of someone with the means to do so, could we get a running count of how many times Glenn Beck says "common sense" to hawk his book in the course of a day (counting his radio show, tv show, and appearances elsewhere such as the O'Reilly Factor.) I'm guessing somewhere close to 70ish. He really is turning into a kind of secular evangelist huckster.

Update: Unrelated to ACORN, but equally deranged.

How we know what is so

I've been waiting for about a month for this Discover roundtable discussion on global warming with experts from four different scientific fields to go on-line. It's finally up - and here's the passage I want to spotlight (with added emphasis in bold):

Audience member: What is the most compelling evidence you have that human behavior is actually warming the planet?

Caldeira: To me the most compelling evidence is the fact that the stratosphere—the upper atmosphere—is cooling while the lower atmosphere and the land surface are warming. That’s a sign that greenhouse gases are trapping energy and keeping that energy close to the surface of the earth. I mentioned that in ocean acidification, you actually see animals that should make shells unable to make shells anymore. You could demonstrate the same kind of effect in a bell jar in the lab. There is a level of certainty about it.

POWELL: What about you, Bill? You’re looking not at climate records but rather at agriculture. Do you see a real break from the past there, indicating a unique signature of global warming?

Easterling: One of the problems with agriculture is that it’s a highly managed ecosystem. So it’s often tricky to try to separate out the climate change signal from what might be a host of other things relating to how we manage crops and livestock. But we have seen an increase in the length of the frost-free season. We have seen changes in the incidences and the life cycles of critical agricultural pests, which can be explained only by a general warming. Of course, this is all circumstantial. What made all this come into sharp focus for me was not what we were observing but what we were able to simulate on a computer. Over the past 10 to 15 years, we have been running experiments with very complex and increasingly reliable global climate models. When we entered into the computer all the various things that forced the climate to change, we were able to faithfully reproduce the temperature record of the past 100 years globally. When you take out the component of human-generated carbon dioxide, the models don’t work at all. There are all these people who say, “Well, what about the sun? Why don’t they think about solar variability?” Of course we think about the sun. The models think about all these things, but the models work only if you put all the components in, and one of the big components is us.

POWELL: How you deal with skeptics, both in Congress and in the public, who always seem to have a contrary statistic?

Schneider: First, with regard to your due diligence as a publisher, why hasn’t DISCOVER published a compelling account of the other side? Because there isn’t any. That’s a pretty good reason. There are a lot of things in that speculative and competing explanations category, but there is no preponderance, and that is what is compelling to me. For example, take the evidence that Robin cited. If you were a cynic and you asked about the probability of the ice sheet in the north going up, it’s 50 percent. Going down? Fifty percent. And the South Pole going up? Fifty percent. Going down? Fifty percent. Probability they are both going together? Twenty-five percent. What’s the probability of the stratosphere cooling while the earth gets warmer? Again, assuming we knew nothing, 50 percent. Troposphere warming? Fifty. The probability that one will go up while the other goes down? Twenty-five percent. Same thing for other patterns, like the way high-latitude continents are warming more than low-latitude ones are. With any single line of evidence, you can say, “Oh, well, there’s still a 25 percent chance it’s random,” but what happens when you put all these events together? The probability of all these events’ lining up the same way is pretty darn low unless we are dealing with global warming.

Caldeira: Climate science has reached the point that plate tectonics reached 30 years ago. It is the basic view of the vast majority of working scientists that human-induced climate change is real. There is a real diversity of informed opinion on how important climate change is going to be to various things that affect humans, and there is a diversity of opinion on how to address this problem, but the debate over human-induced climate change is over.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Chess was the video game of its day?

From Scientific American's 150 Years Ago in the magazine feature

July 1859

DESCENT INTO CHESS— “A pernicious excitement to learn and play chess has spread all over the country, and numerous clubs for practicing this game have been formed in cities and villages. Why should we regret this? It may be asked. We answer, chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while it affords no benefit whatever to the body. Chess has acquired a high reputation as being a means to discipline the mind, but persons engaged in sedentary occupations should never practice this cheerless game; they require out-door exercises—not this sort of mental gladiatorship.”