Saturday, May 10, 2014

Charles Krauthammer doesn't know science

By Frank Moraes 

Going back briefly to the Jonathan Chait article I mentioned earlier, there is one thing that Charles Krauthammer said that really bugged me. It's been quoted various places but no one seems to have noticed the contradiction, so I figured that I should point it out.

The thing is that Krauthammer wants it both ways. Pure science that has no political implications is just fine, but applied science that indicates something that conservatives don't want to do must be held to an impossibly high standard. He wrote:

99 percent of physicists convinced that space and time were fixed until Einstein working in a patent office wrote a paper in which he showed that they are not. I'm not impressed by numbers. I'm not impressed by consensus.

He is arguing that since Einstein changed physics, we can't know that global warming is true. The problem with this is that there was this thing called the ultraviolet catastrophe. The entire physics community was worried about it. There was also the Michelson–Morley experiment. The entire physics community was worried about it. In the decades leading up to Einstein, physics was in crisis. It wasn't the case that that physicists were sitting around thinking that they had it all figured out. It was quite the opposite.

On the other hand, now there is a consensus on relativity and quantum mechanics. But why should Kruthammer accept that consensus? After all, he just disregarded the consensus that he made up about late-19th-century physics. Why is the new consensus any more believable than the old consensus? Scientists can't be trusted!

His argument is very simple if we assume that his historical examples are correct (which they aren't). There was a wrong scientific consensus about relativity before Einstein. Then the scientific community learned the truth and developed a new consensus, which is the truth. Thus, the consensus on global warming is wrong because the consensus in the past was wrong (even though it wasn't).

What Kruthammer's argument comes down to is that he doesn't want to accept global warming as a fact because it will hurt the oil companies and others who he works for. Thus, he will say anything at all to avoid admitting the truth. And in 20 years, if he's still alive, no one will treat him as the evil lobbyist who helped to stop the world from addressing its most pressing problem.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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Sarah Jarosz: "Mile on the Moon" and "1,000 Things"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Here's the wonderful Sarah Jarosz -- about whom I've blogged here and here -- performing "Mile on the Moon" and "1,000 Things" from 2013's Build Me Up from Bones on Austin City Limits. Enjoy!

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Friday, May 09, 2014

Failed state: Kansas's experiment with conservative economic policy

By Mustang Bobby 

The state of Kansas was supposed to be the laboratory of the conservative prosperity theory: cut taxes to the bone and the free market will take off: hey presto, Emerald City!

So how's that working out?

In Kansas, Republicans dominate the state government. They have the Governorship (Former Senator Sam Brownback), the State House (92-33 for the GOP), and the State Senate (32-8 for the GOP). Democrats don't have a say in this blood red state that went 60%-37% for Mitt Romney in 2012.

Brownback and his buddies have enacted all manner of conservative economic policy in the state. Cutting taxes, et cetera. What is the result? Guess.

Citing a sluggish recovery from the recession, risk inherent in the governor's tax plan and uncertainty over the Legislature's ability to keep cutting spending, one of the nation's two major debt rating agencies downgraded Kansas' credit rating Thursday.

Moody's Investors Service dropped Kansas from its second-highest bond rating, Aa1, to its third highest, Aa2. The Kansas Department of Transportation also took the same downgrade.

As Businessweek explained, "the immediate effect has been to blow a hole in the state's finances without noticeable economic growth."

I have a soft spot in my heart for Kansas thanks to my annual pilgrimage to the William Inge Theatre Festival in Independence. It's your typical Midwestern small town in the prairie with nice people. They're not hard-core wingnuts... at least the ones who show up to support theater and the legacy of one of their hometown boys even if he was gay. They are conservative, but not so crazy that they couldn't elect a Democrat as governor in 2002 and again in 2006: Kathleen Sebelius, before she was Secretary of Health and Human Services.

So it's really painful to see the results of this failed experiment happen to people I like. But they brought it on themselves; they can't blame this on the liberals and the Democrats.

If it's any consolation, Gov. Brownback is about as popular there as a tornado in a trailer park — he's polling in the low 30s and is trailing his Democratic opponent — and maybe the voters will decide that they've had enough of this right-wing paradise and boot him and his fellow True Believers out.

(Cross-posted at Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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Liberals ♥ Democracy

By Frank Moraes 

Jonathan Bernstein has written a really interesting article, "Democrats' Electoral College Edge." Who'd a thunk it? I've generally thought of the Electoral College as being something that benefited Republicans because of the tiny red states that get more than their fair share of electoral oomph. But that is no longer true. Political scientist Ben Highton looked at it and, indeed, the Electoral College is good for the Democrats. Very good.

Now what does this mean? If the popular vote comes out evenly divided, the Democrats would win the presidency 80% of the time. And the reason is very interesting. Blue states are getting bluer, so that pushes against Democrats getting an advantage from the Electoral College. But this is more than compensated for by the fact that Red states are getting redder at an even faster pace. To give you an example, the most heavily Obama-voting states were Hawaii and Vermont with 70.55% and 66.57% of the vote. Compare this to the most heavily Romney-voting states of Utah and Wyoming with 72.79% and 68.64%. Admittedly, Utah was hotter for Romney because he was a Mormon, but if you look at 2008, Utah's still number three for the Republican.

What I find fascinating about this is how what is happening to the Republicans on the federal level has long been happening to Democrats on the state level. While it's true that gerrymandering greatly harmed the Democratic Party after 2010, at least as big a problem is that Democrats are clustered in urban areas. So even when congressional districts are reasonably drawn, there is a tendency for the Democratic districts to be very Democratic. Now that same thing is happening on the federal level because increasingly, the hatred of the conservative movement is relegated to little states no one especially wants to visit: Oklahoma, Idaho, West Virginia, Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Nebraska, Kansas. (For the record: I know there are a lot of fine people in those states.)

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Reality bites reality show

By Capt. Fogg

I think we have to hold this truth self-evident: bigotry doesn't pay. Bible-based or not, and even expressed in private, racism, homophobia, and bigotry can cost you almost everything. Nobody will hire you other than Fox News and other GOP franchises.

David and Jason Benham were about to get their own HGTV "reality" TV series until it came out on Right Wing Watch that David, one of the twin Biblievers, had been ranting outside the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2012 about "homosexuality and its agenda that is attacking the nation" and "demonic ideologies" taking hold in colleges and public schools. Hot Potato time again at HGTV. Gay people and people who are tired of people who rant about what their toothless old threadbare god hates watch HGTV and in sufficient numbers that bigotry doesn't pay.

Hey, who said the market doesn't sometimes correct itself? Who says capitalism can't force bad products off the market?

Hey, that reality real enough for ya?

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

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How unions are unfairly scapegoated for Detroit's woes

By Marc McDonald 

There are many reasons for the catastrophic decline of the once-mighty U.S. auto industry over the decades. But it's unfair and inaccurate to point the main finger of blame at unions, the usual scapegoat.

The world's two dominant auto-exporting nations are Germany and Japan. The auto industries in those two nations are heavily unionized. And what's more, unions in Germany and Japan are backed up by strong pro-labor laws that U.S. workers could only dream of.

Although the auto industries of Germany and Japan are heavily unionized, those two nations have absolutely crushed the U.S. auto industry in markets around the world in recent decades. And they've consistently beaten Detroit on its own turf, as well.

In fact, the only reason the U.S. even still has a domestic auto industry at all these days is that Japan Inc. deliberately pulled its punches with "voluntary export restraints" in the 1980s. The latter was a shrewd move by Tokyo to head off moves by the U.S. to raise trade barriers.

Many Conservatives and "free-market" advocates love to scapegoat unions as the cause for Detroit's decline. But as usual, the GOP's simplistic analysis has little to do with the real world.

The fact is, if unions are so bad, then why do the auto industries of Germany and Japan continue to go from strength to strength in conquering world markets? I've done quite a bit of world travel myself and I've seen a number of nations where American cars are a very rare sight on the roads these days. But I have yet to see a country where the roads aren't filled with Volkswagens, BMWs and Toyotas. (It's true that Japan has struggled in China, but that is for political reasons, not competitive reasons).

Although no "free market" U.S. economist would ever admit this, it's clear that unions have actually helped increase the competitiveness of the Japanese and German auto industries.

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Thursday, May 08, 2014

So... about that global warming...

By Carl 

You think maybe folks in west Texas are starting to take the hint?

Barham says residents [of Wichita Falls, Texas] have cut water use by more than a third, but water supplies are still expected to run out in two years.

So the city has built a 13-mile pipeline that connects its wastewater plant directly to the plant where water is purified for drinking. That means the waste that residents flush down their toilets will be part of what's cleaned up and sent back to them through the tap.

Drinking your own pee is pretty good indication that you might be in trouble.

I don't mean to make light of a very serious situation, but it's come down to that for many Texans. Amarillo is on course to become the largest American city to run out of water, a dubious distinction at best, and here's the juice quote:

"We still have a generally warm Atlantic Ocean, and that tends to mean dry conditions," [Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon] said.

Welcome to the 21st century, Amarillo!

Although this is not the worst drought to affect the region (the 1930s Dust Bowl was), the increased population plus the additional food production in the region will make this by far the most devastating if this trend continues, which seems extremely likely.

As I write this, New York City is under a storm system that will see rain deep into the weekend.

The economic consequences for the west Texas region have only begun to seep in. After all, every dollar spent on bottled water is a dollar less for such luxuries as food, electricity, and fuel.

Yes, luxuries. You can live without fuel and electricity, and maybe for a while food, but water? In the heat of a Texas summer?

Is this the event I talked about a few days ago? That "what would it take?" that no climate-change denier has ever satisfactorily answered before they started to believe it's real and it's a problem?

I hope so. But I doubt it.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Republicans just don't want reform

By Frank Moraes

Jonathan Chait wrote an excellent article yesterday, "Springtime for Obamacare." In it, he goes through a number of arguments that conservatives have made about Obamacare and discusses how recent events have refuted them. I recommend reading the whole article, especially because I'm only going to talk about one small aspect of it.

He used a quote by Tennessee Republican State Senator Stacey Campfield to make a general point. Campfield recently argued that Obamacare is like the Holocaust, because it was the government deciding who lives and who dies. It's actually a hoot if you brush aside the fact that it was said by a man with a lot of political power. I mean, you need extremely twisted logic to come to that conclusion. You have to assume, for example, that providing more healthcare will actually kill people because it will make the care so much worse. But I suspect that Campfield also thinks that huge numbers of the "right" kind of people don't have health insurance because they've been priced out of the market by the government's paying for the "wrong" kind of people.

Chait's point is that wackos like Campfield are actually in an easier position because they make no factual claims to be refuted. After all, they aren't saying that Obamacare will lead to death. They are simply claiming that the very idea of Obamacare is deciding who lives and dies. No proof needed. But here's the thing: those who present actual claims and those who do not are against Obamacare for the same reason. They just don't want the old system changed.

This fact is clear enough in one of the standard arguments against Obamacare: "Health insurance doesn't make you healthy." This was a big deal last year when a small study out of Oregon didn't find health improvements in a couple of categories for people who had health insurance. Of course, since then, a much larger study out of Massachusetts has found that increased health insurance coverage actually saves lives. So that argument ought to be gone, but of course it will continue on because facts don't seem to matter in these cases.

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CNN asks if "space aliens, time travelers or beings from another dimension" caused MH370's disappearance

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I haven't blogged about the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, nor about the media coverge, but I've tweeted about it a lot, especially that first month when CNN in particular was in full-on crazy-obsessed mode.

Much of the craziness was contained in host Don Lemon's nightly meanderings into recklessness, irresponsibility, and just plain stupidity, but the problem has been network-wide and is still going strong:

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Obamacare is now a losing issue for Republicans

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Oh, Republicans. So desperate, so very desperate, and yet it's all just slipping away

Republicans struggled to land punches against ObamaCare in a hearing Wednesday, as responses from insurance companies deflated several lines of questioning.

Democratic lawmakers were emboldened to defend the Affordable Care Act with renewed vigor and levity, creating a dynamic rarely seen in the debate over ObamaCare.

Adding to the irregularity, exits on the Republican side at a subcommittee hearing led by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) allowed multiple Democrats to speak in a row and let heavy Democratic criticism of Republicans go unanswered, a contrast with the heated exchanges of last fall.


Republicans were visibly exasperated...

Yes, because reality is not matching up with their ideological bullshit.


Look, Obamacare is far from perfect, and many of us would prefer a single-payer system, but it was really only a matter of time before those early tech glitches were fixed and the system started working effectively. And it's not just working effectively, it's working brilliantly, and should just keep getting better and better as more and more people sign up and costs continue coming down. 

Which is why it's always seemed crazy to me that Democrats would try to run away from it instead of embracing it. The fact is, while Obamacare may be toxic to Republicans, and while some Democrats in red or reddish or otherwise swing districts may be concerned about being too closely connected to it, Obamacare is the signature achievement of this Democratic president. And that means it's seen as a major Democratic achievement. And so if you're a Democrat, you're on board whether you like it or not. Even if you think you can run away from it, you'll never be able to match Republican extremism in opposition to it.

There is political calculation involved, but there is also myopia and, worse, cowardice as well. Many Democrats tried to take cover when the glitches hit and that's all the media could focus on. But they were going to be fixed. And while maybe you couldn't quite predict just how successful Obamacare would be this early on, why bet on failure? Why not embrace it and hope, given expectations, that it would work out?

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Republican shit-making dredges up the IRS "scandal" again

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It's back. And by "it," I mean the IRS "scandal" that Republicans spent so much effort last year trying to turn into a smoking gun of Obama White House corruption and Democratic partisan evildoing:

The House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to hold Lois Lerner, a former Internal Revenue Service official accused by Republicans of abusing power, in contempt, laying bare the bitter divide over which much of the midterm elections will be fought.

It was a moment of high drama, complete with allegations that the White House oversaw a Watergate-style cover-up that helped steal a presidential election, and invocations of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and his delusions of widespread conspiracy.

Republicans spent much of the day laying out a case for why the Obama administration is politically corrupt and, by extension, why Democrats could not be trusted with power. In doing so they revealed the issues that, in addition to unhappiness with the Affordable Care Act, will form the legs of the stool on which their campaign strategy will rest.

Republican leaders hope that with the series of events they set in motion with the vote, which passed 231-187 along party lines, they will expose a pattern of cover-up and political whitewashing by the White House.

This is all just partisan theater, part of a desperate attempt by Republicans to find a line of attack, a scandal, that will work this year now that Obamacare, the object of so much of their idiotic outrage, has proven to be a rousing success. It's why Benghazi has made a comeback of late, and now the IRS. Republicans are just hoping something, anything will stick.

Which is to say, their "strategy" basically consists of making shit up and trying to deceive and terrify voters into voting for them in November.

Which is pretty much standard operating procedure for the GOP.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Why now for Monica Lewinsky?

By Carl

Monica Lewinsky has an article in this month's Vanity Fair in which she opens up about The Affair.

I don't really have to tell you which one, do I? Unless you are younger than 20, maybe 21, it would have been really hard not to be at least dimly aware of the incident that may have brought down a president.

This is a woman whose name will be forever linked to scandal. I can imagine it's hard to live like that, particularly when your own involvement in the scandal was not illegal. I mean, she's not Charles Manson or Sirhan Sirhan. About the closest parallel in our lifetime is Yoko Ono, and she got a lot more support from the man involved than Lewinsky did.

Lewinsky's only "crime" was entrusting her secrets to a woman who thankfully slunk off into the hell of obscurity after betraying a naïf. I won't mention her name. Google is your friend if you don't recall.

Lewinsky turns 40 this year, and so I'm sure she saw an opportunity, indeed perhaps even a need, to get this off her chest. Kudos for her. And kudos more for finding a sweet spot in the political calendar to engage the country again.

In fact, it says a lot about Lewinsky that she doesn't hold a grudge – much. In fact, she sympathizes with the other "other woman" in this mess, Hillary Clinton, and points out that her anger was not misplaced but perhaps misdirected. (Clinton, it was recently revealed, blamed Lewinsky and herself for the mess, claiming she was emotionally unavailable to Bill at that time, thus neatly deflecting blame from Bill Clinton himself.)

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Vimeo of the Day: "Technicolour Alaska"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Here's a gorgeous timelapse video by Alexis Coram:

I headed to Alaska in February with the hope of catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights... That glimpse turned into an extravaganza... a party in the sky, and I was an onlooker, a face in the crowd... awestruck, mesmerized, feeling like the luckiest girl in the world. Night after night I was captivated by bright and colorful lights dancing wistfully above me; a graceful representation of the light in my soul.

I was going to make a joke about how if you looked very carefully you might be able to catch a glimpse of Sarah Palin, just as she could see Russia and that was her foreign policy experience, or something like that, but the ugliness of her soul is pretty much the exact opposite of the beauty of nature captured here. No need to tarnish it. Enjoy!

Technicolour Alaska from Alexis Coram on Vimeo.

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Craziest Republican of the Day: Steve Hickey (for yet another insane rant against anal sex)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Bigot, moron, and overall piece of shit Steve Hickey was back in the news on Monday with another rant about anal sex -- and, more to the point, against homosexuality, which of course he doesn't like very much:

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Jay Rockefeller speaks the truth about Obama and Republican racism

By Michael J.W. Stickings


Sen. Jay Rockefeller unloaded on lawmakers Tuesday, accusing some of blocking efforts to solve urgent problems during Barack Obama's presidency "because he's the wrong color."

Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who will retire at the end of the year, made his comments during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on transportation funding, saying he's confounded by the "lack of will to keep ourselves from dropping into rivers and rolling over bridges that are no longer there."

"It's an American characteristic that you don't do anything which displeases the voters, because you always have to get reelected here," he added. "I understand part of it. It has to do with — for some, it's just we don't want anything good to happen under this president, because he's the wrong color."


Don't get me wrong, Republicans would still oppose him ferociously were he white. But basically, if Obama were white, he'd be seen as a mostly centrist, establishmentarian Democrat (champion of market-based health-care reform, generally supportive of Wall Street and Big Business, aggressive on national security, etc.) with occasional (and always measured) forays into progressivism (belated support for marriage equality, concerned about race/racism, cautious environmentalism, etc.) As a black man, though, he's basically seen as the Other, the Enemy, a Communist, a Terrorist, anything and everything that is anti-American from a right-wing perspective.

Rockefeller's statement is something of an exaggeration, I admit. Mitch McConnell's obstructionism in the Senate and House Republicans' general opposition to anything and everything associated with Obama would have the Republican approach if Hillary had won in 2008, and one can expect them to deal with any Democratic president in a similar manner. But certainly Obama's race has aroused an ugly strain of conservatism that had previously been somewhat dormant, or at least quieter: racism and nativism. And it certainly seems to be the case that the virulence of Republican opposition to Obama is very much rooted in that strain.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Monica Lewinsky is back. But why?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

With a much-ballyhooed "Exclusive" in Vanity Fair, the narcissistically-titled "Shame and Survival," Monica Lewinsky has returned:

Monica Lewinsky is taking to the pages of Vanity Fair to address her affair with former President Bill Clinton, writing that she avoided the spotlight for fear of becoming an issue during Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign, but adding that the time has come to stop "tiptoeing around my past — and other people's futures."

"I remained virtually reclusive, despite being inundated with press requests. I put off announcing several media projects in 2012 until after the election," Lewinsky, 40, writes in the magazine's upcoming June issue, according to a press release Tuesday. "And recently I've found myself gun-shy yet again, fearful of 'becoming an issue' should [Hillary Clinton] decide to ramp up her campaign. But should I put my life on hold for another 8 to 10 years?"

Lewinsky adds that her planned media projects fell through and also denies reports that she had secured a $12 million tell-all book deal.

Look, I have nothing against Lewinsky. While her relationship with President Clinton may have been consensual, as she claims, what he did was detestable given not just his position but specifically his position in relation to her. (Him: president. Her: intern. You really think she had much of a choice in the matter? You really think power, and specifically massive power inequality, had nothing to do with it?) And I hated him for it.

Which is to say, I don't really blame her for what happened, and she seems to have a decent head on her shoulders, even if her judgment back then was, well, lacking. I wish her well.

But why come forward now? It's not just that she risks "becoming an issue," it's that the point of her return isn't clear. To tell her story now that she's a more mature person? Sure, okay, I'll give her that. Maybe she wants closure. Maybe she wants to move on. Again, fine. I just hope she's able to get what she needs without her return being dragged out by media, and many in the bloodsucking political class trying to make a point of her, eager to capitalize on the salaciousness of her past.

But therein lies the problem. Whatever she wants will be overwhelmed by what the media want, and what users and abusers of her story on all sides want -- and in the end the question will be whether it was worth it for her or not, whether this return to fame, however short-lived, will somehow allow her to set the record straight and move on.

Somehow I doubt it.

(Please note: I'm giving Lewinsky the benefit of the doubt as I write this tonight. If she's just doing this to get her name back in the news so as to cash in now that her various other projects have failed, I take much of it back. Not that she won't be used by the media and her various detractors regardless, but it's different if she's asking for it.)

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On deaf ears

By Carl 

The Obama administration has decided to move the national dialogue forward, to try to take a pro-active position on climate change:

Washington (CNN) -- Flooded rail lines. Bigger, more frequent droughts. A rash of wildfires.

Those are some of the alarming predictions in a White House climate change report released Tuesday, part of President Barack Obama's broader second-term effort to help the nation prepare for the effects of higher temperatures, rising sea levels and more erratic weather.

"Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present," the National Climate Assessment says, adding that the evidence of man-made climate change "continues to strengthen" and that "impacts are increasing across the country."

We, of course, can anticipate absolutely no action will take place on this. When a significant number in even a dying political party do not believe in climate change – or worse, somehow conflate climate change with God's will – nothing will happen.

Still, Obama is correct to make a go of it. After all, it's a desperate enough situation that some kind of effort has to be made, even if it means hearing endless plaintive wails about the amount of money it's going to cost us and the effect on a seedling economic recovery.

To do nothing is to drown that seedling.

Ten years ago, we might have hoped that our children's children's children would curse us and our inertia on what will be the most critical issue of the 21st century. That timetable has been moved up, alarmingly so. It will not be our great-grandchildren. It may not be our grandchildren. It may not even wait for our children, altho they will certainly suffer for our stupidity.

Our generation, us: we may be the victims of our own stupidity, greed, and fear.

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Only for Christians

By Capt. Fogg

You can laugh a bit and console yourself that it doesn't matter all that much if an Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice tells us the first Amendment only applies to Christians -- maybe even if you are like me, not a Christian. It's only Alabama, right?

They didn't bring the Koran over on the pilgrim ship, the Mayflower,

Justice Roy Moore announced to the mob at the Pastor for Life Luncheon. Maybe you'll remember that Jefferson owned one however and that he wasn't shy about warning us of religious tyranny. Maybe you'll remember Moore as the former justice who was removed from office for fighting to erect the Ten Commandments in the courthouse, but like that tumor you thought the chemo got rid of he came back two years later singing the same tune:

Let's get real. Let's learn our history. Let's stop playing games.

I would agree with that, but as we know, to the religious right, history is baked fresh every morning. The English colonists brought slaves, white and black, and Moore's ideological ancestors fought like hell to keep them, Bibles in hand.

Buddha didn't create us. Mohammad didn't create us. It's the god of the Holy Scriptures,

said Moore with the authority not granted him by anyone in particular, and grossly misrepresenting Jefferson and Madison and the U.S. Supreme Court with a stream of non sequitur he insisted that freedom of religion is only for Christians.

A newly-released video shows him expounding all this and worse in Jackson, Mississippi last January to a group called Pro-Life Mississippi. Of course it's hardly a game he's asking us to end, it's secular democracy, the pride of the age of Reason and Humanism, and like a stag at bay it's destined to be torn to ribbons and its head displayed on some courthouse wall. For nothing in our Constitution is as important, as hallowed by the blood of patriots, as the cracks, the loopholes, the weak spots that may just allow traitors and secessionist sons of the Confederacy to eviscerate it, hang it from its heels, bleed it and gut it like an animal to be sacrificed to his tyrannical, bloody-handed God.

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Monday, May 05, 2014

In public prayer case, the Supreme Court strikes another blow against American democracy

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The right-wing Republican majority on the Supreme Court has once again struck a blow against the very essence of American democracy, against the very idea of America itself.

When it's not handing democracy to the rich, effectively disenfranchising everyone else, or claiming that racial discrimination is no longer a problem, to name but two of its more prominent right-wing efforts of late, the Roberts Court, dominated by ideologues like Scalia but with the somewhat more pragmatic Kennedy often voting with the conservative majority, is tearing down the separation of church and state, that fundamental principle that guided the Founders and that is as essential as ever given fundamentalist efforts to theocratize America in stark contrast to its founding principles. And this effort was on display again today:

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a town in upstate New York did not violate the Constitution by starting its public meetings with a prayer from a "chaplain of the month" who was almost always Christian.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in a 5-to-4 decision that divided the court's more conservative members from its liberal ones, said the prayers were merely ceremonial. They were neither unduly sectarian nor likely to make members of other faiths feel unwelcome.

"Ceremonial prayer," he wrote, "is but a recognition that, since this nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond that authority of government to alter or define."

In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan said the town's practices could not be reconciled "with the First Amendment's promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share of her government."

Town officials in Greece, N.Y., near Rochester, said that members of all faiths, and atheists, were welcome to give the opening prayer. In practice, however, almost all of the chaplains were Christian. Some of their prayers were explicitly sectarian, with references, for instance, to "the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross."

Kennedy's argument isn't entirely crazy, but it makes less and less sense as you consider that what is just "ceremonial" from one perspective may be theocratic and proselytizing on the other, and it's that other perspective that is very much at the core of activist conservative efforts to turn America into a (right-wing) Christianist state.

What's more, offering the opportunity to minority groups (in this case Jews or atheists, mostly) to have their own prayers recited doesn't fix the problem of effectively granting primacy to one religion in particular -- and the fact that the prayers themselves weren't necessarily welcoming, as when they tout the primacy of Christianity and indeed of certain strains of Christianity, only proves that point. Really, how is a non-Christian supposed to feel welcome when a government opens its proceedings with a prayer that refers to "the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross"? Even if they wanted to offer their own prayer, how could non-Christians not feel excluded from their own government, from their own community, by their own fellow citizens?

No one is saying that organized religion, or spirituality generally, has no place in American life. While I personally abhor organized religion, what people choose to do in private, whatever "god" they choose to worship, is for the most part their own business, as long as no one gets hurt, as long as more fundamental rights are respected. But religion should have no place whatsoever in the public space except perhaps in some contexts when it is treated as history and anthropology -- it absolutely has no place where government, the self-governance of free and equal citizens, is considered. Just don't expect this deeply anti-American Supreme Court to defend what is fundamentally American.

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The end of the Teabaggers?

By Carl 

You may have blinked and missed it. At any rate, tomorrow will be a bellwether for this November, and 2016:

The race has been cast as yet another skirmish in the ongoing GOP civil war, pitting the establishment-backed Tillis against seven tea party challengers. It's true that Tillis has the support of prominent national Republicans -- including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- and the Chamber of Commerce.

But it would be too easy to frame a Tuesday victory for Tillis, if it happens, as a clean win for the newly emboldened Republican establishment. Tillis hasn't been forced to beat back a tea party challenge, because his opponents haven't put up much of a fight. They've also splintered conservative support.

He has two serious rivals for the nomination: Greg Brannon, a staunch libertarian tea party activist who wants to put U.S. currency back on the gold standard, and Mark Harris, a prominent Baptist pastor from Charlotte who spearheaded the 2012 passage of a constitutional amendment that strengthened the state's same-sex marriage ban. Like other insurgent Republican candidacies around the country this year, neither campaign has managed to stir the kind of grassroots passion that propelled so many tea party victories in 2010.

With memories of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock marked indelibly in the consciousness of the Republican Party – along with the "what if?" of two winnable Senate seats thrown away – the GOP establishment must be taking comfort in the fact that they've managed to ostracize and minimize the Teabaggers on this go around.

The follow up question, then, is "quo vadis?" Where are they going? [ed. note: I know, technically it's "quo eunt?" but...]

There's no place in the Democratic Party for them, and any third party bid will be doomed to irrelevance, as Duverger's Law comes into play, even with Koch and Adelson shoveling money into a Tea Party engine, at least at the beginning. They're businessmen. They'll stop the minute it becomes unprofitable.

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Sunday, May 04, 2014

The view from 90

Guest post by Robert Stein

Ed. note: A couple of months ago, my friend and fellow blogger Bob Stein turned 90. I meant to publish this wonderful post at the time, but, well, time got away from me and it's been a sporadic couple of months of blogging for me anyway.

It is, in any event, a timeless post, and I'm very happy to publish it today, belatedly. Bob has led an incredibly interesting life and he's seen some incredibly interesting things. What is truly encouraging (and amazing) is that as he looks not just back at America's and the world's messy history but out at the crazy world around him now, he retains a sense of hope and optimism that overrides doubt and despair. He sees the good, that is, even when it is hard to find.

I wish him all the best, and a (belated) happy birthday, from all of us here.

This is Bob's third guest post here at The Reaction, and the first since his reflections on the anniversary of JFK's assassination last November. (His first post for us was "A life in black and white: Personal reflections on race in America.") -- MJWS

Robert Stein has had a long career as an editor, publisher, media critic, and journalism teacher. A former chair of the American Society of Magazine Editors, he currently blogs at Connecting the Dots. 


On March 4, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated. It was my ninth birthday.

In April 1945, I was a 21-year-old foot soldier on the floor of a German farmhouse when someone shook me awake to whisper that FDR had died. 

Now, at 90, I am inevitably shaped by those years after a working lifetime as writer, editor and publisher trying to explain the world to others -- and myself.

The scenes around me today are filled with human folly, selfishness and shameless behavior, but that’s far from the whole story. My so-called Greatest Generation, which survived a Depression and World War, does not in retrospect seem so morally superior to those that succeeded it but only more limited in education, experience of the world and outlook.

Many of our virtues were rooted in ignorance: no TV, cable, computers, Internet, no electronics of any kind, only radios with music, soap operas and swatches of evening news lifted from newspapers (as a teenage copy boy, I wrote some of them.)

As a nation we were united, but in an innocence that also had its dark side -- racial ghettos, religious prejudice, rural isolation -- where only unseen white men, all Protestant, held power over our lives in government and business.

Women then lived no fuller a life than those in Nazi Germany: Kinder, Küche, Kirche (children, kitchen, church). Our mothers patrolled homes in house dresses, with only one exception.

Although we knew her as Mrs. Goldstein, nothing went with that matronly name, not the shimmer of clothes clinging to her trim body, or the beauty-parlor hair, the high-heeled shoes and face painted with makeup even in daytime, or the sweet perfume cloud that came into the living room in late afternoons when she kissed her son goodnight and dazzled the rest of us playing there with a cupid's bow smile on her way out.

She always seemed on the move to someplace exciting or, if my mother's mutterings could be believed, sinful. I had no idea what nafka meant, but Mrs. Goldstein gave our pre-teen senses a whiff of hope that the night life on movie screens existed somewhere in the real world.

Jump cut through decades: a World War; prosperous but Man-in-the-Grey-Flannel-Suit Fifties; JFK, the Youthquake, Civil Rights awakening and Women's Lib of the televised Sixties; a backlash of the Silent Majority and Watergate in the Nixon years; Reagan's "Morning in America" to paper over growing economic and political gulfs followed by Clinton's centrism and self-centeredness barely surviving Gingrich's loopy Contract with America; and then almost a decade of W's preemptive war and mindless tax cuts to bring us into the Obama years of almost total Tea Party collapse of the civility that held us together all that time, with racism showing its naked face.

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