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Monday, April 30, 2007
(11:57 AM) | Stephen:
Ceremonial Deism

My contribution to the Blog Against Theocracy focused upon the experience that ancient Israel had with their desire to have a king instead of being ruled by judges such as Samuel. God, speaking through his representative Samuel, relented and chose a king for them, but not without warning them what a king would do to them, their families and their fortunes.

Saul was the first king of Israel. Samuel, however, kept his role as the mouthpiece of God, instructing Saul in how he was to rule and act. One example of this is found in 1 Samuel 15, where Samuel tells "go and completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation—men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys.”

So Saul attacks the Amalekite nation and kills all the men, women, children and babies. The best of the cattle, sheep, goats, camels and donkeys, however, he keeps. Saul is chastised by Samuel and punished, and eventually loses his kingdom to David.

What Saul did with the animals made a lot of sense politically. He increased his own wealth and that of Israel. He certainly won points with his soldiers; plundering loot was, and still is, an important part of winning a battle. Anyway, as Saul told Samuel, he was going to sacrifice [some of] the animals to God. Saul was perfectly willing to comply with the form of his religion. But there were pressures he faced that some prophet/judge like Samuel either didn't know or care about.

That's exactly what Samuel warned the ancient Israelites would happen. A kingship is a purely political position. Those places, such as ancient Egypt, where the pharaoh was considered a god managed to combine politics and religion by making the religious aspect of the pharaoh's position subservient to the religious position.

But this was unacceptable in Israel, and Saul at least had to show that he truly followed the forms of their religious belief and practice. However, Saul made his religion just as subservient to his political needs as the Egyptians.

This is what's happening in the United States today regarding the use of "God" in our Pledge of Allegiance, on our money, and in Indiana at least, on license plates. In fact, Ted Olson, arguing in his capacity as Solicitor General of the United States, argued before the Supreme Court that the presence of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is "ceremonial deism."

"Ceremonial deism," of course, is another way of saying "meaningless." It doesn't mean anything to have "under God" in the Pledge or "In God We Trust" on our money. Certainly it isn't meant to imply that everyone in this country has an obligation toward God. Those are just some words, inserted into our pledge and stamped on our money beginning in the 1950s, a bit of propaganda to help remind Americans of one of the ways that this country was different than the Soviet Union. There was no official policy of atheism in this country, no way. We can believe in God if we want, and we can even state that on our money!

We've kept these meaningless words on our money and in our Pledge because they comfort certain members of our society. It helps some groups make their case that the USA is, or should be, a Christian nation.

Yet while it is the official position of the government of the United States of America that these words are utterly meaningless, the truth is far different. However, the danger these words pose is not that the government is lending its authority and approval to expressions of religious faith. That these words are meaningless in the context of real religious belief and experience is at least true. No one's faith is going to be strengthened or informed by "under God" or "In God We Trust."

No, the danger comes from the other direction. These phrases are used to give the actions of the United States government the approval of God himself. Have we been torturing people, holding them without charges, killing civilians, prosecuting innocent people? Don't worry, we are a "nation under God." Does our money, both public and private, go to prop up repressive and corrupt regimes like those in Saudi Arabia or China? Don't worry, for "In God We Trust." Do we put non-violent drug offenders in prison next to murderers and rapists, do we refuse to provide hungry children with food, do we ignore the plight of the homeless? So what? We're a "nation under God." Do we base our entire way of life on the backs of peasants the world over, people who are brutally oppressed for the sake of our clothes and produce in our groceries? Who cares? For "In God We Trust."

Anyone who really wants to commit blasphemy might consider uploading a video to YouTube that consists of them holding up a dollar bill and stating plainly, "I have no problem with anything about this."

Saturday, April 28, 2007
(3:07 PM) | Stephen:
The State Of Things

Let's do a quick run-through of all the allegations, accusations, investigations and indictments that have been flying out of the White House and Congress these last few weeks, shall we?

First up, we have the DC Madame's first casualty, Randall Tobias, who until yesterday was the director of USAID and US Foreign Assistance at the State Department. As Josh Marshall notes, Tobias is using the "Haggard Defense: no sex, just massages." An appropriate snarky comment can be supplied, I am sure, by the readers.

Marshall's journalistic empire - for which we should all be incredibly grateful - has also been busy informing us of how the various voter fraud charges in Wisconsin, Missouri, New Mexico and other swing states have been trumped up and pursued by US Attorneys, whether willingly or as a result of pressure from the White House Karl Rove. These investigations, of course, have been placed and timed to coincide with close elections so that minorities - who favor Democrats - would be disenfranchised. These non-existent problems with voter fraud have also been used to justify the various Voter ID laws popping up in state legislatures lately, and the DOJ's Civil Rights Division has been all too happy to put its stamp of approval on these measures clearly designed to disproportionately affect poor and minority voters.

Let's see, how about the continuing saga of Jack Abramoff? It's hard to keep up with just this, but so far Representatives John Doolittle and Tom Feeney, along with former Representative Tom Delay and former Senator Conrad Burns are all under investigation for their involvement in Abramoff's illegal activities. I keep thinking I've missed someone here, so let me know in comments, would you?

Moving on, we've got violations of the Hatch Act:

Here's the scheme, as revealed over the past month: Rove and his deputies traveled to various agencies throughout the government, lecturing management there about Republicans' political prospects. . . . .But there was a line to be drawn: no commands were to be given -- because such a directive would be a blatant violation of the Hatch Act, which forbids the use of government resources for political ends.

On the contrary, the government officials receiving the briefing were supposed to get the hint -- as Tom Hamburger reported, "employees said they got a not-so-subtle message about helping endangered Republicans."

Arizona Representative Rick Renzi has been under investigation for an illegal landswap and kickbacks funneled through a family company. And it's tied to the US Attorney investigations, since we now know that one of Renzi's aides contacted USA Paul Charlton about the investigation. Soon after that call, the FBI and DOJ investigators were hindered by all sorts of obstacles put in the way of their investigation. Also, when approval was finally given for a wiretap, the story was leaked to the press, which then negated whatever good the wiretap may have been. However, all that was apparently not enough for Charlton to keep his job, since he was fired about a month later.

And let us not forget the illegal use of RNC email addresses for official WH correspondence, with four years of Rove emails accidentally deleted and the fact that none of the most senior members of this administration seem to use email at all.

Journalistic conventions would say that right now, with allegations flying, subpoenas arriving daily and investigators hardly able to keep up with ever-expanding criminal probes, the Bush Administration is "under siege." But that's not really true. We are under siege from an administration and political party that are continually lobbing more and more information at us - so much so that it makes me wonder if this is an intentional strategy to so overwhelm Congress and the American people that we are paralyzed.

With all that is happening now, will Halliburton ever be held accountable for over-charging us, for providing substandard food to our soldiers? Will we ever find out what has happened to the billions of dollars our government has lost in Iraq, let alone the billions more that have been spent indiscriminately?

I'm certain the worthies reading this blog post have not fallen into this trap, but I'm suffering from so much scandal-overload from this group that I actually don't spend much time considering warrantless wiretapping, extraordinary rendition, the secret CIA prisons which, about one week or so after Bush declared them empty, were open for business again.

Our Executive Branch looks increasingly like some 3rd-world dictatorship, offering us nothing but naked grabs for power and unceasing corruption. It's interesting to note how many of the Congressional investigations lead back to the Bush White House. The modern, totally corrupted GOP is the proverbial onion, this one diseased and rotten, with each soggy, stinking layer revealing another appalling grotesquerie, each one leading to another until finally we reach this onion's putrescent core, and find Karl Rove's malevolent visage grinning back at us.

It used to be funny to hear and read - especially in comment threads - people's contorted logic trying to defend George Bush and the modern GOP. But now, with our Constitution trashed, our reputation in tatters, our money wasted, our soldiers dead and wounded, it's just sad and discouraging.

Over 3,000 American soldiers dead, but John Edwards is a big hypocrite because he has a big house! Thousands of American troops wounded yet denied full disability benefits, but Al Gore has a big house too! New Orleans is still completely destroyed, but William Jefferson had money in his freezer! The president claims the authority to eavesdrop on you, take you off the street, hold you in a secret prison indefinitely, torture you to extract information, then try you in a secret court without ever telling you that it's happening, let alone grant you access to a lawyer or a jury of your peers, b-b-b-but Bill Clinton!

That's the worst part of all this. Millions of people have been duped by the modern GOP, and instead of rising up to hold them accountable, they now actively participate in deceiving themselves. They intentionally choose to believe the talking points distributed through the rightwing media, because it would damage their God damned pride to face the truth. And long after George Bush and Karl Rove are merely unhappy memories, this nation will still be stuck with those who would rather use a lie to soothe their troubled psyche than stand up like grownups and face the truth.

cross-posted at Ezra's place

Friday, April 27, 2007
(3:33 PM) | Stephen:
My Version Of Soaps And Bon-Bons

My son is about to fall asleep for a nap, and I just gave my daughter 2 Hershey's Kisses and one of those "fun sized" Laffy Taffy bars as a bribe to go upstairs and play in her room. Now I'm going to play Starcraft.

Sue me.

Thursday, April 26, 2007
(1:16 PM) | Stephen:
Taking Women Seriously

So here's the video of Michelle Malkin that's getting so much attention:

I agree that it's hardly serious commentary and even juvenile in execution; however, there is plenty of mockery that occurs on liberal blogs, so the idea of a video like this is not so ridiculous as people are saying.

All that aside, though, what really bothers me about this - about every mention of Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Ann Althouse, Pam of Atlas Shrugs, etc. - is the focus upon Malkin's looks, her sexual appeal or lack thereof. The same thing happens with all women bloggers, all women pundits, all women who occupy any type of public position. When Garance Franke-Ruta was on the receiving end of Ann Althouse's complete meltdown on Bloggingheads.tv, many of the comments made about it were about how attractive Frank-Ruta is, how Althouse doesn't compare to her in that department, etc.

Now, I have noticed that the number of blog posts dedicated to a particular woman's physical characteristics have gone down, at least among the blogs that I read. It's nice to no longer have to slog through repetitive speculation that Ann Coulter used to be - or still is - a man. If I recall correctly, I haven't seen any cracks recently about various women having a penis or scrotum either, which is nice. Respect is respect, no matter who the subject is.

But blog comments are an entirely different thing. Yes, I understand that bloggers should not be held responsible for the content in the comments, but as a frequent commenter on several blogs, I believe I have the right to talk about this. Whenever a female rightwing pundit is the subject of a post - especially if it's Michelle Malkin - the comment thread will fill up with people discussing her looks and whether or not the commenter would deign to have sex with her. It's interesting to note the number of people who declare quite forcefully that Michelle Malkin in particular is ugly, because Ms. Malkin is a very attractive lady. She's pretty, and it's ok to think that about someone even if they disagree with your political views.

What's not ok is to make her looks the substance of your comment or even blog post, because I know that those posts still happen. And what really bothers me about all this focus upon a woman's looks - including, remember, good liberals like Garance Franke-Ruta or the women at Feministing - is that it comes from the exact same place that produces all the anti-feminist/anti-woman crap we can find all over the wingnutosphere:


Being a liberal doesn't provide one with a clean slate. Even being a feminist doesn't mean that one is immune to all of our society's ideas and pressures. And in spite of all the progress that has been made, one of this society's greatest fears is a woman that speaks her mind. So when people like Coulter and Malkin say things with which we disagree - things even that are damaging to other women - we question their femininity, we assume that some man (Jesse Malkin) is the one actually doing the talking. No woman could say such a thing, we think, and completely miss the irony of our words echoing those of the rightwing sexists. To accuse Ann Coulter of being mannish or Michelle Malkin of being controlled by her husband doesn't actually insult them. Doing so insults all women, everywhere, even those we think we support.

As I have pointed out, liberal women are not immune to this. Yes, Garance Franke-Ruta is very pretty. But she is incredibly smart, she writes very well, she carries herself, at least insofar as being the recipient of an Althouse meltdown is concerned, with dignity and poise. And because of that, she is threatening in our culture. So good liberals focus upon her looks, because that is firstly, what we are supposed to focus upon with women, and secondly, because it allows us to diminish her and her abilities. Franke-Ruta has shown no reluctance to address the failings of Democrats and progressives in general, and she's right more often than she is wrong, to say the least. She's far less threatening, though, if in response to one of her incisive, insightful articles our thoughts consist of "Oh, how pretty she is!" instead of really engaging her ideas.

Liberalism has as its essence the idea that all are equally deserving of respect, dignity and justice. So long as liberals themselves are willing to reinforce sexist attitudes and behaviors, we will never attain our goals. For all the people who oppose full equality for all, for all the ways in which they sabotage our efforts and goals, we would be a much more formidable force if we would clean up our own act.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007
(1:49 PM) | Stephen:
Fundamentalism And Contempt for Life

Update: This is an ongoing conversation. Melissa responds here, and Mustang Bobby adds some valuable thoughts as well. Look especially for his final sentences. Reading stuff that good is a nice start to a cloudy, chilly late-April day.

In the comments to this post at Shakespeare's Sister, Melissa had this to say:
by his logic, that means atheists consider life much more valuable—since it’s all they’ve got.

Which, btw, I’ve found to be true, when you’re putting atheists up against fundies of any religion, all of whom seem to share a particular contempt for life, despite protestations to the contrary.

At issue, in case you didn't follow the links first and then come back to read the rest of my post - and why didn't you? - are the remarks of one Lt. Col. Kauzlarich, who suggests very plainly says that the reason the Tillman family has been unhappy with the way the Army handled Pat Tillman's death is because they aren't Christians. It's not because the Army lied and destroyed evidence so they could manufacture a heroic story. Oh no, not that. It's not because they have a commitment to the truth. It's because they aren't Christians, which for Kauzlarich means that they don't have anything to look forward to after death.

Often Christians will claim that Atheists don't value human life, because they view the human race as a collection of biological processes that accidentally came together in the right way to produce, you know, us. But Melissa is correct; Atheists tend to place a pretty high value upon this life. Many Atheists are turned off from religion because they believe religion places an inordinate amount of emphasis upon what happens after we die. That's the basis of one of the ethical arguments against religion, for if all that matters is the afterlife, why should anyone care about this life?

Of course, religions all place ethical requirements upon people for this life and tie them to particular outcomes after death. But fundamentalism - in any religion - places doctrine above ethics and raises particular practices higher than others. Christian fundamentalism, as we know it today, started to coalesce as a result of various controversies at Princeton Theological Seminary in the 1920's. Of course, the movement had been building for quite a while. American Fundamentalism is not the same as the Holiness and Revivalist movements, but they are all closely connected.

This movement was highly ethical. Alcohol, tobacco, dancing, motion pictures and of course the accumulation of wealth were all to be avoided. But as movements do, this one started to change. The denomination of my birth, while I was growing up, would never countenance watching a movie in a theater. Now youth pastors organize movie nights. When my 7th grade PE class covered square dancing, I was sent to the library to write reports because my parents* wouldn't allow me to participate. Since then, my wife and I have had two Senior Pastors whose children actually would periodically miss Sunday services because of their commitments to their dance teams.

Some of this, like the examples I just gave, is fine. The movement has grown up in some ways, recognizing that a person's internal condition is much more important than certain ways of behaving. Another striking example, though, is the movement's attitude toward wealth. In no other aspect of life has the fundamentalist movement embraced the idea that the status of one's beliefs and "heart" is more important than outward behavior. A typical Sunday School class on wealth will ask a question such as, "Can a person own a Porsche and still be a Christian?" A hundred years ago, the answer would have been a resounding "NO" and the pastor would have spoken to the person asking the question about their spiritual condition. Now the answer is almost always, "yes!" See, a person can have as much stuff as they want, can spend their money how they want, can be as generous or selfish as they desire with their possessions, and be just fine, as long as "Jesus and not money is lord over their life."

Once that type of idea takes hold at all the conversion from an ethical faith to a doctrinal faith is complete. It is at that point where we see the truth of Melissa's comment, that fundamentalists are capable of showing a high level of contempt for this life, for the Creation and the human beings who inhabit it. When we are freed from the ethical obligations that Christ set before us, we can justify pre-emptive war, torture, cutting programs that help the poor (while "faith-based" programs are just as needy as before the tax cuts), denying simple civil rights to fellow citizens, and even picketing soldiers' funerals with signs claiming that God hates America and its soldiers because of homosexuality.

William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury in the early 1940's, said that "Christianity is the most materialist of all the world's religions." By this he meant that Christianity placed the highest priority of any religion upon the physical, present world and the people that inhabit it. We can debate whether this was ever actually true, but he is on pretty solid theological and scriptural ground here. If Christians take the Bible seriously at all, we are faced with massive obligations to treat the world and its people with not just respect, but love and compassion. All of this is the handiwork of God, and thereby is given a dignity and even righteousness that we dare not forget or deny.

So it is the Army's Christians who should have led the charge to get the truth out about Pat Tillman's death. It is the nation's Christians who should be showing everyone the way on how to treat Creation, how to deal with all peoples with respect, how to hold criminals accountable without resorting to behavior that is worse than the crime with which they are charged.

It would be one thing if Melissa simply believed that fundamentalists show a contempt for this life. I could dismiss that easily. The problem is that she's right.

*My parents are hardly fundamentalists, nor have they ever been. It was just what people in that church did. At the time, it didn't even really bother me, because I was part of that church and way of thinking as well.

(11:26 AM) | Stephen:
Abortion, Again

Via Shakes, this is why abortion is not, cannot be a black-and-white issue. DBB shares with us an intensely personal story about he and his wife losing their baby at 10 weeks, in a serious enough situation that his wife almost died as well. There had been problems with their pregnancy from the beginning, and they had chosen to stick with it, so this is not some screed written by a pro-choice maniac.

The government simply cannot legislate for these situations. Only a profoundly deluded person could believe that a group of legislators, backed up by nine lawyers, can take into account the myriad of circumstances in which people find themselves. Would you have deprived their 17-month-old daughter her own mother for the sake of your pro-life stance? Is forcing the doctors to wait until there was conclusive proof of the mother's life being in danger, thereby sentencing some women to death, actually a pro-life position?

If you want to argue that some lives are more valuable than others, then let's argue that. But no one should be able to stake out for themselves the "pro-life" position when their legislative goals will result in deaths.

(10:25 AM) | Stephen:
Melamine And Governmental Philosophy

The problem of melamine poisoning in our food supply just keeps growing. The FDA is starting an investigation into it, looking at plant-based protein sources for both livestock and direct human consumption. As usual, litbrit has the latest, so be sure to visit her site to read up on it.

I, however, want to take this in a bit of a different direction. This ongoing problem highlights, again, how the basic Democratic attitude toward government is the most sensible. Contrary to caricatures coming out of Grover Norquist's fevered imagination, the Democratic Party has no real interest in a "nanny state" or in pushing the federal and state governments into the intimate details of everyone's lives.

If you've been paying attention, then you must realize that it's the Republicans who long for the nanny state, who set up the government as the arbiter of your morality for you. The government will tell you when and with whom you will have a relationship and the type of values - that is to say, fundamentalist Christian theology - your children will be taught in school.

But that aside, if the FDA did not exist, there would be no recourse for us in this situation. If the FDA did not exist, we never would have found out about the problem in the first place, for it was only the threat of legal consequences that forced Menu Foods, first, and now the many other pet-food companies and as we're finding out, pork suppliers to admit that this poison is present in the food.

But what about the Magic Market Pixie Dust? Certainly the awesome power of the market could have done the same? Well, no. Menu Foods supplied gluten to dozens of supposedly competing pet food brands. So one could switch from brand to brand and still make one's pets sick and watch them die. After an incredibly long process, the consumers who are distributed all over the USA would have someday recognized that all these brands had the same problem, and after another long process those brands would have felt a financial pinch large enough to change their practices. How many pets should die in the process, how much money should we, as consumers, have to spend in order to find that stuff out?

Now that melamine is known to be in the human food supply, we need to ask ourselves if a similarly long and clunky process is a desirable way to deal with these things. If we still lived in a society where I got my meat from Rancher Bob and my grain from Farmer John, and if everyone came to Farmer Stephen for their vegetables, then there wouldn't be a need for something like the FDA. If I found that Farmer Bob was poisoning my meat in because the compound he was using made his cows bigger or the meat redder, then I could deal with it directly.

But do any of you actually know where the meat in your grocery store comes from? If you read food labels, have you been mistakenly assuming that the corn starch and wheat gluten that increasingly finds their way into ingredient lists come from Kansas wheatfields or Iowa cornfields? Our food is becoming less and less like actual, you know, "food" and more like conglomerations of various chemicals and modified food components that are artificially shaped and flavored to resemble the real thing that we used to find in our grocery stores.

The huge "food" companies do this because it makes them more money. Removing as many naturally occurring characteristics as possible makes for a uniform product, so that consumers can get the same thing no matter where they are. And one hardly needs to assume malevolence on their part to see how decisions that harm consumers can be justified in the name of profit. It's very easy for people to downplay the risks, especially if other people are the ones who bear them.

The huge "food" companies are able to do this because of years of Republican rule over our government. This is the direct result of the GOP's blind faith in Magic Market Pixie Dust, the direct result of valuing corporate profits over people. Bush and his rubber-stamp Congress spent almost 6 years undoing every regulation they could get their hands on. They've placed loyal political appointees in oversight positions, industry flacks and hacks in regulatory positions, and defunded important government agencies tasked with the very type of oversight whose lack has allowed our pet and human food supplies to be poisoned.

To at least the modern GOP "personal responsibility" means that you're personally responsible for someone else's mistakes, incompetence and criminal activity. Remember that the next time Grover Norquist or some other faux-libertarian is bloviating on TV or in an opinion column about the need to shrink the federal government.

(10:12 AM) | Stephen:
Parallel Universe Thought Experiment

Here's a little Wednesday morning exercise. First, follow this link to Americablog, where you will find a clip of Laura Bush being interviewed. In this interview the First Lady talks about how she and the President are suffering because of the war in Iraq - "no one" is suffering as much as they are.

Ok, now that you're back, let's consider what Atrios wrote this morning:
Consider, if you will, a parallel universe in which Bill Clinton presided over a deeply unpopular war in Iraq which was increasingly opposed by members of the Republican party. Thousands of US troops had died, and many thousands more had life-altering injuries. And, then, First Lady Hillary Clinton said, on a popular morning show, that over the course of the war no one had suffered more then she and her husband had.
What would be Rush Limbaugh's reaction? How about Bill O'Reilly? For that matter, what would be the reaction of those great liberal bastions like The New York Times or The Washington Post?

How would you react to it?

Monday, April 23, 2007
(1:33 PM) | Stephen:
Guess Who Is Exploiting The Shootings At VA Tech

It's not NBC, folks. Nope, that honor goes to Don Wildman and his American Family Association, who want to sell you this video:

See, Cho Seung-Hui wasn't spanked, apparently. Never mind that he was 9 years old when they moved to the USA, and in South Korea corporal punishment in school can mean a backhand across the face as much as a smack on the rear end. I'd say that Cho got spanked in school at least until he was in 4th grade. I have no idea what his parents' views on the subject are.

But aside from the obsession with hitting children that we find in groups like the AFA, what really gets me is this idea that "God isn't allowed in schools." That is a lie. An outright fabrication, an intentional deception in order to make people afraid so they will open up their wallets. I can tell you that God most certainly is present in our public schools, in the person of every teacher and student who believes in God. For that matter, actual Christian theology teaches that God would be in the public schools even if there was some rule forbidding him or if every teacher and student was an Atheist. How small and sad this god of the American Family Association. How totally unrelated to the God we find in the Bible.

After blaming Madeline Murray O'Hare, again, for all of this, as well as Benjamin Spock, the video goes on to mention, and I quote, "someone [who] said, 'teachers and principles better not discipline our children when they misbehave.'" Oh, look, another lie. At least with O'Hare and Spock they have actual people who said actual things. But this is just made up, another imaginary boogeyman for the AFA to attack, the very definition of a strawman argument. No one ever said that, and if "someone" did, the schools wouldn't listen. Making it so that teachers are unable to hit children is not the same as making it so there is no discipline in schools.

On to abortions. "Let's let our daughters have abortions if they want." Yes, we'll just let all these girls who really, really want to undergo a surgical procedure go ahead and run down to the 24-hour abortion drive-thru clinic. What kind of world do these people inhabit that they think girls want to have abortions?

Also, did you notice how they blame Bill Clinton for child pornography on the Internet? That's great, just great. And of course the AFA has made up a constituency for the idea that child pornography is "free speech" even though no such group exists, even though all child pornography is illegal.

Next up on their litany of horrors, "the entertainment industry said, 'Let's make movies and TV shows that promote profanity, violence, and illicit sex," and all the states of the Bible Belt said, "let's watch those shows and ensure those movies' profitability while we hypocritically condemn their content."

On one point, though, we can agree. The video ends with "we reap what we sow." How true. So long as groups like the AFA sow hate, fear and discord, then so long will all of us be forced to reap their bitter harvest.

(11:42 AM) | Stephen:
Mississippi Should Not Be Our Example

I've said this before, but it bears repeating what with the news on infant mortality in Mississippi: pro-choice is the actual pro-life position. Those who call themselves "pro-life" are merely anti-abortion/anti-choice.

Barney Frank, God bless him, has said that for Republicans, life begins at conception and ends at birth. That's pretty much true, as far as the policy direction of the party goes. In Mississippi, Haley Barbour has made good on promises to scale back Medicaid. When we don't provide medical services to babies who otherwise will not receive them, then the infant mortality rate is going to go up. It's just that simple.

Now, if people want to argue that a higher infant mortality rate is acceptable if the "benefit" is lower taxes, then fine. Let's have that argument. If people want to put other services into place that provide the same services that Medicaid does but doesn't use tax money, fine. Let's see them. But spare me the ridiculous idea that legal abortion is an American Holocaust while having the 2nd highest infant mortality rate* in the developed world is acceptable.

It's the same thing with the recent Supreme Court decision on the partial-birth abortion ban. Anti-choicers have flooded the country with the idea that this is a ban on late-term abortions, when it is nothing of the sort. Late-term abortions are already illegal in every state, with varying levels of exceptions. The Supreme Court decision was about an abortion procedure that is used only to protect the life and/or health of a mother when a pregnancy has gone dangerously wrong. Partial-birth abortions, which can take place as early as 11 weeks, are often the best way to ensure that a woman can get pregnant again after requiring - it's never done for convenience - an abortion.

What this means is simple. Thanks to the anti-choice movement, there will be women in this country who will lose their ability to bear children through no fault of their own. They will still need to have abortions, because they will be in danger, so this stupid ban will reduce the number of abortions by zero. But I suppose it doesn't matter to anti-choicers that women will suffer physically and emotionally from this ban, that couples will find themselves unable to bear children because of it. All that matters is that some imaginary woman will not be able to have an imaginary procedure, so that an imaginary child - one without real-world deformities - will be able to enjoy an imaginary childhood in an imaginary home with plenty of access to good imaginary food, affordable imaginary healthcare and top-notch imaginary schools.

*Who has the highest rate? Latvia, where they have 6 deaths per 1,000. We have 5 per 1,000 and we're tied with Poland, Hungary, Malta and Slovakia. As far as being a newborn, being born in the world's richest country, the bulwark of democracy and freedom, is somewhat similar to being born in a nation that spent decades under the oppressive thumb of the old Soviet Union.

Saturday, April 21, 2007
(9:31 PM) | Stephen:
Soon Pet Food Will Be The Only Safe Food

If you're interested in the melamine-poisoning scandal in pet food, there's a new development. You should go here to read about it.

If you're not interested in this, you really should be, because the new development is that melamine is absolutely, definitely in the human food supply. Here's that link again.

I'm currently taking bets from anyone that wants to wager that that particular hog farm in California is the only one affected. The odds, you should know, are 1,000,000,000 to 1.

This is what happens when corporations are allowed to pursue profit without proper oversight. As a liberal, I want regulated markets. I have no interest in communism or socialism or any other bugaboo, but I similarly have no interest in placing the welfare of my family in the hands of people for whom there is no greater good than the increase of their own bank accounts.

Friday, April 20, 2007
(4:43 PM) | Stephen:
Ha-Ha John McCain

I'll leave it to others to really lay into John McCain for his dumb "bomb Iran" joke. What I'd like to point out is how even just a few weeks ago McCain was still the front-runner, the candidate to beat. Some people, though, were able to recognize early on that McCain would simply play to form and bomb his own presidential campaign.

At this rate, he isn't even going to last until January, let alone beyond Super Tuesday.

(3:23 PM) | Stephen:
Friday Funny

You'd think that with the power to solve all these problems, he wouldn't need to resort to a newspaper advertisement.

Have you found the perfect outdoor spot for your wedding, but you're afraid it might get rained out? Do you want all the symbolism of a church wedding, but you're not a member anywhere? Don't worry, just rent the inflatable church! Imagine the reaction to the high-quality, lifelike inflatable candles and crosses. Let your friends and family marvel over the beautiful "stained glass" vinyl windows!

(10:26 AM) | Stephen:
Not All Protectionism Is Bad

Read this post by litbrit. Do it! Do it now!

Our pet food has been intentionally poisoned by Chinese suppliers in order to boost their profits. Now we have seen the poison melamine enter the human food supply as well.

Billions of our tax dollars are spent every year to subsidize our nation's farmers. I understand that there's a lot of problems with that process, and that rich landowners and corporations are getting subsidies they don't need. However, there are many farmers who support their families only because of federal subsidies. We're paying people to not work part of their land, while American companies are importing poisoned food from other countries. We think we're getting good prices for our pet food and, it appears now, our pork products. But we're paying far more than we think. We're using our tax dollars to support hardworking families, and increasingly we're watching our pets get sick and die because of the unrelenting focus upon corporate profits, profits, profits.

Will we need to watch our own families get sick and die over this before we take action to stop this deplorable practice? American wheat in American food, people. It's safe, it's way more environmentally sound (we don't use chemicals other countries do), and it allows our fellow citizens the dignity of work over welfare. I'm not some xenophobe or something. But American farmers can provide this product better and we can put our tax dollars to better use than farm subsidies. This isn't a "liberal" or "conservative" thing. And it's not anti-Chinese - though it is anti-Chinese companies that poison food for profits.

I've written my newspaper, my Senators and my Representative. I suggest you do the same.

Thursday, April 19, 2007
(10:18 AM) | Stephen:
Scoring Points With A Massacre

So Dinesh D'Souza has let loose once again, and once again what he says is easily turned on its head and made to accomplish the exact opposite of what he intended.

D'Souza decided that 2 days after the shootings at VA Tech would be a good time for a bit of religious triumphalism, saying
Notice something interesting about the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings? Atheists are nowhere to be found. Every time there is a public gathering there is talk of God and divine mercy and spiritual healing. Even secular people like the poet Nikki Giovanni use language that is heavily drenched with religious symbolism and meaning.
Except that Nikki Giovanni really didn't say anything all that religious. The following are her remarks, in full:
We are Virginia Tech. We are sad today and we will be sad for quite awhile. WE are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning. We are Virginia Tech. We are strong enough to know when to cry and sad enough to know we must laugh again. We are Virginia Tech. We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did not deserve it but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, but neither do the invisible children walking the night to avoid being captured by a rogue army. Neither does the baby elephant watching his community be devastated for ivory; neither does the Appalachian infant in the killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy. We are Virginia Tech. The Hokier Nation embraces our own with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong and brave and innocent and unafraid. We are better than we think, not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imagination and the possibility we will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears, through all this sadness. We are the Hokies. We will prevail, we will prevail. We are Virginia Tech.
I have no idea how D'Souza thinks that is "drenched with religious symbolism." Aside from that, though, is the idea that now is the time to score points on behalf of God. Now is the time, for D'Souza, to assert the superiority of religious belief over Atheism, because after a man murdered 32 people, many of the victims' family members and friends were seen praying.

Shakespeare's Sister says that these events make
“Where is Christianity when bad things happen?” a fair question. And I’d add: Is “a public gathering [to] talk of God and divine mercy and spiritual healing” really the best D’Souza’s Christianity can do? Gee, if that’s the best that D’Souza’s Christianity has to offer us, I think we need something more than D’Souza’s Christianity.
This is true. But not only that, this is the question that should be on the mind of every believer in the wake of this tragedy. Where is God in this? Where is Christianity? No matter how developed your theodicy, how complete your system of defenses of God and religious belief in response to tragedies like this, if you believe at all then you are obligated to ask these questions, again, now and every time something like this happens.

My answer is that I don't know. Oh, I've got my own systems, my own ideas and beliefs. But they are small and weak in the face of this, in the face of all evil. Sometimes atheism simply makes more sense than belief. Perhaps if I were a better Christian I would have something to say to this, something that would convince people like Shakespeare's Sister - who I respect a great deal and consider a friend, so this is not intended to be combative - that the VA Tech shootings really do show the superiority of religious belief.

I'm not that good of a Christian. But I'm good enough, or perhaps just wise enough, to know that I'm not up to the task, and therefore will not make the attempt. If only D'Souza would do the same.

(9:38 AM) | Stephen:
Restricting Our Freedoms

Partial-birth abortion is not a procedure that is done for convenience. It is not a procedure that is done only at the end of fetal development - it can be used as early as 12 weeks, way before a fetus is viable. Partial-birth abortion is done only when it is medically necessary, only when something terribly wrong is happening with the pregnancy, only when it's necessary for the safety and continued life of the mother.

So the Supreme Court just banned a procedure. They didn't lay down a new time limit, they didn't make a decision about viability. Nine lawyers took it upon themselves to make a decision about a medical procedure. And there will be women, now denied this procedure, who will find themselves unable to bear any more children - yes, it's true, people who get abortions do not hate children, are not murderers, and often are trying to have a family. Is it the woman's fault if she delivers a deformed, stillborn baby? Should this woman who wants to have a family not have access to a procedure that could preserve her ability to conceive and bear future children?

Five lawyers on the Supreme Court, acting in concert with Congress and the President, have decided that forcing women to sacrifice their ability to conceive again and even causing the death of some women is a fine price to pay to satisfy religious conservatives. And there will not be even one child born as a result of this ban.

That's why I don't like to call the anti-choice crowd "pro-life." They aren't. They're anti-choice. They want to make abortion illegal. They want to get rid of contraceptives. They want to use abstinence "education" to lie about condom failure rates, about STD's and issues like depression in teen girls. The last thing that people who support abstinence "education" want is for teenagers to be able to make choices.

Let me also tie this in to the most recent fuss over what Kos has said. He's been taken to task, even accused of some sort of weird conspiracy to remove pro-choice Democrats and even Republicans from office and replace them with anti-choicers. He supported Bob Casey! He criticized NARAL for their support of Lincoln Chafee and Lieberman!

Well, yeah. Because Lieberman held in his hands the ability to stop the Alito nomination in its tracks. But he didn't. He sent Alito's name to the full Senate knowing that he would be approved, knowing what his presence on the Supreme Court would mean. And if another Supreme dies or retires while Bush is in office, if we had a Lieberman-proof majority, there'd be nothing to worry about. Democrats could block every rightwing judicial thug Bush sends their way. But as it is, it would take difficult and politically damaging maneuvering on Reid's part to try and keep the Supreme Court from being able to completely destroy any semblance of reproductive choice in this country.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007
(10:16 AM) | Stephen:
More Thoughts On VA Tech Because It's Inescapable

According to this article, the family of Cho Seung-Hui moved to the US because they were having trouble making a living in Korea. They figured to have a better chance of making money here than there, certainly a common sentiment. That Cho's writings complained of "rich kids" 14 years after moving to the US implies that his family didn't meet their goals, or at least not to their own satisfaction.

What's interesting is the reaction over in Korea. President Roh Moo-Hyun has apologized 3 times and counting, and various levels of the Korean government have sent letters to their counterparts in the US government expressing sadness and shame - yes, shame - that the killer who left that country as a child is ethnically Korean and still a technical citizen. The above-linked article quotes a worker at a shipping company as saying, "it's a tragic incident. But to find out that he is a Korean, I am ashamed and confused."

I've mentioned this before, but when we lived in Korea there was a nationwide manhunt going on, with daily updates in the papers, posters everywhere. I asked what the fugitive had done, and was told that he had committed murder. It wasn't even of Korea's version of a blond woman. Violent crime just isn't common there.

But that's not really what's driving Korea's reaction to this. When we filled out our applications to teach English at the university, we had to provide information not only about ourselves, but about our families. I had to list my parents' names, ages, education and occupations. Same for my siblings and their spouses, and they wanted to know their children's names and ages. Completely illegal stuff in the US, of course, but in Korea a person doesn't stand alone. No one is "self-made" there. Stephen as Stephen wasn't applying for anything. Stephen the child of an engineer and teacher, the youngest of 5 children, Stephen the uncle and Stephen the husband was applying for a job there.

Cho Seung-Hui, in the eyes of Koreans, didn't walk into those dorm rooms and classes simply as Cho Seung-Hui. Here in America we might call him a loner, but that type of description really doesn't exist in Korea. Cho Seung-Hui the son, the Korean walked around that campus shooting innocent people.

The Korea Herald's editorial on the subject put it this way:
The slayings were a crime committed by a member of the Korean community, one rotten apple. But the savage act was not sponsored by the Korean community or the Korean state. Nonetheless, there is no denying that the shocking incident will taint the good image that the Korean community and the Korean nation have strived to build among Americans.
I doubt that anyone - other than deranged racists - has entertained the notion that Korea is somehow responsible for what Cho Seung-Hui did. But that idea has certainly come up in Korea, and they are concerned that his actions will affect not only perceptions about Koreans as a whole but the official relationship between Korea and the United States.

It's an admirable system of thought, isn't it? The reason Koreans are so shocked that this happened, so surprised that one of their own was such a "loner" is because their culture produces so few loners, such a small amount of people who do not feel strong connections of family, nation and race. My wife, who grew up in Korea, who spoke not a word of English until she was headed into kindergarten, whose family lived "on the economy" the whole time while she was growing up, said that she was shocked about the killer being Korean until she found out they moved to the United States when he was 9 years old. That gave him enough time, she said, for him to become fully acculturated to the United States and our society's ability to create isolation.

More than our society's fetish for guns, this is what needs to change, this idea that each person must make their way through life alone, with only their own emotional resources to help them. I believe that Cho was probably disturbed enough that nothing could have changed his inner thoughts, his break with normal human behavior. But if we had ideas in this country that everyone should be connected to others, perhaps those who were disturbed by his writings would have felt more of an impulse to actually do something to help him, something that might have kept him away from the means to kill so many.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007
(9:19 AM) | Stephen:
The Shootings

The only thing I could say about the shootings at Virginia Tech is that anyone who uses them to advance their gun agenda is a callous idiot. There's no need for any "new" gun control laws, at least as a result of this incident. There's not a gun control law of any type that will be able to stop someone who wants to use guns in this way, though more attention paid to enforcing the laws we already have might have made it more difficult for this particular gunman to acquire his weaponry. Even so, he seemed to be methodical and able to hide his true nature for some time. If it's true that he called in bomb scares last week to gauge the response, then we can safely assume that he would have been able to take whatever steps he needed in order to secure the guns.

At the same time, this incident hardly serves as a call for Virginia to pass a concealed-carry law. And if VA does pass such a law, this doesn't mean that Virginia Tech or any other school should have to change their "gun-free" status. Those who have been calling for exactly this to happen have apparently never been in a college dorm on a Friday night, have never had to mediate an argument between roommates. An environment of too much stress, too much freedom - for the adolescents in the dorms - and most likely too much booze is not one to stock with handguns.

Thirty-three people died yesterday. Each one left behind family and friends. At least 26 more were wounded. Their lives, the lives of their families and friends as well, are also changed forever. Those students who had to jump out of windows, who ran, who heard the shots, who escaped only because their class in that particular room meets in the afternoon instead of the morning, they will also be forever changed, forever affected by what happened. Literally thousands of people are experiencing the direct effects of the massacre, let alone those Americans who will allow the coverage to convince them that they - though they live in Seattle or Miami - are also touched directly by this.

And in spite of my years of education and experience, I have nothing I to say to this. No words of comfort, no words of defense for God. How small we are, how fragile.

Monday, April 16, 2007
(10:21 AM) | Stephen:

Ancient Israel was commanded by God to establish 6 "cities of refuge" to which a person could go if he or she accidentally caused the death of another person. These cities would provide sanctuary from the victims' families, so that the community could determine the truth of the matter, if it was indeed an accidental killing or not. If the killing did happen accidentally, then the person who did it was required to live in that city until the death of the current high priest. When the high priest died, then that person could leave the city of refuge and go back to his lands. If that person for any reason left the city before the death of the high priest, then the victim's family could kill that person and not be charged with murder.

Certainly our understanding of sanctuary has changed. For hundreds of years in Christian societies, criminals could claim sanctuary within a church's actual sanctuary, and eventually this expanded to the church grounds and even the bishop's residence. There was, and is, a strong idea that the Church is above earthly laws. If I remember correctly, there's something to do with church sanctuaries and vampires, or perhaps werewolves. When I was in seminary, I was presented with a fictional case study about illegal immigrants taking up residence in my church's sanctuary. My professor unfortunately decided to do other case studies instead. I was looking forward to hearing what everyone had to say about the issue.

But we don't have to resort to fictional case studies to find illegal immigrants taking sanctuary in churches. Indeed, the LA Times article is about churches that are deliberately building housing units connected to the main church building that will publicly house illegal immigrants. They must have at least one child who is a US citizen, a good work history and be in the midst of deportation proceedings.

This type of thing has happened before. In the 1980s church workers were arrested and charged with crimes for hiding illegal immigrants. This time around, they're taking the opposite tack; not only will they not hide people but will actually push them in front of cameras, so to speak, in order to publicize their stories, to put real faces upon the US policy to break up families in the name of enforcing a misdemeanor*.

The churches doing this know that there is no actual protection under the law for those who claim sanctuary in a church. They know that federal officers are just as able to raid a church as they are anywhere else. The hope is that they will not be as willing to do so. I'll admit surprise at this idea, this 2007 application of one of our more ancient, and outdated, ideas. But as you'll notice in the Yahoo! News article linked above, when faced with deportation Elvira Arellano ran with her son into a church's sanctuary. She's been there for eight months now.

It's always thorny when churches involve themselves in things like this. I certainly have not advocated the idea that the Church is above the law - I have said that they should no longer enjoy any tax exemptions, I have criticized pastors and churches that skirt the law or have even the appearance of unethical behavior.

But this is different, this is where it's legitimate for the Church to claim a higher authority than the US Congress or the Executive Branch. In this the Church is protecting the powerless from the powerful. In this the Church is providing sanctuary to the least, standing up to this world's authorities and stating very plainly that a thing might be legal, but that doesn't make the thing moral.

*Notice that those charged with a felony are entitled to a jury trial and an attorney if they cannot afford one on their own. Note also that those who overstay their visas are guilty of a civil offense, not a criminal offense. That's why those who overstay visas have a process to go through while those caught with no documentation are able to be rounded up, placed in jail and deported without ever consulting with a lawyer or even seeing a judge. The bill mentioned in the linked article would have criminalized overstaying a visa, subjecting those who do that to the same type of treatment. Also remember that littering is a misdemeanor, as is speeding. When we get charged with a misdemeanor, we go on our way and wait for a bill in the mail. Illegal immigrants exist in a legal limbo, a place in our legal code that provides huge consequences for what is technically a minor offense.

Saturday, April 14, 2007
(11:04 PM) | Stephen:
Mia Farrow, Steven Spielberg And Our Best Hope In Sudan

Okay, this is really something. Mia Farrow wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal about the situation in Darfur. In it she publicly called for Stephen Spielberg to take action about the genocide happening there.

What could Spielberg have to do with it? Quite a bit, it seems, since he is an "artistic adviser to the Chinese government for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

It's clear now, right?

Well, maybe not. See, China has been reluctant to go along with anything that's been proposed in the UN. The Chinese have extensive business interests in Sudan, and their unwillingness to help apply diplomatic pressure, President Hassan al-Bashir has felt secure in resisting African, US and European calls for a cease-fire and peacekeeping forces.

When Farrow's op-ed hit, Spielberg wrote a letter to Hu Jintao, China's President. Hu Jintao sent Zhai Jun, described in the article as "a senior Chinese official" to Darfur, where he toured refugee camps and reportedly pressured Hassan al-Bashir to accept UN peacekeepers.

So often US and European dealings with Asian countries are hampered by the gulf between Western and Eastern ways of thinking. What matters to Westerners may not to Easterners. Whether Mia Farrow knew how effective her op-ed would be is debatable, but she certainly was able to zero in on what would make the Chinese government notice - the 2008 Olympics. This is China's coming out party. It is hugely important that everything go well, at least as well as all previous games, and the goal is to outperform everyone. When the Chinese government saw the possibility of linking their Olympic Games to the genocide in Sudan, they took action.

I'm usually very wary of actors getting involved in political issues. Most often they're completely out of their depth and just embarrass all of us. Look at Ronald Reagan or Arnold Schwarzenegger. But this was well done.

cross-posted at Ezra's place

(1:33 PM) | Stephen:
Guns, Gays And Uh, Phill Kline

Kathleen Sebelius, the Governor of Kansas, vetoed a bill on Friday that was yet another attempt by the State Legislature to interfere with the ability of the state's cities and counties to govern themselves. This time, legislators want to dictate to cities and counties where they can and cannot ban the presence of concealed weapons. After the Legislature had passed the concealed-carry law, which banned concealed weapons in 21 types of places, several Kansas towns passed ordinances that expanded that list. For example, the state legislation prohibits concealed weapons in state governmental offices. Apparently, though, the idea that city governmental offices might be accorded the same status was too much for our women and men in Topeka to bear.

Other places the State Legislature thinks it's fine for people to have concealed weapons after the fold.

There had been a provision in this bill to ban concealed weapons from youth athletic events, but it was deemed "too broad." After all, said Rep. Phil Journey (R-Haysville), that provision could apply to "five kids playing stickball." So concealed weapons are allowed, under this bill, at all T-ball and soccer games and any other collection of children playing - organized or not. Another provision struck from the bill would have banned concealed weapons from properties surrounded by a fence with controlled access points - festivals and the like. Again, we can't force gun owners to emasculate themselves for such things as fairs, concerts or other city/county-sponsored events. Now, I'm sure that the comment thread is going to quickly devolve into a flame war about John Lott's "research" and how states with concealed-carry laws don't have any crime at all anymore. While I'm sure I won't be able to forestall such a thing, I'm also not interested in any of it. My problem with concealed-carry laws is that I don't trust my fellow citizens to handle themselves responsibly with the ability to carry handguns on their person wherever they go. The fact that we even have such a thing as the police is evidence that prior to the modern GOP's gun fetish society figured it was a good thing to take law enforcement out of the hands of whoever feels like doing it and into the hands of trained, dedicated professionals.

Recently the State Legislature also considered a law aimed at prohibiting Lawrence from establishing a domestic partner registry. That the legislation applies to all cities doesn't change that this was a deliberate slap at Lawrence for even thinking of such a thing. Nor did it matter that the registry did nothing to give anyone any rights not already denied to gays and lesbians. What it sought to address was how certain companies require domestic partners to be listed on such a registry in order to receive company benefits.

Phill Kline, former Attorney General and now District Attorney for Johnson County (read about the whole ridiculous story here), has been the target of state legislation. In Kansas, District Attorneys are part of their county's budget, but are not under the jurisdiction of the county government, answering to the Attorney General instead. In Johnson County, however, for the last 25 years at least the DA has followed county policies in all HR matters. The Johnson County Commission even passed an ordinance that specifically required the DA to follow its HR policies, and nothing was done about it for years even though it contradicted state law.

Enter Phill Kline who, about 1 hour after being sworn in, summarily fired 7 prosecutors and the DA office's chief investigator. Those 8 people filed a grievance with the county, saying that Kline didn't follow the correct HR policies. Kline responded that he was a state officer and didn't have to. It's gone to the courts, with Kline's right to ignore county policies upheld as well as the 8 employees' fired status being reversed. That's a good compromise, and honestly it's more that the prosecutors and investigator deserve under actual state law.

Unfortunately for Kline, most of Kansas is sick of him and quite a few people are incensed at the way he was selected as Johnson County DA. So the State Legislature considered legislation that would place DA's under county commissions for HR purposes. They even said that the law could be written to apply only to Johnson County. What a great precedent that is. Though, if writing separate laws for each county would make them too busy to pass laws making English the official State language, that may not be such a bad thing.

All of these bills show how deeply unprofessional the State Legislature is, and how power hungry they've become in Topeka. The rationale for the vetoed concealed-carry law was that all cities and counties needed to be consistent in their regulations. But the Legislature is willing to single out Johnson County just because Phill Kline is a huge jerk. And they're quite happy to interfere with all of Kansas' cities because of the actions of one of them.

The situation here is a good example of how ideologically bankrupt the GOP has become. They don't even try anymore to present themselves as the party of "small government and personal responsibility." Now, they're just the party of lax gun regulations, no acceptance of gays and in Kansas at least, the party of political hit jobs.


cross-posted at Ezra's place

Friday, April 13, 2007
(8:49 PM) | Stephen:
Imus And O'Donnell

So just now I hear about the Rosie O'Donnell thing (in the comments of that post). Of course, it's because Tom DeLay, in his continuing desperate attempts to remain relevant, has penned a column for TownHall.com saying, "If the Left Takes Imus, We’ll Take Rosie."

How predictable for someone like DeLay to reduce this to a competition between "us" and "them." Contrary to what he wants to believe, I'm pretty sure that there's all sorts of Republicans who were part of the decisions to pull advertising from Imus' show, cancel his MSNBC simulcast and ultimately fire him from CBS radio. While it was generally progressives that made the stink, the issue is not "right" vs "left." If that were the case, then conservatives in this country would need to acknowledge that they are just fine with racism. I'd like to think that most conservatives don't want to be represented by racists.

Regarding what O'Donnnell said, which I'll get to in a moment, the main reason that her remarks did not provoke the reaction that Imus did is the simple fact that she is not nearly as important as Imus was. Imus in the Morning was able to shape countless columns, editorials and cable news shows around the country. It saw a parade of politicians of both parties and did for books from DC elites what Oprah does for any other book. Imus shaped our nation's discourse; O'Donnell is one of the hosts on a talk show, an extremely minor movie actor, what else? She does a cruise, right? It's the same reason why people are not as united against various rappers the way they were against Imus. They don't fill the same role in society. However, I certainly don't buy those albums.

And that's all that happened with Imus. His advertisers and ultimately his corporate sponsors decided that he had become a financial liability. No one asked the government to get involved - unlike, say, the various campaigns to induce the FCC to "do something" about Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction or any show that has a gay character.

Perhaps most telling is how those who defend Imus by attacking rappers or Rosie O'Donnell in order to point out lefty "hypocrisy" only display their own. After all, Tom DeLay is hardly known for his longtime campaigns against rappers and O'Donnell. Neither is Jason Whitlock, a Kansas City Star columnist who, I can assure you, is far more interested in career advancement than anything that Imus, 50 Cent or anyone else has ever said.

As far as Rosie's comments themselves,
she apparently said, regarding an incident on The View with a drunk Danny DeVito,
The fact is that it's news all over the world. You know, you can imagine in China it's like, 'Ching chong, ching chong, Danny DeVito, ching chong chong chong chong, drunk, The View, ching chong.
When I first saw that, I just stared at it. It infuriates me to see that this type of ignorant thinking still exists, let alone that someone on a national TV show would display it. That not one of her co-hosts thought to chastise her, that the audience apparently reacted with laughter and cheers is disgusting.

So I actually agree with Tom DeLay and other conservative bloggers, at least to a certain extent. I really don't know if O'Donnell has a history of making such comments, which is really the problem that people had with Imus, along with how much real-world influence the guy had. But even if O'Donnell has made a habit of saying such things, DeLay and the rest making a big deal about her right now have shown by their silence until this point that such remarks really don't bother them. All they want is a scalp, a trophy to convince them that they have power over the media, that they can decide such things.

For me, the issue is making sure that people experience real consequences for fomenting and perpetuating a culture that is suffused with bigotry and hate. There's no need for a witch hunt, we don't need to go around turning over rocks and searching through everybody's archives to see if they've ever said anything that could possibly be construed as racist. That's what these conservatives want to do so that people will think that was the case with Imus. Thing is, there's enough out-of-control, vicious and repugnant vitriol filling rightwing talk radio, blogs and cable news shows to keep us all busy for a long time to come.

PS - isn't it sad that Diedre Imus felt the need to implore her husband's former listeners to stop sending hate mail to the Rutgers women's basketball team? I actually doubt that most of the emails in question are coming from people who listened to the show. Whenever a controversy like this comes up, people involved get disgusting emails. Often they're from people who don't even really understand what the issues are.

(2:29 PM) | Stephen:
Friday Funny

Today, I've got two animal-related products for your perusal. Both of them are designed to help you in celebrating a major holiday in December.

For Christmas, we have a nativity set:

For Hannukah, we have a specially-made yarmulke and tallit set:

(10:21 AM) | Stephen:
Nature Is Wonderful - And Scary

There is a 900 kilogram bull elephant seal that has taken up residence where the Russian River in Northern California empties into the Pacific. The locals have nicknamed him "Nibbles," which was before he tried to eat a bulldog and developed a taste for surfer. His nickname is now probably more like "Oh-God-what-is-that-why-is-its-mouth-open-and-he's-swimming-toward-me!"

The article quotes Brian Horn, who is a California State Parks lifeguard, as saying that Nibbles is probably living alone because he is too small to compete for females in the elephant seal colonies. See, adult bull elephant seals can grow up to four meters - 13 feet - and 2,000 kilograms - 4,400 pounds. 4,400 pounds and 13 feet long. For a visual, here's a picture of a display at the Channel Islands National Park that has a life-sized replica of an adult bull elephant seal.

Thursday, April 12, 2007
(5:28 PM) | Stephen:
Oh The Schadenfreude-rific Joy Of It All

Sometimes, we make progress.
CBS has canceled Don Imus' radio show, effective immediately, after uproar over his racist and sexist comments about Rutgers women's basketball team.
Well, it was actually his long, steady history of racist and sexist insults that did it; the Rutgers insult was just the last straw.

I hope that this is just the beginning of a long list of people who lose their jobs and who won't see all of their books turn into bestsellers: Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck and unfortunately others.

This isn't about censorship. It's not about adolescent revenge fantasies; you can find those at littlegreenfootballs.com or The Corner. And it most certainly is not about free speech. Imus wasn't presenting an idea or point of view - unless you count being a racist jerk as a valid "point of view."

I think the media landscape is going to be interesting to watch over the next few years.

(11:20 AM) | Stephen:


(9:47 AM) | Stephen:
Phill Kline Plays To Form

Mr. Kline is at it again. He just can't keep his mitts off people's medical records, this time declaring that hospital staff are required to draw blood to test for possible intoxication even if the patient doesn't want it to happen. Thing is, federal law is pretty clear on a person's right to refuse medical treatment, never mind the laws which protect their privacy.

Kline could get warrants, but he knows from experience that it's difficult to get warrants for fishing expeditions. What Kline doesn't understand is that being a prosecutor means working within the law to get his job done. Just because he thinks that someone has committed a crime doesn't mean they actually have. The law, he keeps forgetting, presumes innocence, and innocent people have certain rights. As terrible a lawyer as Kline is, he is at least good for consistently showing why we have laws delineating just what a prosecutor is allowed to do.

What an embarrassment. At this point, I'd be willing for my tax dollars to pay him to just stay home for 2 years.

(9:06 AM) | Stephen:
In Which I Show My Independence From The Dark Lord

The evolution of the liberal blog community is pretty interesting stuff. It's hardly a coherent movement, but I believe that Imus' troubles, for example, would be nonexistent if not for liberal bloggers. Alberto Gonzales wouldn't be feverishly preparing for his testimony before Congress next week if not for Josh Marshall and his blog media empire. There would have been no counter to the spin about Pelosi's trip to Syria, with the truth of things - that Olmert's spokesperson talked about their message to Syria before the trip took place, that Pelosi had Republicans and State Department officials with her on the trip - these things would have been buried in all the nonsense. I'm not sure that even Ann Coulter's f-bomb would have received very much attention if not for this strange collection of liberals/progressives yakking away on the internet.

Lately there's been some talk about A-list bloggers, and then B- and so on from there. Aside from Kos and Atrios I have no idea who these A-listers are. Maybe they're the only ones. Anyway, what's interesting about them is how unsophisticated they are, which makes for quite a bit of cognitive dissonance. We've got the whole Dark Lord Kos storyline, wherein Kos maintains a strict control over the majority of liberal blogs, using his key Lieutenants, Duncan Black and the Stoller/Bowers/Armstrong hivemind. At the same time, Kos, Black and S/B/A are seen as bumbling, stumbling dummies who are in way over their heads and who hurt our cause. They are also, apparently, extremely jealous of their position and ruthlessly stomp on smaller blogs that obviously have all that's required to make the big time if not for the conspiracy against them.

I think the truth of it is that these guys are, in some respects, in over their heads. The last thing anyone wants Kos to do is blog about feminism or GLBT issues. I don't think he's a bad guy on these, but he certainly doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. Duncan has a bad habit of taking things personally and putting up defensive reactions on Eschaton. The S/B/A hivemind, for some reason, really pisses off armchair Democratic consultants who, by all appearances, never actually do anything with their vast wisdom and knowledge except carp at those who do.

But if Kos and his minions were actually slick, long-time professionals, they wouldn't have the traffic they do. It's precisely because these guys - and yes, I know, it's just guys - have the propensity to stick their foot in it that people keep going back, because we know that what we're reading is the real deal, and not some prepackaged spin that's been slow-cooked in some committee of consultants.

I will admit that it can be hard to be so charitable, however, when Kos has a post like this one about death threats. Apparently death threats received over email just aren't that big of a deal. For Kos, it's just a bunch of weirdos, and he excerpts an email to prove his point:
AIDS will be killing more amd more of you liberals every year. We conservatives have all the money, and you will be shining our shoes. You will stay in your minimum wage jobs. You are poor. We are rich. We get to travel. You don't. You have to scrape for tips. How about that 2000 election? Nigger Cochran couldn't save you. Is it true that "liberal" means "small penis" in Esperanto? Republicans will hold the Presidency until 2029 at least. You think you have power with Dago Pelosi, but you work for us. We let you "win" an election here and there just to fool you. Pretty cool how the Taliban would let stone walls fall on homosexuals. That is what will happen to liberals. God does not love liberals. That is why he gave you AIDS. Let's hope more gays and liberals get beaten up. From your genetic superior.
It is pretty ridiculous. But no less ridiculous are these statements from Kos:
Look, if you blog, and blog about controversial shit, you'll get idiotic emails. Most of the time, said "death threats" don't even exist -- evidenced by the fact that the crying bloggers and journalists always fail to produce said "death threats". I suspect many are like this gem I recently received. . . .Some might say that the line "AIDS will be killing more amd more of you liberals every year" and the "stone wall" thing are "death threats". They are not. They're just the rantings of a lunatic. For my part, I've gotten my fair share of such vile emails. Some of them have threatened my children. One or two actually crossed the line into "death threat" territory. But so what? It's not as if those cowards will actually act on their threats.
The "crying blogger" that inspired this post is Kathy Sierra, who has been victim to some very serious attacks and has received many death threats. Of course, Amanda Marcotte, Melissa McEwan, Jessica Valenti, and Jill Filipovic can also attest to online abuse. Ms. Filipovic, in particular, can demonstrate that law students, at least, actually do act out their online threats in the real world, following those they abuse in online fora to their real-world classes and gyms.

By the way, notice anything about that list? Any similarities that the bloggers all share in distinction from Kos? Perhaps it is true that Kos' emailers will never act out their threats to him and his children - though I hope his post is bluster and privately he's taking this seriously. But the experience of women bloggers is entirely different than his experience as a man. And to characterize people like Kathy Sierra as "crying bloggers" is insulting and incredibly stupid. As much as I think Kos' relative lack of political sophistication is an asset, there are a few areas in which he could stand to learn a few things.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007
(2:14 PM) | Stephen:
Americans Pay Enough For Healthcare Already

I'm continually distressed at the way rightwing talking points are able to infect our discourse. The latest willing victim is Jason Furman, the director of the Hamilton Project, "a think tank organized to come up with ideas for centrist Democrats." Well, of course he is.

Furman's basic idea is
that the U.S. could reduce health-care spending big time if people shared a larger slice of the cost of care. After all, when consumers know how much something costs, and when they have to pick up a hefty chunk of the bill, they are more careful about what sort of tests and procedures get ordered up on their behalf.
I'll address the easy part first. People go to the doctor because they feel the need for an expert opinion. Doctors spend three years in graduate work, then several years in various internships and residencies. When I was uninsured, I still didn't question my doctors any more than I do now, even though I knew that whatever pill or procedure the doctor proposed was going to come completely from my bank account. I'm tired of the idea that Americans know what treatment they need and just let clueless doctors prescribe expensive nonsense because we don't know how much things cost.

But that's not the only reason Furman's proposal is laughable. He suggests that Americans pay half of all their medical costs until they reach 7.5% of their income. This, he says, will bring Americans face-to-face with the real costs of healthcare and will make them more cautious. I suppose that this could be effective, if Americans currently paid less than 7.5% of their gross incomes for their healthcare. The reality, though, is quite different.

First, the average insurance premium paid by employees in 2006 for family coverage was approximately $3000/year. This is not the cost to employers, which was closer to $11,000.

Second, average out of pocket spending per person in 2005 was $840 a year. For a family of four, that turns into $3360. Therefore, a family of four paid an average of $6,360 a year in out-of-pocket expenses for the last couple of years.

Third, the average household income in US in 2004 was $60,528. This means that the average American household has been paying almost 11% of their gross income for healthcare over the last few years.

It gets worse if anyone from that family is admitted to a hospital for any reason. One of the cheapest hospital admissions is childbirth without complications. According to BlueCross/BlueShield, the average cost for that is $8,505. That's the retail cost, which insurers never pay. This is where it gets dicey and I have to rely upon estimates and personal experience, but the numbers are still instructive. Insurance companies can pay as little as 25% of the retail price, and most insureds pay 80% of that, which makes the patient responsibility about $425 - similar to my experience.

However, that's just for the hospital stay. The doctors' office global fee is usually $500 from the patient. Labs, this last time around for my family, were about $350, and various pregnancy-related prescriptions cost us a little over $300.

Add all these together and a normal, "easy" pregnancy with no complications will cost the patient $1575. If that amount is added to the average premium/out-of-pocket costs, our American family is paying 13% of their gross income for healthcare. Other inpatient admissions are usually more expensive. If you are unlucky enough to have a heart condition put you in the hospital it could cost you 5-10 times more than a childbirth.

The thing is, I like Furman's proposal - at least the surface of it. But I like it for far different reasons than the ones that motivated him to propose it in the first place. Furman wants Americans to reduce their consumption of healthcare services, thereby saving all of us billions and billions of dollars.

I, on the other hand, wouldn't mind seeing my out-of-pocket expenses decrease to a mere 7.5% of my family's gross income. There's a lot of things we could accomplish with an extra 4% - usually more - of our income finding its way into our bank accounts.

(12:23 PM) | Stephen:
South Dakota Just Won't Give Up

The full Eighth Circuit Court in St. Louis is going to consider the constitutionality of a South Dakota law that requires doctors read the following script to women seeking an abortion: Abortion "terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being." This is on top of requirements to recite various statistics regarding post-abortion depression and suicide, "the legal relationship between a mother and a fetus" and, the article says, "a dozen other statements."

All of that being piled upon a woman who is getting an abortion. Every surgical procedure has its effects upon a person's body and mind, especially during the recovery period. That's one of the many things cast doubt upon any causal relationship between abortion and depression/suicide. It seems, though, that the South Dakota Legislature has decided to do everything they can to induce feelings of depression in women who have an abortion.

How loving and pro-life of them to force doctors to shame their patients with propaganda way more suited to soothe the Legislature's conscience than have any real effect upon the issue of abortion in this country. And of course, all this self-righteous emotional abuse comes without even one finger lifted in order to help a woman - or a child - struggling to live a minimally decent life.

Would that a law could be passed to shame the legislators every time they propose nonsense like this.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007
(2:25 PM) | Stephen:
Rutgers Coach Responds

Paraphrased from one portion of her remarks: "There is not black and white here, the color is green."

As long as Imus makes money for MSNBC and CBS, as long as the elites in DC sell books by going on his show, he will get away with anything he wants.

The same is true, of course, of Coulter, Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and all the rest of the vile, hate-spewing bigots and liars that populate right-wing media.

Coach Stringer asked, "do you want your daughters to be called ho's?" Imus insulted my daughter. Imus called my daughter a whore, my 5-year-old daughter, for as Coach Stringer said, this isn't about just the women on the Rutgers basketball team, this isn't just about black women, but all women.

Imus and those who listen to him can go to hell.

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