So, I go off to the Atheist Film Festival for the weekend and come back to find out the Thunderf00t scandal broke, David Barton was publicly exposed and disgraced, and Romney deliberately tanks his campaign by picking a social conservative as veep. Christo santo! I couldn’t do anything about any of it until I got back. So here I am.
I was going to do a roundup of the Thunderf00t thing anyway (I was on the backchannel so I knew this was coming, I just didn’t know it was going to drop this weekend), but Dana Hunter already did such an excellent job of it I’ll just point you there: Thunderf00t’s Potentially Illegal, Positively Immoral Crusade.
For those who have been debating the point, yes, what Phil Mason (aka Thunderf00t) did is called “hacking” (legally and culturally) and besides being grossly immoral (read the posts in Dana’s roundup to see why), and essentially career-ending (IMO, no one who does such a thing can ever be trusted again by any future employer or colleague), also comes very close to violating many state and federal laws against gaining unauthorized access to a computer. Such statutes are filed not only under cybercrimes, but more specifically under wiretapping (listening in on private email conversations bears little relevant or legal difference to listening in on private telephone conversations, and many state laws recognize that obvious fact, as do federal laws).
Hacking private email can also grant a civil action for violation of right to privacy: the 4th amendment establishes that right against all intrusions, not just government ones (although as we all know, defending your rights in civil court can be more costly than it’s worth even when you win, but they’re still your rights, and they were still violated). For an act to be a cybercrime, you must use the hack to commit another crime, like extortion or sabotage, then it’s a ticket to prison–but even then, stealing confidential information through any unauthorized access to a computer is often what makes that other crime a cybercrime specifically, not only under Federal law, but often state law as well. Meanwhile, under wiretapping statutes, almost all unauthorized accessing of private email is illegal (and this is where I think Mason might be risking prison time). Committing a crime across international borders makes jurisdiction a problem, among other things (e.g. there are many other factors, like cost to the taxpayer, that can result in actual crimes not being prosecuted, even though they are indeed crimes under the law), although morally we know that doesn’t matter. Morally, Thunderf00t is a criminal, at least in the colloquial sense of someone who willfully and maliciously violates human rights, and in result can never be trusted by anyone again.
And then there’s David Barton, who has long been the David Irving of the American Christian revisionism movement (those who argue that this has always been a Christian nation, founded by conservative Christians writing a Constitution based on the Bible, and praying thanks to Jesus and whatnot). Barton’s bestselling book The Jefferson Lies was voted “the least credible history book in print” by the History News Network and exposed as bullshit on NPR, and our own Chris Rodda has been instrumental in fact-checking and exposing his distortion and misrepresentation of the facts (and even the fabricating of quotes).
Now even prominent fellows of the fundamentalist Discovery Institute have declared his book full of “embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims.” Yes, you heard that right, even they are now spitting him out of their mouth. Many other conservative Christians have been piling on and confirming Barton a fraud, and have pretty much washed their hands of him. But the final blow was that his own publisher just declared his book essentially fraudulent and has pulled publication. That’s Thomas Nelson, a major Christian publisher. Barton is still defending himself and has a few lackeys punting for him, but his ship has well sunk by this point. (You can read up on all this breaking news as reported by our own Ed Brayton, Al Stefanelli, and Mano Singham.)
All of which makes, for me, the far more publicly known event this weekend seem weak by comparison: Mitt Romney declared Paul Ryan his running mate for the November election. I was told this by someone sitting in front of me in the theater (while we waited for the next film to start), and for a moment I thought what they told me was that Romney had picked Ron Paul as his running mate, which I was about to praise as a brilliant move that could actually win him the election. But no, it was Paul Ryan. Which will essentially destroy his chances of winning–unless the Obama campaign makes some really stupid mistakes, or the con game of voter ID laws actually swings the swing states by disenfranchising millions of American citizens (as they are now set to do), either of which is still possible, so the outcome is not foregone. But be that as it may, what this choice of a radical white male social conservative has done is even further eliminate Romney’s support from women, Latinos, and independents, and it’s increasingly becoming the case that when they all walk, no one can win the White House.
On the other hand, this could and should turn the campaign into a real campaign at long last: instead of two candidates struggling to pretend they are centrists with no clear positions on anything (offending as few people as possible in order to win the independent vote, as one must to win at all), we have a real distinction between a progressive who will actually have to defend progressive policies openly and forcefully (health care, social security, human liberty, and just tax laws) and a conservative who will actually have to defend conservative policies openly and forcefully (supporting tax laws favoring the rich, maintaining and increasing restrictions on human liberty, and the eventual elimination of subsidized health care and social security).
It’s just that, in actual fact, conservative policies are unpopular (a significant majority are actually against them), so they have to be “packaged” and “disguised” with rhetoric that conceals their actual consequences and significance. But Ryan has been so open and clear on his positions, the chance to package and disguise what he stands for is simply impossible. The Romney Campaign has swallowed the Kool-Aid. Now it’s just a question of how many angry white men they can get out to vote for them and how many poor minority folk they can scare away from the polls by various new Jim-Crow devices (a tactic now well-mocked but nevertheless likely to work).
There are of course still non-differences (neither candidate is perfect, e.g. both are similar on the use of force abroad and the expansion of federal power), but the actual differences matter–most importantly of all, who gets in this November will pick the next Supreme Court justice, which will in one stroke decide the direction the U.S. goes for the next forty or fifty years: towards a conservative Catholic-controlled nation of laws suppressing citizen rights, backing corporations, tearing down the wall between church and state, and supporting every use of force abroad and every expansion of federal power (with a 5-4 voting majority of conservative Christians on the bench), or back from that brink, towards a more moderate and liberal-minded court that will actually stand up to Congress and future presidents and actually strike down laws and acts that violate American rights, indemnify corporations, Christianize our government, and gradually boil the frog of limited executive power.
This single factor, who picks the next Supreme Court Justice, is literally the single most important decision every voter will be making this November, whether they are aware of it or not. We had all better vote with that on our conscience.