World of Class Warfare

I think this is the most brilliant segment Jon Stewart has ever done — I watched the whole thing with the most peculiar mixed feelings of rising incredulity, desperate laughter, and freakin’ rage, and you should experience those feelings, too. If you haven’t already, watch The World of Class Warfare Part I and Part II. He nails it: the injustices of the Republican party, and the smug, blithe evil of Fox News pundits scurrying to find solutions in taxing the poor more.

I’m in awe. It’s the perfect combination of the comedy genius of Stewart and the obliging straight men and women at Fox and the GOP happily setting up the jokes for him. If only there weren’t so much to joke about…

Also, if only the Democratic Party could seize the gift given to them.

Money, War, God

It’s Labor Day in America — a strange time and a strange place, given the campaign the Republican party has been waging to destroy unions. Now a 30-year veteran of the Republican party gives up in despair. He’s got the party’s number: it’s all about money (same as the Democrats), a “libidinous enthusiasm for invading other countries”, and “pandering to fundamentalism”.

Thus, the modern GOP; it hardly seems conceivable that a Republican could have written the following:

“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.” (That was President Eisenhower, writing to his brother Edgar in 1954.)

It is this broad and ever-widening gulf between the traditional Republicanism of an Eisenhower and the quasi-totalitarian cult of a Michele Bachmann that impelled my departure from Capitol Hill. It is not in my pragmatic nature to make a heroic gesture of self-immolation, or to make lurid revelations of personal martyrdom in the manner of David Brock. And I will leave a more detailed dissection of failed Republican economic policies to my fellow apostate Bruce Bartlett.

I left because I was appalled at the headlong rush of Republicans, like Gadarene swine, to embrace policies that are deeply damaging to this country’s future; and contemptuous of the feckless, craven incompetence of Democrats in their half-hearted attempts to stop them.

I think it’s entirely appropriate that we all feel a little depressed this Labor Day.

As an American Atheist, I am disgusted by the 9/11 coloring book

The Christian Science Monitor has just posted an article titled “As an American Muslim, I am disgusted by the 9/11 coloring book“. It’s hard to believe someone considered this pile of violent jingo to be an appropriate subject for a kid’s coloring book.

“We Shall Never Forget 9/11: The Kids’ Book of Freedom,” was just released by Wayne Bell, publisher of Really Big Coloring Books Inc. in St. Louis. It begins with big graphic black-and-white drawings of bin Laden plotting the 9/11 attacks, then shows the burning towers, the hunt for bin Laden, and ends with a Navy SEAL shooting bin Laden as he hides behind a woman in Islamic garb.

Being the elusive character that he was, and after hiding out with his terrorist buddies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, American soldiers finally locate the terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. Children, the truth is, these terrorist acts were done by freedom-hating radical Islamic Muslim extremists. These crazy people hate the American way of life because we are FREE and our society is FREE.

Remember, kids, if you draw the effect of those bullets hitting the bad man, use your Scarlet crayola if you think there should be arterial spray!

You know, I think I’m disgusted by this as a human being; it doesn’t matter what your beliefs about religion are, this is simply the glorification of bloody violence.

Laugh at the Libertarian

There’s a reason I really despise Libertarianism…but still find them hilariously twisted. Here’s a case of a columnist defending the science of Rick Perry. You know that evolution stuff? It’s not that important. Creationism is a waste of time and it makes Perry look “unsophisticated”…but so what? There’s a real problem here, and it is all those liberals who’ve fallen for the junk science of “global warming”.

It is interesting watching the nation’s defenders of reason, empirical evidence, and science fail to display a hint of skepticism over the transparently political “science” of global warming. Rarely are scientists so certain in predicting the future. Yet this is a special case. It is also curious that these supposed champions of Darwin don’t believe that human beings—or nature—have the ability to adapt to changing climate.

Like 99 percent of pundits and politicians, though, I have no business chiming in on the science of climate change—though my kids’ teachers sure are experts. Needless to say, there is a spectacular array of viewpoints on this issue. The answers are far from settled. There are debates over how much humans contribute. There are debates over how much warming we’re seeing. There are debates over many things.

But even if one believed the most terrifying projections of global warming alarmist “science,” it certainly doesn’t mean one has to support the anti-capitalist technocracy to fix it. And try as some may to conflate the two, global warming policy is not “science.” The left sees civilization’s salvation in a massive Luddite undertaking that inhibits technological growth by turning back the clock, undoing footprints, forcing technology that doesn’t exist, banning products that do, and badgering consumers who have not adhered to the plan through all kinds of punishment. Yet there is no real science that has shown that any of it makes a whit of difference.

It’s perfect: the author is trying to set himself up as a defender of good science, but he does it by 1) trivializing the importance of the most fundamental concept in biology, and 2) being a denialist about climate change. Scientists are certain (to a reasonable degree) about predicting the future in this case because all the data points in this direction — you have to willfully reject the evidence in order to disagree. Maybe if he were a little less blasé about evolution he’d also realize that this isn’t an issue of capacity to adapt — trust me, you don’t want to live under an intense selection regime that changes the population’s mean physiology in a few generations — but of a common sense recognition that rapid climate change will be disruptive and have a severe economic cost.

And the answers are settled. Ongoing climate change is a fact. Pretending there is a serious debate about it is what the creationists do.

I suppose one solution would be to blow up all the factories and return to a 15th century lifestyle…if we didn’t mind killing a few billion people in the process, and wanted to live lives of hard labor in squalor. I don’t see anyone on the left advocating that, though. Instead, I see advocacy for sustainable energy policies and a demand that industry factor in all of the invisible, long-term costs that they’ve been hiding — which is, of course, anathema to Libertarians who believe in giving corporations a free ride at the expense of human beings.

(Also on Sb)

In which I am unimpressed with Hitchens

It’s just his latest effort in Slate — I’m not unimpressed with Hitchens the man at all. It’s just that I did not find his subject particularly interesting, since it’s a discussion about whether Rick Perry is actually sincere about his religious beliefs, or whether he’s only pandering to the rubes.

I don’t care. Not one bit.

All that matters is what he actually does, not his motivation for doing it. Given that he’s promoting idiotic policies and giving support to foolish beliefs, it wouldn’t matter if he was doing it to support starving orphans in Africa.

Hitchens seems aware that his motives don’t matter. So why write about them?

Is it better to have a candidate who actually believes in biblical inerrancy and the extreme youthfulness and recency of the Grand Canyon, or a candidate who half-affects such convictions in the hope of political gain? Either would be depressing. A mixture of the two—not excluded in Perry’s case—would lower the tone nicely.

Perry is accomplishing that, at least, in collaboration with Bachmann.

I like Cuttlefish’s take on Perry better, even if it does include Texas yodeling.

Michele Bachmann, professional ghoul

There she goes, claiming God sent Hurricane Irene.

I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending.

Hey, maybe God’s secret message is that he’s really pissed that Americans are stupid enough to promote Bachmann and Perry as candidates. How would you know?

She’s already straining to do damage control, and her campaign is claiming that it was “just a joke”, that old excuse. Was it funny? Are we to believe that Michele Bachmann now openly mocks the Power of the Lord?

After the event, a reporter asked Bachmann about the comments. She said: “Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the victims. This isn’t something that we take lightly. My comments were not meant to be ones that were taken lightly. What I was saying in a humorous vein is there are things happening that politicians need to pay attention to. It isn’t everyday we have an earthquake in the United States.”

Well, make up your mind, Michele. Was it not meant to be taken lightly, or was it said in a humorous vein?

And actually, we do have earthquakes every day. There have been 2901 earthquakes in the US so far this year; there were 8493 total in 2010. It looks like, on average, there’s an earthquake above magnitude 4 every day, somewhere in the US.

“Prolonged detention”

Watch the doublespeak dribbling out of Obama’s mouth: he’s making up excuses for the extra-legal prolonged confinement of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, all in the name of the Constitution. He’s sounding more like George W. Bush every day.

This is all in the name of our profligate and pointless anti-terrorism policy. Fear is sown to justify weakening the law…just like the Republicans want it.

Talking about the weather

I’d ask how all of you out East were holding up in the big storm, but apparently three million of you are without power and aren’t going to be able to read or reply for a while. When you do finally get back online, at least you’ll find this entertaining.

Fox News thought it would be clever to invite an atheist on, ask him what he was doing to prepare for the hurricane, and then sneer at his spiritual poverty. Unfortunately for them, they got David Silverman, who proceeded to show that the talk show hosts were cretins. Shrill, angry, obtuse cretins.

And if you really want to see more Fox News inanity, here’s an opinion piece in which a couple of thinktank troglodytes argue that we don’t really need a national weather service. Why? Because it’s sometimes wrong, because if it really was useful then private industry would provide the service, because it’s exploited for political purposes, and because it costs too much. It’s all bog-standard libertarian bullshit.

Weather is complicated and you’re never going to get perfect accuracy: the weather is always predicted with an awareness of the range of error possible. Commercial weather agencies rely on data from the wide range of federally established monitoring stations — not just locally, but internationally, at sea, and in space. The private agencies don’t actually want NWS/NOAA to end, they just want them to stop distributing their information to the public for free (amusingly, AccuWeather has tried to copyright forecasts taken verbatim from the National Weather Service).

The accusation that the NWS/NOAA service is used for political purposes is asserted without evidence, but I can guess what they’re talking about: Republicans and Libertarians hate the fact that there’s all this data pouring out of weather services that supports the fact of climate change. In their minds, reality is a conspiracy to undermine their ideology.

These pundits also expect their audience to be innumerate.

As it stands today, the public is forced to pay more than $1 billion per year for the NWS. With the federal deficit exceeding a trillion dollars, the NWS is easily overlooked, but it shouldn’t be.

Yes? So the cost of the National Weather Service is equal to less than 0.1% of the budget deficit?

These goons are only outdone by Ron Paul, who sees no virtue in forecasting and emergency response plans from agencies like FEMA: he thinks “We should be like 1900“. Hands off, just let people cope as well as they can in areas affected by natural disasters.

They could sit around and pray without federal assistance, after all.

Chris Clarke for President

It’s the only sane choice. He explains why he’s not voting for Obama in 2012, and he makes a good case: in particular, Obama has been disastrous for environmental issues, as Clarke documents. He also posts a minimal list of basic criteria for any good progressive candidate:

  • must neither openly nor tacitly support the use of torture in any circumstance.
  • must pledge to defend women’s access to abortion against any threatened limitation, whether that obstruction be political, religious or economic.
  • must pledge to oppose the enshrining in law of social discrimination against any group of people based on gender, ethnicity, sexuality, language, religious belief or lack thereof, disability, social class, or other arbitrary division.
  • must agree that the rich — who have after all profited most from the country’s natural wealth, infrastructure and financial policy — ought to pay their fair share of taxes.
  • must at least hold as an aspiration the provision of a tolerable standard of living to all people in the US, including shelter, food, clothing, education, health care and access to communication, regardless of the individual’s ability to pay.
  • must support the continued existence of labor unions.
  • must pledge not to punish individual migrants for the failures of the country’s immigration policy.
  • must at least pledge to value the ecological integrity of the United States’ landscapes over the possibility that profit might be extracted from them.
  • must possess at least a high-school level understanding of science, especially regarding but not limited to crucial topics such as climate change and evolutionary biology.
  • must oppose any interference in the routine and proper teaching of science in our public schools by religious groups.
  • must abide by the War Powers Resolution of 1973.

I think I’d add a few, though.

  • must openly and strongly support the separation of church and state — no prayer breakfasts, no faith-based initiatives.
  • his economic advisors should be focused on the lower and middle classes, and not be stocked with bankers and Wall Street cronies.
  • end the drug war, stop the privatization of prisons as big business, and release all non-violent drug offenders.
  • must have a nation-wide plan for standards in science education that ends the petty tyranny of local school boards and the penny-pinching funding based on local levies.

The funny thing is, if you attend local democratic caucuses and conventions, you find mobs of people enthusiastically pushing these kinds of ideas for the party platform. Somehow, though, they all get lost on the long climb upward to our actual representatives, who all end up standing for nothing…other than getting re-elected.

Why did we all vote for that Obama guy, anyway? He’s doing none of the above. Oh, yeah, simply because his opposition was a venal Rethuglican.


Sam Harris is bemused: he made the simple, obvious statement that the US needs to tax the rich more, and furious readers of his blog stomped off in a huff. He has discovered an easy way to chase away readers!

I fear it won’t work as well here, since my anti-libertarian views are already well known, but I agree entirely with his suggestion “that taxes should be raised on billionaires.” I’d go a bit further — raise them on millionaires, too. Raise them on people making over $100,000 a year, while you’re at it (that comes close to me, too, since we have a two-income family).

But Harris has doubled down. Now he’s pissed off the Randroids.

As someone who has written and spoken at length about how we might develop a truly “objective” morality, I am often told by followers of Rand that their beloved guru accomplished this task long ago. The result was Objectivism—a view that makes a religious fetish of selfishness and disposes of altruism and compassion as character flaws. If nothing else, this approach to ethics was a triumph of marketing, as Objectivism is basically autism rebranded. And Rand’s attempt to make literature out of this awful philosophy produced some commensurately terrible writing. Even in high school, I found that my copies of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged simply would not open.

This could get interesting, if only Harris allowed comments on his blog — I believe he has just pushed the button on the foreheads of the True Libertarians labeled “Frappé” and we can expect some delicious brain smoothies to be dispensed out of their ears any moment now.

The real question, though, is why Americans are so adamantly opposed to sensible taxation — it’s completely irrational and damaging. I blame the attitude that we see expressed by capitalist extremists and that is so well represented by the Prosperity Gospel. It’s a nicely circular tautology: wealth comes to those who deserve it most. How do we know that? Because the rich are wealthy. It leads to the ideas that warp our country and poison our economies, that the rich deserve their money, and it would therefore be unfair to punish them with taxes for their success, while the poor are clearly lazy parasites (because they aren’t rich!) and therefore deserve to be squeezed and punished further. The idea that a poor person might deserve security and stability and a living wage with reasonable work hours simply because they are humans and fellow citizens is alien to people who think like that — poverty is bad and only comes to bad people.