Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Mike's Blog Roundup

Mike Finnigan is stepping down from Mike's Blog Roundup at Crooks and Liars:

I began the blog roundup shortly after John Amato started Crooks and Liars. It has been a real blessing to be a contributor to a site that evolved into an important progressive voice in American politics. The bloggers I got to know and the readers who took time to express their appreciation, or who sent tips, have enriched my life. Now my work and travel outside the U.S. has made it nearly impossible to be a reliable part of C&L so I wanted to say goodbye to all of you and tell you how much I will miss you and this wonderful place.

The good news is that, as Blue Gal writes:

When Mike says his music and travel are keeping him from the round up, he means it! He just finished a tour with Joe Cocker and there are other albums and concerts to come -- we're very proud of the best damn Hammond Organ player in the blogosphere!

Mike's Blog Round Up will continue, and will continue to be called MIKE'S Blog Round Up in honor of the amazing guy who started it all.

If you head over to the post, you can leave comments for Mike.

Mike's success couldn't happen to a nice guy. Catch him playing live if you can – with Joe Cocker, Taj Mahal, the Phantom Blues Band, or some other latest act.

As for Mike's Blog Roundup, it's hard to be too effusive in praise. It's been Blogroll Amnesty Day every day for years, creating good karma, promoting small blogs, and just making the blogosphere a better place. Some other big blogs link smaller blogs, but not with Mike's regularity, and not with the variety and richness of picks. It's one of the things that makes C&L special. Mike's generously linked this blog over the years. (I've also subbed over at MBR several times.) The feature will be in extremely good hands with Blue Gal at the helm. And Mike says he's occasionally come back for guest gigs.

Congratulations, and thanks once again, to Mike. The great musicians - and bloggers - make it look easy.


Patricia Barber - "Winter"

Eclectic Jukebox

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Deficit Scolds and Scoundrels

John Cole gives a nice summing up:

I’ve said this before, and I will say it again. Unless your proposal includes a substantial increase in taxes and a substantial amount of cuts to the military budget as well as ending the farm subsidies and giveaways to big oil and big energy and big business, you can kindly just shut up about the deficit and the debt. Additionally, any cuts to entitlements need to include cuts to the CURRENT recipients, not grandfathering the boomers and then wondering why the cuts never materialize in the future.

If you aren’t going to do those things, just shut up. You aren’t serious.

Well said. Alas, this has been obvious for some time, but somehow liars and scoundrels rarely lose their respectability among the Beltway Villagers.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Fine Frenzy - "Last of Days"

Eclectic Jukebox

Edroso and CPAC 2011

I would hope most people are already reading Roy Edroso's witty anthropological forays into the Right-Wing Waste Land. They'll provide valuable evidence for future civilizations seeking to understand our destruction, and they supply much-needed solace through communal laughter in the meantime.

Recently, he attended CPAC, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. This archive page has most of his entries. For a shorter overview, there's his Village Voice roundup of CPAC, and for Esquire, he penned "The 25 'Best' Quotes of CPAC 2011." (Esquire's other CPAC pieces are quite good, too.)

There's also his Village Voice roundup for Reagan's birthday, for Alternet, "10 Historical 'Facts' Only a Right-Winger Could Believe."

CPAC produced some true gems of logic and rhetoric, but two really stand out for me. Here's #1:

"Our liberties, which have made us great, are now destroying us."
- Rev. Michel Faulkner, at the CPAC "Traditional Marriage and Society" panel.

Many right-wingers really do seem to believe that "freedom" should only belong to them. Steve Benen examined various tea party slogans back in August 2010:

This is about "freedom."

Well, I'm certainly pro-freedom, and as far as I can tell, the anti-freedom crowd struggles to win votes on Election Day. But can they be a little more specific? How about the freedom for same-sex couples to get married? No, we're told, not that kind of freedom.

This attitude may be unconscious, or rarely spoken aloud, but it offends right-wing social conservatives if someone outside their tribal group exercises individual rights, without their permission. "Freedom" somehow means superiority, privilege and power – and just for them.

Here's #2:

"It's just like a liberal, they import slaves, they hold slaves, they fight for slavery, they go to war in a civil war to defend slavery. They then install legal discrimination against blacks for a hundred years…"
- Ann Coulter.

Coulter is a bullshitter, of course, and doesn't care about accuracy. She's out for a response, normally either outrage or approval. (My long piece on her is here.) But the bullshit factor of this statement is so blatant, not just ahistorical but anti-historical, it highlights that her audience a) doesn't know better, and/or b) doesn't care. Republicans can and sometimes do still claim the legacy of Lincoln and the civil rights movement, but those were liberal Republicans. The abolition, suffragette and civil rights movements are definitional for liberalism. (Civil liberties, ahem.) Anti-historical approaches to the Civil War from right-wingers are nothing new. Still, there is no universe where Coulter's statement is even coherent. Where's her pride of craft? It's not even good propaganda. Nor is it a good pander, even for an audience that believes that conservative chestnut that "liberals are the real racists!" The CPAC crowd is full of the angry white social conservatives who tend to buy into most poisonous aspects of the Old Confederacy myth (and it shows in their racial attitudes). Emotionally if not regionally, they tend to identify with an aggrieved white South. Coulter has simultaneously called the South in the Civil War 'wrong' and 'liberal.' That makes no sense, even in the mind of a right-winger.

I wonder if any of the audience even noticed, though. The Republican Party is entirely plutocratic, and has almost no interest in responsible governance at all. Movement conservatism has even less, and it's nasty, reckless, and sometimes nihilistic. As I've written before, Coulter, Limbaugh, Beck and the rest aren't selling facts, they're selling grievance, cultural solidarity, an emotional truth, and the Two-Minute Hate. Right-wing audiences simply do not care if their leaders are corrupt, incompetent and lie to their faces – as long as they get their scapegoat.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Massive Attack - "Paradise Circus"

Featuring Hope Sandoval. This is a fan video using scenes from The Fall (2006), directed by Tarsem Singh. The band has a video on their site, the song mixed with an interview, but it's definitely NSFW.

Eclectic Jukebox

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Packers Win Super Bowl XLV

Let's recap: Fifteen players on injured reserve, a sixth-seed playing on the road throughout the playoffs, three key players disabled in the Super Bowl, a team facing six must-win games in a row, and yet another nail-biter of an ending – and the Packers pulled it off !


It wound up being a really good game. I like the Steelers, a great franchise, and their comeback was impressive, but the Packers are my team. It was fun participating in the NFL threads over at Balloon Juice - particularly with all the friendly Packers fans - through those six games, some of them awfully tight. The Pack have faced so many tantalizingly close, last-minute heartbreaks since the last Super Bowl win in '97, it's been impossible to breathe until each game is over (maybe the few times they've had a three touchdown lead). Their losses this season were by narrow margins, and what I liked is that even if they wound up losing, they would fight.

Congratulations to the Steelers for a great season and a memorable game, although I understand why they won't see it that way for a while. With two Super Bowl wins in the past decade, and three appearances, they're still doing awfully well, and it's hard to feel too bad for them, but losing is still tough.

Other notes - the halftime show with the Black-Eyed Peas was dreadful. Most of the ads weren't very good. The Vader Jetta ad didn't work as well in shortened version, but the online version was quite cute. The Audi one mocked (some of) the rich, which was entertaining. My favorite was the in-house ad for House, riffing on the famous Mean Joe Green ad. Awesome.

Meanwhile, congratulations to the Packers once again! I'm not sure it's fully sunk in yet. Given all the adversity they faced this season, and what an uphill climb it was, it seems like this was one of the more impressive, improbable championships runs the league has seen. (Hell, I'll take it.) Enjoy it, Packers fans!

Everyone else at least got to see a good game, and can take solace by saying - wait 'til next year!


Reagan at 100

Ronald Reagan would have 100 today. As Will Bunch details in his book Tear Down This Myth, the real Reagan was more practical and open to compromise than the Saint Ronnie that Grover Norquist and other far-right zealots have sold to America (and themselves). Reagan was admirable in a few ways – his commitment to nuclear disarmament was sincere (and right-wingers attacked him for it at the time).

However, he was still a horrible president overall, always the triumph of image over substance. His economic programs funneled a massive amount of money to the richest Americans, hurt the middle class, hurt the poor even more, and tripled the national debt. We're still bearing the effects, and at this point, every national Republican promotes the same "voodoo economics" of plutocracy and fiscal irresponsibility. And Reagan accomplished this by appealing to the racial fears and spite of white voters, who then voted against their own interests.

In addition to that, there was the Iran-Contra Affair, which should have sent most of his administration to jail. Then there are all the cultural issues – despite being an actor, one of Reagan's first actions was to try to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, a small, criminally under-funded agency that does a great deal of good despite its size. To this day, conservatives keep on trying to kill the arts, and at this point, I don't think they even remember the reason (not that there ever was a good one); it's a culture war thing, and they do it just to be dicks. (Yeah, de-funding the Folger Shakespeare Library (and Theater) in D.C., and Poetry Out Loud, which celebrates poetry-loving students across the country, is really the work of angels, guys.)

I want to take a closer look at supply-side economics later this year, but for now, let me link "Attack of the Plutocrats", and Thom Hartmann's excellent piece "Two Santa Clauses, or How The Republican Party Has Conned America for Thirty Years."

Tengrain is doing a great roundup of Reagan posts: "The Feast of Saint Ronnie."

I'll add (or highlight) some other pieces:

Wonkette: "One Hundred Years of Reagantube: Remembering Reagan In Dumb Videos." This is a very good collection, and also sums Reagan up aptly by saying: "Let’s remember the empty suit who led us to a Promised Land of Fox News, Tax Cuts for Multi-Billionaires and the deliberate dismantling of what had been the world’s smartest, most prosperous society in the History of the World."

Distributorcap NY: "Easter in February."

David Corn: "66 Things to Think About When Flying Into Reagan National Airport." (This one's an old piece, but useful.)

Patt Morrison did a show on Reagan, and while it's mostly hagiography, it's not entirely bad. Bonus points, though, if you can spot the disingenuous bullshit of William Niskanen of the Cato Institute. (Perhaps more on this later.)

Give Us This Day Our Daily Dread: "100 Years of Folksy Fascism."

Will Bunch: "What happens when Americans worship a bronze idol" and "Reagan to Rush Limbaugh: "You know nothing of my work"".

If you wrote a post on Reagan for today, head on over to Tengrain's, and leave it in the comments.


Friday, February 04, 2011

Blogroll Amnesty Day 2011

It's Blogroll Amnesty Day, where we celebrate small blogs by... linking some of them! This event was co-founded by the much missed Jon Swift (who explained its origins here), and by skippy, who's keeping the tradition alive in style. My most extensive post on the tradition was this one. (It involved Godzilla.)

Blogroll Amnesty Day also requires shout-outs to Blue Gal, who's always promoting small blogs, and to the indefatigable Mike Finnigan, because at Mike's Blog Roundup, every day is Blogroll Amnesty Day.

There are many worthy blogs out there, and it's nice to step off the beaten path occasionally and read someone new. So here we go:

Confession Zero: Mark Prime's latest site for poetry is... Confession Zero.

Cheyanne's Campsite: Currently pondering Egypt and musing on Alexandria.

Drinking Liberally in New Milford: Lieberman is finally retiring – surely cause for celebratory drinking in Connecticut.

Failed Empire: Thoughts on American imperialism, and how to kick the habit.

Mikeb302000: "Guns, politics, capital punishment, movies and music."

We Are Respectable Negroes: "Happy, Non-Threatening Colored Folk... Even in the Age of Obama." Just the team to protect us from socialism!

Godless Liberal Homo: Yet again, the blog name sells itself – but if that doesn't sell ya, surely the post title "Boehner, Other Rightists, Trying to Protect the Fetuses of Child Molesters." should do the trick.

Welcome to Potterville 2: Currently considering the hypocrisy of Ayn Rand and Rand Paul... and also examining the recent State of the Union speech.

Mister Tristan: Reflections on long-distance running, culture, and current events.

Poor Impulse Control: I'm guessing from the blog title that author Tata is a fan of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, but Tata seems both nicer and more artistic than an Inuit assassin who kills with glass harpoons and has a nuke for a sidecar. But it's always the quiet ones...

Also – if you're on this list, or on my blogroll, and you don't link a contact e-mail on your site – and don't allow comments, either - perhaps you should, uh, reconsider that. (Or at least shoot me an e-mail.) Otherwise, it makes it awfully hard to include you in the Jon Swift Memorial Roundup. (Cough, cough, hint, hint.)

Finally, make sure to head over to skippy's place, where he's linking all the participants.


Stars - "Fixed"

The official video is here, but can't be embedded.

Eclectic Jukebox

Promoting Religion in the Courtroom

Americans United for Separation of Church and State highlights an interesting recent decision:

A federal appeals court made the right call in requiring a state judge in Ohio to remove a Ten Commandments display from his courtroom, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that James DeWeese, a judge of the Richland County Court of Common Pleas, ran afoul of the Constitution when he put up a display entitled “Philosophies of Law in Conflict” that contrasted the “Moral Absolutes” of the Ten Commandments with the “Moral Relatives” of humanism.

“Judge DeWeese was improperly promoting his personal religious beliefs in his courtroom, and I’m glad the appeals court put a stop to it,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

Added Lynn, “Our courts are supposed to provide equal justice for all, not promote religious law. Judges should never send the message that some religious traditions have a preferred place in the courtroom.”

The case goes back to 2000, when DeWeese hung a poster of the Ten Commandments opposite a poster of the Bill of Rights, presenting each as “the rule of law.” The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sued and won. In response, DeWeese created the new display. The ACLU sued over that as well.

If you head over to the AU site, you can read or download the PDF of the decision (or click here). It's only 17 pages long, and I thought it was a good read. The decision cites case law on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment – "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." I found it educational to read about the "three prongs" of judging such matters, which seem quite fair and sensible. The decision's thorough and methodical, finding that Judge DeWeese violated two of the prongs – and presents plenty of support for each of these findings. Additionally, the decision makes a useful and clear distinction between DeWeese's free speech rights as a private citizen and the "government speech" he engaged in this situation. I would imagine (or hope) all that thoroughness would make subsequent overturning less likely. I also found it interesting to see how the court dealt with the issue of credibility and bad faith from DeWeese.

As for DeWeese himself – he seems pretty out there. Back to AU:

In addition, Americans United pointed out on its website that DeWeese has been affiliated with Christian Reconstructionism, the most extreme manifestation of the Religious Right. Reconstructionists believe in imposing “biblical law” on America based on the legal code of the Old Testament.

Read the decision for the full text of what DeWeese posted, but he seems pretty hostile to legal opinion for a judge, setting it up in direct opposition to the God he believes in. His main claim is that (emphasis mine):

The cases passing through this courtroom demonstrate we are paying a high cost in increased crime and other social ills for moving from moral absolutism to moral relativism since the mid 20th century. Our Founders saw the necessity of moral absolutes. President John Adams said, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” The Declaration of Independence acknowledges God as Creator, Lawgiver, “Supreme Judge of the World,” and the One who providentially superintends the affairs of men. Ohio’s Constitution acknowledges Almighty God as the source of our freedom. I join the Founders in personally acknowledging the importance of Almighty God’s fixed moral standards for restoring the moral fabric of this nation. Judge James DeWeese.

In other words, the problem with America is it needs more God and religion – specifically, DeWeese's conception of both God and religion. I'm reminded once again of Mitt Romney's anti-JFK speech and his ahistorical, illogical, false and pandering bullshit claims that "freedom requires religion" and that morality is impossible without religion. While Romney is a disingenuous snake oil salesman, I suspect DeWeese is quite sincere. If he believes what he says, okay – but the job of the judge is to apply the law fairly and justly, and that includes respecting legal precedent. It's not a good fit for him. He'd be better off as a preacher, who could try to sell his social conservatism and any extremist, crackpot notions he liked. He could rail against those he saw as sinful for not obeying his commands – lord knows that approach always works well.

Is that unfair? Is DeWeese really that extreme? AU gave more background back in March 2010:

In fact, his critics note, the poster makes it clear that DeWeese is on one side of the alleged religion v. relativism debate. The judge has even gone so far as to claim that societies that do not follow the Decalogue end up like Nazi Germany.

“When Adolf Hitler butchered millions of fellow citizens as biologically inferior, he was acting as a moral relativist,” DeWeese said. “Moral relativism furnishes no ground to condemn Hitler.”

DeWeese’s controversial worldview seems to be shaped by his relationship with some of the most radically theocratic elements of the Religious Right. He is a graduate of the Witherspoon School of Law and Public Policy, a seminar its sponsor, Vision Forum Ministries, describes as “a four-day crash course in biblical principles of law and public policy.”

Vision Forum reminds its students that they cannot “ignore God’s Word as the foundation for law and liberty.”

At first glance, the San Antonio, Texas-based ministry looks like a typical conservative Christian outfit that promotes home schooling, male-dominated families and a literal interpretation of the scriptures. In fact, the group is aligned with Christian Reconstructionism, a movement that seeks to replace secular democracy with a fundamentalist theocracy.

Reconstructionists argue that “God’s law,” including the harsh legal code of the Old Testament, should be binding on modern-day America. They insist that believers of their stripe should re-order (“reconstruct”) governments and establish theocratic rule to pave the way for the Second Coming of Jesus.

Reconstructionists say the Old Testament mandates the death penalty for various offenders, including homosexuals, the “unchaste,” blasphemers, adulterers, witches, those who worship false gods and even “incorrigible” teenagers.

Vision Forum is run by Douglas W. Phillips, son of Howard Phillips, a longtime Republican operative and former Nixon administration official who drifted into Reconstructionism during the 1990s. The organization doesn’t flaunt its alignment with Reconstructionism – probably aware of its controversial nature – but Reconstructionist writers are a staple on its Web site.

Tellingly, the site is littered with columns by William Einwechter, a Pennsylvania pastor who in 1999 authored a controversial essay arguing that the Bible mandates the stoning of “disobedient” teenagers. (Einwechter spoke at the Vision Forum’s 2008 Witherspoon seminar in Fredericksburg, Va., offering lectures on “Christian Jurisprudence” and “The Bible and Female Magistrates.”)

DeWeese has a featured article on the Vision Forum Web site as well. In it, he argues that America was founded on “the fixed law of God” and criticizes court decisions upholding church-state separation, school integration, abortion rights and gay rights as examples of judges changing the law by judicial edict.

That's pretty far out there – and I'm sure it's just a coincidence that all of his principles privilege white, straight, male social conservatives. A theocratic judge presents, at best, an inherent conflict of interest. How exactly does that work, being a judge of law in America when one disagrees with the very foundation of law in America, the Constitution itself? This is hardly some minor dispute or difference of opinion; DeWeese is going against plenty of history (as do all the "America was founded as a Christian nation" crowd) and a trail of case law – some of it cited against him in this very decision. I imagine it was cited in the previous decision against him too, but if so, he ignored it – and this is a recurring theme with theocrats. The ACLU is currently considering legal action against the Giles County School Board (in Virginia) for deciding to post the Ten Commandments in their public schools – which they did despite the advice of their own attorney. It's not that they don't know this is illegal – they don't care. These are power grabs, perhaps fueled by spite as well. I'd bet DeWeese doesn't truly understand the First Amendment and the history of separation of church and state in America, but the more important point is that, like all Christian dominionists, he's made it absolutely clear he rejects it.