Friday, October 12, 2007

Al Gore gets their goat

-- by Dave

We knew even beforehand that if Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize, as he did today, heads all over the wingnutosphere would explode with fury.

After all, some had already exploded over the concept of his nomination. Some right-wingers even rushed to nominate Rush Limbaugh for the honor, and the Big Man himself loved it, adding:
"I don't even know why Gore's qualified for this. ... I have done more for world peace to promote liberty and freedom than Al Gore has."

One of the first to explode this morning was Michelle Malkin, fresh from her crispy-fried flameout over the Frost family, who's been posting all morning about how big Gore's head must be.

In London, Damian Thompson at the Telegraph offers what will probably be the archetypical response: some hoary old-style Gore-bashing mingled with some warmed-over specious global-warming denial, topped with an absurdly ignorant denunciation of the award itself.

Thompson serves up a heaping helping of mythological Gore-hate in order to explain why Gore didn't deserve the award -- namely, that he's an "exaggerator and a braggart."

He manages to resurrect nearly every Gore-bashing cliche from 2000, including the "invented the Internet" charge, which he grudgingly acknowledges wasn't quite right. But then he digs up every other phony charge raised by the mainstream media in 2000 -- for instance, the remark about the "Love Canal," which the Daily Howler long ago dispensed with. His favorite, he says, was the "union label" tale -- which Bob Somerby also handled this charge back when it raised:
Quick review: On September 18, 2000, Gore told the Teamsters convention that he had been sung “Look for the Union Label” as a lullaby in his youth. Brilliant historians like Shapiro discerned that the song wasn’t written until 1976; they loudly complained that the troubling comment was surely Al Gore’s Latest Lie. Gore explained that he’d only been joking. (“That was a joke,” he told a press conference. “You know? Nobody sings a lullaby to a little baby about union labels?”) He also said that he often told the joke to union audiences. Indeed, on the tape of the Gore speech, you could see Teamsters laugh at his comment. But the press was determined to make Gore a liar, and so they feigned a deep concern about his latest troubling comment (just as they do now with Clark). Indeed, the New York Times never even reported Gore’s explanation; incredibly, they never even told their readers that Gore had said he’d been joking.

He also goes on to cite some rather warmed-over global-warming denial stories that simply don't hold water. For instance, Thompson says:
Polar bears who drowned swimming to look for ice? Again, no evidence: four bears have drowned - but because of a storm.

Of course, there isn't a lot of evidence of bear drownings because their bodies sink. But the population numbers tell us all we need to know -- they're in stark decline. Moreover, the broader scientific evidence is clear that polar bears are headed for extinction. Does Thompson need bear corpses washing up on shores before he can figure that out?

But his bottom line is the same we've been hearing from the right ever since the Gore nomination made the news, to wit:
But there is a more fundamental objection to awarding Gore the peace prize that goes beyond issues of character. Climate change is a threat to the environment, not to "peace" and international order. The prize has gone to some sleazy recipients in the past, but at least you can make a case that their actions staved off bloodshed.

This is, of course, complete blithering nonsense, because it takes even the shallowest and dullest of thinkers a few moments' rumination to figure out that global warming is going to profoundly affect the world's natural resources, and humans have a long and steady history of waging wars primarily over those natural resources.

And in fact, the scientists have been clear about this as can be:
Food and water shortages fueled in the future by global warming could spur conflicts and even wars over these essential resources, the authors of a new study warn.

History suggests the controversial idea might be on track.

Changes in climate, such as temperature and rainfall, can significantly alter the availability of crops, livestock and drinking water. Resource shortages could, in turn, prompt people to turn to war to get what they need to survive, several experts have warned.

A new study, detailed in the August 2007 issue of the journal Human Ecology, suggests this was the case in the past. The authors reviewed 899 wars fought in China between 1000 and 1911 and found a correlation between the frequency of warfare and records of temperature changes.

“It was the oscillations of agricultural production brought by long-term climate change that drove China’s historical war-peace cycles,” wrote lead author David Zhang of the University of Hong Kong.

Similarly, several top retired American military leaders released a report in April warning of the national security threat posed by global warming, predicting wars over water, refugees displaced by rising sea levels and higher rates of famine and disease.

Al Gore has a habit of bringing out the worst in conservatives -- especially their eagerness to smear and their self-imposed ignorance about the nature of science and how the world really works.

No doubt, if they were ever self-aware enough to recognize this, though, they'd just find a way to blame Gore for it.

The Perfected Jew

-- by Sara

God, I do not want to talk about Ann Coulter today. Or any other day.

There's a reason a number of bloggers have taken to calling her She Who Must Not Be Named. Nobody wants to give her time, bandwidth, breath, or space. Talking about her is like feeding the Grandmother of All Trolls -- and you just know you're going to hate yourself in the morning.

But on Tuesday, she said something that requires some explanation and a background story. Media Matters describes the scene:

During the October 8 edition of CNBC's The Big Idea, host Donny Deutsch asked right-wing pundit Ann Coulter: "If you had your way ... and your dreams, which are genuine, came true ... what would this country look like?" Coulter responded, "It would look like New York City during the [2004] Republican National Convention. In fact, that's what I think heaven is going to look like." She described the convention as follows: "People were happy. They're Christian. They're tolerant. They defend America." Deutsch then asked, "It would be better if we were all Christian?" to which Coulter responded, "Yes." Later in the discussion, Deutsch said to her: "[Y]ou said we should throw Judaism away and we should all be Christians," and Coulter again replied, "Yes." When pressed by Deutsch regarding whether she wanted to be like "the head of Iran" and "wipe Israel off the Earth," Coulter stated: "No, we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say. ... That's what Christianity is. We believe the Old Testament, but ours is more like Federal Express. You have to obey laws."

After a commercial break, Deutsch said that "Ann said she wanted to explain her last comment," and asked her, "So you don't think that was offensive?" Coulter responded: "No. I'm sorry. It is not intended to be. I don't think you should take it that way, but that is what Christians consider themselves: perfected Jews. We believe the Old Testament. As you know from the Old Testament, God was constantly getting fed up with humans for not being able to live up to all the laws. What Christians believe -- this is just a statement of what the New Testament is -- is that that's why Christ came and died for our sins. Christians believe the Old Testament. You don't believe our testament." Coulter later said: "We consider ourselves perfected Christians. For me to say that for you to become a Christian is to become a perfected Christian is not offensive at all."

This exchange sent me back, cringing, to the memory of a visit with my fundamentalist grandmother back around 1978, when I brought home a Jewish boyfriend from college to meet her. She very sweetly explained the above viewpoint to him -- including the repeated use of the term "perfected Jew" -- as a misguided way of buttering him up for conversion. You've got to love the essential arrogance of this position: "You think you're one of the Chosen People -- but the Bible tells me you're broken in the eyes of God. But I can help you fix that, if you'll let me...." Among Evangelicals, this kind of casual insult is what passes for winning friends and influencing people. And then they wonder why people think they're arrogant.

"Perfection" is an idea -- and a phrase -- with a long fundamentalist pedigree that goes back at least to the 1960s, and perhaps farther. The idea that Jews are God's Formerly Chosen People, who somehow got broken and lost -- and eventually, superceded in Daddy's favor -- when they failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah is a favorite Evangelical conceit. In this view, God misses the Jews and would still rather choose them -- but his hands are tied. He simply can't do that until they come around to his way of thinking on the Jesus thing. In the meantime, these stubborn "imperfect" ignorants (gifted from the start with way too much free will -- an error God has been trying to reverse ever since) have left him no choice but to give their spot on his big lap to the Christians. Of course, "perfected" Jews" -- those who come to accept the Christian Messiah -- are God's best beloved of all.

My grandma was really big on this "perfection" deal. She knew she's score triple bonus points in the eyes of God if she evangelized to Jews; and, unfortunately, my preference for Jewish boyfriends gave her ample opportunity. (Jerry, David, Randy: I'm still sorry for putting you through that.) But, even in doing this, Grandma was dancing on the edge of a fundie taboo. The term "perfection" is one of those Evangelical code words that gets a lot of use when it's just them talking in private, but is never, ever used in front of non-Christians -- probably because even the most devout fundie has an uncomfortable sense of its essential arrogance, not to mention the rank anti-Semitism of its presumptions.

She Who Must Not Be Named broke that taboo wide open on Tuesday. She used the word in public, right out there on national TV. Most people who heard it had no idea what she was talking about. But those of us who know the code winced visibly. In her eternal quest to keep her career alive, Frankenstein-like, by increasing the amount of shock applied to it, she'd taken to giving up the family secrets, putting them on the transmission belt that pulls ideas from the holy-roller fringe right into the living rooms and minds of center-right America.

Given the way the transmission belt works, this may have been the first time non-fundie America heard about "perfected Jews" -- but now that the notion is out there, it probably won't be the last. And with it comes the idea that somehow, Jews are "less than," or "other," or "don't belong," or that it's somehow OK with God if we treat them less than fairly. Or, worse: that they are broken and imperfect, especially compared with righteous Christians like Coulter who can smugly proclaim her own "perfection" on TV.

That's a dangerous notion: we all know the evil places that kind of rhetoric can take us. Even, so, in a way, SWMNBN has done progressives (and especially Jews) a favor. She's brought an ugly piece of religious condescension -- shared by tens of millions of Americans -- right out into the open, where we can a long last give it the thorough debunking it deserves. People who've think they've got a warrant from God to believe that eight million of their fellow Americans are "broken" have no business making policy that might affect them -- or anyone else.


And then there's that ridiculous claim that "we have to obey laws." Judaism is arguably the most legalistic religion on earth: adult males are obligated to obey 613 specific rules governing every aspect of work, family, business, travel, grooming, dressing, eating, and even their sex lives. In the Christian view, Jesus' sacrifice rewrote that requirement -- it took them off the hook so they don't have to obey laws to curry favor with God. They only have to believe.

So, contrary to Coulter's claim, most Evangelicals don't have much use for the Torah. It's just a bunch of Bronze Age mumbo-jumbo that doesn't apply to them at all. They take the creation myths and the Flood, and leave the rest entirely alone. And the Jews' stubbornness in clinging to the whole thing, including the laws, is the main reason Evangelicals think they need "perfecting" in the first place.

In other words: she's blithering again.

Coulter, good Christian she, claims to attend Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. However, several spokespeople for the church told Max Blumenthal that they've never actually seen her there.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Gay bashers are coming out

[Sacramento, Calif., editor Vlad Kusakin (from left), also known as Wade Kusak; Vadim Privedenyuk, who runs an anti-gay church in Springfield, Mass.; Kenneth Hutcherson, founder of a Seattle area megachurch; and Alexey Ledyaev of Latvia are working together to battle gays. Photo courtesy of SPLC.]

-- by Dave

The religious right has always liked to pretend that its opposition to the "homosexual agenda" is purely a Biblical-law thing that isn't innately hateful -- remember "Hate the sin, love the sinner"? And their opposition to bias-crime laws really isn't about coddling people who commit violence, it's just about their free-speech rights -- even though the laws specifically are only about stiffening the sentences for acts that are already crimes.

Well, the facade is finally starting to crumble. The latest permutation in the religious right's anti-gay crusade appears ripe to take a decidedly violent turn.

Casey Sanchez at the SPLC has disturbing report about the coalition building between West Coast fundamentalist churches -- particularly here in the Northwest -- and a Latvian-based group of far-right fundamentalists who explicitly encourage, and in fact help manifest, violent gay-bashing thuggery.

One of the leaders in this growing coalition is a Seattle-area pastor, Rev. Ken Hutcherson, who has been involved in opposing civil rights for gays for some time. No doubt thanks to him, we in fact will be hosting a gathering of these thugs in Christian clothing next week just up the road from my home.

Sanchez's report begins with a description of one of the hate crimes that's occurred under the aegeis of this coalition, involving an Indian man in California:
One of the Slavic men then sucker-punched Singh in the head. He fell to the ground, unconscious and bleeding. The assailants drove off in a green sedan and red sports car, hurling bottles at Singh's friends to prevent them from jotting down the license plate. Singh suffered a brain hemorrhage. By the next day, hospital tests confirmed that he was clinically brain dead. His family agreed to remove him from artificial life support July 5.

Outside Singh's hospital room, more than 100 people held a vigil. Many were Sacramento gay activists who didn't know Singh personally, but who saw his death as the tragic but inevitable result of what they describe as the growing threat of large numbers of Slavic anti-gay extremists, most of them first- or second-generation immigrants from Russia, the Ukraine and other countries of the former Soviet Union, in their city and others in the western United States.

In recent months, as energetic Russian-speaking "Russian Baptists" and Pentecostals in these states have organized to bring thousands to anti-gay protests, gay rights activists in Sacramento have picketed Slavic anti-gay churches, requested more police patrols in gay neighborhoods and distributed information cards warning gays and lesbians about the hostile Slavic evangelicals who they say have roughed up participants at gay pride events. Singh's death was the realization of their worst fears.

... Gay rights activists blame Singh's death on what they call "The West Coast connection" or the "U.S.-Latvia Axis of Hate," a reference to a virulent Latvian megachurch preacher who has become a central figure in the hard-line Slavic anti-gay movement in the West. And indeed, in early August, authorities announced that two Slavic men, one of whom had fled to Russia, were being charged in Singh's death, which they characterized as a hate crime.

The main entity is a group of anti-gay brownshirts who call themselves the "Watchmen on the Walls"; in Latvia, they've been linked to a number of violent gay-bashing incidents. Now, the same trend is occurring here:
A growing and ferocious anti-gay movement in the Sacramento Valley is centered among Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking immigrants. Many of them are members of an international extremist anti-gay movement whose adherents call themselves the Watchmen on the Walls. In Latvia, the Watchmen are popular among Christian fundamentalists and ethnic Russians, and are known for presiding over anti-gay rallies where gays and lesbians are pelted with bags of excrement. In the Western U.S., the Watchmen have a following among Russian-speaking evangelicals from the former Soviet Union. Members are increasingly active in several cities long known as gay-friendly enclaves, including Sacramento, Seattle and Portland, Ore.

Vlad Kusakin, the host of a Russian-language anti-gay radio show in Sacramento and the publisher of a Russian-language newspaper in Seattle, told The Seattle Times in January that God has "made an injection" of high numbers of anti-gay Slavic evangelicals into traditionally liberal West Coast cities. "In those places where the disease is progressing, God made a divine penicillin," Kusakin said.

The Watchmen movement's strategy for combating the "disease" of homosexuality calls for aggressive confrontation. "We church leaders need to stop being such, for lack of a better word, sissies when it comes to social and political issues," Lively argues in a widely-circulated tract called Masculine Christianity. "For every motherly, feminine ministry of the church such as a Crisis Pregnancy Center or ex-gay support group we need a battle-hardened, take-it-to-the-enemy masculine ministry like [the anti-abortion group] Operation Rescue."

Lively identifies "the enemy" as not only homosexuals, but also what he terms "homosexualists," a category that includes anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, who "actively promotes homosexuality as morally and socially equivalent to heterosexuality as a basis for social policy."

When he personally confronts the enemy, Lively practices what he preaches when it comes to "battle-hardened" tactics. He recently was ordered by a civil court judge to pay $20,000 to lesbian photojournalist Catherine Stauffer for dragging her by the hair through the halls of a Portland church in 1991.

The movement likes to make use of Lively's bizarre piece of historical revisionism, The Pink Swastika -- which argues ahistorically that the Nazis were primarily homosexuals (it was very popular at militia meetings in the 1990s) -- as one of its major texts. As Sanchez explains:
Lively credits the popularity of Russian-language translations of The Pink Swastika to the support of Pastor Alexey Ledyaev, the head of the New Generation Church, an evangelical Christian megachurch based in Riga, the capital city of Latvia. New Generation has more than 200 satellite churches spread throughout Eastern Europe, Argentina, Israel and the United States.

"One of my supporters gave him [Ledyaev] a copy of The Pink Swastika. He was very impressed by it," Lively said in a December 2006 radio show on WTTT-AM, based in Salem, Mass. "The European press was bashing them [Ledyaev and his church] for being Nazis. He was finally thrilled that he had something to counter the media with." Ledyaev did not respond to E-mails seeking comment.

Ledyaeav, as it turns out, has friends in unusually high places:
Ledyaev is close friends with Southern Baptist televangelist Pat Robertson — a man who once predicted God would punish Florida with hurricanes and other disasters because Disney World had allowed a "Gay Days" discount — and was invited to the 2006 National Prayer Breakfast hosted by President George Bush.

A far more concrete relationship with the religious right is his association with Hutcherson:
In addition to Lively and Robertson, Ledyaev has cultivated the support of Rev. Ken Hutcherson, the African-American founder of Antioch Bible Church, a Seattle-area megachurch. "Hutch," as the ex-NFL player is known, played a key role in persuading Microsoft to temporarily withdraw its support for a Washington bill that would have made it illegal to fire an employee for their sexual orientation. In 2004, his "Mayday for Marriage" rally drew 20,000 people to the Seattle Mariner's Safeco Field to oppose legalizing same-sex marriage.

One of Ledyaev's nephews saw Hutcherson speak in Seattle at a March 2006 debate on gay rights and arranged a meeting with the Latvian pastor. By the end of the year, Hutcherson, Ledyaev and Lively had teamed up with Vlad Kusakin, the editor of The Speaker, to form an international alliance to oppose what Hutcherson characterizes as "the homosexual movement saying they're a minority and that they need their equal rights."

... During the past year, the Watchmen have met twice in the United States, first in Sacramento, then in Bellevue, Wash. They gathered to strategize against same-sex marriage and build a political organization to fight "gay-straight alliances" in public schools and push for the boycott of textbooks that mention homosexuality in any context other than total condemnation.

The group has also convened outside America. In the summer of 2006, the Watchmen and their supporters gathered in Riga, Latvia, to "protect the city from a homosexual invasion." Gay rights activists in Europe counter that it's gays who need protection from the Latvian capital, not the other way around.

David Schmader at Slog points out that the Watchmen on the Walls will be gathering here next week to talk strategy:
As readers pointed out in the comments, later this month, the Watchmen on the Walls will hold an international meeting to plot their war against homosexuals and “homosexualists” (straight people who are sympathetic to gay people) at the Lynnwood Convention Center. Calls made yesterday to the Convention Center revealed administrators’ ignorance of what they were getting themselves into.

... The Watchmen conference scheduled for October 19-21 at the Lynnwood Convention Center will feature a number of prominent Latvian anti-gay warriors, along with the Northwest’s own Pastor Ken Hutcherson. Correct me if I’m wrong, but foreigners coming to America with the purpose of doing harm to Americans are traditionally called terrorists, and the Watchmen conference seems like the last thing the City of Lynnwood would want to align itself with.

The folks who run the Convention Center, incidentally, appear to be clueless about the group they're hosting.

I have an unpleasant feeling that we'll all be learning a lot more about these goons in the not-too-distant future.

The real Ron Paul surfaces

[A recent post at David Duke's site.]
-- by Dave

It's been a rough week for Ron Paul's Republican presidential campaign. First it emerged that he had written a campaign letter (Brendan Nyhan has the PDF) promoting his candidacy in distinctly Patriot/militiaman-like terms:
I don’t need to tell you that our American way of life is under attack. We see it all around us — every day — and it is up to us to save it.

The world’s elites are busy forming a North American Union. If they are successful, as they were in forming the European Union, the good ‘ol USA will only be a memory. We can’t let that happen.

The UN also wants to confiscate our firearms and impose a global tax. The UN elites want to control the world’s oceans with the Law of the Sea Treaty. And they want to use our military to police the world.

On Wednesday Jesus' General noticed that Paul won the coveted endorsement from the white-supremacist organization Stormfront (where we'd already noted he was a favorite).

The coup de grace the same day was the report by the SPLC's Heidi Beirich at the Hatewatch blog detailing a Ron Paul campaign appearance planned for today:
The Robert A. Taft Club, a group headed by a man with a network of racist connections, has announced that a U.S. congressman, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), will address the group this Thursday at a restaurant in Arlington, Va.

The Taft Club is led by Marcus Epstein, who serves as the executive director of both white nationalist Pat Buchanan’s The American Cause and the Team America PAC, which is run by Buchanan’s sister, Bay Buchanan. Epstein writes for the anti-immigrant hate site and he advocates for white supremacist organizations. He is especially fond of American Renaissance — a white supremacist journal that has suggested that blacks have “psychopathic personalities” — and attends the journal’s biannual conferences. In 2006, Epstein invited the head of American Renaissance’s parent organization, Jared Taylor, to speak to the Taft Club on the issue of “Race and Conservatism.”

Taylor isn’t the only extremist Epstein has invited to speak at the Taft Club’s meetings. Both Paul Gottfried, who has spoken at American Renaissance gatherings, and Robert Stacy McCain, a foe of interracial marriage who is an editor at The Washington Times, have spoken to the club. (Epstein is listed as one of McCain’s friends on McCain’s Facebook Internet page). This past February, Epstein invited two members of a racist and anti-immigrant Belgian party, Vlaams Belang, to speak to his group. In 2004, an earlier incarnation of the Vlaams Belang, Vlaams Blok, was banned on the grounds that it incited racial hatred.

As Steve Benen says:
Listening to the debates, Paul often comes across as the most sensible guy on the stage, especially when it comes to Iraq and the Patriot Act. And then we're reminded, in print, that when it comes to a paranoid vision of the world, Paul really is out there on the political periphery.

Well, regular readers here already know about Paul's extended history of dalliances with right-wing xenophobes, racists, and conspiracy theorists. You have to wonder how he's managed to keep it hidden for so long. Has the press been looking the other way?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Stalking, then balking

-- by Dave

Um, Ezra?
My sense has been that Malkin doesn't want an argument. Rather, she wants to feed her readers the steady stream of outrage that keeps her traffic numbers up. But I realized tonight that I could be wrong, and I shouldn't assume Malkin doesn't want a real argument unless I actually ask her.

Lots of luck with that. Really. Before she was known as "Stalkin' Malkin," she had a well-earned rep as "Balkin' Malkin.

You never know what might happen, but my money is on a song-and-dance routine that ends up nowhere.

UPDATE: Nope. She's skipping the song-and-dance routine -- she's gonna go for Brazen Hypocrisy About Civility by Right-Wing Harridans for $1,000, Alex! [h/t to Hume's Ghost]

The big man and the military

-- by Dave

Jane Hamsher had a capital idea (seconded by Wesley Clark) the other day: It's time to get Rush Limbaugh off Armed Forces Radio.

Not just because he insulted dissenting soldiers in Iraq as "phony," or because he's a right-wing ideologue who constantly runs down uniformed Americans as insufficiently patriotic if they disagree with his political agenda -- though those should be cause enough.

The main reason Rush should be removed from Armed Forces Radio is that his divisive and corrosive influence on the national dialogue has been a significant influence in alienating men and women in the services from the rest of the public. He's played a leading role, along with his choruses in the wingnutosphere and the Village, in convincing a significant bloc of our soldiers that they're being stabbed in the back by weak-kneed traitors at home, civilians incapable of appreciating the sacrifices involved in war.

This theme has been a steady feature of Limbaugh's radio broadcasts since we invaded Iraq in March 2003, and it has gotten nastier and louder as time has gone on. A critical component, of course, has entailed Limbaugh's patented attacks on any soldier, officer, or veteran -- let alone a mere politician -- who dares to suggest that the war in Iraq is what it is, namely, a misbegotten tragedy of catastrophic proportions. Franklin Foser noted this:
Think about how much time and effort they expend on convincing Americans that progressives and Democrats are "anti-military," "hate the troops," and even "hate America." So any progressive veteran who criticizes Bush administration policies represents a profound threat to all the arguments they have made. It becomes particularly thorny when nearly the entire current leadership of the conservative movement -- not only media figures like Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly, but also political figures including President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and many others -- were of draft age during the Vietnam war but managed to stay out of harm's way.

Joe Conason's piece this week on Limbaugh similarly details just how far he's gone in attacking uniformed veterans:
Only in a media environment where conservatives have long felt exempt from scrutiny would Limbaugh still feel free to mock the military service of those who disagree with him. He is, after all, a certified chicken-hawk who cheered on the Vietnam War as it ground up tens of thousands of young Americans, but saw no reason why he should serve. His local draft board in a Missouri county, where his family enjoyed political influence, granted him a 1-Y deferment after he dropped out of college and forfeited his student deferment. Explaining how he escaped the draft, he has cited both a "bad knee" and a cyst on his backside that supposedly rendered him medically unfit.

Despite that undistinguished record, however, he has never hesitated to denigrate the service of Sen. John Kerry, former Sen. Tom Daschle and other Democrats who volunteered to wear the nation's uniform. He spent hours repeating the "Swift boat" lies when Kerry ran for president in 2004. And now he insinuates that the troops and vets who question this war are "phony soldiers."

What really worries Limbaugh and his right-wing comrades is that more and more of those who bravely serve America abroad, from foot soldiers to flag officers, have begun to voice their anger at the reckless policies that have cost them so dearly. Leaders of VoteVets, a group of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans organized in support of smarter security policy, have angrily challenged Limbaugh to repeat his slur to their faces — something he is most unlikely to do.

Unsurprisingly, the right has been circling the wagons around Limbaugh. As Foser observes:
Yet you would have had trouble finding too many Republicans in Washington willing to step forward and condemn Limbaugh, or do what Democrats are asked to do whenever a progressive anywhere says something controversial, and "distance themselves" from his remarks. Why? Because Rush Limbaugh is one of the most important components of the conservative spin machine. After all, when Republicans scored their dramatic electoral victory in 1994, they named him an honorary member of the 104th Congress. He'll have to go a lot further than insulting soldiers to get them to turn on him.

Almost as predictably, the Democratic response, as Digby notes, has been almost comically clueless. Simply shaking their fingers at Limbaugh is a gesture so meaningless that it actually just underscores their weakness. The only meaningful action they could and should take would be to boot him from our servicemen's taxpayer-funded radio broadcasts.

At the same time, the right's defense have been nearly as comical. Jonah Goldberg, for instance, wondered if anyone could show him an real examples of conservatives questioning liberals' patriotism -- a question so readily answered that all Goldberg could do was shrug "Touche."

Indeed, the genuinely divisive nature of Limbaugh's rhetoric is the reason he doesn't belong on radio broadcasts to our armed forces. As Digby also observes:
He has been spewing dangerous eliminationist bile about liberals in general for years and he tells our troops in Iraq every single day on Armed Forces Radio, paid for by you and me, that the Democrats are unpatriotic traitors, which really is reprehensible.

This is particularly the case in a climate where hate groups and other extremists, including neo-Nazis, are making actual inroads into the ranks of the military. Because ugly stab-in-the-back rhetoric is what's known to fuel these characters in the first place; giving them a daily dose of Limbaugh is just pouring LOX on the fire. Talk about the Timothy McVeigh Finishing School -- it isn't hard to predict the long-term impact on our coming political landscape.

Naturally, it isn't just Limbaugh who's spewing this kind of divisive rhetoric aimed at the troops. Virtually every right-wing pundit on the planet has at one time or another accused liberals of being treasonous scum, while portraying opposition to the war as "not supporting the troops." A prime example: Ann Coulter describing Rep. John Murtha as "the reason soldiers invented fragging."

You can already see the divisive "us (the soldiers) vs. them (the public)" mindset infecting the current military culture, especially among the Christian warrior types, who are getting hyped up on that train them to shoot liberals and non-Christians who won't convert.

Mind you, religion is a subject Limbaugh typically avoids, but he makes a practice of openly scorning non-Christians (especially atheists) and liberal Christians -- that is, he aligns himself on the side of the fundamentalist angels at every step. So it's not surprising that -- Oxycontin and trips to the Caribbean notwithstanding -- some of his biggest fans are also committed religious conservatives.

Thus it's also not surprising to see Limbaugh's divisive worldview manifesting itself in the religious sphere in the military, and with a decidedly eliminationist flavor. We're starting to see more and more reports about non-Christians being urged to convert, and for atheists to be threatened.

Jane Lampman at the Christian Science Monitor earlier this week had a piece exploring the question: "Are U.S. troops being force-fed Christianity?" It begins with an increasingly common anecdote:
At Speicher base in Iraq, US Army Spec. Jeremy Hall got permission from a chaplain in August to post fliers announcing a meeting for atheists and other nonbelievers. When the group gathered, Specialist Hall alleges, his Army major supervisor disrupted the meeting and threatened to retaliate against him, including blocking his reenlistment in the Army.

Months earlier, Hall charges, he had been publicly berated by a staff sergeant for not agreeing to join in a Thanksgiving Day prayer.

Kay Campbell at the Hunstville Times in Alabama explored this in even more detail:
In the midst of their fight to bring freedom to Iraq and Afghanistan, some American soldiers are finding their own freedoms threatened by the troops on their own side.

Though the U.S. Constitution mandates that the government apply no test of faith for employment - and, one presumes, deployment - of American citizens, soldiers who are open about being non-believers can face harassment and ostracizing from fellow troops and their officers, some say.

"We didn't let anyone know we were atheists," said Steve Moore of Huntsville, who served two tours in Iraq as an Army staff sergeant.

... What most soldiers do not get, however, are threats of "fragging" over their beliefs. Fragging is military slang for death by friendly fire.

Fragging is mentioned in statements e-mailed to a North Carolina native who organized a meeting of atheists at his base in Iraq in August.

The threats came after Army Spc. Jeremy Hall, 22, filed suit Sept. 17, against the Department of Defense and Maj. Freddy Welborn, for an incident in which he says Welborn told a group of atheists that they were disgracing their country and threatened to bar Hall's re-enlistment.

One of the more praiseworthy aspects of Ken Burns' current PBS series The War is how well it portrays the whole enterprise as a thoroughgoing American affair, drawing citizens from every walk and station of life. That, in fact, is for many men and women in uniform the real meaningful source of pride in the military.

Thanks to the rampaging, out-of-control conservative movement -- and especially its great mouthpiece, Rush Limbaugh -- we are at risk of losing that. It's time to get his voice out of our soldiers' eardrums by taking it out of taxpayer-funded broadcasts. It will only be the first step in fixing the problem, but it will be a good one.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Roosting Chickens, Part II

-- by Sara

I've been saying for a while now that the religious right in America finally and firmly jumped the shark over the past few years. But now that that big ol' shark's behind them, there's another bunch of critters looming ahead that may prove to be even more damning. It's that whole big flock of chickens that are finally coming home to roost.

I don't know how long they thought they were going to go on that way, all self-righteous and judgmental, blaming homosexuals and feminists for everything from 9/11 to the price of gas, ignoring the interests of the poor in favor of those of big business, and dismissing any kind of environmental stewardship as nothing more than a way to waste time until the Rapture comes. Clearly, the didn't see anything at all wrong with elevating the most spiteful and amoral among them as their national spokespeople, and rewarding them in direct proportion to the heat of their rhetoric. No, these folks were on fire (we're still not sure if it was Jesus or heartburn), and they weren't afraid to let their bilious light shine on the TV, in the streets, all the way to the White House. They did their best to set it high above the rest of the culture, where none of the rest of us could miss it if we wanted to.

And now, a new study reveals that young Americans, both inside and outside Christianity, have indeed taken note of this righteous spectacle-- and a large and growing majority of them are absolutely revolted by what they've seen.

A study released last week by the Barna Group, a reputable Evangelical research and polling firm, found that under-30s -- both Christian and non-Christian -- are strikingly more critical of Christianity than their peers were just a decade ago. According to the summary report, Barna pollster David Kinnaman found that the opinions of non-Christians, in particular, had slid like a rock in that time frame. Ten years ago, "the vast majority" of non-Christians had generally favorable views of Christianity. Now, that number stands at just 16%. When asked specifically about Evangelicals, the number are even worse: only 3% of non-Christian Millennials have positive associations with Evangelicals. Among the Boomers, it's eight times higher.

When Kinnaman asked senior pastors if they were seeing this too, half of them told him that, yes, they are finding their work to be an uphill battle -- "because people are increasingly hostile and negative toward Christianity." And his research bore this out. When he ranked young non-Christians' most common perceptions of Christianity, nine of the 12 most common attributes they named were negative ones. According to the study, "Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%)."

And this wasn't just ignorance talking. The people interviewed had an average of five Christian friends. Eighty percent of them had spent at least six months attending church themselves in the past; and half of them had considered becoming Christian, but rejected it. Familiarity with the faith, it appears, has bred quite a bit of contempt:
"As we probed why young people had come to such conclusions, I was surprised how much their perceptions were rooted in specific stories and personal interactions with Christians and in churches. When they labeled Christians as judgmental this was not merely spiritual defensiveness. It was frequently the result of truly ‘unChristian’ experiences. We discovered that the descriptions that young people offered of Christianity were more thoughtful, nuanced, and experiential than expected."
Some of the young adults' disdain for Christianity is the result of another new wrinkle that was nowhere on the scene a decade ago. The study found that 91% of non-Christians in America -- joined by 80% of the their peers in the pews -- now believe that Christianity is "anti-homosexual." (Gee. I can't imagine where they got that idea.) And no, they don't mean that in a good, God-fearing, General-JC-Christian sort of way. In the Barna summary, Kinnaman says, "Non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a "bigger sin" than anything else. Moreover, they claim that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians."

Yeah, well, it's hard to find a practical way to apply a contradiction like "hate the sin, love the sinner" -- especially when everybody who isn't an ideologue knows that the "sin" is a pre-determined biological trait.

Roughly a quarter of both the Christians and non-Christians in the under-30 group also mentioned -- without being prompted -- that "Christianity has changed from what it used to be," and that it "no longer looks like Jesus." Their sheer frustration level over how far the modern Christianity had deviated from its roots took Kinnaman by surprise:
In our interviews, we kept encountering young people - both those inside the church and outside of it - who said that something was broken in the present-day expression of Christianity. Their perceptions about Christianity were not always accurate, but what surprised me was not only the severity of their frustration with Christians, but also how frequently young born again Christians expressed some of the very same comments as young non-Christians."
And, to top it all off, Kinnaman found that the American population as a whole is on a long-term trendline that's moving the country away from Christianity. "This is not a passing fad wherein young people will become 'more Christian' as they grow up," the Barna report states. "While Christianity remains the typical experience and most common faith in America, a fundamental recalibration is occurring within the spiritual allegiance of America's upcoming generations." This trendline points to a far more diverse -- and possibly more secular -- nation in the decades ahead:

This study is prompting quite a bit of soul-searching among Evangelicals. Some feel this study verifies things they've long suspected; others are just stunned. Maybe it's the way everybody's always ignored their persistent conversion efforts -- they just got so used to being tuned out by the mainstream culture that it never occurred to them that anyone might ever take anything they said seriously. And now, they're genuinely surprised to find out that yes, we were listening -- and yes, we did take it all very much to heart. And, furthermore, what we've heard has deeply damaged our opinion of them.

It seems likely that this study will trigger the persecution reflex among the more reactionary and defensive factions of the religious right. They've always felt like an embattled minority; and this report just proves what they've always intuited, which is that they're living amid a dominant culture that's increasingly hostile to their beliefs. (Some groups seem poised to honestly examine their own role in fostering that hostility; however, the more radical a group is, the less likely they are to bother with this.)

But at least it will be harder now for them to delude themselves that their efforts to drag us into theocracy are succeeding. The Barna numbers clearly show that the goal of making America a Christian nation is actually receding into the distance as successive generations turn away from the faith -- in no small part because they're gagging on the overwhelming authoritarian stench that's seeped in from the extremist edges toward the great middle.

But the study also opens the way for new developments that may prove to be very positive -- both for Christians, and for secular America.

-- There's a surprisingly unified sense between young adults, both inside and outside the faith, that the divisive, judgmental authoritarianism that's dominated Evangelical Christianity for the past 30 years has run its course. Furthermore: the "insiders" (as Barna terms Christians) see the same issues and agree with many of the criticisms as those on the outside -- and are openly talking about taking their theology in some new directions. There's an emerging sense that it's time to let go of the harsh legalism that's defined American Protestantism for the past three decades, and return to something more like the Social Gospel that demanded more of Christians than merely passing judgment on the details of other people's lives.

-- With the publication of this study, homosexuality's long, mean run as the hot-button issue that reliably rallies the faithful is probably finished. When even the next generation of Christians thinks their elders' behavior on this issue is useless and shameful, even the most die-hard culture warriors will be forced to admit that this battle is finally over -- and they lost.

As more and more Evangelical groups read the writing on the wall and back away from the issue, it may mean that full equality for gays comes considerably faster and with far less resistance than it has in the past.

-- This study gives lots of ammunition to would-be reformers within the Christian movement, and will thus hasten the demise of the old-guard leaders who built vast empires on gay-hating and abortion-baiting. Last year, Rev. Joel Hunter resigned as the head of the Christian Coalition after just three weeks after being hired because the board refused to let him back away from abortion and homosexuality as their key issues, and re-orient the group toward issues like social justice and the environment, which he argued were more interesting to younger Christians. This report gives strong support to reform-minded leaders like Hunter, so we may see more of them emerging to take the Christian right in new directions over the next few years.

-- The long-term trend toward a less Christian nation is probably good news for liberalism in general. If there are comparatively fewer Christians, there will be more people of other faiths -- though other Barna studies have found that the biggest gains of all are being made among atheist and agnostic free-thinkers, who are also the most likely to be political liberals. This, in turn, bodes well for the various scientific fields that have come under attack by the religious right; and it opens the way for Christians and non-Christians to find some fresh common ground on issues like social justice and the environment as the religious leadership changes.

Overall, the new Barna study seems to offer some hopeful prospects for a more generally liberal and diverse America in the decades ahead. Evangelical Christianity won't go away -- but there's a shift in its essential character afoot, which may even reverse the trend toward minority status over time. And it seem likely that big changes are coming that will not only make it more progressive in its view of its own mission; but will also make it a much better friend to democracy than it's been in recent years.

Bush and the 'black time for science'

-- by Dave

We've written infrequently here on the Bush administration's ongoing war against science, but it's always noteworthy when confirmation of the problem (and concern about its effects) comes from people in a much better position to know.

Skip Berger at Crosscut has an excellent piece up citing at length an e-mail he received (in reply to a query) from Ed Lazowska, who was appointed by President Bush as co-chair of the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee, and is now the chair in computer science and engineering at the University of Washington.

Lazowska writes:
The years of the [George W.] Bush administration have been a black time for science in this nation. I speak with the experience of having co-chaired the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee for Bush, and having chaired the Defense Department's DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] Information Science and Technology Study Group during his presidency. Funds for research, the seed corn of our future competitiveness, have decreased. And the balance of those funds has shifted from longer-range topics — the natural role of the federal government — to shorter-range topics. In the Defense Department, excessive classification of research programs, restrictions on the participation of foreign nationals, and other policy shifts have caused university researchers to abandon working with DoD, meaning that many of the nation's best minds are not focused on defense-related problems.

Note that DoD funded the research that led to the Internet during the Vietnam war — it is not that we are in a war that is the issue! Presidential scientific advisory committees have been politicized. I have seen this firsthand. The general denigration of science emanating from the White House, and the near completee failure of the President's Science Advisor, Jack Marburger, to speak out, is poisonous. Right here in Seattle, consider the Discovery Institute and its "intelligent design." ("Faith-based science" is not what made this nation the world's leader.) Think about our immigration policy. This nation became the world's leader by welcoming the best and the brightest from all nations, but today we have a devil of a time getting foreign students into UW, or hiring faculty who are foreign nationals; foreign students who are educated here are "sent back where they came from" upon graduation rather than being retained to grow the technological base of our nation.

A lot of Republicans are busy pretending that George W. Bush is just uniquely incompetent and that his mistakes would not be repeated endlessly by any of the current crop of Republican presidential candidates. Yet if you look across the board at the GOP field, it's clear that not one of them would do a thing to change the ongoing right-wing war against science. Indeed, most of them seem poised to abet it.


-- by Dave

My latest post at The Big Con, "Arrogant and Out of Touch," is now up. Enjoy!

The assholosphere

-- by Dave

The right's eagerness to reshape itself as a torch-bearing mob now manifesting itself in the campaign to "expose" young Graeme Frost has forged a whole new level of wingnuttery. It's really something to behold.

Now aspiring wingnuts can ascend to a special level of nastiness by going after children, families, and in general private citizens who make the mistake of advocating progressive positions. They freely abuse the media power they've been handed in order to harm people in their private lives for the public positions they take.

It's uniquely unAmerican. Indeed, it has all the earmarks of fascism. But it also marks a special level of inhumanity and soullessness.

Michelle Malkin pioneered this new sphere of affairs last year by kicking off a campaign to attack a group of college antiwar protesters with their home addresses and phone numbers.

It was, of course, unusually reminiscent of what went down in Rwanda during ethnic strife there, where radio announcers would give out the home addresses of intended victims. But this hasn't just happened in Rwanda: we've seen similar tactics here in the Northwest used against environmentalists.

Malkin has continued to expand on the concept with her "John Doe" campaign, which urges paranoid Americans to take action against anyone they suspect might be a terrorist, no matter how fevered their imaginations.

What she and her torch-bearing cohorts are tapping into, of course, is the right's innate eagerness to form ugly eliminationist mobs bent on purging anyone who opposes their agenda. Indeed, the ease with which they form bands of flying monkeys -- even when the story isn't just false but an embarrassing mistake -- has also been duly noted.

Now the Graeme Frost mob is being led not just by Malkin but by Rush Limbaugh, with Mark Steyn taking up the rear and a whole host of other wingnuts in between.

This isn't simple wingnuttery, though, which while noxious enough in its own right is at least a little laughable. This goes beyond wingnuttia.

As Atrios says, these people are assholes. Flaming nuclear assholes.

So for those wingnuts who have ascended beyond mere kookery and have begun using their media powers to attack and harass private citizens in their private lives for the mere affrontery of taking a non-conservative political position, we should have a new designation.

Can we just call them the assholosphere and be done with them?

Monday, October 08, 2007


-- by Dave

If you have a TV in Washington state right now, your set is being inundated with commercials opposing Referendum 67, an attempt to force insurance companies to live up to the contracts they make people sign. A few of these are pro-R-67 (and are in fact effective and touching), but the ones that are really flooding the screen are all opposed (and for some reason, the videos aren't available on the Web).

Mostly they feature actors in suburban homes or in one case a local diner, all pretending to be average Joes talking about how R-67 is going to cost them soooo much money and how it'll hurt them and their livelihoods. But there's one phrase that keeps popping up in all of them: "self-serving" is how they describe the referendum, since ostensibly it's all the work of eeeevil trial lawyers (one commercial showed a bunch of them -- from the firm Sooem Settle and Kashin -- all rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of how much they could make).

"Self-serving?" It's a common phrase throughout the "Reject R-67" campaign literature. Their spokespeople like to get it into news stories, too.


Well, sure, trial attorneys are going to benefit from the law. But so will most of the public, even those inclined to whine about increased premiums.

The only people who really won't benefit from it are insurers. Which would explain why they've poured in over $8 million to the "Reject R-67" campaign. (See the Anderson Cooper report at the top for more.) That would make its ad campaigns the precise definition of "self serving."

Good ol' right-wing projection. No doubt we keep witnessing it because it's such an effective strategy.

A film about Luna

-- by Dave

Another film that's now on my must-see list (if and when it makes it to area theaters): Saving Luna, the documentary by Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm, who spent a couple of years in Nootka Sound hanging out, observing and filming Luna, the young killer whale from the Puget Sound's K pod, separated from his family, who was tragically killed in a boating accident last year.

The film just won the top prize in the "people and animals category" at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, which is more or less the Cannes of this kind of filmmaking.

I've seen snippets of the film when Parfit and Chisholm put on a speaking appearance on Whidbey Island a few years back. I mentioned some of these scenes when I wrote about Luna's death:
Parfit and Chisholm had filmed Luna's odyssey with the tribal canoes away from the DFO capture team, and it was really rather remarkable to watch how closely the orca seemed to bond with the tribe. At a couple of junctures in the drama, Luna actually was within the capture area, and on both occasions he decided to return to his friends in the canoes. He traveled with them some 20 kilometers away to the site of their original village, and some of their interactions en route were something to behold.

So was some of the other footage that Parfit and Chisholm had collected. The one that really struck me involved some of his boat nudging; at one point, they caught Luna rising to the surface and pushing a small outboard boat at its transom, right next to the motor, which was turned off.

As he nudged the skiff forward, he began making a noise through his blowhole -- PBBBBBTTTTTTTTTT -- that almost perfectly replicated the sound of an outboard engine. It was simultaneously charming and disturbing, like watching a little kid who had a preternatural fascination with heavy equipment climbing aboard a bulldozer and firing it up.

Parfit later wrote a remarkable piece after Luna's death about the eagerness to lay blame in the wake of the whale's death.

Now if they can just convince a Seattle theater to show it.

Fun with skinheads

-- by Dave

Well, it sounds like last weekend's planned Hammerfest in Portland was the big social event of the year everyone expected it to be:
While protesters rallied against Hammerskin Nation in Portland, the national neo-Nazi group quietly slipped into the Sherwood Elks Club, until managers realized who they were and asked them to leave.

The Hammerskins tried to stay under the radar, but had been planning its 20th anniversary rally in the Portland area.

Elks officials said there were misled by the group. When it booked their hall, it did so under a different name, they said, claiming it was a rock band reunion. Members of the Elks club were listening to the music entertainment, and apparently had no idea they were sitting alongside members of the Hammerskin Nation.

When officials did realize who they were, they asked them to leave. They said the group never admitted their identity was in fact Hammerskin Nation, but they apologized and left.

Police arrived on the scene, but no incidents were reported. The number of attendees present is uncertain, but some estimates say around 100 people.

Obviously, those plans for creating a "white homeland" here in the Northwest are just humming right along.