Sunday, November 22, 2015

America and Islam

Even if Americans don't give a crap about freedom of religion or the Statue of Liberty, perhaps they should remember their history classes:
In the final years of the 18th century and throughout the first two decades of the 19th century, the United States was drawn into multiple, semi-undeclared military conflicts with these Barbary Pirates. The first such Barbary War was conducted by the Jefferson administration against Karamanli’s Tripoli between 1801 and 1805, supported by congressional acts that stopped short of declaring war but authorized activities such as seizing ships and supplies. The Second Barbary War (1815) was fought by the Madison administration (with more overt congressional sanction) a decade later against Algiers, which had sided with England during the recently concluded War of 1812 and was continuing to harass American shipping.

The specific causes and histories of each Barbary War, and of the conflicts that led up to and followed them, were various and complex. Yet from the earliest such conflicts the U.S. government had made one thing very explicit and clear: the battles were not in any way between religions or civilizations. In 1796, the Washington administration sent his old Army colleague David Humphreys and other ambassadors to North Africa to negotiate a treaty with the Barbary States; the resulting document came to be known as the Treaty of Tripoli, and was sent to the Senate by new President John Adams and unanimously ratified in the summer of 1797.

That treaty opened with a clear statement of the goal, “a firm and perpetual Peace and friendship” between the nations. And in Article 11, it addressed directly the issue of religion:
As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen, and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Those interruptions, when they arose a few years later, had no more to do with religion or a clash of civilizations than did these late 18th century issues.

The evolving U.S. relationship with the Barbary States didn’t just affect our foreign policy. During the Revolution, the North African nation of Morocco was the first in the world to recognize the new United States (in 1777); the two nations would subsequently sign a Treaty of Friendship in 1786, with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson signing for the United States. Thanks to this enduring relationship, when a number of Moroccan Muslims—“Moors,” as they were known in the language of era—sought to flee the rising power and brutality of the Barbary States, they chose America as their destination. Many of these refugees settled in Charleston, South Carolina, helping comprise the state’s burgeoning Moorish community that would become the subject of one of South Carolina’s first post-Constitution laws, the Moors Sundry Act of 1790.

There are no easy answers to the international issues and conflicts facing the United States and our allies in 2015, nor simple solutions for the communities of refugees fleeing those conflicts. Yet as our histories illustrate, any answers that include either a “war with Islam” or a refusal to accept such refugees in the United States will represent a significant and troubling break from some of our foundational moments and ideals.

Incidentally, can you imagine getting any bill through Congress today acknowledging that "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion"? And that was ratified unanimously.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

When fascism comes to America

"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." - Sinclair Lewis

I know that Americans are notoriously ignorant about history, but... this ignorant? And this cowardly, too? How did Americans get to be such hopeless cowards? I don't get it.

Incidentally, in that video clip, Trump says he "wouldn't rule it out." But don't let that give you the wrong impression:
So on Monday he's saying he'd "strongly consider" shutting down mosques. And then just a day later he's saying he'd "absolutely" close them down. With his Muslim ID card and database, Wednesday he said he wouldn't rule out creating such a system. By the end of the day he was telling NBC News he would "absolutely" create such a system.

In the Republican Party, crazy isn't enough. You have to be crazier than the other guy. If you're a Republican politician, you don't want to be seen as a 'moderate' when it comes to destroying America's freedoms, because sure as hell there will be someone even crazier than you are to steal your thunder.

Friday, November 20, 2015

This is a Republican?

This is a Republican? Yeah, this is a Republican. I'm impressed. And I can't imagine when I last said that about a Republican politician.

I expect this kind of clear thinking from Elizabeth Warren. I don't expect it from any Republican.

Edit: This guy ended up voting for the bill to keep out Syrian refugees. So maybe he's a more typical Republican than it seemed.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Putting the Christ back in coffee

Yeah, here's more about the Starbucks coffee cup war on Christmas. Sorry, but I think this is just hilarious!

As Bristol Palin says, this isn't all Christians. But it is the front-runner in the Republican campaign for president. And did you hear that crowd response? If it's a tiny fringe group, that apparently describes a large proportion of the Republican Party.

In conclusion, here's Stephen Colbert:

I have to admit that, these days, my absolute favorite part of the holiday season is the Christian right's war on the war on Christmas. :)

Truth and fiction in the GOP debate

The GOP was pleased as punch with the Fox Business Channel, which let their candidates lie with impunity in the last debate.

That was much better than the previous debate, also hosted by a right-wing business channel, where the moderators occasionally questioned a response (though not very well).

But then, we wouldn't expect news channels to do journalism, would we? We have to leave that to comedy shows.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The War on Christmas: Starbucks coffee cups

Funny, isn't it? How desperate must you be to feel victimized because Starbucks didn't put snowflakes and snowmen on its coffee cups?

And how insecure? It's almost as if you don't have the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the Universe on your side.

PS. I'll tell you how the 'War on Christmas' is going here in Nebraska: My neighbor put up his Christmas decorations on Halloween!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Autoplay problems

Sorry, guys, but all of a sudden, I'm having autoplay problems.

It doesn't seem to be a problem with YouTube videos, but only with those from Comedy Central (from what I've seen so far, at least). The videos start automatically, even when I include code that's supposed to prevent that.

As you might have noticed, it's a particularly big problem when there are multiple videos on the same page. Then again, maybe it's only a problem with my particular browser (Firefox) or settings? I just don't know.

As I say, I've never had this happen before, and I haven't figured out how to fix it. Nothing I've tried so far has worked at all. So, my apologies if this has been a problem for you. I'm aware of it. But that's about all I can say.

Edit: OK, I fixed this at my end by going to the list of Firefox plugins and turning Shockwave Flash from "Always Activate" to "Ask to Activate." I don't know why this is necessary, all of a sudden, but it works. I just have to give permission for each video that I want to see.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Now I understand Genesis

Ben Carson was right

OK, I poked fun at Ben Carson yesterday, and certainly liberals are having a lot of fun with his pyramids-were-grain-silos idea (here, here, and here, for example).

But this guy points out that Carson might actually be right, in a way:
Remember when Cain was peddling the 9/9/9 tax plan that turned out to come from Sim City?

Well Carson's statement about the pyramids being used to store grain is actually true in Civilization II where building the Pyramids wonder gives you a granary in every city.

Obviously, Ben Carson was just talking about my all-time favorite computer game, Civilization II. Hey, maybe he's not so crazy after all, huh?

Of course, do we really want a president who confuses a computer game with reality? How about one who confuses fantasy with reality?
The GOP frontrunner's theory that archaeologists are wrong and that the Egyptian pyramids were really built by the biblical figure Joseph to store grain wasn't created in a vacuum. In the fringier corners of the Internet, variations of the pyramids-as-grain-storage argument has spawned entire blogs and a 30-minute documentary.

Carson -- who is continuing to defend beliefs that were surfaced this week in video of a 1998 commencement address by the acclaimed neurosurgeon -- joins the ranks of pyramids truthers who believe that, warned by God of an oncoming famine, Joseph built grain storage units that exist today in the form of the ancient pyramids. ...

According to [Richard] Flower, the theory gained traction in Gregory of Tours’ History of the Franks, written in the 6th century, where the bishop wrote about a “city in which Joseph built granaries from squared stones and rubble with marvellous workmanship."

“He made them larger at the base and very much smaller at the top so that wheat could be thrown in there through a tiny hole. These granaries are still visible even today,” Gregory wrote at the time,...

Clearly, this is why Ben Carson is leading in the polls. While the rest of the Republican Party wants to return us to the 12th Century, Carson wants to return to the 6th Century. Now that's conservative!

Also batshit crazy, of course. But that seems to be an advantage in today's GOP.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Ben Carson has the answers

From TPM:
GOP frontrunner Ben Carson, in a 1998 commencement address, floated his own personal theory that the pyramids in Egypt were built by Joseph -- the biblical patriarch known for his coat of many colors -- to store grain, Buzzfeed reported.

In the speech -- given at Andrews University, a school with ties to Carson's Seventh-day Adventist faith -- the neurosurgeon shot down claim that aliens had built the pyramids. But he also disagreed with the archaeological consensus that the pyramids were constructed as tombs for the pharaohs.

“My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain,” Carson said. “Now all the archaeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves. But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big if you stop and think about it. And I don’t think it’d just disappear over the course of time to store that much grain.”

In the video surfaced by Buzzfeed Wednesday, Carson goes on to lay out his argument that the pyramids were constructed for grain storage.

“And when you look at the way that the pyramids are made, with many chambers that are hermetically sealed, they’d have to be that way for various reasons," Carson said. "And various of scientists have said, ‘well, you know there were alien beings that came down and they have special knowledge and that’s how-’ you know, it doesn’t require an alien being when God is with you.”

This guy is running for President of the United States. Maybe he's an alien himself? After all, how can he be a brain surgeon when he's clearly too dumb to pour water out of a boot?

"Various of scientists" have said that aliens built the pyramids? Really? How crazy do you have to be before you're disqualified from running the most powerful nation on Earth?

Seriously, the problem here isn't intelligence, I suspect. The problem is that Ben Carson is entirely faith-based. Therefore, he just believes whatever the hell he wants to believe. Reality doesn't enter into his thinking at all.

This is today's Republican Party. Do you think it's coincidence that complete lunatics like Donald Trump and Ben Carson are leading in the GOP polls? Not at all. This is the Republican Party, today.

Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower must be rolling in their graves.

Edit: Also from TPM, Josh Marshall wonders if Carson's whole campaign is just a direct-mail scam:
If you remember the plot of Mel Brooks' classic movie, The Producers, the idea was that the scammers set out to produce the worst possible play imaginable to be certain it would close after one night. Yet, they made it so bad it broke through the membrane of awful into the sublime. And they were screwed. Which brings us to the Ben Carson campaign. There is a lot of evidence, coming from a variety of angles, that Carson for President is actually a direct mail scam. Or at least that it started that way. ...

Hucksters and cheats can be found everywhere. But particularly on the right there is a significant layer of people in the business of fleecing outraged and/or low-information conservatives of their money. Some of it you see with those advertisements for buying gold on Fox News. Another is supplements! Supplements, supplements, supplements - a topic we'll get back to, given Carson's controversial relationship with supplement maker Mannatech. But the big thing on the right are various fundraising groups that exist largely to fundraise. So for instance, you'll have Americans Against RINOs which sends out a ton of direct mail, raises lots of money from conservatives who've just had it up to here with RINOs like Boehner and McCain and McConnell selling the country out to Obama. But instead of that money going to fight the RINOs, most of the money goes back into raising more money.

So where's the money going? Well, the direct mail business is very lucrative. And usually you'll find that Americans Against RINOs has a tight relationship with AAR Direct Mail Inc which is making a pretty penny servicing Americans Against RINOs. You get the idea. Obviously there are crooked charities that run this way. But it's a prevalent model on the right.

And Ben Carson's campaign look a bit similar. Ed Kilgore looked at some of the details here. David Graham has more here at The Altantic. ...

There are other versions of this story. Like why is Mike Huckabee running for President? Because he thinks he's going to be president? Or because of the next Fox News gig or to draw a check or just to keep the name out there for the next promotion deal for Golds R' Us or your home bunker and survival kit? There was some hint of this with the Gingrich campaign in 2012 before he improbably took off for his run as the anti-Romney.

In any case, as I said, whatever role Carson did or didn't have with Mannatech, that's a bit of a tell for me since, as I said, 'supplements' are an endemic part of the wingnut fleecing industry.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Whining: million dollar babies

Funny, isn't it? Such tough guys!

Of course, Republicans like to think of themselves as victims. Conservatives are persecuted by the liberal media who ask 'gotcha' questions, like "what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read?" They're bullied by big, scary college professors. Scientists kick sand in their face at the beach.

Christians are persecuted, too. Remember the 'war on Christmas'? Martyr stories are always very popular. Poor little Christians, only 72% of America (and more than that were raised Christian). How can such a tiny minority survive?

It's hard for even a tough guy, who must always fear that someone will make fun of him. How can they stand it?

Iowa Republicans, at least, had the answer. They refused to issue a press pass to The Daily Show. That would keep them from being mocked, right? Right?

The Daily Show admitted defeat (here and here). :)

Monday, November 2, 2015

John Oliver: Medicaid gap

Note that Nebraska is one of those states which rejected expanding Medicaid. (Naturally.)

Why? Politics. Just politics. Who cares about human beings? Who cares about people? Politics is everything to the GOP.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The story of the white guy in the photo

I remember this very well. It was a big deal in America and got a lot of press attention. But I never heard one word about Peter Norman.

Admittedly, I'm not a sports fan. Maybe this isn't news to others reading this? It's a great video, nonetheless.

Science and religion are mortal enemies

There are scientists who are religious, no doubt about it. But when working in their own field of expertise, those scientists don't consider miracles as possibly affecting their research results. They don't consider the possibility that 'God' might be placing his thumb on the scales.

By and large, they keep their religious beliefs compartmentalized. After all, if they thought that God or Satan or angels interfered in the world, how could science ever get demonstrably valid - reproducible - results?

Science is evidence-based for good reason. Religion is faith-based, which means that it's indistinguishable from delusion and wishful-thinking. Sure, some scientists are religious, but that doesn't prove that science and religion are compatible, but only that human beings aren't always rational and can sometimes hold two contradictory notions at the same time.

God: the love born of terror

A great video for Halloween, don't you think?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Worse than Benghazi

What's even worse than the Benghazi committee? The House science committee.
Last Thursday, the nation watched with a mix of amusement and horror as the House Benghazi committee spent 11 hours grilling Hillary Clinton on a bizarre farrago of issues, many of which bore only tangential connection to the Benghazi attack.

Over the past few weeks, the political narrative seems to have shifted from "Clinton in trouble" to "congressional witch hunt seeks to take down Clinton." Between McCarthy's accidental truth telling, an ex-staffer confirming the worst reports about the committee, and another House Republican conceding the obvious, it has become clear that the Benghazi committee is a thoroughly partisan political endeavor. Opinion has turned, but Republicans are trapped.

The thing is: The Benghazi committee is not even the worst committee in the House. I'd argue that the House science committee, under the chairmanship of Lamar Smith (R-TX), deserves that superlative for its open-ended, Orwellian attempts to intimidate some of the nation's leading scientists and scientific institutions.

The science committee's modus operandi is similar to the Benghazi committee's — sweeping, catchall investigations, with no specific allegations of wrongdoing or clear rationale, searching through private documents for out-of-context bits and pieces to leak to the press, hoping to gain short-term political advantage — but it stands to do more lasting long-term damage.

In both cases, the investigations have continued long after all questions have been answered. (There were half a dozen probes into Benghazi before this one.) In both cases, the chair has drifted from inquiry to inquisition. But with Benghazi, the only threat is to the reputation of Hillary Clinton, who has the resources to defend herself. With the science committee, it is working scientists being intimidated, who often do not have the resources to defend themselves, and the threat is to the integrity of the scientific process in the US. It won't take much for scientists to get the message that research into politically contested topics is more hassle than it's worth.

The article continues with plenty of examples, then concludes with this:
The science committee, Fox News, the Daily Caller, climate deniers, CEI — at this point, it's all one partisan operation, sharing information and strategies.

Republican radicalization has already laid waste to many of the written and unwritten rules that once governed American politics. The use of congressional committees as tools of partisan intimidation is only a chapter in that grim story.

But the science committee is going after individual scientists, who rarely have the resources on hand to defend themselves from unexpected political attack. It is doing so without any rationale related to the constitutional exercise of its oversight powers — not with a false rationale, but without any stated rationale, no allegations of waste, fraud, or abuse — in service of an effort to suppress inconvenient scientific results and score partisan political points against the executive branch.

The federal government is an enormous supporter of scientific research, to the country's great and enduring benefit, though that support is now under sustained attack. If such funding comes with strings, with the threat that the wrong inquiry or results could bring down a congressional inquisition, researchers are likely to shy away from controversial subjects. The effects on the US scientific community, and on America's reputation as a leader in science, could be dire, lingering on well past the 2016 election.

As if we didn't have enough to worry about, huh? But this is what happens when you put faith over reality and politics over country.

Republicans saw - and still see - racism as an opportunity to make political gains. They saw the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression (on their watch, no less) as an opportunity to make Americans so unhappy they'd vote Republican again in despair. They saw the death of four Americans in Benghazi as an opportunity to attack the likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2016.

They even committed treason, attempting to sabotage America's side in the negotiations with Iran, for political advantage. There seems to be absolutely nothing Republicans won't do if they think it will benefit them politically (and that includes getting them campaign funds from wealthy individuals and corporations).

How much damage will the Republican Party do to America before conservatives come to their senses? Or will they bring America down before that happens?

PS. My thanks to Jim Harris for the link.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Benghazi hearing

Yeah, I know. I've been posting a lot of political cartoons the past couple of days. But I love 'em! And it's been awhile since I really went overboard.

Besides, there's a theme to all of these. :)

Mitt Romney takes the credit for Obamacare

I knew this would happen, eventually. I'm surprised it only took three years, though.
Mitt Romney is finally ready to take credit for Obamacare.

Speaking to the Boston Globe for their obituary of Staples founder Thomas G. Stemberg, who died Friday, the former Massachusetts praised Stemberg for his involvement in pushing “Romneycare,” which in turn, Romney said, led to Obamacare, giving “a lot of people” health coverage.

“Without Tom pushing it, I don’t think we would have had Romneycare,” Romney said. “Without Romneycare, I don’t think we would have Obamacare. So, without Tom a lot of people wouldn’t have health insurance.”

It’s hard to imagine Romney saying such a thing during the 2012 election cycle. Back then Romney was stumbling and bumbling his way to create some distance between the health care reform he championed as a governor and President Obama’s signature health care law.

The focus by conservatives on Obamacare as the leading example of everything that was wrong with Obama made for some extremely awkward moments for the eventual Republican nominee. The similarities between the Massachusetts and the federal laws even prompted one of Romney’s primary rivals to coin the term “Obamneycare.”

The next day Romney promised to repeal Obamacare if elected and vowed that on his first day in the White House, he would “grant a waiver to all 50 states from Obamacare."

Of course, the whole point of 'Obamacare' was that it was the Republican health care plan. Congressional Democrats adopted the Republican health care plan in the hope that Republicans would join them in a bipartisan effort to get health care to the American people.

Of course, what happened was that every Republican instantly turned against their own plan. But then, Republican leaders had vowed, before Barack Obama even took office, to do nothing the Democrats wanted, no matter what it was.

Note that this was while we were in the middle of two wars, not to mention right when our economy was crashing into a black hole in the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. This was when the Republican Party decided - unanimously - to put politics above the good of our country!

PS. Of course, Romney is trying to take back his comments now, after they were noticed. What else did you expect? Funny, isn't it?

GOP grumpy cat

I like this president. In fact, I wish we'd had this Obama all along, instead of the one who bent over backward trying to appease Republicans, hoping that they'd eventually value America over politics (which they never did and never would).

Hillary Clinton clearly knows better, and that's one reason why I'm still undecided about the Democratic primary. This guy puts it well:
As an active Democrat who has remained, thus far, undecided, her performance here and at the debate have gone a long way toward convincing me to support Clinton instead of Sanders; even though, politically, my ideals line up more closely with Sanders' democratic socialism than Clinton's quasi-third way centrism.

If a Democrat wins the 2016 election, her or his main job as I see it will be defending the achievements of the Obama administration, which will surely be under even more sustained attack once he leaves office. Any major expansion to that legacy will need to be incremental given a hostile, partisan Congress that, at least in the House, is pretty much "locked in" by gerrymandering until the next redistricting cycle.

In that light, I'm increasingly leaning toward Hillary, not so much based on what she believes but on her competence, both as a public official and as a politician who knows how to punch back.

Yes. In general, I prefer Bernie Sanders' policy positions, though there's not really that much difference. And neither one is going to get his or her policy positions through Congress anyway, since the House of Representatives will stay Republican. (The GOP has gerrymandered election districts, so they continue to control the House even when they badly lose the popular vote.)

Hillary Clinton is establishment, through and through. But she's smart, she's capable, and she knows politics inside and out. Plus, there's no way she'll have the early Obama's naive hope that Republicans will be anything but bitter political enemies, no matter how much their actions harm America.

She has never been more impressive than she was during the Benghazi hearing. That's the kind of president we need. Now, yes, we need a lot of other things, too - especially to get money out of politics. But Clinton is a politician. If the voters demand it, she will get on board.

Keep in mind that Republicans benefit far more than Democrats do by letting billionaires control our country. Even for selfish political reasons, Clinton would be wise to address this problem.

Also, Citizens United was decided by the five Republicans on our Supreme Court, in opposition to the four Democrats. There's no way that any Democratic president will appoint another Scalia, or Alito, or Thomas, or Roberts - or even another Kennedy - to the Supreme Court.

The makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court is probably the most important issue in 2016, and it will probably have the most important impact on money in politics (given the fact that, as I noted previously, the Republicans will continue to control the House of Representatives).

Hillary Clinton impressed me at the debate, and she really impressed me at the Benghazi hearing. And I've always had my doubts that a self-described "socialist" could get elected in America (as stupid as that prejudice might be).

I want to support whichever candidate has the best chance to win in 2016, because the alternative would be worse than George W. Bush as a disaster for America. I was never wild about Hillary Clinton - especially after the 2008 campaign - but she's been changing my mind lately.

We'll see. Nebraska won't be deciding the Democratic primary, anyway, I'm sure.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Tom Toles

Is this guy funny, or what? I was looking for a cartoon to illustrate my previous post, and I just couldn't stop browsing through Tom Toles' cartoons. Damn, they're funny! And spot on, too.

Anyway, here's a sampling from the past month or so.