Sunday, July 31, 2016

Muslims attend mass

After too much Donald Trump, I needed a little bit of optimism today. I needed to know that there are still good people in the world. So I was happy to read this little news story from the BBC:
Muslims across France have attended Catholic Mass in a gesture of solidarity after the murder of a priest on Tuesday.

Fr Jacques Hamel was killed in his church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen by two men who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

France's Muslim council, the CFCM, urged Muslims to show "solidarity and compassion" over the murder.

"We are all Catholics of France," said Anouar Kbibech, the head of the CFCM. ...

Muslims in Italy also attended Mass on Sunday. Three imams sat in the front row at Santa Maria Trastevere church in Rome.

Decent people can fight back against the bigots, against the haters, against irrational violence. I'm neither Christian nor Muslim, but so what? We don't have to agree about everything to stand up for a peaceful society with liberty and justice for all.

What next with Donald Trump?

Friday, I posted the video of a powerful speech given at the Democratic National Convention by the father of a U.S. army captain killed in Iraq.

So how did Donald Trump react to that? He has mocked the grieving mother of that American soldier:
Lawyer Khizr Khan gave a moving tribute to their son, Humayun, who received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart after he was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq in 2004. During the speech, Khan's wife, Ghazala, stood quietly by his side.

"If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say. You tell me," Trump said, in an interview with ABC's "This Week."

Ghazala Khan has said she didn't speak because she's still overwhelmed by her grief and can't even look at photos of her son without crying. ...

Trump's comments about Khan came a day after he criticized retired four-star Gen. John Allen and slammed a Colorado Springs, Colorado, fire marshal for capping attendance at the event. The fire marshal, Brett Lacey, was recently honored by the city as "Civilian of the Year" for his role in helping the wounded at a 2015 mass shooting at a local Planned Parenthood.

Is there no limit to how low Donald Trump can sink? Of course, I've been saying that about the Republican Party for years, and there's been no limit so far. I mean, look at their nominee for president.

And maybe I should note this, too, while I'm at it:
Senior Republican leaders, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, remained silent, as did vice presidential nominee Mike Pence.

The thing about Donald Trump is that everyone expects shit like this from him. His supporters cheer it. The media take it for granted. And by and large, other Republican leaders enable it, because winning the election is all that really matters to them.

When Trump makes outlandish remarks every single day, they cease to have any effect. Of course, he's a celebrity, and for a celebrity, no news is bad news. Being outrageous is the best way to remain a celebrity. Heck, it's won the Republican Party nomination for him. It's the 'reality TV' version of a presidential election.

And the media love it, because they're making money from it. They're not in business for their health, you know. The purpose of American media is to make a profit.

America is better than Donald Trump, but money and political power tend to be of more immediate importance to the people who have both riding on him.

And among the general public, there's enough ignorance, apathy, bigotry, and wishful-thinking to make this a close election. Not just on the right, either. In fact, this probably wouldn't be a close election if some liberals weren't completely clueless.

Nothing Donald Trump has said has hurt him. His demonstrable lies haven't hurt him. His bigotry hasn't hurt him. His refusal to release his tax returns (which would likely demonstrate that he's not as wealthy as he says he is, and maybe even reveal his connection to Russian oligarchs) hasn't hurt him.

His unprecedented comments about NATO haven't hurt him. His refusal to offer policy details hasn't hurt him. His many bankruptcies haven't hurt him. Donald Trump is just a big mouth with a comb-over. There's zero substance to him. And yet he's this close to becoming our next president.

I was astonished when George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004, after we already knew what a complete disaster he was. But I'm more astonished this year that someone like Donald Trump has a real, non-zero chance of becoming President of the United  States.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Six minutes of sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton

You know, they didn't even include most of the attacks on Hillary Clinton's appearance - hair, clothing, makeup, etc.

The media can't seem to get enough of criticizing her pantsuits. And recently, Elizabeth Warren appeared on stage with her, and all the media could talk about was how they were both wearing blue outfits.

Of course, we all know that, when it comes to female politicians, what really matters is their appearance, right?  LOL

Friday, July 29, 2016

Six of the dumbest ideas politicians have about science

Depressing, isn't it? And it's not as though every liberal is a staunch supporter of science. I wish that were true. But by and large, the Democratic Party does accept reality, while the Republican Party does not.

Anti-science thinking on the left tends to be among those with relatively little political power. And most of it - like anti-GMO activism or the 'natural foods' fad - is not restricted to the left, but tends to be more of a bipartisan thing. Heck, there are liberals who are anti-vaccine, too. Scientific ignorance isn't a monopoly of the right.

But only on the right has scientific ignorance gained political power in America, and that's a real problem.

A powerful speech

How would you feel, giving your son for our country and then finding Donald Trump nominated as the Republican Party nominee for president of the United States?

How would you feel if you gave your son for, not just any country, but the America of freedom of religion and the separation between church and state, and then found that you weren't accepted by your fellow citizens entirely because of your religion?

The Republican Party seems to be trying to make religious terrorists (not just Muslim, but Christian as well, given their rhetoric about abortion). Well, fear helps them politically. Republican Party leaders use fear, just as they use racism, sexism, and religious bigotry, for their own political advantage. That's been the case ever since their notorious 'Southern strategy' proved to be so effective, politically.

I remain convinced that we Americans are better than that. But I must admit that this election is starting to make me wonder if that's true.

PS. Of course, Donald Trump had a reply to this. He mocked the grieving mother of that dead soldier.

Monday, July 25, 2016

John Oliver - feelings vs reality

John Oliver has done it again. This is what I continually blog about here: believing what you want to believe vs reality.

The Republican Party has abandoned reality, and there's no better example of that than with Donald Trump.

John Oliver: "What is truly revealing is his [Antonio Sabato, Jr.] implication that believing something to be true is the same as it being true. Because if anything, that was the theme of the Republican National Convention this week. It was a four-day exercise in emphasizing feelings over facts."

To the Republican Party these days - and to a frighteningly large percentage of the American people - reality isn't important. To them, reality is whatever they want it to be. The fantasy they've built up in their minds is the new reality, to them. It's as real as 'reality TV' - which means, of course, that it isn't real at all. But they don't care.

Crime in America has been dropping for decades. Fewer police officers are being killed in the line of duty. The world is less violent than it's ever been. But terrorists and Republicans push fear for their own purposes. And people who are faith-based, rather than evidence-based, 'feel' what isn't true, while rejecting what is.

This is the problem with faith-based thinking. It's not just religion. The problem is not caring about the truth of your beliefs. Demagogues can use that.

You have the right to your own opinions, but you don't have the right to your own reality. Reality exists, whatever you might think about it. And your own feelings don't alter the facts.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Make America Fear Again

At the Republican National Convention Monday, the theme was "Make America Fear Again." Well, that was the real theme. Speakers pushed fear at hysterical cowards. Well, that's been the Republican strategy for some time now, hasn't it?

The fact that crime has dropped in recent decades is immaterial to the elderly white men - and some women - who are easily frightened by change. Of course, that's ideal for a fascist political message. Make people afraid, and then offer them vague promises from a bombastic authoritarian promising to make them feel safe again.

The fact that it's the authoritarian who's pushing that fear doesn't seem to register with them. Well, they're faith-based, not evidence-based. They believe what they want to believe.

Is terrorism scary? Of course. That's the whole point of terrorism. Terrorism is a tool of the weak, and it relies on cowardice. Terrorists want to make you afraid, so that you'll overreact (thus creating more terrorists for them). If you're easily scared, that's perfect for them.

Unfortunately, the Republican Party is allied with the terrorists in this. The Republican Party wants the same thing the terrorists want - to make you afraid, so that you'll overreact (in this case, so you'll elect a bombastic, narcissistic, fascist clown to the presidency of the United States).

This convention has been crazy, so far. (The only sane part of it was plagiarized from Michelle Obama.) Josh Marshall at TPM noted this about the first day in Cleveland:
We've become so inured to Trump's brand of incitement that it's barely gotten any notice that Trump had three parents whose children had been killed by illegal/undocumented immigrants tell their stories and whip up outrage and fear about the brown menace to the South. These were either brutal murders or killings with extreme negligence. The pain these parents experience is unfathomable.

But whatever you think about undocumented immigrants there's no evidence they are more violent or more prone to murder than others in American society. One could just as easily get three people whose children had been killed by African-Americans or Jews, people whose pain and anguish would be no less harrowing. This isn't illustration; it's incitement. When Trump first did this in California a couple months ago people were aghast. Now it's normal.

Even more disturbing, numerous speakers from the dais, including some of the top speakers of the evening, called for Hillary Clinton to be imprisoned. At least two - and I think more - actually led the crowd in chants of "lock her up!" There has never been any evidence of criminal activity on Clinton's part. An investigation with a lot of pressure to find something amiss concluded that no charges should be recommended against her and that no prosecutor would bring charges against her for anything connected to her private email server.

It goes without saying that it is a highly dangerous development when one presidential nominee and his supporters make into a rallying cry that the opposing candidate should be imprisoned. This is not Russia. This is not some rickety Latin American Republic from half a century ago. This is America. For all our failings and foibles this is not a path we've ever gone down.

This is not a disagreement about a matter of law: it is a demand for vengeance and punishment, one rooted in the pathologies of the current Trumpite right and inevitably to some extent about the fact that Clinton is a woman. If you have a chance rewatch the speeches by Rudy Giuliani or even more ret. Gen Michael Flynn. These are not normal convention speeches. It is only a small skip and a jump to the state legislator in West Virginia who demanded Clinton by executed by hanging on the National Mall. In such a climate, don't fool yourself: worse can happen.

Today's Republican Party was built on their notorious "Southern strategy" of deliberately wooing white racists. Politically, that worked great for them for decades. But it's not working so well these days.

Rather, it's still working great within the GOP base, those people who were attracted to the party by that racism in the first place, but not so well in the rest of our country. Elsewhere, they're losing, and they know it. That's making them hysterical.

That's why we're getting this apocalyptic rhetoric. They're losing. They know it. That's why fascism is gaining ground in the Republican Party.

There were riots in some American cities when my Irish ancestors started arriving here in large numbers. Now, we're getting that same kind of hysteria about Hispanic immigrants. Lou Holz called it an "invasion" when he spoke at a Republican luncheon in Cleveland:
“I don’t want to become you,” he said, as quoted by the Daily Beast. “I don’t want to speak your language, I don’t want to celebrate your holidays, I sure as hell don’t want to cheer for your soccer team!”

But we didn't become the Irish. Those Irish immigrants became us. If  you don't want to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, no one is forcing you. And I don't cheer for soccer any more than I cheer for football.

This is fear-mongering, pure and simple. We turned away Jewish refugees in the 1930s, sending them back to be killed in the Holocaust - sending back Jewish children to be killed in the Holocaust. That, too, was because of bigotry and fear.

And now? Now we're seeing that same bigotry and fear when it comes to Muslim immigrants. And even worse, it's America, this time, which is turning to fascism - a significant proportion of us, at least.

Not every Republican is happy with Donald Trump, true (although the vast majority still support him). But these are the same people who've gleefully pushed bigotry, irrational fear, and hysterical anger for decades now, for their own political ambition. This is the party built on racism and fear-mongering.

The Republican Party created Donald Trump. This is the end result (hopefully) of that "Southern strategy." No Republican leader should be surprised by this.

And if you're still a Republican, even after the race-baiting and the fear-mongering, don't act so superior to Trump now. You were quite willing to use these hysterical bigots, even if you're not one yourself.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Donald Trump pushing race-hatred,... again

From Josh Marshall at TPM:
This isn't getting a lot of attention. But it should. Everybody took note when Donald Trump repeatedly claimed that American Muslims across the river in New Jersey celebrated and cheered as the Twin Towers fell on 9/11 - an entirely fabricated claim. Last night on Bill O'Reilly's show and then separately at a rally in Westfield, Indiana he did something very similar and in so doing cemented his status an impulsive propagator of race-hatred and violence.

The details of the rapid-fire fulmination are important. So let's look at them closely.

Trump claimed that people - "some people" - called for a moment of silence for mass killer Micah Johnson, the now deceased mass shooter who killed five police officers in Dallas on Thursday night. There is no evidence this ever happened. Searches of the web and social media showed no evidence. Even Trump's campaign co-chair said today that he can't come up with any evidence that it happened. As in the case of the celebrations over the fall of the twin towers, even to say there's 'no evidence' understates the matter. This didn't happen. Trump made it up.

The language is important: “When somebody called for a moment of silence to this maniac that shot the five police, you just see what's going on. It's a very, very sad situation.”

Then later at the Indiana rally: “The other night you had 11 cities potentially in a blow-up stage. Marches all over the United States—and tough marches. Anger. Hatred. Hatred! Started by a maniac! And some people ask for a moment of silence for him. For the killer!”

A would-be strong man, an authoritarian personality, isn't just against disorder and violence. They need disorder and violence. That is their raison d'etre, it is the problem that they are purportedly there to solve. The point bears repeating: authoritarian figures require violence and disorder. Look at the language. "11 cities potentially in a blow up stage" .. "Anger. Hatred. Hatred! Started by a maniac!" ... "And some people ask for a moment of silence for him. For the killer."

At the risk of invoking Godwin's Law, if you translate the German, the febrile and agitated language of 'hatred', 'anger', 'maniac' ... this is the kind of florid and incendiary language Adolf Hitler used in many of his speeches. Note too the actual progression of what Trump said: "Marches all over the United States - and tough marches. Anger. Hatred. Hatred! Started by a maniac!" (emphasis added).

The clear import of this fusillade of words is that the country is awash in militant protests that were inspired by Micah Johnson. "Started by ..."

We're used to so much nonsense and so many combustible tirades from Trump that we become partly inured to them. We also don't slow down and look at precisely what he's saying. What he's saying here is that millions of African-Americans are on the streets inspired by and protesting on behalf of a mass murderer of white cops.

This is not simply false. It is the kind of wild racist incitement that puts whole societies in danger. And this man wants to be president.

Trump is lying, just as he lied about the thousands of American Muslims cheering 9/11. But his supporters don't care. They're faith-based, not evidence-based. They don't care what the truth is. They just know they want to believe what they want to believe.

But Trump is deliberately inciting race-hatred. Again. Whether he's that racist - or that delusional - himself or he's just using it for political purposes, I don't know. It's just as bad, either way. How could anyone want to vote for this racist, fascist clown?

Donald Trump is lying. Josh Marshall goes on to point out what anyone with a brain should already know:
There have continued to be protests. There's no reason why there should not be. But every Black Lives Matter leader of any note has spoken clearly denouncing Johnson's atrocity. Indeed, if anything the continuing protests have been tempered calls for an end to violence on all sides. For all the horror, the outrage has spawned moments of bridge-building, unity. So these are combustible times. But they're not the racial end times Trump is describing. Indeed, what Trump said in the passage above is something verging on the notorious "big lie". Micah Johnson didn't inspire any marches. No one is marching on his behalf. Even the truly radical and potentially violent black nationalist fringe groups had apparently shunned him even before the shooting. No one called for a moment of silence on Johnson's behalf or honored him in any way. This is just an up is down straight up lie served up for the purpose of stoking fear, menace and race hate.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

It's not 1968

As bad as the latest news as been, it's not 1968, as Jonathan Chait reminds us:
In his January 2008 speech following his defeat in the New Hampshire primary — the one set to music — Barack Obama insisted, “We are not as divided as our politics suggest … we are one people, we are one nation.” That conviction, to say the least, has been sorely tested during Obama’s presidency. It has been especially strained during a presidential campaign in which Republicans nominated a race-baiting demagogue for president. And last night, when a gunman murdered police officers during a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, it appeared to reach a kind of breaking point. In the feverish late-night heat, race-baiters at the New York Post, Breitbart, and Matt Drudge stoked a race war they clearly craved. It was 1968 again, more than a few observers said. Everything seemed to be coming apart.

But the old, tattered ideal of unity may be healthier than it seemed. The demonstration in Dallas was the very model of a functioning liberal society — a peaceful protest against police conducted under the protection of the police themselves. Even the most radical of the protesters deplored the shootings, and the police honored the right to protest.

Probing deeper, into more tender spots, one could even detect a formative consensus about the underlying cause of the protest: the routine violence by police against African-Americans. Videos of the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have not only galvanized African-Americans who have grown accustomed to the constant threat of police brutality, but they also shocked no small number of white Americans. ...

Among Republican leaders, the impulse to restore calm prevailed over the impulse to stoke racial hysteria. Paul Ryan praised the values of peaceful protest. Newt Gingrich -- Newt Gingrich! -- conceded, "It's more dangerous to be black in America. You’re substantially more likely to be in a situation where police don’t respect you." Even Donald Trump obliquely, and with a characteristically shaky command of the facts, conceded the need for some solution to police abuse: “The senseless, tragic deaths of two motorists in Louisiana and Minnesota reminds us how much more needs to be done.” Whatever Trump actually believed — the identification of Trump’s real convictions always being more art than science — he at least felt compelled to make some nod toward the perception that the police had gone too far. It was not inspiring, it was not ideal, but it was also more than one would have gotten from, say, circa-1968 George Wallace.

That's not to say that we don't have our George Wallaces, even today. Former Congressman Joe Walsh (Republican, Illinois) tweeted "This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you."

Meanwhile, the organizers of that Dallas protest, those "black lives matter punks," condemned the shooting in unequivocal terms. It was a peaceful protest, as guaranteed by our Constitution. The shooter appears to have been a lone, heavily armed crazy. We've certainly seen enough of those, haven't we? Is the fact that this one was black really significant in any way?

A reader at TPM describes 1968 this way. I remember it. I was still a teenager, far more concerned about myself than about the world at large, but I remember it. Despite the absolute hysterics about our first black president, we've progressed since then. Indeed, the fact that we elected a black president is a pretty good indication of that.

Sure, there are racists who gleefully predict a race war. Yes, there are lunatics in our country. And, of course, they're all armed to the teeth, thanks to the NRA, hysterical gun nuts, and cowardly politicians. But sane people still make up the majority in our country.

If you don't know how bad it's been, it's always easy to think that the current day is the worst ever. Indeed, I have people tell me that - people eager to predict the Christian end times, people woefully ignorant of history. It's not true.

The problem these days is that random lunatics can do more damage than ever, thanks to the ever-increasing availability of military grade weapons (and the capability of those weapons to kill large numbers of people). That's a problem we haven't been willing to address.

It's not just guns, either. As our technology improves, the ability of small numbers of people to kill vast quantities of other people also increases. There's always the possibility of truly horrendous acts of terrorism.

Unfortunately, it's not a problem that will ever be completely solved. At best, we can only try to minimize the incidents. Don't get me wrong. We should definitely be doing that. But we won't ever be 100% successful, no matter what we do.

But random lunatics aren't going to destroy our country. We have to do that. And despite everything - despite Donald Trump, despite Joe Walsh and the people like him, despite the hysteria on the right - I'm confident that we're going to survive 2016 just like we survived 1968.

There are people who want violence. There are people who push violence. And there are people who will use violence for their own political advantage. But that's not America. Most of us are better than that.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy Fourth of July

I needed some optimism, I guess.

I am even less a fan of over-the-top ├╝ber-patriotism (more suited to North Korea or the old Soviet Union than America) than I am of fireworks. And I still can't believe anyone is supporting Donald Trump for President of the United States!

But I still have confidence in our Constitution and our whole system of government, if not so much in my fellow citizens. Well, we do progress. It's just slow (and never guaranteed, so make sure you vote, in every election).

Anyway, enjoy the holiday. We have good reasons to celebrate. We do not need to "make American great again," because we already are great. In fact, America is even greater now than it was in the past. (Obviously, "great" doesn't mean "perfect." This is the real world, after all.)

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Scathing Atheist podcast

The Scathing Atheist, Episode One

(Note: I'm experimenting here, so I don't really know if that mp3 player is going to work.)

I listen to podcasts sometimes when I'm working in the yard or taking a walk, and this week, I stumbled across The Scathing Atheist. It's absolutely hilarious! (And I don't normally have a particularly high tolerance for dick jokes, either.)

I listened to the most recent episode first, #176: Texas Fetus Massacre Edition, and I was hooked. Since then, I've listened to several more of the recent episodes, then started through their archives from the beginning.

The audio file above (assuming that I got it to work right) is their very first episode, from January, 2012. (If I didn't get it to work right, maybe you can just click on that link.) As you can tell, they didn't need any time to get up to speed.

The same people also do a podcast, just as funny, called God Awful Movies, where they pick a different Christian movie in each episode to eviscerate. I love it! You can also get the podcasts - many of them, at least - on YouTube here. They're still just audio only, as far as I know. But that might be more convenient for you.

I was running out of podcasts, since I've already listened to the entire archive of The Atheist Experience TV show. And I listened to The Human Bible before that podcast ended, too. Yes, there are many more out there, but some just hold my interest better than others. But I don't think I've ever found another as funny as The Scathing Atheist. Check it out.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Letter from an ex-Muslim

Wow! Just... wow!

More weird - and illegal? - stuff from the Trump campaign

Josh Marshall at TPM points out that that it's not just the Trump campaign that's soliciting money from foreign politicians (which is illegal, of course), but a pro-Trump Super PAC, too. And it's illegal for a political campaign to work with a Super PAC.

So what's going on?
The more we've looked into it, it seems increasingly implausible that he got this list from a list vendor. Not impossible just not likely at all. It now seems more probable that the Trump Organization simply had these emails in some business related database and decided to dump them into the email hopper for the fundraising blitz or just found some site that had a zip file of foreign government officials and used that. As I've said, all of these possibilities are outlandish and ridiculous. But we know for a fact that he has and continues to spam members of Parliament in the UK, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland and Iceland and possibly others. So one of these completely preposterous set of facts has to be true.

And here's where we get to coordination, which is a big no no.

Given what I've said above, the existence of this list almost has to originate in Trump Derpland. A virtual certainty. So how did the same list end up in the hands of a Trump SuperPac? I looked up Crippled America PAC and as of their last filing just a couple weeks ago, they're total budget was $40. No m or b after that $ sign, forty bucks, the price of a fancy dinner. So obviously CAP was just stood up and actually started operating just now. And now they're showing up in Tim's inbox. [Tim Watts, MP in the Australian Parliament]

Again, normally you'd just say, they're both buying the list from the same vendor. I'm also pretty sure that a good campaign finance lawyer could find a way to get lists from a campaign to its supportive SuperPacs without running afoul of the rules against campaigns coordinating with SuperPacs. But let's be honest, does any of this look like its done by anyone who has the slightest clue about fundraising or campaign finance law? Of course, not.

... But the point is this: it seems extremely likely that this email list was put together by the Trump campaign. Now it seems to be in the hands of at least one Trump supporting SuperPac. Campaigns and SuperPACs are not allowed to coordinate. And there's nothing about this operation that gives any reason to believe they did this in a way to even try to make it pass legal muster.

It's unlikely that this will have a political impact. After all, it's Trump. No one who plans to vote for  him gives a crap about far worse things than this. And any crime wouldn't be charged, let alone prosecuted, until after the election, anyway.

But this is the kind of amateurish ignorance and complete incompetence all too many Americans want running our country, the most powerful country on Earth. That just blows my mind! What is wrong with those people?

This isn't a 'reality' TV show. This is reality. In the past, I would have found this too implausible even for a television sitcom. But it's actually happening. I guess truth really is stranger than fiction.