Friday, December 31, 2010

Boycott Justin Bieber?

Hey, I don't even know who Justin Bieber is - a "Canadian teen pop superstar," according to this article - but I think it's hilarious that "Ground Zero Mosque" loonies have launched a boycott of the entertainer based entirely on a hoax.

Mosque foes recently started a boycott of Bieber after he made comments in support of the mosque project in an interview with Tiger Beat, a teen fan magazine, Sullivan told WYNC earlier this month. Now, his 8-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son have been banned from attending Bieber performances.

...Except that there was no such interview in Tiger Beat. A satirical website posted a humorous piece that made the whole thing up - including fake Justin Bieber quotes about how Muslims were "super cool" and Christians were "lame-o-rama" - and once it got into right-wing hands, it got spread around everywhere.

Well, that's no surprise. I've seen some of these right-wing broadsides - complete lies, often without even a kernel of truth - that get emailed everywhere. Reality is of no concern, apparently. Certainly, no one ever seems to care enough to check them out.

I mean, come on! The supposed interview even has Bieber claiming that "the mosque will help “start a dialogue” with all religions about which Justin Bieber song is the most awesome." Heh, heh.

So yeah, this is funny,... but it's also a bit sad, too. I enjoy making fun of bigots, but it's embarrassing that they exist at all. Sometimes, I can't help but be a little ashamed of our species.


Neat, isn't it? Science is learning more all the time. In fact, the process is still accelerating. This is how science progresses, and it's why we live in such a different world than our great-grandparents did. Without science, there would be no progress at all.

Even moral progress - the end of slavery, civil rights for women and racial minorities, the separation of church and state, etc. - probably wouldn't have happened without scientific and technological advancement. The invention of the horse collar probably did more to end slavery in much of the world than all the sermons in history (which, for the most part, supported the practice).

Admittedly, the invention of the cotton gin greatly increased the use of slaves, at least in the American South. Technology isn't a cure-all for every ill. But in general, it gives us the prosperity that's almost always a precursor to moral advances.

And science makes it harder to see the world through a biased lens. Researching human beings makes it more and more clear that we're all the same species - and that we have a connection to all other life on Earth, too.

At the very least, science makes our lives much easier and much longer than without it. Few of us risk starvation these days, at least in developed lands. And we don't lose most of our children before the age of five. If we're smart, the future will be better yet.

Will we be smart? Ah, that's the question.

QOTD: Heroic, female, and Muslim

Quote of the Day:
“We are trying an experiment,” she told me. “We women in Somalia are trying to be leaders in our community.”

So Dr. Hawa had her hands full already — and then in May a hard-line militia, Hizb al-Islam, or Party of Islam, decided that a woman shouldn’t run anything substantial. The militia ordered her to hand over operations, and she refused — and pointedly added: “I may be a woman, but I’m a doctor. What have you done for society?”

The Party of Islam then attacked with 750 soldiers and seized the hospital. The world’s Somalis reacted with outrage, and the militia backed down and ordered Dr. Hawa to run the hospital, but under its direction.

She refused. For a week there were daily negotiations, but Dr. Hawa refused to budge. She demanded that the militia not only withdraw entirely but also submit a written apology.

“I was begging her, ‘Just give in,’ ” recalled Deqo Mohamed, her daughter, a doctor in Atlanta who spoke regularly to her mother by telephone. “She was saying, ‘No! I will die with dignity.’ ”

It didn’t come to that. The Party of Islam tired of being denounced by Somalis at home and around the world, so it slinked off and handed over an apology — but also left behind a wrecked hospital. The operating theater still isn’t functional, and that’s why Dr. Hawa is here, appealing for money (especially from ethnic Somalis). She has worked out an arrangement with Vital Voices, a group that helps to empower female leaders, to channel tax-deductible contributions to her hospital.

What a woman! And what a Muslim! It’s because of people like her that sweeping denunciations of Islam, or the “Muslim hearings” planned in Congress, rile me — and seem profoundly misguided.

The greatest religious battles are often not between faiths, but within faiths. The widest gulfs are often not those that divide one religion from the next, but those between extremists and progressives within a single faith. And in this religious season, there’s something that we can all learn from the courage, compassion and tolerance of Dr. Hawa Abdi. - Nicholas D. Kristof

End of life counseling

Ed Stein's commentary:
End of life counseling is back as a political issue after the president decided to add it to Obamacare by executive fiat. If you remember, this was one of the things that led to Sarah Palin’s infamous “death panel” fiction that caused such a furor over the summer. What is proposed, in the real world, is that insurance companies pay for helping terminally ill patients and their families make appropriate decisions for their medical care. That this is an issue at all is a sign of how toxic our politics have become. I’ve been involved in those decisions for two of my step-parents and for my father, and I remain forever grateful for the information that helped my family make the difficult decisions about what course the remaining days of our parents’ lives should take. Without the expert advice of doctors and hospice care nurses, I can only imagine what a struggle their last days might have been. To blindly oppose allowing other families to make those choices, solely for political gain, is worse than callous–it’s positively evil.

Can you believe that "death panels" are back? Isn't that nuts? Think about it. Is there anything so dumb that Republicans can't use it - successfully - in political attacks?

Death panels! Shariah law! Obama is a Kenyan! Obama is a Muslim! Obama is a socialist! What does this say about your message, when you have nothing but laughably ridiculous lies to advance your political position? Shouldn't that tell us something, when you don't have an honest argument, a rational argument, to support your cause?

And what does it tell us about the American people? How did we ever get to be this dumb, this ignorant, this... gullible? I can be rolling on the floor laughing at some hilarious right-wing claim,... and then it works! It becomes a major talking point in the news - and not just on Fox, either, though they'll always push it day and night.

Most news sources - other than Fox, I mean - dependably give equal time to "both sides." Republicans could claim that Obama is Satan - and I've already heard claims that he's the Antichrist, for god's sake - and the mainstream media would agreeably give "both sides" plenty of space to debate that point.

But really, so what? It's still up to us, isn't it? We don't have to be that stupid, do we? But apparently we are. It's just incredible. And as an American, I find it horribly embarrassing.

A look back at the Daily Show

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
A Look Back - January 2010
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

Didn't have time to watch Jon Stewart this year? Well, here's your chance - one year of The Daily Show compressed down to 12 monthly retrospectives. The above clip is January, 2010, and note that it's only four minutes long. Check out the other 11 months here.

And if you're still wondering how to spend your holiday, Stephen Colbert is doing the same thing here. There's nothing like preparing for 2011 by reminding ourselves of all the crazy stuff that happened in 2010, huh?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The year in Islamophobia

There are always lots of end-of-year retrospectives, but here's a particularly important and interesting retrospective at TPM called, "This Year in Islamophobia."

It starts like this:
Nine years after Sept. 11, 2001, America saw perhaps its worst outbreak of Islamophobia since the attacks. Experts wagered it came from the aimless fear and the anger people feel in times of economic crisis, exploited by certain politicians looking to give their party an advantage in the midterms and turned toward American Muslims.

Such an outbreak was possible in the days and months after Sept. 11's attacks. It never really materialized, experts say, in part because President George W. Bush stood up and told the nervous country that Islam is a religion of peace, and that American was not at war with Muslims.

He made no such appeal this year, and President Obama's pleas fell on deaf ears or, more accurately, ears that believe Obama himself is secretly, and sinisterly, Muslim.

Embarrassing, isn't it? At least, if you're an American. I'm sure our enemies are overjoyed to see lunacy like this.

Legal protection for sacred books

I guess it's good to see that Great Britain is loonier than America in at least one respect, since they seem to be prosecuting people who defame "holy" texts. The charge is inciting religious hatred, but when even cartoons are enough to upset the religious, where do you draw the line? Do people really have a right not to get their feelings hurt?

Anyway, I thought this was kind of funny. It's a request sent to the Home Office for legal protection... well, see for yourself:
Dear Sirs,

I understand from the news (see here: and here: ) that the British state has decided to grant to at least some religious books/sacred texts the protection of the law, and to prosecute their burning/defacement/disrespect.

I am therefore writing to you today to request that legal protection be accorded to all copies of the three editions of J.D. Jackson’s “Classical Electrodynamics” ...

I must say, he makes some very good points.

(My thanks to Pharyngula for the link.)

QOTD: Plenty of time for evolution

Quote of the Day:
Basically, what creationists argue is that the evolution of new genes is linear and sequential — there is no history, no selection, it works entirely by random replacement of the whole shebang, hoping that in one dazzling bit of luck that the entire sequence clicks into the right sequence, and then it all works. If that were the way the process occurred, then they'd be right, and evolution would be absurdly improbable and would take an untenable length of time.

Another way to think of it is a bizarre version of the hangman guessing game, where one person thinks of a word, and the second person has to guess what it is. In the normal version of the game, the second person guesses letters one by one, and they're placed in the appropriate spot. In the creationist version, you only get to guess a whole sequence of letters in each round, and you are only told if you are right or wrong, not which letters are in the correct position in the word. Not only does it become a really boring game, but it also becomes extremely unlikely that anyone can solve it in a reasonable amount of time.

Evolution does not work like that. It works in parallel, changing and testing each variant simultaneously in many individuals, and then selection for the most favorable subset of changes latches them in place, making the matching letters more likely to be fixed. ...

... To put some representative numbers on it, imagine a protein that is 300 amino acids long, made up of 20 possible amino acids, and I'm going to ask you to guess the sequence. Under the creationist model, you wouldn't even want to play the game — it would take you on the order of 20300 trials to hit that one specific arrangement of amino acids. On the other hand, if you took a wild guess, writing down a random 300 amino acids, and I then told you which amino acids in which position were correct, you'd be able to progressively work out the exact sequence in only 20 log 300 trials, or around 50 guesses. - PZ Myers

All babies look alike

Mr. Deity and the Barbecue

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

QOTD: Little bang for the buck

Quote of the Day:
Yes, I believe that stimulus can have major benefits in our current situation — but these benefits have to be weighed against the costs. And the tax-cut deal is likely to deliver relatively small benefits in return for very large costs.

The point is that while the deal will cost a lot — adding more to federal debt than the original Obama stimulus — it’s likely to get very little bang for the buck. Tax cuts for the wealthy will barely be spent at all; even middle-class tax cuts won’t add much to spending. And the business tax break will, I believe, do hardly anything to spur investment given the excess capacity businesses already have.

The actual stimulus in the plan comes from the other measures, mainly unemployment benefits and the payroll tax break. And these measures (a) won’t make more than a modest dent in unemployment and (b) will fade out quickly, with the good stuff going away at the end of 2011.

The question, then, is whether a year of modestly better performance is worth $850 billion in additional debt, plus a significantly raised probability that those tax cuts for the rich will become permanent. And I say no.

The Obama team obviously disagrees. As I understand it, the administration believes that all it needs is a little more time and money, that any day now the economic engine will catch and we’ll be on the road back to prosperity. I hope it’s right, but I don’t think it is.

What I expect, instead, is that we’ll be having this same conversation all over again in 2012, with unemployment still high and the economy suffering as the good parts of the current deal go away. The White House may think it has struck a good bargain, but I believe it’s in for a rude shock. - Paul Krugman


The really funny thing about it is that "Obamacare" is a conservative health care plan. It's almost identical to what Republicans were proposing in the 1990s - and to what Mitt Romney actually passed when he was governor of Massachusetts.

Right-wing think tanks were pushing this exact plan,... until Barack Obama and the rest of the Democrats proposed it. Suddenly, it's "socialism." Heh, heh. Well, it would be funny, if the American people weren't dumb enough to believe it.

The left isn't particularly happy, because it's way too conservative for them. But the right will never see anything a Democrat does as being worthwhile. And the tea-baggers are so hysterical at the thought of a black man in the White House that they can't see anything else.

It's crazy, isn't it? How did we Americans become like this?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pope claims that child abuse is normal

I really have to wonder why anyone is still a Catholic these days. I mean, there's certainly no shortage of other religions, and most of them promise life after death and other wonderful, if imaginary, things. So why stick with one that's gone this completely loony?

Here's an article in the Belfast Telegraph about Pope Benedict's Christmas message, where he's still trying to excuse priest pedophiles:
Victims of clerical sex abuse have reacted furiously to Pope Benedict's claim yesterday that paedophilia wasn't considered an “absolute evil” as recently as the 1970s.

In his traditional Christmas address yesterday to cardinals and officials working in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI also claimed that child pornography was increasingly considered “normal” by society.

“In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorised as something fully in conformity with man and even with children,” the Pope said.

You know, I remember the 1970s quite well, and neither pedophilia nor child pornography was ever considered "normal," not among any of the people I knew. Maybe it was different in the Catholic Church - which is kind of the point, I guess - but not among decent people, not in the 1970s and not today.

As usual, PZ Myers makes a couple of good points. The first:
I also am not impressed by his regret that the church was humiliated. That's not an appropriate response at all: church members were the perpetrators of the crime, and the Pope still can't seem to empathize with the victims…you know, the kids. They always seem to get forgotten when the pontiff pontificates on the abuses of his church.

That's always bothered me, too. Whenever the Catholic Church does admit wrongdoing, it always weeps and wails about how it's been humiliated. Really? It's the church which has been "humiliated," the church that covered up child rape, moving pedophile priests to new parishes where they could find new victims,... not the children who were raped by priests?

How self-centered can you get? I recognize the victims in all this, and it's not the Catholic Church! Church leaders - the Pope himself, in fact, in his former duties as cardinal - were the perpetrators, not the victims. Where they didn't rape children themselves, they helped other priests get away with such crimes and helped them find new, unsuspecting victims.

No, I don't think that Pope Benedict is a pedophile. I just think that he doesn't give a damn about children.

And the second:
The other night, I saw this ghastly little documentary called Hell House, about fundagelical nutcases who put on these elaborate morality plays around Halloween, to scare people into Christianity. They have this same moral blindness. I was struck by all the horrible little scenarios they put on: woman goes to rave, is given date-rape drug and is raped; woman gets pregnant, has abortion, bleeds to death; etc., etc., etc. In every case I was struck by the fact that it is the victim who suffers and is abused and dies, and who is then sent to hell for eternal punishment because she doesn't believe in Jesus. I was expecting in these cases to see them end in an orgy of punishment for the drug-dealer, the rapist, the abortionist (all played by men, by the way), but no…they all get forgotten in the denouement, their behavior isn't damned, it's all about the victim being punished for her victimization. That's religion for you.

Yes, it's always "blame the victim." Awhile back, a child in Brazil was raped by her father, which resulted in a life-threatening pregnancy. When the fetus was aborted, to save this poor little girl's life, the Catholic Church excommunicated everyone involved - everyone, that is, except for the rapist. The church had no punishment for him at all.

Ancient patriarchal cultures, like the Catholic Church (and like Islam, too), have always been very eager to blame women for everything. If a young woman is forcibly raped, it's always her own fault. And if anyone gets punished, it's her, not the rapist. Often enough, in many Islamic countries, the victim is even sentenced to death, while the perpetrators of the crime go free to rape again.

The Catholic Church isn't quite that bad - not these days, at least. They can't even burn women alive anymore. Damn these modern times, huh? Yet the celibate old men who run the place always blame women for everything. Children, too, sometimes. I heard at least one priest blame child rape victims for "wanting it." But ordinarily, they just don't care about women and children. They only care about their own organization. They only care about themselves.

After all, women and children are a dime a dozen, right? But there's only one Catholic Church.

I could probably worship this Muhammad

Get thee behind me, coconut

Heh, heh. This is in reference to that famous Ray Comfort video, where he calls the banana "the atheist's nightmare," for the reasons shown above. Of course, our supermarket banana was deliberately created by human beings from various wild ancestors specifically to be as appealing to us as possible.

Modern bananas, in fact, are sterile. They can't reproduce in the wild, because they don't have the many large, inedible seeds of their evolved forebears. Without human beings, there would be no Cavendish bananas like the one Comfort thinks God designed just for him.

Hilarious, isn't it? I mean, this would have been dumb beyond belief even if he'd used a wild fruit for his argument. But a domesticated banana? How dumb can Ray Comfort really be?

Yeah, pretty dumb, I know. I've heard him before. This is normal for Ray Comfort and his followers, I'm afraid.

QOTD: The doomed caribou

Quote of the Day:
The caribou that waited too pliantly in the cross hairs is doomed to become stew for Palin and an allegory for politics. The elegant animal standing above the fray, dithering rather than charging at his foes or outmaneuvering them, is Obambi. Even with a rifle aimed at him, he’s trying to be the most reasonable mammal in the scene, mammalian bipartisan, and rise above what he sees as empty distinctions between the species so that we can all unite at a higher level of being.

Palin’s father advises her to warm up her trigger finger. And trigger-happy Sarah represents the Republicans, who have spent two years taking shots at the president, including potshots, and tormenting him in an effort to bring him down.

The Republicans think they have hurt their quarry on the tax-cut deal, making him look weak and at odds with his party. There’s an argument to be made for what the president did, but he doesn’t look good doing it.

When all the Democrats are complaining and all the Republicans are happy, it just can’t be a good deal for Democrats.

Obama gave up on a big principle, and Democrats showed — again — they can’t win the message war. Republicans proved that, while they don’t have the House (for now), the Senate or the White House, they’re still running things.

Obama used to play poker in the Illinois Legislature, but it’s hard to believe. First, he cried uncle to Republicans standing in the corner, holding their breath and turning blue. Then, in his White House press conference, he was defensive, a martyr for the middle class.

He said he must compromise at times as he follows “a North Star.” It was odd, given that Palin uses North Star as a code name, her own “city on the hill” reference, and an allusion to God.

The president said he couldn’t stick to his guns, even though most Americans agreed with him, because Republicans feel that this is their holy grail: “the single most important thing that they have to fight for as a party.” But isn’t helping those in need rather than gilding the rich a holy grail for Democrats? Does he think for a second that the Republicans will relent and be more reasonable in two years? If he believes he can go out in 2012 and attack the Republicans when the political stakes are much higher, why couldn’t he do it now?

It’s not that hard to explain to Americans in distress that the protection of vast fortunes should not be the priority of government. - Maureen Dowd

How's that hopey changey stuff working out now?

Of course, that's Caribou Barbie's line. "How's that hopey changey stuff workin' out for ya?"

Well, not so bad since the election, huh?

But I note that no one is smiling in the cartoon above. After all, it was the result of a lame duck Congress, and the next two years are looking to be complete disasters. If all this activity had happened before the election,... well, that's water under the bridge, isn't it?

But it's a lot different from two years ago, when Democrats were excited about this bold, young, charismatic leader and Republicans were desperately trying to recover from the disasters they created when they led the country. How things have changed!

It's hard to change established opinions, and unfortunately, the past two years have left progressives unhappy and the far-right euphoric. If you look at it rationally, a lot of good things got accomplished. But this is politics. And politically, the Democrats blew it. Obama blew it. There's just no way around that.

But it's only the end if you give up. I was impressed with the lame duck Congress, and if the Senate can reform their idiotic filibuster rules (which will take only a majority vote on the first day of the new Congress), that will impress me, too (although it won't do nearly as much good as it would have a year ago).

Obama,... I don't know. Obama is still blaming his supporters, it seems - still willing to bend over backward for his enemies, while angrily fighting the people who elected him. Worse yet, he's buying into right-wing rhetoric, into their historical revisionism, even. What happened to that bold, charismatic leader we saw in 2008?

It's not too late. But Obama needs to understand what's gone wrong. And he needs to change. He needs to fight, and he needs to make sure he's facing the right direction when he does. Most of all, he needs to lead!  Congress can't lead our nation (especially not now, when the GOP has taken control of the House). It takes a President.

I hope that Republicans are in for a rude surprise the next two years - and that we progressives are pleasantly surprised. Maybe the right-wing has underestimated Obama. Maybe the mouse has decided to act like a lion, to be a lion. I sure hope so. This lame duck session has been a nice start, but only a start. And most of that has been Congress, not the President.

Indeed, the main contribution from Obama was that tax cut "compromise" that infuriated the left. Maybe it was necessary. Maybe it won't come back to bite us all in the ass two years from now. I sure hope so! But at the very least, it wasn't the kind of change this nation really needs. Making a compromise from the worst of the Democrats and the worst of the Republicans might indeed be possible. But is it wise?

I don't know. Let's hope we've all underestimated Barack Obama.

Monday, December 27, 2010

QOTD: We need a plan

Quote of the Day:
Given where we are, this tax-cut deal with the Republicans is the best President Obama could do since raising taxes in a recession would not have been a good idea and the Republicans had the votes to prevent it. But given where we need to go, this deal is just another shot of morphine to a country that needs to do things that are big and hard and still only wants to do things that are easy and small. It still feels to me as though we’re splitting the difference between the two parties, not making a difference for the country as a whole.  ...

We don’t seem to realize: We’re in a hole and still digging. Our educational attainment levels are stagnating; our infrastructure is fraying. We don’t have enough smart incentives to foster both innovation and manufacturing; we’re not importing enough talent in an age when we have to compete for jobs with low-wage but high-skilled Indians and Chinese — and we’re still piling up debt. Responding to all this will require a whole new hybrid politics for where to cut, where to save, where to invest, where to tax and where to untax. Shaping that new politics is a revolutionary role I still hope President Obama will play.

E.J. Dionne Jr., in his Washington Post column, quoted Representative Tom Perriello, a Democrat of Virginia, as saying that voters are less interested in “bipartisanship” than “postpartisanship.” He explained: “What they’re looking for is someone who solves the problem, not for a solution that happens to be halfway between the two parties.”

Read Tuesday’s article in this paper about how international education experts were stunned by the fact that students in Shanghai outscored their counterparts in dozens of other countries, in reading as well as in math and science, according to the results of the widely respected Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, tests, which measure learning by 15-year-old students in 65 countries. Yes, Shanghai represents the best of China, but the best of China is now scoring better than anywhere else in the world. America’s 15-year-olds ranked 14th in reading skills, 17th in science and 25th in math, below the average.

Economics is not war. It can be win-win, so it’s good for the world if China is doing better. But it can’t be good for America if every time we come to a hard choice we borrow more money from a country that is not just out-saving and out-hustling us, but is also starting to out-educate us. We need a plan. - Thomas L. Friedman

The waiting is the hard part

And you thought "death panels" were scary...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Time travel in Oregon

Since Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. - which also owns Fox "News" - bought the Wall Street Journal a few years back, we've been seeing a similar kind of "journalism" at the once-respected newspaper.

Here's an example from Jonathan Chait:
The Wall Street Journal returns to one of its favorite arguments:
Oregon raised its income tax on the richest 2% of its residents last year to fix its budget hole, but now the state treasury admits it collected nearly one-third less revenue than the bean counters projected. The sun also rose in the east, and the Cubs didn't win the World Series. [...]

One reason revenues are so low is that about one-quarter of the rich tax filers seem to have gone missing. The state expected 38,000 Oregonians to pay the higher tax, but only 28,000 did. Funny how that always happens. These numbers are in line with a Cascade Policy Institute study, based on interstate migration patterns, predicting that the tax surcharge would lead to 80,000 fewer wealthy tax filers in Oregon over the next decade.

Funny, indeed. Unfortunately, as the Oregon Center for Public Policy's Chuck Sheketoff says, "the claim is just baseless":
First, although Measure 66 applied to 2009 income, voters didn’t approve them until January 2010. For The Wall Street Journal’s claim to be true, 10,000 wealthy Oregonians would have had to master time travel and leave the state retroactively to avoid the 2009 tax.

Second, the total number of tax returns filed in 2009 is greater — not less — than what the state had predicted in May of 2009. That doesn’t suggest out migration.

The explanation for why in 2009 there were actually 10,000 fewer tax returns subject to the new rates than had been projected in mid-2009 is obvious: the Great Recession was worse than the state economists had thought in mid-2009. The recession caused income for all income groups to fall further than they anticipated. Those at the top and subject to the new tax rates — those who derive a greater portion of their income from capital gains — saw a particularly sharp decline. The Legislative Revenue Office noted last week that the May 2009 forecast for total income was off by 7 percent. The primary reason that tax dollars coming from Measure 66 were down 28 percent from the forecast is that the capital gains component of total revenue was down 43 percent from the projected level.

Yes, there were “fewer filers affected” by the measure than originally expected, but that just means that the income decline caused by the Great Recession took some people below the new tax thresholds.

Funny, huh? Or is it? The Wall Street Journal editors can't possibly be dumb enough to believe what they wrote, but plenty of their readers will believe it. And that's the whole point, after all. We've entered a new era of yellow journalism in America, with Fox "News" leading the way.

The right-wing will pass around this misinformation like all the other lies they send out in emails and quote online. And the rich will get their tax cuts, as usual.

Well, Chait's last paragraph can at least make me chuckle:
The Wall Street Journal’s suggestion that there’s a causal link between the new tax and Oregon’s revenues being below projections or fewer filers in the relevant income brackets is tantamount to saying that “increased global temperatures during a time when the number of pirates declined shows that the decline of pirates caused global warming.” My ten year-old (who has had his own fantasies with pirates) knows better.

Death panels are real

QOTD: Shariah at the Kumback Cafe

Quote of the Day:
Shariah is the new hot-button wedge issue, as radicalizing as abortion or gay marriage, seized on by Republicans to mobilize conservative Americans against the supposed “stealth jihad” of Muslims in the United States and against a Democratic president portrayed as oblivious to — or complicit with — the threat. Not since 9/11 has Islamophobia been at such a pitch in the United States. ...

The neoconservative Center for Security Policy in Washington recently described Shariah as “the pre-eminent totalitarian threat of our time.” Many Republicans, with Newt Gingrich leading, have signed up. Their strategy is clear: Conflate Obama with creeping Shariah and achieve the political double-whammy of feeding rampant rumors that he’s a closet Muslim and fanning the fears that propel a conservative lurch.

It’s not pretty, in fact it’s pretty odious, but to judge by the Republican surge last month, it’s effective in an anxiety-filled America. ...

To understand U.S. politics today, try “It’s the fear element, stupid.”

I asked Frank Lawson, 83, about Obama. “I think the young man’s a Muslim,” he said. Case closed. He continued: “I got on the computer, punched in Koran, and there it is in black and white: They are out to rule the world and if you don’t convert, they kill you.” Cherry-picked inflammatory phrases, attributed to the Koran but more often lifted from interpretations of it, course through Oklahoman churches and spread via Internet chatter.

Sherman asked me what “that huge Muslim movement that took over Europe,” was called. I couldn’t help. “Begins with ‘O”’ he said. “The Ottoman Empire?” I ventured. Yep. Case closed again.

Things were quiet on Perry’s main square. So quiet the “Muslim threat” was hard to imagine. It was even harder to imagine that, right here, Timothy McVeigh, the homegrown terrorist who killed 168 people in a 1995 Oklahoma attack, was held after being stopped by a state trooper outside Perry for having no license plate.

Nobody initially suspected McVeigh. Suspicion fell on men “of Middle Eastern appearance,” including Imad Enchassi, now the imam of a large Oklahoma mosque, who told me, “Things are much worse now, I’m looking over my shoulder for the first time.” - Roger Cohen

Finished your Christmas shopping yet?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Ricky Gervais

For today's Quote of the Day, I quoted Ricky Gervais, an excerpt from his superb "holiday message," Why I'm an Atheist. I highly recommend that you read the whole thing. It really is good.

And in the six days since it's been posted online at the Wall Street Journal, there have been 5862 comments! Heh, heh. No, I haven't read them all - or even more than a handful. But the column was so popular that they followed up with another, where Ricky Gervais answers some of the questions he received.

It's short, and it's very good, too. I recommend you read it as well (and there are only 704 comments there, so far). In fact, it's so good that I'm having trouble deciding what excerpts to post. How about starting with this?
What does a comedian really know about God anyway?

Since there is nothing to know about god, a comedian knows as much about god as any one else.

Yes, he's right. There are no experts when it comes to gods. There are experts when it comes to religions, true. But that's just being an expert in the history or ideas of a particular belief system.

After all, people who do claim to be experts about God disagree vociferously. Unlike in science, which relies on evidence, there's no consensus in religion. That's because there's no way to tell when you're wrong - or when anyone else is wrong, either - when you rely only on wishful thinking faith.

Science doesn’t concern itself with the non-existence of something. The periodic table of imaginary things would be too big for a classroom- infinitely big in fact, and rather pointless. It’s not trying to prove the non-existence of anything supernatural. All it knows is there is no scientific proof of anything supernatural so far. When someone presents a jar of God it will test it. If it finds some evidence of “godness” it will follow the evidence till it knows everything it can.

The fact that science can say “we don’t know” is exactly my point. Science doesn’t start with a set of convenient conclusions and try to justify them. It follows evidence. In fact, it tries to prove itself wrong. When it can’t, it’s right. Superstition, religion and blind faith cherry pick the evidence and justify the results by changing the goal posts.

This is very good stuff, which - as Gervais well knows - will likely change no minds at all. It still should be said, and said often.

But since it's Christmas, let me close with one more excerpt that really speaks to me:
How do you plan on celebrating Christmas?

Eating and drinking too much with friends and family. Celebrating life and remembering those that did, but can no longer.

They are not looking down on me but they live in my mind and heart more than they ever did probably. Some, I was lucky enough to bump into on this planet of six billion people. Others shared much of my genetic material. One selflessly did her best for me all my life. That’s what mums do though. They do it for no other reason than love. Not for reward. Not for recognition. They create you. From nothing. Miracle? They do those every day. No big deal. They are not worshiped. They would give their life without the promise of heaven. They teach you everything they know yet they are not declared prophets. And you only have one.

I am crying as I write this.

QOTD: Why don't you believe in God?

Quote of the Day:
Why don’t you believe in God? I get that question all the time. I always try to give a sensitive, reasoned answer. This is usually awkward, time consuming and pointless. People who believe in God don’t need proof of his existence, and they certainly don’t want evidence to the contrary. They are happy with their belief. They even say things like “it’s true to me” and “it’s faith.” I still give my logical answer because I feel that not being honest would be patronizing and impolite. It is ironic therefore that “I don’t believe in God because there is absolutely no scientific evidence for his existence and from what I’ve heard the very definition is a logical impossibility in this known universe,” comes across as both patronizing and impolite.

Arrogance is another accusation. Which seems particularly unfair. Science seeks the truth. And it does not discriminate. For better or worse it finds things out. Science is humble. It knows what it knows and it knows what it doesn’t know. It bases its conclusions and beliefs on hard evidence -­- evidence that is constantly updated and upgraded. It doesn’t get offended when new facts come along. It embraces the body of knowledge. It doesn’t hold on to medieval practices because they are tradition. If it did, you wouldn’t get a shot of penicillin, you’d pop a leach down your trousers and pray. Whatever you “believe,” this is not as effective as medicine. Again you can say, “It works for me,” but so do placebos. My point being, I’m saying God doesn’t exist. I’m not saying faith doesn’t exist. I know faith exists. I see it all the time. But believing in something doesn’t make it true. Hoping that something is true doesn’t make it true. The existence of God is not subjective. He either exists or he doesn’t. It’s not a matter of opinion. You can have your own opinions. But you can’t have your own facts.

Why don’t I believe in God? No, no no, why do YOU believe in God? Surely the burden of proof is on the believer. You started all this. If I came up to you and said, “Why don’t you believe I can fly?” You’d say, “Why would I?” I’d reply, “Because it’s a matter of faith.” If I then said, “Prove I can’t fly. Prove I can’t fly see, see, you can’t prove it can you?” You’d probably either walk away, call security or throw me out of the window and shout, ‘’F—ing fly then you lunatic.” ...

“Do unto others…” is a good rule of thumb. I live by that. Forgiveness is probably the greatest virtue there is. But that’s exactly what it is -­‐ a virtue. Not just a Christian virtue. No one owns being good. I’m good. I just don’t believe I’ll be rewarded for it in heaven. My reward is here and now. It’s knowing that I try to do the right thing. That I lived a good life. And that’s where spirituality really lost its way. When it became a stick to beat people with. “Do this or you’ll burn in hell.”

You won’t burn in hell. But be nice anyway. - Ricky Gervais

More Christmas cartoons

OK, I posted some Christmas-themed political cartoons a couple of weeks ago, not to mention yesterdays Savage Chickens post, but what would Christmas be like, without political slams in a humorous format?  :)

So, enjoy!

Friday, December 24, 2010

QOTD: Lame ducks gone mad

Quote of the Day:
Congress has been working on this legislation since 2008, when a big food-poisoning epidemic reminded everyone that the Food and Drug Administration is currently working with laws written during the Great Depression. It survived endless delays by Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who believes the free market is your last, best defense against E. coli.

But staff members for the leading Democratic and Republican senators on the health committee actually got together and worked things out the way they used to do in olden days. Most of the negotiators were women, and while I am certainly not saying that made a difference, I am, sort of, just saying.

Not everybody was impressed by the achievement.

“Oh, my gosh! It’s so important,” said Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “I’m glad I rushed back from our break to work on food safety.”

Brown felt the Senate should have been focusing on economic issues, particularly his effort to stop the extension of unemployment compensation benefits until the Senate agrees to the Scott Brown Unemployment Compensation Funding Plan.

“Is it because I’m a Republican that we’re not going to pass that? Is it because I’m the new guy?” he demanded.

We will now have a moment of silence to contemplate the suffering of Senator Brown. Who had to come back the week after Thanksgiving in order to vote on a major bipartisan bill aimed at keeping people from being poisoned by contaminated food. And then became a victim of discrimination. - Gail Collins

Does Obama have the cards?

Have a Savage Chickens Christmas

Here's an assortment of great Savage Chickens comics by Doug Savage to get you in the Christmas mood.

Well, Jim, is this alternative enough for you?  :)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Keeping the promise

It's a Christmas miracle!

This is a lame duck? Congress ends "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," then funds the 9/11 responders health care bill and approves the START treaty. What has gotten into the Democrats, anyway, that they're actually willing to fight for what's right?

Most of these votes weren't even particularly close. Once Democrats stood up to the GOP, the Republican leadership just couldn't keep their members from bolting - enough, at least, to break a filibuster. (All of these had majority support. The only problem was getting a vote permitted at all, and that took breaking those never-ending Republican filibusters.)

That's not all, either. The Food Safety and Modernization Act passed the Senate Sunday evening, and the COMPETES Act, which re-authorizes science funding, yesterday afternoon. The defense authorization bill, held up two weeks ago by DADT, was passed, and, of course, Obama's tax cut compromise. 

Of course, not everything succeeded in overcoming GOP obstructionism. The DREAM Act couldn't quite make it, unfortunately. And Republicans blocked the Child Marriage Protection Act. The DISCLOSE Act didn't make it, either, and that's something we desperately need in this country (minus the NRA exemption, if possible).

And this is a lame duck Congress. The Republicans take over the House of Representatives next year (I still can't believe we were dumb enough to let that happen), and that won't be pretty. And the Democrats not only have a narrower lead in the Senate, they've got even loonier opponents across the aisle than they did the past two years.

But, hey, let's celebrate good news while we can. Maybe, if we're really, really lucky, the Senate will vote to change those stupid filibuster rules next term (which takes only a simple majority of votes, if they do it the first day). I still think the current rules are unconstitutional.

It's kind of funny, but according to TPM, the Democrats set a new record the past two years in breaking filibusters. The only Senate that even came close was the one immediately preceding this one. Of course, that's mostly because they've had more opportunity. Republicans have been filibustering nearly everything, which is not at all how the Senate traditionally worked. (And note that the filibuster itself is not in the U.S. Constitution.)

Well, it's the season of cheer, right? Do I hear the clip, clop of tiny hooves?

QOTD: American exceptionalism

Quote of the Day:
The entire root of this attack line stems from a single sentence by Obama, endlessly repeated on the right: "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism." You see!, conservatives say -- he thinks American exceptionalism is no more valid than any other country's national pride!

In fact, Obama's remark was a nuanced defense of the idea. He began by acknowledging other forms of national pride, but proceeded to argue for American exceptionalism anyway:
"I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I'm enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don't think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.

"And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.

"Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we've got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we're not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.

"And so I see no contradiction between believing that America has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity and recognizing that that leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we create partnerships because we can't solve these problems alone."

There's been a debate about epistemic closure on the right, and this is a prominent example. Conservatives repeat Obama's single sentence over and over, seemingly unaware that the context of his remarks leads to a conclusion very nearly the opposite of the one they claim. You could wade through this discussion in the right-wing media for hours and hours without ever coming across any excerpt of Obama's remark that goes beyond the one cherished sentence. It's pure epistemic closure. The other possibility, I suppose, is that all these people are dishonest hacks. - Jonathan Chait

Boss Hogg is dreaming of a white Christmas

Re. this post, of course.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Triumph of the 111th Congress

"Triumph" isn't normally a word I associate with Congress, but this title belongs to David Horsey, not me. And he makes some good points:
With public approval of Congress hovering at 13 percent in the Gallup Poll, it is not easy to find anyone to sing praises of the 111th Congress. So, I'll do it myself.

Let's start with the much-maligned bailouts and stimulus bills.

The bank bailouts were distasteful because they rewarded many of the reckless financiers who dragged us into the economic morass of 2007-08. The alternative, though, was to let the banks sink and, since we are all on the same creaking ship, we would have gone down with them. It was a nasty choice, but the right one.

The bailout of the American auto industry is more easily praised. It saved about a million American jobs and preserved vital manufacturing capacity that is otherwise disappearing from our national economy.

And overlooked by Tea Party critics who complained that the bailouts spiked the federal debt is the fact that the loans are already mostly paid back.

As for the stimulus, some say the stimulus bill failed to stimulate. This is a debatable point. Proving the positive impact of the stimulus money relies on projections of how much worse off we would have been if it had not been injected into the economy. One unquestioned aspect of the stimulus was that it gave a hefty tax cut to the middle class – something Democrats forgot to brag about during the 2010 congressional campaign.

Then, famously – or, for some people, infamously – the 111th Congress passed health care reform after a year of invective and vituperation. "Obamacare," which some call socialism and others call Bob Dole's Republican health care plan, will finally provide affordable access to medical services for nearly every American citizen, a goal that has stood just out of reach since it was first proposed by President Theodore Roosevelt a century ago.

It is not a perfect scheme, but, as provisions of the health care plan kick into gear over the next few years, Americans will begin to wonder – as they have with Medicare – why it took so long to get it.

After that, despite the objections of Republicans who seemed to think there was no reason to clamp down on the casino that Wall Street has become, Democrats approved moderate regulations to govern the out-of-control financial markets. They also passed legislation that, for the first time, creates a government agency to advocate for consumers. Republicans didn't like that one, either.

OK, anything that the Republicans dislike can't be too bad. So maybe Congress did accomplish some good things. But I'll point out that the bank bailout happened before Obama took office. Yeah, it was still mostly the same Democrats in Congress who passed it - less willing than Republicans to cut off their own nose to spite their face, when instead they could rescue the American economy from complete collapse. Huh! Fancy that!

The failure of Democrats to sell all this good news to voters demonstrates how liberals have not developed an effective response to the agenda-setting power of the right wing media machine. From conservative talk radio and FOX News to the reactionary blogosphere and powerhouse Republican political operatives, the right dominates the public debate with a loud and relentless message unrestrained by tethers to reality.

As a result, Democrats ran away from their achievements, took a drubbing in the fall election, gave up control of the House and lost a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

Despite this, instead of slinking off into a quiet corner, the 111th Congress went out with a bang.

A controversial tax deal was reached that gave Republicans what they wanted – big tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans – but, to the surprise of many, also gave Democrats some rewards, including extension of unemployment benefits and a reduction in the payroll tax. The tax package did one very bad thing, of course: the government deficit was increased by many billions of dollars. But blame for this will go to both parties while, at least for now, President Obama is reaping the political reward. This is an infuriating result for Republican leaders who hoped to block the Democratic president from achieving anything that might improve his re-election prospects.

In fact, the Party of No had a terrible time snatching any victories from Obama in the lame duck session of Congress. Most significantly, conservative ranks were shattered by the quick passage of a bill repealing the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell rule. Two years after Obama promised he would end the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the armed forces, the 111th Congress was able to deliver.

And, as I write this, the Senate appears to be on the verge of approving START, the nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia, one of the president's chief foreign policy goals. That grating sound you hear is Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell grinding his teeth in bitter frustration.

Democrats should take pride in what was accomplished over the last two years and quibblers on the left ought to stop whining about not getting all that they desired. In an era of political gridlock and polarization, it is rather amazing that so much could get done.

OK, yes, this lame duck Congress has been impressive. If the Democrats had been this determined the past year and a half, I wouldn't have been so disgusted with them. But as Horsey points out, they did run away from their own record before the election. And I still can't believe they didn't split the tax question, before the election, and force Republicans to vote specifically on cutting taxes on the rich.

And now, well, things are going to get really, really bad for America in the next Congress. After all, the only reason the lame duck session is accomplishing anything is because they've got Democrats and Republicans alike who have nothing to lose. I guess you're more willing to do the right thing when you've already lost your re-election bid, huh?

The 112th Congress will be different. With the hand of Senate Republicans enhanced and a GOP majority in the House, the next two years will be a rough and bitter struggle between Democrats trying to protect what has been gained and Republicans, driven by a fresh cohort of tea partyers in their caucus, fighting to take back lost ground. It will not be pretty.

Before that battle begins, Democrats need to do one last thing. On the first day of the 112the Congress – and on that day only – it will take only 51 votes to change the rules of the 100-member Senate. Democrats should seize that opportunity to alter the rules governing the filibuster. Where once the filibuster was employed only infrequently, it is now used routinely to block any significant legislation in the Senate that lacks 60 votes.

Minority rule needs to end. The filibuster has become a weapon too easily put in the service of narrow ideology.

Sorry, but Horsey won't sucker me that easily. I'll believe it when I see it. It's long past due, and we've missed a huge opportunity by letting the filibuster continue this long (and by not investigating and prosecuting the Bush Administration for their crimes, though that's a separate question), but I guess better late than never. If the Democrats actually find the nerve to do it.

I wouldn't mind a real filibuster, one that took an actual effort to accomplish. But not this wimped down version. Republicans claim that they will filibuster, but they don't actually have to do anything. So of course they've begun to filibuster everything.

And with the GOP in control of the House, the next two years are almost certain to be worse than the last two. I rate Congress low because the Republicans have been insane and the Democrats cowardly. Well, Republicans aren't getting any saner - just the reverse, in fact. And I won't believe the Democrats are actually growing a spine until they show me a lot more evidence of that.

I guess we'll see.

QOTD: We don't mind sharing Christmas

Quote of the Day:
For a fact, the Christians stole Christmas. We don't mind sharing it with them, but we don't like this pretense of theirs that it is the birthday of Jesus. It is the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun - Dies Natalis Invicti Solis. Christmas is a relic of sun worship.

The customs of this time of year endure because they are pleasant customs. It's fun to hear from distant family and friends, to gather, to feast, to sing. Gifts, as Robert Ingersoll once said, are evidences of friendship, of remembrance, of love.

The evergreens displayed now as in centuries past flourish when all else seems dead, and are symbols, as is the returning sun, of enduring life.

In celebrating the Winter Solstice, we celebrate reality. - Anne Nicol Gaylor

What Christmas is all about

I agree with Linus. Check out the whole thing here.

Is this me?

I have a feeling I should take this Dilbert strip personally. Does Scott Adams read my blog?

Um, that's unlikely in the extreme, I know. (Why should he be one of the select few?) More likely, I'm just a type.

Then again, if you don't like listening to me repeat myself 27 times, you don't have to come here - which is the solution most people have adopted. Heh, heh.

Ascension Island

I posted once before, in September, about the deliberate terraforming of Ascension Island, and I still think it's fascinating. Here's another article, in the Economist, about the history of this island.

Discovered by the Portuguese in 1501, it was so "barren and isolated" that no country even bothered to claim it.
Just to the west of the mid-ocean ridge that separates South America’s tectonic plate from Africa’s, it is the top of a volcano which rises steeply from abyssal plains more than four kilometres below the surface of the ocean. The volcano made it above that surface only a million or so years ago, since when the island has grown to about 100 square kilometres. Before people arrived it was home to just a flightless bird, a land crab and no more than 30 species of plant, none as big as a bush.
Weirdly, when the British took possession of the island in 1815, they kept it on the books as a ship, the HMS Ascension. It was just a staging post, with even fresh water having to be shipped in.

That earlier article at the BBC kept mostly to the attempt, starting in 1847, to build an artificial ecosystem on the island, "the world's first experiment in terraforming." This one discusses that, but has more about the history of the island and also about the present situation. I still think it's fascinating.

It's optimistic, too:
The lesson that Easter Island teaches humanity is bleak. Ascension Island’s story has a more hopeful message. It shows that environments not remotely natural in their origins can become lovely to inhabit. People like Mr Stroud can and will act not just to preserve the environment but to improve it, making it more, not less, than it otherwise would be.

Winding down the flank of the mountain, there is a graceful fluttering in the woods off to the side of the road. Free from the threat of cats, fairy terns have returned to the island—and forsaken their ancestral cliffs for a new life among the leaves and branches. They flash bright white and beautiful against the green.

Since I'm a huge science fiction fan, the implications of this experiment in regards to terraforming other planets also interests me. And heck, at the rate we're going, we may well need to terraform our own planet in the years ahead. The unintentional changes we're making are almost uniformly disastrous. Sooner or later, we're going to have to repair the damage.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Boss Hogg for President!

OK, it's not Boss Hogg, I guess. It's Haley Barbour. I always get those two mixed up.

But seriously, this is incredible, isn't it? I know that nearly all Republicans are busy whitewashing history, but isn't there a limit? Why aren't they being laughed out of office?

(I borrowed the above graphic from Jonathan Strait at the New Republic, who seems to have the same problem I do.)

Republicans stop the Child Marriage Protection Act

This time, it's the House, not the Senate, blocking good legislation. Heck, the Child Marriage Protection Act "passed the Senate with zero objection on Dec. 1," according to Talking Points Memo. But Republicans in the House suddenly became hysterical.

Here's TPM:
But just before the vote began, Republican leadership blasted out a "whip alert" to GOP staffers with a message: Vote no. The alert claimed the bill cost too much and that a competing bill, introduced just the day before, would be better.

"There are also concerns that funding will be directed to NGOs that promote and perform abortion and efforts to combat child marriage could be usurped as a way to overturn pro-life laws," the alert read.

And so the bill, which needed a two-thirds vote to pass under the suspended rules, failed. Even some congressmen who sponsored the bill voted no.

McCollum, along with human rights organizations and the State Department, believes that child marriage is a form of child abuse that includes sexual abuse, domestic violence and slavery.

The text of the bill does not mention abortion, contraception or family planning. Instead, it directs the president to make preventing child marriage a priority, especially in countries where more than 40 percent of girls under the age of 18 are married. The ways to do that, according to the bill: support educating communities on the dangers and health effects of child marriage, keep young girls in school, support female mentoring programs and make sure girls have access to health care services. ...

Republicans also claimed that the bill would spend $108 million in taxpayer money. McCollum, however, says the bill doesn't authorize any new funds. The Congressional Budget Office says it would cost about $67 million over five years, noting that it won't affect direct spending and is therefore not subject to pay-go.

With the right-wing having hysterics about everything, America can't even fight child marriages these days. Have we become dysfunctional, or what?

Ministers and federal subsidies

Via Pharyngula, here's something to think about when you're preparing your taxes in the next few months. You know that churches are tax-free, of course. But did you know that ministers get special treatment in the U.S. tax code?

How special? Well, this tax preparer has posted an example. How about a total tax bill of $740 on an income of $105,000 (actually, he got a refund, if you include child tax credits), compared to the $18,826 in tax you or I would have to pay?
This is unfair.  What makes his profession so special that he is able to take deductions that no one else can?  Why is he able to elect out of social security?  Why is he able to deduct his mortgage interest and property taxes twice?

To top it off, he wrote a letter to our firm asking for a discounted preparation fee because he is a minister of humble means.  It made me sick to my stomach.

Heh, heh. Yeah, a "minister of humble means." Right.

Yes, the tax code is unfair in other ways, too - for example, in giving such a huge tax break to investment income, when a working stiff has to pay the full rate on his paycheck. But just because there are other wrongs, that doesn't make this any less wrong.

But don't expect it to be changed any time soon, either. American politicians, Republican and Democrat alike, are terrified of seeming to be "anti-Christian."

DADT in the dustbin of history

On Sunday, I blogged about the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," but now we're starting to see the first political cartoons about it. So I thought I'd post a few of them:

Jon Stewart saves the day?

From Comedy Central's Indecision:
Did you happen to notice how a week ago, when Republicans blocked a Senate bill that would have paid for health care coverage for 9/11 First Responders, there was this deafening sonic boom of complete silence that emanated from the cable and network news offices, and then how, after Jon Stewart dedicated an entire episode of The Daily Show to the bill's defeat and its resulting silence, all of a sudden people started to talk about how maybe this was kind of an important thing that somebody should have told people about?

You did notice that? Well, you're not the only one
In the wake of Stewart's show, ABC's Jonathan Karl ran a story on World News and the cable nets seem to have woken up to the bill's existence. On Sunday, New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand announced that a revised version of the bill, which reduces the cost from $7.4 billion to $6.2 billion — the measure is offset by closing a corporate tax loop hole — had gained at least some GOP support. Indeed, several prominent Republicans have come out in support of the bill with Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace calling it a "national shame" that the legislation has yet to be enacted.

Sen. Gillibrand thinks there might even be enough Republican votes to get this piece of crazy liberal legislation passed
"I believe we now have more than enough votes to pass this legislation. We have been working extremely closely with a number of Republicans and have made a series of changes to the bill. Americans will be watching closely over the next few days and expecting the Senate to do what is right and fulfill our moral obligation to these heroes."
Wow! Who'd have thought that reporting on an issue could actually produce real world results? Seems so counter-intuitive, doesn't it?

The article also includes embedded video clips of the Daily Show episode in question. Note that, last week, I posted the first clip here, and included a link to the second (for some reason, embedding more than one in a single post really screws things up on my blog).