June 29, 2007

Saying no to Paris

Finally. Was this scripted or genuine? I don't know and don't really care. Finally, someone refuses to read any story about Paris Hilton as a "lead" story. Scarborough and the other guy come off as tools, however.

Dobson lying? that's unpossible

The Washington Monthly has a nice little contrast between what James Dobson sent to his constituents about young people and their political trending (all based on a NYT poll). Dobson told his money people that the young people are trending conservative, with 62 percent wanting abortion outlawed or restricted, and 54 percent opposed to same sex marriage. Sprinkled with little quotes about how the youth realize how wrong "liberalism is" and the need for "Biblical marriage," Dobson's little spin fund raiser letter is a good example of reading facts generously.

What did the poll say? Not only does the story title say the opposite of Dobson, but so does their data:
"Their views on abortion mirror those of the public at large: 24 percent said it should not be permitted at all, while 38 percent said it should be made available but with greater restrictions. Thirty-seven percent said it should be generally available."

"By a 52 to 36 majority, young Americans say that Democrats, rather than Republicans, come closer to sharing their moral values, while 58 percent said they had a favorable view of the Democratic Party, and 38 percent said they had a favorable view of Republicans."

Yep, sounds like Dobson is getting exactly what he deserves wants.

June 28, 2007

"Because they might catch us lying"

TPMmuckraker notes that the White House is again agreeing to allow their aids to be interviewed, but in private, not under oath and with no transcript. Why? Because if there were a transcript, it would create a "perjury trap."

Yeah, when you lie to Congress, it is perjury. Bush wants his staff to be able to lie without punishment. WWJD?

Gonzales on the Death Penalty

He is for it. And how.

I heard story on NPR last night and listened to it again this morning. TPMmuckraker has more.

Here is the story. One of the US Attorneys fired by Gonzo for "insubordination" testified before congress about his experiences. Paul Charlton was the attorney and he was prosecuting a drug dealer who was charged with killing his supplier. Charlton had a good case against the man, but no body. He knows where the body is buried, but it would cost between 500 thou and a million to exume the body from the landfill. Justice refused. Charlton decided to not pursue the death penalty because of that. He wasn't going to let the man walk, mind you, but decided not to go for execution.

Gonzales overruled him. Overruled the guy with the most knowledge of the case--the guy who is not anti-death penalty--the guy who had years of experience. And did so, mind you, in a 5-10 minute conversation. That was the time devoted to ascertaining whether this drug dealer should live or die--5 to 10 minutes.

I oppose the death penalty for many, many reasons. But this is one of the most visible problems with the process. When a political hack like Gonzales decides death penalty cases purely for political reasons, the system is broken. And clearly in this case, it was broken exactly as the President and VP want it broken. Innocence or possible innocence means nothing to them--be it with an Iraqi in a prison cell somewhere or a possible murderer in Arizona.

This isn't justice.

Voting matters

Don't ever let anyone say it doesn't.
The Washington Monthly: "Ultimately, of the five controversial rulings this week, Roberts wrote the majority opinion in three, and Alito wrote the other two.

I guess it's one of those elections-have-consequences moments, isn't it?"
Bush has been shockingly ineffective in most everything he has done. But his two appointments to the court have turned back the clock. Turned it back to before Brown.

Those of you who voted for Bush in 04--sure hope you are proud of that vote.

June 27, 2007

Where I realize that Chris Matthews is a whore

I was cooking tonight. That is my excuse. Nothing on and I was trying to make home-made pasta which means that I don't get to click around during that process. So don't judge me.

So I watched Chris Matthews.

My mistake.

He had an entire show about the flareup between Edwards and Coulter on his show yesterday! In other words, he invites the hate monger on his show, invites comments and then has a show asking "why does Ann Coulter provoke such response?"

Kind of like an arsonist inviting a highly flammable liquid on his show, lighting it, then asking, "why did it burn?"

Worse, he had Armstrong Williams on to discuss the issue. Got to be even handed--have a lefty and a righty. Not sure who the "lefty" was, but Armstrong "I will whore for the Bush admin and keep it secret and act like a journalist" Williams was there to judge the Edwards campaign. He said that ultimately, John Edwards was just as guilty as Ann Coulter since he used her to raise money for his campaign.

So Chris "Whore" Matthews invites the Coutergeist on his show, allows her to say unbelievably hateful things, laughs at her jokes, sells her books, then invites Armstrong Williams on to say that Edwards is just as bad. And this is journalism?

Worse, when he interviewed John Edwards, Matthews talked about how much he admired Elizabeth as a person. Said she was as good as they came. Later, when talking Williams challenged the idea that Elizabeth acted on her own and hadn't told John about calling the show, Matthews said cautiously, "she said she didn't." Williams said something like "and she wouldnt' lie?" and Matthews nodded knowingly, "I know, I know."

What a whore.

Let's make a list

Crooks and Liars tries to answer Tucker Carlson's insincere question about why people on the left dislike Cheney:
"Well, here’s a few reasons why Cheney’s such an odious man:

1) Architect (along with his neocon cabal) of the worst foreign blunder in U.S. history and an immortal war.

2) Cheerleader and or “chief of torture.” Just ask Condi and Colin.

3) Mr. Law and Order doesn’t actually obey the law regarding his office.

4) Secret Energy Commission meeting

5) Chickenhawk (five deferments) who sends others off to fight his wars.

6) The leaking of Valerie’s Plame name.

7) Scooter Libby and Mary Matalin.

Please add to the list…"

"Guiding the Ship of State" reading from the Exxon Valdez manual

I remember talking to one of my Texas friends about the Bush administration and being stunned that he (at that time) didn't know the name Karl Rove. In retrospect, ignorance is easier, and I suspect that a lot of Americans are glad to not know anything about Dick Cheney. I kind of wish I didn't know as much.

The WaPo series part three and four are online and I made the mistake of reading them this morning. As if learning in the first two how this VP made torture and cruelty American policy wasn't bad enough, now we get to see how he managed domestic policy. Couple of quotes:
He managed to overcome the president's "compassionate conservative" resistance to multiple breaks for the wealthy.
First line to actually make the President look better, since he actually balked at more tax cuts for the wealthy. We knew that from Paul O'Neill, but see it here again. Of course, Bush is ultimately too weak or disconnected to stop Cheney from doing what he wants.
"My impression is that the president thinks that the Reagan style of leadership is best -- guiding the ship of state from high up on the mast," said former White House lawyer Bradford A. Berenson. "It seems to me that the vice president is more willing to get down in the wheelhouse below the decks."
Too bad that the President can't guide. Or steer. Or anything.

We see that with the discussions of how each approaches complext information. According to insiders, Cheney is a bit of a wonk and nerd, poring over charts and data, reading a lot. He evidently enjoys economics (as long as it is supply side) and briefings with him are detailed and complex. Not so with the Prez.
"With the president it was much shorter. It's 'Marty, what do you think of where we stand today?'" said Martin Feldstein, a Harvard economics professor and the president and chief executive of the National Bureau of Economic Research. "It's also a less technical presentation."
That is how a Harvard economics professor calls the President dumb. Take notes.

Part 4 includes even more chilling (for me) discussions of how he intervened in the Interior Department to override attempts to save Klamath salmon. All his buddies say that Cheney is driven by principle, but his principle appears to be "pro-business" all the way. Which is why he drove Christine Whitman out of her EPA position:
She wanted to work a political trade with industry -- eliminating the New Source Review in return for support of Bush's 2002 "Clear Skies" initiative, which outlined a market-based approach to reducing emissions over time. But Clear Skies went nowhere. "There was never any follow-up," Whitman said, and moreover, there was no reason for industry to embrace even a modest pollution control initiative when the vice president was pushing to change the rules for nothing.
I have said this before too, but I was always impressed with Clinton in that discussions like this usually left both sides a little unhappy and not quite getting what they wanted. With Bush business never complains. They always get what they want, even and especially if it is expensive. Never mind that it is often chemical companies successfully lobbying to avoid expensive security provisions, or power plants polluting almost at will, they know they have a patsy in the White House.

June 26, 2007

Couple of late notes

Item 1: Nancy Pelosi has a blog. Or her office does and they have the text of a letter from Henry Waxman to the White House Counsel regarding numerous security lapses in handling classified documents, including renewing Karl Rove's security clearance, refusing oversight efforts to simply document classified documents, and one White House official "leaving classified documents unattended in a hotel room."

Two thoughts. I say again that had this occurred under Clinton, Republicans would be besides themselves and the religious right would be leading the charge. Second, nice to see Waxman and others attempting to return something called "checks and balances" to our process.

Item2: Watched Olbermann tonight and thought that Dana Milbank completely undersold the importance of Richard Lugar's speech attacking our Iraq policy. It is a tipping point--one that might take longer than we want, but Republicans are starting to desert this sinking ship.

Item 3: Also saw this on Olbermann and it is just too funny. Turns out Bill O'Reilly had a 16 year old on his show and tried to brow beat him about a sex-ed program in Boulder. The kid (shock) was smarter than the bully and made Billo look silly:
"Last week, O'Reilly imploded during an interview with Jesse Lange, a rising junior at Boulder High School in Colorado (video above). He was on the program to address O'Reilly's criticism of the Boulder High sex-education program. Lange tells Radar that he knew he was brought on for an opposing view, but his main concern before the show was how to address O'Reilly. "I wasn't sure whether or not I should call him Bill or Mr. O'Reilly," Lange tells Radar. "In the end, I decided to call him Bill, because if I called him Mr. O'Reilly, it would imply that I viewed him as some sort of expert or authority figure." Lange also says that in a brief pre-show interview, O'Reilly asked him not to quote the incendiary parts from The O'Reilly Factor For Kids. "Bill expressly asked me not to talk about it on the air," he says, but the book was the perfect counterpoint to O'Reilly's thinly constructed premise.

When Lange did quote from the book, the hotheaded host got so defensive that he labeled Lange a "pinhead" and cut him off when he tried to read the kiddie propaganda book's inflammatory passages."

Item 4: Kudos to Elizabeth Edwards. As if I didn't like her already, she called Chris Matthews show during a shameful interview with Ann Coulter (Matthews justified it because he said she "sells books" and Edwards asked Coulter to stop the personal attacks. You know, like mocking their dead son.

Amazing that Coultergeist still has a platform. Shame on Matthews and anyone who buys her books. Good for Elizabeth Edwards.

Item 5: I have been pushing to impeach Cheney, but don't believe that the Dems have the guts to do it. I think, however, they should go back to the weak link in the Administration. No, not Bush. Gonzales. He is the least liked, least respected, and dumbest. Go after him and force him out, and then replace him with an actual lawyer. See what happens then. It won't fix everything, but it might do something.

On that note, btw, I have been musing about some of the between the lines stories coming out of several high profile events. The WaPo series on Cheney; the late night visit to Ashcroft's hospital bed, etc. In those stories, you find a couple of unlikely reasonable people. Ted Olson, John Ashcroft, Condi Rice and Colin Powell. Powell, we knew about, but I have been surprised to read about Rice dressing down Gonzales (though she appears cowed by Cheney), and even Ashcroft standing up to Cheney. Any possibility that Ashcroft and Powell were pushed out as well?

June 25, 2007


The guys are installing the last of our replacement windows so I have a little time on my hands. Not that it really eases my mind to read about the conservatives who seem hell-bent on undermining our system. But it does keep me out of the way.

In the last comment thread, Steve suggested that he would prefer Hillary over Rudy (me too) but was waiting to see what Fred Thompson brings to the table. Yeah, not me.

I think all we need to know about Fred Thompson we are learning in his fact-challenged attack on the Scooter Libby trial.

The Nation's John Nichols has this on Thompson's pandering to the Bush delusionals
In the faux-conservative circles that define the modern Republican Party, Thompson is more closely associated with the defense of the disgraced White House aide than with any particular stand on the issues facing the nation. That's one of the reasons why so many of the true believers in the Bush presidency are so very enthusiastic about Thompson's now likely candidacy to replace Bush.


"The Justice Department, bowing to political and media pressure, appointed a Special Counsel to investigate the leak and promised that the Justice Department would exercise no supervision over him whatsoever — a status even the Attorney General does not have," Thompson explained in his May 12 speech. "The only problem with this little scenario was that there was no violation of the law, by anyone, and everybody — the CIA, the Justice Department and the Special Counsel knew it. Ms. Plame was not a 'covered person' under the statute and it was obvious from the outset."


Here is what an actual prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, said in the 18-page Libby sentencing memorandum released two weeks after Thompson asserted that "everybody knew" Plame-Wilson was "not a covered person" under the rules that protect covert agents: "[It] was clear from very early in the investigation that Ms. Wilson qualified under the relevant statute (Title 50, United States Code, Section 421) as a covert agent."

Fitzgerald also detailed how Libby had blown Plame-Wilson's cover in conversations with reporters and White House aides, and explained that, "Mr. Libby kept the Vice President apprised of his shifting accounts of how he claimed to have learned about Ms. Wilson's CIA employment."

Yeah, doesn't this sound like replacing one incompetent President and power hungry/paranoid VP with a man who admires them?


On that note, btw, Republican candidates can't seem to adequately express how excessive they think Scooter's sentence was. Rudy called it "grossly excessive." How so? Do those same people express the outrage over non-violent drug users doing serious time?

Nope. Poor Scooter. The system is clearly stacked against rich white lawyers.

Falwell's legacy? Division

Obama doesn't name Falwell, but he could have when he talks about those who
have 'hijacked' faith:
Sen. Barack Obama told a church convention Saturday that some right-wing evangelical leaders have exploited and politicized religious beliefs in an effort to sow division.

"Somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and faith started being used to drive us apart," the Democratic presidential candidate said in a 30-minute speech before the national meeting of the United Church of Christ.

"Faith got hijacked, partly because of the so-called leaders of the Christian Right, all too eager to exploit what divides us," the Illinois senator said.

"At every opportunity, they've told evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage, school prayer and intelligent design," according to an advance copy of his speech.

"There was even a time when the Christian Coalition determined that its number one legislative priority was tax cuts for the rich," Obama said. "I don't know what Bible they're reading, but it doesn't jibe with my version."

Cheney the dangerous--updated

Thanks again to Mary, I read the two part series (think two more to come) from the WaPo on the unique role this VP has played with this compliant and easily manipulated President. Part 1, Part 2.

There is a lot here. I recommend reading both, though will warn you that it will cause a certain distress. Especially in part two when you find out how disconcerned this man was with the torture of others. On the contrary, he pushed for the narrowed definition and the right to inflict cruelty on others. I could handle his ruthlessness if it weren't so damn clear--as Powell and even Rice tried to point out--that there were many unintended consequences of this action. Every individual that Cheney authorized to torture may have given us a modicum of intelligence, but more than likely created 100 terrorists. Seems like a losing game.

More interesting, I think, is the window into how this man operates--and it confirms what many of us previously thought. The rules apply to others, not him. He forces others to share information with him, but refuses to share even the slightest amount. He told James Baker to be an "honest broker" and adhere to the process, yet has bypassed the process in numerous and serious issues and punished anyone who dared dissent with him.
The way he did it -- adhering steadfastly to principle, freezing out dissent and discounting the risks of blow-back -- turned tactical victory into strategic defeat. By late last year, the Supreme Court had dealt three consecutive rebuffs to his claim of nearly unchecked authority for the commander in chief, setting precedents that will bind Bush's successors.


Updated. Sully weighs in:
"No vice-president has the right to do this, to change the basic morality of the United States, to undermine its laws, withdraw from its treaty obligations, and do so without even consulting other individuals within the executive branch, let alone the Congress.

And yet Cheney, in a vice-presidential power-grab unparalleled in U.S.
history, didn't only do it; he did it in such a way as to deny his own
accountability and responsibility."

The Anonymous Liberal points to the destructive nature of the VP's campaign:
"Another meta-theme that emerges from the articles is how utterly self-destructive Cheney's legal crusades have been. Time and again you see smart lawyers within the administration (often ones who agree with Cheney substantively) warning him that the courts aren't going to accept certain arguments, and time and again you see Cheney ignoring this advice and insisting that the administration plow ahead. In every case, the courts ended up rejecting Cheney's views, and in the exact way the administration's own lawyers had predicted. As Bruce Fein, who is quoted in the piece, says:

"The irony with the Cheney crowd pushing the envelope on presidential power is that the president has now ended up with lesser powers than he would have had if they had made less extravagant, monarchical claims."

That's unquestionably true. The legal positions that Cheney demanded the administration take were so audacious and unsupportable that they essentially forced the courts to step in and rebuke the administration, thereby creating important legal precedents in areas where none previously existed. Had the administration adopted positions that were aggressive but not insane, the courts would likely have been more deferential.

June 24, 2007

Hillary and power

Talking Points Memo points to a Media Matters story on Chris Matthews fanning the "uh oh, woman President" scare fest:
"As a follow-up to his question, Matthews said: 'But isn't that a challenge, because when it comes down to that final decision to vote for president, a woman president, a woman commander in chief, will be an historic decision for people. Not just men, but women as well.'"

Today we watched Stephanopolous and his crew and heard former Rumsfeld spinster Victoria Clarke (that is her, isn't it?) say essentially the same thing--that if America experienced a dramatic national security event, it would make them rethink the idea of a woman president.

Really? I am no fan of Hillary, but know of no one who says that she is soft or wilty. Hell, the right went out of their way as early as 1992 to say that she wasn't a "real woman." Hard to now say that she is too womanly to be President (whatever the hell that means).

The right is still unhinged on anyone other than a white male in charge, and many supposed progressives (I am sure that Matthews sees himself in that mode) are no better.

June 23, 2007

Oh, Dick, you so crazy

The Moderate Voice weighs in on the Vice President, and sees similar oddities in conservative "principle"
"This latest controversy is one more manifestation of an executive branch (or, more accurately, now executive BRANCHES) that seems to be making a power grab that would have shocked Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan or their followers years ago. Goldwater and Reagan were conservative icons back in the days of yesteryear when conservatism stood for solid principles that not everyone would agree with — but they were solid principles and conservatives could be counted on to defend them.

These days, in a spectacle that seemingly is bigger than “American Idol,” Americans are witnessing a lemmings’ march to the sea as a segment of the Republican party repeatedly adjusts its principles and jettisons old ones so they are in sync with whatever the official preference is at the White House — or Vice President’s office."

Political Scientist Dr. Steven Taylor adds:
"Further, Cheney asserted executive privilege when seeking not to share information about his meetings of his Energy Task Force with the Congress. I guess now that the VP’s office is part of the legislative branch by its own assertion, it will be turning those records over to the leadership of the Senate forthwith."

Heh. Right. I understand Cheney--he is a power hungry tyrant. I don't understand those who support him or defend this administration and call themselves conservatives.

Here is the question. Will Bush rein him in, or will he submit to having the news cycle dominated by the ridiculous question of whether the VP is part of the Executive Branch? Or can Bush do anything with him?

More on Cheney-gate

Steve Benen at TPM asks several good questions about the Bush White House on classified information, including:
"* The White House insists, 'There's no question that [Cheney] is in compliance' with the E.O. If there is no oversight, and Cheney is unaccountable, how does the White House know?"
He also wonders why both the VP and President complied until 2003, but then the Veep stopped.

I really think impeaching the VP is a great idea. Why not? Make him be on defense for the remainder of the term? And of course, there is that pesky refusing to follow the law. Of course, "rule of law" has become just another liberal myth, I guess.

June 22, 2007

King Cheney

As I noted in the previous post, consistency doesn't seem too much to ask for, but it is, evidently, too much to expect from today's GOP.
Waxman decries Cheney security exemption - Yahoo! News: "Cheney's office — over the objections of the National Archives — has exempted itself from a presidential executive order that seeks to protect national security information generated by the government, according to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform."
I have said this many times, but the conservative fear of encroaching government power is something I respect. So, when conservatives complained that Clinton was playing fast and loose with executive power, I listened. I didn't always agree, but I always understood that this was a serious, foundational issue.

But conservative principle seems lacking once again. Had Al Gore asserted this, we would have had numerous investigations and possibly a call to impeach both Al and Bill. After all, they were willling to impeach Bill over the Monica thing--so you tell me, would they have impeached over outing a CIA operative or something like this? Absolutely.

But Cheney does this and the right just sits there, grinning moroningly (Simpsons ref). I feel stupid even asking, but do any of these people think of the principles involved? Do they think that Hilary Clinton's vice president should be able to assert their independence from, well, every other branch of government?

That is the part that puzzles me. This isn't rocket science. If GWB and Cheney can do this, then some liberal administration can use that as precedent. If they can use signing statements to invalidate legislation, then so can a Clinton or Obama admin. Hell, I am scared of a Hilary Clinton admin expanding on these powers, and I am a liberal. Why the hell conservatives don't worry about this amazes me.

System not for everyone, I guess

In the "can't make this up" category comes the case of former SC appointee and cultural critic Robert Bork. As you will see, he has long been (as many conservatives are) a critic of people suing over what he called "frivolous claims," and had lobbied to make that much harder to do.


Now we find out that Bork is suing for a million dollars after he fell at the Yale Club while trying to give a speech.

See. Bush and Cheney bemoan government until it helps them hold power and gain more riches. Dick Cheney outs a CIA agent and is not only not impeached, but still has his job. Scooter Libby can perjure himself and obstruct justice, but when Bill Clinton did it, it was impeachable. Conservative pundit Robert Bork (what a horrible Supreme Court Justice he would have been) says that you and I should not be able to sue for damages, but he can.

Is it too much to ask for a little consistency?

June 21, 2007

My visit to the Precious Moments er., place

As promised.

As I noted in my travel post, we stopped briefly at the Precious Moments Park and Chapel in Carthage, Missouri. I have heard of this place for years, and many of my friends and family have collected these little figurines over the years.

So this time through, we had a little extra time and decided to stop. I confess that I stopped with a bit of an attitude and was quite prepared to mock. Not openly, of course, but pictured myself grinning at the wrong moment. Instead, I just found myself feeling a little weirded out. Here are some pictures.

Fountain outside the visitors center.

As you leave the visitors center, you wind down a path toward the chapel. The area around the chapel reminds me of an estate with statue lined paths and manicured landscaping. There is a smaller fountain near the gate for the chapel.

Once you turn there, you see the chapel. Or "chapel" as it isn't really a working chapel. Or not that I know of. As my friend Mary pointed out, the website says that the chapel was modeled after the Sistine Chapel.

I used quotes around the chapel not to be snide, but because it is a really weird place. The interior of the chapel is lined with plate glass (all precious moments, naturally). But the front--where the altar would be, is a mural of Precious Moments stuff. I didn't take a picture (I really was trying to be respectful) but here is one from their website.

Just strikes me as odd. The center of the chapel is a worship of this guy and his little figures. There is a little scene of Jesus talking to people, but it is very small and really has to be pointed out.

Around the chapel are smaller rooms and hallways lined with more of the stuff. SOF found one where the tax collecter figure was labeled the IRS. I found a couple of little "Indians." Heard of them, but never seen them.

and this one

Just stereotyped ideas of Native peoples. Certainly not new or unique to this chapel, but still... What is the point?

As you might also suspect, there were numerous American icons portrayed. One that just struck me as odd was this one in a side case in a side room in the chapel.

As Mary noted, the figures are infantalizing. One thing to have small little tear shaped children shaped figurines, but when those tear chaped infants are mining for coal, or dressed in camo, it starts to get creepy. In fact, that particular one struck me as a horrific figure, rather than tribute to our military. Who turns an infant into a soldier?

After viewing a few hundred of the little things, we both felt a sense of sadness, as if these figurines were an expression of deep loss. I am sure that those who collect them will disagree, but that was the ultimate sense that both of us carried away from the park.

While the little figurines are, well, what they are, and really depends on your taste in nicknacks, the bigger ones scattered through the park started to really weird me out. As we left the chapel, we walked around the back. I saw a little overlook called "Resurrection Cave," and walked over to check it out. Hard to see in this picture, but there was this really pretty grove and a cave in the distance. But the weird part was the figure sitting there next to the cave opening. I really have no idea what it was supposed to present or communicate. But it had the feel of Mickey Mouse or another Disney character in a very serious scene, and I had no idea what to do with it.

I certainly did not leave the park impressed with Precious Moments or the artist Samuel Butcher. Nor did I really feel like mocking those who visited. But I did feel a sense of sadness about the entire production. The purely commercial and consumerist tendency did not help. Complete with the little "turn a penny into a trinket" machines that we often see in tourist sites, the place was set up to sell. Not sure there is anything wrong with that. We all collect different things. I collect music and often buy t-shirts when I visit some place. Or I buy a beer mug or coffee cup.

But when it is coupled with the quasi-religious feeling of the park/chapel/museum/food court/gift shop, I find myself confused. What is the goal here? Does it present the message of Christianity through little teary eyed infants? Or by buying and collecting said figures? Or visiting a "chapel" just packed with them? What is the theology of this place? I believe that most who visit there think there is some theological meaning invested in these little statues and figurines, but I will be damned if I can figure out what that theology is. It seems to me that conservative evangelicals have incorporated consumerism pretty deeply into their concept of morality and so this kind of place is experienced as a way to express devotion or belief. If this place is some kind of destination for the religious faithful, doesn't that suggest a shallow theology?

Anyway. Thoughts?

My aunt

My aunt passed away on Monday after battling a stroke and other illnesses. Her passing was not a surprise. We were not particularly close--simply because I hadn't seen her that much in the last 20 years, but she was always good to me.

Today I think most of my father as he lost his older sister.

June 20, 2007

What I did on my Summer vacation

Dear class,

This summer we drove around the country. And drove some more. 2100 miles all told.

Where did we go? Well, first we went to Iowa and visited some good friends in Urbandale. Urbandale, despite its repetitive name, was a very nice little community with a lot of green space, great bike trails and public parks. Hmm, sounds communist.

Like an idiot, I didn't take pictures while we were there, but you can trust me--we were in Iowa. Saw corn, Amish and more corn.

Saw this bizarre machine in Iowa while we were trying to find the Amana colony.

Funny story. We thought we were looking for more Amish, but found the Amana factory. Anti-modern, my ass!

But touring through Iowa was great fun. Very pretty state and we caught it in full green. And we crossed the Mississippi River--twice. First at Dubuque

And then at St. Louis.

It was far more impressive at Dubuque, but that might have been the bridge and our angle at the river. (SOF did the pictures from the car.)

Back to our trip. After Iowa, we visited Ubub and FOUbub in Madison for a delightful day and a half. Cool town. We had great food, visited a farmers market, and then had beers on the terrace.

What an amazing setting. Drinking Bells Two Hearted IPA on the terrace was about as nice as it gets. I can't imagine going to school at UW and trying to get work done during the summer. Of course, it might be a little different during the winter, but since Ubub was trying to recruit us to Madison, we didn't see photos of that.

After Madison, we drove through Chicago traffic and construction to Kalamazoo, Michigan (home of Bells IPA, btw) to see SOF's sister and her family. The traffic was rather brutal, but the trip was uneventful.

Kalamazoo was really pretty and we had a lot of fun with the family. Played guitar, walked around town, and then took a day trip to Lake Michigan.

Really cool little lakeside town that felt like you were on the ocean--minus the salt air.

After several great days in Kzoo, we left early Monday morning to drive home. As I noted, we crossed the river again at St. Louis

and then drove through Missouri. Much of this trip was new territory for us, and we both found Missouri beautiful and strange. Here is the beauty.

And here is the strange.

Yeah, that's right. We visited the Precious Moments Chapel/Museum/Gift Shop. More on that later, but suffice it to say, it was a strange experience. And not the only one in Missouri. Billboards were strange--including one that just said: JESUS I still am not sure what that one means. Epithet? Praise? Right after that billboard we saw a church sign that said "This building is prayer conditioned." Get it? Clever.

Anyway, that is what we did on our summer vacation. And now we are just glad to be home.

More later.

June 12, 2007

Will they still cheer?

Melissa Rogers wonders "will President Bush Address the SBC?"

Of course he will. The man needs affirmation that he is actually a "man of god."


Still on the road. Good trip. More later.

June 11, 2007


Bush was asked about the no confidence vote on Gonzales. He responded
"``They can try to have their vote of no confidence, but
it's not going to determine -- make the determination, who
serves in my government,'' Bush told reporters."
Newsflash, there, mr. Prez, it is not YOUR government. It is supposed to belong to all of us.


Blogging will be intermittent for a bit. On the road, but hope to post some as we go.

June 9, 2007

More creation museum fun

Thanks to Mary for Daily Kos: Fun at the Creation Museum!!!! (my field trip to CrazyLand).

Be warned, this visitor (as the title might suggest) is not very respectful of creationism, so don't read it if that will bother you. I found it funny, but also very educational. I didn't realize that the museum attacks reason so directly and so blatantly. I thought they were appealing to reason by saying that they had a different, yet reasonable explanation. But from what I can see, they say instead that reason is of the world. And that is what has always bothered me about the conservative church.

Film review

We finally watched The Good German (2006) last night. I read the book last fall and looked forward to seeing the film version, especially when I heard it was directed by Steven Soderbergh. I liked his work in Erin Brockavich, Out of Sight, Traffic, and even Ocean's Eleven. But the Good German stunk. It really did.

Soderbergh tried to recreate the old B&W style of Casablanca and other 1940s films, but with modern sex, violence and language. All of that would have been fine except he took a perfectly good story and mangled it into an incomprehensible mess. And not in a Chinatown way, where nothing is what you think it is (though you know what the story is), but in a just mangled mess. You have no idea why these people act and why they do what they do, and by the end of the film you don't care. The novel was complicated, but as I noted to SOF last night, the film makers kept the most complicated part of the story, but stripped the other parts bare, combining characters needlessly and completely eradicating a very interesting old German detective. He becomes a mindless thug.

Anyway, don't bother.

June 8, 2007

Friday morning

This morning's Crooks and Liars reminded me of Olbermann's nice interview with Jonathan Turley last night. Turley made the point that Habeas Corpus is the linch pin right--without it, you don't get to appeal for the other rights.
Olbermann: The right to bear arms, to believe your religion or to not believe any religion at all, to say what you want, these rights get people fired up, no matter what side of the debate they’re on. Is not habeas corpus essential to all of them? You don’t have that, it doesn’t matter what the second amendment says?

Turley: That’s right…. all those rights are meaningless [without habeas corpus] because it’s habeas corpus that allows you to get to a court who can hear your complaint. So without habeas corpus it’s just basically words that have no meaning, and this president has shown the dangers of the assertion of absolute power. He has asserted the right to take an American citizen, declare them unilaterally an enemy combatant and deny them all rights. The courts have said otherwise and now Congress will say otherwise

He also reminded us how dangerous this Administration has been and how casual they have been with our fundamental rights. I have argued to one of my Texas friends that far too many conservatives have treated our system as if it is self-correcting and so have really ignored it when Bush has rewritten basic constitutional rights. Turley points out another problem:

Turley: “The greatest irony of the Bush Administration is that his legacy will be to show the dangers of walking away from those rights that define us. We’re very much alone today. He can’t go to Canada without people protesting, Miss America can’t even go to Mexico without being booed. We’re viewed as a rogue nation and it is a dangerous world to live in when you’re alone.


AL strikes gold again and challenges the very notion of a pardon in the Libby case:

Presidential pardons are not supposed to be used as an alternative form of appeal for well-connected defendants.
Yes. I remember similar wording coming from conservatives (and a few liberals like my self) when Clinton pardoned Marc Rich and that congressman from Illinois. But for that circle of right wingers in power (barely) now, the rules really only apply when it is someone else who violates the law or the rules.

June 7, 2007

Bad thinking

Ethics Daily has a column about Al Mohler's take on evolution and the creation museum. Mohler said that Christians couldn't possibly find evolution convincing. Instead, he

said last week on his call-in radio show that theistic evolution--the middle ground between belief in evolution and that God created the world directly--is a "lie"--and that Christians can't have it both ways.
But Mohler presents bad thinking here. He confuses the basics of what we know and how we know it, and what we believe and why we believe it. It is the essential battle between facts and faith--and historically Christians have found ways to negotiate between the two. What bothers me most now, as I have said many times, are Christians imposing faith, not when the answers are beyond our human limitations, but when the factual evidence suggests something they don't want to accept. I would suggest that is not faith.

But back to Mohler. During his radio show, he read an email from a listener:
"Why do you insist on driving people away from organized religion?" the e-mail said. "I am a 60-year-old Baptist chemist, science educator, Sunday-school teacher, parent and grandparent. I believe in evolution, the how of life, and I believe in God, the why of life, and see no conflict in these beliefs. I understand that God had a hand in creation of the world and all the life in the world, and science helps us to understand more about those processes every day. When organized religion forces me to choose religion or science, I will no longer participate in organized religion. This is just one more reason that young adults are rejecting organized religion."
Yes, science. It does not do everything right. But science allows us to grapple with things like an evolving flu virus, or even to conquer previously devastating diseases.

But Mohler is not convinced, and his response says as much as any I can think of.
Mohler described the e-mail as a challenge, and he took it. "You choose between belief in God and belief in evolutionary theory," Mohler said. "If you write something like this, either you don't understand evolution, or you don't understand what it means to affirm that God created the earth, because there is nothing that is reconcilable between those two propositions."
I am sure that Al Mohler is a smart man. But I just love the minister (M Div, and Ph.D., in Theology) lecturing the chemist. I just love that. The chemist has had to address the complexity of our material world, but according to Dr. Mohler, he "doesn't understand evolution" and Mohler does. Huh? How does he do that?

Maybe Mohler has made a critical error here, assuming that the way of knowing that gives us evolution is markedly different than the way of knowing that gives us a belief in God. He uses "belief" in both terms, as if they are the same kinds of process.

What's more, Mohler suggests that his faith is incredibly vulnerable to factual evidence.
Then there's the issue of the Edenic fall. "You have to explain why sin entered human experience," Mohler said. "You have to explain why the earth is in the condition it now is."

"If you don't have Adam and Eve, you don't have the story," he said. "You've got no starting point. You've got no basis."

Mohler continued: "And furthermore, if we're not all literally the descendants of Adam and Eve, then there's no explanation of how Adam's sin was imputed to us. And without that you have no need for the imputation of Christ's righteousness. You have no explanation of the cross. You have no need for this."
Amazing what power Darwin's idea has. It can destroy the faith of millions of Christians? If the stories in the OT are not literal, then the entire belief system crumbles? Wow.

This bothers me, both as a Christian and a quasi-scholar. It is this kind of thought that puts contemporary Christians in an awkward position where they have to choose between accepting factual information based on how it relates to their faith. I have read elsewhere on the web where people have read OT passages literally to say that the earth does not revolve around the Sun because the Bible says so. An extreme example, but not that far from where Mohler is headed. We all have to explain those facts in a context, but we tread on dangerous ground when we decide to simply not accept factual evidence because we choose not to believe them.

June 6, 2007

Republicans--what the hell happened?

I have only watched clips of the last Repub debate (same with the Dems, btw), but the Republicans appear to have learned exactly the wrong lessons from the Bush administration. They are all more pro-torture, more pro-war, and more pro-fear. Scare the crap out of America and they will vote for you. The GOP has become the party of fear, bigotry, mindless belief, and open greed.

Oh sure, they liked to criticize Bush to attempt to get a little street cred.
KSTP.com - Bush heavily criticized in latest Republican debate: "Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado recalled that White House aide Karl Rove had once told him 'never darken the door of the White House.' The congressman said he'd tell George Bush the same thing."
That is just a little window into the mob tactics that have characterized this White House, but Tancredo appears to have only learned to respond in kind.

The rest of these idiots spent the rest of the time pushing for a pardon for Scooter Libby (see the "rule of law" only matters when it is Clinton lying about sex--lying about national security or outing a CIA agent isn't really a crime in the GOP debate or base), or warning people that we are going to get hit again by terrorists.

On that note, my favorite part of the insanity that has become the GOP. Wolf Blitzer raised the issue of the Arab linguists dismissed from the Military because they are gay and asked which GOPers would advocate repealing "don't ask, don't tell.
"not a single Republican candidate's hand went up in the air. "
Jon Stewart had the best line. "Apparently the only thing that scares them more than a terrorist attack is a gay hero thwarting one."

June 5, 2007

Man, either Fox is evil or simply incompetent

From yesterday, Talking Points Memo has the clip of Fox running with the William Jefferson indictment. Not only do they call it the most extensive public corruption case in recent memory (forgetting Abramoff, for sure) but they talk about Jefferson while showing footage of John Conyers. You know, they all look alike, right? Holy cow.

Couple of other notes

Kevin Powell has the YouTube clip of Brian McLaren discussing the "worship industry" which I think is worth watching.


The Anonymous Liberal has become one of my favorite blogs of late. The other day he had a great post on the dubious nature of the supposed JFK bombers (BREAKING NEWS: Another Group of Halfwits Arrested in Connection with Plot that Makes No Sense), and today he presents one of the reasons that the Internet might actually be a good thing. In "Welcome to the Internets, Mr. Armey" he writes about Dick Armey's attempt to blog for Time Magazine and how different that is than the typical politician "interaction." You know, some reporter asks a question, never follows up, writes down what the Politician says in dutiful fashion and thinks they are a reporter. Here, Armey says things that need to be challenged and is actually challenged by people--not in a name calling fashion (though I have not read the comments, so there might be some) but by smart people who have thought about the issues.

If only the media would do likewise, we might actually have a different kind of democracy.


Libby sentenced to 30 months. Damn shame, but when you subvert the law and out a CIA agent working for us, you shouldn't get to go back to work at the VP's office--even if you did it to protect him.
"Walton did not set a date for Libby to report to prison. Though he saw no reason to let Libby remain free pending appeal, Walton said he would accept written arguments on the issue and rule later."

Gonzales and the death penalty

The discussion over this morning's post and Tony's post on Virginia and the Death Penalty reminded me of an Atlantic magazine article from 2003 about Al Gonzales (remember, he worked for Bush in Texas) and his role in Bush's staunch support for the death penalty.

The Texas Clemency Memos reveal that Gonzales essentially cooked the books to allow Bush to claim that there was no reason to consider clemency.
"A close examination of the Gonzales memoranda suggests that Governor Bush frequently approved executions based on only the most cursory briefings on the issues in dispute. In fact, in these documents Gonzales repeatedly failed to apprise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand: ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence."
What disgusts me about this is that it is a good way to get the Red State voters to flock to your side. Clinton did it in 92 and I was sickened then.


Feministe has two posts on the Death Penalty this morning. This one chronicles how the state of Alabama refuses to provide lawyers for indigent death row inmates. And if one manages to get a petition heard, they can only get $1,000. Truly horrifying.

Or, as Feministe's other post said:
I’ll also note here that 91 percent of executions last year took place in Iran, Sudan, China, Pakistan, Iraq and the United States. And of the nine countries that execute children* (China, Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, USA and Yemen), the U.S. and Iran each executed more than the other seven combined.
Wow. That is great company, isn't it?

June 4, 2007

"I tortured people"

Very interesting story from the WaPO about some of our torture policy:
"'I tortured people,' said Lagouranis, 37, who was a military intelligence specialist in Iraq from January 2004 until January 2005. 'You have to twist your mind up so much to justify doing that.'"

Tony Lagouranis has written a book about his experiences and (hat tip to Ubub) Tom McNamee, from the Chicago Sun Times has read it:
"I've read it, and here's my overall take on what went on:

Brave and decent American soldiers routinely rounded up Iraqis on the slimmest pretext. If a roadside bomb destroyed a Humvee, a hapless farmer in a nearby field might be dragged in for questioning. If some poor sap shared the surname of a suspected insurgent -- a name also perhaps shared by hundreds of Iraqis -- he might be dragged in for questioning.

And once a 'suspect' was detained, he easily could be held for weeks or months, long after Lagouranis or another interrogator had concluded he was guilty of absolutely nothing."
Once he returned home, Lagouranis tried to make sense of what he participated in during this war.

Lagouranis talked to an Army psychiatrist who offered him an escape hatch from his feelings of guilt.

He had done nothing "evil," she said. He had only done his job.

Lagouranis couldn't buy it.

"If you don't include torturing helpless prisoners in your definition of evil," he replied, "your definition of evil is meaningless."

June 3, 2007

But the Terrorists torture people too

We have had this conversation too many times here to count. But the conversation is still out there. Evidently, the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto complained last week that a recent raid in Iraq uncovered torture plans, but didn't spur liberal outrage. He referred to Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan as the most "hysterical" accusers of American torture and found them silent on the issue of Al-Qaeda torture. Evidently, this has become a trend among the right. Brent Bozell has evidently started a campaign about it. Good god.

Greenwald responded and it is worth the read (and sitting through an ad to get to Salon):
It is easy sometimes to lose sight of how extreme a period this is in America's history, how profoundly our national character has been degraded and how fundamentally our country's core has changed over the last six years. If you haven't already read Andrew Sullivan's superb and dispassionate analysis of the Gestapo's "Verschärfte Vernehmung" manual (German for "enhanced interrogation"), I encourage you to do so.

That post has prompted all of the predictable cliches in reply -- he's being hysterical, violating Godwin's Law, comparing Bush to Hitler, etc. etc. -- but Sullivan actually does very little in that post other than matter-of-factly highlight the glaring similarities between the Gestapo guidelines regulating its use of techniques such as hypothermia and waterboarding (for which some Gestapo defendants were convicted and sentenced to death at a 1948 war crimes trial) and our own. As Sullivan documents, virtually every Yoo-ian torture defense offered today is identical to the ones advanced by those German war crime defendants in an unsuccessful attempt to defend their use of 'enhanced interrogation' techniques.
The degradation of our national character is deep and troubling. The Vice President dismisses Constitutional protections as some kind of nicety. Tom Tancredo worships Jack Bauer's torture techniques, and the President, while saying we don't torture, does. The neo-cons even chide liberals like us for having some kind of agenda against America when we ask about torture.

Greenwald nails it, however.
The reason that it is news that the U.S. tortures, but not news that Al Qaeda does, is because Al Qaeda is a barbaric and savage terrorist group which operates with no limits, whereas the U.S. is supposed to be something different than that. Isn't it amazing that one even needs to point that out?
But neoconservatives and other Bush followers do not recognize that distinction and do not believe in it. They see an equivalency between the U.S. and Al Qaeda -- since they do it, we are justified in doing it. And thus, based on that equivalency, they demand that the media treat stories of torture from the U.S. and Al Qaeda exactly the same, as though they are equally newsworthy.

And with that twisted equivalency bolted into place, they have dragged our country on a path where that premise is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our own interrogation methods are reverse-engineered from the most brutal and barbaric countries and groups on the planet. And the policies and practices we have adopted over the last six years embody everything which this country, for decades, vocally deplored. But all of that happened because of this "belief" -- which is really just a self-justifying rationalization -- that we not only have the right to be, but that we must be, exactly like Al Qaeda, do what they do, in order to defeat them.
The President and VP and the rest of the neocons have turned us into our enemies (historical and present) in order to defeat our enemies.

We keep saying, it isn't about them, it is about who we are. Or it used to be.

June 2, 2007

Interesting report on religion in media

In another blow to the myth of the liberal media, Media Matters offers an interesting study on how the media deals with religious voices. Tony and I have discussed the propensity to focus on the "celebrity Christians" instead of the rank and file members.
"Among the study's key findings:

Combining newspapers and television, conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed in news stories 2.8 times as often as were progressive religious leaders.

On television news --the three major television networks, the three major cable news channels, and PBS -- conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed almost 3.8 times as often as progressive leaders.

In major newspapers, conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed 2.7 times as often as progressive leaders.

Despite the fact most religious Americans are moderate or progressive, in the news media it is overwhelmingly conservative leaders who are presented as the voice of religion. This represents a particularly meaningful distortion since progressive religious leaders tend to focus on different issues and offer an entirely different perspective than their conservative counterparts."
That last point is important. The media tends to portray American religious expression as this huge divide between religious conseratieves and "secular liberals." This study and many others suggest what most of us suspect--that most Americans are in fact somewhere in the middle and probably share more in common.

Fred, from slacktivist adds:
"True enough, but my bigger pet peeve is the way that religious leaders with fringe views are treated as mainstream. Journalists and TV hosts with little knowledge of the religious traditions these folks say they represent tend to take at face value whatever claims they make. Thus, for example, Tim LaHaye is able, time after time, to make the unchallenged assertion that Left Behind simply presents 'what Christians believe' or 'what the Bible teaches.'"

June 1, 2007

Science v. Religion

Melissa Rogers points us to a new book by Oliver Thomas called 10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You: (But Can't, Because He Needs the Job) that looks intriguing. From the excerpt online, this really nice explanation of the difference between science and religion:

Science and religion operate in different domains. Religion deals with what theologian Paul Tillich called “ultimate concerns”—abstract philosophical questions such as what the nature of life is and why we are here. Religion seeks meaning, purpose, and moral truth, not physical knowledge.

Science, on the other hand, seeks to understand the natural, observable world around us. Unlike religion or philosophy, the claims of science are falsifiable. That is to say, they are capable of being proven or disproven. Scientific progress is only made as its hypotheses are rigorously tested, analyzed, and refined.

While science asks us to accept nothing on faith, religion asks little else. No one can prove whether there is one God or many gods or whether God’s spirit is alive in a particular human being, but we can most certainly prove whether the earth is six thousand years old or six billion years old. In short, science is an essential tool to understanding the world in which we live. Science cannot, however, tell us how to live or answer our ultimate questions.

As dominant as science has become in our world, we might be tempted simply to discount anything that is impervious to its probing finger, including religion, but that would be a mistake. The truth is that the things we care about most deeply—starting with love—lie beyond the reach of science.

Consider again the question of origins. If, for example, scientists are able to take us back to a big bang, nagging questions remain. Why did it all happen in the first place? For what purpose? What does it all mean? How should we then live? Only the philosophers and theologians can help us here.

I don't like her, but she can write

And on this point, Peggy Noonan really nails the problem with this President. Too bad it took her 5 years to figure it out:
"What I came in time to believe is that the great shortcoming of this White House, the great thing it is missing, is simple wisdom. Just wisdom--a sense that they did not invent history, that this moment is not all there is, that man has lived a long time and there are things that are true of him, that maturity is not the same thing as cowardice, that personal loyalty is not a good enough reason to put anyone in charge of anything, that the way it works in politics is a friend becomes a loyalist becomes a hack, and actually at this point in history we don't need hacks."

Friday Morning

After a conversation with my friend Mary yesterday, I called Nancy Pelosi's office this morning and asked why impeachment was off the table. The staffer's explanation was exactly as I suspected--that the Speaker does not want the party consumed by the impeachment process--and I completely understand that. I am not sure she is wrong. I really think the Vice President has broken numerous laws and committed numerous impeachable offenses and by all rights should be impeached. But running through the scenario, I can see it as a huge political risk, and the Speaker is looking at possibly expanding the Democratic lead in 08 in both houses.

It also strikes me as an oddity that the Clinton impeachment has helped the Republicans. The very idea that we can't impeach Bush or Cheney seems due to the clear memory of the ridiculous recent impeachment. So, even though Bush and Cheney have most likely committed far worse offenses than Clinton, they will not be impeached because we impeached Clinton for a blow job. Sigh.


Mary also alerted me to this Salon piece on the Creation Museum. Interesting stuff, including the assertion that the great flood (of Noah) is the key to the entire creationist explanation. That explains the dispersal of fossils; the existence of the Grand Canyon (ignoring tremendous geological evidence to the contrary, of course); and the existence of other cultures, which occurred after the flood. (I guess that is where China and North American cultures arise? Talk about hard to buy--that all of these cultures developed such extensive dwellings and foodways and cultural systems in only a few hundred years--or anthropology and archeology are all wrong on that too. I guess archeology is only right when they discover something mentioned in the Bible.) Not surprising, I guess, is that Ken Ham essentially explains all evil in the world to a belief that the earth is millions of years old:

A montage slide show of fetuses, starving kids, swastikas, tourniquet-bound arms ready for the needle bombard the wall in a room with a soundtrack of blaring sirens, boots marching in unison, and crying kids. In the middle of this urban mess is a big wrecking ball with the words "Millions of Years" carved into it. Ham blames the notion that the Earth is quite a bit older than the Bible suggests for just about all the world's problems. Evolution, which requires large amounts of time for small changes to accumulate into larger ones, makes it far too easy for people not to believe the Bible, he says. And that loss of belief "is at the root of modern evil."
Ancient evil, I guess, doesn't exist since there is no real antiquity.
Inside the Confusion exhibit, I strike up a conversation with Tim Shaw, a high school student visiting from Florida. "I don't care how long it took to make the Grand Canyon," he tells me. "It's not how old it is that matters to me. What matters is being right with God. Darwin's theory has no God. It can't be right. I don't know if this story is truer than Darwin's theory, but I do know it's better."
Wow. Truth is really not the point. Facts are not relevant. What is important is what you believe.

Isn't that exactly how Bush operates?