Archive for the ‘Palin’ Category

Lies and Facts About the “Ground Zero Mosque”

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

There has always been a strain in American politics of paranoia and intolerance grounded in the suspicion of people who are different from what we know, who seem to have a set of values we are not familiar with: beginning with the Masons, then the Catholics, Jewish bankers, Communists, gays, and now Muslims. A prominent  scholar, Richard Hofstadter, writing in the 1960s, explained these suspicions were fed by very similar conspiracy theories involving hidden agents of foreign powers insinuating themselves into American society while attempting to destroy it. These conspiracy theorists made their cases in similar ways, relying on in-depth citations to obscure tracts proving half-truths and outright falsehoods as well as the “confessions” of former members of the conspiracy. Yet the facts presented by these people were seen as ridiculous by those with personal knowledge of the targeted group, even as they were seen as plausible by those who were ignorant on the matter. Politicians and writers who knew better often attempted to use these suspicious ginned up by these false claims to further their own political ends.

Regarding Catholics, for example, Jesuit priests were said to be “prowling” the countryside “in every possible disguise”  including as puppeteers to propagandize children. Nuns were said to take a vow of obedience to perform any sexual act a priest would demand. The pope was said to have the power to command any Catholic to do his will. All of this was seen as part of a vast plot to overthrow American democracy and replace it with a vassal state of the Vatican. Questions were raised regarding the funding of Catholic churches, hospitals, and schools. Anyone with a passing knowledge of Catholics or Catholicism could see how ridiculous this was: And yet, the Founding Fathers were casually anti-Catholic (or as they would call it anti-papist); and the best selling book of the pre-Civil War period next to Uncle Tom’s Cabin was an anti-Catholic memoir called Awful Disclosures by a woman who claimed to have escaped from a life of sexual slavery in a nunnery.

It was due to these rumors fueled by and fueling anti-Catholic bigotry that priests in Manhattan were subject to arrest and no Catholic Church was allowed to be built until St. Peter’s, just a block from the World Trade Center, was, in the 1780s as Mayor Bloomberg explained. President Millard Fillmore used anti-Catholicism as a political tool and later attempted to run for office as a member of the vehemently anti-Catholic Know Nothing Party. President U.S. Grant saw Catholic schools as unpatriotic and driven by “superstition, ambition and greed.” Anti-Catholicism was used against Alfred Smith’s opponents as he ran for president in 1928 and memorably against John F. Kennedy as the famous Protestant minister Norman Vincent Peale declared in an essay for Newsweek, “Faced with the election of a Catholic, our culture is at stake.”

It is hard not to see the parallels between this anti-Catholic bigotry and the claims of the most ardent opponents of the Ground Zero Mosque who regard the billion Muslims in the world as members of a cult which funds a conspiracy of sleeper cells waiting and working to destroy American democracy from within.

While the hardcore Islamophobes are the ones who have fanned the suspicions of many otherwise sensible Americans, they have only gained credibility as political and opinion leaders who should know better attempt to use these suspicious for their own end. They seek to play on the ignorance of the American public. About the Cordoba House, they have lied and told half-truths repeatedly, when they should have known better.

In light of this, I present a list of claims checked and evaluated about the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.”

Claim #1: A Lie: Ground Zero Mosque.
People Who Should Know Better: Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and almost every opponent who has commented on the matter.

The proposed Cordoba House is not located at Ground Zero. It is 2 blocks away located in a former Burlington Coat Factory which has been used as a prayer space by this imam for years. It has no view of Ground Zero. It is not “overlooking” the site. It is not “towering” over the site. A 13-story building in Lower Manhattan is typical. If you’re familiar with Lower Manhattan, you have some idea of how dense the neighborhood is and how distant each street feels from even the next street over given the narrow roads and cavernous buildings all around. To quibble for a moment though, the building proposed for Park 51 is not even a “mosque” but is modeled on the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, whose rabbi is close with Imam Rauf and his wife, and includes a swimming pool, an interfaith center, a gym, as well as a prayer room.

The branding of the community center in Downtown Manhattan that would include a prayer room as the “Ground Zero Mosque” started with right-wing, Islamophobe blogger Pamela Geller (See footnote) and did not enter the national conversation due to opposition among those in the area it was being being built. Rather it became front page news after Sarah Palin tweeted for “Peaceful Muslims” to “refudiate” the “Ground Zero Mosque.”

Claim  #2: A Lie: Opening date: September 11, 2011.
People Who Should Know Better: NY Post columnist Andrea PeyserPat Condell, along with many other blogs and commentators.

The Corboba House and its imam have both denied they ever planned on opening the mosque on September 11, 2011. In fact, that date would never have been feasible given that after all the necessary approvals were received, the project would take between 18 to 48 months to complete.

Update: A redditor, azdiscovery, sent me a link to an Associated Press story that may have served as the genesis of this claim in which Imam Rauf’s wife seems to have mentioned the possibility of a groundbreaking “later this year” (meaning September 11, 2010) on the tenth anniversary of September 11 (meaning September 11, 2011). Clearly some sort of an error regarding the date there. And the passage is not attributed as a quotation. But somehow, various opponents transformed this into an entirely false claim that the opening of the Cordoba House was scheduled for September 11, 2011 representing some sort of Islamic triumphalism.

Claim  #3: A Lie By Insinuation: Questions About Funding.
People Who Should Know Better: Republican candidate for NY Governor Rick Lazio; former NY Governor George Pataki; my own Congressman, Republican Pete King;
Glenn Beck.

Many opponents of the Cordoba House have prominently insisted they are just “asking questions” about who is funding the project. This tactic is often used by the conspiratorial-minded. 9/11 Truthers for example “often maintain they are simply ‘raising questions’.” Glenn Beck has made a career out of such questioning with this method being ably mocked by the satirical website that was created  “to try and help examine the vicious rumour that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990,” but that asking the probing question: “Why won’t Glenn Beck deny these allegations?”

Other opponents have gone as far as to claim that Cordoba House has refused to reveal who was funding it while insinuating it was Hamas, Iran, Al Qaeda, etc. In fact, to date “the developers [have] raised so little money, there [is] nothing to investigate: the most recent government filings show the organization has about $18,000.” Park51 itself has stated: “We have not launched our fundraising campaign.” They further guaranteed, “We will hire security consultants to assist us in the process of reviewing potential financiers and philanthropists. We will refuse assistance from any persons or institutions who are flagged by our security consultants or any government agencies.” These “questions” raised by opponents are a cynical attempt to plant blatantly false information that will incite outrage in your average American. They call them questions while they are merely insinuations which they call questions because they have no evidence to back them up but want to plant the seeds of misinformation.

Claim  #4: A Lie: The Name Cordoba Was Chosen As Because It Is “A Symbol of Islamic Conquest.
People Who Should Know Better:
Newt Gingrich; though subsequently repeated by many blogs and commentators.

Beware those who claim to know the secret reasoning of their opponents. Newt Gingrich wrote, “It refers to Cordoba, Spain – the capital of Muslim conquerors who symbolized their victory over the Christian Spaniards by transforming a church there into the world’s third-largest mosque complex.” (Newt apparently got his history lesson wrong in terms of the mosque at Cordoba’s significance in Islamic history.)

But more important: Imam Rauf himself explained that the caliphate in Cordoba represented, for “its era, the most enlightened, pluralistic, and tolerant society on earth” in which all three Abrahamic religions coexisted. This was the traditional view of Cordoba, though some revisionist historians have disputed this interpretation – but this is clearly the camp in which Rauf allies himself.

Claim  #5: A Lie: Imam Rauf Is An Extremist and Terrorist Sympathizer.
People Who Should Know Better: Sarah Palin;
Newt Gingrich; Rick Lazio; as well as most other opponents of Cordoba House.

First, Imam Rauf is a Sufi Muslim. There are no known Sufi terrorists. There are three main branches to Islam: Shiites, Sunnis, and Sufis, divisions that are as deep and profound as the differences between Orthodox Christians, Protestants, and Catholics. The theological and historical distinctions are too much to cover here, but to paint in broad strokes: Bin Laden and Al Qaeda subscribe to the most extreme version of Sunnism, Wahabbism; Hamas is Sunni as well; most Iranians including Ahmadinejad are Shiite. If one claims Imam Rauf bears a portion of the collective responsibility for September 11, then one must likewise logically claim that evangelical Pastor Rick Warren bears a portion of the collective responsibility for the abuse of children by Catholic priests.

Second, Imam Rauf has explicitlyrepeatedlyand emphatically condemned terrorism as well as “Islamic triumphalism” and “Islamic militancy” and many other variations on this.

Third, both the Bush and Obama administrations have sent Imam Rauf abroad to promote the idea that America was not at war with Islam and indeed that America is the home to many Muslims.

Fourth, Imam Rauf has claimed that America is a better country to be a Muslim in than countries with many Muslims because he believes the American Constitution and system of governance protects the core values shared by the Abrahamic faiths.

Fifth, Imam Rauf has gone further in promoting interfaith dialogue. His Cordoba Initiative’s board of advisors includes a Jewish rabbi, a Hindu, and a former Catholic nunIn memorial to the most prominent Jewish victim of Al Qaeda, Wall Street Journal writer Daniel Pearl, Imam Rauf, according to former Israeli Defense Forces soldier Jeffrey Goldberg, placed his own life in danger to say:

We are here to assert the Islamic conviction of the moral equivalency of our Abrahamic faiths. If to be a Jew means to say with all one’s heart, mind and soul Shma` Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ahad; hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one, Mr. Pearl.

If to be a Christian is to love the Lord our God with all of my heart, mind and soul, and to love for my fellow human being what I love for myself, then not only am I a Christian, but I have always been one Mr. Pearl.

And I am here to inform you, with the full authority of the Quranic texts and the practice of the Prophet Muhammad, that to say La ilaha illallah Muhammadun rasulullah is no different.

It expresses the same theological and ethical principles and values.

In expressing this, Imam Rauf was restating an old Sufi idea that is considered heresy by Bin Ladin and his followers: “The great Sufi saints like the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi held that all existence and all religions were one, all manifestations of the same divine reality.” One Islamic scholar explained the role Sufis play in Islam:

In the most radical parts of the Muslim world, Sufi leaders risk their lives for their tolerant beliefs, every bit as bravely as American troops on the ground in Baghdad and Kabul do.

While you may disagree with Imam Rauf’s positions on Israel, Palestinians, the effect of America’s policies, to claim he is an “extremist” or a terrorist sympathizer or anything of the like is slander.

Claim  #6: A Lie: The Cordoba House Opposes the Plan of a Fox News Host to Build a Gay Bar Next Door.
People Who Should Know Better:
Fox News host Greg Gutfeld; Allahpundit, though each merely presumed opposition.

Actually the group tweeted in response: “You’re free to open whatever you like.” This is what I like to call tolerance and I would guess that many other religious institutions would not be similarly tolerant under the circumstances.

Claim #7: True: Imam Rauf Said: “I wouldn’t say that the United States deserved what happened. But the United States’ policies were an accessory to the crime that happened…[I]n the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA.”

This is actually true. It is widely known that US funds given to the Pakistani secret service (ISI) during the Cold War were used to fund Muslim militants of various sects in their jihad against Soviet occupation. It was here that Osama Bin Laden got his start (as the September 11 Commission Report further explained.) This is what Imam Rauf’s wife has explained he was referring to.

Even when read in their broadest sense — as claiming that American policies helped cause September 11 — it also happens to be a widely held view. Glenn Beck said almost the same thing earlier this year which he is now condemning Imam Rauf for. So have numerous US intelligence and national security officialsThe September 11 Commission Report as well supported this widely accepted view (large pdf, pg. 379):

[Islamic Terrorism is] fed by grievances stressed by Bin Ladin and widely felt throughout the Muslim world – against the U.S. military presence in the Middle East, policies perceived as anti-Arab and anti-Muslim, and support of Israel.

Whether one agrees or not, using such an opinion as proof that Imam Rauf is a terrorist sympathizer is ridiculous.

Claim  #8: True: There Are No Churches or Synagogues in Saudi Arabia.

This is actually true. Though why Newt Gingrich thinks it is wise for Americans to adopt Saudi views on freedom of religion is beyond me.

Claim  #9: A Lie: There Are No Other Mosques Near the Areas Attacked on September 11! There Is No Shinto Shrine Near Pearl Harbor! Lower Manhattan is Sacred Ground!
People Who Should Know Better:
Charles Krauthammer; Rush Limbaugh. Implicitly, Newt Gingrich; Minnesota Governor and 2012 presidential aspirant, Republican Tim Pawlenty.

The Pentagon, attacked on September 11, in fact has a room where Muslims hold services and has celebrated Ramadan and other Muslim holidays. There are also 2 overcrowded mosques (one founded in 1970 before the World Trade Center was finished, and the other in 1985) only a short distance from the proposed location of the Cordoba House in downtown Manhattan. There is in fact also a Shinto shrine near Pearl Harbor. (I’ve read there are 2, but not been able to locate the second one.)

Those who claim that Lower Manhattan is sacred ground have not raised any issues with the strip clubs (2 within 4 blocks of Ground Zero), the porn stores, the many, many bars, or the overflowing stands of September 11 merchandise all over the neighborhood.

Claim #10: A Lie: The “Ground Zero Mosque” Is Part of a War of Civilizations of Muslims Against America.
People Who Should Know Better: Newt Gingrich;
Andrew C. McCarthy.

There are only 2 groups of people who use this “War of Civilizations” rhetoric: far right-wingers such as Newt Gingrich and supporters of Al Qaeda. The Wall Street Journal reports that counter terrorist analysts have stated that the rhetoric of some opponents to the Cordoba House has served as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.

Claim #11: A Lie: Imam Rauf Has Personal Connections to Terrorist-Sympathizers.
People Who Should Know Better: Stephen Schwartz; widely hinted at by those spreading Claim #5.

After weeks of attempting to find such connections, the right wing Weekly Standard ran a breathless article describing what they found: Imam Rauf’s wife’s uncle used to be a leader of a mosque whose website now links to an organization that some have claimed is linked to a political party in Pakistan which allegedly has links to terrorism. Fox News also connected Imam Rauf to Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who Rudy Giuliani famously refused to accept a donation from after September 11. Fox News neglected to mention that Prince Al-Waleed happens to also own 7% of Fox’s corporation, thus linking them even more closely to this purported extremist.

N. B. Jon Stewart’s Daily Show has been an excellent source of actual fact-checking combined with humor throughout this controversy with clips about Fox News’s connections to Prince Al-Waleed, Newt Gingrich’s various claims, the guilt-by-association techniques used to tar Imam Rauf, and the idea of collective religious guilt.

Footnote: Christopher Hitchens has decried the use of the term Islamophobe because he feels it denigrates both those who point to the many injustices within majority Muslim countries justified by Islam, most especially the treatment of women. While I agree with Hitchens that the term is overused, it is appropriate in this instance.

Edit: Numbering corrected.

[Image by Joshua Treviño licensed under Creative Commons and adapted with permission of the author.]

The Victimhood Complex of the Right-Wing

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Andrew Breitbart, while claiming to be some sort of serious journalist, more closely resembles the papparazzi that hound celebrities. (And as he apparently regularly checks any blog references to himself: Hello Andrew, and welcome.)

The stories he has broken seem to place as much emphasis on the “reporter” as on the subject — most notably the pimp at ACORN — but today’s newest right-wing talking point (in video form) is similar:

More bothersome to me than this shallow and callow approach to news is what it reveals about the story of victimhood that seems to so excite the right-wing these days.

I remember a time when the right-wing thundered in righteous indignation over the subversive and un-American nature of claiming moral authority and material advantage by victimhood — the core of the conservative critiques of affirmative action, political correctness, hate crimes, the value of diversity, and welfare. They highlighted with glee any case where race-baiters, scammers, or any other purported victim claimed race, gender, or some other prejudicial factor without good cause. But that was the 1990s. By the 2000s, right-wingers had begun to adopt the tactics of those few authentic race-baiters as their own.

In 2008, Sarah Palin mastered this flip — flinging charges of sexism and misogyny against all of her critics as she winked and engaged in name-calling and gutter politics. She was a post-modern demagogue — and excited all the passions for and against her that demagogues rely on to gain power — but she explained away all criticisms of her as part of her victimhood, as a right-winger and a powerful woman. It was a brilliant move.

Marked by Sarah Palin’s rise, the right wing has constantly claimed victimhood: Michelle Bachman warned of concentration camps for conservatives; Rush Limbaugh claimed he was on the president’s enemies list; Glenn Beck declared that his words were so powerful, powerful people were attempting to silence him; Matt Drudge warned that the FCC was considering enacting a tax that he called, “a Drudge tax;” TownHall sent out emails claiming conservatives would be denied medical treatment under ObamaCare;  and of course, Sarah Palin herself has posited giant conspiracies against her, and positioned herself as the victim of her neighbors, bloggers in Alaska, her daughter’s one-time boyfriend, David Letterman, Katie Couric, Rahm Emanuel, and of course, the “lamestream media.”

Andrew Breitbart himself doesn’t seem to claim to be a victim. He happily engages in political war. But the news his sites promote are consistent with this culture of victimhood that has come to dominate the right-wing. There are few better examples than this video as discussions of policy or of politics are left behind in favor of a short video in which a right winger is shown as the victim of the left. Congressman Bod Etheridge’s reaction was no doubt inappropriate. But calling this an “assault” is such a glaringly obvious attempt to play the victim. It’s unclear how much the video was edited — but the facial blurring of the anonymous college student further adds to the obviousness of this attempt — but in typical Breitbart fashion, it has the potential to extend the story as the identity of the student is released in the coming days.

This culture of victimhood is pernicious because it is self-reinforcing — and helps insulate the right-wing from adapting to political circumstances — and may even, in the worst of all worlds, lead to the Republican nomination of Sarah Palin for president.

Must-Reads of the Week: Nukes, Inconsistencies, Graphing the Economic Crisis, Half-Hookers, Palin 2012, Mailer’s Wife, & Complex Business Models

Friday, April 9th, 2010

1. Nukes. Jon Stewart and Andrew Sullivan both make the same point: Obama’s nuclear policy is the fulfillment of Ronald Reagan’s vision:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
The Big Bang Treaty
www.thedailyshow.com

2. Inconsistencies. Matt Yglesias:

The main difference between left and right with regard to property rights is simply that the right is invested in a lot of rhetoric about markets and property rights and the left is invested in different historical and rhetorical tropes.

… Formally, the right is committed to ideas about free markets and the left is committed to ideas about economic equality. But in practice, political conflict much more commonly breaks down around “some stuff some businessmen want to do” vs “some stuff businessmen hate” rather than anything about markets or property rights per se…

Or if you look at the energy sector, you’ll see that businessmen want to push property rights for the stuff that’s in the ground (coal, oil, whatever) and a commons model for the stuff (particulates, CO2) that’s in the air. You can call that “inconsistent” if you like, but obviously it’s perfectly consistent with what coal and oil executives want! And those industries are the most loyal supporters of “right” politics around.

3. Graphing the Economic Crisis. Ezra Klein puts out some interesting graphs about the economic crisis and nascent recovery including this one:

Klein explains:

This graph is a political problem for the Obama administration (if not, in the short-term, an economic problem). But it is also necessary for all the other graphs. The bank rescue, which added temporarily to the deficit, stabilized the stock market and set the stage for its recovery. The stimulus, which also added to the deficit, helped moderate the job losses and and has contributed to recent gains. You could’ve made the lines on this graph better, but only by letting the lines on the other graphs get worse.

4. Half-hookers. Lisa Taddeo for New York magazine writes about the burgeoning half-hooker culture which exists in a bizarre alternate reality existing so close to our own where celebrities and finance guys get their women:

The general-admission crowds dance, and the table crowds dance a little more woodenly, a little more entitledly, with their finger pads on their tables. The promoters are dancing with the models and the waitresses are dancing with the bottles and everybody finds a place on the floor.

The floor people, they are just to fill the place up. The celebrities and the athletes and the tycoons are the ones for whom this world is zealously designed. A rung below in after-work pinstripes are the money guys, the Deutsche guys and the Goldman guys and the no-name hedge-fund guys—the “whales”—guys like that one over there in a Boss suit and John Lobb shoes, standing beside the table that cost him $3,000. Standing very close to it, like a Little Leaguer who wants to steal second but has never done it before. This gentleman’s not dancing, but he’s thinking about it.

There’s quite a lot to the article. A fascinating piece of reporting.

5. Palin 2012. Chris Bowers makes the argument for why Sarah will win if she runs.

6. Mailer’s Wife. Alex Witchell profiles Norris Church Mailer, Norman Mailer’s final wife, whose story moved me as I read of it:

John Buffalo Mailer [stepson of Norris:] “People are their best selves and worst selves intermittently,” he told me, “and the best marriages navigate that ride over the hurt, which I believe they did right to the end. They both had options, and at the end of the day the life they created together won out over infidelity, illness and hard times…”

7. Complex Business Models. Clay Shirsky:

One of the interesting questions about Tainter’s thesis is whether markets and democracy, the core mechanisms of the modern world, will let us avoid complexity-driven collapse, by keeping any one group of elites from seizing unbroken control. This is, as Tainter notes in his book, an open question. There is, however, one element of complex society into which neither markets nor democracy reach—bureaucracy.

Bureaucracies temporarily reverse the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In a bureaucracy, it’s easier to make a process more complex than to make it simpler, and easier to create a new burden than kill an old one.

Read the rest.

[Image by me.]

“To give you that reference, to call you a soldier gives you far too much stature.”

Monday, February 8th, 2010

On Saturday night, Sarah Palin addressed the Tea Party Convention in Tennessee. Her performance recalled her national debut as McCain’s vice presidential nominee – feisty-ness, outrageous accusations leveled with a winning smile, sharper digs at Obama’s character than her muddled criticisms of his policies. But there was a new political confidence – a confidence in her ability to position herself to best catch the prevailing political winds. One of her main lines of attack against Obama was to re-try the Rovian strategy of calling him weak on terrorism:

The events surrounding the Christmas Day plot reflect the kind of thinking that led to September 11th. That…the…threat then, as the USS Cole was attacked,our Embassies were attacked, it was treated like an international crime spree, not like an act of war. We’re seeing that mindset again settle into Washington. That scares me for my children and for your children. Treating this like a mere law enforcement matter places our country at grave risk. Because that’s not how radical Islamic extremists are looking at this. They know we’re at war. And to win that war, we need a Commander-in-Chief, not a professor of law standing at the lectern.

Sarah Palin though isn’t really attacking Barack Obama’s positions on national security directly. He has been rather cautious in moving in the direction she’s attacking him for moving. The person Sarah Palin should be attacking is Judge William Young, who oversaw the trial of shoe bomber Richard Reid. (Republicans across America have recently taken to condemning George W. Bush’s handling of Reid because it was so similar to how Barack Obama handled Abdulmutallab.)  Judge Young confronted Reid –  as well as the government’s prosecutors of Reid. In Court, he eloquently defended the very position Sarah Palin is attempting to paint as “soft” on terrorism: a respect for the Rule of Law, a view of these terrorists as scum unworthy of being honored as warriors. He looked into the face of this terrorist and diminished him and all of his comrades. Young’s remarks are well worth reading (or re-reading.) I’d seem them referenced before and seen quotations – but today I finally read the transcript. (H/t Andrew Sullivan.)

We are not afraid of any of your terrorist co-conspirators, Mr. Reid. We are Americans. We have been through the fire before. There is all too much war talk here. And I say that to everyone with the utmost respect.

Here in this court where we deal with individuals as individuals, and care for individuals as individuals, as human beings we reach out for justice.

You are not an enemy combatant. You are a terrorist. You are not a soldier in any war. You are a terrorist. To give you that reference, to call you a soldier gives you far too much stature. Whether it is the officers of government who do it or your attorney who does it, or that happens to be your view, you are a terrorist.

And we do not negotiate with terrorists. We do not treat with terrorists. We do not sign documents with terrorists.

We hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice.

So war talk is way out of line in this court. You’re a big fellow. But you’re not that big. You’re no warrior. I know warriors. You are a terrorist. A species of criminal guilty of multiple attempted murders.

In a very real sense Trooper Santiago had it right when first you were taken off that plane and into custody and you wondered where the press and where the TV crews were and you said you’re no big deal. You’re no big deal.

What your counsel, what your able counsel and what the equally able United States attorneys have grappled with and what I have as honestly as I know how tried to grapple with, is why you did something so horrific. What was it that led you here to this courtroom today? I have listened respectfully to what you have to say. And I ask you to search your heart and ask yourself what sort of unfathomable hate led you to do what you are guilty and admit you are guilty of doing.

And I have an answer for you. It may not satisfy you. But as I search this entire record it comes as close to understanding as I know.

It seems to me you hate the one thing that to us is most precious. You hate our freedom. Our individual freedom. Our individual freedom to live as we choose, to come and go as we choose, to believe or not believe as we individually choose.

Here, in this society, the very winds carry freedom. They carry it everywhere from sea to shining sea. It is because we prize individual freedom so much that you are here in this beautiful courtroom. So that everyone can see, truly see that justice is administered fairly, individually, and discretely.

It is for freedom’s seek that your lawyers are striving so vigorously on your behalf and have filed appeals, will go on in their, their representation of you before other judges. We care about it. Because we all know that the way we treat you, Mr. Reid, is the measure of our own liberties.

Make no mistake though. It is yet true that we will bear any burden; pay any price, to preserve our freedoms.

Look around this courtroom. Mark it well. The world is not going to long remember what you or I say here. Day after tomorrow it will be forgotten. But this, however, will long endure. Here, in this courtroom, and courtrooms all across America, the American people will gather to see that justice, individual justice, justice, not war, individual justice is in fact being done.

The very President of the United States through his officers will have to come into courtrooms and lay out evidence on which specific matters can be judged, and juries of citizens will gather to sit and judge that evidence democratically, to mold and shape and refine our sense of justice.

See that flag, Mr. Reid? That’s the flag of the United States of America. That flag will fly there long after this is all forgotten. That flag still stands for freedom. You know it always will. Custody, Mr. Officer. Stand him down.

Young’s obvious strategic confidence in America, in our strength and in the resiliency of our way of life, demonstrates how weak-kneed the preemptive surrender advocated by Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney is in comparison.

[Image by Kamal H. licensed under Creative Commons.]

Global Warming: A conspiracy perpetuated by the sushi-eating, coastal elites known as polar bears.

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Of course, such anti-polar bear sentiment doesn’t exist beyond The Colbert Report and satire of global warming denialists.

Oh, wait. I forgot about Sarah Palin, populist tribune of all that is good, who has taken a vehemently anti-polar bear stance, writing in yesterday’s Washington Post:

As governor of Alaska, I took a stand against politicized science when I sued the [Bush administration] over its decision to list the polar bear as an endangered species…

The Maddow-Coburn Debate on Meet the Press; and the Necessity of Violence

Monday, August 17th, 2009

A few observations on watching Meet the Press yesterday. In a lot of ways, I think that show demonstrates the low quality of our political debate today. And yesterday’s show was one of the better, more factually on point, more honest, least full of crap episodes in recent memory. It wasn’t about “gotcha” moments as much as policy and politics. No one there was seriously promoting any of the blatant falsehoods that have determined much of the debate in the rest of the media – the “death panels” and Nazi imagery for example. In many ways, this became a very meta debate about the debate – which is actually a conversation I think we need to have as a country.

David Gregory though seemed determined to take each moment that threatened to lead to acutal honest conflict or insight and “move on” as quickly as possible. With the participants wanting to argue it out, they would talk over him trying to make their point before he ended the game prematurely. Maddow created a few insightful moments with her apparently well-researched appearance. She wasn’t as willing to let the bullshit slide as the others at the table – and she had papers full of research in front of her. Gregory asked some good questions, but let the bull slide. For example, here he asked a serious question of Senator Tom Coburn:

MR. GREGORY: [L]et’s talk about the tone of the debate.  There have been death threats against members of Congress, there are Nazi references to members of Congress and to the president.  Here are some of the images. The president being called a Nazi, his reform effort being called Nazi-like, referring to Nazi Germany, members of Congress being called the same.  And then there was this image this week outside of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a town hall event that the president had, this man with a gun strapped to his leg held that sign, “It is time to water the tree of liberty.” It was a reference to that famous Thomas Jefferson quote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

That has become a motto for violence against the government.  Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, had that very quote on his shirt the day of the bombing of the Murrah building when 168 people were killed.

Senator Coburn, you are from Oklahoma.  When this element comes out in larger numbers because of this debate, what, what troubles you about that?

SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OK):  Well, I’m, I’m troubled anytime when we, we stop having confidence in, in our government.  But we’ve earned it.  You know, this debate isn’t about health care.  Health care’s the symptom.  The debate is an uncontrolled federal government that’s going to run–50 percent of everything we’re spending this year we’re borrowing from the next generation.  You…

MR. GREGORY:  That’s—but wait, hold on, I want to stop you there.  I’m talking about the tone.  I am talking about violence against the government. That’s what this is synonymous with.

SEN. COBURN:  The, the—but the tone is based on fear of loss of control of their own government.  What, what is the genesis behind people going to such extreme statements?  What is it?  We, we have lost the confidence, to a certain degree, and it’s much worse than when Tom was the, the, the leader of the Senate.  We have, we have raised the question of whether or not we’re legitimately thinking about the American people and their long-term best interests.  And that’s the question.

For me that exchange was a head-turning moment. Asked to confront a man who has adopted the same quote that a terrorist did when attacking a building in his own state, a man who is using extreme rhetoric that suggests he would be in favor of assassination, he refuses to condemn him outright. He hedges; he wants us to understand that man – to see him as responding to a world that’s unfair to him.

Gregory at this point seems to let the matter go – but Maddow takes Coburn on. You can tell she’s taken aback too:

I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that a right wing Republican Senator would plead for “understanding” in quasi-defense of extreme right wing rhetoric and threats of violence. After all – what else can he expect?

I suppose my point is: if any people out there take Sarah Palin’s statement that children will be put to death by “death panels” if Obama’s health care plan succeeds seriously; if any people out there seriously believe a Holocaust is about to take place if this health care reform is passed; if they believe that their children are going to be indoctrinated into an atheistic faith in Obama if health care passes; if they believe that their grandparents of their children are in danger – if someone believes any or all of these things, then violence is justified.

We make heroes out of the men who tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler. If we now say that Obama is another Hitler, aren’t we advocating assasination? If we say our child will be killed by Obama, aren’t we implicitly endorsing violence to protect our children?

How can we – as a society – have an adult conversation about the pros and cons of the specific health reforms being considered with this unhinged debate? We can’t. Instead, we just have to let the unsustainable status quo stay in place.

Colbert: “The bill’s a thousand pages! There’s no way of know what’s in it!”

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Stephen Colbert lays bare the pure cynicism behind Newt Gingrich’s refusal to acknowledge the silliness of Sarah Palin’s claim that Obama is createing “death panels” in what I think is my favorite response to the crescendo of wingnuttery on the right over health care:

Death Panels
www.colbertnation.com

Why I Despise Sarah Palin

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

One of my friends asked me this question. Actually, he accused me of despising her (which I admit to) and postulated that feminists and liberals hate her so much because she stands for “a sort of  ‘reincarnation’ of the traditional post-war female that scares the bejesus out of liberals for a variety of reasons.”

I can’t speak for every liberal, or every progressive, or every feminist – but I can speak for myself – and I tell you, it is not Palin’s  status as a reincarnation of the traditional post-war female (a description which I incidentally don’t find that fitting) that leads me to despise her. It is that she found herself to be a very capable demagogue. Frank Rich in The New York Times explained it well this Sunday:

The essence of Palinism is emotional, not ideological… The real wave she’s riding is a loud, resonant surge of resentment and victimization that’s larger than issues like abortion and gay civil rights.

Palin constantly positions herself as a victim of the conspiracies of the elite. As interviewers lob her softball after softball, she points out the few outliers and claims she is a victim of a giant conspiracy. As a local blogger files a frivolous ethics complaint, Palin claims she is being targeted for persecution by Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama. A similar logic of collective victomhood makes its way into every speech she gives; she constantly sets up a dynamic of “us” against “them” – the “Joe Sixpacks” versus “the Hollywood/NY elite” and the “real Americans” against those “who [see] America…as being so imperfect…that [they are] palling around with terrorists [who]…target their own country.” What this accomplishes is what Cass Sunstein in the Spectator describes as the dyanmic of self-reinforcing moral outrage:

Political extremism is often a product of group polarisation and social segregation is a useful tool for producing polarisation. In fact, a good way to create an extremist group, or a cult of any kind, is to separate members from the rest of society. The separation can occur physically or psychologically, by creating a sense of suspicion about non-members. With such separation, the information and views of those outside the group can be discredited, and hence nothing will disturb the process of polarisation as group members continue to talk.

Sunstein does not link this to Palin – but it is clear that she is playing with this exact dynamic. This stands in stark contrast to John McCain who, to his credit, realized how dangerous this dynamic was and tried to calm his crowds down; and it stands in contrast to Barack Obama who has deliberately taken an approach that minimizes this dynamic of escalating moral outrage – challenging his audiences when they seem to be dehumanizing the other side. Palin though escalated her rhetoric. Her crowds became more extreme – in the way that like-minded groups do, especially when united against a nefarious and dehumanized “them.”

Why do I despise Sarah Palin? Because she is a demagogue, and more important, because she is an effective one.

(more…)

Happy Birthday, America! Our Modern-Day George Wallace (in heels) is giving up the little power she has

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

Sarah Palin represents the worst of America, in all its attractive yet self-destructive glory. She is ignorant – and does not care to educate herself. She is confident, without much reason to be. She is unreflective, and proud of it. Like a wahhabi among Muslims, she does not consider most of her fellow-countrymen “pro-American.” Like a reincarnation of Richard Nixon (or a classic Marxist) she seeks power through class warfare. Like a second coming of George Wallace, she waves the flag in defense of prejudice and hatred and incites crowds to near-violence.

And  yesterday, Sarah Palin announced she would resign her office. She sounded the same themes she had in her national debut – those themes that I hopefully deride as yesterday’s but fear may be themes again tomorrow. This is no surprise, as as in her first speech on the national stage she accused those examining her record – the media – of being part of the “Washington elite” and looking down on her – and ridiculed her opponent as a crusader for terrorist rights.  And when a comedian made a joke that she saw she could exploit, she talked used this as her excuse to rail against the “Hollywood/NY” elites who did not understand real American values.  Again and again she invoked the same, old tired class warfare images.

The question is, why does this woman – who has a solid shot at the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination – decide to give up her governorship?

As everyone acknowledges – and especially given her tawdry history of small-time lies, personal vendettas, and misuse of public power and funds – she may be trying to sidestep some brewing scandal the press hasn’t gotten wind of. Even Will Kristol, the foremost Palin defender in the country acknowledges this. But if this does not turn out to be the case, there are still significant reasons why she might be stepping aside – in a calculated move to better position herself for 2012.

As Kristol later suggested, she might be – in this instance, “crazy like a fox.”

As Marc Ambinder points out, as Governor of Alaska, she is a sitting duck and marginalized from the centers of power she so desperately wants to be part of. The heady presidential campaign clearly gave her a taste of something she now craves – the attention and adulation of adoring crowds. She seems to believe she is destined for greater things than merely governing a state with a population the size of a medium-sized city.

But as long as she is governor, she is generating a record that can be picked apart and attacked – and she is unable to effectively reach out to the Iowa and New Hampshire Republican primary voters she will need. At the same time, her national ambitions – and her role in the McCain campaign – have hurt her in Alaska – as her popularity has dipped and legislators have begun to feel as if she is looking beyond Juneau. As only 51% of voters in Alaska said they would reelect her as governor, she would likely face a tough campaign.

At the same time, Palin is facing the same problem as many other governors: the states are facing a crunch, and without help from the federal government are going to have to make drastic cuts in services or raise taxes. In Alaska, the downturn – and the drop in the price of oil – has lead to a deficit of nearly $3 billion over the next two years, with little chance of recovery until the price of oil goes back up. By resigning in the middle of this year, she gets to avoid the painful cuts in government services or raises in tax rates that will be needed to keep the state functioning. Governing during this deficit explosion would make it harder (though for Palin, far from impossible) to deride Barack Obama’s deficit spending (most of which Obama himself inherited from another former Governor who liked to cut taxes and increase spending).

Given these two motivations, one can see why Will Kristol suggests this move might be crazy like a fox.

But remember this: by giving up in the middle of her term, Sarah Palin has forever disqualified herself from the presidency. I’m sure she doesn’t think so – and I’m sure her most ardent supporters do not think so either. She may make a solid run for the Republican nomination – and, she may get it. But every reason she gave for resigning would be doubly true if she were to win the presidency. Her family would be under greater scrutiny, and the butt of more jokes. Lawsuits against her would eat into her time – as they did Bill  Clinton’s. If the relatively low-level of scrutiny and pestering lawsuits she is subject to now have intimidated her from staying in office, imagine what pressures she would face sitting in the Oval Office.

The American people will remember that when the going got tough in Alaska, she went. And she didn’t accept any blame – instead, she played the same game she has played as long as she has been in the national spotlight. She blamed the media elite and everyone else who isn’t “proud to be American” and who instead “deride[s] our ideals.”

America can forgive her the class warfare. They can forgive her inciting her supporters to near-violent outrage. They can forgive her betrayal of the man who brought her out of obscurity. They can forgive her for using her children as political props. They can forgive her for all of her small lies. They can forgive her her ignorance. And they can love her for her saucy winks, her baseless confidence, and her faux-religiousity. What the American people cannot forgive and will not look past is a quitter – and the message from yesterday’s events – the message that comes through loud and clear above her strident attempts to distract – is that Sarah Palin is a quitter.

Never again will the Barracuda of Wasilla attain the glory that was hers for one glorious September night – as she strode onto the stage, confident beyond reason and shining with the light of Destiny.

This I hope, and I pray. For our nation’s sake, most of all. But for the moment, what can we do but celebrate that our modern-day George Wallace has stepped down, and the spectre of a Palin presidency is just a bit further away.

[Image by sskennel licensed under Creative Commons.]

Palin the Performer

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

I was cleaning out my draft posts and came across this wonderful take on Sarah Palin by Sam Harris in Newsweek at the height of her appeal:

Here, finally, was a performer who—being maternal, wounded, righteous and sexy—could stride past the frontal cortex of every American and plant a three-inch heel directly on that limbic circuit that ceaselessly intones “God and country.” If anyone could make Christian theocracy smell like apple pie, Sarah Palin could…

For all my concern about Bush’s religious beliefs, and about his merely average grasp of terrestrial reality, I have never once thought that he was an over-the-brink, Rapture-ready extremist. Palin seems as though she might be the real McCoy. With the McCain team leading her around like a pet pony between now and Election Day, she can be expected to conceal her religious extremism until it is too late to do anything about it. Her supporters know that while she cannot afford to “talk the talk” between now and Nov. 4, if elected, she can be trusted to “walk the walk” until the Day of Judgment.

What is so unnerving about the candidacy of Sarah Palin is the degree to which she represents—and her supporters celebrate—the joyful marriage of confidence and ignorance. Watching her deny to Gibson that she had ever harbored the slightest doubt about her readiness to take command of the world’s only superpower, one got the feeling that Palin would gladly assume any responsibility on earth:

“Governor Palin, are you ready at this moment to perform surgery on this child’s brain?”

“Of course, Charlie. I have several boys of my own, and I’m an avid hunter.”

“But governor, this is neurosurgery, and you have no training as a surgeon of any kind.”

“That’s just the point, Charlie. The American people want change in how we make medical decisions in this country. And when faced with a challenge, you cannot blink…”