Thursday, July 14, 2011

This Is Your Brain on Evangelical Christianity

One of the more infamous proselytizers of evangelical Christianity is Jack T. Chick, producer of a series of cartoon pamphlets geared towards conversion. His tracts generally focus on people confronted with the choice of converting to Christianity. Chick and his artists meet out prosperity and salvation to those who choose his brand of Protestant Christianity, and destruction and hell fire to those who don't.

My Gut Reaction: If there is a god anything like the sadistic murderer that Jack T. Chick depicts, why the hell would you want to worship it?

Analysis: Chick's latest tract, "Mean Momma," summarizes everything that is barbaric in his world view. The tract follows a trashy woman, Petunia, who inherits her father's house. She and her equally degenerate children proceed to terrorize the neighborhood, leading to a town meeting. This being a Chick tract, rather than calling Child Protective Services or having her arrested, they call in the local preacher. (Even one of Chick's characters thinks this is stupid!)

The preacher calls on Petunia, and is unsurprisingly rebuffed. As he leaves, the preacher tells her that he will pray that God will instill fear of the Lord in her.

Then the tract takes a disturbing turn.

First, her eldest child dies in an accident after stealing a car. Then, after hearing her refer to the eldest as her favorite, her middle child commits suicide. Finally, her youngest dies in a tornado, at which point she accepts Jesus. Hip hip hooray?

The tract clearly implies that God slaughtered this woman's children in order to get her to worship him. This is what we're supposed to love and believe in? This tract is particularly disturbing when one considers that under Chick's belief system, Petunia's children are probably damned, except perhaps for the youngest.

A much better ending would have been for Petunia to strangle the preacher for praying to make it all happen.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Republican Treason

As the clock marches on, it has become increasingly clear that the Republicans are hell-bent on using the debt ceiling as a means to push their fiscal and political program on the United States. Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma has admitted as much of the Republican refusal to play along, stating that "It's a political strategy-it's not a policy strategy."

My Gut Reaction: People willing to play politics with our economic well-being are no better than traitors.

Analysis: The effects of a failure to raise the debt ceiling could be catastrophic. As a recent story by NPR reports, one of the immediate effects would be an inability for the government to pay out Social Security, as the federal government would only collect $12 billion in taxes while needing to pay out $23 billion. That's not getting into other issues such as paying the military and federal employees.

Some are trying to tell us that it would not be so bad. For example, Nick Gillespie of Reason Magazine raises the point that the August 2nd deadline is at least somewhat arbitrary, as it is difficult to measure the full amount of borrowing taking place. He also suggests that it is unlikely the United States would actually default on its debt, as the amount of money the federal government takes in well surpasses its annual debt payments. However, that assertion fails to explain the recent announcement by Moody's that it is considering downgrading the United States's credit rating.

Luckily, not all of the Republican Party has gone insane. Senator Mitch McConnell has recommended a "Plan B" whereby the President would be able to raise the debt ceiling subject only to a veto-proof vote by Congress. This has enraged Congressional Republicans, but stems more from Sen. McConnell's political savvy than any real patriotism on his part. He is on record warning that failure to raise the debt ceiling would leave Republicans vulnerable to being held responsible for ensuing economic woes. Yeah, plunging your country into economic chaos tends to hurt your poll numbers.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Debt Ceiling Madness

Negotiations over raising the United States's debt ceiling have reached a virtual standstill, as the Republicans remain intransigent over raising revenue. In particular, they oppose closing tax loopholes for rich people such as hedge fund managers. One major Tea Party leader, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, has expressed a willingness to cause major disruptions to the American economy rather than reach a compromise.

My Gut Reaction: Jim DeMint is not a real American. The Tea Party's stance as a patriotic force is a charade.

Analysis: It is time for Democrats to take a stand. Ideological fanatics like Senator DeMint and his followers are not loyal government officials. If they keep on their reckless course and America defaults on its debt, the consequences will include a massive drop in the United States credit rating, the inability to pay Social Security, and most disturbingly given the Republicans' stated concern for American soldiers, military payments.

What are the tax breaks that Republicans are trying to defend? Well, they include breaks for horse breeding and corporate jets, as well as the "carried interest loophole" for hedge fund managers. This carried interest loophole allows hedge fund managers to treat payments for their work as capital gains, resulting in their paying a far lower rate. If this loophole were ended, it could get the United States 4 billion a year, and cut the deficit by 44 billion dollars.

Even commentators who normally support the Republicans are crying foul on this. In a recent New York Times column, David Brooks argues that if the Republicans allow a default, they will show themselves unfit to govern, particularly in light of the Democrats' willingness to concede on government spending. Similarly, columnist George Will has said that it would be suicidal for Congressional Republicans to oppose raising the debt ceiling, even going so far as to question the proposition of the debt ceiling itself. (Video below)

Democrats must remain firm on the issue of tax loopholes. If the Republicans want to cut government spending, they must also be willing to give on tax loopholes.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Liberal Lynch Mob

Over the past 24 hours, I have been disappointed to witness an explosion of genuinely stupid rhetoric on the liberal blogosphere as various commentators strain to find some other explanation for the developments in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case other than that the accusations are false. The result is a display of ideological and intellectual contortionism worthy of a circus.

My Gut Reaction: Folks, if you're going to foam and rave like lunatics, you're better off doing it at a teabagger meeting.

Analysis: The first article that raised my ire was published at Alternet, taking issue with a New York Post article describing the accuser as a "hooker." Although the Post was being its usual tasteless self, the Alternet article by Lauren Kelley is itself a remarkable piece of hysteria. Kelley calls the article a piece of "rape culture" without producing any evidence that its assertions are untrue. She gained the support of a troop of equally dimwitted commenters.

A similar, if somewhat more nuanced, piece of rationalization was produced by Roger Canaff at his blog. Canaff points out that the accuser's involvement with drug dealers and apparent immigration fraud does not mean she was sexually assaulted, which is a valid point. However, he fails to grapple with what I consider the most damning piece of evidence-the accuser's recorded phone call stating her intent to make money off of her accusations. Seen in light of that evidence, these character points represent a pattern of criminality, which makes blackmail an all too real possibility.

Indeed, my suspicions grew when I read a piece of evidence on Canaff's blog that I had not heard before. Apparently, to support her claim of being raped in her home country, the accuser apparently memorized a taped interview with a woman who had been gang raped. If that is the case, it establishes a pattern of fraud involving rape. Even Canaff admits that the accuser's behavior raises a large number of red flags.

Some might argue that, not being a woman, I am in no position to comment on the case. However, female commentators such as Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post have examined the evidence, and found it to a large extent wanting. Parker also points out that the accuser's story, of being chased down by the overweight, 71 year old Strauss-Kahn, is not particularly convincing to begin with.

The worst thing is that this case, along with similar cases, make it more difficult for women who have actually been raped to press their cases.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Rush to Judgment

Prosecutors in New York City have acknowledged that the rape case against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is about to collapse, as evidence has emerged casting serious doubt of the trustworthiness of his accuser, a hotel maid from Guinea. Investigators from the District Attorney's Office cast doubt on her accusations.

My Gut Reaction: They couldn't have figured this out before they filed the charges?

Analysis: Suspicions about the accuser's credibility arose from inconsistencies in her statements to investigators. For instance, the maid claimed that she emigrated from Guinea due to being raped there, but could find no mention of rape in her application. Furthermore, evidence emerged of her connections to drug dealers.

None of this in itself cast prima facie doubt on her accusations, but the most damning evidence was a recorded phone call between the maid and a prisoner incarcerated for drug trafficking. In the phone call, the maid gushed about the financial advantages of pressing charges against Strauss-Kahn. I may never have been raped, but I think it is a pretty good guess that after a traumatic experience like that, your first thought would not be its financial advantages.

In other words, the maid's a liar.

In light of this, a far more convincing explanation emerges. The maid slept with Strauss-Kahn, a known womanizer, consensually, and decided to get a quick buck by blackmailing him. Somehow, the authorities became aware of her accusations, and when they came to her, she decided to press her advantage by means of criminal charges, failing to realize that with such charges would come an investigation of her background.

This case has further significance when one considers how the American and European media often rush to judgment on rape cases. For instance, Julian Assange has been convicted in the media in spite of the real likelihood that the accusations against him were made by a CIA plant. Even liberal commentators like Katha Pollitt have joined in the lynch mob. Perhaps the Strauss-Kahn case should serve as a reminder of the "innocent until proven guilty" principle, especially in cases involving public figures.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Foolishness on Drug Legalization

On today, William Bennett has published an alarmist diatribe warning against the "dangers" of drug legalization. He warns that legalization will turn our youth into a mass of drug addicted zombies, leading to increases in crime and psychosis. A new marijuana legalization bill, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, occasioned his alarm.

My Gut Reaction: Perhaps we should ask Mr. Bennett his opinion on the legality of gambling.

Analysis: My mention of Bennett's eight million dollar gambling habit is not merely the ad hominem attack that it may initially seem. Bennett and his allies defended him by saying his gambling hurt no one but himself. A similar argument can be raised in regard to drug use. Although Bennett tries to argue that marijuana use leads inexorably to crime, personal experience suggests otherwise. For instance, members of my family have used marijuana without becoming thieves, rapists, or murderers. The devil's weed indeed.

More broadly, Bill Bennett has no more right to tell people not to use drugs than I have to tell him not to gamble. Following his logic, the state would have the right to tell people not to drink alcohol, not to gamble, and not to eat fatty foods. (Indeed, from a public health perspective, banning the fatty foods would make more sense.)

Bennett wrote the article in tones reminiscent of a nineteenth-century temperance campaigner, complete with a survey of the horrors of a drug treatment facility. Interesting, he ignores a statistic published by NORML, a group in favor of marijuana legalization, and sourced from the federal government, over fifty percent of people admitted to rehab for marijuana had either not used it at all within the past month, or had used it less than three times. These people had not gone into rehab because they had a problem; they did so because they were ordered to by the courts.

Bennett's own use of statistics is rather interesting. He says that less than two percent of enforcement is for simple possession, but only uses the federal statistics, ignoring state and local enforcement, who probably deal with marijuana possession far more often than the feds. The FBI is unlikely to chase after someone for having a joint.

Another statistic that Bennett fails to consider is that we have spent one trillion dollars on the Drug War in the past 40 years, and although we have lower rates of drug use, we are far from eliminating it. Our country no longer has the money to spend on this, unless Bennett and his fellow drug warriors are willing to pay some steep taxes to fund their little crusade.

Nonetheless, Bennett and his cohorts will cry, "The children! What about the children!" Whether someone uses drugs is their own responsibility. I could have gotten a hold of drugs when I was a teenager, but I didn't. This was not because I was afraid of some cop, but because I concluded that drugs are bad for you. The conservatives are all for personal responsibility. Why don't they apply it here?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Intelligence from an Unexpected Source

As Ben Smith reports on his Politico blog, Republican and Tea Party Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky has called for the ending of foreign aid to Israel and other Middle Eastern countries, arguing on CNN's Wolf Blitzer that continued American aid would only be "funding an arms race on both sides."

My Gut Reaction: Even a broken clock is correct twice a day.

Analysis: Rand Paul's statements cannot be construed as support for the Palestinian cause, or even as a condemnation of Israeli policy. Sen. Paul states that he admires Israel as a democracy, and it is clear from his comments that they stem more from an overall drive to lower federal spending.

Nevertheless, this statement raises some interesting questions in regard to United States policy toward Israel, and the current drive toward cutting federal spending. For all the Republicans' vows to lower the deficit, they seem very reluctant to even bring up the possibility of major cuts to defense spending. When we do hear them bring up defense cuts, they are already one's pre-approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Imagine if we had to run education spending cuts by the teachers' union!) Given that most of the aid to Israel falls into the category of military aid, Sen. Paul's comments have potentially broader implications.

Furthermore, Rand Paul lays his finger on an important truth when he notes that we are essentially funding an arms race in the Middle East. Although Sen. Paul makes this point while discussing the Arab nations we fund, it is worth considering how military aid to Israel also perpetuates the Middle East conflict. If the Israeli government did not have the assured backing of the United States and its military resources, Israeli leaders might be more amenable to actually making steps towards peace, such as dismantling settlements.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Jack Kelly: Ideological Contortionist (Warning: Strong Language)

In his column in this Sunday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jack Kelly tries to argue that the real source of violent rhetoric in the United States today is the liberal movement. He tries to link just about every major shooting or terror incident of the past two years to liberal ideology.

My Gut Reaction: According to the website SourceWatch, Kelly makes much of the fact that he served in the Marines and the Special Forces in his official biography. Just goes to show why they're paid to fight, not to think.

Analysis: It's difficult to know where to begin mocking Kelly's article, as it is strewn with statements of varying levels of stupidity. Perhaps we should start with his comments about the program Democracy Now!, which he characterizes as an obscure radio show. As even a cursory look at Democracy Now's website will reveal, it is both a television show and a radio show that plays on 900 stations across the country, making it one of the largest independent media operations in the United States. Not bad for an "obscure left wing radio program."

Things start to get funny when Kelly paints Jared Lee Loughner as a leftist largely based on the fact that he smoked pot and owned a book by Karl Marx. He conveniently omits the fact that Loughner had at least tenuous connections to the group American Renaissance, a white supremacist organization whose founder at one point spoke at Loughner's college. This linkage has been documented by such radical sources as the Department of Homeland Security and the Christian Science Monitor. He also listed Hitler's Mein Kampf as one of his favorite books, another sign of his liberal credentials.

Kelly descends even deeper into comic territory when he attempts to attribute just about every major act of political violence over the past two years to liberalism. The most laugh inducing paragraph in this section is when he depicts James von Brunn, the lunatic who attacked the National Holocaust Museum, as an enemy of conservatism. Never mind the fact that von Brunn was an avowed white supremacist who claimed that President Obama was not an American. Or the fact that he posted on the conservative website Free Republic, which quietly deleted his writings after the shooting. Very liberal guy, Mr. von Brunn.

Kelly then proceeds to shoot his argument in the foot. Having argued against the possibility that violent right wing rhetoric could produce killings, he then claims that criticism of Sarah Palin by figures such as Scott Simon of NPR has resulted in an increase of death threats against Sarah Palin. So violent right wing ranting, complete with gun imagery, is perfectly fine, but even moderate criticism of Republicans by left wingers is an incendiary act.

Just how fucking stupid do you think your readers are, Mr. Kelly?

What Mr. Kelly's argument represents is a thinly veiled concern among right wingers that their own violent calls to action could be turned against them. Even though it is highly unlikely that President Obama or any of the cowards who make up the Democratic leadership would be willing to take a truly hard line with the conservatives over this issue, there is nothing to stop the left wing netroots from adopting the right's rhetorical tactics. What's good for the goose may also be good for the gander.

Coming Home

A Virginia teenager, Gulet Mohamed, has finally returned to the United States after being held in Kuwait for a month due to the fact that he was on the no-fly list. Government officials had apparently placed him on the list because he had visited Yemen and Somalia. Mohamed is of Somali descent, and alleges that he was tortured by Kuwaiti authorities while in that country.

My Gut Reaction: Proud of your allies, President Obama?

Analysis: This seems to be a case of the United States government using foreign allies to carry out interrogations and torture that they would not be able to get away with in this country. As Amnesty International documents in its 2010 Annual Report, the Kuwaiti government itself has admitted to torturing people suspected of involvement in terrorism. Given this background, it seems likely that Mohamed's allegations are true.

I cannot make any judgments about Gulet Mohamed's involvement or lack thereof in terrorism. However, anyone with an ounce of moral decency should acknowledge that the way to deal with terrorism is to investigate and stop it through proven intelligence methods, not to outsource torture to some third world regime we are involved with.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Raid on Dreaming Ant Video

Today, I am going to be posting about a news story that I have an indirect connection to. The video store that I go to, Dreaming Ant Video, was raided yesterday evening, apparently in connection with a false press release that was sent out to mock the Fraternal Order of Police. They seized Dreaming Ant's business computer, as well as the wireless servers of Crazy Mocha, the coffee shop Dreaming Ant is based in.

My Gut Reaction: Don't the police have something more important to do than to pursue vendettas against people who parody or insult them?

Analysis: The phony press release in question had to do with the Jordan Miles case, which involved an honors student who was beaten by the police, leading to allegations of police brutality. The press release contained a false admission of guilt by the FOP, which has supported the officers in the case. The Fraternal Order of Police, in turn, would like to press charges against whoever made the release up, including identity theft.

This is screwed up on a number of fronts. First of all, it is hard to see why Dreaming Ant should have to shut down-they can't really function without a computer to keep track of rentals-just because some idiot used the wireless connection in the coffee shop they're based in to send out a phony press release. This action demonstrates a total lack of proportionality on the part of the Pittsburgh Police Force.

Second, it is difficult to see how sending out a phony press release with a fake letterhead on it constitutes identity theft. This seems more like a case of the Police Department abusing its powers in order to stifle criticism over the Miles case. What this incident calls for is not legal action, but a sound spanking for the idiot who sent it out in the first place. Such legal overreaches make it open to question whether the police department is fully trustworthy.

The best way the Police Department can atone for this is to hand the computer back immediately, and to reimburse Dreaming Ant and Crazy Mocha for any money lost due to loss of business. While they're at it, the police should send me, and every resident of Pittsburgh, a check repaying the tax money expended on this raid.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lincoln, Lincoln, Lincoln...

As Ben Smith reports on his Politico blog, Governor Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island has banned state employees from spending their work time talking on talk radio. His decision, obviously spurred by the Tuscon rampage, argues that state employees giving interviews on talk radio would constitute supporting ratings and profit driven programming.

My Gut Reaction: This is a very stupid idea.

Analysis: What the hell is Governor Chafee thinking??? He's just given the talk radio fanatics the perfect excuse to scream censorship, while also ceding a major section of the mass media to his enemies. This is not the way to act if you want to get anything done or stay in office.

The way to deal with the talk radio bullies is not to run away from them or try to censor them, but to give them a dose of their own medicine. It is not time to flee, but to fight back. The Democratic and Independent public officials of this country should be dragging the Republicans and their talk radio sycophants across the coals right now. It is time to make it clear to these lunatics that they are not going to be tolerated by the thinking people of America.

Grow a pair and start fighting back, Lincoln.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Massacre in Tuscon (Warning: Strong Language)

This past Saturday's massacre in Arizona, which severely wounded Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, has sparked a great deal of debate over civil discourse in American politics. This evening's episode of Nightline, although posing as an objective newscast, argued that it was simply a matter of an insane person which had nothing to do with politics. Provocations such as Sarah Palin literally targeting Rep. Giffords in a gun sight in an e-mail and tea partiers holding an anti-Giffords rally in which guns were fired off had nothing to do with it.

My Gut Reaction: Who the fuck are they kidding?

Analysis: This is just another example of the mainstream media being too chicken to take a position on even the simplest of issues, consequently reducing itself to inanities. The conclusion of the 'experts' they had on was that mass murderers are crazed perverts.

Wow!Spree killers are mental cases. I would never of thought of that myself! The question isn't whether someone who engages in this type of activity is a mental case, but what triggers them to act out in a certain direction. And given the level of violent rhetoric that surrounds this Congresswoman, I find it very difficult to believe that there was no correlation.

For me, the solution is not any type of limit on free speech. Rather, liberals and progressives should start to play tit for tat with the Republicans and their pet fanatics in the Tea Party in terms of rhetoric. If the conservatives are going to use inflammatory images and words to rally support, so should we. No more Mr. Nice Guy...