30 August 2015

Link round-up for 30 August 2015

Books by Rosa Rubicondior, one of my favorite bloggers, are now available in paperback, and there's some education there on publishing a book through Amazon as well.

Maybe Pluto really isn't a planet.

Do you have an Eric?

Whoever did this knew exactly what he was doing.

Can't we all just get along?

Australia's most iconic building evokes something humbler.

If you're still following the Duggars, here's a bingo card (found via Republic of Gilead).

For ads, placement is everything.

Tinfoil hat?  Bah.  Here's real protection.

I've always seen cars this way.

A prayer breakfast with a difference honors Providence, Rhode Island's most creative citizen (found via Mendip).

Art meets life in a clever music video.

Iranian democracy activists support the US-Iran nuclear deal.

Try to imagine the nightmare of being the daughter in this situation.

Christians please read this.  Yes, discrimination is real (found via Republic of Gilead).  And when you read an atheist blog, always remember this.

Normally a building infested with twenty thousand disease-ridden rats would be condemned.  Religion says it's a holy place.

The Wall Street Journal identifies the biggest threat to the US economy.

Work hard, die early.

Deepak Chopra's gibberish is more inane than even I ever imagined (and I agree with Ahab's comment there).

These protesters have good reason to oppose Planned Parenthood.

If you're gloating about all the people exposed by the Ashley Madison hack, read this.

Here's how various groups view the Congressional parties (found via Jobsanger).

ISIS has destroyed another priceless relic of the pagan past.  But further evidence of the Classical world's greatness is emerging in Petra, a few hundred miles to the south.

Guys can be victims too.

These scientists have a big heart.

Sweden sends less than 1% of its garbage to landfills, the rest being recycled or converted into energy.

Pearl-clutching panic about women using technology to have fun goes back long before the internet.

Trump is leading Republicans into a feces-flinging civil war -- pass the popcorn.

Cornette's dramatic escape from slaughter has made her a symbol of the will to live.

Amanda Marcotte looks at the smears against Planned Parenthood -- and women.  Republicans want to "replace" PP with -- crank religious pseudo-clinics which will block access to birth control.

Both parties still have clear front-runners.

Hillary's taking flak -- she must be over the target.  But friendly fire must stop.

Even "nice" Evangelicals embrace eternal torture (found via Bruce Gerencser).

If Jeb gets the nomination, his relationship with Lehman Brothers will need extensive exposure.

It's not just Trump -- the whole right wing is suffused with teh crayzee.

Police misconduct sometimes takes a subtler form than shooting people.

Bill Kristol thinks the Republicans need more Presidential candidates.

A teacher in North Carolina is being harassed and threatened for volunteering as a clinic escort (this resonates with me).

The Chinese preference for sons is weakening a little, but too late to avoid a dangerous gender imbalance.

Trump is dragging Republican policy out from behind its curtain of euphemism.  Besides alarming Latinos, he's no friend of black concerns,. though another constituency embraces him.  He's trashing Republican efforts to broaden their appeal, but his rise is fueled by the base's alienation from reality.  And he isn't much of a Christian, despite some feeble pandering, so why do fundies love him?

28 August 2015

Starting a feud with the neighbors

Donald Trump first rose to prominence in the Republican race on the issue of illegal immigration, which he "addressed" in his usual careless and intemperate style ("build a wall and make Mexico pay for it").  From the viewpoint of whipping up the nativist Republican base, this tactic has been a great success.  For the country, it's a disaster.

The most obvious reason is that it's encouraging a wave of explicit and very ugly anti-Latino xenophobia.  There was last week's vicious attack on a Latino homeless man in Boston, and people are going public with utterly hateful views at right-wing news sites and Trump events (the point is not the merits of illegal immigration or of Ramos's behavior at the press conference, but the mentality revealed by the comments).  Right-wing populism usually includes singling out some minority group as a target for the frustrated masses to take out their anger on.  That target has traditionally been the Jews, but the Holocaust has made open anti-Semitism unacceptable in modern society.  As the largest minority in the US, and a growing one, Latinos are an obvious bogeyman for a right-wing base already agitated about the country's demographic evolution.  I don't think Trump himself consciously intended to call up this monster, but that hardly matters.  It has been called up.

This would obviously be wrong and dangerous in itself, but there's another side to the problem.

The number of illegal aliens in the US has actually declined since 2007, because more Mexicans (who actually make up only half of all illegals) have been going back to Mexico than have been coming to the US.  As I've observed before, this is mainly due to the dramatic improvement in Mexico's economic situation; there are simply more opportunities at home than before.  Mexico's economy is now the world's 15th largest and is growing more than twice as fast as the US economy.  It is also the second-largest market for US exports, buying about 15% of our total exports.  With a growing entrepreneurial culture, Mexico is an important country, both globally and to the US specifically, and will become more so in the future.

Apart from his obvious unpopularity with American Latinos, Trump and the xenophobia he's fueling have evoked anger and fear in Mexico itself.  The more credible his Presidential bid appears and the more legitimacy he's afforded within the US, the worse this will become.

US relations with Mexico have begun to improve after a long history of meddling and territorial aggression (part of the reason the US has a large Latino population is that Texas, California, and everything in between were seized from Mexico in wars in the early 19th century).  Trump and his followers could reverse that trend just as Mexico's economic rise is making the consequences of igniting a feud with it ever more serious.

Some Democrats actually hope that Trump becomes the Republican nominee because he'd be easy for Hillary to defeat.  We should resist this temptation.  The nominee of either of the two major parties always has some chance of getting elected.  While any Republican as President would be a disaster, a Trump Presidency would likely be distinguished by a trade war and an utterly pointless trashing of relations with a rising power right on our border.

26 August 2015

Sex work and solidarity

On August 11, Amnesty International voted to support the movement to decriminalize prostitution worldwide.  This was an important step forward, lending the weight of an influential and respected organization to a cause whose time is coming.

Predictably, Amnesty's move was attacked by the puritanical Christian Right, adopting the same hypocritical language of "protecting" women from their own choices that they use when attacking abortion and women's self-determination generally.  Equally predictably, for those familiar with the history of other such cultural battles in the past, it was attacked by some elements on the left as well.

To me legal prostitution, like gay marriage, is a core issue -- something important enough to risk losing allies over if it comes to that.  Like gay marriage, it's the right thing to do, it's what the oppressed group itself wants, and its achievement would trigger a chain reaction of further beneficial social changes as the culture adjusts.  As with gay marriage, the objections are mostly driven by prejudice and misinformation, easily exposed as absurd.  And as with gay marriage, I think the chances for success are good.  Like the gay community a couple of decades ago, the sex-worker community, while small and subject to prejudice and brutal harassment, is increasingly organized, vocal, articulate, and determined to make itself heard over the busybodies who try to drown out sex workers' own voices while claiming to speak on their behalf.

So "friendly fire" is not to be taken lightly.  For example, even before the vote was taken, progressive news site Crooks and Liars posted a morass of the usual clichés and obfuscation typically spouted by opponents of decriminalization.  Now, I have a connection with Crooks and Liars -- I'm one of the eight bloggers who, in weekly rotation, handles the "Mike's blog round up" feature there.  When I read this post, my immediate impulse was to e-mail my contact at Crooks and Liars to say that I no longer wished to do the blog round-up for them because I no longer wanted to be associated with the site, if this was their position.  However, after thinking things through, I decided not to do so -- the first of many such compromises I'll probably have to make in the years to come as this phase of the culture wars proceeds.  Here's my thinking.

First, it's painfully obvious to us how the right wing is being ripped apart by internecine squabbling over ideological purism, with the constant spectacle of conservatives denouncing other conservatives for not being conservative enough.  This is complicated by the fact that there are several different factions with different definitions of "conservative", or at least different priorities (social issues vs. tax-and-spending issues, for example).  It's now routine on right-wing sites to see posters declare that they would never vote for this or that Republican who is just too moderate or ideologically impure, even if that means the Democrat would win.

To us, it's obvious that this purism and infighting weakens the right wing and sabotages its ability to fight for the policies it favors.  So we must avoid indulging in the same behavior on our own side, even if that means continuing to work with people whose views we find repugnant on one or two issues.  Bill Maher expressed this perfectly here:

Crooks and Liars, for example, is an excellent news source and attracts a genuinely progressive readership -- that anti-decriminalization post generated a lot of push-back in its own comments thread.  It would be foolish to repudiate it based on one point of disagreement, even a major one.

Second, as a secular liberal, I believe in evolution.  Many leading figures who now firmly support gay marriage -- even including President Obama himself -- opposed it just a few years ago, but "evolved" over time.  We can see the same thing happening with marijuana and drugs generally (an even better analogy for the prostitution issue than gay marriage is), where until recently almost no major Democratic politicians supported decriminalization, but a few are now "evolving" as the people take the lead via ballot initiatives.  I expect that as time passes and the arguments go forward, many of those on the left who now oppose decriminalization of sex work will similarly come around.  Why burn bridges that I might want to use again in a few years?

It's not going to be easy.  The rights and lives of real people are at stake here.  Every day that prostitution remains illegal perpetuates a brutal system of oppression and violence.  But splitting the left would benefit only the rightists, who want to perpetuate that system forever.  We managed to achieve a spectacular roll-back of the oppression of gay people across the Western world precisely because we didn't let the reactionary views of some in our ranks cause permanent rifts.  In the end nobody remembers or cares who was most ideologically pure.  What matters is winning on the issues.

23 August 2015

The battle of Planned Parenthood

Are you having trouble following the rather complex manufactured "controversy" over Planned Parenthood and the video smear campaign against it?  Well, our ever-reliable watchdog over the Christian Right, Republic of Gilead, is here to straighten it all out.  Start with this introductory post and this overview of the attack campaign, which reveal the fundamental distortion the forced-birth fetishists are pushing -- no, Planned Parenthood is not "selling body parts" as those deceptively-edited videos would have us believe.

Next, read this report on the protests being held outside Planned Parenthood sites across the country, which makes it clear that this is simply another lie-fueled exercise in fundamentalist bullying.  Finally, as a palate-cleanser, there's this collection of pictures from the protests, which affirms that pro-choice counter-protesters have been out in force too.

This attack will fail because everyone outside the right-wing alternate-reality bubble knows it's based on a scam -- it's been widely reported that the videos that started it were deliberately edited to distort the truth.  This is just another case of fundamentalist agitation driven by lies and hypocrisy, nothing more.

[Image at top from LauraLeeLuvsBiology, who seems like one smart lady.]

Link round-up for 23 August 2015

Everybody loves cute animals.  Speaking of which, here's a whole tumblr of them.  For anti-cuteness, here's a cool Lovecraft alphabet video (found via Mendip).

They tried to bury us.....

Well sprayed, indeed.

Somebody dozed off.

Don't confuse me with facts!

Dead Logic makes the case for why "skeptic" is a better term than "atheist".

What could be better than a baldness cure called Sonic Hedgehog?


Don't pass out drunk in the street in India.

Larry Klayman, king of the wet-firecracker fizzled baggot uprisings, is trotting out his shtick again.

London is set to build the world's scariest swimming pool.

Why do the Republicans keep attacking Social Security?

Hostility to abortion rights correlates strongly with religion and is increasingly concentrated in the South (link from Shaw Kenawe).

Stoning gays to death is part of the mindset of God (found via Republic of Gilead).

Green Eagle has an interesting take on the BLM / Sanders clashes.

Hmm, is a Biden / Warren ticket a possibility?

As has happened so many times in the last 1,600 years, the men of faith have murdered a man of the mind.

Greece has a surprisingly lively high-tech scene.

Here 's the breakdown of religious groups in various US cities (link from Shaw Kenawe) -- my city has the highest "unaffiliated" percentage at 42%!

Planned Parenthood is starting to fight back against the smear-video campaign, and objective investigations have found no wrongdoing.

An atheist confronts the philosophical conundrum of meat-eating.

Rick Perry's campaign is a sign of the zombie apocalypse.

Who wrote this dress code, Ayatollah Khomeini?

Tim McGaha contemplates an alternate ending to World War II.

The word "hero" is sometimes used cheaply.  These men deserve it.

The "intelligent designer" must be both malevolent and incompetent.

Here's the Republican race in one chart.

Some Islamic clerics join the fight against global warming.  It could make a big difference.  Our own next President will need to get on board, and the Latino vote could help ensure that.

Let's build Trump's wall!  Seriously, he's no longer a joke, and saner Republicans are growing alarmed at the enduring strength and support of what's basically a personality cult.  Pics from his giant rally in Mobile, Alabama, capture the spirit of the movement.  And is there a Trump-Cruz axis of evil?

If you've ever been to Italy, Greece or Iran, and you haven't yet responded to my travel-info post, please click here.

21 August 2015

Putting Trumpism into practice?

I know I said I was swearing off Trump stuff this week, but this is too much.

Two brothers in Boston reportedly urinated on a homeless Latino man and then beat him with a metal pole, leaving him with a broken nose and other serious injuries.  When arrested, they justified themselves by saying "Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported."  (Reports don't say whether the victim was in fact an illegal alien, a US citizen, or a legal resident -- not that the thugs could have known anyway, and not that their actions would have been any less evil even if he had been an illegal.)

That would be bad enough, but what is really shocking here is Trump's reported comment when told of the attack:

"It would be a shame," Mr. Trump said, before adding: "I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate."

Holy shit!  He couldn't come up with a word of serious condemnation for a violent assault?  He couldn't have forcefully declared that he never intended his words to encourage acts of racist violence, and called upon any other "people who are following me" who might be tempted to such behavior to restrain themselves?  What on Earth does beating up a vulnerable person have to do with loving one's country and wanting it to be great?  This isn't funny any more.

Some of Trump's fans will likely applaud even this as yet another example of his exuberant repudiation of political correctness.  They're wrong.  Violence is not the same thing as words, however offensive, and repudiating an act committed by someone else in your name is not the same thing as repudiating your own earlier views.

In fairness it's possible that Trump was misquoted, or that he was responding to a less-than-fully-accurate description of the event.  It's possible that soon, realizing the gravity of this, he will condemn those men's actions as forcefully as they deserve.  If not, we can only assume that his initial response above actually reflects his true feelings -- and draw the appropriate conclusions.

UpdateTrump has condemned the attack.

19 August 2015

Radical reactionaries

It's easy to dismiss Republican rhetoric as merely rhetoric, but sometimes people mean what they say, and it's necessary to consider what the results would actually look like if they kept their promises.

Republican rhetoric on abortion runs to euphemisms ("personhood", "protecting the unborn"), and so forth, calculated to avoid any direct references to the people (pregnant women) whose self-determination would be abrogated by their plans.  When they're confronted by specific questions, though, the mask can slip, as it recently did with Mike Huckabee (found via Republic of Gilead).  He was asked about an actual current case in Paraguay in which a 10-year-old rape victim was refused an abortion due to the strict laws in that devoutly Catholic (that is, backward) country:

"Let nobody be misled, a 10-year-old girl being raped is horrible, but does it solve a problem by taking the life of an innocent child?" he asked..... Huckabee added later, "When I think about one horror, I also think about the possibilities that exist and I just don’t want to think that somehow we discounted a human life..... Let’s not compound the tragedy by taking yet another life."

If there is no exception for a 10-year-old rape victim, there will be no exception for anybody, ever.

Huckabee has also said that, as President, he would make abortion de facto impossible by "acting as if zygotes have Constitutional rights", which also would eliminate at a stroke any exceptions for rape, incest, etc., since actual, born persons who were conceived as a result of such acts have the same Constitutional rights as everybody else.  (This could only pass muster in the courts if they had been thoroughly stacked by the wingnuts.  Courts are supposed to consider the intent of laws, and it's unlikely that the authors of the Constitution intended its provisions to apply to blastocysts.)  He has even talked about using the FBI and federal troops to suppress abortion, effectively turning the culture war into an actual civil war.

Huckabee is an extreme case, but far from alone.  As I discussed here, Rubio and Walker (who are among the top contenders for the Republican Presidential nomination) have also taken radical, no-exceptions stands against abortion.  After their victories in 2010 and 2014, Republican state legislators passed many stringent abortion restrictions.  The worst of these have been stopped by the courts, but a Republican President would mean two or three more Scalias on the Supreme Court, and the end of Roe v. Wade and any constraint on anything which that President and Congressional Republicans chose to do to enact religious taboo into civil law.

Abortion is not rare.  There are 700,000 to 800,000 abortions per year in the US.  Other Republican policies, such as opposition to certain forms of contraception and to effective sex education, would greatly increase the number of unintended pregnancies and therefore the demand for abortion.  Outlawing abortion would create a huge underground industry of illegal abortion clinics, sleazy and dangerous (as prohibition has made drugs, prostitution, and in earlier times alcohol sleazy and dangerous) -- perhaps even restrictions on travel as women tried to get the procedure in other countries where it remained legal.

Pregnancy due to rape is not as rare as people like Todd Akin think, either.  There are at least 30,000 such cases in the US per year, of which about two-thirds are aborted.  It's now clear that if the Republicans got their way, there would be no exceptions for these.

Republican success on abortion policy alone would mean a vast, radical transformation of American society.  If half the population lost one of the most fundamental freedoms of all -- the freedom to control their own reproduction -- the US could no longer claim to be a free country in any meaningful sense.  It would be a massive-scale intrusion into private life by government diktat, a totalitarianism worthy of Lenin.

Add in their efforts to strip away gays' recently-won equality and freedom, to obliterate separation of church and state, to crush freedom of expression in cases like blasphemy and pornography (while declaring money to be speech in Citizens United), and to effectively eliminate long-standing safety-net programs like Social Security -- and the US would practically cease to be a modern country and degenerate into a weird crypto-theocracy, with the state enforcing religious values at odds with the inclinations of most of the people.  It would be very different from the country we know today.

Could this actually happen if they won the Presidency?  In theory the checks and balances built into our system ought to prevent much of it, but given how hysterical and extremist the Republican party has become since 2009, if they were to keep Congress while winning the Presidency and thus ultimately the Supreme Court -- well, no system of government is perfect.  Even ours can only work properly if a critical mass of the people running it understand and defend its principles.

We don't know how much damage these radical reactionaries could do if they won more power, and we need to make sure we never get the chance to find out.

[Personal note:  Today is the ninth anniversary of this blog.]

17 August 2015

Brief reminder -- the big picture

It's easy to get caught up in the minutiae of political campaigns, but I always keep my eye on the big picture.  We're engaged in a very deep, protracted cultural war, the nature of which I've touched on here and here and here and here, among other places.  Politics is one battlefield on which that war is being waged, even if many of the main players are only vaguely aware of the ultimate significance of their own roles in the drama.

Leaders come and go.  Political parties come and go.  Even nations come and go.  The broader civilizational struggle remains what it is.

16 August 2015

Link round-up for 16 August 2015

A promising Republican candidate drops out.

Here are some travel posters for places we can't go yet (found via Mendip).

You can't tell me this author didn't know exactly what he was doing.

Here's what a Trump Presidency might look like.

How can we discover what God wills for our lives?

Here's how the Abrahamic religions differ (found via Squatlo Rant).

Pluto has flowing glaciers and a hazy sky.

Wise words from Jefferson should be heeded by those who want to run modern society according to the Bible.

Several Dutch cities are experimenting with basic income.

An animated map dramatizes the spread of religions -- it needs something to show the more recent rise of unbelief in all populations, though.

200 million internet users now have ad-blocking software, and believe me, it will increase.

Tattoos are not only repulsive, they're toxic.

Not everyone in Michigan was happy with Trump's visit. But there's a reason why his fans love what he says.

If you patronize Wal-Mart, you're complicit in horrific cruelty against intelligent, self-aware beings.

As the Christian Right declines in political power (found via Republic of Gilead), its rhetoric grows even more violent and threatening.

Enough with the Bernie-bashing.

Illegal migrants trying to reach Europe are being attacked by Lesbians.

Juan Cole has the real story of Iraq 2007-2011, including "the Surge" and how Nouri al-Maliki manipulated Bush and Petraeus (found via Green Eagle).

ISIS is still sadistically murdering gays, and has elevated the rape of non-Muslim women and girls into an act of piety.

Enough of this nonsense about the Clinton e-mails!

Are non-Trump Republicans any better?  Rand Paul doesn't understand economics (warning: horrid proofreading).  Ted Cruz is really more hateful and more dangerous than Trump.  And Mike Huckabee is still Mike Huckabee.  Here's some more desperate goofballery.  At least it's entertaining (found via Squatlo Rant).

Despite Senate melodrama, House Democrats virtually guarantee a win for Obama's nuclear deal with Iran.  The opposition ignores its very comprehensive safeguards.  Most American Jews, and most Americans more broadly, support the deal (found via Politics Plus).  Top nuclear weapons experts (found via Fair and Unbalanced) and retired military leaders speak out in favor (more here).

Disastrous floods in Texas are directly linked to global warming.

The Mexican government responds to Trump's "wall" blather.

Bernie has a brother in the UK who takes after him.

A Kansas county lives under a reign of terror, and there's a specific reason why it can't be stopped.

Fetal tissue research has helped almost everyone and saved millions of lives.  Even Ben Carson defends it (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

A culture of coddling is infantilizing university life (found via GoodShit).

Here's how black Americans view the Presidential candidates.

Karl Marx was right.

Yes, the Civil War was about slavery, period (found via GoodShit).

Mormonism can't hide its goofy theology any more (found via Republic of Gilead).

Here's a look at chemical weapons from World War I (found via Mendip) -- some disturbing images.

Gosh, it's getting so hard to find teachers!  This "Christian university" may soon have problems recruiting as well.

Family values?  Not when they undermine the power of religion.

Intra-wingnut warfare:  Trump supporters deluge Erick Erickson and Megyn Kelly with some truly shocking abuse.  Pat Buchanan warns of a Republican conspiracy against Trump, but he won't go quietly and very likely won't go at all, and the enthusiasm he arouses can't be transferred to some ordinary candidate, especially the hopeless Jeb.

And with that, enough Trump stuff!  I'm swearing off him for at least a week.

15 August 2015

Video of the day -- The Donald dance remix

Found via Mock Paper Scissors.  Make America grating again!

12 August 2015

An election like no other

I'm beginning to see why Donald Trump is so popular in certain quarters.  The plutocrat populist just addressed a rally in Michigan, and he didn't stint on the red meat:

"Ford is building a $2.5 billion plant in Mexico," he roared to a packed auditorium in Birch Run, Michigan, and 2,000 voices responded with lusty boos. "I’ll actually give them a good idea. Why don’t we just let the illegals drive the cars and trucks right into our country?"

The real estate developer and former reality TV star boasted that "President Trump" won’t let Ford move jobs to Mexico and will convince the automaker's Chief Executive Officer Mark Fields to bring jobs back to the United States.

"I would say, the deal is not going to be approved, I won’t allow it. I want that plant in the United States, preferably here," he said, as the crowd rose to its feet, chanting "U.S.A.," punctuated by a woman shouting "Detroit."

Now that is the kind of thing people have been waiting to hear.  I actually don't know whether the President has the power to "approve" or block US companies from moving jobs overseas or not, and I don't believe Trump himself knows that either.  But at a time when we can't even get our mainstream Democratic politicians to take a firm stand against the TPP, any candidate who promises to use the Presidency's considerable powers of pressure for the right ends is going to get serious consideration from a broad cross-section of people.  Hell, one more speech like that and I might consider voting for the $#!^%@& myself.

Well, actually, no.  He's an arrogant, vulgar, abusive, misogynistic, hypocritical, global-warming-denying, thin-skinned hothead whose temperament, if nothing else, is wholly unsuited to the Presidency.  What's more, he's changed positions on several major issues -- who knows how far his promises about what he'd do in office can be trusted?  (His own Trump brand clothing line is made in Mexico.)  So no, I haven't forgotten that he's a master showman, and I won't be voting for him.  But I want to see Hillary making speeches like that.

Speaking of which, there was a startling development yesterday on the Democratic side of the race.  A poll of New Hampshire Democrats showed Bernie ahead of Hillary by 7 points, 43.6% to 36.5%.  Yes, she's still far ahead nationally, and yes, New Hampshire is a neighbor of his home state, but it's increasingly apparent that we could have a serious contest here.  One of Bernie's biggest problems has been that his message, heavily weighted toward strictly economic issues, has had less appeal to the minority voters who make up such a big part of our base.  But now that he's come out in support of police body cams (something Hillary has long advocated), steps to make voting easier, and other such measures, that weakness too may begin to fade.

I have mixed feelings about this.  The first concern, the absolute concern, must be to prevent the utter disaster of a Republican winning the Presidency.  We can't afford to take any risk of that.  And as I explained here, Hillary has a critical advantage -- voters trust her on national security far more than they trust the Democratic party in general.  I feel confident that she could beat whomever the Republicans nominate.  I'm a lot less confident that the broad mass of the electorate will put an avowed socialist into office. Nominating Bernie would carry the risk of defeat and the catastrophe of one of their flaming right-wing nutballs (it hardly matters which one) wielding executive authority, choosing several Supreme Court justices, and threatening the lives of thousands of American troops and hundreds of thousands of innocent Middle Easterners with some deranged new Bushian military adventure.  We can't take that chance.

But what if it starts looking like Bernie, too, could win?  A few polls have shown him beating at least some of the Republican contenders.  This conservative comment thread suggests that at least some conservative voters might be receptive to parts of his message.  I've long observed that when the specific elements of socialism are put before Americans, they win broad support, often majority support -- it's just the word "socialism" that people have been trained to recoil from.  What if Bernie's the guy who can finally overcome that?

And I remember that there was a time, some years ago, when I was against the push for gay marriage.  It was too radical, I thought, too much too soon.  It would provoke a backlash, endanger lesser but more winnable goals.  Well, as we all know now, I was wrong and those who pushed for the bolder vision were right.

But it would be a hell of a gamble.  We'd be betting everything on one roll of the dice -- with defeat meaning a theocrat in the most powerful office on the planet.

I'm not trying to suggest a parallel between Trump and Sanders.  The two are not comparable.  But these two insurgent candidacies do make this an election like no other.  What if they both won their parties' nominations?  A Sanders-Trump race would offer the country a stark choice -- the avowed socialist vs. the epitome of the capitalist ruling class.  It's commonly said that Americans don't like extremes and that the candidate closest to the center usually wins.  But it's also commonly said that people are fed up with politics as usual.  Perhaps they're ready to make that stark choice.

What I do know is, whether it's Hillary or Bernie, I'm going to be doing my damnedest for our nominee, with every word and dollar I can offer.  There's too much to lose -- and to win -- to do any less.

11 August 2015

It's not just Trump -- they're all dangerous

Even though Donald Trump is dominating the Republican contest, we shouldn't ignore the other candidates.  The contrast between our clear front-runner and their motley swarm of hopefuls can easily look like Snow White and the Seventeen Dwarfs, but one of those dwarfs will eventually emerge as a serious contender for the Presidency, and it probably won't be Trump.

During the debate Scott Walker, one of the leading Republican candidates, had an exchange with Megyn Kelly which didn't get much coverage in an MSM fixated on the Trump tsunami.  It should have.  Here's the exchange (found via Fair and Unbalanced):

KELLY: Governor Walker, you’ve consistently said that you want to make abortion illegal even in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. You recently signed an abortion law in Wisconsin that does have an exception for the mother’s life, but you’re on the record as having objected to it. Would you really let a mother die rather than have an abortion, and with 83 percent of the American public in favor of a life exception, are you too out of the mainstream on this issue to win the general election?

WALKER: Well, I’m pro-life, I’ve always been pro-life, and I’ve got a position that I think is consistent with many Americans out there in that.....I believe that that is an unborn child that’s in need of protection out there, and I’ve said many a time that that unborn child can be protected, and there are many other alternatives that can also protect the life of that mother. That’s been consistently proven.

This is an astonishingly radical position.  Most anti-abortion politicians at least accept exceptions to a ban in cases where the pregnant woman's life is at risk.  Walker evidently rejects even that.  And the suggestion that the issue never really arises in those terms shows Akinesque ignorance of biological reality.  As with Akin, Walker's statement ought to be a disqualifying one, especially being made in front of an audience of 24 million.

Another leading candidate, Marco Rubio, also recently expressed a radical anti-abortion stance, suggesting that he only accepts a rape exception as a tactic to make a ban easier to pass, implying that the ultimate goal is to phase out such exceptions.

The Republicans' position, if enacted into law, would radically change the nature of American society and the status and freedom of women within it.  Hillary Clinton, for one, is calling attention to this:

They brag about slashing women’s health-care funding. They say they would force women who’ve been raped to carry their rapist’s child. You don’t hear any of them supporting raising the minimum wage, paid leave for new parents, access to quality child care, equal pay for women or anything that will help to give women a chance to get ahead.....[Trump's] language may be more colorful and more offensive, but the thinking, the attitude toward women is very much the same.

She's been going after Rubio in particular, but the point is, Trump differs from the rest of the Republican field more on style than on substance.  John Kasich did get some kudos for expressing more tolerant views on gays, but a deeper look shows that his views aren't really all that progressive -- and even what Kasich did say was enough to make conservative commenters on some sites write him off as someone they could never support.

This is a radical party that wants to drag the country into some weird Handmaid's Tale nightmare where religious taboo obliterates personal freedom.  That would be just as true even if Trump wasn't in the race.  It might even be more noticeable.  We can't afford to forget it.

09 August 2015

Link round-up for 9 August 2015

Somebody is really into Taylor Swift.  And dominoes.

Kaveh Mousavi has posted a response to my request for travel info about Iran.

Trump would approve -- Bulgaria is building a border wall to keep illegal migrants out of Europe.

The city of Bath, UK, has this unusual work of 18th-century architecture.

Rosa Rubicondior, a blogger on my must-read list, has an e-book out.

Christians seek money to put up 1,000 anti-gay billboards, because apparently God needs help (found via Republic of Gilead).

This schoolteacher displays the full ugliness of religious bigotry.

A new book dissects the anti-New-Atheist crusade (link from Shaw Kenawe).  Here's New Atheism in a nutshell.

The Donald is pugnacious as ever, and he still has plenty of fans.  Here's how one of them thinks.  His battle with Megyn Kelly is empowering misogyny.

Tim McGaha has some informed speculation about the loss of Malaysia's flight MH370.

Here's something of the philosophy that led Obama to make the Iran nuclear deal.

Maybe Putin shouldn't have attacked a country his military depends on for parts.

The Czech Republic's famous "skull church" well reflects the morbidity of Abrahamic religion.

Israel is cracking down on Jewish religious terrorism.

Responding to China's bluster, India is launching a military build-up.

Democrats relish Republican chaos.

Conservative P J O'Rourke explains why Huckabee is an embarrassment.

Hillary basks in some surprising endorsements.

Horizons sees the Republican crusade against Planned Parenthood as a recipe for disaster.  McConnell has pretty much pre-emptively surrendered -- the trouble is, the rage-right knows itHillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren forcefully push back.  Here's why it matters to people of color.

This week many bloggers noted the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing.  Here's another viewpoint.  Read Earth-Bound Misfit too.

Scott Lively's endless bitching about gays tries out a new angle (found via Republic of Gilead).

North Korea pointlessly starts its own time zone -- well, what can one expect from a country with the only world leader whose hair is worse than Trump's?

DNA reveals the true origin of American Indians, but a few mysteries remain.

Progressive Eruptions brings us a horrid little hexapod.  Actually, wasps in general are disgusting.

What would you see, falling into Jupiter?

NOM isn't dead -- it's going global (found via Republic of Gilead).

The Republican debates were a train wreck.  Brains and Eggs says nobody won, Politics Plus shows why they all deserved to lose, Republic of Gilead excerpts some scary quotes (Walker's is the worst if you pay attention), Ramona's Voices saw an empty reality show, Lady Freethinker catches some fibs, and Green Eagle found the whole thing a meaningless bore.  But check out these cool caricatures (found via Crooks and Liars).

07 August 2015

The showman in his element

I don't have a TV and didn't watch the Republican debate latest episode of The Adventures of Donald Trump, but I did follow it on a couple of right-wing forum sites that had open threads to discuss the debate in real time.  Republicans are the intended audience, after all, and how they reacted to what they were seeing is of more practical significance than what objectively happened.

My impression is that not many minds were changed -- those who supported a particular candidate mostly found reasons to continue to do so.  The reactions of such dedicated political junkies, of course, may not be typical of less engaged people tuning in to the race for the first time.  There were a lot of those -- the audience for the debate was an astonishing 24 million, far larger than for any previous such event.  And I think we all know why that was -- the presence of a candidate like no other, the unpredictable man.

Sober pundits mostly seem to be declaring Rubio the winner (which does not make me happy, since I think he would be the most difficult Republican for us to defeat in the general), and many are branding Trump the biggest loser, done in at last by his boorish performance.  I am not so sure.  He's been pronounced politically dead before, most notably after his insulting of McCain's war record, only to rise to new heights in polls of Republicans.  We'll have to wait until polls taken in the debate's wake are released, to see the real effects.  In one sense, however, the Piñata Plutocrat has already carried off the trophy dearest to his heart.  Who is still in the spotlight?  Who is being talked about all over the internet?  The "winner" Rubio?  Yawn.  As P M Carpenter observes, The Donald owned the 20 seconds that mattered, without even saying a word, when he alone refused to swear support for the eventual nominee or renounce the option of a third candidacy if the prize eludes him.  He's keeping the nuclear option in hand.

He may be assembling the elements of a casus belli, too.  Among right-wingers on sites I've been looking at, there's a widespread feeling that Fox's moderators were engaged in a fairly blatant and clumsy attempt to take him down (Horizons somewhat concurs).  Given Fox's status as the propaganda arm of the right wing, it would be easy for Trump (who is already castigating Megyn Kelly and her questions as "unfair") to see the hand of the party establishment behind an effort to neutralize him.

Trump's fans view his bully-in-a-china-shop manner and willingness to escalate confrontations as evidence of toughness and the ability to get things done.  They're wrong.  What he actually possesses is an even more awesome power -- the power of not giving a shit.  Other Republicans are constrained by concern for the good of the party, for their own standing in the eyes of the party leadership and of the public, for the success of whatever ideology they hold.  The Nietzschean Übermensch in their midst has transcended such simpering Sklavenmoral.  He has no stake, nothing to lose, and that is what sets him free to do whatever he damn well pleases.

Note the contrast with the prominent insurgent candidate on our own side, Bernie Sanders.  Sanders is very vigorously promoting his own vision and values, and our party and our country will be the better for it -- as is his aim.  He's not in it for his ego.  He has rejected efforts to draw him into attacks on Hillary Clinton, and has explicitly pledged not to run as a third candidate if he fails to win the Democratic nomination.  That's because he does care -- about the good of the party and the country -- and knows that any course that might help elect a Republican President would be a deadly blow against the very values he is trying to promote.

No such sense of honor or loyalty constrains El Donald.  As I expressed here, I believe that after failing (as he surely will) to win the Republican nomination, he will launch a third candidacy.  Not to avenge himself upon the Republican establishment for treating him badly, although he'll surely construct a pretext along those lines.  No, it will be to win himself another year in the spotlight.  Think about it.  His Presidential run has already gotten him far more attention than anything else he's ever done, and it's going to continue (no, I don't believe his debate performance has knocked him out of the race or even hurt him much).  By the time the nomination is finally bestowed upon Jeb or Rubio or Walker, expecting Trump to go quietly into the night as just one more also-ran would be like expecting a drug addict to quit cold turkey after the greatest and longest high of his life.

The master showman will be part of this story for a long time yet -- right up until Hillary's landslide next November, in fact.  If you think I'm hugely enjoying this, you're damn right I am.  And every day I give thanks that this man is the Republicans' problem and not ours.

06 August 2015

Debate day!

It's here at last -- the first real cage match in the Republican nomination fight.  (There was a "forum" for candidates earlier this week, but Trump didn't attend so who cares.)  Only ten of the seventeen (or whatever it is now) Republican candidates made the cut based on polling, with lesser aspirants relegated to a secondary debate already being called "the kids' table".  Either way, we all know what this is going to be -- "serious" contenders like Jeb and Walker, old-line crazies like Huckabee and Cruz, and the zzzzz "now who is that guy again?" no-hopers like Pataki and Graham, all desperately trying to get noticed as more than mere bit players in the latest episode of The Donald Trump Show.

The format for the debate is out (found via Politics Plus).  To get you in the mood, here's a little story illustrating something of Trump's character.  Progressive Eruptions has a rundown on some of the other candidates' desperate efforts to out-nutty The Donald.  Crazy Eddie's Motie News has drinking games and specialty drinks for the debate -- don't miss Tipsy Bartender's Donald Trump cocktail!  (Updatemore here.)  To see how the show plays among the rank-and-file Republicans who are, after all, its intended audience, Race 4 2016 will doubtless have detailed commentary.  For snark, I'm sure Tengrain's Mock Paper Scissors will be up to the challenge.

Let the feces-flinging commence!

04 August 2015

An infidel abroad -- request for info

It will probably be a year or two (if not longer) before I take another trip, but I believe in planning ahead -- at least insofar as deciding where to go is concerned. Long-term readers will be unsurprised that the places I'm considering visiting are Greece, Italy, and Iran.  The question is which one of those three.

If you have been to any of those three countries, I'd be interested in your impressions, especially concerning:

1) Attitudes of local people toward Americans (regardless of what the attitude of the government is).  Is it common to run into hostility or do most people accept having Americans visit the country?

2) Safety.  Is crime a problem?  In the case of Iran, is an American visiting the country likely to be targeted by the government or police in some way?

3) How commonly people speak English.  I can speak a limited amount of Persian, but no Greek or Italian.  I always try to learn some of the language of any place I go to, but some languages are more difficult than others and I don't have the same ability to assimilate them as I did when I was younger (as I discovered when I tried to learn some Russian before my last trip).

4) Cigarette smoke.  Is it easy to avoid in public places, restaurants, and the like?  And I do mean avoid it.  I have bad reactions to even a slight exposure.

5) Vegetarian food -- is it easy to get?

I realize that in a couple of years conditions could change in any of these places, especially with the economic upheaval in Greece and Rouhani's reforms in Iran, but anything readers have experienced will still be worth knowing.

02 August 2015

Link round-up for 2 August 2015

What would happen to a submarine on Jupiter?

Behold the terror of the bike paths.

Mock Paper Scissors fisks a fundie call-to-arms.

How hot would Disney characters be if they were real people?

Roswell NM is the site of a curious culture war.

Music can give you the shivers.

Which god is cooler?

Skye is a spectacular island (found via GoodShit).

Michael Moorcock is as provocative as ever (found via Mendip).

"Fiercely ideological" people please read this.  Political correctness will suffocate our ability to discuss things if we let it.

Bernie Sanders is coming to Portland after wowing the crowds in Dallas.  His view on immigration is more nuanced than the party line.  He won't be the nominee, but he understands the most important thing -- don't do anything that might help elect a Republican.  I hope he's seriously considered for the VP spot.  In the meantime, take this to heart.

This in-depth look at Trump's history of bankruptcies suggests he's too much of a risk-taker to be a national leader.  The experience of this Scottish farmer (found via Shaw Kenawe) and this Indian tribe shows how ruthless he can be.  Booman Tribune sees the Trump phenomenon as a product of the right wing's self-deception, but so far they're just doubling down on the nutty.  Sixteen analysts try to predict how the story ends.

Things look promising for legal marijuana in Michigan.  Let's hope they take heart from Washington state's experience.  And don't let the bad guys alarm you about the edibles.

Conservatives haven't adjusted to how the internet has changed mass communication.

Yes, our country has a terrible problem.  (A Burmese python???) Compare with Britain.

A brutal religious terrorist attack scars Jerusalem.

Germany can now get as much as 78% of its electricity from renewables.

A mostly-female vigilante hacker group targets ISIS.

Krugman explains what's up with the Chinese stock market.

New Zealand's experience shows that legalizing prostitution works.

Chester, England, has a curious architectural feature.

Trump's handling of Sam Nunberg probably doesn't mean he's acting more responsibly.

Despite a video smear campaign, Americans still support Planned Parenthood (found via Fair and Unbalanced, which has a debate on the videos).  But Erick Erickson is fired up for a doomed crusade.

Scott Walker may seem bland, but in some ways he's the worst of the Republican candidates.

People in swing states want action on global warming.  They won't get it from Trump, but these major corporations are taking up the fight.

If you're considering an abortion, stay the hell out of Alabama.

Americans support the nuclear deal with Iran, 54% to 38%.

A proposed moral dilemma for liberals turns out not to be much of one.

The rage right has a new epithet for conservatives who aren't hard-line enough (from commenter AWJ). Their fury at Obama is a projection of their own totalitarianism.

In case anyone was wondering, Pat Robertson is still nuts.

Arguing with right-wingers is generally a waste of time.

A Congressman finds his donations drying up after making anti-gay remarks (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

Georgia conservatards dump a big steaming pile of heritage on a kid's birthday party.

A Missouri state rep is suing to keep his daughters from getting birth control even though two of them are adults.

Sport hunting is basically a coward's game.  Cecil the lion was just the latest in a long line of victims of the Death Dentist.  Then of course there's this.

Religion just gets more ridiculous.

The Paultard cult isn't standing with Rand.

How cool does neverending sex sound?

Ryan Anderson's new anti-gay-marriage book doesn't make the case.

"Christian nation" bullshit is dividing Liberia.