Recently in pundits Category

With a headline like "Trump is no longer the worst person in government," one can immediately ascertain that George Will's acerbic way with words has found a target worthy of his snark; this time, he does not disappoint. This sentence in particular made me laugh:

The oleaginous Mike Pence, with his talent for toadyism and appetite for obsequiousness, could, Trump knew, become America's most repulsive public figure.

Will goes on to describe Pence as "oozing unctuousness from every pore," and calls Joe Arpaio "a grandstanding, camera-chasing bully and darling of the thuggish right"--and then drops this gem:

Trump is what he is, a floundering, inarticulate jumble of gnawing insecurities and not-at-all compensating vanities, which is pathetic. Pence is what he has chosen to be, which is horrifying.

AlterNet's Cody Fenwick remarks that "Will, who left the Republican Party after the rise of Trump, now seems to hold unique disdain for his formerly fellow partisans who emboldened the president's ascent."

It's about time. Would any other conservative wordsmiths care to follow his example by switching sides and using their talents to similarly good effect?

Isn't it ironic?

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"Glenn Beck discussed the dangers of 'fake news' on his radio program yesterday," writes Right Wing Watch, but Beck was spreading false information in the process. Beck claimed that CAIR [Council on American-Islamic Relations] "was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation terrorist trial," and the SPLC [Southern Poverty Law Center] "recently named David Barton a terrorist!"

The "unindicted co-conspirator" charge against CAIR is a bogus smear that anti-Muslim activists have been baselessly leveling for years, while the claim that the SPLC designated Barton a "terrorist" is entirely false and originated with Barton himself.

Right Wing Watch points out the irony of Beck's claims:

It is more than a little ironic that Beck decried the spread of "fake news" by unreliable sources by repeating false claims that are routinely spread by unreliable sources.

haiku, too

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I penned a few more Rude haikus:

"Vote for Trump!" they cried,
and they did, just because they
hate Clinton so much.
The airwaves full of
Benghazi, "crooked," emails:
worst news job ever.
"librul media"
they're called, for doing the work
of conservatives.
Benghazi, emails...
weapons of mass distraction
unleashed on US.
Trump voters proclaim:
"We voted against Clinton"
but that's just bullshit.

Hitch wasn't a philosopher, writes Salon's Joe Winkler amidst criticisms of modern atheism in general:

Lamentably, those we've dubbed the New Atheists, while intelligent, rarely speak in clear terms and arguments. As public intellectuals, or scientists writing outside of their professional field, they rarely partake of the clarity and jargon of classical philosophical arguments. Generally, we look down upon jargon as extraneous, and dense for the sake of denseness, but jargon also gives us specific, clear terms with which to converse.

Winkler criticizes Hitchens in particular:

Hitchens' informal style, the sort of brilliant uncle talking at a party, causes trouble because it appears that he skipped generations of important philosophers and certain intellectual traditions. How do you talk about religion and truth and knowledge without bringing in explicit questions of epistemology, of what we actually say about truth? All of these questions make some of Hitchens' argument feel amateurish, like late-night dorm room philosophizing, which can be brilliant, but rarely precise.

remembering Hitch

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The Daily Mail has some words from the afterword to Christopher Hitchens' upcoming posthumous memoir Mortality:

His widow Carol Blue, writing in the Daily Telegraph, described her husband as 'dazzling' and how his charisma never left him 'in any realm.' [...] She said he was an 'impossible act to follow' and revealed that her husband 'insisted ferociously on living.'

Her piece is supposed to be here, but isn't. Google didn't cache it, either. I guess I'll have to wait until it hits bookstores.

Her reminiscence has been posted here.

World Affairs succumbs to night terrors over current interest in communism, positing that "the specter of 'new communism' ... is mounting a comeback; a new form of left-wing totalitarianism that enjoys intellectual celebrity" thanks to the Badiou, Hardt & Negri, and Zizek:

The appeal rests on one fact above all: only the new communists argue that the crises of contemporary liberal capitalist societies--ecological degradation, financial turmoil, the loss of trust in the political class, exploding inequality--are systemic; interlinked, not amenable to legislative reform, and requiring "revolutionary" solutions.

The piece cautions that "the new communism turns out to be a simple repetition of the old [and] remains within the orbit of leftist totalitarianism:"

Indeed, new communism seems to repeat every theoretical disaster of old communism. It is profoundly elitist, rehabilitating the Jacobin notion of the educational dictatorship. [...] Recent history tells us that authoritarian philosophical and political ideas can still find their way to the streets in advanced capitalist societies. The new communist ideas might yet connect with the young, the angry, and the idealistic who are confronted by a profound economic crisis in the context of an exhausted social democracy and a self-loathing intellectual culture. Tempting as it is, we can't afford to just shake our heads at the new communism and pass on by.

Sad Red Earth provides a pithy summary of their fears:

The Soviet edifice, and within, Zizek as court jester theorist.

Before he's shot.

And a ruthless clerk takes power.

That fate is more like conservative managerial dominance than communism, but I don't expect any better from corporate media outlets.

Marion Nestle's "Utopian Dream: A New Farm Bill" (Dissent, Spring 2012) contains this bit of historical sleuthing:

"Further increasing competition was the advent of the shareholder value movement to force corporations to produce more immediate and higher returns on investment. The start of the movement is often attributed to a 1981 speech given by Jack Welch, then head of General Electric, in which he insisted that corporations owed shareholders the benefits of faster growth and higher profit margins. The movement caught on quickly, and Wall Street soon began to press companies to report growth in profits ever quarter." (p. 17)

Jack Welch's speech at The Hotel Pierre in New York City entitled "Growing fast in a slow-growth economy" (8 December 1981) and was printed as Appendix A in Jack: Straight from the Gut (pp. 447-451). However, its actual content seems far too mild to have catalyzed such a movement. I would suggest instead that the impetus dated back at least to Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom a half-century ago:

The view has been gaining widespread acceptance that corporate officials and labor leaders have a "social responsibility" that goes beyond serving the interest of their stockholders or their members. This view shows a fundamental misconception of the character and nature of a free economy. In such an economy, there is one and only one social responsibility of business - to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition, without deception or fraud. [...] Few trends could so thoroughly undermine the very foundations of our free society as the acceptance by corporate officials of a social responsibility other than to make as much money for their stockholders as possible. (p. 133)

Dennis Prager claims that "rational people" should fear big government, instead of big business, asserting that "You cannot understand the left if you do not understand that Leftism is a religion:"

It is not God-based (some left-wing Christians' and Jews' claims notwithstanding), but otherwise it has every characteristic of a religion. The most blatant of those characteristics is dogma. People who believe in Leftism have as many dogmas as the most fundamentalist Christian.

One of them is material equality as the pre-eminent moral goal. Another is the villainy of corporations.

Without a trace of irony, Prager blames these conclusions on "dogma - a belief system that transcends reason:"

Religious Christians and Jews also have some irrational beliefs, but their irrationality is overwhelmingly confined to theological matters; and these theological irrationalities have no deleterious impact on religious Jews' and Christians' ability to see the world rationally and morally.

This is, quite simply, patriarchal nonsense. Supporting it would require one to ignore religions' wars on sex education, contraception, marriage equality, stem-cell research, global warming, evolutionary biology, cosmology. Prager's conclusion is even weaker:

It is noteworthy that none of the 20th century's monsters - Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mao - were preoccupied with material gain. They loved power much more than money. And that is why the left is much more frightening than the right. It craves power.

Ed Brayton (who refers to Prager as "Rush Limbaugh with a thesaurus") points out the false dichotomy in Prager's argument--where "the right insists that nearly all government action is evil:"

...except when it puts someone to death, goes to war against an enemy that does not threaten or harm us, tortures people or violates their rights in the name of stopping terrorism, of course -- but that it is "socialism" to advocate preventing corporations from violating the rights of workers, squandering the hard-earned money of investors and depositors, or destroying the environment?

Of course giving any government too much power is dangerous, but so is giving a corporation too much power. It wasn't the government that polluted hundreds of square miles of the state I live in with dioxin, or created more than 1200 Superfund sites in the US, or was so negligent that they caused a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It wasn't the government that created the Bhopal disaster or that used hired thugs to kill union organizers. Unchecked corporate power may be less dangerous on a global scale because they don't command armies, but that hardly justifies letting them do whatever they want to do.

Government also didn't lay off millions of workers, issue and then foreclose on fraudulent mortgages, and crash the global financial system.

Michael Fumento talks about leaving the hysterical Right behind, contrasting today's "mass hysteria" with the era when "right-wing publications...were interested in serious research:"

I also founded a conservative college newspaper, held positions in the Reagan administration and at several conservative think tanks, and published five books that conservatives applauded. I've written for umpteen major conservative publications - National Review, the Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, among them.

But no longer. That was the old right. The last thing hysteria promoters want is calm, reasoned argument backed by facts. And I'm horrified that these people have co-opted the name 'conservative' to scream their messages of hate and anger.

As their decibel level has skyrocketed, their collegiality has cratered:

Civility and respect for order - nay, demand for order - have always been tenets of conservatism [but] All of today's right-wing darlings got there by mastering what Burke feared most: screaming 'J'accuse! J'accuse!' Turning people against each other. Taking seeds of fear, anger and hatred and planting them to grow a new crop.

After their somnolence during the Bush regime's excesses, the more excitable conservatives "who practice shutting down the opposition through shouts and smears ... have been promoting hysterical attitudes toward Obama since before he was even sworn in." Writing about conservative commentators, Fumento points out that "when times changed, and it became profitable to move from honorable advocacy to shrill name-calling, they changed too:"

They cashed in their reputations, as well as their ideology, for lucre. Those who didn't - because conservatism runs against screaming, extremism and sensationalism - began disappearing from the talk shows, magazines and store shelves.

He tries the "no true Scotsman" defense--postulating a "real conservatism" that the Right doesn't espouse and the Left doesn't understand--but it's more accurate to say that "conservatism runs on screaming, extremism and sensationalism"...that's the fuel which powers their stuck-in-reverse ideology.

AlterNet sums up Krugman's latest tome End This Depression Now! this way:

It doesn't have to be like this. No external dynamic is keeping unemployment at more than 8 percent and consigning a generation of young workers to an economy in which risk is plentiful and opportunities scarce. It is only a failure of political will -- and an almost universal embrace of conservative voodoo economics - that is keeping us mired in this dark economic moment.

Here's one question from the interview:

JH: I find it frustrating that there is such a concerted effort to create this alternative reality where Keynesian economics has failed and giving tax cuts to the wealthy will create jobs. It's a parallel universe.

Krugman responds, in part, that "Political polarization and income inequality march hand in hand. There's every reason to believe that relationship is not an accident:"

What happens is when the wealthy are very wealthy they can in effect buy political support. The way that's worked in practice in the United States is that the Republican party moves with the interests of the super elite. Not the 1 percent, but the .01 percent. So the extraordinary explosion in incomes of the .01 percent relative to everybody else has pulled the Republican party far to the right to the point where there is no center. The center did not hold, it dissolved and turned into a chasm. That's not because Democrats moved to the left, because they didn't; they moved right. It's because the Republicans moved off into the Gamma quadrant. That is at the root of our political paralysis right now.

When asked about the "austerity madness," Krugman replies that "we are moving back towards sanity:"

Whether it'll be time enough to avoid catastrophe I don't know. I think hammering on these points and pointing to the evidence does seem to work, which is why I published the book. It's in the hope we can get the debate to move a little bit further in the direction of doing the right thing.

According to Michael Lind, technological progress killed social conservatism as "social traditionalists who claimed to be a 'moral majority' in the United States in the 1980s are acting like an embattled, declining minority in the second decade of the 21st century:"

Many paranoid social conservatives blame the triumph of moral liberalism on a conspiracy of sinister secular humanists, using the media and the public schools to indoctrinate their children and grandchildren in a godless morality. But the truth is that social conservatism has been undermined by technological progress, which has increased the opportunities for freedom in matters of sex and censorship while raising the costs of enforcing traditional norms.

Noting that "The pill did more to undermine traditional sexual morality than an imaginary secular humanist conspiracy could have done," Lind notes the effects of other freedom-increasing technologies:

Once most Americans stopped listening to priests, preachers and rabbis who seek to prescribe what married couples do in bed, it was only a matter of time before they stopped paying attention to clerical rules about what anyone does in bed.

He concludes that:

The cultural revolution of recent decades does not mean Americans are less moral than they were in the ages of speak-easies and corner bordellos and vaudeville strip shows. They are just less hypocritical.

and suggests that conservatives stop trying to force the rest of us into their peculiar closets. "Short of reversing the industrial revolution, emptying the cities and restoring agrarian society," he writes, "the best hope for social conservatives is to retreat to minority enclaves like those of the Amish:"

On self-created reservations they can raise their children as they see fit, segregated from mainstream culture and visited, perhaps, by morally liberal tourists nostalgic for an older, simpler way of life.

Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short? No thanks.

Chris Mooney writes that "we live at a time when Republican 'Big Lies'...are everywhere," looking at PolitiFact's analyses:

Republicans were overwhelmingly more likely to draw a "false" or even "pants on fire" rating (the worst of all). Out of the ninety-eight politicians' statements that received these dismal ratings, seventy-four were made by Republicans--or 76 percent.

Mooney weighs the suggestion that "PolitiFact is biased against the right" against "another possibility: the left just might be right more often (or the right, wrong more often)." Also interesting is the Washington Post "Fact-Checker" column, where Republicans got nearly three times as many "four Pinocchio" ratings as Democrats. Rather than "liberal bias" among fact-checking organization, Mooney suggests "A potentially simpler explanation for these results:"

...that the fact-checkers are simply doing their job--and Republicans today just happen to be more egregiously wrong. Democrats, meanwhile, are certainly not innocent when it comes to making misleading statements, but their pants are not on fire.

Mooney continues by observing that "psychology... suggests that one's politics are driven partly by one's personality, and Democrats and liberals are simply more open to new information and experiences as well as more tolerant of ambiguity and uncertainty:"

Moreover, this difference has been exacerbated by a well-documented turn toward psychological authoritarianism in the Republican Party over the past four decades. Increasingly, the GOP has become the party of those who are more rigid, less given to compromise, and more inclined to see the world in black and white.

When talking about political polarization, don't just blame Republicans. TNR's William Galston spreads around the blame for the "complex story" of political polarization. He makes two key observations--that the electorate has polarized while the parties have become ideologically homogeneous, and also notes that "conservatives and liberals have come to understand the practice of politics differently:"

Unlike most other Americans, conservatives seem to believe that compromise represents defeat [and] intransigence represents their only hope; never mind the risks.

Big lies - compromise = disaster

American Conservative refers to neocon progenitor Leo Strauss as the Right's false prophet because:

the practical influence of Strauss, its manifestation as Straussianism, and Straussianism's connection with neoconservatism still present themselves as intriguing problems in contemporary American intellectual history.

Strauss' focus on "the esoteric meaning of such texts...yields an interpretative strategy both naïve and paranoid:"

Strauss's argument about esotericism is both historically and philosophically incoherent and useless in any methodological sense.

His seminal influence on the neocon movement was, perhaps, inevitable:

Finally, regarding the phenomenon of Straussianism, the cult took hold here for the same reasons that cults generally succeed in the U.S.: ignorance, inexperience, and a desire to have a simple answer to complex problems.

Michael Lind asks why do conservatives hate freedom? while admitting that " The question may be startling:"

After all, don't conservatives claim they are protecting liberty in America against liberal statism, which they compare to communism or fascism? But the conservative idea of "freedom" is a very peculiar one, which excludes virtually every kind of liberty that ordinary Americans take for granted. [...] Since World War II, mainstream conservatives have opposed every expansion of personal liberty in the United States.

The "appallingly authoritarian" conservative movement opposed civil rights legislation, legalization of contraception and abortion, recognition of LGBT rights (including their current campaign against marriage equality), among other things such as protecting the rights of suspected and accused criminals. Lind asks, "What would America look like, if conservatives had won their battles against American liberty in the last half century?"

Formal racial segregation might still exist at the state and local level in the South. In some states, it would be illegal to obtain abortions or even for married couples to use contraception. In much of the United States, gays and lesbians would still be treated as criminals. Government would dictate to Americans with whom and how they can have sex. Unions would have been completely annihilated in the public as well as the private sector. Wages and hours laws would be abolished, so that employers could pay Third World wages to Americans working seven days a week, twelve hours a day, as many did before the New Deal. There would be far more executions and far fewer procedural safeguards to ensure that the lives of innocent Americans are not ended mistakenly by the state.

That is the America that the American right for the last few generations has fought for. Freedom has nothing to do with it.

Andrew Sullivan's NewsBeast cover story calls Obama the first gay president and talks about attending a Spring 2007 "private fundraiser in a tony apartment in Georgetown" where Obama equivocated on marriage equality with "I think civil unions are the way to go. As long as they are equal." Sullivan was disappointed with this "excruciating nonposition:"

I didn't believe it. I thought he was struggling between political calculation and his core belief in civil rights. And it was then that I realized he was both: a cold, steely, ruthless, calculating politician who nonetheless wanted to do the right thing in the end.

In the runup to last week's announcement, Sullivan writes that "I braced myself for disappointment. And yet when I watched the interview, the tears came flooding down:"

I was utterly unprepared for how psychologically transformative the moment would be. To have the president of the United States affirm my humanity--and the humanity of all gay Americans--was, unexpectedly, a watershed. He shifted the mainstream in one interview. And last week, a range of Democratic leaders--from Harry Reid to Steny Hoyer--backed the president, who moved an entire party behind a position that only a few years ago was regarded as simply preposterous. And in response, Mitt Romney could only stutter.

He disagrees with the cynics who call Obama's statement of principle "pure and late opportunism:"

...when you step back a little and assess the record of Obama on gay rights, you see, in fact, that this was not an aberration. It was an inevitable culmination of three years of work. He did this the way he always does: leading from behind and playing the long game. [...] This, by any measure, is an astonishing pace of change in one presidential term. In four years Obama went from being JFK on civil rights to being LBJ: from giving uplifting speeches to acting in ways to make the inspiring words a reality.

update (5/15):
History News Network (h/t: Will Bunch) assails the magazine for "cheap sensationalism," noting that "Newsweek is desperate for sales:"

The caption is a superficial way to characterize an important development of thought that the president -- along with the country -- has been making over recent years. It is also entirely wrong. [...] There can be no doubt that James Buchanan was gay, before, during, and after his four years in the White House. Moreover, the nation knew it, too -- he was not far into the closet.

update (5/17):
Michelangelo Signorile notes that "For almost four years the president, for political reasons, didn't say he was for marriage equality:"

Then, after being pressured by gays, and after many in his own administration couldn't hold back their own support for marriage equality, the president announced his support in the midst of an election campaign.

The president still qualifies his support, arguing that marriage is a state issue rather than a federal right...the president still hasn't signed the executive order that would give LGBT people who work for federal contractors protections from employment discrimination.

"Let's give the president immense credit for coming out for marriage equality," writes Signorile, but "let's leave the 'gay president' label to those of the past who actually may be shown to have been James Buchanan and--in a fact especially horrifying to Republicans--Abraham Lincoln.

Joshua Holland's interview with Charles (Little Green Footballs) Johnson shows that Johnson "has undergone a remarkable political transformation over the past five years:"

Visit LGF today, and you'll find posts decrying his former fellow travelers' knee-jerk Islamophobia, debunking the Breitbrats' steaming piles of nonsense and defending the Obama administration against scurrilous charges from Fox News.

This part of the interview is particularly telling:

JH: You say you have regrets. I wonder is there one thing that you regret more than others? Is there something that stands out in your mind?

CJ: I was totally wrong about Barack Obama. That's one of my main regrets at this point. I really fell for a lot of the right wing propaganda, and I thought he was going to be a communist and a radical leftist and all that stuff. I believed a lot of the propaganda about him. If I could go back I would vote for him now... [...] That was one of the things that really woke me up, seeing the truth as opposed to all the lies that were being spread by this blizzard of propaganda.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Haidt exclaims that "the last 2 weeks have pushed me to be more explicit about criticizing the Republican Party:"

I don't think there's a way forward for our country until something happens that leads to a massive reform of the Republican Party.

"Republicans," he continues, "are irrationally committed to fighting all tax increases," and therefore he concludes that:

Republicans deserve much more of the blame for our current dysfunction, and I am rooting for anything that will change them. That could be a reform movement from within, or a crushing defeat in some distant future election, which empowers the few remaining moderates in the party...

Know hope.

update (5/21):
Haidt walks back his statements, thoughtfully commenting that "my argument in the post was wrong, and...I seem to have gotten 'carried away' by my liberal inclinations."

Dissent observes that "The signal achievement of the Occupy movement, at least so far, is to challenge the conservative reasoning and the narrative that accompanies it:"

"We are the 99%" conveys a deeply moral, democratic message that represents a leap beyond what most left activists have been saying since the 1960s.

"But," the piece continues, "the very breadth and openness of this proudly leaderless uprising make it difficult to sustain." In an excerpt from his new book Occupy!, Noam Chomsky asks if we're entering a rebellious world or a new dark age:

The Occupy movement has been an extremely exciting development. Unprecedented, in fact. There's never been anything like it that I can think of. If the bonds and associations it has established can be sustained through a long, dark period ahead -- because victory won't come quickly -- it could prove a significant moment in American history.

Wondering if our current trajectory "could become irreversible," Chomsky notes that "the world is now indeed splitting into a plutonomy and a precariat -- in the imagery of the Occupy movement, the 1% and the 99%:"

That's where we're heading. And the Occupy movement is the first real, major, popular reaction that could avert this. But it's going to be necessary to face the fact that it's a long, hard struggle. You don't win victories tomorrow. You have to form the structures that will be sustained, that will go on through hard times and can win major victories.

Asking is your brain right-wing?, Chris Mooney examines recent neurological research and wonders "should we take this research seriously, given its highly controversial nature?"

Political conservatives in the UK have been found to have a larger right amygdala...and also to rely on it more in performing a risky gambling task. Thus, the hypothesis is that the amygdala is involved in conservatives' greater sensitivity to threat, and a suite of political responses that flow from that - harsher views on crime and punishment, for instance, and a greater distrust of out-groups.

Political liberals, meanwhile, have been shown to have more gray matter in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) - a region thought to be involved in error detection, helping us switch out of automatic responses and into controlled, measured responses - and to show greater ACC firing in a task requiring one to change a habitual pattern of responding. And this, in turn, is hypothesised to relate to liberals' greater tolerance of uncertainty and nuance, and stronger acceptance of political change.

Noting the broader implications of incomplete--although tantalizing--knowledge, he concludes that "There is simply no running away from scientific knowledge:"

This bell cannot be unrung. But interpreting its meaning is something else again. My plea: we all have strengths and weaknesses, and if politics is partly rooted in biology, then tolerance and understanding - a full understanding and acceptance of difference - become more important than ever.

Similarly, here's a look at evangelical voters and how their voting rationales differ from those of secular liberals:

When secular liberals vote, they think about the outcome of a political choice. They think about consequences. Secular liberals want to create the social conditions that allow everyday people, behaving the way ordinary people behave, to have fewer bad outcomes.

When evangelicals vote, they think more immediately about what kind of person they are trying to become -- what humans could and should be, rather than who they are.

It's too bad that their beliefs--political and otherwise--are not more amenable to change.

Chris Mooney makes the case against knee-jerk centrism, particularly the false equivalence of the "centrist 'pox on both your houses' approach:"

Just because the left is not always 100 percent factually correct, it does not follow that the left and right are equally wrong, or that the left and right handle or process information in the same way, or that they're equally biased, just in opposite directions. [...] If knee-jerk centrists really want to make a serious argument, then they should start by showing one or more of the following:

1. The dramatic extent of left anti-science, and how it equals or surpasses right anti-science.

2. The regular mainstreaming of left anti-science in the Democratic Party.

3. Left wing distrust of science that is equal to or greater than right wing distrust, as shown in national polling data.

4. Psychological evidence that the left and scientific community aren't actually aligned, or that the right and the scientific community are just as well aligned as the left and the scientific community.

It should be apparent that no such serious argument will be forthcoming--because none exists.

Roosevelt Institute fellow David Woolner explains how the New Deal shattered the austerity myth and contrasts our current "fragile yet steady recovery" to the double-dip recession in Europe:

We are told again and again [by the GOP] that the way to create jobs is to reduce spending and cut the size of government. Never mind that these policies have failed in Europe over the past two years, while President Obama's rejection of austerity has resulted in sustained economic growth over exactly the same period.

Writing that socialism isn't the answer, Robert Reich wants to reform capitalism--but not, of course, in the up-is-down manner of Republican "reform." Their demands for more top-heavy tax cuts are "perverse" because "Corporations and the rich don't need more tax cuts; they're swimming in money as it is:"

The reason they don't invest in additional productive capacity and hire more people is they don't see a sufficient market for the added goods and services, which means an inadequate return on such investment.

A New-Deal style share-the-profits recovery is thus excluded from consideration:

A resurgent right insists on even more tax breaks for corporations and the rich, massive cuts in public spending that will destroy what's left of our safety nets, including Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, fewer rights for organized labor, more deregulation of labor markets, and a lower (or no) minimum wage.

This is, quite simply, nuts.

Nuts or not, they have plenty of (Astroturf) support.

Lee Harris attacked Chris Mooney's Republican Brain, taking issue with conservatives being labeled anti-science. He strives mightily to portray conservatives as the real scientific heroes of his tale, using the paradigmatic example of Johannes Kepler:

If anti-science means challenging the scientific consensus of one's own epoch, then all the great scientists of the past have been anti-science. As the historian and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn has demonstrated, every scientific revolution begins by overturning the dominant scientific paradigm of its time.

Of course, simply challenging the dominant scientific paradigm of the day does not necessarily make you a great scientist. It may simply make you a crackpot.

Is it just coincidental that conservatives' favorite crackpots merely reinforce their pre-existing beliefs? How convenient. The scientific beliefs supported by liberals, by contrast, have better explanatory and predictive value and comport more closely with the best available evidence instead of following the line of industry-funded propaganda. As a rebuttal to Harris, Chris Mooney published this guest post by Dylan Otto Krider:

The problem with [Harris'] argument is that if you take the greatest scientific revolutionaries of the past couple hundred years - Darwin and Einstein - far from being persecuted, they were hailed by the scientific communities in their lifetimes.

He demolishes the key defense by asking "why is Kepler revered?"

Because despite his most deeply held convictions, and despite the years of denial, in the end Kepler did the difficult thing, the courageous thing, really: based on the evidence, he abandoned his religious conviction. [...]

Kepler is not revered for his Republican brain because of its "deep resistance to yielding before mere scientific evidence." He is revered because when confronted with contrary evidence, his Republican brain did a very un-Republican thing: it changed.

Jonah Goldberg [of Liberal Fascism infamy] writes that Chris Mooney's Republican Brain "purports to show that conservatives are, literally by nature, more closed-minded and resistant to change and facts:"

His evidence includes the fact that conservatives are less likely to buy into global warming, allegedly proving they are not only "anti-science" but innately anti-fact, as well. "Politicized wrongness today," he writes "is clustered among Republicans, conservatives and especially Tea Partiers."

"The data might be correct," Goldberg avers, but "the conclusions are beyond absurd."

Oblivious to the anti-factualness of his criticism, Goldberg blunders onward. He parodies scientific analysis as an "algorithmic whirligig" and calls Mooney's research "inherently undemocratic and ... self-serving bigotry that allows liberals to justify their own closed-mindedness on the grounds that Republicans aren't even worth listening to."

Mooney's response points out that Goldberg "extensively misrepresented The Republican Brain:"

He talks about Republicans having "bad brains," as if this is something that I allege. This is both inflammatory and false. I say no such thing. is hard to miss the irony here. Conservatives are reacting defensively to a book about how they react defensively...just as the book predicted they would.

As for Goldberg's latest screed, The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas, Mother Jones points out the following:

Jonah Goldberg argues that liberals craftily use innocuous-sounding yet hackneyed phrases such as "social justice" and "diversity" to obscure their nefarious intentions. Never mind that issue-framing is nothing new in American politics and that conservatives are pretty darn good at it. And never mind that Goldberg's last book, Liberal Fascism, indulged in the very argument-by-sloganeering that he now decries.

AlterNet's Joshua Holland wonders why the conservative brain is more fearful, and wants us to "Consider for a moment just how terrifying it must be to live life as a true believer on the right:"

Reality is scary enough, but the alternative reality inhabited by people who watch Glenn Beck, listen to Rush Limbaugh, or think Michele Bachmann isn't a joke must be nothing less than horrifying. Research suggests that conservatives are, on average, more susceptible to fear than those who identify themselves as liberals [which] has implications for our political world.

The "nightmarish landscape[of] the world around them" is indeed frightening:

The White House has been usurped by a Kenyan socialist named Barry Soetero, who hatched an elaborate plot to pass himself off as a citizen of the United States - a plot the media refuse to even investigate. This president doesn't just claim the right to assassinate suspected terrorists who are beyond the reach of law enforcement - he may be planning on rounding up his ideological opponents and putting them into concentration camps if he is reelected. He may have murdered a blogger who was critical of his administration, but authorities refuse to investigate. At the very least, he is plotting on disarming the American public after the election, in accordance with a secret deal cut with the UN and possibly with the assistance of foreign troops.

On issues as diverse as immigration, terrorism, violent crime, "sharia law," "death panels," global warming "hoaxes," gay "indoctrination" in sex-ed classes, rampant voter fraud, and the ever-popular "War on Christmas," Holland implores us not to "look at these specters haunting the right with exasperation or amusement, but just consider for a moment how bleak the world looks to those who buy into these ideas." It's hard to be empathetic toward their self-inflicted fantasies when they're burying us under a blizzard of bullshit, but we must try.

In his piece on anti-gay pseudoscience, Mooney examines "the underlying psychology behind how conservatives, especially religious ones, can believe such falsehoods" about same-sex marriage (such as Amendment 1 in North Carolina) and asks "Don't Christian conservatives want to be factually right, and to believe what's true about the world?:"

And shouldn't a proper reading of this research actually come as a relief to them, and help to assuage their concerns about dangerous social consequences of same-sex marriage or civil unions? If only it were that simple. We all want to be right, and to believe that our views are based on the best available information. But in this case, Christian conservatives utterly fail to get past their emotions, which powerfully bias their reasoning.

"Christian conservatives," he observes, "rely on their gut emotions to come up with wrong beliefs:"

Their deep emotional convictions guide the retrieval of self-supporting information that they then use to argue with, to prop themselves up. It isn't about truth, it's about feeling that you're right -- righteous, even.

"In the end," he concludes, "facts are facts -- and emotions and gut instincts are an utterly unreliable way of identifying them:"

We can try to be understanding of people different from us -- even when they're manifestly failing at the same task. But the latest research makes it more untenable than ever to base public policy on gut-driven misinformation.

update (5/3):
Amanda Marcotte contemplates the psychology involved, and asks, "Do they really believe this shit?"

I'm not so sure. I've said it before, but I think it's worth repeating: I think they only "believe" it. Which is to say, there are two kinds of ways people believe something. They have things they believe because they're factually accurate: That it's raining outside, that items dropped will fall, that Barack Obama is President. Then there's stuff that isn't real that people believe: that there's a God in heaven and an afterlife, that miracles happen, ghosts exist. These are things you don't really believe in the same way you believe in truths. It's more that these beliefs are convenient to apply a belief-like approach to, because the stories make you feel good or, more commonly, because joining in the belief connects you to your community.

In the end, she writes, "I don't think they believe-believe this stuff:"

I think they're just confused about the difference between fake belief and real belief, though I think they're highly motivated to be confused about it. After all, that confusion helps generate right wing identity. They may even mistakenly believe it's politically beneficial, though the available evidence shows that it instead causes everyone else to think they're nut jobs.

OWS success

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Salon asks if May Day succeeded, and Sean Captain suggests that "May Day failed to become a significant national news story [because] it may have looked like just another case of vague protestors shoving and getting shoved by police:"

A long view of the movement - beyond day-to-day sit-ins and arrests - reveals no "typical occupier" in New York City. Unless "typical" simply means that they are unhappy with and want to change one or more aspects of U.S. government or business institutions. Some advocates are crystal-clear in their critique and reform goals. Others are virtually opaque with vagaries.

That inevitably makes the loosely connected movement hard to parse from the outside.

Josh Harkinson writes that "the Occupy movement's May Day protests were a resounding success:"

...with demonstrations held in more than 100 cities and a march in Manhattan that drew some 30,000 people--more than any Occupy event last fall. But if the movement is going to sustain the kind of momentum that captured the nation's attention six months ago, it must begin to evolve in a different direction. [...] What Occupy really ought to do if it intends to live on is plunge directly into electoral politics on the local, state, and congressional level. It ought to co-opt the Democratic Party.

Occupy Election Day!

Amanda Marcotte asks "why are conservatives petrified by sexual freedom?" and reaches some unflattering conclusions. "Pure B.S. is the lingua franca of the anti-choice movement," she writes, which "reveals the utter terror and hatred of feminism, particularly of feminist demands for women's sexual liberation, that is at the heart of the anti-choice movement." In contrast, "most progressives want to make sure that every woman can have sex on their own terms without apology:"

That shouldn't seem so terrifying to conservatives, but it clearly is. It has been terrifying to conservative forces throughout history and across cultures, so there's no real reason to be surprised or skeptical that we have that problem in the United States. By ensuring access to safe, legal abortion, the government ensures women have a right to sex without facing unwanted consequences. That kind of validation of women's right to be free, independent human beings is and always has been what this war is over, which is why anti-choicers have to create this elaborate code language to talk about their views.

She goes on to observe that women "are making exactly the gains feminists of the second wave hoped they would:"

Rape and domestic violence rates are down, contraceptive use is up, women are delaying marriage and childbirth, more women are going to college than ever in history, women are popping up in leadership roles in government and media, and heterosexuality is becoming less compulsive. Any fool can see that most of this wasn't possible without women gaining control over their reproductive systems. Realizing they're losing, conservatives are making a big last stand to turn back the clock by taking this critical control away. The fear of female sexuality feels hysterical, primal even, but if you're dedicated to patriarchy, it actually makes perfect sense to fear letting women control their own sex and reproductive lives.

Sara Robinson suggests that we've finally turned the corner away from fascism. Despite her dismay over our "overall conservative drift since the Reagan years ," she is optimistic that "history may look back on George W. Bush's eight years as the 'Peak Wingnut' era -- a high-water mark in radical right-wing influence and power in America." One reason for this is age-related: "conservatives know that the demographic trends are not on their side, and that whatever limited advantages they enjoy now are receding with every election cycle that passes:"

Right-wing America is old, white, rural, and religious -- a cohort that's shrinking with every passing year, and is even now in the process of being swamped by a tide of voters who are younger, urban, ethnically diverse, and largely non-churchgoing. It was that tide, mobilized, that elected Obama -- the first time it's been heard from, but by no means the last.

In 2010, she feared that "the far right [would] manage to consolidate power fast enough to hijack our democracy entirely, and institute the fascist theocracy of its dreams," but what else, aside from the glacial pace of genetic replacement, changed her mind?

Finally, after years of impotence, average Americans have done the one thing that will make all the difference: they woke up and got pissed. Wisconsin was the first sign. Then came Occupy. Now, this spring, it's sprouting up everywhere, to the point where our would-be fascists can't take a step anywhere without getting their feet tangled up by protestors determined to hold them to account.

The Right's sense that "the clock is running out" leads to desperation:

It's rushing to consolidate its gains as fast as it can, in the hope of slamming America as far to the right as possible in the time it has left -- and also building big, ugly legal obstacles that will make it much harder to undo the damage when the younger, more progressive wave that's rolling in finally does assume full control. [...]

Now that the pushback has started, the GOP has locked itself into a self-destructive cycle in which no change of course is possible. As long as it keeps spinning this way, the odds of a Fascist America will continue to diminish by the month [although] we can expect to see an uptick in violent retribution as the most militant members of the far right make a desperate last stand for their vision of the country's future.

Stephen King writes tax me, for f@%&'s sake and points out that even the charitable donations of the 1% can't "assume...America's national responsibilities:"

the care of its sick and its poor, the education of its young, the repair of its failing infrastructure, the repayment of its staggering war debts. Charity from the rich can't fix global warming or lower the price of gasoline by one single red penny. That kind of salvation does not come from Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Ballmer saying, "OK, I'll write a $2 million bonus check to the IRS." That annoying responsibility stuff comes from three words that are anathema to the Tea Partiers: United American citizenry.

Americans tend to worship the wealthy, obviating the need for them to "acknowledge that you couldn't have made it in America without America:"

...those who have received much must be obligated to pay--not to give, not to "cut a check and shut up," in Governor Christie's words, but to pay--in the same proportion. That's called stepping up and not whining about it. That's called patriotism, a word the Tea Partiers love to throw around as long as it doesn't cost their beloved rich folks any money.

In an Internet awash in Hitchens quotes, Ed Brayton picks an unheralded one. In this clip, Hitch is defending free speech against all manner of religious and political encroachments:

The whole speech is--of course--worth listening to, but the money quote is about 7 minutes in:

"My own opinion is enough for me and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, any time. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get on line, and kiss my ass."

Today's moment of sanity is brought to you by Jon Stewart (h/t: David Taintor at TPM):

There's a surfeit of silliness on the Right, attempting to revise history so that former half-term governor Palin's mangling of Paul Revere's ride somehow becomes a little less like word salad. Andrew Sullivan nails it:

One of the most pernicious and dangerous features of Palin is her clinical refusal to understand reality, to accept error, to acknowledge when the facts she has cited are not actually facts, but delusions. And her vanity and pathologies are so deep she will insist that black is white until her minions actually find a source to prove it.

She's dangerous; she's shrewd; she's an exhibitionist. But she is also, we must keep reminding ourselves, a farce. What worries me about this political leader incapable of telling fantasy apart from fact is that, in a long and deep recession, someone who can lie that readily and manipulate religious and cultural resentment as well as she does is a danger. Not just to America, but to the world.

In lieu of a personal appearance, a letter from Christopher Hitchens was read at the American Atheists convention. Here's a taste of it, just to show you that his skills are undiminished:

Our theocratic enemy is in plain view. Protean in form, it extends from the overt menace of nuclear-armed mullahs to the insidious campaigns to have stultifying pseudo-science taught in American schools. But in the past few years, there have been heartening signs of a genuine and spontaneous resistance to this sinister nonsense: a resistance which repudiates the right of bullies and tyrants to make the absurd claim that they have god on their side. To have had a small part in this resistance has been the greatest honor of my lifetime: the pattern and original of all dictatorship is the surrender of reason to absolutism and the abandonment of critical, objective inquiry. The cheap name for this lethal delusion is religion, and we must learn new ways of combating it in the public sphere, just as we have learned to free ourselves of it in private.

Our weapons are the ironic mind against the literal: the open mind against the credulous; the courageous pursuit of truth against the fearful and abject forces who would set limits to investigation (and who stupidly claim that we already have all the truth we need). Perhaps above all, we affirm life over the cults of death and human sacrifice and are afraid, not of inevitable death, but rather of a human life that is cramped and distorted by the pathetic need to offer mindless adulation, or the dismal belief that the laws of nature respond to wailings and incantations.

I hope this isn't Hitch's last gasp; much work remains to be done.

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