Browsing the blog archives for May, 2015.

Rightie Fantasia

Obama Administration


Younger and/or foreign readers may not recall how big a role the alleged moral superiority of small-town America used to play in conservative politics (and still does, to some extent). Republicans portrayed themselves as the party of the “real America”, of family values, as opposed to the decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts. Defense of traditional values played a big role in the 2004 campaign.

You always knew that there was plenty of hypocrisy here, that the heartland had no monopoly on virtue and the coast no monopoly on vice, and that surely some of the loudest family-value types had skeletons in their closets. But what we’re now learning about the Speaker of the House during those years is beyond anything one could have imagined.

I’ve encountered intelligent and thoughtful young people who were certain liberalism encourages sexual permissiveness, which was never what political liberalism was about. Rather, it was the simple idea that what consenting adults do in private is not anyone else’s concern, especially the government’s. And for all we know, political liberals may be less likely than political conservatives to do anything, um, remarkable. All we know is that the people screaming about family values and God’s laws seem at least as scandal-prone as anyone else. Maybe more so.

As I wrote in The Book, there is copious data showing that populations that are religiously and politically conservative have more divorce, more unmarried pregnant teenagers, and usually higher abortion rates (even if abortion is illegal) than people living in more secular, liberal and “permissive” cultures. And I concluded,

It appears that when absolutist morality is publicly enforced, actual human behavior — heterosexual behavior included — is driven into the closet, leaving actual humans with no practical guidance in their actual circumstances.

I say the absolutist approach to morality gets everything backward. It creates too wide a gap between public righteousness and what people are really doing in their private lives, so that the moral rules are not really guiding anyone. And when we cede the presumed moral high ground to the absolutists, too often we squelch open and honest public discussion of our real-world circumstances and moral decisions.

So it is with the Duggars; the conservative reaction overall has been to try to pretend nothing happened, or if it did happen it’s been dealt with and we should all just get over it. One rightie screeched

“‘Abuse’ is the new ‘racism,’” Boyer, who also sits on the board of the Home Educators Association of Virginia, wrote. “As soon as you’re accused of it, you’re considered guilty. Just what would you like the Duggars to have done? Turn all their kids over to a godless psychologist? Maybe one supplied by the local public school system where ‘abuse’ is so unheard of? Should they have skinned Josh alive, rolled him in salt and hung him on a meathook?”

Translation: The cognitive dissonance is hurting my brain! Everybody shut up about Josh Duggar so that I can go back to believing only secular liberals do depraved things!

Of course, righties live in fantasy land about other things, too. Krugman again:

Menzie Chinn notes the continuing failure of the Kansas experiment with supply-side tax cuts. And yes, it is an experiment — Gov. Brownback said it was, and by cutting taxes radically on the basis of ideology rather than any compelling event, Kansas in effect provided us with a natural experiment on exactly what such cuts accomplish. Menzie uses business indicators; I just look at employment growth since Brownback took office, compared with the nation as a whole (red line). No hint whatsoever of a supply-side boost, and of course a terrible fiscal crisis.

So how will this change GOP economic ideology? You know the answer: not at all. We live in an age of right-wing derp, of doctrines that just get repeated (and indeed strengthen their political hold) no matter how wrong they prove. Gold bugs and Austrians are more dominant in GOP circles than they were before seven years of wrongly predicting runaway inflation. Supply-siders are more dominant than ever despite the boom in California and the bust in Kansas.

This is not to say that liberals are always right. But most of the time, when presented with real-world evidence our ideas aren’t working as predicted, we adjust.

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Time for Hunger Games


Paul Krugman tries to explain that not all Americans have trust funds.

We seem to be hearing less these days about cutting Social Security, and we’re even seeing some attention paid to proposals for benefit increases given the erosion of private pensions. But my sense is that Washington still has no clue about the realities of life for those not yet elderly. Which is where that Federal Reserve study comes in.

We learn, for example, that 3 in 10 nonelderly Americans said they had no retirement savings or pension, and that the same fraction reported going without some kind of medical care in the past year because they couldn’t afford it. Almost a quarter reported that they or a family member had experienced financial hardship in the past year.

And something that even startled me: 47 percent said that they would not have the resources to meet an unexpected expense of $400 — $400! They would have to sell something or borrow to meet that need, if they could meet it at all.

 His point is that most of our policy maker are utterly oblivious to the realities of life for these Americans. But maybe they can learn from reality television

On Wednesday, CBS debuted “The Briefcase,” a show in which, as Reality Blurred’s Andy Dehnart explains, “two poor families get $101,000 and have to decide whether to keep it or give it to a needy family, not knowing that family is making the same decision.” He notes it is produced by “Biggest Loser” creator Dave Broome’s 25/7 Productions and Sony, so you know that there’s some experience exploiting desperate people built in to the thing….

… In Vulture, Margaret Lyons does a ferociously great job explaining exactly why the show’s “altruism pornography” is so repulsive, starting with the fact that “In the 2014 fiscal year, Les Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp, earned over $54 million…. There’s something really perverse about Les Moonves earning money based on the emotional and financial anguish of poor people, by making a game-theory spectacle of human suffering that he could end, himself, personally, if he wanted to.”

At least they don’t have to kill each other. Yet.

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When “Religion” Is Just Bigotry

Obama Administration

Conservative Christians live to feel persecuted. It’s what inspires them to get up in the morning.

What would it look like if an objection to same-sex marriage really were purely religious and not bigotry? Let’s take a look —

Did the Dalai Lama Endorse Gay Marriage?

Generally there are no particular prohibitions against homosexuality in Buddhism, and as far as I know only the Tibetans have a canonical text containing such a prohibition, and that text only mentions men. Whether it’s considered to apply to women also, I do not know. As I explain in the article, from the Dalai Lama’s perspective, if a man has received the Precepts and taken vows to uphold them, he would be obligated to not engage in homosexual sex. But other than that, His Holiness doesn’t have a problem with it.

Larry King:What do you think of the whole emerging gay question?

HHDL [His Holiness the Dalai Lama]: That I think is a personal matter. Of course, you see, people who have belief or who have special traditions, then you should follow according to your own tradition. Like Buddhism, there are different kinds of sexual misconduct, so you should follow properly. But then for a non-believer, that is up to them. So there are different forms of sex—so long as it is safe, OK, and if they fully agree, OK. But bullying, abuse, that is wrong. That’s a violation of human rights.”

Larry King: What about same sex marriage?

HHDL: That’s up to the country’s law.

Larry King:What do you think personally about it?

HHDL: That’s OK. I think it’s individual business.  If two people—a couple—really feel that way is more practical, more sort of satisfaction, both sides fully agree, then OK …

Just from a Buddhist doctrinal perspective I disagree with the prohibition on homosexual sex. The only mention of homosexual sex in early scriptures is in the Vinaya, in lists of prohibitions for monastics. But the monastics weren’t supposed to have heterosexual sex, either, so it’s not exactly discrimination. The sexual prohibitions for laypeople are extremely vague and boil down to not causing harm. Over the centuries this has been interpreted to mean following local moral norms, whatever they are, so homosexual sex is discouraged by Buddhism in some parts of Asia, but in other parts nobody cares.

The prohibition against sex for monastics is not about “sin,” but rather is about dropping away distractions from realizing enlightenment. Although you can find the word “sin” in some English translations of Buddhist texts, the concept of “sin” as it is understood in Christianity doesn’t exist in Buddhism.

The point is, though, that His Holiness doesn’t seem to harbor any ill will toward homosexuality. It’s just that he’s obligated to honor a canonical text by a guy named Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), who was a great patriarch of his order. He doesn’t have the authority to override Tsongkhapa unilaterally but must have the agreement of other high lamas to change a canonical rule, so he has a duty to uphold it. This is what it looks like when somebody is honoring a religious rule but is not personally bigoted.

Compare/contrast most conservative Christians, who want to be given the power to dictate terms for everybody. As Sarah Posner wrote of the Duggars, “In their family, they police sex outside of marriage. In politics they police sex between consenting adults, sex between people of the same sex; they are “pure” and “godly” because they police and condemn other people’s sexual lives.”

See also what happened during a recent “panel discussion” on Fox News:

Sean Hannity began by playing a clip of Marco Rubio’s recent remarks that “we are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech.” He then asked American Atheists President David Silverman if there was any truth to that.

“There’s nobody out there trying to get Christian preachers to marry people against their will,” he replied. “What this is really about is bigotry, and you and I can both agree that bigotry is wrong, bigotry is ugly, and bigotry is stupid.” After a moment of what was, for Hannity, unsatisfying cross-talk, the host turned to Pastor Robert Jeffress.

“If a priest does not want to marry a gay or lesbian couple because they’re following their religious belief, is Senator Rubio right?” he asked. “Are we at the water’s edge?”

Not surprisingly, Pastor Jeffress said Rubio “is absolutely correct,” and proceeded to rattle off what he called a “fact” — an interaction at last month’s Supreme Court hearing about same-sex marriage. Jeffress claimed that U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr.’s answer to Justice Samuel Alito’s question about the legal difficulties that states with same-sex marriage bans might face if the Court deems such bans unconstitutional proves that “the Obama administration is sending us a signal that they are going to come after those who believe in traditional marriage.”

That it does no such thing — it being an answer to a question during oral arguments at the Supreme Court — went unchallenged, as Hannity allowed Jeffress to continue to talk over Silverman before passing the conversation to Dr. Samuel Rodriguez, who began by noting that he “completely agrees with Senator Marco Rubio.”

“The moment in our nation when biblical truth becomes hate speech,” he said, “America as we know it will cease to exist.” He compared the “legislative persecution” of Christians in America to the executions of Christians by ISIS, claiming that the former “always” proceeds the latter. “Today’s complacency is tomorrow’s captivity!” he said.

Such over-the-top hysteria doesn’t come from a reasoned, devotional observance of scripture. It comes from fear and bigotry. It also strikes me as a violation of the Commandment against “bearing false witness.” The most conservative Christians will throw “God’s law” under the bus every time when their own biases are on the line (a point I address in The Book).

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Ruining Lives

Obama Administration

I’ve been watching developments in the Duggar “19 kids and counting” scandal. There are reports (I don’t know if official documents have been found) saying that Josh Duggar sued the Arkansas Department of Human Services to prevent them from making a finding against him and possibly to keep them from monitoring the family for further abuse. Basically, the more we learn, the hinkier it gets.

Sarah Posner and others have observed that the family’s concern, and the concern of their apologists, all along has been entirely for Josh. The kid made a mistake. It shouldn’t ruin his life. They got counseling for him (although not for the victims that I heard, and apparently it wasn’t standard counseling).

After all, Mike Huckabee forgave him

“Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable,'” Huckabee wrote in a Facebook post. “He and his family dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities. No purpose whatsoever is served by those who are now trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story.”

Except all reports indicate the family closed ranks and were not that honest with the authorities, and I’ve yet to see indication that the victims have been given any consideration whatsoever.

(We might notice a connection to rape accusations — conservatives often condemn rape in the abstract, but when there’s an actual (male) perpetrator and (female) victim, somehow they become very lenient. We don’t want to run anybody’s life by convicting him of anything.)

Sarah Posner writes,

This week, a recap of their television show on their blog discussed how Jim Bob and Michelle “encourage their kids to take a chaperone along on all their dates so they have someone to keep them accountable and ensure that they stick to their courtship standards.” In their family, they police sex outside of marriage. In politics they police sex between consenting adults, sex between people of the same sex; they are “pure” and “godly” because they police and condemn other people’s sexual lives. But now the public knows that this family which enforces “purity” has covered up the sexual predations—against children, even their own children— of their star son.

The Duggars haven’t shied away from “protecting” children in other contexts. As Right Wing Watch reports, last year Josh Duggar “led a successful campaign to defeat a LGBT nondiscrimination measure in Fayetteville, Arkansas, which he said jeopardized the safety of children,” and that his mother “also ran a robocall pushing for the repeal of the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which she warned would empower ‘child predators’ to threaten ‘the safety and innocence of a child.’”

I’d be willing to bet that the Duggars don’t see their own hypocrisy. Of course they are more moral than other people, because they are Bible-believing Christians. They exist in a state of grace. If they transgress, it’s only a mistake and an opportunity to bask in God’s forgiveness. Anyone else doing the same thing is just depraved.

The “19 kids” program gives me the creeps — I confess I watched about ten minutes of it once. The lot of them, with their anodyne demeanors and determined avoidance of self-awareness are just depressing to me.

Anyway, this takes me to something I wrote in Rethinking Religion:

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that, as often as not, people who are moral absolutists about others’ behavior find ways to rationalize breaking the rules themselves. For example, the Pro-Choice Action Network hosts a web page of stories collected from abortion clinics about anti-abortion activists who seek abortions. A recurring theme of these stories is that the anti-choice woman has persuaded herself that her situation is unique and deserving of special consideration, unlike the other women in the waiting room, who are just sluts.

Of course, anecdotes may be manufactured. Yet there is solid data showing us that rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock pregnancy are higher in conservative “Bible Belt” U.S. states than in more liberal ones, and this pattern seems to replicate itself worldwide. For example, rates of abortion in overwhelmingly Catholic Latin America, where abortion is nearly everywhere illegal and harshly punished, are higher than in the United States and a lot higher than in mostly liberal and allegedly decadent western Europe. More conservative eastern Europe has abortion rates through the roof, however, which drives up the European average.

It appears that when absolutist morality is publicly enforced, actual human behavior — heterosexual behavior included — is driven into the closet, leaving actual humans with no practical guidance in their actual circumstances.

I say the absolutist approach to morality gets everything backward. It creates too wide a gap between public righteousness and what people are really doing in their private lives, so that the moral rules are not really guiding anyone. And when we cede the presumed moral high ground to the absolutists, too often we squelch open and honest public discussion of our real-world circumstances and moral decisions.

I honestly don’t want to know what goes on in the Duggar family when the cameras aren’t running. TLC would be doing them, and the world, a favor by cutting them loose from their contract, IMO. They could use a reality check, I suspect.

Update: Be sure to read I could’ve been a Duggar wife: I grew up in the same church, and the abuse scandal doesn’t shock me. It’s possible Josh’s little mistake is just the tip of an iceberg.

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Why We’re Doomed, Part XXXVII


Between fracking and climate change, water deprivation is becoming a real concern. So the Obama Administration through the EPA has moved to protect water resources from being irreparably depleted or polluted by greedy corporations.

Naturally, the Right is outraged.

The Obama administration announced new protections Wednesday for thousands of waterways and wetlands, pushing ahead despite a fierce counterattack from powerhouse industries like agriculture, oil and home-building — and their supporters in Congress.

On its face, the Waters of the United States rule is largely a technical document, defining which rivers, streams, lakes and marshes fall under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers. But opponents condemn it as a massive power grab by Washington, saying it will give bureaucrats carte blanche to swoop in and penalize landowners every time a cow walks through a ditch.

The Sheep who oppose whatever the right-wing echo chamber tells them to oppose would feel ill-used if their own drinking water dried up or if their grandchildren were born with three heads because of bleep knows what in the water. But in their minds if monied interests drain the aquifers and pollute the rivers to make more money for the 1 percent, that’s not “grabbing,” but if the government tries to protect resources for posterity it’s tyranny.
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Off the Bullshit Scale

Obama Administration

This is possibly the dumbest thing to appear on the NY Times editorial page in some time, which is a real accomplishment considering they run David Brooks twice a week.

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All About Bernie

Obama Administration

I do love Bernie Sanders, and I am looking forward to his debates with HRC. I’m looking to him to keep the campaign about substance. Here’s an interview , and see also Bernie Sanders is a totally legitimate presidential candidate. And it’s time the press started treating him like one.  News media shouldn’t be deciding who our candidates are. And see also Six Things You Need to Know About Bernie Sanders.


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Poor Little Rich Big Shot

Republican Party

We can only hope … 

A judge in Las Vegas has ruled that a lawsuit involving accusations of graft and organised crime ties to casinos owned by the multibillionaire and Republican party funder, Sheldon Adelson, will be heard in the US.

The decision raises the prospect of Adelson facing difficult questions about his business practices following allegations by a former chief executive of his highly profitable casinos in the Chinese enclave of Macau that a well-known triad crime figure was used to bring in high-rolling gamblers and of influence peddling with Chinese officials.

The case potentially has implications for Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands casinos because evidence of ties to criminal organisations could cost them their gaming licences.

It could also have a bearing on the 81-year-old billionaire’s considerable political influence. He is estimated to have spent $150m in a failed bid to secure a Republican victory over Barack Obama in the last presidential election and is being vigorously courted by Republican candidates in the next race.

Basically, Sheldon’s being accused of being mixed up with Chinese organized crime. If I were a suspicious sort of person I’d wonder if money from Chinese gangsters and corrupt Chinese government officials are ending up influencing our elections.

As John Cole says, “Will be fun watching the people hyperventilating about the Clinton Foundation rush to this scumbag’s defense.”

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Taxing the Poor

Republican Party

The mostly Republican state government of Kansas is certain that people who receive food stamps and other assistance are lazy moochers who throw the taxpayers’ money away. For that reason, the destitute of Kansas can no longer  use their benefit debit card on cruise ships or at movie theaters. But the greater indignity is that they are limited to a $25 a day cash withdrawal.

It’s hard to overstate the significance of this action. Many households without enough money to maintain a minimum balance in a conventional checking account will pay their rent and their utility bills in cash. A single mother with two children seeking to withdraw just $200 in cash could incur $30 or more in fees, which is a big chunk of the roughly $400 such a family would receive under the program in Kansas. …

… Since most banking machines are stocked only with $20 bills, the $25 limit is effectively a $20 limit. A family seeking to withdraw even $200 in cash would have to visit an ATM 10 times a month, a real burden for a parent who might not have a car and might not live in a neighborhood where ATMs are easy to find.

The Kansas legislators and governor think that poor people can’t budget. They should look to themselves.

Update: See Kansas keeps on bleeding: Sam Brownback’s tax-cut miracle still hasn’t arrived, and won’t any time soon.

This is what Sam Brownback, Art Laffer and the state Republican Party have turned Kansas into: an economic policy trash fire that channels all the benefits to the top, produces no shared prosperity, is bankrupting the state, and deliberately makes the lives of the less fortunate even more difficult. But don’t worry, they say, just be patient – the economic miracle is just around the corner.

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Same Old Crazy

Obama Administration

Every day I cruise around news sites until something pisses me off, and then I blog about it. Today I think I’m either too jaded or too mellow to be pissed off. And one of those is just as likely as the other.

Anything pissing you off today?

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