Browsing the archives for the Obama Administration category.


Tax Day Links

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Obama Administration

I finished the tax forms yesterday, which for me is a day earlier than I usually get them done. Yay. Here’s some random links:

Peter Bergen and David Sterman, CNN: U.S. right wing extremists more deadly than jihadists

If Little Lulu sees this, will she demand an apology from CNN on behalf of conservatives?

Budget Office Lowers Estimate for the Cost of Expanding Health Coverage Obamacare is working, folks. Of course, what Faux News viewers see is a report by the bleeping American Enterprise Institute that Survey shows ObamaCare sending premiums rising at fastest clip in decades. Right now I haven’t had enough coffee even to guess how AEI managed to massage the data to come up with that headline.

For your comedy break: Marsha Blackburn says the GOP led the fight for women’s equality. Sort of the same way the Confederate States of America led the fight to end slavery, perhaps.

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Christian Persecution Porn

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Obama Administration

Another book preview.

The golden age of biblical epic films may be over, but the golden age of Christian persecution films may have just begun. Eric Brown of the International Business Times reported that an independent film titled God’s Not Dead has grossed more than $34 million in its first three weeks in theaters. Moviefone reported that the indie film was the fifth highest-earning film on the weekend it opened, in March 2014. The highly promoted Divergent and Muppets Most Wanted were among its competition.

The film, which I have not seen, depicts a college student whose philosophy professor demands the class write “God is dead” on a piece of paper, sign it, and hand it in. The student, a Christian, refuses. I assume several other things happen to fill the film’s running time. Eric Brown writes,

“Russell Wolfe, CEO of “God’s Not Dead” distributor Pure Flix, admitted in an interview with the Blaze, the Glenn Beck site, that the film is, by and large, ‘preaching to the choir,’ saying that ‘God’s Not Dead’ helps ‘people know more of why they believe what they believe.’ But what values is the film teaching? Between the film’s abusive Muslims and angry atheists, the biggest take-home is that everyone is out to get Christians.”

I read that not just one, but two indie Christian persecution films are scheduled for release later in 2014, both named Persecuted. This is from a press release about one of them:

“PERSECUTED tells the story of a modern-day evangelist named John Luther, played by SAG Award-nominated and Saturn Award winning actor James Remar ( X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, ‘Dexter’, DJANGO: UNCHAINED, WHAT LIES BENEATH, RED). Luther is the last hold out for a national endorsement to make sweeping reform in freedom of speech. As the government is mandating political correctness while covertly waging a war against religious organizations, a U.S. Senator, portrayed by Oscar-nominated actor Bruce Davison (X-MEN, ‘Lost’, ‘Castle’), and his political allies create a sinister plan of denial and scandal to frame John Luther for murder. Suddenly his once normal life is turned upside down as he becomes a fugitive vowing to expose those responsible. It is a mission that brings him face-to-face with the coming storm of persecution that will threaten the moral ethics and freedoms of America.”

Since “mandating political correctness” usually is code for being called out for telling jokes involving black people and watermelons, I attempted to find out what awful thing is being mandated. It appears to be a hypothetical “Faith and Fairness Act” that would require religious broadcasters to present all religious points of view when presenting their own point of view. Well, yes, that would be dreadful. I shudder at the thought of anyone on the Christian Broadcasting Network attempting to present a Buddhist point of view.

The other Persecuted is set in the old Soviet Union and involves Evangelicals being pursued by KGB agents, but Miranda Blue at Right Wing Watch says the film is “clearly meant to be an allegorical tale about the United States today.”

But if that’s not enough Christian persecution porn for you, a “Stories of the Persecuted Church” boxed set of six more Christian persecution films on DVD is available from ChristianCinema.com.

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Finally, Somebody Went There

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Obama Administration

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens proposes revising the Second Amendment. Opinions about this are falling along the usual lines.

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The Real Death Panels

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Health Care, Obama Administration

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius resigned yesterday, which the Right heralds as a sign of victory. Some guy at the Federalist already is salivating over the grand fight they’re going to have nominating her replacement –

In any case, it appears that this resignation presents Republicans with a golden opportunity to reignite their crusade against Obamacare with Sylvia Burwell’s nomination as a proxy for all the problems with the law. Burwell is a political loyalist and a veteran of the shutdown fight with no record on health care, and will likely be coached to avoid answering questions about specific challenges with implementation at HHS. Senate Republicans actually have an advantage here in the wake of the Nuclear Option’s implementation: they can easily come up with a list of facts they claim the administration has hidden, details kicked aside, statutes ignored, and a host of other challenging questions on accountability over the implementation (and non-implementation) of the law. A list of every question Sebelius has dodged over the past several years would suffice. By demanding answers before the HHS nomination moves forward and refusing to rubber stamp the president’s pick, Republicans could force more vulnerable Democrats to take a vote that ties them both to the Nuclear Option and Obamacare six months before a critical election.

I understand Rachel Maddow was bothered that the resignation stepped on a week of good news about the ACA. But by November, it may not matter. I do not think most folks give a hoo-haw about the nuclear option, and who knows what public opinion of the ACA will be by November? If Republicans grandstand overmuch over the nomination hearings, they risk overplaying their hand, as they are prone to do.

Krugman writes,

When it comes to health reform, Republicans suffer from delusions of disaster. They know, just know, that the Affordable Care Act is doomed to utter failure, so failure is what they see, never mind the facts on the ground.

Thus, on Tuesday, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, dismissed the push for pay equity as an attempt to “change the subject from the nightmare of Obamacare”; on the same day, the nonpartisan RAND Corporation released a study estimating “a net gain of 9.3 million in the number of American adults with health insurance coverage from September 2013 to mid-March 2014.” Some nightmare. And the overall gain, including children and those who signed up during the late-March enrollment surge, must be considerably larger.

However, we still have the huge injustice of the refusal to expand Medicaid.

What’s amazing about this wave of rejection is that it appears to be motivated by pure spite. The federal government is prepared to pay for Medicaid expansion, so it would cost the states nothing, and would, in fact, provide an inflow of dollars. The health economist Jonathan Gruber, one of the principal architects of health reform — and normally a very mild-mannered guy — recently summed it up: The Medicaid-rejection states “are willing to sacrifice billions of dollars of injections into their economy in order to punish poor people. It really is just almost awesome in its evilness.” Indeed.

And while supposed Obamacare horror stories keep on turning out to be false, it’s already quite easy to find examples of people who died because their states refused to expand Medicaid. According to one recent study, the death toll from Medicaid rejection is likely to run between 7,000 and 17,000 Americans each year.

There’s your death panels, folks. They’re called “Republican governors.”

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Colbert to Replace Letterman

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Obama Administration

Please discuss.

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How We Think What We Think

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Obama Administration

Here are a couple more book suggestions. One is The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt (Pantheon Books, 2012). Haidt explains in detail the many ways people have been tested to reveal that reason plays only a supporting role in why we actually think as we do. Most of our decision- and opinion-making processes are taking place on subconscious levels.

Basically, our decisions, opinions and moral judgments are really being made by our emotions or intuition, and we use reason largely to explain to ourselves how we reached our decision or formed our opinion.

Haidt provides a very strong and copiously tested argument that we feel before we think. The moment we are confronted with a religious, political, moral or similar sort of question, something in our subconscious or intuitive mind churns up feelings that determine our position. Our rational mind then constructs a narrative that explains to us what we think and why we think it.

Another is The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science by Will Storr (Overlook Press, 2014). The book is framed as an exploration into the world of people who believe nutty things — creationism, UFO abductions, etc. But it turns into an introspective analysis of why anyone believes anything, which is much more interesting. Storr draws a lot on Haidt’s research and that of other psychologists and sociologists.

This is a genuinely engrossing book. As a journalist Storr’s “beat,” so to speak, is crazy people. He travels around interviewing people who embrace unorthodox views, including diagnosed schizophrenics who choose to live with their voices rather than take meds. But as he does so, the gap between “sane” and “crazy” gets narrower and narrower as he finds people on the “orthodox” side whose opinions are just as flimsily put together as that of the crazies.

See also Doug J at Balloon Juice:

One of my favorite twists on this is the Very Serious Person who dismisses all his critics as uninformed partisans, but then screams LIBERAL ELITISM when anyone points out, say, that ignorance of where the Crimea is located correlates with support for US military involvement there.

The whole Very Serious Person thing is based on the fantasy that there is a class of people whose understanding of everything is correct because they are Very Serious People, and everything they believe collectively (like, government austerity will boost the economy) is self-evidently the only serious view. And no amount of evidence shakes them, because they are Very Serious People. But really, they believe what they believe because it feels good.

Storr writes,

As Professor Leon Festinger and his co-researchers into confirmation bias found: when confronted by a new fact, we feel an instantaneous, emotional hunch that pulls us in the direction of an opinion. We then look for evidence that supports our hunch until we hit the ‘make sense stopping rule,’ and our thinking ceases. Our mind completes the process by fooling us into believing that we have made an objective survey of the arguments, then gives us a pleasurable neurochemical hit of feeling as a reward.

I think this is exactly true (heh), and we all do it, and maybe the only difference between wise and stupid is the degree to which we are aware that this is what we’re really doing when we form opinions.

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Holy Martyrs

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Obama Administration

This is almost sorta kinda a book preview. I’ve been going through some books looking for bits to bolster my arguments for this and that, and I found a book called The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom (HarperCollins, 2013). The author, Candida Moss, is a professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame.

Most of the book is about early Church history. Moss says there is little actual historical evidence to show that early Christians were persecuted all that much, many legends to the contrary, and when they were persecuted it was usually more about politics than religion. Although it’s well written, if you aren’t really into early Church history this wouldn’t be a book to spend money on.

However, in her last chapter she makes a brilliant argument about how the myth of martyrdom is corroding religion and politics today. She writes, “Members of any Christian group can claim to be persecuted as long as they feel opposed.”

Yes, exactly. Opposition is no different from persecution. Having to buy health insurance is no different from slavery, or the Holocaust, or whatever.

I’m not 100 percent persuaded that the romance of martyrdom is just the residue of early Christian history, but the opposition equals persecution meme explains a lot. Further, the sense of persecution relieves them of any responsibility to reason with the opposition. If you are being persecuted, your only duty is to defend yourself by any means. You don’t have to make nice.

If you pay close attention to right-wing rhetoric, you realize that the Right believes persecution authenticates their message and proves their cause is just. Moss continues,

“Similarly, in her review of David Limbaugh’s book Persecution, Ann Coulter writes, ‘There is no surer proof of Christ’s divinity than that he is still so hated some 2,000 years after his death.’ Somehow, and quite perversely, hatred has become a witness not just to truth, but to Truth. No longer are reasoned argument, good judgment, or logic able to win the day, because failing to convince others of one’s opinions would be a better sign that one’s opinions were correct. Framed by the myth that we are persecuted dialogue is not only impossible, it is undesirable. We revel in the outrage and scandal that our words and opinions elicit. We don’t want to be understood by out opponent. We will fan the flames of hatred and bask in the knowledge that we are right and their criticism proves it.”

“There is no surer proof of Christ’s divinity than that he is still so hated some 2,000 years after his death.” Kinda takes one’s breath away, huh? And one might ponder, in what sort of bizarro alternative universe would that be true?

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The Last Refuge of the Macho

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Obama Administration

This is a hoot.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has chaired the Senate’s Intelligence Committee for five years. So when she suggested last month that investigators should make public a report on the U.S.’s interrogation techniques because it would “ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted,” one might have seen it as the strong words and fair assessment of a person who has deep experience on the issue.

But on Fox News Sunday this week, Bush-era National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael Hayden suggested that Feinstein actually encouraged the public release of the interrogation techniques report because of her emotions.

Citing specifically Feinstein’s line about not using such techniques again, Hayden told Fox News Sunday host Chis Wallace, “Now that sentence that, motivation for the report, Chris, may show deep emotional feeling on part of the Senator. But I don’t think it leads you to an objective report.”

I’m sure I speak for other female persons when I say that “You’re just being emotional” is what a man says to a woman when she has just told him something he doesn’t want to deal with or even think about. He can’t actually respond, so he dismisses her as “emotional.” Of course, he is being “logical.” Like men aren’t the ones who start bar fights.

See also Booman on why some people need to be in priso.

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Free Speech and Free-er Speech

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Obama Administration

I’ve written in the past that a lot of righties seem to think the freedom of speech clause in the First Amendment includes a right to not be disagreed with. Josh Marshall about America’s whiny, paranoid mega-wealthy and notes that seems to be what they want, too.

Extremely wealthy people – enabled by a series of key Supreme Court decisions as recently as yesterday – want to be able to spend gargantuan amounts of money in the political process and remain essentially private persons who don’t get knocked around or criticized like everyone else in the political arena.

See also “If you criticize wealthy donors, you’re basically Hitler.”

Chris Hayes’s book Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy” makes the point that our institutions both public and private are being run by a class of people who got what they’ve got by circumstances largely not of their making; are sheltered from the realities most of us deal with; and who ultimately don’t know what they’re doing, but are so sheltered from the consequences of their own actions they don’t realize they don’t know what they’re doing. Donald Rumsfeld is a classic example. One suspects most of our captains of industry aren’t much sharper. But, y’know, they have lots of money, so we’re supposed to respect them.

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We’re Now the United States of Koch Inc.

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Obama Administration

We are so screwed. See also.

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