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“The Religion Of Unreason”: Creeds Are Not Built Up Out Of Facts

I think it’s safe to say that this period in history is one in which liberals have felt unusually exasperated with conservatives, perhaps more than ever before. I can say this with some confidence as a liberal who runs in liberal circles; it may well be that conservatives are also more exasperated with liberals than they have ever been. Our ability to feed that exasperation is driven by the fact that, for all the polarization of information sources, we’re actually more aware of what people on the other side say than we ever have been before. Fifteen years ago, I would have had no idea if Rush Limbaugh said something offensive, but today (once it rises to a certain level of horror), Media Matters will record it and put it on their web site, the Huffington Post will put it on their web site, and half a dozen people in my Twitter feed will let me know it happened. So there are all kinds of new ways to become appalled with your opponents.

And there’s nothing we liberals find more frustrating than the contemporary conservative aversion to facts, particularly on a few select topics, none more than health care. We like to think of ourselves as rational, thoughtful people, who arrive at our opinions after careful consideration, while the other side is fed by prejudices, insane conspiracy theories, and an inability to admit when the world doesn’t turn out the way they thought it would. Conservatives find this to be an unfair caricature, but they can’t deny that many, many people on their side are—let’s be charitable and say unconcerned—with the truth of the world. Barack Obama is a natural-born citizen, Hillary Clinton didn’t engineer Benghazi for nefarious ends, there were no death panels, the ACA doesn’t explode the deficit, people did indeed sign up for insurance, a system where people get subsidies from the government to buy private health policies they can use at private doctors is not “socialism,” and so on. And yet these ideas persist. With characteristic eloquence, Gary Wills explains why:

The irrelevance of evidence in the face of sacred causes explains the dogged denial of global warming, the deep belief that the Obama Administration was responsible for the killing of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in Benghazi and that Obama is not a legitimate American. To go back farther, it explains the claims that FDR arranged for the attack on Pearl Harbor and gave much of the world away to Stalin at Yalta (an idea Joe Scarborough is still clinging to). Repealing Obamacare will eventually go the way of repealing the New Deal. But the opposition will never fade entirely away—and it may well be strong enough in this year’s elections to determine the outcome. It is something people are willing to sacrifice for and feel noble about. Creeds are not built up out of facts. They are what make people reject all evidence that guns are more the cause of crime than the cure for it. The best preservative for unreason is to make a religion of it.

The priests of that religion are the media figures who pass down the injunctions from on high, telling their flocks what they should believe, whom they should hate, and what they should be angry about today. And the politicians? Some no doubt truly believe when they kneel at the altar. Others go through the motions, with an eye cast back over their shoulder at the pews to make sure everyone sees their piety. And some may even be looking forward to the time when a few of the religion’s more absurd tenets fall by the wayside, so they can tell the congregants what they want to hear without feeling like they’re feeding the madness of some unhinged cult.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 23, 2014

April 24, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Liberals | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Protest Too Much, Methinks”: Obama Doesn’t Have A Manhood Problem — But Conservatives Certainly Do

It seems beneath my manly dignity to give David Brooks a hard time for his comments decrying Obama’s “manhood problem in the Middle East.” He made them on a Sunday talk show, after all, and we know that no one watches them. And anyway, people accidentally say stupid things on television all the time.

And yet, I suspect that Brooks actually meant it. Because even though he’s distanced himself from the conservative movement in all kinds of ways over the past six years (basically, since George W. Bush’s presidency went down in flames), one thing that’s remained consistent with him since his days writing paeans to American “national greatness” for William Kristol’s Weekly Standard is his tendency to swoon (in only the most manly of ways, of course) at dramatic displays of militaristic swagger and toughness.

When that kind of man’s man looks at Barack Obama’s policy in the Middle East — with its gratuitous displays of not bombing countries, not overthrowing their governments, and not invading and occupying them — he sees something less than virile, a little bit limp, and just a tiny bit flaccid (emphasis on the “tiny”).

He sees a girly man.

This certainly doesn’t place Brooks out of the mainstream on the Right. On the contrary, Brooks’ comments on Meet the Press might be the most mainstream conservative thing he’s said in years. There is a long, deep, and highly repetitive tradition of testosterone-fueled bellicosity on the Right that consistently justifies itself in terms of manliness and sees itself as the necessary antidote to the creeping, potentially fatal feminization of the nation.

Theodore Roosevelt was one of the first to valorize manliness (and decry feminization) in American public life. In the 95 years since his death, he’s been venerated by a broad swath of conservatives, and especially by the second-generation neocons and their onetime hero John “Battlefield: Earth” McCain. Hell, this faction’s leading political philosopher — Harvard’s Harvey C. Mansfield — even wrote a book titled Manliness, in part to defend men against all the mean and hurtful things that scary feminists like to say about them.

If all of this sounds a little personal to me, that’s because it is.

Back in 2002 when I worked as an editor at First Things — a journal that’s aptly been dubbed the New York Review of Books of the religious right — I wrote a column for the magazine that got me into a bit of trouble. My son had just been born, and I wanted to make a case for the modern, egalitarian family in which fathers play an active role in the day-to-day drudgery and delights of raising small children. This was in contrast, of course, to the more traditional family structures usually defended in our pages.

Conservatives have a point, I argued, when they focus on negative consequences of women working outside the home; children often end up being raised by strangers in day-care centers, and women feel torn between their maternal instincts and their desire for careers. But the answer to such problems, I suggested, was not an (unjust, undesirable, and impossible) return to some earlier paradigm of stay-at-home mothering. It was rather an increase in fatherly involvement in the family — and perhaps even the advent of Scandinavian-style government-sponsored paternity leave to allow men to more fully share domestic burdens and rewards.

That didn’t go over well with our readers. At all. Not that I expected it to. But I did expect that the controversy would be about ideas. Instead it was about testicles. Mine, to be specific — and in particular about how my wife had quite obviously stolen them just before bullying me into denying the self-evident fact that mothers are forbidden to work outside the home, fathers are precluded from changing diapers, and God wants to keep it that way.

And then there was the special treat of a letter from Gilbert Meilaender — distinguished moral theologian, longtime friend of the magazine’s editor-in-chief (Richard John Neuhaus), and member of President Bush’s Council on Bioethics. As far as Meilaender was concerned, my ideas clearly flowed from a deep-seated longing to lactate.

As I wrote in my published response to the letters, this charge had about as much intellectual substance behind it as a playground taunt of “f–got.”

Another day at First Things, another reason to break from the Right.

The important point is that when they pronounce on the subject of manliness, none of these people — not Teddy Roosevelt, not John McCain, not Bill Kristol, not David Brooks, not Harvey Mansfield, not Gil Meilaender — can be taken seriously on an intellectual level.

What they’re doing is some kind of ideological shtick, whether or not they recognize it as such. They’re either cynically flattering gullible men and attempting to whip them into a froth of indignation in the way that Fox News and talk radio hosts do every day — or else they’re inadvertently confessing their own gendered status anxieties. Either way, it’s both inaccurate and insulting to treat their grunts as more than irritable mental gestures.

Obama’s policy in the Middle East is wise or foolish, smart or misguided, moral or immoral. His “manhood” has nothing at all to do with it.


By: Damon Linker, The Week, April 23, 2014

April 24, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Middle East | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obamascare Tactics In Red State Races”: Passing Laws That Prevent Any Future Governor From Accepting Medicaid Money

If I asked you to name two states where the incumbent Republican governors might lose reelection this fall, you would likely, I expect, say Florida and Pennsylvania. I doubt very much you’d offer up Georgia and Kansas.

But lo and behold—the contests in both of those states are right now a little closer than you’d expect. In Kansas, Sam Brownback is the governor. You remember Brownback—he was a senator for a spell, best remembered (by me anyway) for his prominent role in that hideous Republican appropriation of poor Terry Schiavo in their zealotry to “promote life.” In Georgia, the bossman is Nathan Deal, also a former Congressman, whose term is best remembered for the way he announced a departure date for his gubernatorial run. (He realized that the House would be voting on Obamacare shortly thereafter, and delayed his departure so he could vote against it.)

It ought to be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy for right-wing Republicans to get reelected in those states, but recent polls have shown them dangling along the margin-of-error cliff. Deal leads Jason Carter (yep, Jimmy’s grandson) by just 3.4 percent in the realclearpolitics average, and Brownback actually trailed Democrat Paul Davis 42-40 in one February poll. Brownback’s approval rating is also deeply underwater. So it’s conceivable—that’s as far as we should prudently go—that both could lose.

Now, here’s the rub. Both, naturally, oppose the expansion of Obamacare into their states. They say no force on earth or in heaven will make them take that Medicaid money. It’s estimated that 600,000 Georgians and 78,000 Kansans would benefit. But they’re having none of it. And that’s their right. But what they’re doing now, in cahoots with friendly legislators, is a step beyond: In both states, they’re passing laws that would prevent any future governor from accepting the Medicaid money.

It works like this. Under the Affordable Care Act, the process by which states decide to accept the money is entirely up to them. Some states determined that legislative action should be required. You may have read about the Republicans in the Florida legislature rebuffing GOP Governor Rick Scott for the five minutes he was toying with taking the money. New Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe wants the money badly, and his Democratic State Senate is with him, but they’re hamstrung by the GOP-controlled House of Delegates, which is against.

Initially, Georgia and Kansas were states where it was just the governor’s call. Which was fine as long as the Republicans looked like sure things. But the polls tightened up, and people started getting a little antsy. Hey, what if a Democratic governor got elected and said, ‘Okay, Barack, write me that check?’

And so Brownback signed his state’s law last Friday. His office just announced it this week. Why the delay? Shouldn’t one such as Sam Brownback be proud of signing this socialism-blocking law? Well, it turns out that it was originally a law about something else, requiring the state to provide quick payment to certain in-state Medicaid care providers. This provision was tacked on late. A Wichita Democrat, Jim Ward, said: “That bill is what I think is endemic with this legislative process under this governor and this speaker and Senate president. There was no hearing. There were no opportunities for people who have a stake in Medicaid expansion to come in and talk about it.”

In Georgia, it’s easier. The legislation was passed about a month ago. If Deal doesn’t veto it, it becomes law. And since he supports it—indeed, since his staff helped write this law that willingly hands gubernatorial power over to the legislature—it will. And into the bargain, the Georgia legislature also passed—on the next-to-last day of the session—a bill that blocks state employees from helping Georgians sign up for care under the ACA.

So stop and think about this. Kansas and Georgia have just taken what was a gubernatorial decision out of the hands of not only current but future governors. You can argue plausibly that the people’s representatives should have a say in such a decision, on principle. But principle wasn’t at work here. Political expediency was. Legislators in the two states know that Republicans are likely to have control as far as the eye can see. And they’ll never say yes. And they’re doing all this in the name of what? In the name of denying 678,000 people a chance at health-insurance coverage.

It gets worse. The ACA makes cuts to certain current Medicaid programs on the assumption that states would take this new Medicaid money. It cut funding for hospitals that serve the poor, cuts intended to be mitigated by the fact that a large number of poor would now be insured once the states they live in accepted the new money. But in states that did not, those people are suffering even more. Several rural hospitals in Georgia have closed. They could be saved if the state took the Medicaid money.

Carter vows he’s going to make this skeezy law, and the Medicaid question generally, an issue. The Georgia law has sparked large protests and arrests and might end up being the most important issue in the campaign. In Kansas, Davis supports Medicaid expansion—and according to a recent poll so do 55 percent of Kansans, against just 39 percent who oppose taking the money. So maybe there’s not as much the matter with Kansas as we thought. With the people, anyway. The governor and the legislators are another matter.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 23, 2014

April 24, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Medicaid Expansion, Obamacare | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Georgia’s ‘Guns Everywhere’ Bill”: The Most Insane And Extreme Gun Bill In America Expands “Stand Your Ground” Law

Just a few minutes ago, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed sweeping new gun legislation into law, and while it’s technically the “Safe Carry Protection Act,” NBC News’ Gabe Gutierrez noted that many have labeled it the “Guns Everywhere Bill.”

One of the most permissive state gun laws in the nation, it will allow licensed owners to carry firearms into more public places than at any time in the past century, including bars and government buildings that don’t have security checkpoints.

The law also authorizes school districts to appoint staffers to carry firearms. It allows churches to “opt-in” if they want to allow weapons. Bars could already “opt-in” to allow weapons, but under the new law they must opt out if they want to bar weapons. Permit-holders who accidentally bring a gun to an airport security checkpoint will now be allowed to pick up their weapon and leave with no criminal penalty. (At Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, a record 111 guns were found at TSA screening areas last year.)

Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group co-founded by former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, has called the legislation “the most extreme gun bill in America.”

Despite the opposition of gun-safety reformers and Georgia law enforcement, the bill was passed with relative ease. The governor’s Democratic challenger, state Sen. Jason Carter, voted for it, too, though he made it slightly less extreme, helping eliminate some provisions, including a measure allowing guns on college campuses.

Regardless, the new state law, which takes effect in July, also expands on Georgia’s “stand your ground” policy by “protecting convicted felons who kill using illegal guns.”

Frank Rotondo, the executive director of Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, told The Guardian, “One of the biggest concerns is it expands stand-your-ground. The way it’s written, a felon who is not permitted to have a weapon could use a weapon in defense of his or her home and not be charged for having the weapon.”

Oddly enough, a similar bill recently passed the Arizona legislature, though it met a different fate.

In a bit of a surprise, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed two pro-gun bills yesterday, including a proposal to expand guns in public buildings.

One bill would allow gun owners to bring weapons into public buildings or events. A summary of the bill says that it would allow gun owners to keep their firearms unless the building had security guards, metal detectors and storage for the weapons. Many Arizona public buildings do not have the first two, according to local reports. […]

The other bill would have limited local governments from enacting gun control statutes that were stricter than state law and imposed a fine up to $5,000 on any local officials who administered such a statute, according to a summary. Those officials would also be at risk of losing their job.

For all of Brewer’s conservatism, she occasionally surprises me.


By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, April 23, 2014

April 24, 2014 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Stetson, A Horse, And A Shotgun”: Bundy Standoff Is A Fox News Costume Drama

One thing about that mangy posse of anti-government crackpots camped out at Cliven Bundy’s place in the Nevada desert: Most don’t know a thing about cattle ranching.

See, it’s calving season across most of the country. No rancher worthy of the name is going to run off leaving his cows to fend for themselves while he fights somebody else’s battles. Particularly not some deadbeat who refuses to pay his grazing fees, and who claims that the same laws that apply to every other rancher in the United States don’t apply to him.

A guy who wraps himself in the stars and stripes while proclaiming “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.”

Me, I’m keeping a close eye on the best heifer I’ve ever bred for signs she’s going into labor. Her name is Sarah. Last August I turned down an opportunity to sell Sarah for three times market value because I was eager to breed her. Bernie the bull arrived on our place last July 4th, so it could be any time now.

I’ve spent most of the last three days worrying over Trudy’s newborn calf. Although her udder appeared to have been nursed when I found them back in the pine thicket where Trudy had hidden to deliver, I never actually saw the little heifer feeding until last night. Trudy, see, delivered a stillborn bull calf two years ago, and lost another last spring. Hence my anxiety.

For what it’s worth, I also have a photo of myself that I made for a French friend who’d been teasing me about being a cowboy—white Stetson, horse, shotgun and my best Clint Eastwood squint. Alain didn’t really get the joke, but I could even pass for this Bundy joker in dim light. See, it’s partly a costume drama Fox News is helping this con-man stage.

Although my own little operation is more of a hobby than a business, I do try not to lose money. However, many of my Perry County, Arkansas friends and neighbors are cattle ranchers for real. It’s damned hard making money on cows, but nobody around here imagines they can graze cattle in the Ouachita National Forest for nothing. Every single one pays for his own land, pays property taxes, pays the water bill and pays for any pasture he rents—all things Cliven Bundy takes for free from the U.S. government while styling himself a rugged individualist.

Nationally, some 18,000 ranchers lawfully graze 157 million acres of federally-owned property supervised by the Bureau of Land Management, at subsidized rates. No wonder the Nevada Cattleman’s Association–not exactly a left-wing organization—has stated that while its membership has perennial issues with the BLM, it encourages obeying the law and “does not feel it is our place to interfere in the process of adjudication in this matter.”

See, this isn’t land the U.S. seized by eminent domain. Surrendered to the Feds by Mexico in 1848, it never belonged to the state of Nevada, which didn’t yet exist. The U.S. District judge who ordered Bundy’s cattle removed ruled that he “has produced no valid law or specific facts raising a genuine issue of fact regarding federal ownership or management of public lands in Nevada, or that his cattle have not trespassed.”

For that matter, Nevada author Edwin Lyngar points out that without plentiful public cut-rate grazing permits “there would be no ranching of the kind that allows Mr. Bundy to make a living. There would be less ‘wide open’ for which the West is famous.”

No way could Bundy or anybody like him afford to buy the vast acreage he’s grazing for free.  Many westerners only think they’d like to see the feds sell off their extensive properties in states like Nevada, where the U.S. government owns fully 87 percent of the land. But they might feel differently after the likes of Ted Turner, the Koch brothers and various international corporations bought up the range, cross-fenced it, and posted “No Trespassing” signs everywhere.

See, it’s a form of welfare the BLM oversees, but it helps sustain a way of life Americans are nostalgic about. The various “Sovereign Citizen” groups and armed militia types playing soldier in the desert, however, are something else. While the BLM was wise not to confront the mob, the current triumphalism among far-right zealots can’t be seen as anything but ominous.

One wonders, however, how the armies of April will react to a Las Vegas TV station’s revelation that much of Bundy’s personal saga is make-believe. Grazing Golden Butte since 1877? Not quite. His father bought the Bunkerville ranch in 1948; they began renting BLM land in 1954.

Otherwise, the feds have time on their side. They can slap liens on everything Bundy owns. And come July or August, camping out in the Nevada outback won’t seem half so exciting.


By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, April 23, 2014

April 24, 2014 Posted by | Bureau of Land Management, Cliven Bundy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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