Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Reading

Muslims in America — John Nichols in The Nation on the history of the faith in the United States.

Followers of Islam have lived in what is now the United States since before the American Revolution. Like Christians and Jews, Muslims worshiped initially in their homes. But as communities grew, they began to construct mosques. Because so many Muslim immigrants came as farmers, some of the earliest mosques were built in rural communities like Ross, North Dakota.

Historians record that the first structure purposely built as a mosque in the United States was located in Ross, a crossroads town in the northwest corner of the state. In the late 1930s, when a Works Progress Administration field worker arrived in remote Mountrail County, he interviewed Mike Abdullah, a native of Syria, who recalled, “I belonged to the Moslem church in the Old Country the same as I do in this country.”

The original mosque in Ross fell into disrepair and was torn down in the 1970s. A new mosque—built a decade ago at the urging of Sarah Allie Omar Shupe, a member of the community—stands next to the Muslim cemetery, where generations of Syrian-American farmers are buried.

As a young journalist, I wrote a good deal about the rural Muslim and Jewish farm communities of the Midwest. I met the children and grandchildren of those Muslim farmers from the Dakotas, and from eastern Iowa, where the Mother Mosque of America was constructed in 1934 in Cedar Rapids. As a reporter for the Toledo Blade, I came to know Yehia “John” Shousher and other Muslims who built a pioneering mosque in the city’s “Little Syria” neighborhood more than six decades ago. Later, they constructed one of the great mosques in North America, the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, at which people from dozens of countries proudly celebrate their community’s “equal and vibrant representation of women and the democratic and constitutional processes that the Center diligently follows.”

It is because I have spent so much time in these mosques, because I have for so long known them as part of the fabric of the communities where I have lived, of the regions I love, of an American experiment I have treasured, that I was shaken by Donald Trump’s crude claim that “there’s absolutely no choice” but to monitor mosques, to consider closing some of them, to begin tracking Muslims using “surveillance, including a watch list.”

What Trump is talking about is not public safety or responsible policing. It is broad-sweep stereotyping rooted in ignorance and cruelty. And he is not alone in abandoning basic premises of the commitment to religious freedom that underpins the American experiment. Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz propose to admit Christian refugees but reject Muslims. Ben Carson objects to the notion of a Muslim president and compares Syrian refugees to rabid dogs.

Trump says he wants to make America great again. But he knows nothing of greatness. The measures of what is great and good about America are not found in the crude comments of politicians. They are found in the mosques of Ross and Cedar Rapids and Toledo, and in the stories of the Muslim immigrants who built and cherish them.

Fearful Students — Todd Gitlin in The New York Times on why student protests have made them sound vulnerable.

THE message coming out of recent student protests on college campuses, from Princeton and Yale to the University of Missouri, couldn’t be clearer: Students are rightly pained by the racist and sexual abuse still shockingly common into the 21st century, and for good reason they are indignant that institutions they trust — or wish to trust — fail to stop the culprits, or even to acknowledge publicly the harm they do.

But rumbling under the surface of some recent protests is something besides indignation: an assumption of grave vulnerability. The victims too often present themselves as weak, in need of protection. Administrators are held, like helicopter parents, wholly responsible. To a veteran of movements of the ’60s like myself, this is strikingly strange.

Surely there are reasons to feel vulnerable to abuses of power. There is a rape culture. Black people are killed by the police in grotesque proportions. Hatred of immigrants has reached a high pitch of hysteria and looms large in the thinking of one of our major political parties.

It is also true that many administrators are caught flat-footed; just consider how long it took the University of Missouri to acknowledge longstanding concerns by minority students about campus racism.

And yet, when that recognition came and the president and chancellor resigned, instead of celebrating an extraordinary victory — with football players as their crucial allies — demonstrators blocked photographers from taking pictures of their assembly. They apparently believed that public assemblies ought to be “safe spaces,” meaning, safe from photography, which might have been thought to be useful for bringing the news to a larger public. Their starting assumption was that the press had it in for them.

At Yale, meanwhile, administrators cautioned students about how to dress properly for Halloween, and when another administrator publicly questioned whether this was an issue the administration needed to take a position on, protesters demanded her resignation.

Why such a widespread and bristling feeling of acute vulnerability followed by attacks on those who disagree? Why the lust for “safe spaces”? Why the clamor for “trigger warnings”? (At my own university, Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” came off the syllabus for a required core course after some students objected to Ovid’s accounts of rape.) Why do so many students see themselves as so vulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous texts, arguments, comments? Why so fearful?

A pattern is clear: Too many students doubt that their community is, or can be, strong enough to stand up for itself, entertain arguments and strive to persuade opponents. The extremity of their reaction suggests that they lack confidence that reason and values are on their side. They may well resent the fact that, after decades of civil rights reform and feminism, they still have to argue against people who “don’t get it.”

One can only speculate about the forces that drive this crisis, but odds are that we are witnessing a cultural mood that cannot be reduced to political-economic considerations. There’s a generalized anxiety when one has always been supervised, as this generation has. Moreover, students suffer under mountainous debt loads. Professional work is being destabilized. Careers dissolve into serial jobs, or the insecure “gig economy.”

The prospect of gargantuan, destructive climate change must also have young people rattled. It ought to. There are actual apocalypses in the making.

But movements that change the world are the creations of confident people — confident despite their hurt, confident despite their fear. If they don’t start out confident, they learn how to create strong communities and become more so. As leaders test themselves in action, the better ones rise and the lesser ones fade. The militants suffer, yes, but they find ways to learn a broader repertoire of feelings and skills. They can imagine putting an end to their suffering, at least much of it.

The Exhaustion of Explaining — Andy Borowitz.

MINNEAPOLIS (The Borowitz Report)—Many Americans are tired of explaining things to idiots, particularly when the things in question are so painfully obvious, a new poll indicates.

According to the poll, conducted by the University of Minnesota’s Opinion Research Institute, while millions have been vexed for some time by their failure to explain incredibly basic information to dolts, that frustration has now reached a breaking point.

Of the many obvious things that people are sick and tired of trying to get through the skulls of stupid people, the fact that climate change will cause catastrophic habitat destruction and devastating extinctions tops the list, with a majority saying that they will no longer bother trying to explain this to cretins.

Coming in a close second, statistical proof that gun control has reduced gun deaths in countries around the world is something that a significant number of those polled have given up attempting to break down for morons.

Finally, a majority said that trying to make idiots understand why a flag that symbolizes bigotry and hatred has no business flying over a state capitol only makes the person attempting to explain this want to put his or her fist through a wall.

In a result that suggests a dismal future for the practice of explaining things to idiots, an overwhelming number of those polled said that they were considering abandoning such attempts altogether, with a broad majority agreeing with the statement, “This country is exhausting.”

Doonesbury — Sucking up.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Prove It How?

Jeb Bush doubles down on his refugee position.

Jeb Bush on Tuesday dug in further on his position that the United States should prioritize bringing in Christians from among the refugees of the Syrian civil war — and he insisted that people can even prove that they’re Christians.

“Well you’re a Christian,” Bush started off saying to reporters. “You can prove you’re a Christian. It’s—”

“How?” a reporter asked.

Bush gave a shrug: “I think you can prove it — if you can’t prove it then, you know, you err on the side of caution.”

As digby — and a bunch of other people — have noted, history is filled with examples of both Christians as terrorists and attempts to make people into Christians or suffer the consequences; think Torquemada.

I see this as further proof that Jeb really doesn’t want to be president and is doing his best to undermine his chances… as if he needed any help in the first place.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Department of Jesus

The Republicans are always talking about shrinking the federal government and getting rid of useless taxpayer-funded agencies that accomplish nothing but move a lot of air.  But Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who’s also running for president wants to add one.

“We need to beam messages around the world about what it means to have a Western ethic, to be a part of a Christian-Judeo society,” Kasich said in an interview Tuesday with NBC. “It means freedom, it means opportunity, it means respect for women, it means so many things.”

The GOP presidential contender laid out his proposal during a larger discussion of his plan to defeat the Islamic State. The agency would promote the Judeo-Christian beliefs to places such as China, Russia, and the Middle East, Kasich told NBC.

Despite the obvious First Amendment issues, particularly the Establishment clause, I’d be interested to know exactly which form of the Christian-Judeo society he’d want to promote: Catholic or Protestant Christianity; Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform Judaism, or some mish-mosh of ersatz Joel Osteen and Rabbi Tuchman?

By the way, this is the kind of Western mindset that fires up groups like ISIS.  They still remember the Crusades.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Monday, November 9, 2015

That Time of Year Again

As inevitable as the Christmas promotions starting before Halloween, the War On Christmas has begun again.

Some people are angry about Starbucks’ new holiday cups. Really angry.

What is the issue, exactly?

In previous years, Starbucks’ iconic holiday cups, which the chain uses in lieu of white cups in November and December, featured wintry or Christmas-themed designs like snowflakes, ornaments and nature scenes. This year, the cups are more minimalist — a red ombre design that Jeffrey Fields, Starbucks’ vice president of design, said was meant to embrace “the simplicity and the quietness” of the holiday season.

Starbucks Christmas Cups 11-09-15

This is a huge problem for some people, who feel that the plain red cups are oppressing Christians by insulting Christmas.

“This is a denial of historical reality and the great Christian heritage behind the American Dream that has so benefitted Starbucks,” Andrea Williams of the U.K.-based organization Christian Concern told Breitbart. “This also denies the hope of Jesus Christ and His story so powerfully at this time of year.”

Fa la la la la, la la la barf.

If your faith requires that you pay $5 for stinked-up coffee with more ingredients in it than a figgy pudding and poured into a cup that will end up in the trash but only if it has depictions of a fairy tale on it, then your problem isn’t with the people who are selling you that stuff in the first place.

Here’s a news flash:  There is a war on Christmas.  It won.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Sunday Reading

Finding Safe Space — Jordan Alam in The Atlantic explores the question of where gay Muslims can go to pray.

In the media, being queer and Muslim often seems to amount to being a victim. In articles on violence against LGBTQ people in Muslim-majority countries, or pieces on the challenges of coming out, the queer person’s connection to Islam is often used to imply that these cultures are especially intolerant. With this narrow focus on tragedy, it can be hard to understand the day-to-day lived experiences of queer people who identify religiously or culturally with Islam—particularly the difficulty they face in trying to find communities that embrace their multiple identities.

Even within the gay community, “I am markedly different in these spaces and unable to hide the difference that I wear on my body: My brownness, my hijab, my not drinking are lightbeams signaling my otherness,” writes one queer South Asian writer in an essay for the online magazine Black Girl Dangerous. She describes feeling “saved” by groups like the NYC queer Muslim book club, where she does not have to make compromises. “I think it’s less about a similarity of experience and more about supporting each other,” she said in an interview. “To be able to talk about these things without feeling defensive or without feeling like I need to explain things … was really important to me. To have space to talk … without feeling ‘too Muslim for the queers’ or ‘too queer for the Muslims.’”

Across the country, queer Muslims have formed groups, trying to offset feelings of isolation and provide support to those who don’t “fit” into other communities. Participants share some parts of their identities, but come from different races, cultures, and class backgrounds; they’re of all ages, and some are longtime Americans, while others are immigrants. People also vary in their relationship to Islam. They may come for communal iftars (the fast-breaking meal at the end of each day of Ramadan), to study the Koran, or to take part in secular gatherings about everything from family violence to the latest gender-studies books.

One of the largest spaces for queer and trans Muslims is the LGBTQ Muslim Retreat. Once a year for the past five years, the retreat has hosted Muslims and their partners in Pennsylvania. 2015 was the largest gathering yet, with more than 100 people attending from multiple countries and states. For some attendees, these retreats are the first time they’ve met another queer Muslim. “The programming tries to address identities, emerging issues within the community, and questions of theology,” said Urooj Arshad, a 2011 retreat organizer, “with some talent/no talent [shows], flower making, etc. thrown in there.”

The retreat also challenges some more conservative Muslim practices, such as gender-segregated prayer spaces. “Mixed-gender congregational prayer is another aspect of the retreat that revolutionizes people’s practice of Islam,” Arshad said. This experience is especially significant for trans and genderqueer Muslims who have to navigate gender-segregated mosques—it can be stressful to choose where and when they pray, whether to wear hijab, and how to observe other customs. As one woman of trans experience, who writes under the pen name Mahdia Lynn, wrote in an essay for the website “Sisters from the masjid (the very same women who invited me into their homes and shared in iftars that Ramadan) talked about how disgusting these men-who-want-to-be-women are, swearing they’d never be allowed in our prayer spaces … Suddenly it became apparent that all that love and security I felt was entirely conditional.” At times, communities reject trans worshippers outright—as in recent cases in Arizona and the U.K.

Many regional groups try to offer a sense of safety and belonging beyond this annual meet-up. Kaamila Mohamed, a black, queer woman who cofounded the group Queer Muslims of Boston, said her organization isn’t just for traditionally practicing Muslims. “For some folks it means, ‘I feel safe praying again, within this space.’ For other folks, it can mean, ‘It’s okay for me not to pray. This is a space in which I can be Muslim in the way that I am Muslim.’ And for other people, it’s a place to process relationships with family or with other Muslim spaces.” She said the group also welcomes converts and reverts, or people who may not have a family or cultural history with Islam but have felt it was always their spiritual path.

Tough Questions — Joshua Holland in The Nation compares the questions the Democrats got in their first debate to the ones the Republicans got in Boulder.

The Republican candidates took a number of swipes at the moderators of Wednesday night’s debate on CNBC for their supposedly biased and substance-free questions. They were picking the lowest of low-hanging fruit, going for an easy way to endear themselves to a conservative audience. Texas Senator Ted Cruz probably got the biggest round of applause of the evening when he said, “The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media.” And the crowd really went nuts when he added that “every fawning question” asked of the Democratic candidates during their October 13 debate on CNN amounted to, “Which of you is more handsome and why?” After the show, Donald Trump echoed that sentiment, musing that perhaps the Democrats had somehow “negotiated a better deal” with CNN.

Judging by conservative reactions on social media, it’s now become an article of faith that, while the CNBC moderators were out for blood, CNN’s moderators had “lobbed softball questions” at the Democrats. After Wednesday’s debate, Ben Carson’s campaign called for a “revolt” against… someone, and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Prebius was forced to issue a statement that read: “The performance by the CNBC moderators was extremely disappointing and did a disservice to their network, our candidates, and voters.”

But it’s not true that the Democrats were given an easy ride. Here’s the very first question Anderson Cooper posed to Hillary Clinton during the Democratic debate:

“Secretary Clinton, I want to start with you. Plenty of politicians evolve on issues, but even some Democrats believe you change your positions based on political expediency.

“You were against same-sex marriage. Now you’re for it. You defended President Obama’s immigration policies. Now you say they’re too harsh. You supported his trade deal dozen of times. You even called it the ‘gold standard.’ Now, suddenly, last week, you’re against it.

“Will you say anything to get elected?”

As questions go, that was more dagger than softball. After Clinton claimed that her positions had been consistent, Cooper followed up:

“Secretary Clinton, though, with all due respect, the question is really about political expediency. Just in July, New Hampshire, you told the crowd you’d, quote, ‘take a back seat to no one when it comes to progressive values.’

“Last month in Ohio, you said you plead guilty to, quote, ‘being kind of moderate and center.’ Do you change your political identity based on who you’re talking to?”

Later, Cooper asked her about e-mail-gate: “For the last eight months, you haven’t been able to put this issue behind you. You dismissed it; you joked about it; you called it a mistake. What does that say about your ability to handle far more challenging crises as president?”

Contrast that with the question that set off Ted Cruz’s rant:

“Congressional Republicans, Democrats and the White House are about to strike a compromise that would raise the debt limit, prevent a government shutdown and calm financial markets that fear of—another Washington-created crisis is on the way.

“Does your opposition to it show that you’re not the kind of problem-solver American voters want?”

In response to that substantive question about an issue a lot of people care about, Cruz used up his entire time lamenting that they weren’t “talking about the substantive issues people care about,” and didn’t bother to answer.

In the Democratic debate, Cooper homed in on what many see as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s Achilles heel: “A Gallup poll says half the country would not put a socialist in the White House. You call yourself a democratic socialist. How can any kind of socialist win a general election in the United States?”

After Sanders talked briefly about inequality and universal healthcare, Cooper followed up with this “softball”:

“The question is really about electability here, and that’s what I’m trying to get at. You—the—the Republican attack ad against you in a general election—it writes itself. You supported the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. You honeymooned in the Soviet Union. And just this weekend, you said you’re not a capitalist.

“Doesn’t—doesn’t that ad write itself?”

On Wednesday night, Florida Senator Marco Rubio accused moderator Carl Quintanilla of reciting “a litany of discredited attacks from Democrats and my political opponents” as he dodged a question about some of his well-publicized financial management problems.

It was a tough question, but no tougher than this question to Jim Webb during the October 13 debate: “Senator Webb, in 2006, you called affirmative action ‘state-sponsored racism.’ In 2010, you wrote an op/ed saying it discriminates against whites. Given that nearly half the Democratic Party is non-white, aren’t you out of step with where the Democratic Party is now?”

I could go on. Sanders, who had a high-profile clash with Black Lives Matter activists earlier in the campaign was asked, “Do black lives matter, or do all lives matter?” Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley was forced to defend the “zero tolerance” police policies he pushed as mayor of Baltimore. Anderson Cooper came close to demanding to know what former Republican Lincoln Chaffee was even doing on the stage.

All of these questions probed the candidates’ greatest perceived weaknesses. The CNBC moderators did the same thing Wednesday night when they asked Carly Fiorina about her disastrous stint at Hewlett-Packard. It’s what moderators should do.

But the tough questions that marked the Democratic debate were immediately forgotten when the Republican candidates started working the referees with cries of media bias. Which might be expected, given that it reinforced one of the most enduring conspiracy theories in American politics: that members of the media–like academics and scientists–are hopelessly biased against Republicans.

It’s true that mainstream journalists, like all humans, have various biases. But it’s a big group, with diverse and complex biases. How they tend to help or hinder the two major parties on specific issues can make for hours of interesting debate. But the simplistic narrative that the media are in the tank for Democrats doesn’t. It just dumbs down the discourse and convinces Republican voters that their candidates’ facile charges that all of society’s ills are the fault of the federal government might seem sensible if not for the media’s pernicious influence. In that view, conservatism can never fail—it can only be failed by poor messengers and a tilted playing field.

Repeatedly calling out the moderators for their ostensible bias might have offered some tasty red meat for the base, but as John Nichols put it, for everyone else it made for “an empty night of whining about the media, petty squabbling, and lost opportunities for the Republicans who would be president.”

“Mission Accomplished” — Andy Borowitz on Jeb!’s exit.

MIAMI (The Borowitz Report)—Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush announced that he was dropping out of the race for the Republican Presidential nomination, while standing in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner draped over the façade of his campaign headquarters, in Miami.

Speaking to his remaining staff members who were seated in a dozen folding chairs, Bush thanked them for the hard work that led to the triumphant completion of their mission.

“Our work is done,” Bush said. “Thanks to you, we have prevailed.”

While acknowledging that he took pride in the impressive success of his campaign, Bush stressed that victory did not belong to him alone. “This is a great day for America,” he said.

Upon the conclusion of his remarks, Bush bade farewell to his staffers with a military-style salute before stepping into a waiting helicopter and ascending to the skies.

Minutes after Bush flew away, however, reporters asked senior Bush staffers to define more clearly the mission that Bush had deemed accomplished.

“We feel really good about the work we did, our ground game, getting the word out about Jeb’s accomplishments as a conservative Governor in Florida,” said Bush’s campaign manager, Danny Diaz, who added, “Please, just leave me alone.”

Doonesbury — Take the shot.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Taliban Dan for Speaker?

Raw Story reports that Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) is being touted by the far right of the GOP as the replacement for John Boehner.

Julie Ingersoll of the Annenberg Institute said that Webster’s views are “well outside the mainstream.” Some voters find Webster’s views so medieval that they have nicknamed him “Taliban Dan,” although Ingersoll said that may be too far.However, she said, “Webster has aligned himself with an organization that espouses an orientation to the Bible and its role in civil society that is certainly relevant to his campaign for public office” in that he is a follower of Bill Gothard and his Institute of Basic Life Principles (IBLP), which prescribes strict rules for the sexes and urges women to be submissive to their male family members in all things.

Among Mr. Gothard’s disciples are the famous Duggar family, the folks behind “19 Kids and Counting” on TLC, last heard from when one of their adult children was busted for molesting his own sisters.

Mr. Webster is a strong adherent to his faith, which includes avoiding watching TV in hotel rooms and multiple prayer sessions during the day.  Hey, whatever gets you through the day, okay, but it sounds a lot like he’s putting his faith above everything else.  Does Ben Carson know about that?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sunday Reading

You Got A Problem With That? — Fareed Zakaria on the Pope and Christians.

I am not a Christian. But growing up in India, I was immersed in Christianity. I attended Catholic and Anglican schools from ages 5 to 18, where we would sing hymns, recite prayers and study the Scriptures. The words and actions of Pope Francis have reminded me what I, as an outsider, have always admired deeply about Christianity, that its central message is simple and powerful: Be nice to the poor.

When I came to the United States in the 1980s, I remember being surprised to see what “Christian values” had come to mean in American culture and politics — heated debates over abortion, abstinence, contraception and gays. In 13 years of reading, reciting and studying the Bible, I didn’t recall seeing much about these topics.

That’s because there is very little in there about them. As Garry Wills points out in his perceptive new book, “The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis,” “Many of the most prominent and contested stands taken by Catholic authorities (most of them dealing with sex) have nothing to do with the Gospel.”

The church’s positions on these matters were arrived at through interpretations of “natural law,” which is not based on anything in the Bible. But because those grounds looked weak, conservative clergy sought to bolster their views with biblical sanction. So contraception was condemned by Pope Pius XI, Wills notes, through a pretty tortuous interpretation of a couple of lines in Genesis that say Onan “spilled his seed on the ground” — since it involves ejaculation without the intent of conception.

The ban of women in the Catholic clergy is a similar stretch. When the Anglicans decided to ordain female priests in 1976, Pope Paul VI presented a theological reason not to follow that path. Women could not be priests, he decreed, because Jesus never ordained a female priest. “True enough,” Wills writes. “But neither did he ordain any men. There are no priests (other than the Jewish ones) in the four Gospels. Peter and Paul and their fellows neither call themselves priests nor are called priests by others.”

Wills even takes on abortion, opposition to which some Catholics have taken as fundamental to their faith. “This is odd,” Wills writes, “since the matter is nowhere mentioned in the Old Testament or New Testament, or in the early creeds. But some people are convinced that God must hate such an immense evil and must have expressed that hatred somewhere in his Bible.” In fact, Wills points out, the ban is based on a complex extrapolation from vague language in one verse, Psalm 139:13.

If you want to understand the main message of Jesus Christ, you don’t have to search the Scriptures. He says it again and again. “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.”


Commentators have taken Francis’s speeches and sayings and attacked him or claimed him as a Marxist, a unionist and a radical environmentalist. I don’t think the pope is proposing an alternative system of politics or economics. He is simply reminding each of us that we have a moral obligation to be kind and generous to the poor and disadvantaged — especially if we have been fortunate. If you have a problem with this message, you have a problem not with Pope Francis, but with Jesus Christ.

Boehner’s Last Deal — Molly Ball in The Atlantic on the Speaker’s failure to lead.

…There are two rules of John Boehner, John Lawrence, a former chief of staff to Nancy Pelosi, told me recently: One, he always wants to make the deal; two, he can never deliver the votes for the deal. That was apparent even before he became speaker. In 2008, with the nation’s economy melting down, Boehner, then the House minority leader, worked with Democrats to craft a bailout bill for the financial industry. But when it went to the floor, he couldn’t get Republicans to vote for it. The bill failed, and the stock market plunged nearly 800 points. (A second version of the bill passed a few days later.)

After the Tea Party wave of 2010 elevated Boehner to the speakership, the White House saw him as someone it could deal with, and Boehner and President Obama set about trying to craft a “grand bargain” that would increase government revenue while cutting long-term spending. The deal fell apart—the two sides still disagree on what happened, with Democrats insisting Boehner couldn’t sell a deal to his caucus while Republicans say it was the White House that made unreasonable demands at the last minute. The result, in July 2011, was a debt-ceiling crisis that brought the country to the brink of default and resulted in a credit downgrade.

This pattern—failed dealmaking, crisis, a last-minute (or post-last-minute) patch—would repeat itself. Boehner was backed by a large Republican majority, and was himself quite ideologically conservative. But he believed in compromise, in incremental progress toward conservative goals in the long term. And as a congressional lifer, he’d been around long enough to know what was realistic—given a Democratic Senate and White House—and what was not. Several dozen members of his GOP caucus, elected from overwhelmingly Republican districts, often in race-to-the-right primaries, disagreed with this analysis and viewed compromise as capitulation. (This is also the view of the majority of the party base.)

Thanks to this conservative rump caucus, Boehner couldn’t reliably get the 218 votes he needed to pass legislation through the House. He suffered a series of humiliating failed floor votes; he repeatedly had to rely on Democratic votes to get bills through. The situation came to a head two years ago, when conservatives, led by Senator Ted Cruz, refused to vote for a funding bill to keep the government up and running unless a measure to defund Obamacare was included. With Boehner unable, again, to muster the votes for a compromise, the government shut down for two and a half weeks.

It reopened again just in time to raise the debt ceiling. Boehner was convinced he had taught the conservatives—one moderate GOP congressman termed them “lemmings with suicide vests”—a lesson. And indeed, 2014 saw a marked thaw, with a budget passing both houses for the first time in five years and some minor outbreaks of comity. At the same time, Boehner couldn’t convince his troops to move forward on immigration, an issue dear to the speaker’s base in the business lobby.

Why was Boehner so weak? In part, he was simply a man with an impossible job. Republicans are divided between their nihilist and governing wings. Having banned earmarks, Boehner couldn’t use pork-barrel spending to win votes. And with his naturally easygoing temperament, he wasn’t an enforcer—unlike the former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, no one would ever nickname John Boehner “the Hammer.” Boehner’s efforts to punish those who defied him—by stripping committee assignments, for example—were only met with more defiance. In the vote to reelect him speaker in January, 25 Republicans voted against him, the greatest number of defections any speaker has faced in the last century.

Boehner was said to like being speaker, but most days, he didn’t seem to be having much fun. For years, there have been rumors he would resign. At his press conference Friday, he said he initially planned to depart at the end of 2014, but when Cantor was deposed in a primary last year, he decided to stay one more year, for stability’s sake. Last year’s midterm elections increased the Republicans’ majority and seemed to increase Boehner’s power. But they also increased the ranks of restive conservatives, who helped torpedo another business-lobby priority, the Export-Import Bank, over the summer.

Next week, funding for the government will again expire, and Boehner was looking ahead at another apparently unavoidable shutdown fight, as conservatives demanded that Planned Parenthood be defunded in exchange for any extension. In the end, he realized he had one last bargaining chip—his speakership. Without the threat of an ouster looming over him, he is free to put a “clean” funding bill on the floor, which is likely to pass with a combination of Democratic and Republican votes.

Boehner’s exit Friday was cheered by conservatives, from the halls of the Values Voter Summit to the airwaves of talk radio. After years of struggling against his own party’s rejectors of compromise, he has finally pleased them by giving up. He sacrificed his career for one last deal. This time, he may even have the votes to pass it.

The End of the Myth — Ben Carson shatters the stereotype that brain surgeons are smart; Andy Borowitz reports.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Brain surgeons, long burdened with the onerous reputation of being among the smartest people in the world, are expressing relief that the Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson is shattering that stereotype once and for all.

In interviews with brain surgeons across the country, the doctors revealed the enormous pressure they felt to live up to their profession’s inflated renown for intelligence before Carson entered the race.

“When people found out I was a brain surgeon they would always assume I was some kind of a genius,” said Harland Dorrinson, a neurosurgeon in Toledo, Ohio. “Now they are beginning to understand that you can know a lot about brain surgery and virtually nothing about anything else.”

Dorrinson said that acquaintances used to view him as a source of wisdom on a wide range of subjects, but added, “Ever since Ben Carson said that prisons make people gay, that’s really fallen off.”

The brain surgeon said that he would probably contribute to Carson’s campaign to keep him in the race: “every time he says something, it helps bring people’s unrealistic expectations about brain surgeons back down to earth.”

He said that he was cheered by Carson’s pronouncement over the weekend that Muslims should not be President. “Now you can cross politics off the list of things that people will expect me to be knowledgeable about,” he said. “I think I speak for a lot of brain surgeons when I say, ‘Thank you, Ben Carson.’ ”

Doonesbury — The Big Guy.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Monday, September 21, 2015

Against The Law

Dr. Ben Carson will never be president of anything meaningful, and here’s why.

Carson ignited a media firestorm in a Sunday morning interview with Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press,” in which he said he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.”

“I absolutely would not agree with that,” Carson said.

In an interview with The Hill, Carson opened up about why he believes a Muslim would be unfit to serve as commander in chief.

“I do not believe Sharia is consistent with the Constitution of this country,” Carson said. “Muslims feel that their religion is very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official, and that’s inconsistent with our principles and our Constitution.”

Carson said that the only exception he’d make would be if the Muslim running for office “publicly rejected all the tenants of Sharia and lived a life consistent with that.”

“Then I wouldn’t have any problem,” he said.

Let’s apply the same test to other faiths and see how we do.  For example, there are some Christians who feel that their religion is very much a part of their public life and what they do as a public official.  Kim Davis, for example; the county clerk in Kentucky who went to jail for contempt of court rather than comply with the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality.  Clearly she’s putting her faith ahead of the law of the land.  How does Dr. Carson feel about that?

Carson, a longtime advocate for traditional marriage, said that Kim Davis’ beliefs should be protected by the First Amendment, which guarantees the freedom to exercise religion.

“I do believe in God. I believe in Jesus Christ,” the retired neurosurgeon told CBS12 in a Monday interview. “Congress has a responsibility to step up and create legislation that will protect the religious rights of all Americans.”

So he wants a Muslim who objects to marriage equality because of Sharia law to reject their faith and do their job, but Kim Davis should have Congress pass a law to allow her to defy the law because Jesus.

So either Dr. Carson is really inconsistent in his beliefs about the role of religion in public life, or he’s just a bigot against Muslims.  Or both.

He also is sorely lacking in his understanding of the Constitution.  It is very clear in its stand on religious tests: “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

To be fair, all religious dogma, be it Roman Catholic, Christian, Judaism, Muslim, and even what passes for Quaker dogma, is in one way or another inconsistent with the principles in our Constitution.  By definition dogma is antithetical to democracy.  In order to be a True Believer, you have to accept and live by their rules, not by those passed by a collection of people who happen to live in your country regardless of which supernatural being they believe in and the hoops they make you jump through to prove you’re one of them.  All religions require obedience to them, not the ballot box.  Some have made accommodations to government practices; some have not, and that apparently includes Dr. Carson’s dogma.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Church v. State

The Supreme Court did not rule in June that same-sex couples have to be married in a church or place of worship.  No one has ever been arrested for refusing to perform a same-sex wedding in a church or place of worship, nor will they ever be.  A marriage license issued by the city, county, or state is not a religious proclamation.


Kim Davis made it about religion not the state.  And lucky for her it is perfectly legal for her church to burn gay couples in effigy on the altar every Sunday if it wants to.  It can pray for them to burn in hell and refuse to even let them in the door. The government, on the other hand,  is not allowed to deny gay couples a marriage license. Everything’s separate, as it’s always been.

We don’t live in a theocracy, Ms. Davis.  You’re thinking of Iran.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Scoping It Out

I was getting all set to write a post about how the stand-off between Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis was still making news and what both Ms. Davis and our fascination with shiny objects said about us as a nation, but Josh Marshall beat me to it.

…her only real choice in line with her religious beliefs is to resign her position so as not to violate those beliefs – even though it was a good paying job she inherited from her mother and plans to pass on to her son. But Davis doesn’t want to give [up] her job! Who does? She wants a job enforcing the public laws. But there’s a public law she doesn’t want to enforce, which means she really can’t do the job without violating her religious beliefs. But she doesn’t have the courage of her convictions that would allow her to quit her job. It’s a classic case of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. So she wants to be able to keep her job but just not do part of it, sacrifice for her religious beliefs but also hold on to the job. This is never what religious liberty has meant in any context ever.

In a way it reminds me of Inherit the Wind, the 1955 play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, about the 1925 Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee, that pitted the teaching of evolution against hard-core bible-believing.  (It was made into a film in 1960 with Spencer Tracy and Fredric March.)  On stage it is an epic clash between two very strong principles in American life then and now: respect for a person’s faith and the protection of their right to practice it, and, as Henry Drummond, the attorney for the defense, put it, a person’s right to think.  The defenders of Ms. Davis are making her and her situation to be the same as that of John Scopes and Darwin verus the Bible.

As a drama, Inherit the Wind is a really good piece of theatre, and there are many parallels to the situation of Ms. Davis and Bertram Cates, the character in the play who defies the law.  In reality, though, John Scopes set about to defy the Tennessee law that banned the teaching of evolution in the public schools so that the law would be put on trial.  It was done in cahoots with the ACLU and the local authorities, Mr. Scope’s liberty was never at stake, and everybody pretty much conceded that it was a stunt with the biggest names in celebrity law — Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan — providing the star power.  Lawrence and Lee used the setting and the moral of the story to make a case against the McCarthy era.

How times have changed.  Ninety years ago John Scopes purposefully broke the law to put an end to it.  It was a stunt, but it had a noble purpose.  It’s really hard to make the case that Kim Davis has the same goal in mind.  She is no John Scopes, and Mike Huckabee is no William Jennings Bryan.

I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and grant that she really does believe that her job as the county clerk does allow her to insert her personal faith into the law of the land and that she would rather not be the cause celebre of the Religious Right and the source of what passes for news and considered discourse in our society today.  But America is also the land of opportunity and it’s pretty hard not to be cynical and note that where there’s controversy and someone taking a stand against the tide, there’s money to be made, and wedding cakes, flowers, pizza, and marriage licenses can be turned into a money stream from GoFundMe.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Mind Your Own Business

I tweeted this yesterday:

Quaker County Clerk Tweet 09-02-15The answer is No.  When you have a job that is based on serving the public, you serve the public regardless of your personal beliefs.  So you either do the job or you find something else to do.

This should not be a question that causes headlines.  People face these choices every day without getting face time on cable TV.  People make accommodations in their sincerely-held religious beliefs without incurring the wrath of their particular object of adoration, and people who have no particular religious following are required to adapt to the greater good and do things that they may find personally repellent.  They are mature enough in their understanding of how things work in a society made up of many different beliefs or peccadilloes that they don’t get to impose their own on anyone else to the point that it disrupts the lives of the people they were elected to serve.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Holier Than Thou

There’s a long tradition in organized religion where one version of a faith turns on another.  Sunni vs. Shiite, Orthodox vs. Reform Judaism, even Quaker vs. Quaker.  So it’s no surprise that fundamentalist Christians would turn their wrath over losing out on the marriage equality battle on those Christians who support it.

The first hints of a growing front against liberal Christians came in May, when a coalition of conservative churches in Fountain Hills, Arizona publicly ganged up on a local progressive Methodist community. Unhappy with the church’s teachings, eight congregations launched a campaign entitled “Progressive Christianity: Fact or Fiction?,” a coordinated teaching and preaching series that included op-eds, a half-page advertisement in a local newspaper, and a massive banner with “progressive” written in jagged red letters and hemmed in quotation marks.

“The progressives are at it again, and for a small fee you can join the primary proponent of this apostate religious movement to get answers,” Tony Pierce, a pastor of First Baptist Church of Fountain Hills and one of the participants in the effort, wrote in a letter to the editor. “The good thing about the progressive movement is it gives people a clear choice. The ironic thing about progressive Christianity is that it is neither!”

The source of their outrage? Rev. David Felten, the left-leaning pastor of Fountains United Methodist Church. He reportedly stoked ire by preaching a variety of progressive concepts to his parishioners, such as theological support for interfaith dialogue, scientific discovery, and, of course, LGBT equality.

Felten, like many progressive Christians, was used to criticism for his views — he has even published a book about progressive Christianity. But the intensity of the local attack — which included churches from denominations that are generally more liberal than his own United Methodist Church — caught him off guard.

“When you have an effort collaborated by multiple churches in one community to try to discredit one other way of thinking, that’s when it becomes alarming,” Felten told the local Fox affiliate.

It would all be very entertaining on the level of Star Trek vs. Star Wars or Camaro vs. Mustang, but history is full of examples of carnage, genocide, and war in the name of the what they see as the One True Faith, so let us pray that they remember the words of one long-gone peacenik who said “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

HT to ntodd.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sunday Reading

The Act of Forgiveness — Matt Schiavenza in The Atlantic on how an act of grace leads to healing.

“I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you,” a daughter of one victim said. “We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive,” said the sister of another. “I pray God on your soul.”

Given the heinous nature of the crime, the willingness of Charleston’s survivors to forgive was remarkable—and earned particular praise from President Obama. But the act of forgiving is more than just an expression of grace toward a wrongdoer. It’s also an effective tool in helping individuals and communities touched by tragedy accelerate the healing process.

In March, the Atlantic’s Olga Khazan profiled Everett Worthington, a professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University whose mother was brutally murdered in a 1995 burglary. As it happened, Worthington’s own research examined the effects of forgiveness. So in the days after his mother’s death, he decided to employ a five-step process he had previously devised:

First, you “recall” the incident, including all the hurt. “Empathize” with the person who wronged you. Then, you give them the “altruistic gift” of forgiveness, maybe by recalling how good it felt to be forgiven by someone you yourself have wronged. Next, “commit” yourself to forgive publicly by telling a friend or the person you’re forgiving. Finally, “hold” onto forgiveness. Even when feelings of anger surface, remind yourself that you’ve already forgiven.

Worthington found that his approach worked—and that other examples confirmed his intuition. Studies have shown that forgiveness aids mental and physical health, while the opposite reaction—holding a grudge and harboring resentment—has the opposite effect. This can also be applied to entire communities touched by mass tragedy. In 2006, 32-year-old Charles Roberts stormed into a one-room schoolhouse in an Amish community in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania and shot ten girls, killing five before turning the gun on himself. Despite enormous shock and grief, several of the victims’ family members appeared at the killer’s funeral just days later. When Roberts’ aggrieved mother then announced plans to leave the community, relatives of the dead persuaded her to stay. Seven years later, CBS News reported that the elder Roberts had become the primary caregiver for a girl her son had wounded in the attack.

“Is there anything in this life that we should not forgive?” said Roberts.

An individual or community’s gift of forgiveness, however, does not obviate a society’s demand for justice. In a 2014 case described by the Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen, a Colorado prosecutor seeking the death penalty for a prison inmate charged with murdering a corrections officer engaged in a contentious dispute with the victim’s parents, who opposed capital punishment. After months of back and forth, the prosecutor finally agreed to forgo the death penalty. The defendant, whose attorneys believed him to suffer from mental illness, ultimately pled guilty and is now serving a life sentence.

In the wake of the Charleston murder, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley said that the state would “absolutely want” the death penalty for Dylann Roof. Even Roof’s own uncle said he would support his nephew’s execution, telling reporters that he’d volunteer to “be the one to push the button.”

Several months—at the very least—will pass before a judge determines Roof’s fate. But the decision of the victims’ relatives to forgive may ease some measure of their pain.

It’s Not About Mental Illness — Arthur Chu in Salon on copping out on the real problem behind mass killings by white men.

Dylann Roof is a fanboy of the South African and Rhodesian governments. As horrific as Roof’s crime was, the crimes that occurred over decades of apartheid rule were far, far worse, and committed by thousands of statesmen, bureaucrats and law enforcement officials. Were all of them also “mentally ill”? At the risk of Godwinning myself, John Nash wasn’t the only person to think the Jews were a global demonic conspiracy out to get him–at one point in history a large portion of the Western world bought into that and killed six million people because of it. Were they all “mentally ill”?

Even when violence stems purely from delusion in the mind of someone who’s genuinely totally detached from reality–which is extremely rare–that violence seems to have a way of finding its way to culturally approved targets. Yeah, most white supremacists aren’t “crazy” enough to go on a shooting spree, most misogynists aren’t “crazy” enough to murder women who turn them down, most anti-government zealots aren’t “crazy” enough to shoot up or blow up government buildings.

But the “crazy” ones always seem to have a respectable counterpart who makes a respectable living pumping out the rhetoric that ends up in the “crazy” one’s manifesto–drawing crosshairs on liberals and calling abortion doctors mass murderers–who, once an atrocity happens, then immediately throws the “crazy” person under the bus for taking their words too seriously, too literally.

And the big splashy headliner atrocities tend to distract us from the ones that don’t make headline news. People are willing to call one white man emptying five magazines and murdering nine black people in a church and openly saying it was because of race a hate crime, even if they have to then cover it up with the fig leaf of individual “mental illness”–but a white man wearing a uniform who fires two magazines at two people in a car in a “bad neighborhood” in Cleveland? That just ends up a statistic in a DoJ report on systemic bias.

And hundreds of years of history in which an entire country’s economy was set up around chaining up millions of black people, forcing them to work and shooting them if they get out of line? That’s just history.

The reason a certain kind of person loves talking about “mental illness” is to draw attention to the big bold scary exceptional crimes and treat them as exceptions. It’s to distract from the fact that the worst crimes in history were committed by people just doing their jobs–cops enforcing the law, soldiers following orders, bureaucrats signing paperwork. That if we define “sanity” as going along to get along with what’s “normal” in the society around you, then for most of history the sane thing has been to aid and abet monstrous evil.

We love to talk about individuals’ mental illness so we can avoid talking about the biggest, scariest problem of all–societal illness. That the danger isn’t any one person’s madness, but that the world we live in is mad.

After all, there’s no pill for that.

Nice Work — Christine Porath in The New York Times on how civility — and the lack of it — is damaging the American workplace.

Why is respect — or lack of it — so potent? Charles Horton Cooley’s 1902 notion of the “looking glass self” explains that we use others’ expressions (smiles), behaviors (acknowledging us) and reactions (listening to us or insulting us) to define ourselves. How we believe others see us shapes who we are. We ride a wave of pride or get swallowed in a sea of embarrassment based on brief interactions that signal respect or disrespect. Individuals feel valued and powerful when respected. Civility lifts people. Incivility holds people down. It makes people feel small.

Even though a growing number of people are disturbed by incivility, I’ve found that it has continued to climb over the last two decades. A quarter of those I surveyed in 1998 reported that they were treated rudely at work at least once a week. That figure rose to nearly half in 2005, then to just over half in 2011.

Incivility often grows out of ignorance, not malice. A surgeon told me that until he received some harsh feedback, he was clueless that so many people thought he was a jerk. He was simply treating residents the way he had been trained.


Civility elicits perceptions of warmth and competence. Susan T. Fiske, a professor at Princeton, and Amy J. C. Cuddy, a professor at Harvard, with their colleagues have conducted research that suggests that these two traits drive our impressions of others, accounting for more than 90 percent of the variation in the positive or negative impressions we form of those around us. These impressions dictate whether people will trust you, build relationships with you, follow you and support you.

The catch: There can be a perceived inverse relationship between warmth and competence. A strength in one can suggest a weakness of the other. Some people are seen as competent but cold — he’s very smart, but people will hate working for him. Or they’re seen as warm but incompetent — she’s really friendly, but probably not very smart.

Leaders can use simple rules to win the hearts and minds of their people — with huge returns. Making small adjustments such as listening, smiling, sharing and thanking others more often can have a huge impact. In one unpublished experiment I conducted, a smile and simple thanks (as compared with not doing this) resulted in people being viewed as 27 percent warmer, 13 percent more competent and 22 percent more civil.


Civility pays dividends. J. Gary Hastings, a retired judge in Los Angeles, told me that when he informally polled juries about what determined their favor, he found that respect — and how attorneys behaved — was crucial. Juries were swayed based on thin slices of civil or arrogant behavior.

Across many decisions — whom to hire, who will be most effective in teams, who will be able to be influential — civility affects judgments and may shift the balance toward those who are respectful.

Given the enormous cost of incivility, it should not be ignored. We all need to reconsider our behavior. You are always in front of some jury. In every interaction, you have a choice: Do you want to lift people up or hold them down?

Doonesbury — She’s not a scientist.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Praying For Discrimination

ThinkProgress has an inside look at the Southern Baptist Convention’s plans to immunize themselves against claims of discrimination for firing women, minorities, or those suspected of LGBT tendencies or sympathies.

Based on a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that ministerial employees are exempt from discrimination laws, the solution is simple: anyone who works for a religious organization is encouraged to exercise ministerial duties and therefore is exempt from civil rights laws… and protections.

According to the manual, “[e]mployees with some duties usually performed by (or associated with) clergy are more likely to be viewed as ‘minister-like’ by the courts. Consequently, courts are more likely to apply the ministerial exception to employment law claims based on alleged discrimination” against these employees. In essence, the manual advises that an employer can take a janitor, require them to lead the staff in prayer every so often, and POOF! the janitor is now a “minister” and the employer is free to fire that janitor because they are black, because they are gay, or because they are a woman.

If the Court rules in favor of marriage equality, then you will see a bumper crop of Southern Baptist preachers doing everything from sweeping the floor to answering the phone, bringing their ministry — and their civil rights — to the fore and to the floor.

No one expects the Religious Reich to go quietly if the Court rules in favor.  History has shown us that they have been the last bastions of bigotry, fighting school desegregation with every loophole and perverted interpretation of the bible that they can winnow out.  Fifty years from now there will still be ways that they will be trying to repress the rights of others, and there will still be those who are coming up with ways to do it.