British Believe Religion Does More Harm Than Good

Here in the United States we still have battles over whether creationism (thinly disguised as intelligent design) will be taught in the class rooms, and we have a President believes God chose him to be President and advised him to go to war in Iraq. Things are sure different in Great Britain. The Guardian has published results of a poll showing that 82% of those questioned say they see religion as a cause of division and tension between people. The principle difference there is that non-believers outnumber believers in Britain by almost two to one. While politicians often refer to the United States as a Christian nation, only 17% consider Great Britain to be a Christian nation.

John Kerry: The Case for Flip-Flopping

Two of the things that John Kerry must do if he is going to have a chance should he run for the 2008 nomination are to both show that he is not the flip flopper as portrayed by the right wing noise machine and that he has the expertise and knowledge to respond to the mess which George Bush will leave behind. He does both in an op-ed in The Washington Post entitled The Case for Flip-Flopping: When Resolve Turns Reckless. He starts out by turning the flip flop charge against George Bush in writing, “There’s something much worse than being accused of ‘flip-flopping’: refusing to flip when it’s obvious that your course of action is a flop.”

Kerry provides many examples of how Bush’s policies have flopped, and once again argues for his recommendations of using diplomacy. To justify speaking to our enemies, he even notes the actions of two previous Republican Presidents:

Conversation is not capitulation. Until recently, it was widely accepted that good foreign policy demands a willingness to seize opportunities and change policy as the facts change. That’s neither flip-flopping nor rudderless diplomacy — it’s strength.

How else could we end up with the famous mantra that “only Nixon could go to China”? For decades, Richard Nixon built his reputation as a China hawk. In 1960, he took John Kennedy to task for being soft on China. He called isolating China a “moral position” that “flatly rejected cowardly expediency.” Then, when China broke with the Soviet Union during his presidency, he saw an opportunity to weaken our enemies and make Americans safer. His 1972 visit to China was a major U.S. diplomatic victory in the Cold War.

Ronald Reagan was no shape-shifter, either, but after calling the Soviet Union the “evil empire,” he met repeatedly with its leaders. When Reagan saw an opportunity for cooperation with Mikhail Gorbachev, he reached out and tested our enemies’ intentions. History remembers that he backed tough words with tough decisions — and, yes, that he changed course even as he remained true to his principles.

While there is the obvious irony is using The Case for Flip-Flopping in the title, John Kerry’s consitency and forsight on Iraq should be noted. While he made a mistake in trusting George Bush to keep his word and use the authority to use force as a last resort to attempt to achieve a diplomatic victory, Kerry was right in his early objections to the war. Kerry laid out the reasons not to go into Iraq except as a last resort several times before the war, including in his Senate floor statement, his op-eds in The New York Times and Foreign Affairs, and his pre-war Georgetown Speech. He protested at the onset of the war that we needed regime change in the United States. Fortunately American voters brought about a form of regime change in last month’s elections.

ABC News: Misinformer of the Year, and Mark Halperin’s Freak Show

I’m not sure how Fox does’t just win this every year, but Media Matters recognizes ABC News as Misinformer of the Year. They discuss The Path to 9/11 at length (previous posts here) but also list many other examples.

ABC News political director Mark Halperin, who regularly repeats right wing talking points as fact in The Note, is bliamed for much of the misinformation with examples such as his appearances on The O’Reilly Factor and Hannity and Colmes claiming that the media is “biased against conservatives; there’s no doubt about it.” (Previous posts on Halperin here.)

While they cite several television appearances and an on line article, I’m surprised they didn’t  mention the book he co-wrote, The Way to Win. The book does do a valuable service in noting how The Freak Show of the new right wing media is gaining prominence in elections, including the manner in which it managed to destroy the reputations of recent Democratic candidates such as John Kerry. They noted the influence of Matt Drudge, although exaggerating his importance by comparing him to Walter Cronkite, and note how people like Drudge put out stories without regard for fact checking and verification expected by old fashioned journalists. After conceding that much of the information spread by The Freak Show is untrue, the authors proceeded to repeat many untrue right wing talking points about Kerry as if they were fact. If Halperin was a true journalist rather than a misinformer, he would have still discussed The Freak Show but would have further emphasized the differences between the right wing media and true news and disputed the misinformation they spread. By spreading the lies of the right wing noise machine, Halperin has become a member of The Freak Show himself and ceased to be a credible journalist.

The Festivus Airing of Grievances

(This was originally posted for Festivus 2005 but remains applicable for this year and I have reprinted it with minor editing and updating of links. Note that the Festivus Miracle I wrote about appears to be coming true.)

Today is Festivus, the nondenominational holiday made famous on Seinfeld. The Festivus celebration includes The Airing of Grievances in which each participate at the Festivus Dinner tells each other all the instances where they disappointed him or her that year. In the spirit of George Lakoff’s “strict father” model for Republican leadership style, for Festivus this year I rant to one and all about all the ways in which George Bush has disappointed me:

George, you twice took an oath to preserve and protect the Constitution and you claim to support judges who look to the intentions of its framers. Yet you take executive powers, and the powers of the commander in chief, far beyond what the framers ever intended. Emergency powers are intended to allow for immediate response to a crisis, not to allow for an indefinite expansion of your powers without legislative approval or judicial review.

You failed in the most important duties of your office, protecting the country when under attack. You ignored the warnings about al Qaeda from your predecessor upon taking office. You ignored warnings in your own intelligence briefings that terrorists planned an attack involving hijacked airplanes, and then on the day of the actual attack you sat down to read a book, possibly for the first time in your life. I hope you enjoyed The Pet Goat. Now if you would only read a few books explaining the background to the problems you have been mishandling.

After failing to take action to protect us from an imminent attack, you totally screw up in retaliating against the wrong country. Your failure to settle matters in Afghanistan before attacking Iraq allowed Bin Laden to escape at Tora Bora when he could have been captured.

Who has your foreign policy helped? You sure helped al Qaeda grow, as Saudi and Israeli studies showed that it was opposition to the war which radicalized those fighting American troops. The other big winner has been Iran as you have spread our military too thin to respond to problems beyond Iraq.

You even considered bombing al-Jazeera. Listen, if you really wanted to get rid of a bunch of religious fanatics and political extremists who were using biased news reports to prop up a corrupt government and reduce freedom you should have gone after Fox News. If Pravda had been as effective in deceiving the public as Fox News and the rest of the right wing noise machine is, the Soviet Union would probably still exist.

Then there’s this Medicare plan of yours. Those in Medicaid programs had their prescriptions paid for at negotiated discount prices, but your plan prevents such discounts in the Medicare programs providing a financial windfall to the pharmaceutical industry at the expense of the taxpayers. What a great deal for the pharmaceutical companies who donated fortunes to you–plus you gave them a great excuse to eliminate their patient assistance programs. Of course don’t forget the insurance industry, which also makes out great thanks to the subsidies you are providing for Medicare managed care plans–plans which have historically been so inefficient that insurance companies will only get involved if they receive such subsidies, again at taxpayer’s expense.

You sure are great for your friends in the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. Then there’s the oil companies. How much did they stand to gain if you got away with the ANWR drilling? I’m sure they would have gotten a better deal than the consumers who would have save a whole one cent per gallon at the pump.

Besides undermining our national security and harming the environment, you have run up record deficits to undermine our financial futures while giving huge tax cuts which primarily benefit the rich. You have undermined important parts of the Constitution as you have engaged in illegal surveillance of American citizens, worked to destroy the checks and balances which have so far saved us tyranny, and you have harmed the separation of church and state which is so important to guarantee that everyone can practice (or not practice) religion in the manner they desire.


Partisan Differences on Military Force

Matthew Continetti writes at The Weekly Standard that the parties are polarized over foreign policy:

The great divisions in American life–between low- and upper-income voters; those who attend religious services weekly and those who do not; people who are married and people who are single; voters with a postgraduate education and those without–are often less predictive of voting patterns than one’s stance on the use of American power abroad. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press concluded in 2005 that “foreign affairs assertiveness now almost completely distinguishes Republican-oriented voters from Democratic-oriented voters.” Together, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the March 20, 2003, invasion of Iraq seem to have accelerated a shift begun some 30 years ago: The Democratic party is increasingly linked with the attitudes, tendencies, and policies of peace, whereas the Republican party is increasingly linked with the maintenance and projection of American military power.

The Iraq war has resulted in considerable polarization over foreign policy, but not entirely how Continetti characterizes it. While true that the Republicans are quicker to advocate force, regardless of whether it actually serves our national interests, it is erroneous to characterize Democrats as being opposed to using military power. After all, there was bipartisan support for going to war against Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. Both Howard Dean and John Kerry, who opposed the invasion of Iraq, also stated they would support military action if we were proven to be threatened by WMD.

The difference is not whether Democrats support use of military power, but that Republicans have a single minded approach to foreign policy while Democrats are more realistic. Republicans are quick to see force as the solution while Democrats consider a variety of approaches, including diplomacy and international cooperation along with force. During the 2004 election campaign Bush attacked Kerry’s assertion that fighting terrorism is more of an intelligence-gathering law enforcement operation, with Kerry having been proven to be right.

Supporting the use of military force when it is the best option, and opposing it when its use is both unnecessary and counter-productive as in the case of Iraq is not a pacifist position as characterized by Continetti. The difference between the parties on foreign policy and use of military force is not one of being for against the use of military force, but a difference of supporting an insane versus a sane foreign policy.