Jul 18, 2007

Tax the Churches!

A CPER paper analyzes tax exemptions for philantropy and arrives at a conclusion I like: contributions to churches should not be tax-exempt.
Contributions in areas that have a direct effect on the private asset base of the poor (such as basic health, education, housing, technologies that raise demand for low-skilled labour, etc.) can be seen as substitutes for income redistribution, whereas contributions to public goods that have little income-augmenting effects for the poor (such as churches, museums, sports facilities, parks, private schools and hospitals, etc.) should be seen as complementary to income redistribution. The case for exempting rich philanthropists from expropriation should not be accepted as a matter of course.

Jul 16, 2007

What Right-Wingers Say When They Think It's Safe

The Independent's Johann Hari went on the National Review cruise. What he heard knocks a lot of credibility out of various naive "it can't happen here" assurances.
"Do you have a child back in England?" she asks. No, I say. Her face darkens. "You'd better start," she says. "The Muslims are breeding. Soon, they'll have the whole of Europe."

That one was from a random female passenger. I remember hearing a lot of Serbs talk like that in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I guess Milosevic is alive and well in the U S and A.

And now for something completely different:

Robert Bork, Ronald Reagan's one-time nominee to the Supreme Court, mumbles from beneath low-hanging jowls: "The coverage of this war is unbelievable. Even Fox News is unbelievable. You'd think we're the only ones dying. Enemy casualties aren't covered. We're doing an excellent job killing them."

You're doing a heckuva job, Borkie. Good thing we had a Democratic majority in the Senate in 1987.

Norman Podhoretz (...) wants more wars, and fast. He is "certain" Bush will bomb Iran, and " thank God" for that.

Let's be charitable: maybe he just thanks God for his certainty. He'll thank Him for bombing after it happens.

Next to such raging lunatics, guess who appears too meek and almost smells liberal:

The nuanced doubts of Bill Buckley leave them confused. Doesn't he sound like the liberal media? Later, over dinner, a tablemate from Denver calls Buckley "a coward". His wife nods and says, " Buckley's an old man," tapping her head with her finger to suggest dementia.

Yes, they are talking about that William Fucking Buckley. They are that insane. As to what Buckley himself thinks:

Buckley agrees approvingly that Reagan's approach would have been to "find a local strongman" to rule Iraq.

Would have? I recall the US generously helping a certain local strongman in the 1980s. Hang on...

For somebody who declares democracy to be his goal, (Podhoretz) is remarkably blasé about the fact that 80 per cent of Iraqis want US troops to leave their country, according to the latest polls. "I don't much care," he says, batting the question away. He goes on to insist that "nobody was tortured in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo" and that Bush is "a hero".

And Chance E. Gardener would make a great next President... No, this is more surreal than that...

Ward Connerly is the only black person in the National Review posse, a 67-year-old Louisiana-born businessman, best known for leading conservative campaigns against affirmative action for black people. (...) There are, he says, "those who condemn the Klan based on their past without seeing the human side of it, because they don't want to be in the wrong, politically correct camp, you know..."

That settles one question for good: Ward Churchill is definitely not the craziest person named "Ward C." in the United States.

Dinesh D'Souza announced as we entered Mexican seas what he calls "D'Souza's law of immigration": " The quality of an immigrant is inversely proportional to the distance travelled to get to the United States."

He almost certainly wanted to say "directly proportional" but was too stupid to get it right. Besides Mexican-bashing, it was meant to be self-promotion, as D'Souza - as well as his audience - came all the way from Uranus.

A Good Response to Theistic Pseudoethical Babble

I have neither time nor patience to write about idiotic Washington Compost op-eds written by staffers of the Commander-In-Chimp, but Obsidian Wings has a nice, well-reasoned retort to Michael Gerson. Highly recommended.

Jul 13, 2007

Laffing My Ass Off

Today's Wall Street Journal editorial has the most idiotic Laffer curve I've seen yet. You need subscription to read it, but the absurd diagram is available via Economist's View:

So that's how AEI and WSJ fit curves to data: Take a bunch of points, draw the curve you want through 2-3 points that are the most convenient to tell your preconceived story, and ignore the rest. Oh, yes, and assume your readers are complete morons, so you don't even have to hide what you've done.

The Horror! False God in the Senate!

Prayer in the legislature is a silly tradition that should be abandoned, but until that happens, the government should at least treat all religions equally. Yesterday we saw a step in that direction: for the first time, a Hindu led the opening prayer in the U.S. Senate. And a Christian right group disrupted it.

It seems that the visitors who disrupted the prayer came to the session for that very purpose, which makes their case far weaker than if they had to be there and were exposed to religion they disagree with against their will. And they are self-centered hypocrits, because they are eager to foist their religion on others, just not willing to hear a word of somebody else's faith. Yet, I don't think they should be punished; I think they were legitimately exercising their First Amendment rights.

One of the reasons government should not endorse religion is based on the following problem: a lot of people have very deep feelings about religion, any given religion is false to many (actually most) people, and no objective standard of truth applies to religion; therefore, whenever government endorses any religion, it just pisses off a lot of people without any good reason. People don't like it when the government - which has power over them - endorses what they see as a false god. And they have a right to not have the government do it.

That applies to everybody. Those fanatics may be idiots, but they have the same rights as everyone else. For one day, the government has implied, through a meaningless and unnecessary ritual, an endorsement of a religion that those people deeply feel is false. Why shouldn't they protest against it?

Of course, every day except yesterday, the government endorses, in the same way, another religion. The only difference is that those people like that other religion. But there are others who don't, and they should have the same right to protest. Those Christian activists gave us some good evidence that prayer in the legislature is harmful. They probably didn't think about the ramifications of their heckling, but it may have been a step toward the end of Congressional prayer (which would mean we saw two steps in the right direction).

And they don't have a right to deny others the same rights they have. So next time somebody interrupts a Christian prayer shouting that it's about a false god, the Christian right should shut up and put up with it.

UPDATE: Hindu prayer was offered in Congress once before, in the House of Representatives. Family Research Council made a stink then. There is a good blog post about yesterday's incident on Pharyngula; comments #6 and #50 there are also noteworthy.

Jul 12, 2007

Jesus, Hillary!

If Hillary keeps yakking about her religion, she should consider running for abbess, not president.

Cal Thomas challenges her expressed religious views from a conservative Christian position. Digby links to that op-ed and comments that the Christian right is at war with mainline churches, that it is foolish for the Democrats to willingly jump into the pool with those sharks, and that this is why the Constitution forbids religious tests for office and it is a mistake (for Hillary) not to honor the spirit of that clause. That's all fine, it probably is a strategic mistake, and the right-wingers will always be ready to hit under the belt. But that's about strategy, not substance.

On substance, I think Cal Thomas has the better point:
If the newspaper story is accurate, this is where Clinton is on her faith: "In a brief quiz about her theological views, Mrs. Clinton said she believed in the resurrection of Jesus, though she described herself as less sure of the doctrine that being a Christian is the only way to salvation."

This is a politician speaking, not a person who believes in the central tenets of Christianity.

The same book that tells of the resurrection, also quotes Jesus as saying "I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me" (John 14:6). One might ask, which the reporter did not, that if there are other ways to God than through Jesus, why did Jesus bother to come to Earth, allow himself to be crucified and suffer rejection?

That's right. Hillary's position - which is the position of many moderate Christians - is a severe case of cognitive dissonance. The resurrection myth just doesn't make any sense if it allows for other paths to God/truth/salvation.

I don't see why Hillary's "I believe in resurrection but Heaven is multicultural" makes any more sense than Brownback's "I believe in evolution as long as it doesn't contradict bronze-age myths and my ignorant gut feeling." Yeah, Hillary is smarter than Sam, but that only makes her intellectual dishonestylaziness more culpable.

Jul 10, 2007

All Men Are Created... Stop Here, Say No More.

Bush believes people are created, but he has a problem with the "equal" part. Ed Brayton shows that the Libby commutation hypocrisy is even deeper than it looks.

Why Is the Constitution Like the Bible

Most Americans think it's great and have no clue what the hell it says.

(More to come later...)