Happy Effing New Year

Seriously, I hope the new year is good to you, and to me, too. I intend to celebrate by spending some quality time with Sadie Awful Bad Cat.

My prediction for 2014, based on the I Ching, is that for the next few months the nation and world will be stumbling along as it has for the last few months, and we’ll somehow manage. Things shouldn’t get any worse, anyway.

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Issa: We Meant the Other al Qaeda

Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times fires back at the Right:

Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, who has made a special crusade out of the attack on the American diplomatic and intelligence compound in Benghazi, was asked on “Meet the Press” to justify Republican claims that Al Qaeda agents planned and executed the operation. (The article found no evidence that Al Qaeda was involved.)

Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC put her finger on the political question when she asked Mr. Issa why Republicans “use the term Al Qaeda.” After all, she said, “you and other members of Congress are sophisticated in this and know that when you say Al Qaeda, people think central Al Qaeda. They don’t think militias that may be inspired by Bin Laden and his other followers.”

“There is a group there involved that is linked to Al Qaeda,” Mr. Issa said. “What we never said — and I didn’t have the security to look behind the door, that’s for other members of Congress — of what the intelligence were on the exact correspondence with Al Qaeda, that sort of information — those sorts of methods I’ve never claimed.”

I’m still trying to parse that sentence.

Sometimes weasel words do turn around and bite you, don’t they, Rep. Issa? I think, though, that these days the term “al Qaeda” (which just means “the base”) can mean just about anything one wants it to mean. It can mean a particular organization that is currently being run out of Pakistan, or it can refer to a kind of amorphous movement of dissociated anti-Western militias, and many things in between.

This makes weaseling pretty easy. A Republican operative can say “al Qeada,” meaning any Muslim from Turkey to Malaysia with an attitude about the West; and the followers hear “al Qaeda,” meaning the specific organization founded by Osama bin Laden.

(In Rightie World, a lie doesn’t count as a lie if they can argue there’s some literal truth to it, depending on how terms are defined, even if the statement is intentionally deceptive.)

The Weaseling continues:

On Fox News on Sunday, Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan insisted the story was wrong in finding that “Al Qaeda was not involved in this.”

“There was some level of pre-planning; we know that,” he said. “There was aspiration to conduct an attack by Al Qaeda and their affiliates in Libya; we know that. The individuals on the ground talked about a planned tactical movement on the compound — this is the compound before they went to the annex.”

What does any of that even mean? “Some level of pre-planning” in rightie speak could mean that in 2009 some Libyan sent an email to his brother-in-law in Islamabad calling for death to westerners. “There was aspiration?” “Individuals on the ground?” Please. Basically all he’s saying is that the Libyan militants had given some thought to how they might attack the U.S. compound before they attacked it — which nobody is denying — and that the group is ideologically similar to and admirers of the original al Qaeda — which nobody is denying.

Rosenthal continues,

For anyone wondering why it’s so important to Republicans that Al Qaeda orchestrated the attack — or how the Obama administration described the attack in its immediate aftermath — the answer is simple. The Republicans hope to tarnish Democratic candidates by making it seem as though Mr. Obama doesn’t take Al Qaeda seriously. They also want to throw mud at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who they fear will run for president in 2016.

Which brings us to one particularly hilarious theme in the response to the Times investigation. According to Mr. Rogers, the article was intended to “clear the deck” for Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Rosenthal leaves out what I thought to be the most hilarious reaction to the Times story, from Bob Taylor in The Washington Times.

That does not mean, however, that the Times timing of the story should not come under some degree of scrutiny. A piece of journalism as extensive as this does not happen overnight. Obviously the Times set out well in advance with the idea of breaking the story on the weekend before the new year.

Obviously? It’s certainly not obvious to me.

One of the dirty little secrets about investigative media is that more often than not reporters already know the story they want to tell before they leave the building. The “investigation” results in seeking out the people who can corroborate the result the media outlet is seeking.

Ah, he’s been hanging out with the Fox News crew, I see.

If the Times discovered al Qaeda had been involved in the Benghazi attacks the investigation would have been for naught. It would have been a non-story.

That makes absolutely no sense. Actual evidence of a real al Qaeda connection (meaning the al Qaeda al Qaeda, not al Qaeda lite) would have been a huge scoop for the Times and The Story of The Year. It would have sold newspapers up the wazoo. Discovering that the attackers were just local yokels is the non-story.

So the question, or questions, become who is the Times protecting? Barack Obama? Hillary Clinton? Or both?

No, the question is, What kinds of drugs is Bob Taylor on?

For example, consider the phrase, “the raid was accelerated in part by anger over the video.” Not a definitive statement to say the least. Surely, given the amount of time spent on pursuing the report, the Times could have reached a more concrete answer than that.

Does Taylor speak English? “The raid was accelerated in part by anger over the video” seems pretty definitive to me.

The quote by Abu Khattala who “suggested that the video which insulted the Prophet Muhammad was justification for the killings” is hardly a strong verification either. “Suggested” merely refers to the “possibility” that the video was a culprit.

Or, it’s a accurate description of what Abu Khattala said.

Furthermore, the world “justification” is significant in any understanding of Islamic radicalism. The word “justify” appears throughout the Koran. In the Muslim world, if you can “justify” your actions it is all that is necessary to be free of any responsibility. Barack Obama uses such tactics all the time. It is one of the primary reasons many people believe he still has Muslim ties.

I’m guessing ol’ Bob is on something like Diazepam or Dopamine, but since I don’t know him personally I have no way to know that. It’s possible he’s just nuts. Sorry I can’t be more definitive.

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Righties: If You Don’t Tell Us What We Want to Hear, You Are Lying

Over the weekend the New York Times came out with an exhaustive investigation of Benghazi. The basic take-aways are:

First, there is no evidence al Qaeda or any other international terrorist group was involved. The perps were local militants.

Second, anger fueled by an American-made anti-Islam video really was part of the motivation for the attack.

Do I think the New York Times is infallible? Of course not. But they’ve done the legwork and make a persuasive case through, you know, evidence.

Righties have gone into full temper-tantrum mode, screaming about “revisionist history.” They do not want to hear that al Qaeda was not behind Benghazi. Because.

One of the better retorts comes from Thomas Joscelyn at The Weekly Standard. I say “better” because he at least makes an effort to blow enough smoke to bring the Times’s investigation into doubt, instead of just whining and stamping his feet like most of his fellow travelers.

However, Joscelyn’s retort relies rather heavily on dishonesty. For example:

Left out of the Times’s account are the many leads tying the attackers to al Qaeda’s international network.

For instance, there is no mention of Muhammad Jamal al Kashef, an Egyptian, in Kirkpatrick’s retelling. This is odd, for many reasons.

On October 29, 2012 three other New York Times journalists reported that Jamal’s network, in addition to a known al Qaeda branch (al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), was directly involved in the assault. The Times reported (emphasis added): “Three Congressional investigations and a State Department inquiry are now examining the attack, which American officials said included participants from Ansar al-Shariah, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Muhammad Jamal network, a militant group in Egypt.”

Wow. Except from what I can gather from the earlier story, the “officials” were mostly Republican senators and congress critters. Here’s the earlier story in the Times:

But the question on the minds of some lawmakers is why the declining security situation did not prompt a fundamental rethinking of the security needs by the State Department and the White House. Three Congressional investigations and a State Department inquiry are now examining the attack, which American officials said included participants from Ansar al-Shariah, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Muhammad Jamal network, a militant group in Egypt.

“Given the large number of attacks that had occurred in Benghazi that were aimed at Western targets, it is inexplicable to me that security wasn’t increased,” said Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the senior Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, one of the panels holding inquiries.

In other words, the New York Times was not reporting on what happened in Benghazi, but on what mostly unnamed people were speculating about what happened in Benghazi. It was merely reporting on suspicions being voiced by “officials,” and that the matter was under investigation. The New York Times is not contradicting its own reporting, as half the rightie blogosphere is claiming right now.

The Right has been implicating Muhammad Jamal and tying him to al Qaeda — and he may well be tied to al Qaeda, for all I know — but if they have any concrete evidence connecting him to Benbhazi, they’re keeping it hidden. Mostly they just quote each other’s implications as “evidence.” Everybody’s saying it, so it must be true.

Something we do know, and that the Times left out, is that The Benghazi Hoax was Spun up by the GOP to Protect Mitt Romney.

See also what Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) said about Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).

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A Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall

This week 1.3 million people will be losing unemployment benefits, which will be a disaster for them (just as food stamps are going away, too) and a drag on the economy overall.

WaPo has a map showing where the people losing benefits live. Wow, New Jersey is about to get slammed. What’s up with that, Gov. Christie? Hasn’t yelling at schoolteachers created more jobs?

One person happy about the loss of benefits is Paul Ryan, who seems to sincerely believe that cutting people off of benefits will inspire them to get jobs that aren’t actually there.

Ryan has always defended his stinginess on safety net issues as tough love for the poor, giving them “incentives” to take a job, any job, to support their families.

“We have an incentive-based system where people want to get up and make the most of their lives, for themselves and their kids,” he says. “We don’t want to turn this safety net into a hammock that ends up lulling people in their lives into dependency and complacency. That’s the big debate we’re having right now.”

Now, where have we heard this before? Timothy Egan remembers.

When a million Irish died during the Great Famine of the 1850s, many in the English aristocracy said the peasants deserved to starve because their families were too big and indolent. The British baronet overseeing food relief felt that the famine was God’s judgment, and an excellent way to get rid of surplus population. His argument on relief was the same one used by Rand Paul.

“The only way to prevent the people from becoming habitually dependent on government is to bring the operation to a close,” Sir Charles Trevelyan said about the relief plan at a time when thousands of Irish a day were dropping dead from hunger.

(I understand the one million figure is a conservative estimate. And the Irish were growing plenty of food in Ireland. They just weren’t allowed to eat it.)

Ryan always strikes me as being possibly less bright than a bag of hammers. But, still, there’s something particularly galling to me when someone with an Irish surname takes up this “tough love for the indolent poor” crusade.

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Advice for the Utterly Screwed

Regarding Obamacare — if your income is below the federal poverty line (FPL- $11,490 for an individual), you aren’t eligible for subsidies on the exchanges, because you qualify for Medicaid. That is, unless you live in a state that has not expanded Medicaid. Then you’re probably just screwed.

However, according to this article — if you overestimate what you actually think you will earn in 2014 so that you can get the subsidy you won’t be penalized for it later. In some cases the subsidies can cover the entire cost of the insurance. So if you know anybody who might be in this boat, give them this tip.

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War on Christmas: Status Update

What strikes you about this paragraph?

The congressman is among a growing number of conservatives who have vowed to resist “the war on Christmas” that they say threatens to turn the holiday into a secular celebration. Many of them have charged, for example, that it’s become less politically correct to use a Christmas greeting exclusively.

Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), chairwoman of the House Administration Committee, announced early this month that lawmakers are now allowed — for the first time in 40 years — to send holiday cards to constituents that say “Merry Christmas.”

OK, I boldfaced the part that struck me. This has been going on for 40 years? And it’s just now bothers you?

I’m assuming that when Miller says “not allowed” she means “not allowed to use their free franking privilege for religious purposes.” So who decided my tax dollars can underwrite somebody else’s religion? Don’t these people ever red the flipping Constitution?

Part of the problem here is that the Christianist tribe has expanded the idea of a “religious” holiday to include elements like shopping mall decorations and Santa Clause (but only if white) as “Christmas,” and therefore “religious,” and then they complain that “liberals” are trying to turn Christmas into a “secular” holiday as opposed to a religious one.

We don’t have to try, dears. You did that yourselves, a long time ago.

Now, I realize that the legend of Santa Claus evolved from stories about Saint Nicholas (270-343), but at this point the Jolly Old Elf resembles the Saint about as much as My Pretty Pony resembles Secretariat. (Among other legends, Nicholas is said to have punched out another bishop at the Council of Nicaea.)

Yes, Nicholas was said to have given secret gifts — to the poor — which has little to do with rioting WalMart shoppers trying to snag the last marked down iPad. And the practice of leaving presents under a decorated evergreen tree is relatively recent; the German tradition of decorated Christmas trees didn’t spread elsewhere until the 19th century.

Next they’ll be telling us there’s a “war on Easter” (a holiday possibly named after Ä’ostre, an Anglo-Saxon fertility goddess — bunnies? eggs? hello?) and a liberal disrespect for Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross because somebody doesn’t like pastel-colored marshmallow baby chicks.

This year some dippy woman defended Christ by assaulting a Salvation Army bell-ringer for saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” This has got to be a peak example of missing the point.

I would be absolutely thrilled if Christians did re-claim Christmas as a religious holiday, emphasizing prayer, church attendance, and charity, and let the rest of us tone it down to a nice family get-together with less hype and expense.

However, there is evidence we are winning. First, the Pope is on mostly our side now. And then there’s this:

A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Group points to a shifting toward such pluralism, with close to half of Americans (49%) surveyed agreeing that stores and businesses should greet their customers with “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings” instead of “merry Christmas”, out of respect for people of different faiths. This number is up from 44% when they conducted this survey in 2010.

That said, I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays as best you can.

See also “A Merrier Christmas for Liberal Christians.”

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Christmas Day

The composer is Giovanni Gabrieli (c. 1554/1557 – 1612).

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Christmas Eve

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Et tu, Wingnuts?

Today’s outrage on the Right is that a grocery chain in Britain allows its Muslim employees to refuse to ring up sales of pork or liquor. Instead, they may politely direct the customer to another cashier.

The reaction on the American Right has been swift and derisive. If you want a representative sampling, you may proceed to the comments at Weasel zippers. Be warned; it’s ugly stuff.

At least the customers can purchase liquor and pork, even if they have to wait in another line. But what about pharmacists who refuse to either fill birth control prescriptions or direct customers to another pharmacy? Or even transfer a prescription?

What about Catholic hospitals who refuse to perform abortions even when the pregnancy is doomed and the woman must unnecessarily endure a painful miscarriage?

For a time we were seeing ambulance drivers refusing to transfer women from hospitals that didn’t do abortions to abortion clinics that did. And these were situations in which the woman was in crisis and it was the judgment of doctors to terminate the pregnancy.

In those cases, the consequences were much more extreme than just having to go wait in another line.

And haven’t we just been told it is wrong for an employers to punish employees for their religious beliefs? Steve M:

But wait: it’s utterly wrong for people who are offended by this policy to retaliate in a way that threatens Marks & Spencer’s livelihood, isn’t it? Haven’t we just spent the last few days being told by conservatives that that sort of retaliation is fascism, because people have absolute freedom to offend you, while you have no right to respond?

Weren’t we told that suspending a millionaire TV actor who said insulting things about gay, black, and Japanese people is “totalitarian” and comparable to the worst Soviet abuses? Haven’t we been informed that going on social media to mock a racist tweet about AIDS from Justine Sacco, a high-level public relations executive (who’s since been fired), amounts to an “online assassination”?

So a boycott of Marks & Spencer would be just as horrible … wouldn’t it, right-wingers?

For the grocery store chain, seems to me it could keep everybody happy by designating some cash registers as “pork and liquor can be paid for here” registers staffed by non-Muslim staff. That way customers are not inconvenienced. But if your “moral refusal” puts someone else’s life in danger, you shouldn’t be in that job.

(And don’t get me started on employers whose moral refusal doesn’t allow birth control to be covered on employees’ insurance policies.)

The righties are pointing to a wedding photographer in New Mexico who was fined for refusing to document a same-sex wedding, on religious grounds. In this case the couple hired another photographer but then sued the first one. The first photographer was in violation of state law, but one might argue nobody ever died from having to hire another wedding photographer. But if we allowed one business to discriminate, how far would that go? Could restaurants refuse to serve gay couples (how would they know?) Now we’re wading into some really ugly territory.

It occurs to me that a lot of Christians also might feel morally compromised by having to serve or sell liquor. In the U.S., in many states groceries or stores other than liquor stores don’t sell liquor. Here in NY you can buy beer and really awful watered-down wine in groceries, but you have to go to a liquor store for other stuff. But what if a state suddenly allowed liquor sales in groceries, and Baptist clerks refused to ring it up? I don’t know that it’s ever happened, but it’s not impossible.

(For the record, some schools of Buddhism forbid followers from selling alcohol, poisons, or weapons, and I think meat also. I’d have to look it up. In some cases selling alcohol is discouraged but not necessarily drinking it, just not to excess.)

Oh, well. Another day, another hypocrisy.

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Hate as a Virtue, Part 2: David Caton and the Florida Family Association

Some of you who live in Florida probably have heard of David Caton, but he was new to me. I got wind of him because he is crusading against a Prentice Hall textbook used in a Florida public high school. I worked for Prentice Hall several years ago, and as most of you know I was a worker bee in the textbook industry for a long time, so I nosed around.

The textbook, used in an Advanced Placement class in Brevard County, has a chapter on “Muslim civilization” but nothing about Christianity or Islam. Townhall was on the case

State Rep. Ritch Workman told Fox News the Prentice World History textbook rewrites Islamic history and presents a biased version of the Muslim faith.

“The book has a 36-page chapter on Islam but no chapters on Christianity or Judaism,” Workman said. “It’s remarkably one-sided.”

Caton sent an email alert to his followers:

Prentice Hall’s World History text book with its biased presentation of Islam continues to be used in numerous school districts. The same company that published a high school text book which embellishes Islamists and belittles Judaism and Christianity also has ownership in The Economist, a leading advertiser on Al Jazeera America.

To which a spokesperson for Prentice Hall (currently owned by the British multinational company Pearson) replied:

In Florida, as in other states, Pearson creates custom course materials that align to the state’s specific curriculum standards. Florida’s standards split the world history curriculum into two years of study, in grades 6 and 10. The state’s standards require the sixth grade curriculum start with early civilizations and continue through to the fall of Rome (476 A.D.). In the 10th grade, the state’s high school curriculum begins with the Byzantines (330 A.D.), proceeds to the Early Middle Ages in Europe (500 A.D.) and continues to the present day.

The Florida edition of the Pearson high school World History text aligns to the state’s standards, which require that the high school course include content on the origins of Islam, while the middle school text details the earlier origins of Judaism and Christianity. The Florida Department of Education approved the Pearson World History programs for adoption and validated that the content in our programs meets the requirements and educational goals of the state.

Caton, of course, called this explanation “absurd,” and revealed that one of Pearson’s companies is a “top advertiser” on Al-Jazeera America. Islamist conspiracy!

Seriously, I know the textbook industry. Its only concern is making money selling textbooks. If the state of Florida required them to mention Mickey Mouse on every other page, they would do it.

This also exemplifies why textbook publishers are very, very leery of mentioning religion at all, because no matter how carefully one words the text, it will piss off somebody. And that somebody might be on a textbook approval committee.

But I decided to check out this Caton guy. It turns out that about 30 years ago he published a book about how he had overcome an addiction to pornography and several chemical substances. Since then he got religion and founded the Florida Family Association (“Defending American Values”!), which mostly crusades against tolerance of homosexuals and Muslims. Not surprisingly, the AFF is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Among the FFA’s past projects was trashing the television reality series All-American Muslim, which ran on the TLC cable network for one season, in 2011-2012. The program followed the daily lives of five Lebanese-American Shiia families in Dearborn, Michigan. Caton managed to pressure two advertisers, Lowe’s Home Improvement and Kayak.com, to drop their sponsorship. Samuel Freedman wrote in the New York Times,

It would be upsetting enough if a well-financed, well-organized mass movement had misrepresented a television show, insulted an entire religious community and intimidated a national corporation. What makes the attack on “All-American Muslim” more disturbing — and revealing — is that it was prosecuted by just one person, a person unaffiliated with any established organization on the Christian right, a person who effectively tapped into a groundswell of anti-Muslim bigotry.

“We live in the age of the Internet and a well-organized extreme right,” said Mark Potok, who investigates hate groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center and has followed Mr. Caton’s activities. “This little man was able to have his voice amplified in huge ways.”

Caton’s Crusade was ridiculed on the Daily Show. (Go to the web page if the clip isn’t working.)

Now David Catton is going after Al-Jazeera America, calling it “Jihad TV.” The FFA claims it has persuaded 138 advertisers to drop advertising on Al-Jazeera.

The relentless Caton also has accused the Tampa Bay police of covering up an “honor killing” The Florida Family Association Islamophobia is being documented by the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). See also the Stop David Caton & Florida Family Association Extremism facebook page, sponsored by American Family Voices.

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